“[Genocide] certainly is a valid word in my view, when you have a situation where we see thousands of deaths per month, a possible total of I million to 1.5 million over the last nine years. If that is not genocide, then I don’t know quite what is.”Denis Halliday, former UN humanitarian coordinator – on effect of US sanctions on Iraqi people” [T]here seems to be nothing to prevent the transnational corporations taking possession of the planet and subjecting humanity to the dictatorship of capital….

In order to crush any thought of organized resistance to the supporters of the new world order, tremendous police and military forces are being used to establish a doctrine of repression….”Christian la Brie, Le Monde Diplomatique (Paris) ” We are willing to accept lies if they make our lives easier. “Producer from the TV series “People’s Century”, opining on why Americans tolerate unjust and inhumane U.S. government policies, at home and abroad Special Topics on Social Conditions in Iraq ElectricityUp to 1990 Iraq had a reliable electrical power supply system covering the entire country through a national grid. The system’s total installed capacity was 9295 MW generated by 24 power plants. The maximum demand reached 7500 MW in 1990 and as there was an ever increasing demand, the Ministry of Industry initiated the construction of three new power plants with a total capacity of 4800 MW. Work on these plants ceased in 1991 and is still unfinished. A modern infrastructure of roads, telephone networks, power grids, sewage treatment plants, hospitals, schools, and so on were also built up. As the Business Week article pointed out, the country’s internal investment and integration into the world market had also enhanced the material living standards and consumption of Iraqi working people as well. The Baath leadership’s use of television as a means of mass manipulation during the Kuwait adventure attest to the spread of television ownership, for example.The expansion of employment and the modern, secular orientation of the Baath Socialist Party had also tended to enhance the position of women, who were not as confined to a traditional domestic role as in neighboring Islamic countries.ln short, Iraq did not fit the stereotype of an “impoverished” third world country, only a step away from starvation. “As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny, despair and anger,” Bush said, “it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends.” During the 1991 war power stations were specifically targetted causing a total collapse of the system. Emergency repair immediately following the war rendered an operable capacity of 24% of the installed capacity. Repairs and rehabilitation efforts by the Government during the years 1991-1995 resulted in increasing the operable capacity to about 4000 MW. The shortage of supply during the years 1990-1998 has resulted in load shedding programmes lasting several hours (10-16 hour/day) in the main cities, whereas in rural areas power supply is often not more than 3-6 hours/day.
This situation directly affects the consumer at household level. Not only has electricity become a relative scarce commodity, also the quality of electricity generated and supplied to the end users is far below the standard level, due to heavy fluctuations and an unacceptable low frequency. This directly results in damaging the consumer’s electrical appliances, which falls hard at a time that income levels have dropped to historical low levels.
UN observers have noted that the manner in which the electrical power supply system is operating, is unstable, unreliable and unsafe harbouring a high probability of forced outages at any time.
Unplanned outages by themselves are damaging. Technically, any power on/off switching operation implicates an oscillation surge that has an immediate harmful impact on any electrical equipment.

The lack of electricity distribution material and spare parts resulted in, among others, the non-connection of more than 50,000 houses for several years. In order to connect these residential areas, new distribution transformers, poles, wires and protection equipment are required. In the three northern governorates, the replacement of 469 distribution transformers has ensured a more reliable supply for more than 23,000 consumers. In the 15 governorates in central/south Iraq more than 3,000 distribution transformers were installed, but the required quantities of such equipment far exceed what is being ordered through the SCR 986 programme. Some end users are being supplied by private sector generation but this is only possible for a limited quantity and duration. Some rural areas which are completely isolated from the network due to their remoteness from the grid are mainly dependent on diesel generating sets.

Any electrical system requires safety measures to operate, and has to undergo maintenance. Proper procedures and measures are not followed and in many cases this is resulting in losses of lives of maintenance staff and customers.


