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[casi] An attack on John Pilger

Dear all

I found the following message, a critique of John Pilger, in my news
clippings folder. I don't know if it was intended for the whole list. I have
written a reply which I have added top the end of this message.



From: Chris Parsons <>
Date: Fri, 1 Nov 2002 17:17:46 +1100
To: "''" <>
Subject: The deaths of Iraqi children from the effects of sanctions. You'v e
been sucked in.


I think you might be interested in some of these items. For example;

If not interested already, you soon will be.

Have you ever wondered how John Pilger substantiates the claim that
according to UNICEF, a half-million (or more) Iraqi children have died since
1990 as a direct result of the sanctions against Sadam's regime?

And have you noticed how the figure keeps going up and down?

On his website, John Pilger on 17 Oct 2002 claimed that embargo against
Iraq, "according to the United Nations Children's Fund, has led to the
unnecessary deaths of more than 600,000 Iraqi children."

It can be found on-line at

In an August 1998 article archived at a web-site run by the 'Campaign
Against Sanctions on Iraq', Pilger claims "a million children have died as a
direct result of sanctions. Other sources put the figure at over a million."

In other words, about 143,000 per annum - or 390 per day.

This claim can be found on-line at (on a page titled 'Good
old John Pilger.'

In the New Statesman, 21 August  1998, Pilger claimed: "Eight years of
sanctions have killed two million Iraqis, including one million children.
That is the child population of a medium-sized British city."

This figure was revised down by 50 per cent for an article in the Sydney
Morning Herald of 22 June 2000 where Pilger reported the "death of half a
million children due to economic sanctions, and the continuing bombing of
populated areas in Iraq by American and British aircraft."

A few weeks later, on 31 July 2000, a different claim was made. Citing "a
UNICEF report", Pilger claimed then that on average 200 hundred Iraqi
children are dying every day (73,050 per annum) as a result of the sanctions
imposed on Iraq, or "more than half a million" since 1991.

This claim can be found at

This daily death-toll of children was further revised down to 177 by Pilger
on March 23, 2002 in the New Statesman, where he stated "The death of some
5-6,000 children a month (66,000 per annum - or 726,000 since 1991) is
mostly due to contaminated water, lack of medicines and malnutrition. The US
and UK governments' delayed clearance of equipment and materials is
responsible for this tragedy, not Baghdad."

This claim can be found on-line at

This total figure of child victims increased 226,000 in one year from the
500,000 victims Pilger claimed have died, in the 21 September 2001 edition
of The Guardian, as a result of the sanctions.

This claim can be found at,1300,555452,00.html

So which, if any of these varied claims is right?

Because Saddam Hussein's government blocks any real independent inquiry, no
one really knows how many civilians have died as a direct result of United
Nations sanctions, which were originally imposed 12 years ago in response to
Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

But it is possible to declare, with some precision, that the UN has never
said sanctions have killed 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five.

When people calculate child mortality among the under-fives in Iraq, the
measuring unit is the gruesome euphemism of "excess deaths" -- the number of
children who died "in excess" of what could be expected in "normal" times.

This immediately begs two questions that are seldom asked: What is "normal,"
and how can you assign specific responsibility for the excess deaths?

A list of candidates for the latter would include: sanctions, drought,
hospital policy, breast-feeding education, destruction from the Iran-Iraq
and Persian Gulf wars, Saddam's misgovernance, depressed oil prices, farm
policy, overdependence on oil exports, differences in conditions between the
autonomous north and the Saddam-controlled south, and so on.

Saddam has not wasted any time on such interpretative nuance: Every death,
"excess" or otherwise, is the embargo's fault.

According to the Iraqi government, in the 10-year period from 1991-2001, UN
policy has killed 670,000 children under five, and 1.6 million Iraqis
overall (5,550 and 13,300 per month, respectively).

Note the "5,550" figure for child deaths.

It is - surprise, surprise - virtually identical to the figure Pilger quotes
in his March 23, 2002 New Statesman article of "some 5-6,000 children a

So where did the 500,000 figure touted by Pilger come from?

In August, 1995, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) gave
officials from the Iraqi Ministry of Health a questionnaire on child
mortality, and asked them to conduct a survey in the capital city of

On the basis of this five-day, 693-household, Iraq-controlled study, the FAO
announced in November that "child mortality had increased nearly fivefold"
since the era before sanctions.

