"Iraq: economic embargo and predatory
|© Abbas Alnasrawi, 2000. Abbas
Alnasrawi is Professor of Economics at the University of
This paper was written in May 1999, and first published in E.W. Nafziger, F. Stewart and R.Väyrynen, eds., War, Hunger, and Displacement: The Origins of Humanitarian Emergencies. Volume 2 (Oxford University Press, 2000), pp.89-119. Reproduced here with the permission of the author. HTML version for CASI website prepared 22 May 2001.
Most of the discourse on Iraq since the formal ending of the Gulf War on 27 February 1991 tended to focus on the comprehensive economic embargo which the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had imposed on Iraq in the aftermath of its invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990. This concern with the embargo should not be surprising given its catastrophic effects on the people of Iraq and the economy and its contribution to the rise and persistence of humanitarian emergency in Iraq. Humanitarian emergency in this study is taken to mean "a profound social crisis in which a large number of people die and suffer from war, disease, hunger, and displacement owing to man-made and natural disasters, while some others may benefit from it." (Vayrynen 1998).
Yet our understanding of the humanitarian emergency in Iraq and the implications of the sanctions for the future of Iraq would be enhanced if analyzed in relation to the consequences of some of the Iraqi government major economic, military, political and demographic policies over the last two decades. Among the more important forces which affected Iraq one must include the special role of the oil sector in the economy, centralization of political power, forced displacement of certain ethnic minorities, the Iraq-Iran war, the invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf war. The effects of these factors together with the sanctions will determine whether Iraq's present humanitarian emergency will continue well into the next century.
Before analyzing the import of these factors and the impact of the sanctions a brief outline of the political/economic history of Iraq will be undertaken.
Emergence of the Modern State of Iraq
Iraq, which had been a colony of the Ottoman empire since 1638 was invaded in 1914 by British forces soon after Ottoman empire had entered World War I on the side of Germany. After having secured the southern province of Basra the British force drove north toward Baghdad which they finally entered in March 1918. A rebellion in June 1920 against the new colonial power was put down and a new political project for the country was put into effect in 1921 which entailed the coronation of Faisal as king and the formation of an Iraqi cabinet.
Although elite groups had sought the establishment of an Arab nation based on ethnolinguistic association such hopes were dashed by the imperial designs which installed these early nationalists in power in a fragmented Arab world under the patronage of Britain and France. From the perspective of these groups the new mandatory system provided new advantages as these groups had become the de facto as well as the de jure rulers of their own people. In addition, a new class of landowners was created by the colonial power to provide backing for the monarchy. As Doreen Warriner observed (1957: 75) the foundation of the new kingdom strengthened the tribal sheikhs by giving them both legal ownership of land and representation in parliament. In addition to these tribal heads members of the mercantile class were granted control over large estates to farm.
As government functions expanded, so did the size of its military and civilian bureaucracies and technocracies. This meant that new recruits from outside the ranks of traditional elites had to be drawn into the labor force. As import substitution industrialization gained a foothold in the economy in the 1930s and the 1940s a class of urban proletariat emerged. And as the structure of the economy changed, a class of petit bourgeoisie-bankers, shippers, exporters and importers, insurance agents, etc.- tied to the world economy- also emerged.
By the time World War II came to an end, the configuration of social classes had undergone major changes. While the monarchy and its allies continued to link their political and economic fortunes with imperialism, the new classes were challenging the status quo and advocating a new social and economic order. The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 in Palestine further undermined the political legitimacy of the old order and prepared the way for the July 1958 Revolution which overthrew the monarchy.
The new republican regime under the leadership of Abdel Karim Qasim proceeded to destroy the economic and political power base of landed aristocracy, enact agrarian reform, expand the public sector, provide more social services, loosen economic and political links with Britain and broaden Iraq's foreign economic relations. The Qasim's regime also enacted a law which confined the operations of multinational oil in Iraq.
The military-Baath party alliance which overthrew the Qasim regime in February 1963 fell into a quagmire of chaos, arbitrariness and disintegration prompting the military wing of the alliance to oust its civilian counterpart in November 1963. The 1963 regime was toppled in July 1968 by another coup organized by another military-Baath alliance. This time it was the civilians who succeeded in bringing the military under their firm control.
Between 1968 when the Baath seized power and 1979 when Saddam Hussein became president the Baath succeeded in consolidating its power through a mixture of rewards, repression and unprecedented use of internal security force to stamp out any political opposition from within or without the party. Two important developments that enabled the Baath to remain in power were its success in ending the festering dispute with the foreign oil companies by nationalizing them and the phenomenal rise in oil revenue in the decade of the 1970s.
But beginning in 1979 the ruling group under Saddam Hussein became preoccupied with its own survival. First, there was the ruthless purge of a major segment of the Baath political leadership by Saddam Hussein only weeks after he assumed the presidency. A year later he took the country into the eight years of war with Iran. Two years after the end of the eight year war he gambled with the human and economic fortunes of the country when he took it into the adventurous invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. This invasion provoked the imposition of economic sanctions against Iraq and was followed by the Gulf war of 1991 which inflicted enormous destruction on the people and the economy.
Based on this brief review of Iraq's political history several observations can be made. First, the most important feature of this history between 1921 and 1958 was the predominant position of Britain in the affairs of Iraq. The nature and implications of the mandatory system were assessed by Peter Sluglett as follows:
In any balance sheet for the Mandate, the Iraqi people outside the small circle of government... were the losers. The Government was not carried on for their benefit, but for the benefit of the Sunni urban political class within a framework created and supported by the British authorities. When it was clear that British interests would no longer be at risk, and when the necessary mechanism to protect them had been perfected it was time to withdraw...It is profitless to blame the British Mandatory authorities for failing to ensure that the Iraq Government concerned itself with wider interests of the nation, or made efforts to reconcile rather than exacerbate the tensions within the state: to do so would be to misunderstand the nature of imperialism (cited in Stavrianos 1981: 535).
Second, the country's political history can be written as a series of coups and counter coups, conspiracies, purges and counter purges, violent seizure of power and ruthless suppression of dissent and last but not least wars, adventures and sanctions. In all this history the people had no voice as there has been a virtual absence of democratic institutions and civil society.
Third, changes in political leadership and personalities entailed changes in priorities, direction and policies. While well thought out or planned changes are necessary many changes in Iraq were so frequent and so sudden as to erode or even negate the benefits of planning. This is particularly true in a country where civil institutions have neither matured nor were they insulated from political upheavals.
Oil and the Rise and Decline of the Iraqi Economy
In 1950 Iraq's oil revenue contributed 3 percent of Iraq's GDP. By 1980, thanks to a combination of higher prices and larger output and export, its contribution reached 56 percent of GDP. But in 1990 the share of oil revenue has plummeted to 12 percent of GDP and to 4.5 percent in 1995. During the nearly same half century real per capita GDP (in 1980 prices) increased from $654 in 1950 to $4219 in 1979 only to collapse to $485 in 1993 (Alnasrawi 1994: 152). Another way of appreciating the change in Iraq's oil fortunes is to trace its receipts of oil revenue which rose from a mere $20 million in 1950 to $26.3 billion in 1980 to collapse to $461 million in 1995.
