Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War

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Clouds of dust whirled up as the little clutch of protestors huddled beside the highway amid the wilderness of outlet malls just off of I-80 near Sacramento.

Edited by Anthony Arnove

Reviewed by Nathan Keene

Monday, March 19 2001, 3:04 PM


Clouds of dust whirled up as the little clutch of protestors huddled beside the highway amid the wilderness of outlet malls just off of I-80 near Sacramento. A few women in black chadors mingled with a largely white group with perhaps a disproportionate number of people wearing eyeglasses. There loomed the ever-present 10-foot grim reaper marionette, and an immense banner reading "End the Sanctions Against Iraq." In the midst of expressing what I thought was my perfunctory approval, I was cut off by my friend.

"How can you support a bloody dictator like Saddam Hussein!" she exclaimed.

During the resulting awkward debate I realized that, while I had protested the Gulf War and Washington's ensuing abuses against the people of Iraq, I had never really bothered with the details of why. The affair fit my personal theory of U.S. foreign policy as layer upon layer of hypocrisy, deceit and media manipulation in the service of ruthless superpower hegemony. I had heard a few less publicized facts and figures and had read an essay or two. I implicitly assumed that anyone I cared enough about to spend a day shopping together in Sacramento would share persuasions which I now found myself able to articulate passionately but not convincingly.

If only I had already read South End Press' Iraq Under Siege, I might have sounded like less of a knee-jerk "progressive," and more genuinely informed. Every chapter an informative essay from a different dissenting voice on Iraq, this book makes as good an education manual for anti-sanctions activism and consciousness raising as you could hope to find. Had I read it already, I could have referred my friend to the fact that, while Hussein is indeed a brutal despot who has deployed biological and chemical weapons against external enemies and his own citizenry, the U.S. itself enthusiastically provided his regime with the technology to do so until 1991. Since then, Uncle Sam has allowed his ally, Turkey, to hit the Kurds in the "no-fly" zone he claims protects them from the evil Saddam Hussein.

I could also have cited the UN's report in 1991 that the U.S. and its allies had bombed Iraq "back to a pre-industrial age," and questioned what further use sanctions could be against such a crippled nation. I could have mentioned study after study documenting drastic rises in cancer, leukemia, immune disorders and severe birth defects -- "Gulf War Syndrome" -- in areas where the U.S. used depleted uranium shells against Iraqi tanks, as well as among U.S. veterans who secured the areas and among their children born after the war. From overwhelming evidence linking Iraq's enormous nutrition deficit directly to U.N. sanctions (and debunking charges that the regime is stockpiling food and supplies) to massive child mortality from starvation and treatable disease (as many as 500,000 preventable child deaths between 1991 and 1999,) to the near-annihilation of Iraq's educational, health care and social service systems -- formerly among the best in the Middle East -- I could have questioned the value of attacking a despot by smashing his people.

Thankfully, I can still refer my friend directly to Iraq Under Siege without the worry that she'll be put off by preaching to the choir, insider jargon or burdensome prose. I would not normally sit down to a political essay by Noam Chomsky or a public health paper without bracing myself for heavy going. Yet the writers here without exception keep to a clear, concise style. Radical historian Howard Zinn, former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq Denis Halliday, the tactically brilliant anti-sanctions coalition Voices in the Wilderness, Chomsky, Palestinian media critic Ali Abunimah and 14 others each present the case against sanctions from a unique focus and perspective, in readily-accessible language and syntax. Each article is fully footnoted, the book is thoroughly indexed and it includes an extensive list of resources and organizations for further reference.

The final essay by Sharon Smith of London's Socialist Review points out that movements start small and build gradually. Even the massive tides of dissent in the 60s against segregation and the Viet Nam War began obscurely, years earlier, championed by handfuls of activists who remained committed to organizing and educating the public on issues they knew mattered. We can put an end to America's virtually unilateral brutality toward Iraq if we continue to follow those examples, to use our hearts and imaginations by speaking up at the right moment, by cultivating relationships with the media, by marching and demonstrating -- and by truly educating ourselves in order to pass the word. Iraq Under Siege makes an excellent place to start.

Iraq Under Siege is available from South End Press  

Copyright © 2001 by Nathan Keene. All rights reserved.
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