As embargo critic Richard Garfield, a public health specialist at Columbia
University, noted in his own 1999 survey of under-five deaths, "The 1995
study's conclusions were subsequently withdrawn by the authors.... [Yet]
their estimate of more than 500,000 excess child deaths due to the embargo
is still often repeated by sanctions critics."

In March, 1996, the World Health Organization (WHO) published its own report
on the humanitarian crisis.

It reprinted figures -- provided solely by the Iraqi Ministry of Health --
showing that a total of 186,000 children under the age of five died between
1990 and 1994 in the 15 Saddam-governed provinces.

According to these government figures, the number of deaths jumped from
8,903 in 1990 to 52,905 in 1994.

Then, a New York-based advocacy outfit called the Center for Economic and
Social Rights (CESR) took a look at the Iraqi government's highest numbers -
and promptly tripled them.

In May, 1996, CESR concluded "these mortality rates translate into a figure
of over half a million excess child deaths as a result of sanctions."

Then, in a May 12, 1996 CBS 60 Minutes broadcast that would later,
ironically, win several journalism awards, journalist by Lesley Stahl threw
CESR's bogus numbers at Madeleine Albright, then the U.S. ambassador to the
United Nations.

"We have heard that a half million children have died," Stahl said. "I mean,
that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And -- and you know, is the
price worth it?"

Albright replied: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price -- we
think the price is worth it."

Pilger has been repeating this ever since.

He doubtless knows the full story behind the phoney "half million" and
"million" child death's resulting from the UN sanctions.

But he ain't saying nothing


Dear Chris Parsons

This may serve as a good critique of some aspects of John Pilger's
reporting. But you've sent it to me presumably as someone involved in the
Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. CASI, and Voices in the Wilderness
(which is the most militant anti-sanctions group) have always been
scrupulous in pointing out

a) that the 1995/6 FAO and WHO figures are unreliable


b) that the much more reliable UNICEF 1999 report doesn't attribute the
'excess deaths' uniquely to sanctions.

That is information you will find on the CASI website very quickly whereas
you have to look quite hard before you find the article you are attacking.

You respect the work of Richard Garfield. The only book that CASI has
published (Sanctions on Iraq) includes an essay by Garfield which summarises
his main conclusions in this field.

We do often quote the Leslie Stahl-Madeleine Albright interview, making it
clear that the 500,000 figure is unreliable. But the point is that she
didn't question it. The figure was about at the time and the US government
declared that such a figure (if true) wouldn't cause it to rethink its

In 1991 the entire industrial infrastructure of Iraq (only recently
developed at - as is customary with the process of indutrialisation - huge
social cost) was destroyed. A blockade that had been imposed on the country
during the war was kept in place so that nothing could go in and out. For a
while the Iraqis were able to do something in the way of restoring
electricity, clean water, communications (roads, bridges) etc on the basis
of what material they still possessed but that soon ran out.

Eventually, after five years, they agreed to Oil for Food, a system that
puts the entire national income from exports into the hands of their
enemies. The system requires them to list everything that needs to be
imported into the country in the full knowledge that a large part of what
they ask for won't be delivered because of its possible 'dual use'
applications (noticeable though that the blocking or unblocking of huge
quantities of material seems to be related not to the danger it poses to
world peace, but to the state of diplomatic relations with Russia eg at the
time of negotiations over 'smart sanctions').

Because there is no 'cash component' none of the money from oil exports can
be used to develop the native Iraqi economy (fortunately some elements of an
Iraqi economy have been able to develop through smuggling). Oil, as I'm sure
you know, is the only thing the Iraqis are allowed to export so when you
mention 'overdependence on oil exports' among your explanations of infant
mortality, that too falls under the heading of sanctions, as does
'destruction from the Iran-Iraq and Persian Gulf wars' since sanctions have
been the main reason why the destruction has not been repaired.

It really doesn't take very much mental effort to understand that such a
system will have a huge effect on the wellbeing of the population even if
that effect is impossible to measure in precise scientific terms.  Those who
defend this policy still have a huge moral obligation to explain why the
price is worth it.

Yours sincerely

Peter Brooke

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