The Truth Behind Economic
A Report on the Embargo of
Food and Medicines to Iraq
by Eric Hoskins, MD
excerpted from the book
A report on United States
War Crimes against Iraq
by Ramsey Clark and others
Report to the Commission
of Inquiry for the International War Crimes Tribunal
Maisonneuve Press, 1992
Resolution 661, passed by the United Nations
Security Council on August 6, 1990, states that the following
items are exempt from the economic embargo of Iraq: supplies intended
strictly for medical purposes, and, in humanitarian circumstances,
Resolution 661 also calls for the establishment
of a Sanctions Committee (called the Committee of the Security
Council) to clarify and implement the terms of the Sanctions Resolution.
One month later, on September 13, 1990, Resolution 666 was passed
by the Security Council, further defining (and limiting) the conditions
under which food and medicine would be permitted to enter Iraq.
Since August 1990, the international community has been led to
believe that economic sanctions did not include an embargo on
food or medicine. Furthermore, the public was told that Iraqi
civilians would continue to have access to these essential commodities.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is
that Iraqi civilians have been dying of starvation and disease
in the thousands. They are dying because of lack of basic food
and medicine-the same food and medicine that the United Nations
claims the civilian population has always had access to.
It is likely that sanctions have resulted
in more suffering and death of the civilian population of Iraq
than even the war itself. The true and lasting war against the
Iraqi people has been the war waged by economic sanctions. The
continued imposition of punitive sanctions will, with certainty,
lead to widespread epidemics (including cholera), hunger, and
death. A blatant violation of fundamental human rights, sanctions
have made their presence felt in a number of ways.
It has been estimated by international
experts that, since August 1990, less than one-thirtieth of Iraq's
medicine requirements were being met. Historically, Iraq imports
more than $500 million worth of medicines each year (one of the
highest per capita rates in the Middle East). All medicines -including
medicated milk for infants with diarrhea, vaccines, drugs for
chronic diseases (diabetes, asthma, angina, tuberculosis), anesthetics
for surgery, and antibiotics-have been found to be in short supply
and this shortage is well-documented by independent international
observers since late 1990.
Medical supplies-syringes, intravenous
fluids, spare parts for incubators, X-ray equipment, surgical
supplies-either ran out or are in short supply. Now, with the
country's infrastructure destroyed, most health facilities have
no electricity, no running water, no emergency transport, patients
and staff are unable to find transport to reach health facilities,
and food and medicine for patients is either unavailable or in
short supply. Despite access to health care being a fundamental
human right, the following methods were used to effectively prevent
medicine from entering Iraq. A11 these methods are still being
used against Iraq today.
a) It is illegal for the government of
Iraq to purchase and import any medicines or medical equipment.
b) Many pharmaceutical companies refuse
to sell or are being pressured not to sell medicines to Iraq following
the August embargo
c) All medicines purchased or manufactured
in the United States require a special license from the U.S. Treasury
Department before export to Iraq. This is true for any humanitarian
aid sent to Iraq and results in many delays and refusals.
d) More than fifty separate consignments
of medicines and thousands of tons of infant formula and milk
powder were purchased by the government of Iraq prior to August
1990. Governments of the countries where these consignments are
being held still refuse to forward them to Iraq.
e) Only those items which the Security
Council has deemed "supplies intended strictly for medical
purposes" are allowed under the sanction's restrictions.
All materials, spare parts, transport, and other para-medical
items essential for the operation of a health care system are
still prohibited-except on a time-consuming and unreliable case-by-case
basis involving application to the Security Council.
Following two extensive health assessments
carried out in Iraq by Gulf Peace Team health and relief experts
during March and April 1991, it is clear that the health care
system in Iraq is almost totally non-functioning.
The Simpler Truth
The Gulf Peace Team carried out an extensive
health assessment in Iraq over a four-week period ending April
24, 1991. Health experts visited fourteen towns, including Basra,
Nasiriyah, Najaf, Kerbala, Baghdad, Kirkuk, Sulaimaniyah, Erbil,
Mosul, Dohuk and al Amadiyah.
The team's findings include:
1. In all parts of the country, critical
shortages of clean drinking water have led to epidemic levels
of gastroenteritis (infectious diarrhea). Thousands have died.
