A People Punished on Account of a Dictator

Thursday 3 October 2002, by France-Isabelle LANGLOIS

On September 11th, 2001, close to 3 000 Americans died in the terrible attack on the World Trade Center in New York. In Iraq, according to Unicef, 5 000 children die every month due to the economic embargo in effect since 1991.

At one time, Iraq was one of the countries, with the highest quality of life and level of education in the Arab world. Since the Gulf War, the destiny of Iraq’s people has gone into a tailspin. Last fall, a few days after September 11th, Hans Von Sponeck was visiting Montreal to give a conference on the situation in Iraq. Von Sponeck is the second coordinator of the United Nation’s Humanitarian Programme in Iraq to resign. Like his predecessor, Dennis Halliday, he decries the sanctions and their terrible impact on the population. During his stop in Montreal, he referred to Unicef figures to highlight that Iraq is now at the top of the list of 188 countries where the plight of children is the most dramatic in the world, with a 160% rise in infant mortality over the last 11 years. In 1988, Iraq received the Unesco award for its popular literacy campaign, but nothing remains of those efforts. The literacy rate had already plummeted from 80% to 52% by 1995.

According to United Nations reports, the embargo has so far, among other things, caused 1.5 million fatalities, including 650 000 children under the age of five. Furthermore, 50% of the population drinks contaminated water, permetting the rapid spread of infectious and often fatal diseases to skyrocket.

Meanwhile, US President George W. Bush is set on taking Iraq to task. His only ally so far is Great Britain. Other Western countries, including Canada, are still awaiting proof of the alleged ties between the Baghdad regime and Al Qaïda, and of the threat to use chemical weapons against the United States.

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 12, 2002, President George W. Bush cited the grave violations of Iraqi human rights perpetrated by the Saddam Hussein regime, to convince other states to join his crusade against terrorism in Iraq. The Bush administration insidiously padded its press folder with documentation that made regular references to Amnesty International reports on the human rights situation in Iraq. The French Canadian chapter of Amnesty strongly lamented the fact in a press release issued the following day: "Once again, a State’s record in terms of fundamental rights was used selectively to justify military intervention."

Acceptable casualties

Amnesty International went on to state that "the life and safety of civilians must take precedence over all other considerations in the context of any initiative to resolve the current humanitarian and human rights crisis in Iraq. As the previous armed intervention in the Gulf showed, too often civilians become acceptable casualties. There is strong reason to fear that a military intervention will spark a massive flow of refugees, and displace thousands of people within Iraq. Another humanitarian crisis may be provoked by the scarcity of basic-need products, particularly food and medicine, which could become difficult and even impossible to obtain with the destruction of civil institutions and infrastructure."

Raymond Legault, of the Objection de conscience (Conscientious Objection) organization, which has been waging a campaign in Quebec in favour of lifting the sanctions against Iraq, fears the worst: "By suddenly accepting the unconditional return of United Nations weapons inspectors, Iraq has managed to reduce the immediate risk of a war-occupation by the United States. But the American superpower has not abandoned its terrible plan and, once again, we have every reason to fear that Canada will take the United States’ side when the time comes. In the last few days, we have seen Foreign Minister Bill Graham rejoicing at Bush’s speech, and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien stating that he does not rule out Canada’s participation in a war against Iraq. Furthermore, Canada is currently supporting the United States’ initiative in the Security Council to adopt a new resolution that would legitimize the use of force to deal with any "failure to cooperate" on the part of Iraq."

The spokesperson of Objection de conscience stressed that it is still necessary to send protest letters to Jean Chrétien and Bill Graham.

A slim chance...

Let us not forget that, in 1991, Canada supported the bombing and participated in the embargo, in addition to injecting over one billion dollars into the ongoing military effort to destroy the Baghdad regime, with the sole outcome of destroying an entire people in the space of 11 years.
The chances that President Bush will abandon his plan for all-out war against Iraq seem virtually non-existent. Still, it may be possible to convince our government to take its own stand and stay away from an affair, which can only be expected to add to the suffering of Iraqi civilians.

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France-Isabelle LANGLOIS

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