Can you imagine growing up in a country where your government decides the amount of food you have to eat each day? What about having governments from other countries control your food supplies? Forget trips to 7/11 for a Slurpy and a Snickers, because if you grew up in Iraq in the 90s, you'd be lucky if you met even your basic nutritional needs. Since 1991, the under-five mortality rate in Iraq has more than doubled, according to an August 1999 Unicef report. What's the cause of this destruction to Iraqi children's lives, and how did it come about?
January 16, 2001 marked the ten-year anniversary of the Persian Gulf War.
Back in August of 1990, Iraqi forces, lead by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, invaded and occupied Kuwait, a small, oil-rich neighboring country. The invasion occurred after Iraq made several complaints against its neighbor, mostly having to do with oil and money. Four days after the Iraqi attack, the United Nations Security Council imposed an economic embargo on Iraq, which meant that Iraq could no longer buy or sell goods with other countries. When Iraq still refused to leave Kuwait, many Western powers, including the U.S., feared Iraq would now control international oil prices.
A week after the Iraqi takeover of Kuwait, a total of over 600,000 troops from all over the world (including 400,000 soldiers from the U.S.) gathered in the Middle East to form a coalition against Iraq. When Iraq showed no sign of retreat from Kuwait, the coalition began a massive attack on Iraqi targets on January 16, 1991. The war ended with a cease-fire agreement, signed by President Saddam Hussein, on March 3, 1991. Iraqi resistance had collapsed and left Kuwait, but only after setting fire to many of the Kuwaiti oil wells the coalition came to protect. For more information about the Persian Gulf War, including a time-line and facts sheet check out the CNN Web site.
Even though the military battle had ended against Iraq, the economic embargo, also called economic sanctions, did not. In order for the United Nations to agree to end the sanctions, Iraq would have to agree to international inspection of its weapons, to make sure that they no longer possessed chemical and biological warfare, ballistic missiles, or nuclear weapons. At the same time, the U.N. established "no-fly zones" in the north and south of Iraq, in order to limit Iraqi attacks on anti-Iraqi-government rebel groups located there. Unfortunately, the Iraqi government refused to cooperate with the inspection teams, which lead to another military conflict in 1998, called "Operation Desert Fox" (a glamorous name for a not-so-fab affair).
On February 16 of this year, two-dozen U.S. and British aircraft bombed five radar and other anti-aircraft sites around Baghdad in what President George W. Bush called a "routine" air-raid. U.S. military commanders said the raid was a response to Iraqi anti-aircraft fire in recent weeks against U.S. and British aircraft policing the no-fly zones. The Iraqi military said 14 civilians had been killed and 19 injured by the raid. Many politicians in Washington D.C. and other world capitals believe that the raid was a demonstration of a get-tough attitude by the new U.S. administration, but are the U.S. policies already too tough for the health of the average Iraqi citizen?
Even though the sanctions do not prevent food or medical supplies from entering the country by permitting an oil-for-food trade program set up by the U.N., Unicef and the World Health Organization (WHO) note a marked decline in health and nutrition throughout Iraq since 1990. The U.S. government claims that this is because Saddam Hussein's government misuses his resources to create palaces for himself, and weapons to destroy his enemies. Organizations who oppose the sanctions claim that nevertheless, it is the poorest class of the Iraqi people who are suffering, not the corrupt upper-class, which prospers off the black-market created by the sanctions.
The sanctions are supposed to serve the purpose of addressing threats to the peace made by the Iraqi government without using armed force. Some leaders hope that the hardship caused by the sanctions will eventually influence the Iraqi people to rise-up against their government. Others believe that the sanctions have had the opposite effect of rallying the Iraqi people behind their government against the U.S. The sanctions issue is extremely controversial, but no one can argue against the fact that sanctions have failed to remove Saddam Hussein from power as Iraq's president. Take a look at our article from the Iran section of The Odyssey's World Trek for more information. The following Web sites might also be helpful in understanding the issue from both sides:
This Web site provides suggested guidelines for the use of sanctions. It also suggests ways to evaluate the effectiveness of the sanctions against Iraq.
Visit this Web site to get the U.S. government's view on Saddam Hussein and the use of sanctions.
A Web site representing the campaign to end the sanctions against Iraq.
In recent news, the Bush administration has announced that it is planning a restructuring of the sanctions on Iraq. In order to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Iraq, the U.N. would place monitors at the country's borders and at key foreign airports (imagine the kind of alarm that would go off for someone carrying a ballistic missile!). As an incentive to neighboring countries to cooperate in the fight against smuggling, they would be allowed to by Iraqi oil at discounted prices. Bush has announced that it favors eliminating several of the economic sanctions and focusing instead on only limiting imports and revenue that could be used for Iraqi military programs. The U.N. would like to revise its list of banned items so that Iraq may begin to receive an increasing amount of imports from other countries.
Could this be the beginning of an answer to the problems sanctions have caused for Iraqi citizens? Will the decrease in sanctioned items lead to an increase in nutritional health and survival rates for Iraqi children? These questions remain in the midst of a very difficult issue.
So what can we do right now to begin to solve these problems? We can begin by educating ourselves. Many people believe that understanding is the key to world peace. How much do you know about Iraq and its people? This dispatch is only an overview of U.S. policies with Iraq; make an effort to learn more about our governmental policies with other countries. Read the daily paper, surf the Net, talk to your teachers and friends about these issues. The more we learn about how other countries in the world operate their government and celebrate their culture, the more we'll be able to understand how to best interact with them to decide important issues, such as the use of sanctions, military action, and how to fight world hunger. So next time you go to 7/11 to pick up a candy-bar, grab a copy of a news magazine, too, and start Making A Difference.
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