Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter September 18, 2007

Economic Sanctions on Iraq: Tool for Peace, or Travesty?

Sheila Zurbrigg

Despite triggering one of the largest civilian death tolls in modern history, the policy and human consequences of economic sanctions on Iraq between 1990-2003 remain largely unexamined. This lack of scrutiny mirrors the euphemism and mis-information surrounding the embargo itself and the Oil-for-Food (OfF) program ostensibly adopted to protect Iraq's civilian population. But it also reflects incomprehension among Western publics - long removed from the realities of hunger and economic destitution - of the intimate link between economic conditions and mortality. Iraq suffered an estimated 1.5 million excess deaths because of a catastrophic undermining of civilian livelihood triggered by the embargo; an outcome termed slow famine in the demographic literature. With much of the population fully dependent on daily food rations of less than 21 cents per person for much of the sanctions period, OfF `relief' was inherently incapable of substituting for a functioning civil economy. Recent positive accounts of the impact of OfF, in the form of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the Oil-for-Food Program (Volcker Report), are refuted by close analysis of malnutrition and mortality rates across the sanctions period. The example of Iraq reveals the danger in treating economic sanctions as a cheap, `non-violent' tool for conflict resolution. In reality their deadly power is terrorizing for societies not protected from their application by permanent member status on the UN Security Council, a threat which continues to generate global insecurity. The Iraq experience reveals how current, narrowly framed, international law prohibitions on starvation as a weapon of war need to be extended to cover interference with civilian livelihood and hence access to food.

Published Online: 2007-9-18

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