Last week, the United States denied the allegations of the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has doubled malnutrition among Iraqi children. The Bush Administration criticized Ziegler for "taking some information that in itself is difficult to validate and juxtaposing his own views which are widely known about the war in Iraq and suggesting the two are linked."
It is, of course, richly ironic that the Bush Administration, with an apparently straight face, leveled such criticisms against Ziegler. After all, as most recently reported by the presidential commission on intelligence leading up to the Iraq invasion, the Bush Administration based its decision to invade Iraq on information that could not be validated, principally because the information was either blatantly false or "dead wrong."
Moreover, it is now widely known that the Bush Administration longed to invade Iraq immediately following the attacks of 9/11, if not earlier. No one with even the most tenuous of grips on reality can sincerely say that the Bush Administration did not juxtapose its own widely-known views about invading Iraq with information that not only could not be validated but was, in fact, proven to be false, and then suggested a link between the two. Take, for instance, Vice President Cheney's block-headed insistence until as late as November 2004 that Iraq was involved in the attacks of 9/11.
Regardless of the Bush Administration's laughably hypocritical criticisms of Ziegler's statements, Ziegler is not alone in blaming the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq for increased rates of mortality and malnutrition among Iraqis, children in particular. In fact, Ziegler's comments were not based upon his own observations. Rather, they were based upon previous reports by and findings of UNICEF, the World Food Program, and Johns Hopkins University.
The organizations upon which Ziegler relied in criticizing the U.S. cannot be dismissed as mere America-bashers, motivated by politics. Indeed, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development, in 2003 nearly a third of Iraqi children suffered from malnutrition. Similarly, in April of 2003, the Congressional Research Service reported in "Iraq: Recent Developments in Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance," that the invasion of Iraq worsened the already fragile humanitarian situation in Iraq. The CRS report noted that before it was suspended on the eve of the invasion, the U.N. Oil-For-Food Program provided food and medicine to sixty percent of Iraq's 24 to 27 million citizens. With the abrupt suspension of the OFFP, between 14.4 and 16.2 million Iraqis promptly found themselves without the food or medicine upon which their lives depended.
The CRS report also predicted that the invasion of Iraq would increase malnutrition and the disruption of food supplies, as well as reduce access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.
Verily, that prediction came to pass.
In its report to the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq in October of 2004, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that approximately twenty percent of urban households and more than fifty percent of rural households had no access to safe drinking water or adequate sanitation. According to the Ministry of Health, one third of all Iraqi children were chronically malnourished. In the first half of 2004 alone there were 8,253 reported cases of measles, compared with 454 reported cases for all of 2003. By the same token, there were nearly 12,000 reported cases of mumps in the first four months of 2004, while there were fewer than 7,000 reported cases for all of 2003. In March of 2003, UNICEF reported that Iraq had one of the highest mortality rates in the world for children under the age of five. One in four Iraqi children under the age of five, totaling nearly one million children, were malnourished. Nearly one quarter of all Iraqi children were born underweight, a situation only partly explained by the fact that sixty percent of Iraqi women were iron deficient. In its 2005 State of the World's Children, UNICEF reported that between 1990 and 2003, Iraq's mortality rate for children under five increased seven percent.
In July of 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqi children were reported to be suffering from malnutrition, as well as chronic diarrhea and vomiting. The increase was directly attributed to the lack of reliable electricity following the U.S. "shock and awe" campaign and subsequent invasion. The lack of electricity in Iraq caused water to be pumped at low pressure which, in turn, allowed sewage to seep into the system. As reported by the New York Times in September 2004, the water and sewage failures contributed to an outbreak of hepatitis E.
In November of 2004, the Washington Post reported that while acute malnutrition in Iraqi children under the age of five declined to four percent in 2002, it nearly doubled in 2004, spiking to 7.7 percent. The sharp increase translated to approximately 400,000 Iraqi children suffering from "wasting," a condition characterized by chronic diarrhea and extreme protein deficiency.
According to a study led by the Johns Hopkins Center for International Emergency Disaster and Refugee Studies, published by The Lancet in October 2004, a conservative estimate of 100,000 excess deaths occurred since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Likewise, the risk of death increased more than two-fold, and risk of death from violence increased fifty-eight percent. Following the invasion, the estimated infant mortality rate in Iraq was fifty-seven deaths for every one thousand live births. Forty-six percent of all Iraqis killed by coalition forces were under fifteen. More than half of all Iraqis killed by the U.S.-led coalition of the willing were women and children.
The U.S., not surprisingly, dismisses the Lancet study as inaccurate and unverifiable. Then again, as General Tommy Franks so eloquently summarized U.S. policy toward Iraqi civilian casualties, "we don't do body counts." Inasmuch as the U.S. isn't interested in how many Iraqi civilians are killed or injured, its summary dismissal of the Lancet study lacks credibility. At any rate, in November 2004, The Economist scrutinized the Lancet study and deemed its statistical analyses and data-gathering techniques to be sound.
Bush and his cronies tend to rhapsodize about liberating the Iraqi people and freeing them from the wanton cruelty of a tyrannical despot. However, as evidenced by its callous disregard for the health and well-being of the Iraqi people, particularly Iraqi children, the U.S. government's intentions in Iraq are not and never were altruistic. By way of example, since the April 2003 CRS report mentioned above, all subsequent reports bear the title, "Iraq: Recent Developments in Reconstruction Assistance." The word "humanitarian" is nowhere to be found.
Ken Sanders is a writer based in Tucson, Arizona. Visit his weblog at: www.politicsofdissent.blogspot.com/.
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