Iraq under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War

By Simons, Char | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 3, 2000 | Go to article overview

Iraq under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War


Simons, Char, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War

By Anthony Arnove (ed.), South End Press, 2000, 216 pp. List: $16; AET: $12.

Char Simons is a free-lance journalist residing in Washington state, where she is adjunct professor at Evergreen State College. She teaches literary journalism, writing, multicultural literature, women's studies and Pacific Northwest, European and Middle Eastern history in the part-time studies program.

The most "effective" economic sanctions in recent history--imposed on Iraq by the U.N. Security Council following the 1990-91 Gulf war--have killed more civilians than any political action since the Holocaust. The U.S.-led sanctions have taken a country that, a little over a decade ago, approached First World status in terms of health care and education and turned it into a virtual refugee camp, larger in area than Montana and with a population greater than that of New York state.

Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War, edited by Anthony Arnove, is a page-turner, regardless of the reader's degree of familiarity with Middle East peace issues, the aftermath of the Gulf war or the decade-old sanctions. The authors of the book's 16 essays include media analyst Ali Abunimah, social critic Noam Chomsky, reporter Robert Fisk, former U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Denis Halliday, Voices in the Wilderness co-founder Kathy Kelly and activist Rania Masri.

The book's short chapters are organized into sections on the roots of U.S./U.K. policy on Iraq; myths and realities about, and media coverage of, the sanctions; life under sanctions; environmental and health effects; and activist responses. Writing styles run the gamut from academic to journalistic to gripping narrative and storytelling. Also included is a useful resource list of organizations working to end sanctions on Iraq.

One of the most telling essays is "The Media's Deadly Spin on Iraq," which explains why the American public is largely silent on the suffering of Iraqis living under sanctions. Using the comprehensive Lexis-Nexis database, authors Abunimah and Masri found more than 1,000 articles with the key word "Iraq" in major newspapers during the December 1998 bombing. Only 78 articles using the key words "civilian" or "civilians" turned up during the same period. Broadcasters paid even less attention to the impact of sanctions. Of 53 reports by ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and NPR during a one-month period, only three focused on the effects of sanctions.

With the media purveying the U.S. government message, it is not surprising that the vast majority of Americans are unaware of the suffering their tax dollars are supporting in Iraq. In addition to the grim statistics, Abunimah and Masri also discuss what they term the seven deadly media sins:

Ignoring or downplaying the effects of the U.N. sanctions on the Iraqi people

Ignoring or discrediting reports of civilian victims from bombing

Personifying Iraq as Saddam Hussain

Creating an artificial "balance" in coverage

Speaking with the voice of the U.S. government

Exaggerating the threat of Iraqi weapons

Using a narrow selection of "experts"

The effects of sanctions are in the numbers, which are quoted frequently and by a variety of sources, including much U.N. data: A drop in the gross national product from $3,000 per capita to $500; doctors' wages plummeting to as little as $3 a month; piles of human waste five to six feet high left to dry on the streets; a doubling of the heart attack rate and a tripling of the mortality rate among heart patients since 1991 due to the collapse of the health care system; leukemia and other cancer remission rates dropping from 70 percent to about 6 percent during the 1990s; a doubling of child mortality rates since 1990, with more than 5,000 children under age five dying every month.

In addition to sanctions, American and British bombing raids continue. U. …

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