Protesting the embargo against Iraq: San Diego, 1995
June 6, 2006
Today, rarely a word is spoken about the embargo on Iraq that lasted from August 3, 1990 to May 2003. And,
if it is mentioned, it is only in context of a long-forgotten aspect of the 16-year U.S.-Iraq war.
Let’s take a brief look at how the sanctions came into being and then elaborate on the deceitful methods
used to keep them in place.
On August 3, 1990, the U.S. pushed a sanctions resolution through the U.N. After the cease-fire of the Gulf
War, they were kept under certain conditions.
could not have the sanctions lifted until it destroyed certain
designated weapons, called weapons of mass destruction (WMD). At the
time, two assessments were in place in the U.S.: (1) Iraq would never
destroy all the WMD and if it tried, it would take years (2) Under such
strict observation, the people of Iraq would rise up and overthrow
Saddam Hussein within six months.
tenure surprised the U.S. administration, so, after about a year, the
stated objective was to keep the embargo in place in perpetuity. Then
Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said, "The embargo will stay in
place until there is not one Ba’ath Socialist left in Iraq." Few people
picked up on Christopher’s comment at the time, but it was concise and
the end of 1992, Iraq began to say, "We’ve destroyed all the weapons.
Lift the embargo." The U.S. spread so many lies about Iraq that no one,
even those of the so-called "left" or the peace community, believed
Baghdad. This demonizing was the most powerful weapon the U.S. had in
its arsenal. It kept much of the U.S. public mute over the sanctions.
Combine the lies with the silence of the media about the devastating effects of the sanctions, and you have
a scenario in which genocide was occurring and few even knew, and even fewer cared.
Much of the propaganda portrayed the embargo as benign. It was in place to keep Saddam Hussein from importing
illegal weapons. The people bought into this fairy tale. People who should have known better.
instance, Iraq’s water supply was destroyed during the Gulf War. Raw
sewage was flowing through the streets. The country needed chlorine to
purify its water, yet it was unable to import it because the U.S.
designated chlorine as a "dual-use" item; one that had legitimate
civilian properties as well as those that could be used to make WMD.
1995, Iraqis were dying at a fast rate because of the severity of the
embargo. About 750,000 people had already died because of the effects
of lack of food, medicine or other items that were not allowed to be
imported. The number increased every few seconds.
Most people in the U.S. had no idea of what was going on in Iraq. The country was fighting to stay afloat
and every sector of society was negatively impacted because of the embargo.
In 1995, it was impossible to get anyone in the U.S. mobilized to condemn the embargo. The peace groups were
San Diego, a few people did go the extra step. I and a few colleagues
called for several demonstrations to make the people aware of what was
happening in Iraq. We had a core of about two dozen Iraqi-Americans and
the same number of non-Arab U.S. citizens.
called the peace groups. Some feigned ignorance, while others outright
said, "We won’t touch that." They had been co-opted by the U.S.
propaganda: propaganda that they would always criticize only before
missiles began flying.
nationally-known activist who fought the Cuba embargo told me, "I won’t
work on the Iraqi embargo because of the way they treat women in that
country." I was aghast at her lack of knowledge. When I explained that
Iraq was a secular country and that women were held in a higher place
than other Arab countries, she did not believe me. She answered, "Well,
they still all wear veils." My remark to her is unsuitable for print.
pro-Cuba activist said that the Iraqi embargo was not as devastating as
the one on Cuba because Iraq could import medicine, where Cuba could
not. When I explained that the Cuban embargo was only from goods whose
origins were in the U.S. and that Cuba could import from any other
country, but that Iraq’s embargo was universal, she said she was
unaware of those facts and thanked me. The following night, she gave a
speech in which she made her original assessment to me: Iraq’s embargo
was not as severe as that placed on Cuba.
If the peace people and the pro-Cuba people had such attitudes, how could the "average" U.S. citizen be enlightened?
The old statement "a picture is worth a thousand words" is relevant in this case. I will explain the background
behind the photo at the beginning of this article.
In 1995, then President Bill Clinton traveled to Coronado (a seaside resort bordering San Diego) to visit
a friend. The news people were all over the place.
decided to hold a demonstration in front of the house where Clinton was
staying. And, we marched down the street with an Iraqi flag. As you can
see, the group was between two news vans. Not one news person had the
creative instinct to ask, "What are you doing here?" Remember, in 1995,
marching down a U.S. street with an Iraqi flag was not exactly in vogue.
The evening news showed Clinton walking on the beach with his friend. Not one word of a bunch of Arabs and
other U.S. citizens with signs condemning the embargo, all the time flying the Iraqi flag.
absence of any news about the embargo was a powerful weapon. However,
the silence and ignorance of the peace crowd was just as powerful.