The evolution of some of Iraq's important oil indicators are shown in table 1.
Table 1 Oil Revenue, Oil Output, Gross Domestic Product and Population 1960-1995 Oil Oil Output GDP Revenue (million barrels ($ billion Population Year ($ billion) per day) in 1980 prices) (million) 1960 .3 .97 8.7 6.9 1970 .6 1.5 16.4 9.4 1980 26.3 2.6 53.9 13.2 1985 10.1 1.4 31.7 15.3 1990 9.5 2.1 16.4 18.1 1995 .5 .74 6.5 20.4 Source: Government of Iraq, Annual Abstracts of Statistics; OPEC, Annual Statistical Bulletin; Central Bank of Iraq, Annual Report; International Monetary Fund, International Financial Statistics Yearbook; United Nations, National Accounts Statistics: Analysis of Main Aggregates, 1980-1989, New York, 1991; United Nations, Statistical Yearbook.
The question which we will attempt to answer is what are the factors which account for this unparalleled collapse. Unlike many cases of humanitarian emergencies which can be explained by natural causes this was not certainly the case in Iraq. Instead a series of policies both internal and external combined to give rise to the Iraqi case. Four sets of policies can be identified as responsible.
These include: 1) the decision by the Iraqi government to initiate the 1980-1988 war with Iran, 2) the militarization of the economy, 3) Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the ensuing 1991 Gulf war and 4) the UNSC sanctions regime which has been in effect since 1990.
1. Impact of the Iraq-Iran War
When the government of Saddam Hussein decided to launch the war against Iran in September 1980 the Iraqi economy was on the threshold of another decade of economic growth.
The immense increase in oil revenue enabled the government to increase spending simultaneously on infrastructure, goods producing sectors, social services, imports, and the military. The data in table 2 show the behavior of several key economic indicators.
The war-caused destruction of oil facilities such as loading terminals, pumping stations, refineries, and pipelines forced oil output to decline sharply from 3.4 million barrel per day (MBD) in August 1980 to .9 MBD in 1981. This in turn resulted in the collapse of Iraq's oil revenue from $26.1 billion in 1980 to $10.4 billion in 1981 or by 60 percent.
For a country that has grown so dependent on a single export these external shocks forced the economy to cope with a number of serious problems. These included inflation, suspension or severe reduction in development spending, rise in the share of military personnel in the labor force, rise in the number of foreign workers, reduction in non-military imports, erosion of per capita income and living standards, contraction in non-military public spending, exhaustion of foreign exchange reserves and the slide for the first time into foreign debt. In short after 1982 when the war front had moved to Iraqi soil:
Total economic collapse was staved off through the generosity of the Arab states of the Gulf and then the pumping in of OECD and Soviet credit (EIU, 1984:11).
Table 2 Average Growth Rates of Selected Economic Indicators, 1970-1989 1970-80 1980-85 1985-89 GDP 11.7 -8.1 -1.7 Government Consumption 13.6 -1.3 -4.4 Private Consumption 13.2 -7.6 -4.6 Gross Fixed Investment 27.6 -0.3 -1.5 Export of Goods and Services 4.4 -8.8 -1.1 Imports of Goods and Services 22.5 -8.2 -2.9 Agriculture 1.4 6.3 -6.7 Industry 10.2 -7.3 11.4 Manufacturing 13.4 0.3 -3.1 Construction 28.4 -7.8 -16.2 Domestic Trade 16.8 1.3 -10.8 Transport and Communication 19.9 -12.4 1.8 Sources: United Nations, National Accounts Statistics: Main Aggregates and Detailed Tables, 1989, Part I (New York, 1991); United Nations, National Accounts Statistics: Analysis of Main Aggregates, 1988-1989, (New York, 1991).
2. Militarization of the Economy and the Burden of Military Spending
One of the most significant changes to take place in the Iraqi economy in the decades of the 1970s and the 1980s was the massive shift of labor from the civilian economy to the military and the sharp increase in military spending and military imports.
In 1975 Iraq had 2.9 per cent of its labor force or 82,000 persons in its armed forces. In 1980 there were 430,000 persons in the armed forces or 13.4 percent of the labor force. And by the time the war with Iran ended in 1988 the government was employing more than 21 per cent of the labor force or 1 million persons in the armed forces (Alnasrawi 1994:92-95).
The other side of this expansion in the armed forces was the sharp rise of the military's claims on Iraq's fiscal resources. Thus in 1975 military expenditures amounted to $3.1 billion or 13.8 percent of the GDP- a high ratio by world standards. By 1980 military spending was increased by more than six folds to $19.8 billion or 38.8 percent of GDP. Another way of measuring the burden of military spending is to relate it to the country's oil revenue. In 1975 the government spent 38 percent of its oil revenue on the military compared with 75 percent in 1980. Such spending increased sharply afterward to absorb between 117 percent and 324 percent of the oil revenue between 1981 and 1988. In other words in the decade of the 1980s the government spent several times the country's entire oil revenue on the war effort.In relation to GDP the government spent between 23 percent and 66 percent of the country's GDP between 1980 and 1988 on the war with Iran (Alnasrawi 1994: 92-93).
Similarly the war against Iran changed the composition of imports in favor of military imports. Thus in 1980 military imports amounted to 17 percent of total imports. By 1984 the ratio reached 83 percent. Again the economic burden of arms imports in the 1980s may be appreciated if these arms imports are related to Iraq's GDP during the period when arms imports absorbed between 5 percent and 19 percent of Iraq's GDP. It is significant to note in this connection that Saddam Hussein acknowledged at the May 1990 Arab Summit Conference in Baghdad the enormous burden of military imports when he said :
However, the war dragged on and its cost rose to unprecedented levels. The value of military hardware alone which Iraq purchased and used in the war amounted to $102 bn in addition to other enormous military and civilian expenditure in a devastating war which lasted eight years along a front which extended 1,200 kms (Alnasrawi 1994:117).
Economic Cost of the War: An Estimate
The explicit or quantifiable losses can be said to include such items as lost oil revenue, decline in GDP, military expenditure and arms imports and the cost of damaged and destroyed assets. In addition to these explicit losses there were implicit losses much as the cost of inflation, loss of income from destroyed assets, lost opportunities for growth and disorganization of development. Iraq's losses as a result of the war with Iran were estimated to be $452.6 billion (Mufid 1990: 133).
One way to appreciate the magnitude of this loss is to relate it to Iraq's oil revenue. During the period 1931, when the government received its first payment for oil export, and 1988 when the war with Iran ended, the cumulative revenue from oil amounted to $179.1 billion. This means that the war-caused losses amounted to 254 percent of all the oil revenue which Iraq received over a period of fifty seven years. Another way of measuring the magnitude of the war loss is to relate it to Iraq's GDP. Iraq's GDP during the period 1980-88 amounted to $433.3 billion. Relating the war cost of $452.6 billion to this figure we find that the economic loss due to the war exceeded the war period GDP by $19.3 billion (Alnasrawi 1994:100).
