Documents Show U.S. Intended to Degrade Iraq Water Supply

National Catholic Reporter, August 24, 2001 | Go to article overview

Documents Show U.S. Intended to Degrade Iraq Water Supply


Pentagon documents show that the United States used sanctions against Iraq to degrade that country's water supply following the 1991 Gulf War, knowing that the consequences would be increased illness and disease, particularly among children, according to an article in the September issue of The Progressive magazine.

According to the cover story, "The Secret Behind the Sanctions: How the U.S. Intentionally Destroyed Iraq's Water Supply," author Thomas J. Nagy says the documents, reaching back to 1991, show that the United States knew it had the capacity to devastate the water treatment system of Iraq. "It knew what the consequences would be: increased outbreaks of disease and high rates of child mortality. And it was more concerned about the public relations nightmare for Washington than the actual nightmare that the sanctions created for innocent Iraqis."

Nagy writes that the documents of the Defense Intelligence Agency that he discovered during the past two years show that the United States violated provisions of the Geneva Convention. The Defense Intelligence Agency, according to a government Web site, furnishes foreign intelligence to the Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of Defense and other "authorized recipients."

The documents also seem to bear out the persistent criticisms by many groups that oppose sanctions because they affect the most vulnerable in Iraqi society -- children and the elderly -- and have little effect in dislodging Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The United Nations Children's Fund, in an August 1999 report, concluded that the deaths of 500,000 children under the age of 5 were directly related to the U.S.-backed economic sanctions. The report also said that the death rate among Iraqi children under age 5 had risen to more than twice the rate prior to the sanctions.

One of the documents cited by Nagy, titled "Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities" and dated Jan. 22, 1991, acknowledged that Iraq "depends on importing specialized equipment and some chemicals" to keep its water supply pure. It predicted that Iraq, which had no domestic source for spare parts or chemicals, would attempt to circumvent the sanctions, which banned import of the needed parts and chemicals. The documents also speculated that Iraq would try to convince the United Nations to exempt water treatment supplies from sanctions or to "purchase supplies by using some sympathetic countries as fronts. If such attempts fail, Iraqi alternatives are not adequate for their national requirements."

"Failing to secure supplies," the document said, "will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population. …

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