new internationalist
issue 316 - September 1999

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Iraq - the facts Iraq - the facts [image, unknown]
Iraq - the facts Iraq - the facts [image, unknown]

In 1990 the United Nations imposed draconian sanctions on Iraq in order to persuade it to pull out of Kuwait.

This failed and the Gulf War followed. But sanctions remain in place and today 250 people, mostly children under five, die every day as a result. Even if sanctions were to be lifted, the cost of returning the country to pre-1991 standards is at least $50 billion.

* Over a million people have died in Iraq since 1990 as a direct result of sanctions.

* In December 1998, the bombings by the US and UK killed 30 people and wounded 100 in one attack on Baghdad alone. Since January 1999, the US and UK have unilaterally conducted almost daily airstrikes in the ‘no-fly zones’.

* Suspected political opponents continue to be arrested by the Government. According to Amnesty International, hundreds of people were reportedly executed in 1998.

* In Kurdish areas thousands of civilians have been displaced due to fighting between Iraqi, Kurdish and Turkish forces. Turkey continues to raid northern Iraq.

Where is Iraq? Country Profile

Population: 21.2 million (1996) 10.1 million under 18.1

Area: 438,317 sq km

Life expectancy: 66.1 (1993); 58.5(1997)1

Language: Arabic; in the Kurdish regions people speak various Kurdish dialects.

Religions: 56% of the population are Shi’a Muslims, 25% Sunni; 20% Kurdish. There is also a substantial and well integrated Christian minority, including Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

Military matters Currency: the dinar

Political parties: The Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party has been in power since 1968 and President Saddam Hussein since 1979. In the Kurdish areas the Kurdistan Democratic Party under Masud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan under Jalal Talabani are locked in struggle.

Agriculture: Only 15% of the population work in agriculture, compared to 53% in 1970.2 Iraq’s 15 million palm trees used to produce 80% of the world’s dates; it is estimated that half of these have died since the Gulf War and the export of dates is in any case prohibited under sanctions.

Urbanization: 75% of people live in the cities.2

Capital: Baghdad 4.478 million people (1995). Other cities include Basra, 406,296; Arbil, 485,968; Mosul, 664,221.3

Military Matters1
Military expenditure in the Middle East is notoriously high: it obviously rises sharply in times of war – see the figures 1985 at the height of the Iran-Iraq War. But no Middle Eastern country has anything like the military expenditure of either Britain or the US.

Sales of weapons to Iraq
Many of Iraq’s weapons were sold to it by the West, even during the period after the Kurdish massacre in 1988. Before the Gulf War, Iraq was supplied by a number of countries including Russia, France, Brazil, the US and Britain. German companies sold components for purifying uranium as well as materials for Iraq’s mustard and nerve gas.

Selection of weapons sales
to Iraq in 1988 and 1989

Weapons system





Al Hossein

S/S missile



Brazil [image, unknown]


Attack helicopter



France [image, unknown]





France [image, unknown]

Cymbeline mortar locating radar




Britain [image, unknown]

Tank engines




Britain [image, unknown]

Encryption equipment




Britain [image, unknown]

Laser range finder




Britain [image, unknown]

AS-14K edge

A/S missile



USSR [image, unknown]

Navigation equipment




US [image, unknown]





W Germany [image, unknown]

External trade Economic collapse 5
The entire Iraqi economy amounts to just 2% of the annual US defense budget of $265 billion. Iraq’s total GDP has fallen to just $5.7 billion, or $247 per capita (down from $60 billion before the Gulf War). In 1989 oil accounted for 61% of Iraq’s GDP and agriculture only 5%. Before the Gulf War Iraq imported about two-thirds of its food and was heavily dependent on oil.

The average annual salary has declined from $335 in 1988 (using the free-market exchange rate) to $24 in 1999. Average shop prices for essential commodities in July 1995 stood at 850 times the July 1990 level.6

Oil for food
In May 1996 Iraq signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under Security Council Resolution 986, sometimes known as the oil-for-food deal. This was seen as a temporary measure to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. The first oil under the programme was exported in December 1996 and the first shipments of food arrived in March 1997.

But Iraq cannot supply enough oil because of destroyed infrastructure and pipelines which continue to be bombed. According to the UN Secretary-General’s report of February 1999, $500 million in humanitarian aid never reached Iraq because of insufficient oil revenues.

Percentage allocation of oil revenues under oil for food9
(November 1998 to May 1999)

Oil for food...

Vital statistics
There has been a major increase in the number of deaths, in particular of infants and young children. The infant-mortality rate has risen from 30.5 per 1,000 in 1989 to 97.2 per 1,000 in 1997.6 The maternal-mortality rate has risen from 50 per 100,000 live births in 1989 to 117 in 1997.2 Low birth-weight babies (less than 2.5 kg) rose from 4% in 1990 to around a quarter of registered births in 1997, due mainly to maternal malnutrition. As many as 70% of Iraqi women are suffering from anaemia.7

Total number of deaths due to embargo-related causes8

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1 Human Development Report 1998 (UNDP).
2 State of the World’s Children (UNICEF).
3 The World Guide 1999/2000.
4 ‘Middle East Defense News/Mednews’ in Kenneth R Timmerman How the West Armed Iraq (Bantam Books).
5 Website of the International Action Center http://leb.net/IAC.
6 United Nations Report on Current Humanitarian Situation in Iraq, March 1999.
7 Kamil Mahdi Rehabilitation prospects for the Iraqi economy.
8 Government of Iraq (UNICEF’s figures are similar if not worse).
9 Office of the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq.

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New Internationalist issue 316 magazine cover This article is from the September 1999 issue of New Internationalist.
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