Now we know the truth. Now that American marines have opened the doors and collapsed the walls of Saddam Hussein’s infamous palaces, along with the homes of his relatives and party loyalists, there can no longer be any doubt: The left’s persistent claim that Iraq’s people are poor and malnourished largely as a result of UN sanctions – of which the US is seen as the principal architect – rings utterly hollow. Now the eyes of the entire world have been given a glimpse of the lavish wealth that Saddam’s Ba’athist regime hoarded for itself while forcing the population at large to scrimp and struggle. Now it is no longer arguable: It wasn’t sanctions, but the unimaginable greed of the Iraqi regime, that caused the deaths of so many innocent subjects of Saddam.
During the months and years preceding Operation Iraqi Freedom, the chorus we repeatedly heard from the left asserted that were it not for UN sanctions, each week some 1,200 to 1,500 fewer Iraqi children would have died. According to board member Ramzi Kysia of the Washington, D.C.-based Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), the years of sanctions have “resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.” A spokesman for Voices in the Wilderness (VITW), an activist “humanitarian aid” group, said in 1998 that “the sanctions have already accounted for the death[s] of more than 1.5 million Iraqi civilians since August of 1990, the vast majority of the dead being children.” A recent UN report asserted that one-third of all Iraqi children under age five are chronically malnourished. “Sanctions have turned Iraq into a ruin,” says a senior UN official. “The impact has been horrendous.” UN spokesman Eric Falt concurs, “Malnutrition is running at an all-time high. Even if the statistics are not 100 percent accurate, there is no question about the scale of the catastrophe.”
In an effort to “put a human face” on the statistics of misery, heart-rending eyewitness accounts of Iraqi suffering have flooded the media for years. In a November 1997 piece in the Baltimore Sun, for instance, George Capaccio wrote that during a recent visit to Iraq he had seen “dignified Muslim women begging on Baghdad Street corners; young boys hawking cigarettes and kerosene to help support their families; a father running with his child into a hospital emergency room because there are so few functioning ambulances; a middle aged man with diabetes standing by a hospital entrance and pleading with me for insulin.” “Inside the hospitals,” he continued, “I see blood- and urine-stained mattresses; broken air conditioners and light fixtures; dimly lighted pediatric wards; mothers tending their children day and night; and hundreds of children waiting for medicine that never comes. This is what several years of sanctions has done to this once-prosperous country.”
A February 1998 Christian Science Monitor piece reported, “In daily life for seven years, people . . . in Iraq have paid a very real human cost. Millions lack enough food and medicine. Death rates, especially for children, have risen dramatically.” In August 2002, the former head of the United Nations’ humanitarian workers in Iraq blamed sanctions for “starving to death 6,000 Iraqi infants every month, ignoring the human rights of ordinary Iraqis, and turning a whole generation against the West.”
“Sanctions are unbearable, inhuman,” agreed Moyassar Hamdon Sulaiman, leader of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society. “[Westerners] speak about ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ but we call this a 'weapon of mass suffering.’” “You call it sanctions or embargo,” said the archbishop of Basra’s Chaldean Church, “but in reality it is injustice to the most extreme degree. Our people are suffering deeply, greatly, and harshly.” Basra’s Eastern Orthodox bishop lamented, “[Our city] has no potable water supply and little electricity. Epidemics rage, taking away children by the thousands. Our situation is unbearable.” In a similar spirit, the archbishop of Baghdad’s Armenian Church says, “Pursuing political and economic aims through causing pain and suffering for people is not a very moral attitude.”
American religious leaders have been outspoken as well. In a joint 2001 letter to the UN Security Council, the Mennonite and Quaker Churches complained that “the sanctions have contributed in a major way to persistent life-threatening conditions in [Iraq].” The Mennonite Central Committee, the United Methodist Church, the Christian Reformed Church, and the Presbyterian Church USA formed a coalition called “Compassion Iraq” to press for an end to sanctions. The National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Middle East Council of Churches passed organizational resolutions condemning sanctions and urging their discontinuance.