3. The Invasion of Kuwait and the Imposition of Sanctions
Iraq entered the post war period with a smaller and disorganized economy that was overburdened with unemployment, inflation and foreign debt. To cope with the economic crisis, and to also fund an ambitious program of military industrialization Iraq had to rely on a shrinking source of oil revenue which in 1988 generated only $11 billion compared to $26.3 billion in 1980.
The exhausted state of the economy was made worse by the 9 percent decline in GDP in 1989 over 1988 - a decline that constituted a severe blow to the government and which forced it to adopt an austerity program of spending. But to reduce government spending in a period of severe economic crisis had the effect of worsening the crisis. What the economy needed at that particular juncture was an increase in the supply of goods to dampen inflation and restore some of the living standards that were severely eroded during the war. In order to achieve these objectives Iraq had only one option- to raise oil revenue. And it was in this particular arena that the stage was set for Iraq's conflict with Kuwait and which led to its invasion in 1990.
The invasion of Kuwait was looked at as a short cut solution to Iraq's economic crisis and the regime's failure to improve living standards. This policy decision was articulated by the deputy prime minister for the economy when he stated that Iraq will be able to pay its debt in less than five years; that the "new Iraq" would have a much higher oil production quota; that its income from oil would rise to $38 billion; and that it would be able to vastly increase spending on development projects and imports (Alnasrawi 1994:118).
A similar explanation was articulated by Iraq's foreign minister when he said:
"the economic question was a major factor in triggering the current situation... This year's state budget required seven billion dollars for debt service, which was a huge amount, leaving us with only enough for basic services for our country. Our budget is based on a price of eighteen dollars a barrel for food imports. It was a starvation war. When do you use your military power to preserve yourself?" (Stein 1992: 158).
Iraq's invasion of Kuwait prompted the UN Security Council (UNSC) under the leadership of the United States to adopt, on 6 August, Res 661 which imposed a sweeping and comprehensive system of sanctions, which was still in effect in May 1999, which cut off Iraq from the international economy by banning all transactions with Iraq except for the import of "supplies intended strictly for medical purposes, and, in humanitarian circumstances, foodstuffs" .
The impact of the sanctions and the subsequent war are dealt with in the following section.
Impact of Sanctions and War: An Assessment
There are three distinct but interrelated factors which gave rise to Iraq's humanitarian emergency in the 1990s. These are:
1) the embargo which the UNSC imposed on Iraq following the invasion of Kuwait; 2) the six week Gulf war of 1991; and 3) the continuation of the sanctions regime which is still in effect.
1. The UNSC Embargo: August 1990-April 1991
As was stated earlier the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990 was followed four days later by the imposition by the UNSC of a comprehensive system of sanctions on all exports and imports except supplies intended strictly for medical purposes, and, in humanitarian circumstances to be defined by the UNSC itself, foodstuffs.
This total embargo was transformed two weeks later into a blockade when the UNSC called upon member states deploying maritime forces to the area to halt all inward and outward maritime shipping in order to inspect and verify their cargos and destinations. This general authorization to use force to implement the embargo was further tightened when the UNSC decided in September to ban all air transport with Iraq.
It is clear from these resolutions that the intent of the UNSC was to use starvation and famine as potential weapons to force Iraq into submission. As Lawrence Freedman and Efraim Karsh concluded: the determination of Washington to prevent anything from getting through into Iraq appeared to support that interpretation (1993: 191-93).
The blockade had immediate impact on food availability in Iraq since the country's imported food dependency was 70-80 percent of total caloric intake. The blockade-caused food shortages resulted in sharp increases in food prices ranging from 200 to 1800 percent by between August and November 1990 (Provost 1992: 584-6).
To blunt the double impact of scarcity and inflation the government introduced a food rationing system effective 1 September 1990. The public rationing system saw to it that certain food items-flour, rice, vegetable oil, sugar, tea and baby milk- were provided on a monthly basis at pre-embargo prices. This carbohydrate based diet was judged by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to supply, on a per capita basis 37 percent of the average calorie intake in 1987-1989 (FAO 1993: 3)
Although the UNSC recognized in its Res 666 of September the prospects of a humanitarian emergency it failed to act to forestall its occurrence.
The effectiveness of the blockade was so pronounced that in a 5 December testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations it was reported that the embargo had effectively shut off 90 percent of Iraq's imports and 97 percent of its exports and produced serious disruptions to the economy and hardships to the people (The New York Times 6 December 1990: A16).
The loss to the economy in the six months preceding the outbreak of the war on 16 January 1991 was estimated by the Iraqi government to be $17 billion-$10 billion in lost oil exports, $6.1 billion in lost production and increased production cost and $1 billion for other losses (Middle East Economic Digest 30 August 1991: 22).
2. The Air War and the Economy
On 16 January the Coalition forces led by the U.S. started the six week Desert Storm campaign which culminated in the eviction of Iraqi forces from Kuwait by the end of February.
The bombing of Iraq was aimed not only at military targets but also at such assets as civilian infrastructure, power stations, transport and telecommunications networks, fertilizers plants, oil facilities, iron and steel plants, bridges, schools, hospitals, storage facilities, industrial plants, and civilian buildings. And the assets that were not bombed were rendered dysfunctional due to the destruction of power generating facilities.
The impact of the intensity and the scale of the bombing was assessed by a special United Nations mission to Iraq immediately after the war as follows:
It should, however, be said at once that nothing that we had seen or read had quite prepared us for the particular form of devastation which has now befallen the country. The recent conflict had wrought near-apocalyptic results upon what had been, until January 1991, a rather highly urbanized and mechanized society. Now, most means of modern life support have been destroyed or rendered tenuous. Iraq has, for sometime to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology (UN 1996: 186-8)
This vast scale of destruction should not be surprising in light of the fact that the initial plan of bombing had focused on 84 targets but had grown to 174 targets by 13 September 1990. By the time the air campaign began on 16 January 1991, the plan had grown to include 386 targets which was expanded in the course of the war to include 723 targets (House Armed Services Comm. 1992: 86)
In a post-war study of the air campaign it was acknowledged that the strategy went beyond bombing armed forces and military targets. In addition to purely military targets the bombing revealed that : (a) some targets were attacked to destroy or damage valuable facilities which Iraq could not replace or repair without foreign assistance; (b) many of the targets chosen were selected to amplify the economic and psychological impact of sanctions on Iraqi society; and (c) targets were selected as to do great harm to Iraq's ability to support itself as an industrial society. Thus the damage to Iraq's electrical facilities reduced the country's output of power to 4 percent of its pre-war level. And nearly four months after the war the national power generation was only 20-25% of its pre-war total or about the level it was at in 1920 (Hiro 1992: 354; Gellman 1991).
Estimates of War-Related Human Losses
Neither the U.S. government nor the Iraqi government has seen fit to release data on the extent of the war-caused human and material losses. Data on such losses are in the realm of estimates hence the wide variation.
The Gulf war-caused and related human losses fall in three categories: (1) military and civilian losses during the war itself 16 January - 28 February 1991; (2) civilian and military human losses during the unsuccessful popular March 1991 uprising against the Baath regime and its institutions; (3) civilian losses which can be attributed to the effects of the destruction of infrastructure and other facilities and the continued embargo. The last category will be dealt with in a later section.