New Internationalist magazine, January/February 1998

For the people of Iraq, normality died in August 1990. Today, in formerly high-tech hospitals, built with petro-dollars and staffed with people who have completed postgraduate training in Britain, Canada and the US, surgery is frequently carried out without anesthetic; the simplest items, from painkillers to antibiotics, are unavailable. Scanners, X-ray machinery and incubators lie idle for want of spare parts.To witness the effect of the United Nations embargo is to live with images that haunt. To walk into any hospital ward is to see a look in the eyes of parents of a desperately sick child, which can be instantly translated: one is from outside, so possibly important, can perhaps wave a magic wand, help. Then the look dies…On a visit to one ward I saw two children with acute myeloid leukemia cancers have risen fivefold since the Gulf War; a rise some experts have linked to the depleted uranium weapons used primarily by the US, Britain and France, which left a residue of radioactive dust throughout the country. The younger child, just three, his little body bloated with edema, bleeding internally, in terrible pain, was making tiny mewing noises. His eyes were filled with tears but he had learned not to cry since it wracked his small frame further and increased the agony. His name translated as ‘the vital one’.The older child, aged five, was in a similar condition, yet when I bent to stroke the pathetic, puffy little face, damp with perspiration, a small hand grabbed mine and he squeezed with all his might. I knew then that it is possible to die of shame.In 1989 the World Health Organization recorded Iraq as having 92-per-cent access to clean water, 93-per-cent access to high quality health care and with high educational and nutritional standards.By 1995 the World Food Program noted that: ‘time is running out for the children of Iraq’. Figures – verified by UNICEF- record that 1,211,285 children died of embargo-related causes between August 1990 and August 1997. A silent holocaust in the name of the UN, these numbers are similar to those lost in Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia. It is three times the population of Kuwait in small lives lost. And it is broadly ten times the 130,000 people that Amnesty International estimated to have died in Iraq in the ten years to 1989 as a result of the country’s woeful human-rights record.’After 24 years in the field, starting with Biafra, I didn’t think anything could shock me,’ wrote Dieter Hannusch of the World Food Program in l995. ‘But this was comparable to the worst scenarios I had ever seen.’Inflation is stratospheric. When a child who had fainted in school was asked what was wrong, she replied: ‘It’s not my turn to eat today.’ Families eat in rotation so that there is a little more for the others. A new medical diagnosis has manifested itself. Mothers too malnourished to breast-feed and unable to afford milk powder – a tin exceeds a doctor’s monthly salary – feed their babies on sugared water or sugared tea. These babies become chronically malnourished, terribly bloated and almost all die. Doctors call them the ‘sugar babies’.The embargo has meant the death of childhood for those who do survive. There are no birthday parties any more: no-one has the money for presents. Most children since the embargo have never tasted chocolate – on a recent visit I bought two chocolate bars and tubes of sweets for a child. They came to 3,000 Iraqi diners.I realized with shock that I had just spent the monthly salary of my interpreter, who speaks seven languages and has worked all over the world.Children’s bikes, toys, pencils, erasers and exercise books have all been vetoed by the Sanctions Committee; so too have lipstick, sanitary towels and shoelaces. A grandmother living in Britain sent a pair of hand-knitted leggings to her new grandchild in Baghdad and had them returned by the Post Office with the information that she would have to apply to the Department of Trade and Industry for an export license.Knowledge itself is embargoed too; medical journals are not allowed. Neither, in 1994, were 500 tons of shroud cloth. Sanctions reach beyond the grave – when children born after 1990 die, parents do not even have a photograph to remember them by. Film, even if you can find it, exceeds the average professional’s monthly salary – and is always out of date.Former US Attorney-General Ramsey Clark has described the blockade as the most draconian in modern history. In 1919, US President Woodrow Wilson advocated sanctions as a ‘quiet but most lethal weapon that exerts a pressure no nation can withstand’.From 1945 to 1990 there were just three embargoes: Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe); South Africa and Cuba. The first two, largely big-business related, affected the populace but did not put them in a straitjacket. The embargo on Cuba has affected normality from medical treatment to pencils, as with Iraq.From 1990 to 1994 embargoes were implemented against nine countries. In the case of Iraq, Saddam Hussein remains unaffected while his people suffer. ‘Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited,’ says the Geneva Convention. Such treatment of civilians – however unscrupulous their ruler – defies international law and runs counter to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights concluded in 1994 that blockades, sanctions and freezing of assets are ‘terrorist acts’. In August 1997 it passed a unanimous resolution condemning the ‘adverse consequences of economic sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights’.The draconian implementation of sanctions has been a war of moving goal posts. The world has mostly forgotten that sanctions were implemented as an alternative to war. Iraq is now ‘a country bombed back to a pre-industrial age for a considerable time to come’, according to the UN Special Rapporteur back in 1991. It has suffered grievously from the double standards of the UN, to whom it was one of the first signatories.It is not the first time. When the Iraqis revolted against British domination in 1919, the Royal Air Force requested authorization from Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State at the War Office, to use chemical weapons ‘against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment’. Churchill sanctioned their use, saying: ‘I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using [it] against uncivilized tribes.’Demonizing a nation into sub-humanity was justification for genocide then as now. Whilst the UN and the US deem nations ‘pariah states’, it is the people not the regimes which suffer. Every time Iraq complies with one condition for the lifting of sanctions, another appears. These include recognizing the border with Kuwait (done); monitoring cameras being installed (done); destruction of armaments (stated by the weapons inspectors as done but since they cannot prove there is not a weapon left in the country this can be open-ended).While international bureaucrats wrangle at the United Nations, Iraq must prove what few other countries are in a position to prove – that it is adhering to the highest standards of human rights. In the absence of a concrete enemy post-Cold War, Saddam is a convenient demon; a dictator who is also a Muslim. Though Iraq is a Muslim country, it is not militantly so.In a small grocery store in a poor area, of Baghdad early one morning I watched a child of perhaps five, in the mode of small children everywhere, proudly doing a terribly important errand: he bought one egg. A tray of 30 eggs exceeds a university professor’s monthly salary. To go to the home of professional, relatively wealthy people and have a dish with tiny pieces of egg in it is to be honored indeed.As he left, the child dropped the egg. He fell to the floor, frantically trying to pick the shell, yolk and white, with his small hands, tears streaming down his face. As I reached in my pocket, the shopkeeper gently tapped him on the shoulder and gave him another.Trauma is everywhere, in every small act. That child will never forget that egg – it could be a metaphor for Iraq, for human rights, for the UN and for the embargo itself, ‘the quiet but most lethal weapon’. Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist specializing in environmental and social issues. She has written and broadcast widely on sanctions in Iraq.