There is currently a multi article flame war going at Newsvine. For example here. Beyond all the noise, an important issue is being questioned and brushed aside. I wasn't getting smarter reading the discussion at these other threads, so I decided to try and answer the question myself.
My analysis is simplistic, and there are literally hundreds of detailed comprehensive reviews of this topic. I only write this short summary as it appeared many at the flame war didn't know much about it.
I am older than most Viners, but I am confident that if Newsvine existed in the 90s, that this would have been a major issue to many of you. Most following world geo-political events through the 90s were well aware of the issue.
Specifically, to what degree is the USA responsible for the state of health care and high infant mortality in Iraq?
I understand the flame war has other issues, but this article will solely deal with the above question. Any other issues can stay in the flame threads. I will purposefully try and keep this simple and use just a few mainstream, respectable sources.
First, its important to understand the state of Health Care in Iraq before the two gulf Wars. Recall, Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, and was ejected as a result of the first Gulf War in 1991. So how good was health care in 1990?
For simplicity, lets look at children mortality rates - remembering that over 50% of Iraq population is under 18.
1960 '70 '80 '90 '95 2000 2004
171 127 83 50 122 125 125 <-- Under 5 Mortality /1000
117 90 63 40 100 102 102 <-- Infant Mortality /1000
So for example, 125/1000 would mean that 12.5% of children die before the age of 5.
(sorry Newsvine doesn't like html tables)
And from the World Health Organization:
Advances in provision of health care have been notable. Major hospital construction projects have given the country a first-class range of medical facilities, both in the larger towns and through a series of clinics in rural areas. In 1989, there were 135 general hospitals, 1055 health centres, 58 health centres with beds and 52 specialized hospitals.
Even under Saddam's rule, child mortality rates were rapidly improving until 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. And The WHO gave a positive assessment of things in 1989 . As an aside, remember that from 1980-88 Saddam and Iraq (with USA support) was involved in the brutal war with Iran.
Did the UN sanctions, and USA interpretation of sanctions between the two Gulf Wars, contribute to the decline in Child Health in Iraq.
Between the 2 Gulf Wars, Iraq was under US-led United Nations Sanctions for 12 years.
A famous question/answer.
CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl in 1996 when she asked U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright,
We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?
I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.
Back to the chart, note there is a huge increase in Child Mortality after 1990.
According to UNICEF:
It is the only instance of a sustained increase in mortality in a stable population of more than 2 million in the last 200 years (referring to the period 1990 to 2000)
One of the major reasons for the decline in health in Iraq was the destruction of energy generating plants and importantly water purification and sewage treatment centres during Gulf War 1. In fact the Pentagon has admitted openly that this was an intentional strategy. And over the next 12 years the USA, under the guise of UN sanctions, aggressively prevented this equipment from ever being adequately repaired. I will focus on this issue as just one telling example of the US role in the deterioration of Iraqi health.
Five years after the 1st Gulf War, in the mid 90s, the WHO was proclaiming the state of Health in Iraq a disaster
The six-week Gulf war in 1991 resulted in the destruction of a large number of public facilities in Iraq, such as electricity generating and water purification plants and sewage treatment networks. As a consequence, provision of health care to the population was seriously disrupted. One example has been the complete disruption of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), the result being a decrease in the number of infants and children being immunized and as a result, an increase in many vaccine-preventable diseases.
In 1995 the Oil-for-Food Program was instituted to try and improve the humanitarian situation. This corrupt program did provide much humanitarian aid to Iraq, but did not eliminate the UN sanctions.
all sewage-treatment plants had broken down. As the state's economy collapsed, salaries to state employees stopped, or were paid in Iraqi currency rendered nearly worthless by inflation. Between 1990 and 1996 more than half of the employees involved in water and sanitation left their jobs. By 2001, after five years of the Oil for Food Programme's operating at full capacity, the situation had actually worsened.
Much of the problem in maintaining Water Purification and Sewage Systems was the aggressive USA handling of the sanctions. Again this is all well documented, and in endless WPO and NYT articles from the period.
The above linked article gives some good but brief examples.
Unless the water is purified with chlorine," the agency concluded, "epidemics of such diseases as cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid could occur."
All of this indeed came to pass. And got worse. Yet U.S. policy on water-supply contracts remained as aggressive as ever. For every such contract unblocked in August 2001, for example, three new ones were put on hold. A 2001 UNICEF report to the Security Council found that access to potable water for the Iraqi population had not improved much under the Oil for Food Programme, and specifically cited the half a billion dollars of water- and sanitation-supply contracts then blocked—one third of all submitted.
Water Purification and Sewage is the best example of the USA helping create a humanitarian disaster, but it is only one of many areas.
The US as a member of the behind closed-doors committee managing sanctions would continually put holds on a wide range of medicines and humanitarian equipment
In early 2001, the United States had placed holds on $280 million in medical supplies, including vaccines to treat infant hepatitis, tetanus, and diphtheria, as well as incubators and cardiac equipment. The rationale was that the vaccines contained live cultures, albeit highly weakened ones. The Iraqi government, it was argued, could conceivably extract these, and eventually grow a virulent fatal strain, then develop a missile or other delivery system that could effectively disseminate it. UNICEF and U.N. health agencies, along with other Security Council members, objected strenuously. European biological-weapons experts maintained that such a feat was in fact flatly impossible.
After Reuters broke the story, the US eventually backed down - in this case.
Even simple things like water pipes were blocked
UNICEF reported that up to 40 percent of the purified water run through pipes is contaminated or lost through leakage. Yet the United States blocked or delayed contracts for water pipes, and for the bulldozers and earth-moving equipment necessary to install them. And despite approving the dangerous dual-use chlorine, the United States blocked the safety equipment necessary to handle the substance—not only for Iraqis but for U.N. employees charged with chlorine monitoring there.
Again if Newsvine was around between gulf wars, these examples would have been seeded and discussed endlessly. Just about every mainstream humanitarian organization complained and documented huge shortages of basic life saving medicines, all due primarily to the sanctions.
Who am I to argue with Madeleine Albright? Any major humanitarian organization would say that the USA certainly played a major role in the deterioration of Health and Sanitation in the 12 years between Gulf Wars.
Did the 2003 US led "coalition of the willing" invasion of Iraq contribute to the decline in Iraqi Health Care.
In the interest of briefness and the bloody obvious, my conclusion is: YES
This was put together very quickly as after reading the Flame Wars and some other stuff at the Vine. I thought it might add value. I apologize for mistakes and its simplicity. Anyone interested can find endless sources better than mine - althought I think using the WHO and Unicef is a pretty good place to start.
During my initial entry into online news groups - well before the 2003 Iraq invasion - this was a hot and passionately debated topic.
Finally, much of the blame for the horrible state of health in Iraq must obviously be laid at the feet of Saddam Hussein. While Iraq was incredibly short of foreign reserves, they still received Billions from oil for food, and more funds could have been diverted from things like palaces and weapons.
But like so many things these days. It is not black and white story of good versus evil. It is much grayer than that.