Estimates of military losses show a large widespread. Thus in March 1991 Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney said:
If anybody is curious about what we think happened, we think there were a lot of Iraqis killed. Our military effort was aimed specifically at the destruction of these forces that took Kuwait, the destruction of [Saddam Hussein's] offensive capability, the destruction of divisions he used over the years to terrorize his neighbors, and we did that (cited in Clark 1994 : 44).
Also in March 1991 Operation Desert Storm Commander in Chief General H. Norman Schwarzkopf said, "We must have killed 100,000..." (Ibid. : 43). But in May 1991 the Defense Intelligence Agency issued its estimate of 100,000 Iraqi troops were killed with an "error factor" of 50 percent meaning that 50,000 to 150,000 might have been killed (cited in Hiro 1992: 396).
In 1992 the Pentagon estimated that 9000 Iraqi troops were killed in the air war plus 120,000 Iraqi troops escaped/killed during the ground war. The last figure was arrived at by estimating that out of 183,000 Iraqi troops present at the start of the ground war 63,000 were captured with the balance assumed to have escaped/killed (House Armed Services Comm 1992: 33).
Dillip Hiro (1992: 396), using different sources, concluded that 82,000 Iraqi soldiers lost their lives in the six week Gulf war.
Similarly, estimates of civilian losses during the war show very wide spread ranging from 2500-3000 ( Middle East Watch 1991: 19) to 11,000-24,500 (Kainker 1991: 345). But given the extensive bombing of Iraq Ramsey Clark, however, maintains that experience, reason, Commission of Inquiry research and actual counts completed show that more than 150,000 civilians have died, until early 1992, including 100,000 postwar deaths (1994: 83, 209).
Moreover in the month long uprising against the government which followed the war it was estimated that between 20,000 and 100,000 civilians lost their lives. In addition it was estimated that 15,000 to 30,000 Kurds and other displaced persons died in refugee camps and on the road and that another 4,000-16,000 Iraqis died of starvation and disease (Murphy: 1991).
In addition to the loss of human lives the war and its aftermath inflicted other forms of losses on the civilian population some of which are difficult to quantify. No information for instance has been released regarding the injured, the maimed and the traumatized whose numbers and the extent of their plight are not known. Similarly it is difficult to estimate the losses endured by the large numbers of refugees and displaced persons whose plight was caused by the manner in which the government crushed the March 1991 uprising. Suffice it to say that in late March 1991 more than two million people "got up and left their homes in less than six days," fleeing to Iran and Turkey or have sought refuge in the southern marshes near the Iraq-Iran border (Miller 1991).
Postwar Poverty and Death
In addition to the loss of life during the war itself there were other effects which manifested themselves after the war. The breakdown in health care delivery systems, lack of medicines, food and purified water, and the destruction of power generating plants contributed to more deaths among civilians especially children.
In addition, the sanctions/war period had enormous impact on living standards and personal income. The depth of the collapse of real income and living conditions of most Iraqis was captured by J.Dreze and H. Gazder in their study of hunger and poverty in Iraq (World Development 1992: 921-45). Thus, for the year ending August 1991, they reported these findings:
1. monthly earnings must have changed relatively little
2. consumer prices during the same period increased considerably especially the food price index which increased by 1,500 to 2,000 percent in that year.
3. the food purchasing power of private incomes have dropped by a factor of 15 or 20 or to 5-7 percent of their August 1990 levels.
4. real monthly earnings have declined below the benchmark used by the government before 1990 to identify "destitute household" eligible for government support.
5. these earnings are lower than the monthly earnings of unskilled agricultural workers in India-one of the poorest countries in the world.
Data in table 3 shows the magnitude of decline in income and living standards.
Table 3 Estimates of Labor Earnings in Iraq (August 1991) Compared with Various Benchmarks Description of the estimated variable Estimate Index (ID/month) Nominal monthly earnings, unskilled labour (public sector) 260 100 "Effective" monthly earnings, unskilled labour (public sector) 468 180 Monthly earnings of unskilled labour in India (in calorie-purchasing-power equivalent) 482 185 Value of the Indian poverty line in terms of "calorie-purchasing-power equivalence" 667 257 Value of the "destitution line" which the Government of Iraq used before August 1990 to identify households eligible for social security payments 835 321 Value of the average 1990 food basket 1,010 388 Value of pre-crisis real earnings of unskilled labour (public sector) 4,022 1,547 Source: (Ibid. 936)
3. The Sanctions Since the End of the War
In its Res. 660 of 2 August 1990 the UN Security Council (UNSC) demanded that Iraq withdraw its forces from Kuwait to the positions in which they were located on 1 August 1990. The failure of Iraq to comply with that demand prompted the UNSC to adopt on 6 August resolution 661 which imposed the embargo regime mentioned earlier.
The embargo regime, as stated in Res. 661, was designed to secure Iraqs withdrawal from Kuwait and restore the authority of the government of Kuwait. Although both of these conditions were met following the cease-fire the UNSC decided, however, to retain the sanctions regime and add new requirements for its removal.
Continuity and Change in the Sanctions Regime
In April 1991 the UNSC adopted Res. 687 which the U.N. Secretary-General described as one of the most complex and far-reaching sets of decisions ever taken by the Council (UN 1996: 29-33). In this resolution the UNSC affirmed all its previous resolutions and set out in great detail the terms and the requirements for the lifting of the sanctions. These requirements include boundary settlement, elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD); Iraq's unconditional undertaking not to acquire or develop nuclear weapons or nuclear-weapons-usable materials as well as any subsystems or components or any research, development, support or manufacturing facilities; the adoption of a plan for the future ongoing monitoring and verification of Iraq's compliance with the nuclear ban; the establishment of a compensation fund financed by Iraq to settle claims against Iraq; the demand that Iraq adhere scrupulously to its foreign debt obligations and; repatriation of all Kuwaiti and third country nationals (Ibid.).
The new resolution introduced an important modification in the sanctions by allowing Iraq to import foodstuffs by dropping the reference to "in humanitarian circumstances" which had been part of Res. 661/1990. But since Iraq was not allowed to sell oil to import foodstuffs this modification proved to have no effect on health and living conditions in Iraq.
The Council decided also to review Iraq's compliance with the new requirements in every sixty days to determine whether to lift or modify the sanctions. In the meantime exceptions to the oil embargo would be approved when needed to assure adequate financial resources to provide for essential civilian needs in Iraq (Ibid.).
How Did the UNSC Respond to Humanitarian Needs in Iraq?
As was stated earlier the Sanctions Committee had refused to recognize the existence of urgent humanitarian needs in Iraq during the period August 1990-March 1991. This meant that the bulk of the enormous food needs of the Iraqi people-more than 10,000 tons per day of food grain alone were unmet. The case of medical supplies was not much better (Dreze and Gazdar 1992: 924).
The humanitarian emergency conditions in Iraq and the pending human catastrophe were highlighted in the 20 March 1991 report by a U.N. (and representatives of six other U.N agencies) mission led by U.N. Under Secretary-General Martti Ahtisaari (UN 1996: 186-8). The bleak picture which the report presented regarding living, health and economic conditions in Iraq was concluded as follows:
I, together with all my colleagues, am convinced that there needs to be a major mobilization and movement of resources to deal with aspects of this deep crisis in the field of agriculture and food, water, sanitation and health...It is unmistakable that the Iraqi people may soon face a further imminent catastrophe, which could include epidemic and famine, if massive life-supporting needs are not rapidly met...Time is short (Ibid.).
