To the Editor:

The issue of sanctions against Iraq is one where thoughtful people often hold opposite views.

I described the sanctions on Iraq as an atrocity for which the US holds significant responsibility. The consistent, reliable figures from UNICEF and from public health experts hold that something on the order of half a million Iraqi children under the age of five are dead as a result of the sanctions. This is more than three times the number of people who were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. I would indeed call this an atrocity.

The US role is absolutely central. Let’s look at just one issue, clean water. Prior to the Persian Gulf War in 1991, 90-95 percent of Iraqis had access to plentiful and clean drinking water, according to the World Health Organization.

US Defense Department documents indicate that the US targeted water and sewage treatment plants in the bombing campaign of 1991. A study by a former UN official describes in detail how the US (and the US alone) then vetoed attempts by Iraq — and by international humanitarian agencies — to restore Iraq’s capacity to provide clean drinking water.

As a result of the bombing, destruction followed by the sanctions. There were (according to a UNICEF report) no functioning sewage treatment plants in Iraq, a country of 22 million people, from 1991-1996.

The State Department report, which Prof. Eliasoph cites, maintains that Saddam Hussein did this himself, by spending the money from the Oil for Food Program on himself. I have great respect for the integrity of Prof. Elisaoph. I have somewhat less regard for the accuracy of the State Department report. It is flatly false to say the Oil for Food funds have been siphoned off in some way.

First, not a cent of the funds actually go through the Iraqi government. All proceeds from Iraqi oil sales are placed in a UN escrow account. Second, every single contract for humanitarian purchases goes through elaborate scrutiny by multiple agencies within the UN.

Iraq must submit a proposed distribution plan every six months, which identifies the goods they wish to purchase, and that plan must be approved by the Secretary-General’s office. Then each contract must be approved by the Office of Iraq Program, the UN agency operating the Oil for Food Program. Each contract is submitted to UNMOVIC, the weapons inspection agency, to make sure no goods have military use. Then most contracts (except for food and a couple other narrow categories) are circulated to every member of the UN Security Council. That is where the US vetoes billions of dollars of humanitarian goods – $5 billion were blocked as of last July.

The total amount that has survived US vetoes and has been delivered to Iraq comes to $170 per person per year for the last five years. That is one-half the per capita income of Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Even if Iraq had the most humane and efficient government on the face of the earth, with that degree of impoverishment it is not possible to avoid massive deaths, particularly of the most vulnerable people in society.

But aren’t these sanctions necessary to stop Saddam Hussein from re-arming? Not when they block Iraq from buying ambulances, sewage treatment plants and child vaccines. All of these, and billions of dollars of other humanitarian goods, have no plausible military application, and all have been blocked by the US.

Check for yourselves. Go to the UN web site for UNICEF and the Office of Iraq Program. Look at the data and judge for yourselves. You are citizens, and it is in fact your and your parents’ tax dollars which support our government and its policies, whether those policies are sound or whether they are immoral.

Joy Gordon

Philosophy Department

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