Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 22, 1999
Future of civilization in peril
Ancient Mesopotamia is understood to be the birthplace of human civilization. That part of the world may now be witnessing the death of civilization - if civilization is understood to include the development of technology for the purpose of human advancement.
The treatment of the Iraqi people by the U.S. and British-led force in the Gulf War and ever since - with the full support of the Canadian government - has been nothing short of barbaric. The wars and economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations have killed more than one million people in a country of 21 million and have driven a once-prosperous nation into destitution.
To be sure, there is no moral justification for many actions of the Iraq government of Saddam Hussein - the gassing of the Kurds, the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the apparent attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction. These were heinous acts and called for some level of sanctions in order to bring them to a halt.
In fact, the current sanctions were implemented in August 1990 precisely in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Once Iraqi forces were removed from Kuwait, the sanctions should have been lifted. They weren't.
The result has been horrendous - not for Hussein, but for the Iraqi people. The country's gross domestic product has fallen from US$60 billion to $5.7 billion. The infant mortality rate rose from 30 per 1,000 in 1989 to 97 per 1,000 in 1997. Low birth-weight babies rose from four per cent in 1990 to about 25 per cent in 1995, mainly as a result of mothers being malnourished. More than 5,000 children a month die directly as a result of the sanctions.
Up to half the palm trees in the country, which once produced 80 per cent of the world's dates, have died. Why? Because of a lack of farm equipment and also because Iraq's environment is so polluted from the Gulf War.
Environmental devastation is a lasting legacy of the war. Bombs and bullets used by the Allied forces were coated with depleted uranium. This nuclear waste has entered the food chain and is being daily ingested and inhaled by the Iraqis.
The result has been a startling rise in birth deformities and various forms of cancer. Some doctors have estimated that if cancer continues to grow at its current rate, 44 per cent of the Iraqi population will have the disease within 10 years. While the Western world is eager to call Hussein "another Hitler" for his use of chemical weapons against the Kurds, it is not eager to acknowledge the far more efficient form of chemical warfare employed by Western nations in the Gulf War.
The sanctions against Iraq have long been denounced by Pope John Paul and the Vatican. Last month, the Vatican's man at the UN, Archbishop Renato Martino, called for "significant refinement" in how sanctions are used. "They should not have indiscriminate or disproportionate effects on the civilian population," Martino told a UN General Assembly committee. "Justice demands that only the guilty be punished for their wrongdoing and not the innocent."
The Minnesota bishops in October were more explicit in applying such principles to Iraq. They called for sanctions to be lifted and an end to the ongoing bombing of Iraq by the U.S. and Britain. "Embargoes denying the basic necessities of life are never morally acceptable," they said.
This is true, but a proper moral response needs to go further. A new generation of Iraqis is being raised who are hungry, angry and isolated from the world - yet another byproduct of war and sanctions. If Western nations are serious about bringing peace and democracy to Iraq, they need to put positive efforts into helping the country get on its feet again and to clean up the nuclear mess which threatens future generations in Iraq.
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