The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

Exploiting Suffering

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The Iraqi regime is skilled at seizing – and creating – opportunities to undermine the international community's resolve to maintain UN sanctions. And one of its most effective tools for accomplishing this goal is the systematic creation of hardship and suffering for the Iraqi people. While devoting massive resources to opulent palaces and huge weapons programs, the Iraqi government makes food and medicine scarce for average citizens. It then shifts the blame for the suffering of the Iraqi people from Saddam's policies to the United Nations, which established the sanctions. The real reasons for the suffering are quickly overwhelmed by the emotional weight of crying or emaciated children, doctors lamenting the lack of medicines and supplies, and parents pleading for relief.

Saddam Hussein's government uses tragic images to influence world opinion, and particularly to support the false allegation that the United Nations is killing Iraqis. These images include:

In a particularly shocking practice, the regime is known to collect the bodies of dead babies and store them for months at a time, so that they can stage mass funeral processions and create the impression that UN sanctions are killing small children.

The Iraqi regime has diverted to its weapons program or to luxuries for the regime's elites many millions of dollars that were intended for food, medicines, and other necessities. Under the UN sanctions exceptions, Iraq is explicitly allowed to import food and a wide range of medicines and other necessities, and the UN Security Council has expanded the list of allowable items several times in response to humanitarian and infrastructure needs. The regime either deliberately caused medical scarcity and malnutrition or simply saw that the suffering of the Iraqi people caused by its policies could be exploited for its propaganda value.

In either case, weapons for the armed forces and luxuries for ruling elites took priority over food and medicines for the people, and the regime found it more useful to continue the hardships and blame them on the sanctions than to meet its obligations and end the suffering. In 2000, Forbes magazine estimated Saddam Hussein's personal wealth at $7 billion, acquired primarily from oil and smuggling.

Blaming Sanctions for Regime Failure
In a total of 29 separate resolutions,6 the UN Security Council has stated clearly its reason for imposing sanctions: to force Iraq to comply with previous UN resolutions. But Saddam Hussein refuses to comply. In 1990, under UN Security Council Resolution 661, the UN permitted food and medicine imports. Beginning in 1991, the Security Council attempted to create an Oil-for-Food Program that would allow Iraqi oil to be sold, with proceeds deposited in an UN-controlled account and used to purchase food, medicine, and humanitarian goods for the Iraqi people.7 The Iraqi government rejected this proposal.

In 1995, over Iraq's protests, the Security Council adopted another oil-for-food resolution.8 It was only in 1996, after another year and a half of Iraqi delays and international pressure, that the Iraqi regime finally agreed to accept oil-for-food, allowing the first imports to arrive in 1997. Even after the program was in place, the regime continued to deprive its citizens of the food and medical commodities that the international community wanted to supply. In 22 subsequent resolutions the Security Council extended, revised, adjusted, or expanded the Oil-for-Food Program out of concern for the people of Iraq, consistently broadening the range of goods permitted for importation.9

Iraq claims that 1.7 million children, including 700,000 under the age of five, out of a total national population of 22 million people, have died because of sanctions. According to an Iraqi government website, after the Oil-for-Food Program was instituted the number of children who died before the age of five jumped 50 percent from 1996 to 2001. The facts tell a different story:

Case Study

Baby Funerals

"Small coffins, decorated with grisly photographs of dead babies and their ages – 'three days', 'four days', written usefully for the English-speaking media – are paraded through the streets of Baghdad on the roofs of taxis, the procession led by a throng of official mourners."
– The Observer (London)

People the world over are moved by the suffering and deaths of innocent children, and where possible, the Iraqi regime attempts to link images of child deaths to the policies and actions of its adversaries. They have blamed thousands of child deaths on United Nations sanctions, not the Iraqi regime's policies that caused those sanctions. They also claimed that exposure to depleted uranium from spent munitions used in the Gulf War had caused many deaths and deformities in children. To support these claims, they have staged mass children's funerals, and to stage those funerals, they need dead children. There is only one problem, according to defectors, journalists, and participants in these funerals: To have enough children's remains to make a proper show, the regime has to collect and store them.

A BBC Correspondent documentary aired on June 23, 2002, exposed how the Iraqi regime staged these processions: Instead of burying dead children immediately in accordance with Muslim custom, Iraqi authorities hold the bodies in cold storage until enough bodies are available to conduct a "parade of dead babies."15 In one such event, the Iraqi regime exhibited some 60 coffins, decorated with large photographs of the deceased, around Martyr Square in Baghdad while government-controlled demonstrators chanted anti-U.S. slogans and demanded the elimination of UN sanctions, all for the benefit of foreign reporters who were present.

