Inspections and Sanctions, 1992–2000

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Inspections and Sanctions, 1992–2000

The United Nations (UN) agreement that officially ended the 1991 Persian Gulf War required Iraq to destroy all of its biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. In the decade after the war ended, however, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (1937–) refused to honor the terms of this agreement. He consistently failed to cooperate with the UN weapons inspectors sent to monitor Iraq's progress in destroying its weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological weapons. In fact, he threw the inspectors out of Iraq in 1998. Hussein also made threatening statements toward his neighbors and used military force against his political opponents within Iraq.

Hussein's attitude did not please the United States or other members of the international community. The UN used several different strategies to force Iraq to meet the terms of the 1991 agreement. One strategy involved enforcing economic sanctions (trade restrictions intended to punish a country for breaking international law) against Iraq. Another attempted to limit Hussein's military options by establishing "no-fly zones" over large areas of Iraq. American and British leaders also launched bombing campaigns against Iraq on several occasions in response to Hussein's actions.

United Nations begins weapons inspections

The first international weapons inspections in Iraq took place in May 1991, a month after the Persian Gulf War ended. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an organization that promotes the peaceful use of atomic energy, was responsible for inspecting Iraq's nuclear power facilities to ensure that they were not being used for military purposes. The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) was created to oversee the destruction of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programs and long-range missile projects. The Iraqi government at first agreed to grant the inspectors unlimited access to all of its facilities. But it soon became clear that Iraq was determined to hide the full extent of its weapons programs.

Immediately after the 1991 Persian Gulf War ended, the U.S.-led coalition created a "no-fly zone" in southern Iraq. They declared this area off-limits to Iraqi military aircraft in order to prevent Hussein's Sunni Muslim government from attacking its Shiite Muslim opponents, who were largely located in the south. (Islam is divided into two main branches, Sunni and Shiite. About 90 percent of all Muslims are Sunnis.) American and British aircraft patrolled this area constantly. They occasionally encountered Iraqi planes that were attempting to enter the no-fly zone. U.S. leaders also created a second no-fly zone in northern Iraq to protect the Kurdish people from attack by Hussein's military. (The Kurds are a non-Arab Muslim people of northern Iraq.) Together, the two zones covered a total of 104,600 square miles (270,900 square kilometers), or about 62 percent of Iraq.

Hussein claimed that the United States had created the zones illegally, without the authority of a UN resolution. He also argued that the zones violated Iraq's rights as an independent nation. But U.S. leaders said that the zones were necessary to "contain" Hussein and prevent him from harassing his political opponents. "The no-fly zones have been and will remain an important part of our containment policy," U.S. President Bill Clinton (1946–; served

A Gulf War Veteran Questions the Decision to Leave Saddam Hussein in Power

Some Americans questioned President George H. W. Bush's decision to end the 1991 Persian Gulf War while Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was still in power. After all, Hussein was known as a brutal dictator who used violence and even chemical weapons to silence his political opponents. Although Hussein suffered a terrible defeat in the war, he still boasted a large army.

Sergeant Dan Welch, who fought in the Persian Gulf War as a tank commander with the VII Corps, wrote a letter to his mother back in Maine a week after the fighting ended. In this letter, Welch worries that the U.S.-led coalition did not go far enough in fighting the war. He says that he wished coalition forces had captured Baghdad, or at least provided assistance to the Iraqi rebels who were struggling to overthrow Hussein's government. Welch feels sorry for the Iraqi soldiers he fought against, some of whom were forced to fight and suffered severe shortages of food and water during the six-week conflict. He ends his letter by wondering whether American troops would someday have to return to Iraq to finish the job they started.

I think we've made a mistake and not finished this the way it should have ended. There is now a weakness in my heart for the people of Iraq. I'm still trying to explain what has gone on here....

It may appear to most of us over here and to you back home that we've done our jobs, but we've screwed up and didn't finish it. [Saddam Hussein is] still alive, and unless somehow the rebels finish what we've started, we may be back....

But I still think we did the right thing, although we didn't go far enough.

