Sanctions on Iraq by Dana Williams


Geography | History | Persian Gulf War | Weapons Inspections | Sanctions | Internal Effects | Conclusions and Solutions | Sources

The state of affairs in Iraq today is a complex result of many factors: political, economical, and social. In order to fully understand the situation in Iraq under economic sanctions involves looking at the geography, history, and cultural realities within Iraq, the Middle East, and the world.



The geography of Iraq is rather varied in comparison to the rest of the Middle East: it is not complete desert as Saudi Arabia is, and it is not completely mountainous as Turkey is. Quite a bit of land, primarily around the Tigris and Euphrates, is irrigated and is productive farmland. Outside of these irrigated areas is land primarily desert and steppe, which is used for nomadic herding. In the west of the country, most of the land is desert and is not usable for any human purpose. In the north, however, there is a mixture of woodland and forest, mountain grazing, and cereal-growing areas (mainly in non-irrigated steppes).1

The temperatures and precipitation of Iraq is consistent with the region, with an average high monthly temperature of 93 degrees Fahrenheit and an average low of 28 degrees Fahrenheit.2 The majority of the country gets less than 32 inches of rain per year, although the north can get twice as much-64 inches per year.3

There is not much in the way of mineral resources in Iraq outside of oil. The few mined minerals include phosphates (in the west central) and sulfur (in the north). For the most part, emphasis is on oil, just as it is through out the entire region.4

The population is mainly centered on rivers, as it has been historically. The religion of the country is predominately Muslim, and only 3% Christian and other religions. Shi'a makes up 60-65% of the population, in the south central and east part of Iraq, with the Sunni minority (32- 27%) every where else, mainly in the north and west.5

It is also in the north where the largest ethnic minority lives, the Kurds. In fact, the Kurds are the largest landless nation in the world, centered predominantly in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Lebanon. The tension between the Kurds and the rest of Iraq is strong, as it is between the other states in the region, due to rebel groups' activities that ignore country borders.



Pre-Persian Gulf War

While the factors that have led to the sanctions in Iraq can be seen from the last few hundred years of history, specifically the 20th Century and within the past two decades, it is still useful to appreciate the extraordinary history of Iraq. Such a historical context is more than just an interesting story, but a fundamental part of Iraq's cultural past and legacy.

Mesopotamia, or the land between and around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, is one of the birthplaces of modern civilization. A string of successful city states that extended their power up and down the river banks started as early as 4500 to 5000 years ago with cities such as Eridu, Ur, Uruk, Babylon, Akkad, and others.6

One of the earliest events in Arab-Israeli tensions occurred with the first Diaspora, the Jewish Babylonian Captivity. Although there was no Islam then-- and, of course, no Arabs-- this set the precedence for the important emphasis Jews place upon their homeland. It also translates directly to the voracity that Israel defends its territory and struggles to expand out into the rest of the Middle East, creating buffer zones.

The future lands of Iraq were themselves overrun through out time, first by the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, and finally the Romans. Perhaps the most significant event in Middle Eastern history was the founding of Islam by Mohammed. The Muslims learned to see each other and brothers and sisters and thus united together to conquer what they saw as their Holy Land, into Jerusalem, as well as moving through Northern Africa and even onto the Iberian peninsula. While the rest of Europe languished through the Dark Ages, Arab nations prospered economically and intellectually.

Due to their unity under a common religion and identity, Arabs were able to repel nearly every invasion by the Europeans during their crusades to conquer the Middle East and Jerusalem.

The Ottoman Turks seized the region of the Mesopotamia in 1534 and ruled benignly, allowing others within the empire to run their own affairs with a large amount of autonomy. After being on the losing side of the imperialist-driven First World War, the Ottoman Empire was taken over by British rule.

The British realized early on the potential for investment in the region and consequently helped to set-up a monarchy within Mesopotamia after the League of Nations declared it a mandated territory in 1920. Britain continued to keep tight "control over Iraq's economic, foreign, and military affairs."7 Iraq was granted independence in 1932, although Britain retained its "military protection" under a 1930 treaty.

During World War II, some Iraqi army officers wanted to join with the Axis powers, but the British drove them from the country, leading Iraq to formally declare war on the Axis in 1943. After the war, the British capability to manage its empire declined severely, at which point the oil companies moved in, under the protection of the United States.8 The Iraqi government signed agreements with foreign petroleum companies that allowed the companies to produce oil in Iraq, giving the Iraqi government half the profits, for which it used to develop the country's infrastructure.

In 1958 the monarchy was overthrown and a republic was set up in its place. Premier General Abdul Karim Qasim reversed the country's prior pro-West stance and began accepting military and economic aid from the Soviet Union. The Kurds in the northern part of Iraq rebelled for the first time in 1961 and demanded self-government, which they still have not received.