Only two days after the release of this report the Sanctions Committee made the following determination:
In the light of the new information available to it, the Committee has decided to make, with immediate effect, a general determination that humanitarian circumstances apply with respect to the entire civilian population of Iraq in all parts of Iraq's national territory (Ibid.: 189).
But since Iraqs foreign held assets were frozen and its oil exports were embargoed the Sanctions Committee's determination proved to be of no benefit to the population.
In the meantime another mission led by the Executive Delegate of the U.N. Secretary-General for humanitarian assistance submitted its 15 July 1991 report on humanitarian needs in Iraq. The new mission concentrated its work on four sectors: food supply, water and sanitation systems, the oil sector, and power generation.
The mission estimated the cost of returning the systems in each of the four areas to their pre-war conditions to be $22.1 billion (Ibid.: 273-9).
The mission also offered a one year estimate of the costs based on scaled down goals rather than pre-war standards and came up with the figure of $6.8 billion including $1.67 billion for food imports; $2.2 billion for power generation; $2 billion for the oil sector; $.5 billion for health services; $.18 billion for water and sanitation; and $.3 billion for essential agricultural inputs. It is worth pointing out that the proposed $1.62 billion for food imports was based on the ration level that World Food Program provides to sustain disaster-stricken population (Ibid.).
In addition to the humanitarian merits of the case the mission advanced two other arguments. First, the amount of funds that Iraq required to meet its humanitarian needs are simply beyond what the international community is willing to provide. Only Iraq has the resources to fund its needs provided, of course, it is allowed to export its oil. Second, at a time when there are other disasters of daunting dimension around the globe Iraq should not have to compete for scarce aid funds with a famine-ravaged Horn of Africa and a cyclone-hit Bangladesh. The report concluded with this recommendation:
It is clearly imperative that Iraq's "essential civilian needs" be met urgently and that rapid agreement be secured on the mechanism whereby Iraq's own resources be used to fund them to the satisfaction of the international community (Ibid.).
The Iraqi People between the Council and their Government.
The Executive Delegate's findings and recommendations converged with UNSC's need for funds to finance UN operations in Iraq and to provide financial resource to the UN Compensation Fund. This convergence led the UNSC to authorize the export of $1.6 billion of oil over a six month period under Res 706 and Res 712 of August and September 1991 respectively.
The UNSC advanced several reasons for this limited exemption of the sanctions.: a) the serious nutritional and health needs of the Iraqi civilian population as described by the Executive Delegate, b) the need to meet the cost of UN operations in Iraq and c) the need to provide the UN Compensation Fund with financial resources, which the UNSC has determined not to exceed 30 percent of the value of Iraq's oil exports. These deductions amounted to $666 million thus leaving only $934 million for humanitarian imports- a sum which fell $800 million short of the amount estimated by the Executive Delegate to meet the humanitarian and essential civil requirements of the Iraqi people (Ibid.: 299).
UNSC's lack of interest in providing a minimum level of humanitarian assistance was matched by the Iraqi government's lack of interest in relieving the plight of its own people when it rejected the provisions of the resolutions. Although the government and the UNSC held negotiations to find ways to implement these resolutions the negotiations failed and were suspended in 1993, two years after the adoption of the resolutions.
The failure to implement resolutions 706 and 712 meant that the UN had to find some alternative sources of funds to ease its own fiscal difficulties. Thus in the first action of its kind the UNSC adopted on 2 October 1992 resolution 778 which called upon states in which there were funds representing proceeds from the sale of Iraqi oil paid for after 6 August 1990- when UNSC imposed the embargo- to transfer such funds to the UN-controlled escrow account.(UN 1996: 101). Such funds turned out to be small as approximately $100 million of such funds found their way to the escrow account (Ibid.: 562-66).
Resolution 986 of 14 April 1995
The failure to implement resolutions 706 and 712 meant the continued deterioration of the Iraqi economy and further decline in the living conditions of the people as attested to by UN agency reports (FAO/WFP 1993).
It was not until 1995 when the UNSC decided to revisit the issue of sanctions when it adopted Res 986 allowing Iraq to sell $2 billion worth of oil over a six month period to provide funding for various UNSC mandated operations in Iraq and to help Iraq purchase food and medicine. Except for the increase in oil income-from $1.6 billion under the 1991 resolutions to $2 billion under this resolution, the core of the scheme remains the same. The UNSC retained to itself the necessary mechanisms to monitor all sales and purchases. All funds were to move through UN-controlled an escrow account.
With 30 percent of the proceeds to be diverted to the Compensation Fund and other deductions to pay for UN operations in Iraq it was estimated that Iraq would get $1.334 billion every six months to finance its imports of food, medical supplies and other essential humanitarian needs. Given the size of Iraq's population the allocations for imports under Res. 986 amounted to $126 per person per year.
Although the UNSC-authorized sale of oil was insignificant relative to civilian needs the income from the sale of oil would have provided much needed relief. Yet the Iraqi government decided to reject Res. 986 thus plunging the economy in deeper crisis. One indicator, among many, of the depth of the economic crisis was the collapse of the value of the Iraqi dinar (ID) vis-a-vis the dollar which declined from ID 706 in January 1995 to nearly ID 3000 in January 1996. The resulting hyperinflation and the further collapse in what remained of personal income purchasing power forced the government in January 1996 to reverse its position and agree to enter negotiations with the UNSC over the implementation of Res 986. An agreement was reached in May 1996 over the implementation of the resolution. But it was not until December 1996 when Iraqi oil was finally allowed to flow to the world market. This arrangement came to be known as the oil-for-food program.
Soon after the flow of Iraqi oil to the world market it became clear that the $2 billion per six months authorized under Res. 986 was far from sufficient to meet Iraqs humanitarian needs. To increase oil revenue the UNSC adopted Res. 1154 of 20 February 1998 which raised the ceiling on oil sales to $5.2 billion per six months. Iraq, however, was not in a position to reach this new target due to its limited production capacity on the one hand and the sharp decline in oil prices in 1998 on the other. Instead, oil sales have generated between $2 and $3 billion per six months.
According to a report by the UN Secretary General total oil sales from the inception of the oil-for-food program in December 1996 until the end of January 1999 amounted to $9.8 billion of which $6.2 was allocated to Iraq with the balance of $3.7 billion appropriated to the Compensation Fund, UN activities in Iraq and the government of Turkey to cover Iraqs oil transit fees (UN 1999a: Annex I).
It is worth noting that the oil-for-food program enabled Iraq to import $140 per person per year compared with pre-embargo civilian imports of $520 per person. It is worth noting also that the oil-for-food program provided some relief to the population which had become dependent on the food ration system. This highly-subsidized food ration, composed of grain flour, rice, cooking oil, sugar and tea, supplied 1654 calories per person in 1993 or 53 percent of the 1987-1989 average calories availability. In 1997 the ration supplied 1998 calories or 64 percent of the 1987-89 average (FAO 1995:35 and EIU 1998:20).