Hussein held on to power after the 1991 war by using the remains of his army to crush a series of rebellions by Iraqi citizens. Over the next decade, he continued to threaten his neighbors and refused to honor the terms of the United Nations (UN) agreement that had officially ended the war. For example, Hussein consistently failed to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors who were sent to monitor Iraq's progress in destroying its biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. Just as Sergeant Welch predicted, in 2003 the United States entered another war to disarm Iraq and remove Hussein from power.

Source: Carroll, Andrew, ed. War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars. New York: Scribner, 2001.

1993–2001) explained, as quoted by Online NewsHour. "Because we effectively control the skies over much of Iraq, Saddam has been unable to use air power to repress [control through use of force] his own people or to lash out again at his neighbors." The United Nations never formally recognized the no-fly zones, and they remained the subject of controversy throughout the 1990s.

Clinton defeated George H. W. Bush (1924–; served 1989–93) in the November 1992 American presidential election and took office in January 1993. Hussein viewed the months between Clinton's election and inauguration (a formal ceremony for taking office) as an opportunity to challenge the restrictions that had been placed on Iraq after the Persian Gulf War. Iraq's level of cooperation with the UN inspectors began to decrease during this time. Hussein also ignored warnings to remove anti-aircraft missiles from the southern no-fly zone. In January 1993 the U.S.-led coalition responded by launching a bombing campaign to destroy suspected Iraqi weapons facilities. One U.S. cruise missile missed its target in Baghdad and hit the Al Rasheed Hotel, killing three civilians (people not involved in a military conflict, including women and children).

Iraq plots to assassinate President Bush

Another confrontation erupted between the United States and Iraq just a few months later. In April 1993 former president George Bush accepted an official invitation to visit Kuwait. A few days before Bush's scheduled arrival, Kuwaiti security forces uncovered a plot to assassinate the former U.S. leader. American and Kuwaiti authorities conducted an investigation, which produced evidence linking the plot to Iraq. They claimed that Hussein had ordered the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) to murder his Persian Gulf War rival while Bush was in the Middle East.

On June 27 the U.S. military launched twenty-four Tomahawk missiles from warships in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea (a long, narrow sea that stretches along Saudi Arabia's western border). The missiles completely destroyed the IIS headquarters in Baghdad. "The Iraqi attack against President Bush was an attack against our country, and against all Americans," President Clinton noted. "We could not, and have not, let such action against our nation go unanswered." Unfortunately, three missiles missed their targets and struck neighboring buildings. Eight civilians were killed, including a leading Iraqi artist, Leila Attar.

In October 1994 Hussein once again threatened to invade Kuwait. He moved Iraq's military forces to the Kuwaiti border, but he withdrew when the United States sent a group of aircraft carriers and fifty-four thousand troops into the Persian Gulf.

Economic sanctions create hardships for the Iraqi people

As part of the agreement that ended the 1991 war, the UN continued to enforce economic sanctions against Iraq. These trade restrictions prevented Iraq from selling oil in world markets or buying many types of goods from other countries. The sanctions were originally intended to prevent Hussein from rebuilding his military after the war. Over time, however, the sanctions created severe hardships for the Iraqi people.

Before the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi government used the money from its oil sales to buy food from other countries. In fact, Iraq imported 70 percent of its food during the 1980s (less than 15 percent of Iraq's land can be used to grow food). But the postwar ban on oil sales left Iraq with limited funds to buy food. Even worse, the UN economic sanctions banned Iraq from importing fertilizers and pesticides because they could potentially be used to make bombs. Without these materials, Iraqi farmers found it difficult to increase their crop production to make up for the loss of imported food. Instead, Iraq was forced to depend on humanitarian aid to feed its people. But the shipments of food that arrived from the UN and international relief organizations only provided 1,300 calories per day for each Iraqi citizen, which was barely enough to keep an average person alive. The shortage of food led to widespread malnutrition (a physical condition resulting from a lack of adequate food). A UN study released in early 1998 found that severe malnutrition affected 30 percent of Iraq's population.

