April 2, 2006
This is today's news (with emphasis added):
reconstruction contract for the building of 142 primary health centers
across Iraq is running out of money, after two years and roughly $200
million, with no more than 20 clinics now expected to be completed, the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says.Why
the emphasis? Well, first of all, the joke that building a bunch of
clinics, even if it had succeeded, would have put quality medical care
"within reach of all Iraqis." It doesn't do that in the United States,
and it wouldn't have done that in Iraq either, under the new and
definitely not improved "free market system" introduced to Iraq by its
The contract, awarded to U.S. construction giant Parsons Inc. in the flush, early days of reconstruction in Iraq, was
expected to lay the foundation of a modern health care system for the
country, putting quality medical care within reach of all Iraqis.
Second, and more importantly, is the fact which is stated, but only in half-truth form, much later in the article:
authorities say they made a special effort to preserve the more than
$700 million of work for Iraq's health care system, which had fallen
into decay after two decades of war and international sanctions.Yes,
the Iraqi health care system had indeed been battered beyond
recognition by the efforts of the United States and its allies. But
what the article doesn't mention is where it stood before that assault
began. In this post from September, 2003, I explored that question in detail:
There is, of course, a lot of material to read explaining the effect of sanctions on Iraq. From example, here's a first-hand report
from Gloria LaRiva, visiting Baghdad with Ramsey Clark and a delegation
from the International Action Center in 1997. Just one fact out of many
from that article: "Before sanctions, Iraq imported $500 million worth
of medicines from Jordan. Last year it could only afford $7 million
worth." More first-hand observations from 1998 can be found in this report
by Sharon Eolis, RN, visiting Iraq with the Iraq Sanctions Challenge.
She writes "Before the United States/United Nations sanctions and the
Gulf war, Iraq had a developed, nationalized health-care system that
provided care to everyone. The level of technological development in
health care was on a par with industrialized Western nations." Some
more from this very informative article:Incidentally, you don't
have to take the word of leftists like Gloria LaRiva or Sharon Eolis or
Stephen Zunes on the state of the Iraqi health care system in the early
90's. In searching to find out if Bush's prediction about immunizations
would come true (remarkably enough, it seems it did), I found the USAID report on the subject, which includes this statement:
Safe drinking water
is a basic human need. Chlorine is used to disinfect water. UNSCOM, the
UN Sanctions Committee, limits the amount of chlorine imported to Iraq
because it is considered a dual substance that can be used to make
poison gas. And, we need to remind our readers that the destruction of Iraq's water supply, and the consequences which followed, was a deliberate policy of the U.S. government, as documented here
(direct link temporarily down; scroll down to Aug. 28 entry entitled
"Paying for war crimes - $16 billion to restore Iraq's water").
Iraqis at a Baghdad water treatment center told
delegate Dave Sole--a water specialist from Detroit--that there is not
enough chlorine available to make the water safe to drink.
to one of the Iraqi doctors we spoke with, 80 percent of the cases of
amebic dysentery could be eradicated if there were clean water. In
1989, there were 19,615 cases; in 1997 the number rose to 543,295
In 1980, there were no cases of cholera in Iraq. In 1997, there were 10,000 cases caused by contaminated water and food.
haven't mentioned Bremer's responses to DeWine's questioning. Bremer
told DeWine that, besides for (or as a result of) the lack of spending
by Iraq on health care, "the infrastructure is appallingly run down,"
and when asked by DeWine "How do you begin to improve the infant
mortality rate?", his answer was to spend "$400 million on hospital
refurbishment." Not a word about restoring the water purification and
electricity generating systems, nor about importing medicines. Bremer
clearly understands (or was willing to acknowledge) nothing about the
causes of the problems nor their solutions.
spending $400 million on hospital refurbishment (no doubt designated
for some Bechtel subsidiary), Bremer should let the Cubans take over.
Cuba has the lowest infant mortality rate in the Americas
(yes, lower than the United States), and they didn't accomplish that by
concentrating on "hospital refurbishment" (though I'm sure they did
that too), but by understanding public health (water, sewage,
nutrition) and providing free health care (as Iraq did, of course) with
clinics in every neighborhood.
Are things going badly in Iraq? No, they're much, much worse, and with folks like Bremer in charge, the future's so dark they've gotta wear night-vision goggles.
Followup: Stephen Zunes, analyzing Bush's speech to the UN, has this observation:
By the end of 2004, more than 90 percent of Iraqi children under age
five will have been immunized against preventable diseases such as
polio, tuberculosis, and measles thanks to the hard work and high
ideals of UNICEF.
Zunes: This figure would be comparable to
childhood immunization rates in Iraq prior to the U.S.-led Gulf War in
1991 and subsequent sanctions that largely destroyed the country’s
public health system.
considered the best in the region, Iraq’s health system currently has
some of the worst health statistics. Diarrhea, measles, respiratory
infections, and malaria – compounded by under-nutrition affecting 30
percent of children under five – contribute to excessive rates of
infant and child mortality. Lack of care during pregnancy contributes
to high maternal mortality rates. Tuberculosis and cholera have