On camera, an Iraqi identified as Ali, described as a former member of Saddam's inner circle living in northern Iraq, related the account of a taxi driver who had explained to him how it worked: "He went to Najaf [a town 100 miles south of Baghdad] a couple of days ago. He brought back two bodies of children for one of the mass funerals."16

Ali continued: "The smell was incredibly strong. He didn’t know how long they'd been in storage, perhaps six or seven months. The drivers would collect them from the regions. They would be informed of when a mass funeral was arranged so they would be ready. Certainly, they would collect bodies of children who had died months before and been held for the mass processions."17

In a separate article, the program’s host reported, "“A second, Western source went to visit a Baghdad hospital and, when the official Iraqi minder was absent, was taken to the mortuary. There, a doctor showed the source a number of dead babies lying stacked in the mortuary, waiting for the next official procession."18

A government-organized baby-funeral procession in Baghdad, 1998.
[Faleh Kheiber/Reuters]

Depleted Uranium Scare
During the Gulf War, coalition forces used armor-piercing ammunition made from depleted uranium, which is ideal for the purpose because of its great density. In recent years, the Iraqi regime has made substantial efforts to promote the false claim that the depleted uranium rounds fired by coalition forces have caused cancers and birth defects in Iraq. Iraq has distributed horrifying pictures of children with birth defects and linked them to depleted uranium. The campaign has two major propaganda assets:

But scientists working for the World Health Organization, the UN Environmental Program, and the European Union could find no health effects linked to exposure to depleted uranium.

The truth has not deterred the Iraqi disinformation campaign. On November 15, 2000, the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi reported that Iraq had set up an organization called the "“Central Committee for the Follow-up of the Consequences of Pollution" under the direct supervision of Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, to pursue this issue. It also reported that Iraqi Major General Abd-al-Wahhab Muhammad al-Juburi headed a working team of military personnel, scientists, and others to generate data and organize tours for the international media. Iraq has hosted international conferences on the alleged ill effects of depleted uranium and sent "experts" abroad to speak on the subject, including Iraqi professor Mona Kammas, a member of Iraq’s "Committee of Pollution Impact by Aggressive Bombing."

Medical Facts on Iraqi Chemical Weapons Exposure
The Iraqi News Agency website directs viewers to a gruesome picture of a boy from the city of Mosul, with the caption, "We say to human rights advocate: Look what their bombs have done to the children of Iraq. Look how they use internationally banned weapons, including Depleted Uranium ammunition, in their aggression against Iraq." In November 2000, the Iraqi magazine Alif Ba' claimed that an Iraqi child had been born with "two heads and three arms" because the mother had been exposed to depleted uranium.

If there has been an upsurge in birth defects and cancers in parts of Iraq, it is most likely to have been caused by the regime's use of chemical weapons from 1983 to 1988, including mustard gas and nerve agents. Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in southern and northern Iraq against the Iranians, with whom they were at war from 1980-88, and against the Iraqi Kurds, as in the well-known chemical attacks in the northern town of Halabja. Mustard gas has long been known to cause cancers and is strongly suspected of causing birth defects.

Dr. Christine Gosden, professor of medical genetics at the University of Liverpool researched congenital malformations, fertility and cancers in Halabja in 1998. Says Dr. Gosden: "What I found was far worse than anything I had suspected ... . Conditions such as infertility, congenital malformations and cancers (including skin, head, neck, respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, breast and childhood cancers) in those who were in Halabja at the time ... are at least three to four times greater, even 10 years after the attack. An increasing number of children are dying each year of leukemias and lymphomas. The cancers tend to occur in much younger people in Halabja than elsewhere, and many people have aggressive tumors ...."19

Dr. Gosden also described a visit to a hospital in Halabja: "The staff in the labor ward told of the very large proportion of pregnancies in which there were major malformations. In addition to fetal losses and perinatal deaths, there is also a very large number of infant deaths. The frequencies of these in the Halabjan women is more than four times greater than that in the neighboring city of Suleymania... The findings of serious congenital malformations with genetic causes occurring in children born years after the chemical attack suggest that the effects from these chemical warfare agents are transmitted to succeeding generations."20

According to Dr. Fouad Baban, Chairman of the Department of Medicine of Suleymania University, "Congenital abnormality rates in [Halabja] are four to five times greater than in the post-atomic populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rates of stillbirths and miscarriages in the town are even more alarming. Rare and aggressive cancers in adults and children are found at levels far higher than anywhere in the world."21

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