Saturday, May 14, 2005


The invasion of Iraq and its aftermath caused the deaths of 24,000 Iraqis, including many children, according to the most detailed survey yet of postwar life in the country.

The UN report paints a picture of modern Iraq brought close to collapse despite its oil wealth. Successive wars, a decade of sanctions and the current violence have destroyed services, undermined health and education and made the lives of ordinary Iraqis dangerous and miserable.

The survey for the UN Development Programme, entitled Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004, questioned more than 21,600 households this time last year. Its findings, released by the Ministry of Planning yesterday, could finally resolve the debate over how many Iraqis were killed in the war that overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.

The 370-page report said that it was 95 per cent confident that the toll during the war and the first year of occupation was 24,000, but could have been between 18,000 and 29,000. About 12 per cent of those were under 18.

The figure is far lower than the 98,000 deaths estimated in The Lancet last October, which said that it had interviewed nearly 1,000 households. But it is far higher than other figures.

Some of the findings will come as no surprise to Iraqis, who have grown used to poverty, unemployment, power cuts, open sewers and an overwhelmed healthcare system.

The report said that unemployment was now more than 18 per cent, compared with just over 3 per cent in the 1980s. Basic services have also collapsed. Some 85 per cent of households complained of electricity cuts and 29 per cent relied on generators. Only 54 per cent of Iraqi families had clean water. Only 37 per cent were connected to a sewage network, compared with 75 per cent in the 1980s.

“If you compare this to the situation in the 1980s, you will see a major deterioration,” said Barham Salih, the Iraqi Planning Minister, who described life for Iraqis as tragic.

The report highlighted falling standards of education and healthcare, which had been among the highest in the Arab world but were now among the lowest. The number of Iraqi mothers who die in labour reached 93 in every 100,000 births, compared with 14 in Jordan and 32 in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Salih said that the condition of his country was particularly tragic given its huge oil wealth and access to water. He insisted that the blame lay with Saddam’s regime, which had embarked on two wars against its neighbours, persecuted its population and provoked sanctions. “Undeniably, from the perspective of many, the former regime’s aggressive policies, its wars, its repression and mismanagement of the economy are an important part of why we are here today,” he said.

I think Mr. Salih is being too generous toward the United States in placing the entire blame for Iraqis' current miseries on Saddam Hussein -- or maybe I should say he is being too circumspect, in his awareness that Iraq essentially belongs to the United States now. If he had a bit more courage, he might agree that no country is compelled to impose punitive sanctions on another country. Even more to the point, if sanctions are imposed, no country is forced to maintain those sanctions once their consequences for innocent civilians are clear and obvious. The United States made a choice to impose sanctions, and to keep them in place, in the full knowledge of those sanctions' devastating effects on the Iraqi people.

Most rational and decent people would reject the argument that an abused woman provoked her intimate partner into beating her or raping or otherwise abusing her. The batterer had a choice. Similarly, when Mr. Salih points the finger exclusively at Saddam Hussein, saying he engaged in two wars against his neighbors, Salih forgets or ignores what is equally true: that the United States sided with Iraq and at least indirectly aided Saddam's regime in the first war (with Iran); and only intervened in the second war (in Kuwait) because Kuwait is a major oil supplier.

Mr. Salih himself acknowledges that living conditions in Iraq from 1991 on show a significant drop from what they were in the previous decade; and the U.N. report makes this point as well. Saddam's Baath Party came to power in 1968, and Saddam himself became president of Iraq in 1979. That means he was Iraq's leader throughout the 1980s, when infrastructure, employment, health care, child mortality, and the status of women were all significantly better than they are now -- and than they have been since 1991. The difference since 1991, of course, has been the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the Persian Gulf War, the continuous bombing raids over the next 10 years, the genocidal sanctions (and they were genocidal, in effect if not in intent), the 2003 second invasion of Iraq, and the 2-year-old occupation.

So we really cannot give Saddam Hussein all the credit for the horrendous and tragic conditions that Iraqis have to live in.

The Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004 is here.

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