The people of Iraq also suffered from extreme shortages of safe drinking water. Iraq has always drawn its water from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Before the war this water passed through chemical treatment plants to make it safe for drinking. Likewise, sewage passed through waste treatment facilities to kill harmful bacteria before it was released back into the rivers. But many of these plants were destroyed during the war, and others suffered afterward from a lack of maintenance. The UN economic sanctions prevented Iraq from obtaining many of the chemicals and pumps needed to keep the treatment facilities working. The lack of safe drinking water led to a sharp rise in the number of people suffering from waterborne diseases, such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery.

Over time, the UN economic sanctions significantly changed the structure of Iraqi society. Before the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq boasted a substantial middle class and a 90 percent literacy rate. But the shortages of basic goods after the war caused prices to rise rapidly. As Thomas E. White noted in Reconstructing Eden, by 1995 the price of basic goods increased to 850 times the level found in 1990. This meant that an item that cost $1 in 1990 would have cost $850 in 1995. The salaries of middle-class workers failed to keep pace with the rising prices, so people were able to buy less and less with their paychecks. According to Dilip Hiro in Neighbors, Not Friends, a senior civil servant in Iraq earned the equivalent of U.S. $960 per month before the war. Afterward this salary was worth only about $5 due to inflation. As a result, average people could no longer afford to buy even basic necessities. As Iraq's middle class descended into poverty, 25 percent of Iraqi children left school to work to help support their families. The only people who lived well under the sanctions were smugglers and high-ranking officials in Hussein's government.

In 1995 the United Nations began to address the hardships suffered by the Iraqi people under four years of economic sanctions. That April the UN Security Council passed Resolution 986, which allowed Iraq to sell limited amounts of oil in order to buy food for its people. (The Security Council is the division of the United Nations charged with maintaining international peace and security. It consists of five permanent member nations—the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, and China—and ten elected members that serve two-year terms.) When the "oil for food" program went into effect in December 1996, it marked the first time Iraq had sold its oil internationally since 1990. But the program provided only limited relief for the Iraqi people, increasing the average citizen's food intake to 2,000 calories per day. The United Nations set aside 25 percent of the proceeds from Iraq's oil sales to help Kuwait recover from damages caused by the Iraqi invasion. In addition to food, the remaining income from this program had to cover medicine, approved fertilizers, chemicals for sewage treatment, and spare parts for water pumps.

International community questions sanctions

In 1999 the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), an organization focused on improving children's lives worldwide, released a study evaluating the effects of the economic sanctions on the Iraqi people. The researchers reported that the sanctions had contributed to the deaths of five hundred thousand Iraqi children, or an average of five thousand per month, between 1991 and 1998. UNICEF also estimated that an additional five hundred thousand Iraqi adults had died as a result of the sanctions during this time. Several independent studies produced similar results. The leading causes of deaths that could have been prevented by lifting the sanctions included malnutrition, waterborne illnesses, and untreated medical conditions.

Many members of the international community were horrified by such statistics. They were outraged that the Iraqi people were forced to suffer for Hussein's aggression. One leading figure who spoke out against the sanctions was Pope John Paul II (1920–). In a January 1998 address, quoted by Patrick and Andrew Cockburn in The Saddam Hussein Reader, the Pope declared:

We cry out in anguish over seven years of United Nations sanctions against the Iraqi people, which can only be understood as biological warfare against a civilian population. During the Gulf War, U.S.-led coalition forces deliberately [purposely] targeted Iraq's infrastructure, destroying its ability to provide food, water, and sanitation to its civilian population and unleashing disease and starvation on an unimaginable scale.... We are ashamed that the actions of the United Nations, whose mission is to foster peace, can be so deliberately directed toward the sustained slaughter of innocent civilians.

The assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, Denis Halliday, resigned in 1998 after thirty-five years of service in protest against the continued sanctions. "The policy of economic sanctions is totally bankrupt. We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple as that," he stated, as quoted by John Pilger in The Saddam Hussein Reader. The policy "satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults," Halliday continued. "We all know that the regime, Saddam Hussein, is not paying the price for economic sanctions. On the contrary, he has been strengthened by them."