This relief provided under the oil-for-food program did not change the underlying conditions of a deteriorating economy. Thus according to the UN Secretary General general malnutrition was found to occur in 14.1 per cent of infants in 1996 and 14.7 per cent of infants in October 1998. And for children under five general malnutrition was found to occur in 23.4 per cent of children in 1996 and in 22.8 per cent of children in March 1998 (UN 1999a: para. 33). In a report of a UNSC-appointed panel it was stated that:
The fact that basic humanitarian needs are being met through handouts does not contribute to stimulate the economy and has an indirect negative impact on agriculture, while increasing State control over a population whose private initiative is already under severe constraints of an internal and external nature (UN 1999b: para. 48).
The Iraqi government's failure to accept resolutions 706/712/986 deepened the country's humanitarian emergency and aggravated the suffering of the people. Moreover, had the government complied with all resolutions and had the Council responded by removing the sanctions Iraq's oil exports would have generated more than $140 billion of oil revenue by 1999 which could have done so much to alleviate the humanitarian emergency and restored the viability of the economy.
Government-Created Humanitarian Emergency
It would not be accurate to argue that the UNSC was solely responsible for the rise of conditions of humanitarian emergency in Iraq.
The deep, long and generalized impact of the sanctions regime was superimposed on a society that has already been forced to suffer the consequences of the eight year war with Iran.
As was stated earlier the economic consequences of that war, among other factors, led the government to invade Kuwait which in turn led to the sanctions and the Gulf war. The popular uprising against the government and the institutions of the ruling Baath party that followed the Gulf war and the unprecedented measures which the government employed to restore its authority deepened the plight of an exhausted and traumatized society.
One particular segment of the Iraqi society, the Kurdish people who comprise between 15-20 percent of the population, had been subjected to particularly harsh treatment. Since the inception of the Iraqi state in 1921 the non-Arab people of Iraqi Kurdistan have attempted to ascertain their right to some kind of self-rule within the Iraqi state. The denial of this right led to periodic rebellions all of which were crushed by every regime that came to power in Baghdad. The last of such rebellions was crushed in 1975.
In the aftermath of the 1975 collapse the government embarked on a two-pronged policy of coopting large number of Kurds on the one hand and, implementing drastic measures against the Kurds on the other. To coopt the Kurds the government created a small autonomous region and favored it with economic development projects. At the same time the government pursued policies to change the demographic composition of the oil producing region of Kirkuk. This policy of "Arabization" entailed the resettlement of Kurds and their replacement by Arab peasants. Moreover, more Kurds were forced to relocate in no-mans-land along the border with Iran and Turkey in so-called "collective villages" located in barren areas easily accessible to the Iraqi army (U.S Senate Committee on Foreign Relations 1991: 25-6; UN 1993: 26).
When, in the context of the Iraq-Iran war, the Kurdish leadership decided to side with Iran the Iraqi government in 1985 resumed its campaign of indiscriminate destruction of villages and the relocation of large numbers of the Kurdish population to what the government called "victory cities" which had been described as concentration camps housing over one million Kurds (Ibid). And in 1988 Iraqi aircraft attacked Kurdish villages with bombs containing lethal poison killing thousands of civilians (UN 1996: 395-409; UN 1993: 29)
But the forced relocation of large numbers of Kurds turned out to be a prelude to specially cruel operations called Anfal which extended from 1987 to 1988. The Anfal operations were carried out according to mapped instructions or detailed plan of military actions which employed the use of artillery, mortars, tanks and aircraft to variously "demolish", "raze", "burn", 'destroy" and "wipe out" Kurdish villages. This was followed by another phase of "purification" or "cleansing". These operations were nothing but a "license to kill" all persons and animals "at all times of the day or night in order to kill the largest number of persons" and to execute " all persons captured... between the ages of 15 and 70" (UN 1993: 27-28 ). The Anfal operations which the UN Special Rapporteur characterized as "genocidal practices" and genocide-type design resulted in the destruction of 3,839 villages, hamlets and towns, 1,757 schools, 2,457 mosques and places of worship and 271 hospitals and clinics along with the deportation of 219,828 families (UN 1996: 404). In his 1993 report the Rapporteur adds this grim piece of information:
The extremely high number of disappeared Kurds, in comparison with non-Kurdish Iraqi citizens, and the general pattern of violations (including mass executions and arrests) during Anfal... give everyday more credence to the Kurdish claim that a total of some 182,000 persons disappeared (UN 1993: 30).
While the non-Arab ethnicity of the Kurds played a decisive role in government actions the Shiaa community which constitutes the majority of the population did not escape government acts which violated their human rights. Nor were the Marsh Arabs and other minorities spared the government repressive measures and policies (UN 1996: 406-408).
Shattered Society and Crippled Economy
The destruction of human life and resources which the government inflicted on the people weakened their resistance to the impact of war and sanctions.
Iraq, as was stated earlier, is totally dependent on imports and exports for the functioning of its economy, its state, and the welfare of its people. Foreign exchange earnings from a single export, oil, have been used to import foodstuffs, consumer goods and capital goods. The other side of this dependence is that once oil flow is chocked off it is only a matter of weeks before shortages appear, inflation begins, exchange rate falls, unemployment rises, economic dislocations occur, agricultural and industrial output declines and the economy slides into stagnation. And this is precisely what happened soon after the embargo was imposed.
Some observers indicate that living standards and the levels of social services in Iraq prior to the war were comparable to those in some of the wealthier oil monarchies. That may be true so long as we remember that such living standards are imported and are unrelated to Iraq's non-oil economy. The outbreak of the Iraq-Iran proved how a few bombing missions by the Iranian air force could deprive Iraq of a major portion of its oil income and expose its vulnerability to external shocks.
Take the 1991 bombing of electrical generating capacity as another illustration of Iraq's vulnerability. Iraq's inability to replace capacity was nothing short of catastrophe for the economy and society. Without electricity, hospitals cannot function, perishable medicines spoil, water cannot be purified, and raw sewage cannot be processed. In short death rates would rise.
And this is precisely what happened in the aftermath of the Gulf war as the International Study Team (IST) showed in its report in October 1991:
1. Infant mortality increased by nearly 330 percent in January-August 1991 over the weighted average for the period 1987-1990.
2. Similarly the under-five mortality rate increased by 380 percent during the same period.
3. The nutritional status of children has been severely affected especially those between one and two years. The Team's estimates of height-for-age and weight-for-age show significant levels of malnutrition for the 1-2 years age group which has lived most of its life under conditions of war, unrest, and sanctions.
4. All hospital laboratories were functioning at only a fraction, 30 percent, of their pre-war capacity due to shortages and equipment failure (1991: 1-9).
That was in 1991 when perhaps very few people entertained the thought that Iraq would continue to labor under the sanctions to the present, May 1999.
It should be stressed that there has been no shortage of warnings and appeals from international agencies and groups about the plight of Iraqis. Thus a Food and Agriculture Organization/World Food Program Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission reported in its Special Alert of July 1993 the following:
-the mission noted the prevalence of the commonly pre-famine indicators such as exorbitant prices, collapse of private incomes, soaring unemployment, drastically reduced food intakes, large scale depletion of personal assets, high morbidity levels, escalating crime rates and rapidly increasing number of destitute people.