Qasim was assassinated by conspiring army officers and for the following five years internal political turmoil ensued, with Ahmed Hasan al-Bakr landing on top. He then formed the Baathist controlled military government.

al-Bakr resigned in 1979 and was succeeded by lawyer and Baathist leader Saddam Hussein. By September 1980 Iraq was engaged in war with Iran, partially over land and territorial disputes, but also concerning other matters. Iran took the greater losses in the Iran-Iraq War with Iraq's strong infrastructure due to oil profits, and Arab and Western (specifically US) military aid and assistance.9

The US supported Iraq during this war primarily because Khomini in Iran was perceived to pose a threat via indigenous and religious nationalism, which, the US feared, would inspire Iran to push the oil companies out of the area, just as Hussein did as he invaded Kuwait to displace US-British clients.

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was an event that radically changed the relationship between Iraq and the West as Iraq exerted itself as a force in the Gulf region and challenged Western business interests. The effects of this near-overnight alteration are still felt today and stem directly from this action. It is thus vital to look at the causes of the conflict and the events that transpired.10



History, geography, and demographics aside, there are other important factors that contribute to understanding the dynamics of the Iraqi sanctions. The Persian Gulf War (not the Iran-Iraq War, but the UN-involved one) is one such event that warrants an in-depth analysis, as the sanctions are a direct result of it.

Western policy (specifically the US's) was radically different towards Iraq before the Gulf War. European influence over the country for half a century had integrated oil companies into Iraq and the whole region. There was overwhelming support of Iraq during their war with Iran in the 1980's, due to the religious and cultural fundamentalism, and anti-West ideologies of Iran. This policy of supporting Iraq over Iran, caused the US to overlook atrocities and human rights abuses inside Iraq, not to mention war crimes against Iran, such as the use of chemical weapons.

Invasion of Kuwait

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is based upon many factors. One factor is the Iraqi long-standing claim to Kuwait (as an ancient state of Iraq). Hussein also wanted to make Iraq the dominant power in the Gulf, and this was one way to do that, by overtaking Kuwait's port access to the Gulf (Iraq's is restricted to a 36 mile coast) and their oil fields. Iraq, prior to the invasion, protested Kuwait's exceeding of OPEC production quotas and their refusal to forgive million-dollar loans that Kuwait made to Iraq during their war with Iran. Iraq claimed that the war with Iran was one it fought on behalf of all Arab Gulf countries.11 In addition, Iraq wanted Kuwait to cede the oil-rich Rumaliah fields to them and had accused Kuwait of drilling side-ways into its territory.

There was mixed sentiment in different world and regional organizations that both Iraq and Kuwait belonged. The Organization of Islamic Conference condemned the invasion, but could not confront Iraq militarily. The Arab League also condemned the action, but internal disagreement led to inaction. The United Nations, on the other hand, acted quickly to denounce the invasion, and led by the US, passed resolutions to demand Iraq's withdrawal and to form an international army to force Iraq out.

In the Middle East and other Islamic states, countries were divided on support for the UN/US initiative to force Iraq out of Kuwait. Saudi Arabia and Israel (both US allies) stood behind the US, while Yemen, the Sudan, Libya, Algeria, and Tunisia (the headquarters of the Palestinian Liberation Organization), along with the PLO itself, expressed pro-Iraq sentiments and were opposed to UN involvement.

During their occupation of Kuwait, the Iraqi military "committed executions, widespread mistreatment of hundreds of Kuwaitis, hostage- taking, and large-scale looting". More than 3 million refugees fled Kuwait and Iraq, causing massive re-locations and migration problems through out the area.12

Desert Shield

During the negotiations with Iraq, the US-led coalition refused to accept linkage to regional issues (such as territorial disputes and the Palestinian situation). There were multiple offers from Iraq to retreat from Kuwait under a variety of conditions, such as exchanges for coastline, the Rumaliah oil fields, issues regarding weapons of mass destruction, mutual withdrawal of other states such as Syria and Israel out of Lebanon and Israel out of the territories it occupied in 1967, deals for the uninhabited islands in the Gulf, and so forth. The US intended to forcibly remove Iraq from Kuwait, with the large military force it was installing in the Gulf region, thus legitimizing an increased presence in the Gulf for future intervention, one that continues today.13

In the US media, people heard that the United Nations was "finally working", after decades of deadlock induced by superpower Cold War conflict. Now, with Russia going hesitantly along with the US, the UN's Security Council was allowed to function completely uninhibited for the first time ever. Although that unity has since broken down again (due to US/UK over-exuberance in retaining sanctions) a coalition was formed and after all Iraqi offers were turned down and a mandated deadline passed without Iraqi withdrawal, the US and its coalition attacked.

Nicknamed "Operation Desert Shield" by the US during the failing "negotiations", a massive build-up of US armaments formed in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and reinforced in Turkey. Economic sanctions (the first ever for food) were imposed, funds in world banks were frozen, and Turkey and Saudi Arabia (the countries in which Iraqi oil has to flow through) cut off pipelines. Iraq was effectively cut off from the outside world.

