Coalition Victory Forgets Iraq's Children

By Audrey McLaughlin | 1992-01-01 12:00:00

In January of last year, for the first time in 40 years, Canadian troops entered a war zone as combatants rather than peace-makers. Eight months after a ceasefire was declared in the Gulf, the costs of the war continue to add up.

Estimates suggest at least 150,000 people died. Bombs, the equivalent of seven Hiroshimas, destroyed much of Iraq's infrastructure. Most means of modern life support have been destroyed or severely damaged. The world's largest human-made environmental disaster continues to take its toll.

I found the latest, most comprehensive report on conditions in Iraq to be truly shocking. The new report comes from an international study team of 87 researchers from a wide variety of disciplines. This team, financed by UNICEF, Oxfam and others, visited Iraq 's30 largest cities and rural areas in all parts of the country.

Child mortality in Iraq is up 380%. 900,000 Iraqi children under five are estimated to be malnourished -110,000 of them moderately or severely malnourished and therefore at in-creased risk of dying. Most of Iraq's population of 18 million, 8 million of whom are under 15, is directly exposed to water-borne disease due to lack of spare parts, chlorine and electricity for Iraq's water purification systems.

Mass starvation is now being avoided only because of a public food distribution system organized by the Iraqi government. The United Nations warned in early October that this rationing system is on the verge of collapse because government held food stocks are at critically low levels. While food shortages are effecting the majority of the population, the situation is particularly grim for children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers.

Again the most vulnerable are the victims of war's folly.

What should be done? Every effort must be made to continue the isolation of Iraq's military junta while encouraging democratic forces. At the same time, the needs of Iraq's civilian population cannot be ignored. Sanctions against Iraqi oil exports should be lifted immediately.

U.N. Resolution 687 of November 29, 1990 authorized states "to use all necessary means" against Iraq unless it withdrew from Ku-wait. The same resolution specifically allows the sale of Iraqi oil to assure unrestricted purchases of food, medicine, and supplies for essential civilian needs as identified by the U.N.

The former U.N. Secretary General, Perez de Cuellar, sent two special envoys to Iraq to assess these essential civilian needs. Undersecretary-General Martti Ahtisaari's report came a month after a ceasefire had been arranged and described the "near-apocalyptic" results of the bombing. His report warned of impending famine and epidemic.

The second envoy reported that the situation in Iraq was indeed serious and worsening. The Aga Khan report recommended in July that Iraq be allowed immediately to sell $28 billion of oil to make crucial purchases of food, drugs, vaccines, medical equipment, fertilizers, agricultural machinery and parts, generators, and water treatment and sewage disposal equipment.

Finally, on August 15, Resolution 706 authorized the sale of Iraq oil, but only $1.6 billion worth. Less than $1 billion of this would be available for humanitarian purposes with the rest for reparations and to cover U.N. monitoring costs. Surely we do not need to relearn the lesson of World War One and the Treaty of Versailles: when the winning side imposes unnecessarily harsh conditions, conflict will result.

Last September our Prime Minister co-chaired the World Summit for Children. The 71 world leaders in attendance jointly issued a declaration committing them to protecting the rights of children. Point 8 of the declaration states that "the essential needs of children and families must be protected even in times of war" and asked that "periods of tranquility and special relief corridors be observed for the benefit of children, where war and violence are still taking place." Paragraph 25 of their adopted Plan of Action states that "resolution of a conflict need not be a prerequisite for measures explicitly to protect children and their families, to assure their continuing access to food, medical care and basic services, and to exempt them from other direct consequences of violence and hostilities." Inexcusably, Canada has not yet ratified this declaration.

While defending his decision to declare war on Iraq, Brian Mulroney said "the first interest that Canada has at stake is simple morality" and promised to "commit the necessary resources to assure that justice is brought to that area of the world." Where is this morality as malnutrition amongst Iraq's most vulnerable civilians increases?

UNICEF was one of the first aid agencies in Iraq after the war. Their initial appeal for about $95 million to support emergency work in Iraq attracted a little more than $33 million in donations. Canada gave about $1.1 million. Canada has also given $1.4 billion through the Red Cross for water supply repairs. In comparison, almost $1 billion was budgeted for the Canadian Forces to fight in the Gulf. Because of the brevity of the allied offensive, $600 million of this was never allocated.

Our Government had the courage to wage war but lacks the humility to wage peace. While our Ambassador to the U.N. actively supports continued sanctions on Iraqi oil sales to force complete compliance with ceasefire agreements, he does not criticize compromise on peace-keeping activities. The U.N. Iraq-Kuwaiti Observation Mission, established to monitor the Gulf War ceasefire, has received only $184,000 of its $60 million budget.

With the recent, phenomenal changes in international affairs, there is real hope for a more just world. The Gulf War was a betrayal of that hope. War represents the same old way of doing things. The option of killing people to resolve disputes must disappear in a new world community.

I know Canada can do more. Al-most eight months after the official ceasefire, "war" continues for the citizens in Iraq who wanted no part in this fight. Canada played a major role in waging war. We and our coalition partners must now act with equal haste to assure that innocent victims, do not continue to die from starvation and disease.

Audrey McLaughlin is the leader of the federal New Democratic Party.

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1992

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1992, page 21. Some rights reserved.

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