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 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:
Depleted Uranium Scare
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 Iraqs "Committee of Pollution Impact by Aggressive Bombing."
Medical Facts on Iraqi Chemical Weapons Exposure
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