Desert Storm

After more than four months of military build up in the Gulf, the deadline of January 15, 1991 passed and "the most intensive target- specific air strikes in history were directed at Baghdad and other major cities in Iraq". After more than one month of heavy air bombing a ground battle started, and the coalition overwhelmed Iraqi forces in Kuwait and surrounding areas, pushing them effectively out of Kuwait.14

In the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, Hussein's forces put down popular rebellions in the Shiite south (miles from US front lines) and the Kurdish north with obscene violence. The coalition forces did not intervene, and even provided tacit.15 Not long after the fighting stopped, the CIA pulled US air support on a democratic opposition strike against the Iraqi military, causing them to be massacred. It is clear that the US does not wish for a popular rebellion to form into a democratic government anymore than it wants Saddam Hussein as president. In fact, the Bush administration said that the US wants an iron-fisted junta in Iraq without Hussein.

In the process of the air strikes, the infrastructure of Iraq and its major cities was destroyed. Immediately targeted were communication, transportation, military, industrial, and other infrastructures and systems. The US media emphasized the "100 hour war" in which the ground forces pushed Iraq from Kuwait, but lost in the mix was the destructive bombings that lasted much longer than one hundred hours and created the scenario for the devastating problems now facing Iraq. Actual damage was rarely ever shown on TV to viewers in the US, even though CNN had reporters in the country for nearly the entire war. Citizens weren't allowed to see, and thus rationalize, the destruction being caused.16



Presently, UN concerns over the existence of weapons programs are the only reason for keeping economic sanctions in place, and the high level of military forces in the Gulf. On April 3, 1991, the United Nation's Security Council approved Resolution 687, which says that Iraq shall unconditionally accept (which it did three days later), under international supervision, "the destruction, removal or rendering harmless of its weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles with a range over 150 kilometres, and related production facilities and equipment." It also set up a system for monitoring and verification to ensure that this occurred called UNSCOM (UN Special Commission).17

The intention of inspections is to remove any opportunity for Iraq to create future weapons systems and deploy them. The sad truth is that, in this day and age, it is possible for nearly any nation to develop and create weapons (be they biological, chemical, or nuclear). A few raw materials and parts are required, which need to be acquired from external sources, but the technical know-how for such things is widely available and thoroughly disseminated. Even so, Iraq has on more than one occasion, claimed to have unilaterally destroyed previously undeclared items, in violation of resolution 687 and other such violations.

Immediately following its invasion of Kuwait, Iraq offered to withdrawal if certain linked-issues were accepted, one of which was bilateral disarmament. Iraq and every other state in the Middle East would like to see Israel disarmed, and Iraq proposed to dismantle its arsenal if Israel and other states did the same. Since Israel doesn't "officially" have any nuclear weapons (unofficially they have about 200), it is essentially impossible for the US or UN to mediate on this issue, especially because the US vetoes every single initiative taken against Israel in the Security Council, something it has done since the formation of the Israeli state and its independence in 1948.

Iraq has used "weapons of mass destruction" before: mustard gas in the Iran-Iraq war and against the Kurds. In the same respect, the US, the main force behind keeping inspectors in Iraq, have used biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons as well: white phosphorous, napalm, Agent Orange on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, and two nuclear bombs on Japan (the first and only nuclear weapon attacks on a civilian population). Perhaps the first documented case of biological warfare in history was when the US gave smallpox infected blankets intentionally to Native American tribes, effectively killing entire populations.18

Thus, both sides in the weapons inspections have histories of terrorism and atrocity. Yet, it is Iraq on the hot seat in this case, and it is important to see whether or not resolution 687 has been achieved. By 1992, UNSCOM is aware of the complete destruction of all biological warheads in Iraq. All sites, apparatuses, and equipment used in production of biological agents have been destroyed under supervision. All sites that could harbor "dual use" are under strict monitoring. Yet, the file on biological weaponry remained open since UNSCOM claimed to need to verify all of this again.

At the same time, the preamble of resolution 687 which refer to four regional objectives have been ignored or flagrantly violated: "[t]he establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region of the Middle East; the establishment in the Middle East of a zone free of mass destruction weapons; the achievement of balanced and comprehensive control of armaments in the region; and the achievement of the objectives noted above through `all available (sic) means', including a dialogue among the states of the region".19

Scott Ritter, the former head of UN Weapons Inspection Team in Iraq and former US Marine, has said that "[t]oday, Iraq no long possesses arms of mass destruction,"20 while various other groups have claimed similar things. Iraq, of course, denies any active weapons program, but it is rather impossible to ensure that that is the case. With the amount of US firepower in the Gulf at present, Iraq would be very ill advised to pursue a weapons program or use any weapons on its neighbors.



The sanctions on Iraq, unlike the sanctions on Cuba, are multilaterally imposed not unilateral. That aside, it is well understood that the US is the country that decides when sanctions begin and end. It is important to attempt to understand the reasons for imposing sanctions, in order to determine what needs to be done in the future in regards to Iraq.

What reasons and possible explanations exist for imposing sanctions? Initially, it was a (fairly standard) procedure to eliminate the possibility of Iraq getting outside help after its invasion of Kuwait and to put economic pressure on it, during the crisis' escalation. But, Iraq is out of Kuwait now. So why do the sanctions remain in place?

