Socialist Worker

'I've seen the destruction'

Issue No. 1687

Iraq sanctions

'I've seen the destruction'

JOHN PILGER speaks to Socialist Worker

I WAS expecting the situation in Iraq to be bad. But I did not expect to find a level of destruction that went so deep and extended into every corner of society. The US policy has been, "We will bomb you now and you will also die later." As we showed in the programme, many life-saving drugs, clean water, fresh food, soap, pencils, light bulbs and books are no longer available or are in fantastically short supply. When you fall ill you must sell all your furniture to buy medicine. Iraq was a developed country. The hospitals look like St Thomas's in London, places where you would expect a high level of medical care. But they were dependent on Western imports for drugs and equipment.

The sanctions mean crucial drugs arrive only sporadically. Children with meningitis need 4 mgs of an antibiotic to live. The hospital gets enough to give them only 1 mg. So children die. The United Nations Children's Fund says there are nearly 5,000 more child deaths a month than there were in the 1980s. The main reasons for those deaths are sanctions, the effects of the 1990-1 Gulf War and the subsequent bombing.

The water supply is in collapse. Baghdad's water system used to be as good as in Britain. Now sewage is being pumped direct into the Tigris river. Iraq's oil wealth meant that there was a high level of welfare in the 1980s, despite the vicious political system. There was 95 percent literacy. Now the schools are falling apart. The destruction of the infrastructure was a deliberate policy by the US and its allies. Supporters of sanctions say Iraq could use the "oil for food" programme to supply basics for everyone. But Iraq cannot even pump the amount of oil it is allowed to sell under the programme because of a lack of spare parts.

Iraq has been forced to give �10 billion to the oil companies for damage during the war. There is an epidemic of cancers in southern Iraq. In the main Basra hospitals not only the the patients but also the staff have been decimated. According to cancer specialist Dr Jwad Al-Al, about 40 percent of the population in southern Iraq will at some point suffer from cancer. Iraqi experts point to the horrific amount of depleted radioactive uranium weaponry used in southern Iraq by the US-led coalition during the war in 1991. Many other cancer-causing materials were used in the explosives. A radiological survey in Kuwait showed that if 8 percent of the population had breathed contaminated dust there was a "theoretical potential" of 500,000 deaths.

Kuwait has been "cleaned up". Iraq hasn't. In the television programme Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq, which was shown this week, we spoke to Professor Doug Rokke. He was a US army physicist and headed the team which went into Kuwait to do the clean-up in 1991. Now the team are all sick and some have died. Rokke has 5,000 times the normal level of radiation in his body. All the senior Uni ted Nations representatives that I spoke to are against sanctions and the bombing. Hans von Sponeck, the UN's chief humanitarian official in Iraq, resigned recently in protest at the sanctions policy. He calculated that the sanctions meant Iraqis had $180 every six months, a dollar a day, to pay for everything- infrastructure, food, electricity, health, education and so on. Denis Halliday, who travelled to Iraq with me to make the programme, was the UN assistant secretary general before he resigned in protest over sanctions in 1998.

The sanctions mean there is even less political freedom than ever because the state runs the rationing, and controls all the imports and exports. So it can extend its political control. The bombing has not stopped. Between May 1998 and January this year the US flew 36,000 air missions in southern Iraq alone. Two thirds of these, 24,000, are defined as "combat missions".

The British are involved as well. Across the whole of Iraq you could probably double these figures. The British government alone has spent �60 million bombing Iraq. Compare that to the amount of aid they provide for, say, Mozambique. The Iraqi experience will be replicated. It is how the US would like to police parts of the world, particularly the oil protectorate area which extends from Turkey to the Middle East to the Caucasus.

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Sat 11 Mar 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1687
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