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Re: Pencils and Sanction Deaths

Hello all,
I'm very surprised !!! Who says the dead rate has come down since 1998? Who
says???? I was in Iraq last year (july 2001), and I brought home some
statistics. Also the annual report of UNICEF 2000 (the most recent one at
the time). The dead rate did certainly NOT come down !!! On the contrary. In
the UNICEF report, I can read: "ongoing degradation of infrastructure",
which is the main reason for the increase of chiild mortality: lack of clear
water. And another title: "continuing high levels of malnutrition". What
does that mean? Plus, the statistics of the Iraqi Ministry of Health also
show an increase of the dead rate. But of course, these figures "can't be
trusted"; which I find "not fair". In the UNICEF report of 2000 I can also
read: "Nutrition surveys carried out by UNICEF as well as the FAO/WFP
nutrition assassment mission in May 2000, show that since the introduction
of the Oil for Food Programme in 1996 the nutritional status of children has
not improved". What does that mean, do you think? That child-mortality
reduced over the last 3 years? Let's be serious!!!
I had no intention of reacting on this, because I have good, but also bad
experiences with the sometimes "hair-splitting" discussions on this matter.
The discussion about correct figures is a good one, because it helps
everyone to discuss with reliable figures, and I thank the CASI-list for the
high level of the discussions and correct answers we receive. But we have no
gain to under-estimate figures. Because that also hurts our credibility. I
also deeply value Colin's encylopedic knowledge of Iraq, but why did this
knowledge suddenly left him when he said that mortality-figures came down
"substantially", when that is not true???? I can't see the logic in that,
when on the one hand he is so furious if some journalist exaggerates, but on
the other hand he under-estimates the exact number of deaths. And about the
pencils: I had the same discussion with Gabriel of VIW-UK. There is still a
problem with pencils, because a) there is a very severe control of the
sanction committee, a control that we witnessed in Basra, and b) one can not
import enough pencils to fill the gap of the period 1990-1996. The other
discussion I started, was about the contracts on hold. I was attacked by a
number of CASI-members, because I used Iraqi figures. But what do I see?
They attacked me because the Iraqi said the total amount of the contracts on
hold was 6 billion $, while the official Western figure at that time was 4
billion$. But in the last UNIOP weekly update of 15 dec.2001-4 jan2002, the
total value of "holds" reached just under 5 billion$, thus increased with 1
billion $. So who is right in this case? My plead to trust official Iraqi
figures was correct, because in the end, the "holds" will almost certainly
reach the Iraqi figure of 6 billion $.
So, before having a hair-splitting discussion about matters that you maybe
know well on paper, it is good to have a look at the reality inside the
country. That might help to bring this discussion in perspective. We are
campaigners against sanctions primarily because we are disgusted about the
genocidal politics of the US-UK administration. Or am I wrong? We will not
convince the warlords Bush, Blair &co, by a correction of the figures.
And I will give the same answer as I gave to Gabriel: the article of Omar
Al-Taher had the right spirit. The author was indignant at the human tragedy
because of the sanctions. That is a good start for campaigning against
sanctions, and that's why I liked the article very much: it came from the
heart. I could understand that Colin wanted to try to correct some figures,
but he attacked the journalist severely, and I think that was wrong.
That's why I also understood the furious reaction of Salwa, and the reaction
of Rahul.
Correct figures is one thing. But Colin's reaction also could have been
written by a journalist of let's say: the Washington Post, and then I start
asking questions.
I hope I didn't upset anyone. Colin, I await your reaction on this.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Rahul Mahajan" <>
To: <>
Sent: Saturday, January 19, 2002 5:13 PM
Subject: Pencils and Sanction Deaths

> Hello, all. I've been following the recent discussion that erupted on the
> list with some interest, but was unable to respond because I was wrapping
> up the first draft of a book on the war on terrorism. I just finished that
> on Friday.
> As always, , something
> from which I have benefited on more than one occasion. More broadly, I
> admire CASI's commitment to very serious analytical work, something which
> helps the whole anti-sanctions movement. More and more of us in the
> when we have to give an interested person just one website to find out
> everything about the sanctions, give them CASI's.
