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War on Iraq:
An Unnatural Disaster

By Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
August 27, 1999


The outpouring of sadness about the earthquake in Turkey reflects an admirable sympathy for the suffering of others. But why has there not been a similar outpouring, and nowhere near the same media attention, about the unnatural disaster in Iraq? Could it be because Turkey is a US client while Iraq is a sworn enemy? As is typical, the level of official media attention given to human suffering reflects the priorities of official Washington. Just as the US empire is now trying to prop up the government of Turkey, and protect it against popular outrage, it has been trying for 10 years to overthrow the government of Iraq.

There’s nothing about the two regimes that should mandate one as a friend and the other as an enemy. No, this is all about politics. The government of Turkey is slavishly loyal to the evil empire, whereas Iraq is not. Only in light of this political reality can we understand the immoral position of the US government: death in Turkey is a humanitarian catastrophe while death in Iraq is just one of those things that happens when you don’t obey the State Department. To correct the imbalance, let’s take a closer look at what the US has done to Iraq. On August 12, UNICEF released an extremely detailed report on child mortality in that country. It received very little attention. But if you are willing to look at the human cost of the US war and sanctions against Iraq, you can’t help but be shocked and appalled at what has happened.

From 1960 to 1990, the under-five child mortality rate declined steadily as the country grew more prosperous. From an appalling 170 deaths per 1,000 children in 1960, the rate fell to 50 per 1,000. Iraq was developing into one of the most technologically and medically advanced societies in the region. If there had been no bombings and no sanctions, the child mortality rate would have fallen to 30 today, meaning that 97 percent of children born would have been likely to live past the age of 5.

As it is, the rate soared in 1990, so that it is up to 130 per 1,000 births today. That means that more than 1 in 10 children born are going to die early of disease and malnutrition. Because of contaminated water and unsanitary conditions all around, a simple cut on the finger can lead to poisoning and death. Today, less than half the population has access to clean water; before the bombings everyone did.

In the past 9 years, 1.7 million people have died as a direct result of US sanctions. Read that figure again, aloud. That is roughly 117 times as many as have died in the Turkish earthquake. Also consider that every day in Iraq, 250 more people die as a result of sanctions. But it’s not just the figures alone that we need to consider; we must look at the cause. Earthquakes are natural disasters. Sanctions and bombings are government-made ones.

And the bombing doesn’t stop. Day after day, the US drops more bombs in a continued attempt to overthrow the government. The planes take off from a base in Turkey, which has been a leading backer of the US war against Iraq. This fact sheds a little light on how it is that the US has been so forthcoming with earthquake aid in Turkey while actually bringing about a disaster in Iraq.

The bombs don’t just hit military installations. In January, a 2,000 lb. bomb was dropped on a residential neighborhood in Iraq’s second largest city of Basra. Eleven people were killed and 59 were wounded, among which were children and their mothers. The official reason for the bombing was that Iraq flies planes in a part of its own country that the US has named the “no-fly zone.” Does anyone think that killing shopkeepers and moms in Basra is a just response?

The policy of starving out Iraq is nothing short of genocidal, and yet Clinton administration officials continue to defend the policy. While thousands of organizations and countries are bringing food and medicine to Turkey, humanitarian organizations are forbidden by law to take food and medicine into Iraq, even baby formula. While a courageous few have ignored the law, they do so at their own peril and face legal harassment on their return. Most groups that deliver aid have felt that they could not take the risk.

Meanwhile, all of Iraq’s provinces have experienced outbreaks of viral disease. A huge percentage of Iraqi livestock is afflicted with hoof-and-mouth disease brought on by US bombings. You see, in 1993, the US bombed Iraq’s vaccine laboratory in Baghdad, a facility that had managed to eradicate hoof-and-mouth in the prior decade.

Iraq’s GDP is one-tenth of its pre-war size, and is a mere 2 percent of the US military budget. Its economy is now smaller than countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This year’s budgetary increase for the Pentagon is more than twice the entire GDP of Iraq. Despite this, the US continues to portray Iraq as some sort of threat to international peace.

Where are the pictures of the dying children in Iraq? Certainly not on the cover of Time or Newsweek. Most people don’t even know that the US continues to wage an undeclared war against this suffering country. All they know is that Iraq is led by a Very Bad Man, a fact that might be said of virtually every country in the world, including the US. That is no justification for genocide. There is no justification for genocide.

Natural disasters are a fact of life. When they occur, it is right and moral to do anything in our power as individuals to relieve the suffering. Unnatural disasters like killer sanctions and unjust wars, on the other hand, are fully preventable. If the US government and its kept media were really concerned about the sanctity of life, they would take the first step and stop the killing in Iraq.

Rockwell is founder and president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and vice president of the Center for Libertarian Studies.

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