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Sanctions as War: The cases of Iraq and Iran Sammy Almashat, MD Left Forum 2013.

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Presentation on theme: "Sanctions as War: The cases of Iraq and Iran Sammy Almashat, MD Left Forum 2013."— Presentation transcript:

1 Sanctions as War: The cases of Iraq and Iran Sammy Almashat, MD Left Forum 2013


3 Objectives Historic overview of sanctions as tools of war Case studies: Iraq and Iran (Gaza also in acute crisis) Unquestioned assumptions fueling near- universal consensus in U.S.

4 Overview Sanctions vs. Embargo Iraq first modern instance of “internationally” coordinated total embargo Extra-territorial sanctions Iran now approaching conditions resembling embargo

5 Iraq

6 Iraq pre-1990 Sustained improvements in public health (and other) infrastructure beginning in 1970s and continuing throughout 1980s

7 Iraq pre-1990 Child health: – 50% reduction in infant/child mortality (since 1980) – Undernourishment in Iraqi children “no longer a public health problem” Healthcare: – Universal healthcare access (93% population) – Majority of pregnant women had pre/peri-natal services Education: – Universal primary education (93% children) – “highly effective” literacy campaign (85% women) Infrastructure: – “Vast majority” of households had access to electricity – 80% access to safe drinking water – Population caloric requirements met (120% of requirements); “one of the highest per-capita food availability ratings in the region”


9 “This aggression will not stand” – George H. W. Bush, August 6, 1990

10 Gulf War I: “near apocolyptic” 130,000 tons of munitions dropped on Iraq in a 43-day span Iraqi casualties: 30-100,000 military and civilian deaths estimated Devastation of infrastructure: Sec. of State James Baker’s fulfilled promise to “bomb Iraq back into the Stone Age” – Power plants – Water treatment facilities – Bridges – $232 billion in total damages

11 Iraq embargo Passed by UN Security Council in August 1990 U.S. power (Yemen sole abstention) Near-total ban on imports and exports Immediate impact (90% imports, 97% exports) – Cholera, tyhpoid outbreaks (previously eradicated through sanitation, vaccination programs)

12 Iraqi Economy pre- and post-1990 (% reduction)

13 Oil-for-Food: Humanitarian Illusions 1996: “Oil-for-Food” program implemented Allowed Iraq to export fraction of pre-1990 levels for humanitarian goods “Dual-use” items (e.g. childhood vaccines, water treatment equipment) Contract holds: U.S. (95%) UK (5%)

14 Sanctions toll: 1990-2003 1995: 1,100 calories/person/day under ration system Deaths: 200,000 to 500,000 children under 5 (up to 1 million total) Middle-class decimated (unemployment, hyperinflation, exile) Ration economy: from opposition to dependence on Saddam

15 “Genocidal” policy “…the kind of increases of child mortality that were seen in Iraq are almost unknown in the public health literature. Iraq is the only instance of a sustained, large increase in mortality in a stable population of more than 2 million in the last 200 years.” Two consecutive UN humanitarian coordinators (Hans von Sponeck, Denis Halliday) resign in protest of “genocidal” policy

16 Iran

17 Iran Sanctions Began in 1979 following Islamic revolution Unilateral, “primary” sanctions at first 1990s: extra-territorial (“secondary”) elements enacted 2010-2012: extra-territorial provisions expanded to Iranian financial sector (and enforcement begins) 2012: EU sanctions oil industry 2013 (June 3): Exec order sanctioning Iran’s currency (potentially impacting 1/5 Iranian economy)

18 Economic Consequences Oil exports halved (lowest since 1980s) Rial’s value cut to one-third of previous levels/near-hyperinflation sets in (30% in 2012) First GDP contraction in two decades (1.9% March 2012-2013; further 1.3% projected this year) Unemployment now 20% Industrial base collapsing (auto production down 40% since 2011)

19 Iranian Health Advances Threatened Primary care network, reaching 23 million rural dwellers 75% reduction in rural infant mortality Free contraception: “… largest and fastest drop in [birth rate] ever recorded…” since the 1980s Domestic pharmaceutical industry overcame access barriers posed by Western pharmaceutical patents Healthcare coverage not universal, but govt and private insurance (mostly through employers) cover 90% of services to population

20 Pharmaceuticals 85% essential medicines produced domestically; $2.1 billion/year industry – Domestic production down sharply due to lack of raw materials (“dual-use” chemicals) Many newer, more complex medications still imported – 50% drop in imports from U.S. (2012) Oncologic drugs (Herceptin, Paclitaxel), newer anesthetics, hemophilia blood factors and other biologics Medical devices, hospital equipment also affected 6 million patients at risk

21 Humanitarian Exemptions: “Oil for Food” redux U.S. Treasury Dept: – “It has been the longstanding policy of the United States not to target Iranian imports of humanitarian items, such as food, medicine and medical devices.” Reality: – “Virtually no American or European bank wants to be involved in financial transactions with Iran, no matter what products are involved.” (NYT, 11/2/2012)

22 “Put plainly, Washington and Brussels’ stated intention that sanctions ‘pressure the Iranian government…without contributing to the suffering of the ordinary [Iranians],’ as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once put it, is not being reflected by the reality on the ground.” - Wilson Center report on Iran sanctions and medical supply shortages, Feb 2013

23 Humanitarian Illusions, Financial Realities Absurdity of humanitarian exemptions while destroying economy “Dual-use” re-enters discourse (e.g. list of exempted medical devices) Secondary sanctions and draconian penalties guaranteee no foreign banks will finance imports and exports to and from Iran

24 Iran vs. Iraq: Decisive Differences Iraq 1990-2003: total embargo following post- war devastation, economy virtually obliterated, traditional trade non-existent Iran 2013: $500 billion annual GDP (Iraq 1990: $60 billion) Iranian alliances vs. Iraqi isolation American power and influence: 1990 vs. 2013

25 Stopping the U.S., Solidarity with Iranians

26 U.S. public opinion on Iran 80% favor tougher sanctions 63% favor military force 70% see Iranian nuclear program as “major threat”

27 Reframing the debate What is the Iranian threat? (“Western obsession”) Why are the sanctions in place? What are ultimate U.S. goals?

28 NPT Signed in 1968 Two parallel commitments Non-nuclear nations would promise not to pursue weaponization The forgotten obligation: “nuclear club” at the time would make “good faith” efforts to eliminate their nuclear weapons stockpiles

29 Sanctions in context Sanctions but one element of ongoing, 34- year war against Iran Terrorism (nuclear scientists, Stuxnet) Subversion (MEK) Daily, credible threats of military force

30 The Real Threat

31 “We are a grassroots group of Iranians, Iranian- Americans and allies who have joined together to categorically oppose any military action and the U.S.- led sanctions against Iran. We stand in solidarity with the Iranian people’s struggle against war and sanctions and against state repression; we know that all of these forms of violence hurt the lives and aspirations of ordinary Iranians.”

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