> I do have one question for Colin and one serious disagreement.
> 1. Pencils: There was an excellent article in the New York Times some
> back by Stephen Kinzer, called "Smart Bombs, Dumb Sanctions." It's on the
> web at
> In it he quotes Farid Zarif, deputy director of the U.N. humanitarian aid
> program at the time, as saying pencils are forbidden because the graphite
> could be extracted to make radar-evading coatings for airplanes (like in
> the B-2 stealth bomber). Colin, are you aware of this article, and how do
> you think it jibes with your analysis of pencils posted on the CASI
> discussion list archives? I suppose it's possible Zarif was misled like
> others, but I'd like to know what you think.
> 2. Numbers: I would respectfully disagree with those who think
> number-mongering with dead children is morbid and distasteful. It is those
> things, but I think it's also essential. You sometimes hear people say,
> even one child has died from the sanctions, ..." -- a statement with
> meaning because you can't look at a society of 20+ million over ten years
> and even say there has been one excess death, let alone attribute it to a
> specific policy. The scale is wrong. More important, you are always
> implicitly comparing alternatives. If sanctions had killed a few thousand
> people and Saddam's invasion of Kuwait had killed 500,000, the entire
> discourse about this subject would perforce be very different. So the
> of magnitude of the number is crucial. Whether it is 400,000 or 500,000 is
> less relevant, but that should not be interpreted, as it often is, as
> license to continually downsize the number to be maximally cautious.
> All that said, I disagree strongly with Colin's claim that we should not
> attribute any number dead to the sanctions, because UNICEF specifically
> avoids doing so and because, obviously, any result, whether number of
> deaths or number of goats raised, is multicausal. That is, I think, a
> recipe for political and intellectual paralysis. Short of a case where
> someone gets a bullet in the head, it's always difficult to impossible to
> disentangle all causative factors. Some of Colin's arguments -- especially
> saying that some of the dead are due to the continuing effects of the Gulf
> War, not the sanctions -- I must say are sheer sophistry. When you say
> effects of sanctions" you mean "the effects of sanctions as re-levied on
> Iraq after the Gulf War when the infrastructure was destroyed." There is
> hypothetical decontextualized "effects of sanctions." And, of course, the
> targeting in the Gulf War was deliberately done to intensify the effects
> sanctions.
> To control for other variables,  the most sensible thing to do, as noted
> many, is compare with pre-Gulf War conditions and even, as the UNICEF
> number does, with extrapolated trendlines. The only meaningful,
> addressable question there is "how much could the Iraqi government reduce
> the number of deaths with different policies." From what I have seen, they
> have not followed the most sensible policies, partly because they were
> committed to a high-tech, resource-intensive public health system and
> partly because Iraqis, unlike many others, are not used to chronic
> malnutrition. Still, I doubt one could conclude that they could have cut
> the number of deaths by any very great number. In any case, if they could
> have, it's not because of gross malfeasance but because of lack of
> competence with a catastrophe totally beyond their experience.
> It is also absolutely necessary to give people, especially in the United
> States, some kind of number so they get a feel for the scope of the
> problem. Individual stories reach people more deeply, but they must be
> complemented with the big picture to get serious attempts at policy
> I also have no problem with the 600,000 children under 5 figure. UNICEF
> found 500,000 in 8 years, 1991-8. The death rate has certainly come down,
> but to add a mere 100,000 in three years seems like a rather conservative
> extrapolation.
> Here's what I generally say:
> Although there is great debate about the number killed by the sanctions,
> the most authoritative results come from a UNICEF survey published in
> August 1999. Based on an extensive household study, it concluded that from
> 1991-98 excess death of children under 5 added up to 500,000. In the three
> years since, although the rate of death has come down substantially, it
> would be if anything conservative to estimate that another 100,000
> under 5 died. Given the ratio usually reported between children under 5
> total deaths, it's safe to conclude that over 1 million Iraqis have died
> a result of the sanctions.
> In solidarity,
> Rahul Mahajan
> --
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
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