Postwar sanctions and bombing 19912003

Such predictions proved highly prescient. The most devastating impact of mass deelectrification was indirect. Iraq's water and sewage systems, relying completely on electrical pumping stations, completely ground to a halt. Prospects of repair, as with the electrical system, were reduced virtually to zero. This was because of the US Coalition's punitive regime of sanctions that were introduced, with the help of UN resolutions, just before the war. As a result, virtually any item or supply required for infrastructural repair was classified, and prohibited, as a "dual-use" item with military potential—ironically, the slippery legal jargon that had legitimized the massive infrastructural destruction in the first place.

Now-declassified documents from the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) demonstrate the degree to which the US military were aware of the terrible impacts of the combination of aerial demodernization and sanctions on public health in post-war Iraq. Thomas Nagy (2001) has demonstrated that DIA memos in early 1991 clearly predicted what they called "a full degradation of Iraq's water system". The memos argued that a failure to get hold of embargoed water treatment equipment would inevitably lead to massive food and water shortages, a collapse of preventive medicine, an inability to dispose of waste, and a spread of epidemics of disease like cholera, diarrhoea, meningitis, and typhoid.

These, in turn, it was predicted, would lead to huge casualty rates, "particularly amongst children, as no adequate solution exists for Iraq's water purification dilemma [under sanctions]" (cited in Nagy 2001). The memo titled "Disease Outbreaks in Iraq," dated 21 February 1991 (DIA, 1991), stated that "conditions are favourable for communicable disease outbreaks, particularly in major urban areas affected by coalition bombing" (cited in Nagy 2001). Despite all this, planners went ahead with the imposition of the sanctions.

By 1999, these predictions had come true. Drinkable water availability in Iraq had fallen to 50 percent of 1990 levels (Blakeley 2003b:2). Colin Rowat, of the Oxford Research Group, has calculated that:

the number of Iraqis who died in 1991 from the effects of the Gulf war or postwar turmoil approximates 205,500. There were relatively few deaths (approximately 56,000 military personnel and 3,500 civilian) from direct war affects. The largest component of deaths derives from the 111,000 attributable to postwar adverse health effects.

(Rowat 2002)

Using a longer time frame, UNICEF (1999) reported that, between 1991 and 1998, there were, statistically, over 500,000 excess deaths amongst Iraqi children under five—a sixfold increase in death rates for this group occurred between 1990 and 1994. Such figures mean that, "in most parts of the Islamic world, the sanctions campaign is considered genocidal" (Smith 2002:365). The majority of deaths, from preventable, waterborne diseases, were aided by the weakness brought about by widespread malnutrition. The World Health Organization reported in 1996 that:

the extensive destruction of electricity generating plants, water purification and sewage treatment plants during the six-week 1991 war, and the subsequent delayed or incomplete repair of these facilities, leading to a lack of personal hygiene, have been responsible for an explosive rise in the incidence of enteric infections, such as cholera an typhoid.

(Cited in Blakeley 2003a:23)

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