There are a number of potential reasons, but the declared reason is that UNSCOM must determine that Iraq's weapon-making capacity has been eliminated. However, on numerous occasions, US politicians have stated that the sanctions will remain until Saddam Hussein is gone from power.21 The removal of Hussein, unlike weapons monitoring and inspections, is not a directive of UN Security Council resolutions or UNSCOM. It is only a US criterion, one that has been imposed unilaterally.

Other reasons for sanctions are feasible, but the aforementioned two reasons appear to be the main ones. All the same, sanctions serve to "punish" the Hussein regime for the Kuwait invasion. It also may be designed to starve the Iraqi population; although this seems monstrous, it is not a completely invalid notion. If the populace or military is starved to the point it is moved to rebellion, US goals will also be achieved. The sanctions also justify an American (and UN) presence in the Gulf, which in turn fosters a preferable atmosphere for oil companies, keeping prices controlled, regulated, and low. Although it may not be the goal of sanctions, they do serve to justify military spending in the US, which, since the fall of the Soviet Union, has dropped with no Evil Empire in order to fight-"Arab nationalism" (a.k.a. the "Green Peril") seems to have adequately filled that void in US policy.22

The design of the sanctions is a bit different than prior sanctions. As previously mentioned, this is the first set of sanctions imposed to ban food items. In addition to a ban on food, medicine, toys, consumer products, and school supplies are banned. Graphite from pencils could be used for weaponry as well. In fact, anything with "dual usage" is prohibited; things such as compressors (for air conditioners) are capable of being used in an industrial capacity for weapons manufacturing, and are thus banned. There is a Sanctions Committee that meets behind closed doors to determine what may be allowed in and what may not be. Any one member of the Committee may veto any item, and since it is the sole authority on what is allowed, the Committee has the final say in what Iraq is eligible to receive.

Under sanctions in which toothbrushes, tissue paper, soap, spatulas, light bulbs, detergents, and razor blades are banned, it is questionable as to whether or not these sanctions are meant to restrict the weapons making capacity of the country or its civilian population. Regardless of its intent, the impact on people has been huge and undeniable.

The only export allowed is oil, through the "oil-for-food" programme, which allows Iraq to ship out a limited amount of oil every half year in exchange for foodstuffs and medicine. The programme started in 1995, and was described as a way to work towards removing the sanctions against the Iraqi population. In February 1998, the Security Council nearly doubled the amount of oil that Iraq can export to $5.2 billion every six months. However, this limited program has many downsides, which are fundamental in its design.

Low oil prices make it difficult for Iraq to fulfill its exports; in fact it is projected for the country to fall far short of what it is permitted to sell. The reasons for this are various, but one important factor is the lack of spare parts for the oil industry; Iraq's oil infrastructure was badly damaged after the Gulf War, and continues to fall into graver disrepair without replacement parts. In September 1998, Iraq cut its outage by 10% due to the incapacitated oil industry. The chief of the oil-for-food programme, Benan Sevan, urged the Security Council to stop dragging its feet on approving $300 million for spare parts, which Bill Richardson, the US ambassador, considers "frivolous" and claims the parts could be used for other purposes.23

The programme does not, of course, prohibit other countries from selling as much oil as they want (OPEC does that), but Iraq is limited and restricted in that sense, and is thus at the mercy and whim at the other countries who are not restricted. Also, the oil-for-food programme does not identify or handle any other exports other than oil. Thus, there is no opportunity for Iraq to maintain an export industry of any kind. This limits the products and goods that Iraqis produce and make.

A recent proposal from Britain would allow for other exports, but still no imports-- not to mention restarting inspections and expanding the list of "dual use" items.24 The fundamental problem in this is clear: Iraq is not able to sustain an above-poverty level living standard without more food and medicine. It is not possible for Iraq to produce all the food they need internally, or to receive it via the oil-for-food programme. It needs to be able to trade for food. Medicine, also a banned item and regulated by the programme, is often merely a reactive solution to problems that are brought on by a destroyed infrastructure that cannot be repaired. Even medicines for normally occurring medical problems, non-sanctions related, are not widely available.

What do the sanctions accomplish? Well, if the goals of sanctions are to restrict its weapon making capacity, they have clearly done that. No outside weapon making products have entered the country, at least to the knowledge of the US/UN. In that respect, the sanctions seem to have accomplished what they've intended to do.

If the intent of sanctions is to topple the Hussein regime, it has yet to do so. If anything, sanctions have strengthened and entrenched the regime; without an influx of goods and armaments, no group inside of Iraq has the means to revolt. Under such economic stress, they have neither the time nor the capacity to organize and front a successful revolution against an entrenched regime. In addition, the regime is able to use the sanctions to its benefit: it can point to the West, the UN, and specifically the US as enemies and the ones responsible for the crushing sanctions. While correct, it only convinces the Iraqi population to not only support the regime, but also to curse the outside oppressors instead of its own repressive regime.

In the same way that two brothers will fight amongst each other until a neighbor comes around to pick on them, Iraqis may want to revolt against their brutal and repressive leader, but when they are being manipulated and starved by outside forces they are going to remain united with the regime in defiance of outside oppression. As in the case with NATO bombing of Serbia, the Serb dissidents, who before the bombing were critical of Slobodan Milosevic, became quiet or began supporting him once bombing began. Whether this is "right" or "wrong" is not the debate, it is simply a reality.

