The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [casi] An attack on John Pilger

Dear Chris Parsons,

I hope you do not mind my commenting on the message you sent to  I cc this message to the CASI discussion list.

Let me first state that if you are aware of inaccurate statements made by
CASI we would be very grateful to know.  I hope you will find that we have
not been 'sucked in' to a debate using unsubstantiated claims.  More
importantly, whether or not many false claims are made about sanctions, the
best available evidence overwhelmingly indicate a humanitarian disaster in
their wake.  It is on the basis of this information, not others' alleged or
actual misrepresentations and misunderstandings, that sanctions should be

Sanctions have given rise to much 'death accounting'.  While sometimes
tasteless for its attempt to quantify suffering, it is also important.
Child and infant mortality are very good development indicators, conveying
important information about the wellbeing of a country.  A rise in child
mortality, therefore, not only tells us about the tragedy of children's
death, but also indicate ongoing hardship for the general population.

It seems clear, as the National Post article to which you refer states,
that the 1999 UNICEF study is the most reliable source of information on
excess mortality in Iraq under sanctions.  It is the only independent
study; it uses internationally recognised methodology; and it took
elaborate measures to avoid data manipulation (see  The National
Post article posits the question of what benchmark warrants the calculation
of 'excess deaths', but it does not answer it.  For a fuller analysis, I
would recommend an analysis in a CASI briefing on (I have
also appended an extract at the end of this message).  I hope you will
agree that the assumptions underpinning it are not unreasonable.

The Unicef study does not exist in an informational vacuum.  Its findings
are corroborated by a large number of other independent (mostly UN) studies
of Iraq.  Some of the most illuminating are:
 * The UN Food and Agriculture Oganisation and World Food Programme (see on has published
biannual studies of nutrition since 1996.  The 2000 study explicity states
that its findings 'corroborate' the Unicef finding.
 * The UN Secretary General's reports on the implementation of the 'Oil for
Food' programme (26 in total, see give detailed accounts of the
various constraints on Iraqi wellbeing.  They often chastise the failure of
the Iraqi government to act effectively - whether because of incompetence,
institutional constraints, or malicious intent is moot - but likewise make
very clear, from 1996 until the present, that the sanctions regime itself
is a major constraint on recovery.
 * A recent Unicef report available on  While there is little
qualitatively new information in this, it indicates the failure to affect a
humanitarian recovery under the 'oil for food' programme; the impression is
more of an arrest of the deterioration at standards well below those in
pre-sanctions Iraq.

Given the consistency of such independently verified information, sanctions
must be a cause for concern.  To be very brief, there are two main
arguments here.  The first is a ceteris paribus argument: the main change
in the economic environment in Iraq since 1990 is the imposition of
sanctions (the regime is the same); it would therefore be difficult to
argue that sanctions are unrelated to the surge in poverty and collapse in
living standards, even once the lasting effects of the 1991 Gulf War war
have been factored in.  The second is an obvious but striking one:
sanctions are meant to do economic damage.  They are coercion by the
infliction of hardship.  To say that they do not do so is tantamount to
saying they fail in their fundamental objective.

I do not think the National Post argument addresses these issues.  It seems
more concerned with exploring other people's failure to properly assess
sanctions than to contribute such an assessment.  It discusses nutrition on
the basis of an individual's observation, not the extensive and numerous
FAO/WFP studies.  It makes a dichotomy between 'sanctions' and issues such
as 'lack of clean water' and 'inadequate supplies'; the truth is of course
that these are exactly the sort of channels through which sanctions hurt.
It quotes Unicef in a strangely selective way, ignoring the 1999 statement
that "What we do know is that the difference in the current rate cannot be
attributed to the differing ways the Oil-for-Food Program is implemented in
the two parts of Iraq" (see

The fact that the '500,000 child deaths' estimate was arrived at by a
flawed methodology in 1996 (though not, incidentally, for the reasons
stated in the National Post article), that the Iraqi Government have made
inconsistent claims, or that some commentators are confused about how to
interpret figures (including, indeed, the article to which you are
referring) seem to me like somewhat peripheral issues.  They cannot be
reasons for complacency about the very worrying indications contained in
the best available information we have about Iraq under sanctions.

Especially problematic is the article's conclusion, or rather the absence
of one.  Having accepted Unicef as reliable, and Garfield's work as
impressive, the article stops short of the crucial question of whether just
'420,000' deaths, or perhaps '500,000 plus between 1990 and 2002' are
justifiable developments under a sanctions regime.  Either indicate
suffering on a horrifying scale.  CASI's position is that while there
clearly are numerous different causes of suffering in Iraq, it is sanctions
that we can do something about; it is our policy and our responsibility.
Given the extensive evidence of a humanitarian disaster, and the continuing
impediments to recovery under sanctions, the constraints they inflict must
be removed.  Anything short of this continues to punish the Iraqi people
for the actions of their dictator, and - after 12 years - with very little
demonstrable gain.

I hope this explains our position, and gives a sample of the information
and data on which we base our conclusions.  If you have any furher
questions, please feel free to write.

Per Klevnäs,
Research Officer, Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq

Excerpt from CASI briefing 'UN agency reports on the humanitarian situation
in Iraq', available on

'The first assumption is that the counterfactual child mortality rate would
have continued its 1980s average decline linearly over the 1990s. This
assumption may be "non-conservative", but is reasonable for two reasons.
First, Iraq's child mortality rate was still high enough in 1990 to allow a
continued linear decline. Second, Iraq's mortality rate began to decline
more quickly after the First Gulf War's end in 1988. As the decade's
average gives more weight to the war years, it might make the linear
decline assumption more reasonable as a peace time counterfactual.

The second assumption is that Iraqi fertility has not declined. The
fertility rate allows estimation of the total number of under five year
olds; if their mortality rate is known, total deaths can be estimated. This
is also a non-conservative assumption as evidence suggests that Iraqi women
under sanctions are marrying later and having fewer children, dropping the
fertility rate.

The third assumption is that the national under five mortality rate was
50/1000 in 1990. The IST estimates of 43.2/1000 for 1985-89 and 27.8/1000
for early 1990 [10] , which Garfield uses in his own work, may be more
accurate. Their use would increase considerably the excess deaths estimate.'

Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To unsubscribe, visit
To contact the list manager, email
All postings are archived on CASI's website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]