-a massive starvation in the country has so far been averted by the provision of low-cost food under the public rationing system which meets one half of the needed caloric intake. But a collapse of this system would spell a catastrophe for the majority of the Iraqi population.
-the nutritional status of the population continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate due to the embargo-induced hyperinflation and collapse of real income
-large numbers of Iraqis have now food intakes lower than those of the populations in the disaster stricken African countries (1993: 1-3).
Delegates who participated in missions to Iraq both in 1991 and 1995 to report on nutritional status and mortality of children had these observations to make:
-the situation in the country had significantly deteriorated since our visit in 1991. Street children, a rare sight in 1991, were common now. Parents with severely malnourished children were begging on the streets.
-among children under five there has been a five-fold increase in mortality compared to the period before the sanctions. The sustained mortality has resulted in a half million child deaths related to the war and the sanctions occurring over the past five years.
-all sectors of society, aside from Saddam Hussein's inner circle, were affected
-a civil engineer's monthly salary of ID 5000 can purchase a little more that 2 pounds of chicken or one pound of red meat or about three dozens eggs
-government food ration which consists of flour, rice, sugar, tea, pulses, and cooking oil now meets one third, instead of one half, of the caloric need.
-at this level of malnutrition and excess mortality among children under the age of five Iraq is increasingly becoming a concentration camp with the economic sanctions imposed by UNSC effectively serving as the barbed wire (Fawzi and Zaidi 1996: 13-14).
The deterioration in living standards and health conditions could be gleaned from some of the observations and conclusions reported in the November 1995 FAO mission report:
-the monthly average of deaths of children under five years increased from 593 during the year 1989 to 4,475 in the January-July 1995 period. Selected causes of this dramatic rise in death include respiratory-infections,-diarrhea/gastroenteritis,-and malnutrition (FAO 1995:42).
-for Baghdad, a highly advanced city, the prevalence of underweight children, 29 percent, is comparable with children from Ghana at 27 percent and Mali at 31 percent. For stunting, prevalence rates are similar to estimates from Sri Lanka at 28 percent and the Congo at 27 percent. The prevalence of wasting in Baghdad is comparable with estimates from Madagascar at 12 percent and Burma at 11 percent.
-major surgical operations have been reduced to 30 percent of pre-sanction levels. Hospitals and pharmacies continue to suffer from lack of life-sustaining drugs, other medicine and medical equipment and accessories (Ibid.: 18).
-the health and nutrition situation in Kurdistan was made worse by the embargo which the government imposed on the three self-ruling governates (Ibid.: 19).
-lack of spare parts and inputs inflicted further deterioration on the quality of water and sewage treatment plants thus aggravating public health conditions in the country (ibid.:iii).
-continued lack of spare parts and inputs in the agricultural sector compounded the difficulties of this sector causing decline in its productivity and output. (Ibid., ii)
-the continued siege of Iraq and the collapse of its currency vis-a-vis the dollar caused prices to rise phenomenally. Thus the price of wheat flour in August 1995 was 11,667 times higher than in July 1990 and 33 times higher than in June 1993. The prices of other items increased in the order of 4000-5000 times compared to July 1990 and 30 to 60 times compared to June 1993 (Ibid.).
-in contrast to this hyperinflation household incomes have collapsed for a large majority of the people-about 70 percent. The plight of the people may be gleaned from the fact that unskilled workers rarely find work and the average salary in the civil service is ID 5000 per month (Ibid). And this last figure could, as was stated earlier buy two pounds of chicken or three kilograms of flour (Ibid., ii-iii, 18-19, 25, 42).
Patronage in the Midst of Humanitarian Emergency
In the midst of the severe conditions of humanitarian emergency which engulfed the overwhelming majority of the population the government of Saddam Hussein did not hesitate to single out certain groups for special economic benefits and privileges. Thus in October 1994 it decided to favor the military, the police and security and other elite forces with special monthly allowances and other privileges. Some of the privileges were extended to civil and military pensioners. While these privileges cover some 3.5 million people the other 17.2 million Iraqis, or 83 percent of the population were left out of the program of privileges (FAO 1995: 7-8 and 19).
In addition to these discriminatory measures the government uses its fiscal resources and the country's scarce supplies of food in other forms to extend favors to its supporter or penalize its political opponents. While the Kurdish people of the north were subjected to internal embargo the government interfered with the flow of food to the inhabitants of the southern marshes as well(UN 1996: 401). In contrast, it was found that military officers and members of the Baath party enjoy their own food distribution network through special cooperatives. In addition, government and Baath party officials receive bribes and "gifts" by virtue of the important administrative positions to which they may be assigned, Moreover, the inner circle of the leadership does not appear to be touched by any economic hardships affecting their access to food and health care (Ibid.). Furthermore, it is evident that there is discrimination within the country on regional basis. The central cities of Iraq especially Tikrit and parts of Baghdad continue to enjoy preferred distribution of limited resources. According to a July 1995 UNICEF-sponsored report it was found that 50 percent of the rural population of the central/southern part of Iraq (and ninety percent in one southern governorate) have no access to potable water (Ibid.).
The government also enacted special measures designed to benefit certain elite groups to ensure their continued loyalty to the regime. Individuals selected to receive state largesses include military personnel who had received medals and citations in the Qadisiyyah of Saddam (the official name of Iraq-Iran war) and the Mother of all Battles (the official name of the Gulf war); Baath party officials who had received special citations; police and security personnel and a special group of individuals designated as friends of the president (Tareq Al-Shaab 1996).
The decorated military personnel and party officials were granted salary increments ranging between 150 percent and 300 percent; they were offered to buy state land for home building at discounts ranging up to 80 percent of the price of the land; they were offered to purchase state agricultural land at discounts ranging up to 80 percent of the value of the land; public sector assets may be bought by these individuals, their wives and their children at discounts ranging up to 30 percent of the sale price. And in September 1995 an edict was issued which confined the sale of state and state-owned enterprise assets to those decorated individuals and the friends of the president and their families (Ibid.).
It would be no exaggeration to say that in Iraq the regime is based on the personal rule of Saddam Hussein who exercises his rule using a combination of fear and rewards. In this predatory state power is concentrated in this single ruler who occupies the apex
of a clientelist pyramid. In such a predatory system public and private resources are melded and public office serves as a means for the creation of private wealth.
The Unique Case of Iraq's Humanitarian Emergency
In the context of humanitarian emergencies in the second half of this century the case of Iraq is a special one in that the emergency did not result from some sort of natural or environmental disaster such as flood or drought. Nor did it result from an extended civil war and serious internal migration.
In the case of Iraq humanitarian emergency arose and was shaped as a direct result of decisions taken and continue to be taken by two political centers of power. One such center is the UNSC under the leadership of the U.S. government and the other is the government of Iraq under the personal control of Saddam Hussein.
When Saddam Hussein took the decision to invade Kuwait the UN Security Council (UNSC) reacted by imposing a comprehensive embargo and blockade against Iraq. Since Iraq was utterly dependent on the world market for its oil export and for its imports of foodstuffs, consumer goods, inputs and capital goods the embargo did not take a long time to make itself felt. The sudden lack of food and medicines created serious humanitarian problems forcing the government to resort to a food rationing system which provided a small portion of the daily caloric needs.