Whether or not the sanctions exist in a benign capacity towards the Iraqi population is up to debate, and has been vigorously debated. Yet, the fact remains that, intent or not, they are harming Iraqis in a very direct way without influencing the Hussein regime, in fact only strengthening it. A deeper question to ask, is if sanctions are ever capable of convincing leaders of anything? In the case of South Africa, sanctions were deployed in a fashion that did eventually aid in the end of apartheid, where they had the support of those in the country it meant to liberate. But, in the cases of Cuba and North Korea, sanctions have only strengthened those leaders' iron-grips on their countries, starved thousands of people (North Korea has been on the verge of famine for years now), and have done little to alter the stance of those leaders in any considerable fashion. In fact, if anything, they remain even more defiant of US will than they were before sanctions were imposed. Using those two cases as precedence, it appears that sanctions have not loosened the hold of rulers over their respective countries, and in the process, have barbarically starved countless innocent civilians to achieve a political end.



In taking a closer look at sanctions, it is clear that many unpleasant problems have arisen. These problems cause a direct threat to the continued health, sustainability, and survival of the Iraqi people, Iraq's environment, and the future of the Iraqi culture. In addition to the loss of life during the Gulf War, invaluable infrastructure in Iraq was destroyed, which has affected power, water treatment, sewage treatment, communications, transportation, education, and health care. The problems can be categorized into four different kinds: political, social, economic, and health.

Political effects of sanctions

The political affects of sanctions are sometimes hard to determine; yet it is often very clear what is happening, although there is not substantial and empirical evidence to uphold certain claims and observations. The dictatorship in Iraq has been further entrenched by removing the capacity, will, and initiative of others to revolt. The opposition within Iraq (which is undoubtedly still there) has been marginalized by the US, and further disheartened, disunited, disorganized, and fractured by sanctions.

Cutting off academic, news, and recreational literature from Iraq restricts the influx of outside opinions and ideas. It leaves those in Iraq highly susceptible to Iraqi propaganda, since no other information is allowed into the country (except for a counter-propaganda radio station run by the US). Without knowing what is going on in the rest of the world, Iraqis are cut off from functioning as global citizens and in their respective capacities and jobs. Teachers are restricted to teaching with 10-year-old books and doctors are working with 10-year-old knowledge and medical information.

As with any country cut off from outside news, the only source of information will come from inside the country. In Iraq, all news sources are run and regulated by the Hussein regime. It is thus ridiculous to assume that Iraqis are getting untainted news that does not actively promote the regime's viewpoint and goals. If the US's true intent was to overthrow the Hussein regime, it would not intentionally leave people closed off and under the regime's propaganda assault.

Hussein, a master of political manipulation, knows the "proper" way of creating internal strife between the different Muslim groups and the Kurds, which in turn, keeps pressure off him. The sanctions foster an environment of "every Iraqi for him/herself", and is not conducive to greater Iraqi unity.

Many Iraqi dissidents left during the Gulf conflict or even before, and have been operating as an "opposition in exile". This group receives aid from the US and other government and is intended to act the group to sponsor and organize revolution in Iraq against Hussein, and theoretically take over once he is removed. The opposition, however, is not in Iraq and cannot properly function with groups in the country, and is thus out of touch with the realities within the country.

Social effects of sanctions

The social problems that arise from sanctions are perhaps even more disturbing than the political problems. The lack of new textbooks, concepts, and techniques within schools, business, industry, and medicine restrict and cripple Iraq's entire social infrastructure. Without new ideas and information entering the country, this infrastructure is inadequately prepared to meet the needs that the citizens of Iraq require.

Destroyed schools and a lack of funds for school utilities, educational tools, and teachers lead to a highly crippled educational system. According to UNICEF, one quarter of all primary school children are not in school at all, a trend that will lead to a questionable future in Iraq.25

With a broken infrastructure-destroyed industry and manufacturing- workers have a lack of jobs, and thus economic security. This contributes to many family problems, in addition to a lack of new marriages, because men simply do not have the money to get married and support a woman (who cannot find work herself). This facilitates a society in which women are in a subjugated position and are not able to support themselves, allowing gender discrimination and sexism.26

Homelessness, land devaluation, and house value depreciation are outcomes of bombing and sanctions. Without adequate funds to repair or keep up houses and without the actual tools or materials to do so, people find themselves living in worse and worse conditions.

Finally, in addition to inflicted, institutionalized poverty on people, there is a brewing anti-American sentiment. In a country with a high-restraint on outside information and lots of government propaganda, an entire generation of children is growing up-- or may end up-- carrying substantial grudges against the US and the West. Sanctions are permitting the US to be blamed (however correctly so) for the internal problems and that blame may create future problems, not to mention the problems it has already caused with adults.

Economic effects of sanctions

The effects of economic sanctions on an economy should be obvious: with the restriction of imports and nearly all exports, entire industries inside Iraq have failed. Businesses have lost their markets and also, assuming they'd have access, their ability to produce for those markets. As previously mentioned, the UK has proposed a deal which would allow for additional exports, which could aid in expanding the economy and regaining those lost markets.