Already at this early date over fifty cases of cholera have been
confirmed by laboratory diagnosis. The true number could be one
hundred times this figure since, in most parts of Iraq, hospital
laboratories have been shut down due to lack of electricity and
reagents-making diagnosis impossible. In Nasiriyah Pediatric Hospital,
ninety eight percent of admissions are children with diarrhea.
Infants as young as two months old are admitted badly malnourished
and dying from diarrheal disease. A lack of infant formula and
contaminated water are responsible. Now these babies, in hospital,
are given only an intravenous drip of fluid since doctors have
no drugs with which to treat the diarrhea, and no medicated milk
(the drug of choice for diarrhea) with which to feed them.
2. Hospitals have been reduced to mere
reservoirs of infection since most medicines are in short supply,
laboratories cannot function, operating theaters have no supplies,
and basic services (including food, water and electricity) are
unavailable. In Kirkuk Hospital, an old man lay dying at the entrance
to the emergency ward. Suffering from a potentially fatal exacerbation
of his chronic high blood pressure, there were no medicines to
give him. Inside, the 400-bed hospital's only physician explained
how she had just completed an emergency cesarian section, "with
flies swarming over the incision because operating room windows
had been shattered during bomb blasts" and sanctions will
not allow their replacement.
3. Food throughout the country is prohibitively
expensive and generally in scarce supply. Agricultural production
has been halted due to a lack of inputs (fertilizers, seeds, fuel
and spare parts) all prohibited under the sanctions resolutions.
Between August 1990 and January 1991, food prices had gone up
by as much as 1,000%.
For the first time in history, a government
has been prohibited from purchasing and importing food and medicine
for its own people. Despite clear indications that a humanitarian
emergency existed within Iraq, from August 6, 1990 to March 1991
no food whatsoever was allowed to enter Iraq (from any source)
according to the provision of sanctions Resolutions 661 and 666.
It is patently obvious that thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians
(mostly children) are dying of disease and starvation. They are
dying because the international community has withdrawn from them
their fundamental human right to food and medical care. It is
a dreadful lie when governments and individuals claim that food
and medicine are getting through in adequate amounts to the Iraqi
people. We must decide who the coalition forces fought this war
against. We must also decide whether it is worth sacrificing the
lives of thousands more innocent victims to achieve the removal
of Saddam Hussein. And finally, we must show equal compassion
to all innocent victims of this war regardless of their locality.
It is the opinion of the health assessment
team that most of the current civilian ill-health and suffering
(mostly of children) is a direct result of both the war and especially
the continued imposition of punitive sanctions against Iraq. These
sanctions violate not only of the Geneva Conventions and Protocols
but also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and every other
United Nations resolution and convention concerned with human
rights. The situation with regards to foodstuffs is even more
The text of Resolution 661 referring to
the importation of foodstuffs states that the embargo does not
include, in humanitarian circumstances, foodstuffs.
Resolution 666 passed on September 13,
1990, issues a clarification that no food will be allowed into
Iraq from any source until such time as a humanitarian emergency
requiring the importation of food into Iraq is declared by the
Security Council of the United Nations. Such a declaration requires
a report issued from the Secretary-General's office and based
on a United Nations mission to Iraq, recommending the declaration
of a humanitarian emergency.
The Security Council must then go on to
ask the Secretary-General to "seek urgently, and on a continuing
basis, information . . . on the availability of food in Iraq."
However, no such information was gathered until February 16, 1991,
when the first United Nations mission (a UNICEF / WHO medical
convoy from Teheran) entered Iraq to assess the humanitarian situation.
Despite clear indications that a humanitarian emergency existed
within Iraq, from August 6, 1990 to March 3, 1991, no food was
allowed to enter Iraq (from any source) according to the provisions
of sanctions Resolutions 661 and 666. In early March, after considerable
pressure by humanitarian organizations and non-aligned governments,
a humanitarian emergency was finally declared by the United Nations
Security Council and food was allowed into Iraq subject to the
following stringent conditions:
a) all foodstuffs should be provided through
the United Nations in cooperation with the International Committee
of the Red Cross or other appropriate humanitarian agencies,
b) Iraq would continue not to be allowed
to purchase or distribute its own foodstuffs.