In fact, the sanctions did seem to help support Hussein's rule in some ways. The suffering of ordinary Iraqi citizens created anger throughout the Middle East and created rifts in the coalition that had supported the United States during the 1991 war. As public sympathy toward Iraq increased, various countries in the Arab world began to mend their differences with Hussein. "Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is only a human being who has made mistakes," said United Arab Emirates President Zaid al Nahyan, as quoted in Neighbors, Not Friends. "It is time to lift sanctions because it is the Iraqi people who are paying for his mistakes.

The United States insists on continuing sanctions

As the sanctions continued into the late 1990s, several members of the UN Security Council expressed doubts about their effectiveness. France and Russia proposed setting specific conditions for Iraq's disarmament that would end the sanctions once those conditions were met. But the United States refused to consider lifting the sanctions. Officials in the Clinton administration insisted that the sanctions were a vital part of the United Nations's efforts to limit Hussein's power and prevent Iraq from posing a threat to world peace. They denied that the sanctions were responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people, claiming that UN relief efforts provided more than enough food and money. The administration pointed to evidence showing that Hussein was diverting the humanitarian aid to enrich himself and build up his military.

The Clinton administration's determination to continue the sanctions against Iraq caused controversy in the United States as well. In February 2000, 70 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter asking President Clinton to lift the economic sanctions against Iraq. But 125 other representatives signed a letter expressing their support for continued sanctions. "The UN oil-for-food program has given Saddam Hussein the opportunity to provide basic needs to his people, but he has squandered [wasted] huge sums of money on arms and luxury goods," Democratic Representative Nita Lowey (1937–) of New York, who signed the second letter, told The Progressive. "I am horrified by the images of Iraqis who do not have enough food and shelter, but this is a product of tyrannical [harsh or brutal] leadership, not UN sanctions. Lifting sanctions will only bolster Saddam Hussein's coffers [treasury] and enable him to buy weapons of mass destruction. It will not help the Iraqi people."

Clinton administration officials insisted that the sanctions should remain in place until Hussein was removed from power or the UN saw significant changes in the "policies and practices" of the Iraqi government. But this sometimes made the administration seem indifferent to the suffering of the Iraqi people. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (1937–) seemed to confirm this charge in a 1996 interview for the television show "60 Minutes." As quoted in Neighbors, Not Friends, interviewer Lesley Stahl (1941–) asked, "More than 500,000 Iraqi children are already dead as a direct result of the UN sanctions. Do you think the price is worth paying?" Albright replied, "It is a difficult question. But, yes, we think the price is worth it." In February 1998, when Albright discussed the Clinton administration's Iraq policy at Ohio State University, she was heckled by angry U.S. citizens. This event was broadcast live around the world on the Cable News Network (CNN) and embarrassed the Clinton administration.

For his part, Hussein claimed that Iraq had met the conditions of the UN Security Council resolutions that had ended the 1991 Persian Gulf War and argued that the sanctions should be lifted immediately. "Iraq has complied with and implemented all the relevant resolutions," he stated, as quoted by Patrick and Andrew Cockburn in The Saddam Hussein Reader. "There is absolutely nothing else. We demand with unequivocal [unmistakable] clarity that the Security Council fulfill its commitments toward Iraq.... The practical expression of this is to respect Iraq's sovereignty [independence] and totally lift the blockade [economic sanctions] imposed on Iraq."

Iraq's postwar problems continue

Throughout this period, Iraq continued to suffer from internal turmoil. Both of its large minority groups, the Shiites of southern Iraq and the Kurds of northern Iraq, periodically rose up in opposition to Hussein's rule. But Hussein violently suppressed all opposition. In 1995, for example, two of his sons-in-law fled to Jordan. They hoped to serve as leaders in a U.S.-backed opposition government that would replace Hussein. They returned to Iraq six months later, after Hussein promised to forgive them, but were executed shortly after their return.

In August 1996 Hussein once again used force against the Kurds. In response to an armed conflict between two groups of Kurds, he sent troops into the independent Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The troops easily captured Irbil, the capital city of the Kurdish region. Turkey and Jordan were so impressed by Iraq's show of military strength that they stopped cooperating with U.S. efforts to overthrow Hussein's government. U.S. and British forces responded to the capture of Irbil by expanding the no-fly zone in northern Iraq and bombing a number of military targets.