For Saddam Hussein and his government the invasion of Kuwait proved to be a leap in the unknown since he did not foresee the swiftness with which the UNSC would react by imposing the blockade. Nor did they envisage a war of the magnitude of the Gulf war.
To compound the magnitude of war-caused human and material disaster, the uprising of the people of Iraq which was encouraged by president George Bush, was brutally repressed by Saddam Hussein's elite army units, the Republican Guard. In addition, an enormous refugee problem was created.
But as the war secured its aims, the eviction of Iraqi forces from Kuwait and the restoration of the rule of the al-Sabah family over Kuwait, the UNSC did not remove the sanctions. Instead, it levied under Res 687 new conditions for the removal of the sanctions. In the meantime the population was caught between a regime distinguished for its human rights abuses and a world body that was not prepared to take action against such a regime for invading Kuwait. This meant that the UNSC was not willing to accept responsibility for the humanitarian disaster which has plagued the people of Iraq.
In his assessment of the response of the United Nations to the Gulf crisis Richard Falk (1997:114) concedes "the Iraqi challenge in the form of blatant aggression and annexation of a UN member country in 1990," but characterizes such response as "confusing and ambiguous." Falk (Ibid.) gives several reasons for this characterization: the UN Charter commitment to peaceful settlement was not carried out convincingly, and, for many, not in good faith: hence, resort to war seemed premature, given the possibility of achieving comparable results with respect to the restoration of full Kuwaiti sovereignty by means of a combination of sanctions and diplomacy; the mandate to wage war delegated almost unlimited discretion to the American-led coalition, and this meant the addition of war goals not authorized by the Security Council, such as the removal of capabilities to produce weapons of mass destruction. A 'peace' of sorts has been imposed that has failed to protect the peoples of Iraq either against abuses by their own government or against the extensive suffering produced by international sanctions that are continuing several years after the cease-fire.
It is interesting to note that in its Res 688 of April 5, 1991 the UNSC condemned the Iraqi regime for its repression of the population and expressed the hope that "an open dialogue will take place to ensure that human and political rights of all Iraqi citizens are respected." The problem with this resolution is that it contains a central contradiction in that the Iraqi regime will cease to exist as soon as it recognizes and respects human and political rights in Iraq. Surely, UNSC is aware of the nature and the intentions of the Iraqi regime. As Graham-Brown noted; "US officials have stated that they do not consider that the current Iraqi government can remain in power if it complies with the requirement to end repression of its civilian population. The US has made it clear that it wants to maintain sanctions even if it is obvious that it is "moving the goal posts" to do so." (1995: 3-5). But to keep the sanctions in place until the Iraqi government complies with all relevant resolutions, as the US and UNSC demand, means that the sanctions will presumably be maintained as long the current regime is in power.
Nor regional considerations should be excluded as part of the explanation for the continuation of the system of sanctions. One such consideration is the potential effect of the return of Iraq's oil on Saudi Arabia. On the eve of its invasion of Kuwait Iraq was producing 3.3 MBD (million barrels per day) while Saudi Arabia's output was 5.3 MBD. Since the imposition of sanctions Saudi oil output has been above 8 MBD. If the return of Iraq's oil to the market means that Saudi oil will have to return to its relative position within the overall OPEC output quotas then the kingdom's oil revenue will decline sharply - a prospect neither the Saudi government nor its Western suppliers would be happy with.
An Observation on the UNSC and the Population of Iraq
Article 54 of Protocol I of the 1949 Geneva Convention and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts provides the following:
1. Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited.
2. It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive (Provost 1992: 602).
It is clear from these provisions that what has been done to the population of Iraq before and during the war is counter to the letter and spirit of these provisions. Worse still the sanctions regime is still in effect almost nine years after the end of hostilities and after the war aims have long been secured. Moreover, the UNSC must be well aware of the predictable effects of the sanctions on food supplies in Iraq. As was shown throughout this study numerous UN and UN agency and other international missions have documented the ruinous impact of the sanctions on the nutritional and health conditions of the population. Even in those cases when it was recommended that Iraq be allowed to export enough oil just to import enough foodstuffs to meet its requirements the UNSC failed to respond to such recommendations.
The indifference of the UNSC to the plight of the people is typified in the 5 February 1992 statement by the president of UNSC following the Iraqi government's refusal to accept the provisions of Resolutions 706/712 allowing the sale of $1.6 billion of oil over a six month period:
The members of the Council...underscore that the Government of Iraq, by acting in this way, is forgoing the possibility of meeting the essential needs of its civilian population and therefore bears the full responsibility for their humanitarian problems (UN 1996: 391).
Thus in one sentence the UNSC absolved itself of any responsibility toward the people of Iraq. The question which has not been answered after almost nine years of sanctions and more than one million deaths is whether the indifference of Saddam Hussein to the plight of his people can justify the UNSC's own violations of the human rights of an entire population. But Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with UNSC resolutions should not give the UNSC a license to abrogate its independent obligations to respect the human rights of the Iraqi people. In other words the UNSC has effectively given itself the liberty to impose collective punishment on an entire population for the decisions of its leader (Center for Economic and Social Rights 1996: 33-38).
It is important to keep in mind that in the case of Iraq the destructive impact of the sanctions regime has been intensified because of the war damage to the infrastructure, and, has disproportionately affected children. As was stated earlier hundreds of thousands of children died because of the sanctions. Such a tragic loss of life constitutes an outright violation of the most fundamental human right- the right to life, the supreme right from which no derogation is permitted even in time of public emergency.
Moreover, the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires signatory states to respect rights of children and outlines states' obligations toward them including the following: 1) every child has the inherent right to life; 2) states shall ensure the survival and development of the child; 3) states recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health by taking appropriate measures to diminish infant and child mortality, to ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and health care, to combat disease and malnutrition and to ensure appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers; and 4) states recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development (UN 1995: 335-39).
By keeping the sanctions against Iraq one is compelled to conclude that the UNSC and its members have violated each and every one of these rights and obligations.
In its Unsanctioned Suffering the Center for Economic and Social Rights concluded its study by stating that: every child has the inherent right to life and calls on all states to ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child and to take appropriate measures to diminish infant and child mortality. Given the clarity of the language of the Convention and the death of hundreds of thousands of children it is difficult to think of a more grave breach of child rights than we have seen and are seeing in Iraq-thanks to a political dispute between the Iraqi government and the UNSC (1996: 35-39.).
The humanitarian emergency which has been going on in Iraq is the result of a series of man-made decisions. After having enjoyed nearly three decades of growth the economy was subjected to the impact and the consequences of the Iraq-Iran war of 1980-1988. This was followed by the effects and the consequences of the invasion of Kuwait which were symbolized by the nearly total blockade of Iraq's economic interaction with the world economy. The Gulf war superimposed another set of destruction and devastation on the country which added to and intensified and amplified the impact of the sanctions.
Contrary to presumption and expectations the sanctions, which had been imposed in August 1990, are still in effect (May 1999) more than eight years after the aims of the sanctions and the war were secured.
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