Up until this point in time, only two
humanitarian agencies had been declared "appropriate"
by the Sanctions Committee of the Security Council-the United
Nations itself and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
For all anticipated shipments of food, candidate humanitarian
agencies would have to submit in advance to the Sanctions Committee
a detailed application requesting approval to import and distribute
specific food items. The truth is that this is a mechanism guaranteed
to obstruct the movement of even small quantities of food, since
many agencies either had no knowledge of the application procedure
required, had no access to the Sanctions Committee in New York,
were unable to draw up detailed lists weeks in advance of predicted
convoys, or were unlikely to gain approval as "acceptable"
to the security Council.
More to the point, Iraq historically imports
more than seventy percent of its foodstuffs. As a result of war,
agricultural production had ground to a halt (due to lack of seeds,
fertilizers, spare parts and fuel for irrigation pumps, etc.).
This meant that Iraq had become almost totally dependent on food
obtained from abroad. With a population of 18 million persons,
Iraq's daily food requirements (of grain only) amount to approximately
10,000 metric tons per day. From August 1990 to April 1991, the
total amount of food provided by the international community was
less than 10,000 metric tons-enough for only a single day's ration
for the Iraqi people. Distribution of this token amount of food
has been limited to hospitals and orphanages with no general ration
distribution using these foodstuffs.
Not only is the international community
entirely incapable of responding to Iraq's food requirements,
it seems totally unwilling to try. Of the $178 million requested
by the United Nations for humanitarian relief within Iraq, less
than twenty percent has been forthcoming. Meanwhile, aid continues
to pour in for Kurdish refugees in Turkey. While in urgent need
of such aid, the 1-2 million Kurdish refugees share this need
with over 17 million other Iraqis living in emergency conditions
throughout the country. It is clear that until such time as the
United Nations and the international community end the punitive
sanctions against Iraq and allow them to import food and medicine
for themselves, conditions within Iraq will continue to deteriorate.
Starvation is already apparent in some parts of Ira* it is only
a matter of time before widespread famine (as predicted by the
United Nations itself) sets in.
Until the government of Iraq is able to
begin purchasing and importing medicines, undoubtedly Iraqi civilians
will continue to suffer. In light of this urgent situation, the
following recommendations need to be implemented immediately:
a) End all punitive sanctions against
Iraq. Conditions under which the sanctions resolutions were applied
(that is, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait) no longer exist. Furthermore,
it has become clear in recent days, and publicly stated, that
even if Iraq complies with all items of the cease-fire agreement,
sanctions will not be loosened (let alone withdrawn) until such
time as Saddam Hussein is removed from power. This blatant use
of food, disease, and human lives as weapons for interfering with
the internal politics of a country is both offensive and illegal.
b) Negotiate the release of Iraqi government
assets currently frozen in overseas accounts to be used for the
purchase of essential humanitarian commodities.
c) Allow Iraq to export commodities (including
petroleum) for the purchase of food and medicine for the civilian
d) Release consignments of food and medicines
currently being held in ports and along borders around the world.
e) Urgently implement the bilateral agreement
signed between the United Nations and the Iraqi government regarding
humanitarian assistance to affected groups.
f) Urgently implement a massive humanitarian
relief effort to supply food and medicine to the civilian population
of Iraq, both within Iraq and in neighboring countries.
In the concluding paragraph of his report,
United Nations special representative Martti Ahtisaari states
that "the Iraqi people may soon face a further imminent catastrophe,
which could include epidemic and famine, if massive life-supporting
needs are not rapidly met." Without an immediate and unqualified
lifting of the punitive economic sanctions against Iraq and the
Iraqi people, conditions will continue to deteriorate, thousands
upon thousands of innocent civilians will perish, and the responsibility
for the continuing despair of so many Iraqi women, men and children
will rest on our shoulders and on our conscience.
Dr. Eric Hoskins was the Medical Coordinator
for the Gulf Peace Team which was based in Amrnan and London.
He is a specialist in public health and disaster relief.
Crimes - report on United States War Crimes against Iraq