Fatal legacy of harsh measures designed to crush Saddam

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The Independent Online

When the UN imposed economic sanctions on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the purpose was clear: to create the necessary leverage to force Saddam Hussein to disarm.

But the policy failed, bringing with it severe civilian collateral damage, a side-effect commonly associated with war.

With yesterday's vote in New York, the sanctions are finally being lifted. Defenders of the sanctions argued that the primary responsibility for the economic ruin in Iraq was mostly Saddam's fault.

However, the impact of sanctions was devastating. The most often cited indictment of the embargo has been the ravaging of Iraq's healthcare system and the surge in the country's child mortality rate. According to UN and other sources, between 500,000 to 1 million children have died in Iraq since 1991. The death rate of children under 5 is reported as 2.5 times greater than in 1990.

This week, the World Health Organisation said it would cost up to $180m (£110m) to rebuild the country's health services, noting that only 20 per cent of its medical system was functioning.

Beyond health, Iraqis have gone without all but the most basic products for the 12 years that the sanctions were in place.

William Nordhaus, an economist at Yale University, wrote in a recent study that Iraq under Saddam "has experienced one of the most catastrophic economic declines in modern history", with living standards falling by 90 per cent in 23 years. Yet Saddam and his supporters, the target of the sanctions, escaped hardship by exploiting smuggling networks and leaks in the sanctions system.

In 1997, America agreed to launch the oil-for-food programme, which allowed Iraq to resume some oil exports. The revenue, controlled by the UN, was used to buy basic products such as food to combat the growing humanitarian crisis. A year ago, an attempt was made to establish a "smart sanctions" system, with the UN producing a list of goods that Iraq was theoretically free to import. But it was an arrangement hampered by bureaucracy, and the US frequently blocked contracts that it considered inappropriate.

Joy Gordon, a professor at Fairfield University, Connecticut, said: "The US has shown a terrible disregard for Iraq's humanitarian situation over the last decade, as we have seen the US veto essential goods ranging from child vaccines to water purification equipment."