Apocalypse now

Iraq Under Siege: the deadly impact of sanctions and war

Edited by Anthony Arnove <em>Pluto Press,

This book charges the American and British governments with genocide against the people of Iraq, a charge that is exceptionally well documented by its authors, including Dennis Halliday, who resigned as the senior United Nations official responsible for the "oil for food" programme. He witnessed, at first hand, the terrible suffering imposed by sanctions. Today, the bombing of Iraq goes on, but it is scarcely referred to in the mainstream media. Hence, we have had few opportunities to learn about the damage being done to the infrastructure of Iraq - a country that has been reduced to third-world status.

In Iraq under Siege, the history behind the "Gulf war" of 1990 is well covered by, among others, John Pilger, Robert Fisk, Noam Chomsky and Professor Hudo Ammash of Baghdad University. They remind us of the support that Saddam Hussein enjoyed from the US and Britain at the time of the Iran-Iraq war, and they provide gruesome details about the effects that sanctions have had on innocent civilians - sanctions that Fred Halliday believes have cost the lives of half a million Iraqi children under the age of five.

As the story unfolds, the enormity of what is being done in our name - and by our government - becomes apparent; the extent of the crimes being committed should shock any serious reader. We are told daily, in parliament and in the media, that war crimes and crimes against humanity are the preserve of certain well-known dictators, and that every effort is being made to bring the perpetrators to justice. Few have yet realised that President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair would, on this evidence, qualify for the same charges.

In the Commons, Robin Cook and others deny the truth of the reports from Iraq. They blame Saddam Hussein for the deaths caused by sanctions and bombing, and they describe the aerial attacks as "humanitarian". Moves are being made to draft a motion of indictment against the US and Britain; but, with a huge parliamentary majority and broad support for the war across all parties, there is little that can be done in Britain.

Yet, slowly but surely, the arguments set out so clearly in this book are having an effect. The same happened during the Vietnam war, which finally lost the backing of the American people and ended in grave defeat for the White House. Saddam is far stronger than he was a decade ago; and attempts by the US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, to whip up support for US policy among Iraq's neighbours have failed, despite her arguments that hers is the nation with most to fear from Baghdad.

It took many years for the truth about the Suez war to filter through to the public, and it may take time for a similar process to work with Iraq. But imperialism is understood to have reappeared in Iraq and elsewhere, and to be dressed up as a humanitarian mission, flowing from an "ethical foreign policy". The crude double standards and hypocrisy that have characterised this whole operation cannot be concealed for much longer. This is a book that must be bought and studied by anyone who cares for truth, justice and peace. I recommend it without hesitation to New Statesman readers.

Tony Benn is Labour MP for Chesterfield

Tony Benn retired from Parliament in 2001 after more than 50 years to ‘devote more time to politics’. The longest serving Labour MP in the history of the party he served as a cabinet minister under Wilson and Callaghan.

This article first appeared in the 24 July 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Miserable small-mindedness