U.S. war on Iraq continues 11 years later
August 2, 2001
When I boarded my flight home with other Gulf War veterans in 1991, few of us would have imagined that over a decade later, it would be the United States that remained stuck in the trenches. Unknown to many of us, the U.S.-led siege on Iraq would continue.
For many of us, life has moved on. But for Iraq's civilian population, the Gulf War never ended. U.N. sanctions have destroyed their economy, driving millions into poverty and contributing to more than half a million excess deaths among children alone, according to UNICEF.
Eleven years ago this week, Iraqi forces began digging into Kuwait for an occupation that would last seven months. On August 6, 1990, the U.N. Security Council responded by imposing comprehensive economic sanctions against Iraq. Then, after 42 days of intensive bombing that began in January 1991, the United States and coalition allies forced Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.
Thanks to the padlock the United States has successfully kept on Iraq's oil revenues for more than a decade, Iraq has been unable to fully rebuild its economy and infrastructure. Recovery remains as elusive as a desert mirage.
And the air war continues.
Last week, Iraq fired a surface-to-air missile at an American U-2 spy plane over southern Iraq. As a result, the United States is reportedly planning to launch another wave of air strikes.
The Bush administration's first major air strike against Iraq occurred last February. In reckless disregard for civilians, this raid employed cluster bombs against targets on the outskirts of Iraq's capital, Baghdad.
In June, a misdirected Iraqi surface-to-air missile that was fired at patrolling U.S. warplanes hit a soccer field near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, killing 23 civilians, according to Pentagon officials. Iraq claims U.S. bombs were responsible.
U.S. and British warplanes routinely patrol so-called no-fly zones, which cover 65 percent of Iraq's territory. Yet, unlike the liberation of Kuwait, these zones are not authorized by the United Nations or backed by coalition forces. Nevertheless, the United States and Britain have regularly bombed command centers, anti-aircraft batteries, radar stations and other military targets in the longest sustained air campaign since the Vietnam War.
Despite U.S. claims that the zones protect Iraqi Shi'ites in the south and Iraqi Kurds in the north, these military exchanges have killed more than 300 civilians since December 1998, according to the U.N. Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq.
Marking a departure from the Clinton administration, which refused to acknowledge any U.S. responsibility for the plight of the Iraqi people, Secretary of State Colin Powell has made reforming U.S. sanctions policy toward Iraq a top priority. During a February visit to the U.N., he said, "We have sympathy for the children of Iraq."
To Powell, this means making sanctions against Iraq "smarter."
With its proposed "smart" sanctions, the Bush administration wants the U.N. to take more complete control of Iraqi oil revenues and cross-border trade, while allowing Iraq to import a greater range of consumer goods under the Oil-for-Food Program.
Although more civilian supplies may be imported, this proposal is fundamentally flawed.
"Smart" sanctions don't allow the foreign investment needed to overhaul Iraq's dilapidated oil sector. This seriously diminishes oil revenues available to finance the rebuilding of Iraq's civilian infrastructure, which is central to restoring public health, according to U.N. agencies working in Iraq.
The proposal provides no cash for Iraq's civil sector. Current sanctions have devastated the country's economy, contributing to the collapse of the binar, Iraq's major currency. Doctors, nurses, teachers and water and sanitation engineers will remain unable to do their jobs, regardless of whether more consumer goods are allowed into Iraq.
The administration should break the padlock on Iraqi oil revenues and remove other obstacles that prevent restoring public health and normal economic life in Iraq.
With U.S. forces in the Gulf, an international ban on arms sales to Iraq and continued opposition to his misrule, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is effectively contained.
Yet eleven years later, the Iraqi people are still caught in the crossfire. The Bush administration should end the U.S.-led siege against the civilians of Iraq.
It's time to climb out of the trenches.
Erik Gustafson is a veteran of the Gulf War and executive director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (www.saveageneration.org), which is based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at email@example.com.