Their lack of participation on the subject of Iraq was tantamount to
them placing a bullseye on Baghdad on a map of Iraq and stating, "Aim
here!" To me, they are no better than those who were the architects of
the embargo. Without their gutless acquiescence, the embargo may have
been lifted. It is great to see hundreds of thousands of people
protesting imminent U.S. military action, but these same people
disappear when it is time to play hardball.
the Democrats forget history and blame the genocide of Iraqis solely on
the Republicans, let me bring up Operation Desert Fox. In December
1998, Bill Clinton ordered a four-day barrage of missiles and bombs on
Iraq. The U.N. inspectors were pulled from the country prior to the
fireworks, contrary to the revisionist history that Saddam ordered them
the end of the attacks, Clinton declared victory. He said that U.S.
missiles had destroyed WMD in Iraq. Today, we know that Iraq did not
possess one gram of unauthorized substances, so all the missiles and
bombs destroyed the civilian infrastructure. How many people complained
about that? Few.
by the way, the house of Saddam Hussein’s daughter was completely
demolished in the actions. Maybe Clinton thought Iraq had all the
massive amounts of WMD hidden there. Fortunately, no one was in the
house when it was bombed.
Iraqis were killed in the four-day constant bombardment. Knowing the
facts we know today, the actions were nothing short of first-degree
murder. How many people call it that? Instead, we saw the smiling faces
of politicians claiming victory.
Once the oil-for-food program was introduced, Iraq was able to purchase some items, but not many. Billions
of dollars Iraq had earned were tied up by the U.S. Orders were placed "on hold" for years.
The mechanics for Iraq to purchase goods seemed fair enough. A 15-member panel would scrutinize and either
okay or negate Iraq’s requests. However, only one member had to say no, and the order was scrapped.
the oil-for-food years, hundreds of orders were negated by the U.S. in
which the other 14 members agreed to the sale. Only once did another
country stop an order, and that was Britain. The U.S. stopped
everything from toilet paper to pencils from going to Iraq.
I discuss the most preposterous negation of an order, let me mention
facts that preceded it. For years before 1993, Iraq had not one case of
hoof-and-mouth disease with its cattle population. Then, the U.N.
ordered Iraq to destroy the factory that manufactured the vaccine for
cattle. Begrudgingly, Iraq did so.
By 1996, the country was experiencing an epidemic of hoof-and-mouth disease. The population had little meat.
Every day, the situation escalated.
1998, Bill Clinton ordered cruise missiles to be fired at Afghanistan
and Sudan. He went on TV and said that he was targeting militant
Muslims who had been behind "terrorist" incidents in the blowing up of
The target in Sudan was a pharmaceutical factory. The administration said it had proof that it was making
chemical weapons for Islamic terrorists.
In fact, the factory was working on a 100,000-liter order of hoof-and-mouth vaccine for Iraq. The order had
been okayed by the U.N. This would have helped immensely in bringing back the cattle population of Iraq.
the scenes, the plant owner has been paid by the U.S. for damage in the
attack. The U.S. knew fully well that no chemical weapons were being
manufactured, but that they could keep Iraq starving by hitting the
for cattle, the Iraqis ordered 15 live bulls from France to assist in
increasing its stock. The U.S. negated the order, calling live bulls
"dual-use" items. On January 4, 2000, Saeed Hasan, the Iraqi Ambassador
to the U.N. wrote a letter of complaint to the organization. He stated:
most recent farce relates to contract No. 600787, made by the Minister
of Agriculture with a French company for the import of 15 live bulls in
order to improve the quality of livestock resources. On 29 November
1999 the United States put this contract on hold on the pretext that
the bulls were dual-use.
fact that live bulls could be considered dual-use items is a blatant
example of the contempt shown by the representative of the United
States for the authority of the United Nations, the procedural
requirements of the Security Council Committee established by
resolution 661 (1990) and for resolution 1051 (1996), which defines
dual-use. We say nothing about the United States contempt for the lives
of the Iraqi people, a subject that has been dealt with exhaustively.
The United States demonstrates the greatest disdain for the
international community and the United Nations, which adopted the
distribution plan and agreed upon the humanitarian materials it
covered. This attitude reflects the superficial manner of thinking that
leads to such situations as this and indicates that the United States
has no objective standards for civilized international relations.
things never change. The above letter was written over six years ago,
under another U.S. administration, yet the last two sentences apply
with accuracy the exact stance the U.S. has today toward the people and
nations of the world.
the case of Iraq, as spelled out in the letter, the writer said that
the U.S. had contempt for the lives of the Iraqi people. Six years
later, and under vastly different circumstances, that statement still
rings with precision.
sure we will see the masses of anti-war demonstrators again appear if
the U.S. is on the eve of war against Iran. However, we will also again
see the vanishing of these people as soon as the first bombs drop. In
essence, they are some of the greatest allies of the deadly U.S.
foreign policy that is solidly in place, regardless of what political
party occupies the White House.