Socialist Worker

Sanctioning mass murder

by John Baxter
Issue No. 1711

The people of Iraq have faced war on two fronts since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. Iraq Under Siege, edited by US socialist Anthony Arnove, conveys their suffering.

First, they have faced starvation and disease as a result of UN sanctions. Second, they have experienced continuous bombing raids from British and US forces. The current wave of bombing started in December 1998. Over 300 civilians have been killed since then, with over 900 injured.

British aircraft alone have dropped 780 tonnes of bombs in that time. Meanwhile sanctions kill 150 children a day. This book is a series of essays which tell a story that rarely reaches the pages of newspapers or the screens of our TVs.

The list of authors includes journalists Robert Fisk and John Pilger, campaigners Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, former UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Denis Halliday and organisations such as Voices in the Wilderness. It is a brilliant book, which exposes the grim reality behind the US New World Order and British 'ethical foreign policy'.

It outlines the destruction caused by the bombing and the sanctions, not just by recounting the grim statistics but by telling the human stories behind the slaughter.

There are the stories of doctors tending to skeletal children without the drugs or food to help them having to drive taxis at night to feed their own families. Children are dying of infectious diseases in hospitals that cannot be properly cleaned because sanctions mean there are no antiseptics or detergents.

In desperation, the hospital floors are cleaned with gasoline. The sanctions mean drugs commonly available in Britain, such as aspirin and antibiotics, are so rare in Iraq that they fetch huge prices on the black market. Only the very rich can afford to be ill.

The UN will not allow children to have pencils for fear the carbon might be extracted to coat planes and make them invisible to US radar. Wheelbarrows are on the list of banned items with 'suspected dual military use', along with water pumps and firefighting equipment.

This book also provides a chilling analysis of the motives and methods of US and British foreign policy. The Middle East has been of massive strategic importance since the early 20th century because of oil.

The US has dominated the region for the last 50 years. It has tried to develop a pattern of relationships with Middle East states to allow its companies to extract the oil profits. It has sought to prevent the growth of a strong independent state that might threaten US interests.

The US wants to keep Iraq, which controls a huge 11 percent of the world's oil, as an economic basket case. A journalist close to the US State Department summed up the relation of big business to military power: 'The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas. The hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the US army, air force, navy and Marine Corps.'

There is an important sense in which this book is not just about Iraq. It is a lesson in how campaigners can defy media blackouts to mobilise increasing numbers of people against an injustice their governments would prefer to be hidden.

Every socialist should read this book.

Iraq under Siege, edited by Anthony Arnove (Pluto Press, £10.99). Available from Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE. Phone 020 7637 1848.

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Sat 26 Aug 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1711
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