This page will discuss some of the common beliefs — which are either misleading or simply false — held about the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S./UN sanctions on Iraq, and the conditions and effects of destroyed infrastructure and economic sanctions on the Iraqi people.
“Surgical bombing” in the 1991 Gulf War minimized civilian casualties in Iraq.
It is certainly true that modern U.S. military technology has enabled targets to be bombed with much greater precision than in previous wars. However that does not mean the civilian death toll has correspondingly decreased. It depends what is targeted. The man called the architect of the Gulf Air War — USAF Colonel John Warden III — wrote a paper describing his strategy. By targeting what he called the “organic essentials” of a functioning society, a country can be brought to its knees and bent to our will. The deaths of civilians are hidden because they are not caused directly by the bombs but indirectly by their consequences. Unsafe water is a prime example. Robert Fisk called it: “Bomb now, Die later!”
“Children die because Saddam Hussein built palaces.” From Madeleine Albright’s 1996 interview on CBS‘ 60 Minutes — when she infamously said the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were “worth the price” — she claimed that Saddam Hussein spent an enormous amount of money building his palaces while Iraqi children were malnourished and dying. In her statement she implied that the reason Iraqi children are dying is because Saddam Hussein spent $2 billion on his palaces. But simple arithmetic shows this comes to 4 cents per Iraqi per day. Is that why they died? (Former CIA director Stansfield Turner once told me exactly this at a public event.) As common as this myth is, see the next myth for one real cause.
Children died because the UN’s Oil-for-Food program was corrupt. The investigation into the Oil-for-Food program claimed that money had been stolen from the program. Consider that there were 20 to 25 million citizens of Iraq whose basic needs had to be met by the program: food, safe water, electricity, medicine, health care, education, and on and on! The best authorities on these needs and the money allowed were the two first UN Assistant Secretaries General who headed the program. They each resigned their 30-year UN careers to protest: they are Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck. They protested the 50 cents per day they had from this program. That amount is the true Oil-for-Food scandal! I once spoke with a U.S. State Department official; I asked him: Why, if not a penny of the money ever reaches Saddam Hussein, should Iraq ever be restricted in how much oil they can sell to meet their needs? There was complete silence and he had to admit he had no answer!
“Saddam Hussein never invested in infrastructure, only in his army and palaces.” Paul Bremer — administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 — said, “Because this country’s infrastructure was underinvested, because this country’s capital was stolen and put in places like this (palace), because this country spent 10 times as much on the military, there is no reliable infrastructure here”. But in 1991 The Washington Post reported this: “Now nearly four months after the war’s end, Iraq’s electrical generation has reached only 20 to 25 percent of its prewar capacity of 9,000 to 9,500 megawatts. Pentagon analysts calculate that the country has roughly the generating capacity it had in 1920 — before reliance on refrigeration and sewage treatment became widespread.” I do not know of any media which challenged Mr. Bremer with the fact of U.S. deliberate destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure.
“We cannot help Iraqis where Saddam Hussein controls the Oil-for-Food program.” This was essentially the U.S. State Department’s position, blaming Saddam for Iraqi children’s deaths. Their argument was that in the Kurdish North child mortality improved. Here is a plot on the U.S. State Department’s report called “Saddam Hussein’s Iraq” published in September 1991. It was in response to UNICEF’s report a month earlier concerning 500,000 excess Iraqi children’s deaths from 1991 on. Note that in the State Department’s plot, the 1991 Gulf War improved health in the North, but showed no impact whatsoever for the rest of Iraq! There is absolutely no citation, footnote, or other documentation to support the source or authenticity of this plot — unlike the UNICEF plot and sourcing below.
Here is the plot from the UNICEF report of September 1999 called “Results of the 1999 Iraq Child and Maternal Mortality Survey.” It is based on data from an extensive survey as conducted and analyzed by UNICEF and reported in the results of their survey. Note that it shows a continual improvement in under-five child mortality rates from 1980 up until pre-war sanctions in 1990 and the bombing and continued sanctions of 1991.
A comparison of these two reports is very revealing. Here is my analysis from 1999.
There are other Common Myths about this issue – but these are representative.