Sanctions Killed Hundreds Of Thousands Of Iraqi Children'
A Review Of The Evidence
'Independent, rigorous research has
established that half a million children were killed by the economic
sanctions against Iraq, but the available evidence (including
a UNICEF estimate) does
give a good basis for arguing that the US- and UK-backed sanctions
killed hundreds of thousands of children in Iraq.'
THE TWO SOURCES
There are two sources of the 500,000 figure. Neither of them actually
establishes that half a million Iraqi children died as
a result of sanctions. The two
misrepresented sources are:
THE FIRST SOURCE: THE LANCET
1) An estimate in the
Lancet published as a letter
Sarah Zaidi and Mary C Smith Fawzi, 'Health of Baghdad's children',
Letter to the Editor, The Lancet,
Vol. 346, p. 1485, December 2, 1995 [Not available on the Lancet
> Key sentence
'The moral, financial, and political
standing of an international community intent on maintaining economic
sanctions is challenged by the estimate that since August, 1990,
567 000 children in Iraq have died as a consequence.'
This estimate was withdrawn
by the authors two years later, also in the Lancet:
Sarah Zaidi, 'Child Mortality in Iraq', The
Lancet, Vol. 350, p. 1105. October
11, 1997. [Not available on the Lancet
The estimate was based on a small and unrepresentative sample.
When a follow-up study took place, it yielded a tiny figure for
estimated child deaths. Zaidi commented that the truth probably
lay between the two figures.
Garfield and Cheng-Shuin Leu, two US epidemiologists, wrote
later in the International Journal of Epidemiology:
'Notwithstanding the retraction of the original data, their estimate
of more than 500 000 excess child deaths associated with the embargo
has often been repeated by critics of sanctions.'
This faulty estimate was the origin of the 500,000 figure.
THE SECOND SOURCE: UNICEF
2) An estimate by UNICEF published in August 1999
This estimate of child mortality was published on the UNICEF website,
but no longer seems to be there. It was however mirrored on the
of American Scientists' website.
The UNICEF statistician G. Jones wrote (pdf):
'A conclusion from chart 3 is that if the substantial reduction
in the under-five mortality rate during the 1980s had continued
through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer
deaths of children under-five in the country as a whole during
the eight year period 1991 to 1998.'
So, the mortality figure is for under-fives,
it only covers the period 1991-1998, and it includes all
'excess deaths', including - but not limited to - those attributable
The report does not try to establish what proportion of the 500,000
were caused by sanctions, and what proportion were due to other
Some of these deaths must be attributed to the war of 1991, some
to the civil war that followed the US-led onslaught, some deaths
must be attributed to the inefficiency, neglect or inappropriate
responses of the Iraqi state to the crisis in child health.
UNICEF itself merely repeated the conclusions
of an earlier UN 'Humanitarian Panel' report (the Panel was appointed
by the Security Council):
'Even if not all suffering in
Iraq can be imputed to external factors, especially sanctions,
the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivations in
the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by the Security
Council and the effects of war.'
(Annex II of S/1999/356, 30 March 1999)
(The Humanitarian Panel report was scanned in by CASI.
Given the relative brevity of the catastrophic events of 1991,
the length of the sanctions, and what is known of the behaviour
of the Iraqi state, it seems reasonable to conclude that the lion's
share of the responsibility for the 500,000 estimated child deaths
(between 1991 and 1998) lies with the regime of economic sanctions,
and therefore that 'the sanctions killed hundreds of thousands
of Iraqi children'.
Having said that sanctions were responsible for most of these
deaths, it must also be said that the former regime shares some
responsibility for the continuation of sanctions, by its refusal
to fully cooperate with the (admittedly inequitable and humiliating)
inspections regime for so many years.
There is a further complication. It
is clear from the text of the Resolutions and from the statements
and behaviour of the US and UK that Iraqi compliance with inspections
and disarmament by itself would not
have been sufficient to lift the sanctions. However, if Baghdad
had cooperated fully and enthusiastically with inspections (and
with the initial oil-for-food deal in 1991), this would have helped
to mobilize political pressure to lift sanctions (even incrementally)
much earlier. Greater and faster cooperation could have saved
The end result, we believe, is that
it is fair to attribute most of the sanctions-related deaths to
US/UK policy, and to attribute most of the 500,000 'excess deaths'
to the sanctions. Meaning that Washington and London - Presidents
Bush, Clinton and Bush, and Prime Ministers Major and Blair, and
all those who served these leaders - between them caused the deaths
of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children under the age of five.
Because they had higher priorities
than the survival of hundreds of thousands of children.
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