Report from Baghdad: Iraq Embargo Toll Now Surpasses War's Horrors

By Casa, Kathryn | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 1995 | Go to article overview

Report from Baghdad: Iraq Embargo Toll Now Surpasses War's Horrors


Casa, Kathryn, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Report From Baghdad: Iraq Embargo Toll Now Surpasses War's Horrors

By Kathryn Casa

The mosaic in the foyer floor of the luxury al-Rasheed Hotel in downtown Baghdad isn't a particularly good likeness of George Bush. Still, small Iraqi children, born in the twilight of the Bush administration, have no problem recognizing the former U.S. president. Charming little girls in frilly pink dresses, with paper flowers in their dark hair, dance across the picture, exclaiming, "There's Bush!" Charming little girls from wealthy Iraqi families, in frilly pink dresses that don't quite cover skinny, bowed legs--a tell-tale sign of malnutrition in an infant's diet.

Bush is known to everyone in Iraq as the architect of Operation Desert Storm, but Iraqis now credit him and his heir as the enforcers of U.N. sanctions against Iraq, and Bill Clinton with a legacy even more devastating than the war itself: a generation of young Iraqis born into hunger and poverty.

UNICEF's most recent "Situation Analysis on Iraq," dated 1993, states: "The single most important and widespread underlying cause of the deterioration in maternal and child health standards in Iraq today is the lingering, long-term impact of the 1991 Gulf war, the subsequent domestic fighting and the economic and trade sanctions imposed through United Nations Resolutions."

The document says the sanctions have exacerbated the pressures on Iraqi families by freezing Iraqi assets abroad, blocking all exports and severely curtailing imports. The health system has regressed as a result of lack of power, imported spare parts, clean water, and basic supplies. Furthermore, according to the analysis, "nutrition standards are low due to the lack of sufficient home-grown and imported food. Food output has declined by perhaps over 50 percent."

As a result, according to UNICEF, adult men and women in 1993 were getting just 60 percent of the nutritional energy requirements. This harms the health of pregnant and nursing women, increases the incidence of miscarriages and low-birth-weight babies and "virtually guarantees that infant mortality rates will remain high for perhaps years to come."

It's difficult to determine to what extent the blockade is directly responsible for the strangulation of Iraq today. What is crystal clear, however, is that Iraq is being strangled. Hungry people are not being fed, the ill cannot get treatment, and the frailest portions of the population--women, children and the elderly--are bearing the brunt.

Iraqi children, like those everywhere, know what they see, feel and hear. The reality for most of them is that they are hungry and poor. Their parents work 16 to 20 hours a day to put scant food on the table. When they're sick, there is little medicine available to cure them. In a country where illiteracy less than a decade ago had dropped to almost zero, many children must now leave school to help earn a living, and in school there are no books, paper or pencils, anyway.

The war crimes museum on the banks of the Tigris River, within view of the rebuilt al-Jumhariyeh bridge that was destroyed during the bombing, holds corridor after corridor of photographs and models. There is a model of the well-known baby milk factory after the coalition allies determined that it was a weapons plant and destroyed it, mosques and schools with piles of burned books, and telecommunications centers, bridges, medical clinics and factories, as they looked after the war and as they look today.

Baghdad's success in rebuilding is a source of great pride among Iraqis. Many see it as a way to stand up to the West. On his birthday this year, President Saddam Hussain laid the cornerstone in Baghdad for what Iraqi officials say will be the largest mosque in the world. Never mind that in its shadow people will be starving. "We know this situation must be temporary," said one young mother of four of the food and medical shortages. "It cannot be permanent, because we know that our God is with us. …

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