Despite the benefits that exports may allow, the lack of imports is the most crippling aspect of the sanctions. Without being able to import good for use in industries or for private, individual use, the people and businesses of Iraq are forced to rely on decade old technologies and goods. The infrastructure of Iraq, which was largely demolished in the Persian Gulf conflict, is in need of vast repairs, but without the ability to import those replacement parts and extra materials, that infrastructure remains crippled and either inoperable or inefficient.

The buying power of citizens has dropped considerably, with an average per capita income of only $247 a year, which places it below many countries in the very poor region of sub-Saharan Africa. In 1998, there was a per capita of $1300-it is easy to see that it has lately been falling even more rapidly. The entire country's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) used to be (before the Gulf War) around $60 billion per year. 1998's GDP was $30.4 billion. It is estimated to fall to $5.7 billion in 1999.27

There is an active black market in Iraq, one that is based upon a dinar-dollar exchange rate, which fluctuates with the political relationship between Iraq and the US. The largest note in circulation in Iraq is 250 dinars, worth about 13 cents to the US dollar. No place in Iraq accepts credit cards, thus most exchanges are of a laborious nature, where any outside transfer of money has to go through international banks relatively friendly to Iraq, and then to local exchange houses to be collected.28

Health effects of sanctions

Many of the health problems in Iraq presently can be directly attributed to the destruction of infrastructure, such as to hospitals, pharmaceutical factories, oxygen factories, water plants, and sanitational facilities. The destruction and fewer numbers of these buildings disrupt Iraq's ability to deal with normal medical problems, not to mention those due to problems brought directly on by sanctions themselves.

The problems of malnutrition and disease caused by sanctions overload Iraq's already limited medical capacity. UNICEF reported in late 1997 that almost one million children in southern and central Iraq were chronically malnourished, out of a population of little more than 22 million.29 Children under the age of five are dying at a rate of 4,500 per month due to hunger and disease brought on by sanctions. 30 One of every four infants is malnourished, which, by the age of two or three, malnutrition is "difficult to reverse and damage on the child's development is likely to be permanent".31

Statistics like the aforementioned can be listed for a very long time, with a prevailing picture that is very scary in regards to Iraq's future-- children. The rest of the population is not doing much better, 1.2 million total Iraqis have died in the seven year imposition of sanctions by 1998, 750,000 of which were children below five, due to food and medicine scarcity.32

A large part of the Iraqi diet has been threatened due to rampant livestock diseases, such as foot and mouth disease, Old World screwworm, peste des petits ruminants (PPR), and brucellosis. Foot and mouth disease caused the death of more than one million sheep and 150,000 calves in early 1999, and Iraq must now try to import the vaccines for the disease since inspection and supervision groups with UNSCOM destroyed the facilities, which produced the vaccines. As flare-ups and outbreaks occur, the livestock population and a large source of protein are being destroyed.33 Screwworms are burrowing into both animals and humans, and, like foot and mouth disease, are spreading to other Middle East states, like Kuwait, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Just like all diseases, these diseases do not respect national boundaries and travel freely with the animals that walk those borders. Even if vaccines were available for these problems, there isn't enough proper refrigeration to store them in due to a lack of refrigeration units and a damaged electrical system.34

Other health risks have been observed, such as a death rate for children with leukemia, 10 times higher than normal and children have been developing cancer at rates never seen before.35 Iraq has also demanded compensation from the UK for the Allies' usage of depleted uranium shells during the Gulf War, which it claims is the cause of unfamiliar diseases, and bone and fetal abnormalities. Depleted uranium is used to make shells denser than other shells, in order to increase its armor- piercing capabilities. Many inside Iraq, and in the UK and US, allege that "Gulf War Syndrome" and incidents of cancer and abnormalities with Iraqis could possibly be caused by the use of these DU shells.36



Since there are many facets to this problem, there are also many possible solutions. As with any problem of this magnitude, one "solution" is often not enough. It takes the coordination of many different solutions to reach a beneficial goal.

In the case of the Iraqi sanctions there are four different things to be accomplished in order to "solve" the aforementioned problems and reverse the detriment that has been done thus far to Iraq. First, and end to US and Iraq hostilities is important to downgrading the immediate antagonism on both governments and removing the possibility of weapon threats and more bombing. Second, an end to the suffering of Iraqi people needs to be a priority, as it is those people that warrant the most immediate concern. Third, a better infrastructure is needed in Iraq, so it can rejoin the industrialized nations of the world. And lastly, work must be done to move the entire region of the Middle East away from conflict to peace; a lasting peace in Iraq cannot be accomplished without peace in the whole region and, indeed, the world.

End US - Iraq hostilities

To bring about an end to hostilities between the governments of the US and Iraq, there needs to be distinct moves in the direction of peaceful resolution and negotiation, and not threats and bombing. Both governments need to realize that it is their policies that have led them to this point, and their own aggressions have brought this situation to a breaking point. The US government needs to halt its policy of antagonizing Iraq into defiance. Bombing threats, claiming that weapons inspectors are mistreated, and general fear mongering does not aid in diffusing tensions. A change in US policy that allows states to act autonomously and without economic or militaristic coercion is essential. Since Iraq and other Middle East states have been the target of much intervention by Europeans and then Americans over their oil reserves, it needs to be finally recognized that a state should own its own resources and decide how it will manage them, free from outside interference.

