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Anti-war Documents Menu / Other Anti-war Documents Menu / Iraq Sanctions Whatever Happened?.


'Economic Sanctions Killed Hundreds Of Thousands Of Iraqi Children'

A Review Of The Evidence



'Independent, rigorous research has not 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.'


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:


1) An estimate in the Lancet published as a letter in 1995

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 site]

> 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withdrawn by the authors two years later, also in the Lancet: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 site]

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.

Richard 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.


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 Federation of American Scientists' website.


> Key sentence
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 to sanctions.

The report does not try to establish what proportion of the 500,000 were caused by sanctions, and what proportion were due to other causes.

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 lives.


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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