Yet we heard nary a word from these critics about the manner in which Saddam was siphoning rivers of money away from the UN’s oil-for-food program, which was designed to prevent the type of humanitarian crisis Iraq was facing. Indeed between 1997 and 2002, that program more than quadrupled the amount of humanitarian-earmarked revenues Baghdad was allowed to raise. But instead of using this money to feed and medicate the needy masses, Saddam used it to furnish his military, security, and government personnel with sumptuous meals, expensive cars, and large monthly stipends. On one Baghdad-area estate that housed senior Ba’ath Party officials, US marines have already found some 0 million in cash – all in 0 bills packed tightly inside dozens of large metal boxes. Not a bad cache for people living in a country where sanctions have supposedly plunged an entire population into desperate poverty.
Between 1990 and 2002, Saddam spent at least billion on the construction of scores of palaces and monuments to himself, largely with funds that should have been used for food and medicine. These palaces feature such extravagances as golden plumbing, crystal chandeliers, and the finest European marble. For the first time, images of these imposing edifices are being transmitted to the outside world, where viewers can plainly see that these are not merely individual buildings, but sprawling estates that in many instances measure several square kilometers in size. Their grounds, moreover, are adorned with elaborate gardens, lakes, and waterfalls – many of them in the heart of drought-stricken areas where most citizens lack enough clean water for even their most basic daily needs.
In 1994 the Ba’athist regime completed its construction of Saddam International Tower, a lavish 300-foot-tall government office facility. Five years later saw the opening of Saddamiat al Tharthar, a vast lakeside vacation resort located 85 miles west of Baghdad, containing sports stadiums, an amusement park, hospitals, and several hundred homes for government officials. The critics of sanctions, however, remained mute regarding these projects. Nor did they have much to say about Saddam sending ,000 packages of “oil-for-food” money to the families of “martyred” Palestinian suicide bombers.
Being a chip off the old block, Saddam’s son Uday, we have learned, had a similar taste for extravagance. Within the past two weeks, US marines have found his own large palace with marble walls, wherein he was known to cavort with his harems of “girlfriends”; his private zoo that included such wild animals as cheetahs and lions; and his subterranean cavern of car parks, packed with his hundreds of classic and vintage automobiles. Strewn among his belongings were and 0 bills whose corners were charred from having been used to light Uday’s expensive cigars. Moreover, Uday enjoyed displaying personal symbols of his opulence – things like his million ring and a solid-gold watch with 54 full-cut fine diamonds.
While our knowledge of some of these extravagances has come to light only with our military victory, much of it was well known long before the war. Nonetheless, the critics of sanctions have generally avoided addressing such subjects – because there’s no political mileage to be gained from them. The critics’ real agenda has nothing to do with placing responsibility for Iraqi poverty and suffering squarely where it belongs, but rather to blame America for leading the way in systematically “exterminating” a mostly-Muslim people.
Knowing this, we can easily understand why these critics have scarcely given even a passing mention to what has happened in northern Iraq, the Kurdish area that has been independent of Saddam – and protected by US and British patrols – since the early 1990s. Under the sanctions program, the Kurdish regional government receives 13 percent of Baghdad’s oil income but, unlike Saddam, actually uses those funds to pay for food, medicine, and construction projects designed to benefit its people as a whole – rather than merely to line the pockets of a heartless despot and his inner circle. As a result, this region where Saddam’s infamous Anfal campaign once gassed thousands of Kurds to death is now flourishing, as evidenced by its recent construction of 20,000 new homes, 800 water systems, 600 schools, and nearly 1,500 miles of new roads. In stark contrast to the regions of Iraq heretofore controlled by Saddam, infant mortality rates in the north are actually lower than they were before the UN sanctions took effect, as are the rates of underweight births and mothers dying during pregnancy.
Yes, now we know the truth. But will the Blame-America-First crowd acknowledge it? Don’t hold your breath.