In December 1996 Hussein's eldest son, Uday Hussein (1964–2003), was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt by members of a Shiite resistance group. Gunmen attacked his car as he traveled through an upscale neighborhood of Baghdad, killing his driver and bodyguard. Uday was hit by eight bullets, including one that lodged in his spine. He spent six months in the hospital recovering from his injuries.

Hussein responded to the attack on his son by increasing his efforts to destroy all opposition to his rule. He used violence, including torture and execution, to control or do away with his political enemies. In 1999 the UN Commission on Human Rights condemned Hussein for "the systematic, widespread, and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international law by the Government of Iraq."

Weapons inspectors leave Iraq

In the meantime, Hussein continued interfering with the work of UN weapons inspectors. He consistently refused to allow the inspectors access to certain areas. He also placed restrictions on the inspectors' activities, like forcing them to travel in the company of Iraqi security personnel. In November 1997 Hussein expelled the UN inspectors from Iraq, but Russian diplomat Yevgeny Primakov (1929–) helped negotiate their quick return. In January 1998 Hussein blocked another UN inspection team from entering the country because he felt that it included too many American and British members. He claimed that these inspectors were acting as spies for their governments.

In October 1998 Iraq ended all cooperation with the UN weapons inspections. The United States and Great Britain warned that they would attack Iraq if Hussein refused to allow the inspectors to complete their work. The UN negotiated an agreement that allowed the inspectors to return to Iraq the following month. But Iraqi officials still denied the inspectors access to Hussein's palaces, security offices, and other "presidential sites." The inspectors withdrew within a month, saying that Iraq's lack of cooperation made it impossible for them to do their jobs.

Operation Desert Fox

At this point American and British military forces launched Operation Desert Fox, a massive bombing campaign aimed at destroying sites that were suspected to have weapons of mass destruction. The attacks began on December 16, 1998, and lasted for three days. During this time the U.S. and British forces fired four hundred cruise missiles and dropped six hundred laser-guided bombs on targets in Iraq.

The renewed bombing of Iraq met with severe criticism from much of the world. The Arab League officially condemned the attacks, and protests broke out across the Middle East. (The Arab League is an alliance of about twenty Arab nations and the Palestine Liberation Organization that promotes political, military, and economic cooperation in the Arab world.) Several members of the UN Security Council argued that President Clinton had ordered the bombing without the authority of a UN resolution. Russia withdrew its ambassador from the United States in protest.

Within the United States, some critics claimed that President Clinton had ordered the attack to distract public attention from other problems affecting his presidency. The bombing of Iraq began one day before the U.S. House of Representatives was scheduled to begin impeachment hearings against Clinton. The U.S. Constitution says that all federal officials can be impeached, or brought up on legal charges, and removed from elected office if they are found guilty of a crime. The House of Representatives brings the charges and acts as prosecutor, while the Senate hears the case and votes as a jury. The House delayed the impeachment hearings for only one day due to the military action in Iraq. On December 19, members voted to impeach Clinton on charges that he lied to investigators about his affair with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky (1973–). A few hours later, the president stopped the bombing of Iraq.

In 1999 the UN Security Council passed a new resolution regarding Iraq. Resolution 1284 established the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) to replace UNSCOM. The Security Council hoped that UNMOVIC inspectors would be more acceptable to Iraq and less likely to be accused of spying, since they did not represent individual countries. The resolution also removed all limits on Iraq's sale of oil to other countries, thus making more funds available to buy food and medicine for the Iraqi people. Finally, it provided for economic sanctions to be lifted if Iraq cooperated fully with UNMOVIC inspectors.

Confrontations continued in the no-fly zones throughout 1999 and 2000. In fact, Hussein offered rewards to members of the Iraqi military for shooting down American planes. Nevertheless, the international community made little effort to enforce the UN agreement that had ended the 1991 war. As a result, Iraq was free to operate its weapons programs largely without monitoring for the next four years.