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Guide to Sanctions
1. What's the problem with Iraq?
On 6 August 1990, the United Nations Security Council imposed economic sanctions on Iraq in response to its invasion of Kuwait four days earlier. Under these sanctions, all imports into Iraq (except medical supplies) and all exports from Iraq were prohibited, unless the Security Council permitted exceptions. A spokesman from the US State Department later referred to these sanctions as "the toughest, most comprehensive sanctions in history". Similarly, a Select Committee of the UK House of Commons said that the Iraqi sanctions regime "is unprecedented in terms of longevity and its comprehensive nature" (§28).
Since 1990, there has been a severe deterioration in the standards of living of the vast majority of the inhabitants of Iraq. These problems have been detailed most clearly in two reports of the highest integrity, written in 1999.
Firstly, the Security Council itself set up a "Humanitarian Panel" to investigate the effects of sanctions. This Panel produced a report on 30 March 1999. It found that:
"In marked contrast to the prevailing situation prior to the events of 1990-91, the infant mortality rates in Iraq today are among the highest in the world, low infant birth weight affects at least 23% of all births, chronic malnutrition affects every fourth child under five years of age, only 41% of the population have regular access to clean water, 83% of all schools need substantial repairs. The ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] states that the Iraqi health-care system is today in a decrepit state. UNDP calculates that it would take 7 billion US dollars to rehabilitate the power sector country-wide to its 1990 capacity." (§43).
Some of the panel's more specific findings were:
The second report was produced by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) in August 1999. This was the summary produced by Unicef of their findings:
"The first surveys since 1991 of child and maternal mortality in Iraq reveal that in the heavily-populated southern and central parts of the country, children under five are dying at more than twice the rate they were ten years ago. UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said the findings reveal an ongoing humanitarian emergency...
The surveys reveal that in the south and center of Iraq -- home to 85 per cent of the country's population -- under-5 mortality more than doubled from 56 deaths per 1000 live births (1984-1989) to 131 deaths per 1000 live births (1994-1999). Likewise infant mortality -- defined as the death of children in their first year -- increased from 47 per 1000 live births to 108 per 1000 live births within the same time frame. The surveys indicate a maternal mortality ratio in the south and center of 294 deaths per 100,000 live births over the ten-year period 1989 to 1999.
Ms. Bellamy noted that if the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under-five in the country as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998."
No comprehensive review of the humanitarian situation in Iraq has been conducted since 1999. A February 2002 Unicef survey of the nutritional status of under-fives in South/Centre Iraq found:
"The deteriorating trend of malnutrition among under-five children seen throughout the 1990s has changed ... acute and general malnutrition are now less than half the levels of 1996, while chronic malnutrition has fallen by nearly 30% during the same period ... Despite gains, the present level of child malnutrition remains high compared to 1991 levels, which were already elevated after one year of sanctions."
The report went on to explain that:
"Many factors interact to affect the nutritional status of children ... For this reason, malnutrition is one of the most comprehensive indicators of the wellbeing of children, because it relies on the functioning of many sectors of society."
The information available on the current humanitarian situation in Iraq tends to support the conclusion of a Unicef report on The Situation of Children in Iraq, also from February 2002, that:
"the various arrangements put in place since 1996 to mitigate the impact of sanctions ... Overall, these efforts appear to have arrested the deterioration of the situation, but not to have greatly improved conditions for the majority of the population".
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