A change in Iraqi policy is necessary as well. Many of the reasons that the US continues to inflict sanctions on Iraq is due to Saddam Hussein. Whether or not that is a valid reason is not issue: the fact that the US views Hussein as a leader it cannot control is evidence that the US wants another puppet running Iraq. This is not to suggest that the way to repeal sanctions is to get rid of Hussein. Most likely that would happen, yet that would not be getting to the core issue, if the US continues to manipulate the next leader. A democratic opposition in Iraq is needed to either force reforms on the Baath party, or force the Party and Hussein out of power. In a country where ethnic tensions are high, it is imperative that everyone begins to work together for a common good, with a common goal in mind.

The United Nations and its Security Council, the international bodies which first initiated the condemnation and intervention in Iraq, need to also go through certain reforms in order to function more democratically in the future. As it is right now, the Security Council has five permanent member states, the US, Russia, China, France, and Britain, i.e. the victors of World War II. Any one of these states may veto resolutions, rendering the Council non-democratic. At the start of the UN Persian Gulf War, the states were in agreement over Iraq's aggression. Now that the aggression has ceased, the states are divided in how to further deal with Iraq. The US and Britain want to maintain sanctions, with Russia, China, and France wanting the sanctions done away with. Yet, due to the veto powers, nothing gets accomplished.

A true reform of the United Nation's Security Council would allow it to act not as it was designed to do (with imperial intervention), but with real democratic functions. The veto and permanent Security Council membership need to be reformed in order to achieve a functioning democracy in the world that will not be manipulated by superpowers. The answerability, jurisdiction, transparency, and ability of the Security Council to react fast to conflicts are also important qualities that need to be worked on.

End Iraqi suffering

Right now, with a lack of food and medicine, people are dying needlessly (not to suggest people ever need to die, of course), and immediate aid is essential to stop the atrocious conditions which are presently prevailing within Iraq. Aid in the form of actual foodstuffs and medicines are required. Also, monetary aid in the form of capital for fixing the sanitation and health care systems in Iraq will be needed for Iraq to get back on its feet in the long term.

Opening the markets of Iraq for free trade are also important, since it is the lack of ability to exchange goods that is causing so much damage. With the ability to trade, Iraq will be able to receive food and medicine, and alleviate the suffering of their people.

Improving Iraq's infrastructure

As one of the most direct ways to end Iraqi suffering in the long term, infrastructure improvement is a way to ensure that further humanitarian crises do not arise. The improvement of water and sanitation systems and health care are important and vital. These acts and others can aid Iraq to regain its pre-war status as a fully industrialized state.

Improvement in the infrastructure encompasses many other things than strictly physical improvements. It is an imperative that all bombing cease on Iraq; continued bombing does not allow sustainable development--it eliminates the ability to achieve it. Also of immediate importance is the move towards a broad democracy, one that includes Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs and Kurds, and all the other ethnic minorities.

An end to sanctions would, of course, aid in infrastructure development, but, at the very least, allowing more trading would help. Changing the items that are restricted by sanctions to a list of items that is not wholly restrictive and oppressive, as it is now. Approving loans and other infrastructure and humanitarian needs should be done.

The stranglehold of US policy over Iraq prohibits Iraq from rebuilding its infrastructure. The fact that the US is so fixated upon Saddam Hussein's presence and the possibility of weaponry is one that stifles and overrides humanitarian concerns which are also of importance, and indeed is belligerent and illegal.

The bottom line is that the US will have to be the side to give up ground in order for Iraq to improve its infrastructure, since Iraq does not have much more ground of its own to give up.

Peace in the Middle East

While an end to US-Iraq hostilities will facilitate immediate peace (or at least non-aggression), such a peace or cease-fire will be short lived if the other "linked issues" and concerns within the Middle East are not addressed and solved.

One of the largest issues in the Middle East continues to be border disputes especially those between Israel and its neighbors, and between Persian Gulf states and islands. The question of Palestinian sovereignty is also a hot issue that controls many a passion. To avoid future conflict over these issues, mediation must be continued to reach positions mutually acceptable to all sides, and have them enforceable within the states so that fringe elements do not disrupt peace agreements, as violence has in the past.

To further prevent conflict, the region should be demilitarized as much as possible. An excess of weaponry is only bait to bring on violence, and, if they fall into the wrong hands, can be used by groups for non-state-authorized terror. The dismantling of large weapon systems such as nuclear and chemical arsenals is essential, specifically in Israel. Arab countries feel in constant danger due to Israel's weaponry and, realistically, try to acquire their own weapon systems (although not nuclear yet). They are being armed by many other world powers, such as the US which, in 1998, gave arms to many of Iraq's neighbors: Saudi Arabia ($7.9 B, 1st largest), United Arab Emirates ($2.5 B, 2nd largest), and Egypt, Israel, and Kuwait (in 4th, 5th, and 6th places in military aid).

