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America's Ritual
Genocide of Iraq

by K. Shreeram

While the U.S. media makes the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. out to be a monumental national, and even an international, tragedy and spin doctors ask us to drop everything else and grieve for the "ill-fated" Kennedy family, it is business as usual with Washington's war against Iraq.
Malnourished children are a common sight in Iraq; often the malnutrition is so severe that it leads to death.

Three days after Kennedy flew his six-seater into the Atlantic, U.S. warplanes killed 17 civilians in southern Iraq. Among the collateral damage this time -- a couple, parents of seven children. Liyla and Ayad Na'mah had just got in their car to visit relatives when Uncle Sam blew them away.

The U.S. media, obsessed with the lives and deaths of the kings and queens of Camelot, paid even less attention than usual to the slaying of 17 Iraqis.

While daily bombings by the United States take their toll, most of Washington's victims in Iraq do not die so dramatically, or as quickly.

August 6 will mark the 9th anniversary of the U.S.-forced sanctions against Iraq. The sanctions have become a slow, excruciatingly painful ritual human sacrifice in which Iraqi corpses continue to pile up, victims of Washington's cynical and duplicitous policies in the Middle East.

More than 250 people, mostly children under 5, die each day because of sanctions, according to a UNICEF report released in April. More than one-and-a-half million faceless, nameless, and relatively unreported Iraqis have been killed by the sanctions imposed in 1990. That's about 5 percent of Iraq's pre-sanctions population. In percentage terms, that is equivalent to about 13 million dead Americans. The World Food Programme says more than 1.2 million Iraqi children died due to the embargo between August 1990 and August 1997 -- a generation sanctioned into nonexistence.

The per capita income of Iraq has gone from $2,900 a year to $60 a year. A can of powdered milk costs as much as one month of a doctor's salary. Surgery and amputations are conducted routinely without anesthesia. Sanitation facilities are abysmal. Fifty percent of the rural population does not have access to potable water, compared to a 92 percent access rate in 1990. The majority of Iraqis has been on a semi-starvation diet for the last few years, according to the World Health Organization. Infant mortality has increased six-fold since 1990. The once exemplary and free public health system has been decimated. Inflation has increased astronomically. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, the price of wheat flour in August 1995 was 11,677 times higher (1.16 million percent) than in July 1990. Crime has skyrocketed.

"This is a town where people used to leave the key in the front door, leave their cars unlocked, where crime was almost unknown. We have, through the sanctions, really disrupted this quality of life, the standard of behavior that was common in Iraq before," said Denis Halliday, who last September resigned his post as coordinator of the UN oil-for-food deal in Iraq.

Writing in the New Internationalist earlier this year, Felicity Arbuthnot describes a little incident she witnessed in Iraq: "In a small grocery store in a poor area of Baghdad early one morning I watched a child of perhaps five, in the mode of small children everywhere, proudly doing a terribly important errand: he bought one egg. A tray of 30 eggs exceeds a university professor's monthly salary....As he left, the child dropped the egg. He fell to the floor, frantically trying to pick the shell, yolk and white, with his small hands, tears streaming down his face. As I reached in my pocket, the shopkeeper gently tapped him on the shoulder and gave him another."

Among the items banned by the Security Council from export to Iraq are adhesive tape, soccer balls, bags, bicycles, books, calculators, candle sticks, toys, children's clothing, shoelaces, lamps, detergents, dolls, eyeglasses, hairpins, paper clips and medical supplies.

The list is endless.

The loss of life caused by the sanctions simply overwhelms Saddam Hussein's abysmal human rights record. Amnesty International estimates that Hussein's regime killed 130,000 people between 1979 and 1989. In eight years, the sanctions have killed more than 10 times that number.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, in a letter to Sir John Weston at the Permanent Mission of the UK to the UN calls the sanctions "a violation of the Genocide Convention." He goes on to say "the notion that Iraq is a threat to the region is a false fantasy created by the U.S. to justify its vast military presence in the region, to dominate the oil resources and to contain Islam."

Others, such as Halliday, have pointed out that the sanctions violate the Geneva Convention -- which prohibits the starvation of civilians as a means of warfare -- as well as the Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

And what of Washington's duplicity? "Israel occupies territory illegally for thirty years, it violates the Geneva conventions at will, conducts invasions, terrorist attacks and assassinations against Arabs, and still, the US vetoes every sanction against it in the UN. Syria, Sudan, Libya, Iraq are classified as "rogue" states. Sanctions against them are far harsher than against any other countries in the history of US foreign policy. And still the US expects that its own foreign policy agenda ought to prevail," wrote Columbia University professor Edward Said, in Al-Hayat newspaper in London.

And, speaking of the weapons of mass destruction that Washington claims ad nauseum to be so concerned about, last November the UN General Assembly passed a resolution, 134-2, asking Israel "not to develop, produce, test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons, and to renounce possession of nuclear weapons," and to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The two countries voting against the resolution were Israel and the United States.

And UNSCOM chief Richard Butler has admitted that UN inspectors had shared intelligence information with the United States and Israel.

But Washington's hypocrisy, of course, neither begins nor ends with Israel. The United States is the only country to have ever dropped a nuclear bomb on human beings, a country that is the world's largest stockpiler of weapons of mass destruction, and one that has over the last 50 years installed and supported some of the most murderous dictators the world has seen. To hear officials of this country speak self-righteously of the need to eliminate Iraqi weapons and Iraqi violations of international law should turn anyone's stomach.

But a populace starved of the most basic education guarantees settled stomachs in the United States even as Washington's policy ensures that, a world away, little food makes its way into the hungry mouths of brown children who will join the dead before they have had a chance to live.

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