For the other countries to reverse these practices, democracy needs to be achieved in other states in the region, especially in monarchies and sheikdoms. Kuwait, which again recently voted down women's suffrage, is a prime example of governments that don't allow citizens to fairly participate in policy making.

Women's suffrage, civil participation, and economic empowerment are imperative through out the Middle East. Having women more integrated into the power structures in the region will introduce balance and other, more humanitarian concerns, which are often overlooked. Islamic fundamentalism, while not the norm, is a force that should be curbed as well, since it emblazons real problems with emotional rhetoric. The fundamentalist interpretations of Islam are restrictive of female participation in society and other liberalized humanitarian issues.

Kurdish autonomy and perhaps a Kurdish state would permit the Kurdish populations in the region to cease being a minority in their respective states, and thus focus on their own concerns. This, although highly unlikely, is something that needs to be done, since it'll empower the Kurds to control their destinies and resources.

The dominant force in the Persian Gulf is the presence of oil and to argue otherwise is to feign ignorance. Oil companies and the powers they wield and the powers that back those companies need to begin to take local considerations to heart. The pollution, environmental destruction, and civil disruption caused by oil drilling should be factors that play an important consideration in the future of the Middle East. Some form of oil company nationalization or regulation is necessary to reign in companies and apply domestic standards to what are predominantly multi-national corporations.



  1. Held, Colbert C. "Middle Eastern Patterns: Places, Peoples, and Politics". 1989, Westview Press, Inc., pg. 105.
  2. Ibid., pg. 49.
  3. Ibid., pg. 53.
  4. Ibid., pg. 134.
  5. Central Intelligence Agency. "The World Factbook 1999-Iraq", CIA, 1999.
  6. "Middle Eastern Patterns", pg.16.
  7. The World Book Encyclopedia, Volume 10, entry: "Iraq". 1986, Chicago: World Bank, Inc., p.328.
  8. Stivers, William. "Supremacy and Oil: Iraq, Turkey, and the Anglo- American World Order, 1918-1930". 1982, Cornell University Press, pp. 119-123.
  9. "The World Book Encyclopedia", pg. 329.
  10. Chomsky, Noam. "Deterring Democracy". 1991, New York: Hill and Wang, pg. 55.
  11. Hemmasi, Mohammad. "Geopolitics of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait". December 1990, Great Plains - Rocky Mountain Geographical Journal, Vol. 18 No. 1., p. 77-89.
  12. "Middle Eastern Patterns", pg. 193-194.
  13. Chomsky, Noam. "The Gulf Crisis", Z Magazine, February 1991.
  14. "Middle Eastern Patterns", pg. 194.
  15. Chomsky, Noam. "What Uncle Sam Really Wants", Berkley: Odonian Press, pg. 67.
  16. Solomon, Norman, "Keeping Us Posted on American's Worst Enemy", MediaBeat from Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting.
  17. United Nations. "UNSCOM: Chronology of Main Events".
  18. Zinn, Howard. "A People's History of the United States: 1492 - Present", New York: Harper-Perennial Library, 1995, pg. 86.
  19. Masri, Rania. "Half-Truths and Weaponry", Iraq Action Coalition, August 1998.
  20. Iraq Action Coalition, ed. "Quotes from Scott Ritter",
  21. Times of India "US talks of lifting curbs after Saddam", from Reuters, November 18, 1999.
  22. Ray, James Lee. "Global Politics", 1998, Haughton Migglin Co., pp. 334-335.
  23. Silber, Laura. "OIL: Iraq cuts deals by 10% over parts shortfall", Financial Times, September 5, 1998.
  24. Muller, David. "Reasons for rejecting the British-Dutch plan", December 14, 1999, from email to ADC Iraq Task Force , from
  25. Iraq Action Coalition. "The Student",
  26. Kinzer, Stephen. "It's No Life Now, Baghdad Women Say", New York Times, December 25, 1998.
  27. Abunimah , Ali. "Iraq's Chilling Economic Statistics", Iraq Action Coalition, March 18, 1999,
  28. Blair, Edmund. "Brisk business in Iraq's currency black market", Middle East Times, 1999, Issue 5,
  29. UNICEF. "Nearly one million children malnourished in Iraq, says UNICEF", UNICEF Information Newsline, November 26, 1997,
  30. UNICEF. "Disastrous Situation of Children in Iraq", October 4, 1996, gopher://
  31. UNICEF. "Child Malnutrition Prevalent in Central/South Iraq", May 29, 1997, gopher://
  32. Iraq Action Coalition, ed. "Summary of Facts",
  33. Arabic News. "Disease ravages Iraq's livestock and source of protein, threatens region", from Iraq Action Coalition (ed.), March 29, 1999,
  34. CBC News. "Sanctions spread disease across Middle East", March 2, 1999, from Iraq Action Coalition (ed.),
  35. BBC News. "Gulf War shells 'could be causing children's cancers'", March 26, 1998,
  36. BBC News. "Saddam says Britain owes compensation", May 28, 1998, More information:


Geography of the Middle East