Poverty & Human Crisis in Iraq
By Shannon Bundock
“Sometimes we need to divide the only available bread with six members of my family because we don’t have money to buy more. I had to leave my school because my father cannot afford notebooks and pencils….You cannot imagine what it is like to see your six-year-old sister sick and at risk of dying because your family has no money to buy medicine for her.”
- Hudhar Zein, aged 11 (From the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) article ‘Children suffer most in Iraq, says UNICEF report,’)
The above quotation appeared in a report released in July 2007 by Oxfam and the non-governmental organization Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI). The 40-page document, entitled “Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge in Iraq” outlines the severity of crisis that has been brought upon Iraqi people by war and occupation.
Since 2003, when US and UK warplanes flooded the skies and tanks rolled in, Iraq has been brutalized in a thousand ways. Mass killing, torture, rape and destruction have shaped Iraqi life for the past four and a half years. Heaped upon the upheaval brought by war is the poverty that comes with the shattered economy of an occupied country.
What did the US Promise to Bring to Iraq?
"It is clear that the future of freedom and peace depend on the actions of America. This nation is freedom's home, and freedom's defender." – George Bush, December 2nd 2003.
Before the 2003 invasion, and even during it, the US promised that Iraq would soon see “freedom”, “peace”, “liberation” and “democracy”. From the findings in the Oxfam/NCCI report, this supposed altruistic mission has resulted in one of the worst human tragedies of the twenty-first century.
According to the report, more than 43% of Iraqis suffer from "absolute poverty". As many as “eight million people are now in need of emergency assistance”. The report indicates that four million people are “food-insecure and in dire need of different types of humanitarian assistance” and there are “more than two million displaced people inside Iraq”.
Further into the report, one can see a glimpse of the devastating effect of the economic crisis on the most vulnerable layers of society - in particular, on women and children.
“Children are hit the hardest by the decline in living standards. Child malnutrition rates have risen from 19% before the US-led invasion in 2003 to 28% now… As always, children pay a high price when livelihoods collapse …More than 11% of newborn babies were born underweight in 2006, compared with 4% in 2003.” Oxfam/NCCI report, July 2007.
“Most of the people killed in Iraq’s violence – perhaps over 90 per cent – are men. Their deaths leave households headed by women who struggle to survive the loss of the main breadwinner … many projects created to provide jobs for women were abandoned…” Oxfam/NCCI report, July 2007.
One may ask the leaders of the US-UK mission, “What does this American ‘freedom and democracy’ mean for those who must struggle each day to find drinkable water, some scrap of food, and shelter from the torrent of bullets overhead?”
On top of the Oxfam/NCCI report, other news is flowing from the borders of Iraq. One week after the release of that report, Iraq's electricity ministry warned that the national power grid is on the brink of collapse. In the first week of August there were already four nation-wide blackouts. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Electricity said that Iraq's power system is only meeting half of the actual demand. The reaction of the occupation forces? US General Michael Walsh told BBC that it is up to Iraq to deal with this electricity crisis by themselves.
Is it just a Matter of Time? Will the Situation Improve?
While Bush, Blair, Gordon Brown and their friends may attempt to convince the world that the crisis in Iraq is all part of the bumpy road to “liberation”, few are buying it. The war on Iraq was never initiated on a “humanitarian” basis. Words like “freedom” and “democracy” have always been lip-service. Right beneath the surface more substantial language is being spoken.
Iraq is the center, the axis of a new strategy of war and occupation, or, if you will, a new era of war and occupation.
In Iraq, the US/UK and their allies are fighting to secure their position in the Middle East for plundering resources (of course including, but not limited to oil) and achieving political and military control of the region. Achieving these objectives is critical for the US ruling class because a secure and successful occupation of Iraq is part of the strategy for slowing their own economic crisis of overproduction, rising unemployment, and the falling average rate of profit – in other words, the crisis of their own capitalist system. It also means securing a much-needed edge over their imperialist competitors on the world stage – the UK, Germany, Japan, France, etc.
The human crisis in Iraq has proven that these imperialist governments are willing to go to any length to meet their goals. It is also proving that in four and a half years, the most powerful military alliance in the world has been unable to secure Iraq for imperialist domination, despite the fact that US occupation troop levels have reached an all-time high of 162,000. And the failures continue to pile up - in June 2006, 40 cabinet ministers took office as part of the US puppet government in Iraq. Since then, seventeen have resigned or are boycotting meetings.
What Road Leads Away from Poverty in Iraq?
The Oxfam/NCCI report is very thorough in its statistical breakdown of Iraq’s plight. In fact, the report on its own could leave one with a feeling of hopelessness and desperation. However, if it is true that the crisis facing Iraq has been brought on by war and occupation, then there is still great reason to have hope. Hope for Iraq’s future is being sown by the hands of millions of Iraqi people who – while faced with the aforementioned conditions – have never stopped resisting the occupation of their country.
The main uniting demand among Iraqis is for an immediate withdrawal of occupation forces from the country. With a country physically, politically and economically in shambles, the first stage of repair and recovery is to cut out the cancer of crisis at its roots. And that cancer is the occupation itself. Only following a full eradication of foreign occupation troops will Iraqis be presented the chance to tackle issues of unemployment, rebuilding infrastructure, health services etc.
The responsibility of peace-loving people around the world is to take on the challenge. Our brothers and sisters in Iraq have a future ahead – the question is ‘what kind of future?’ If we are silent and inactive, then the warmongers will win, no question. However, if we get involved in the anti-war movement to organize in solidarity with the Iraqi demands for self-determination and for an immediate withdrawal of the troops, then we too add our weight to the side of justice, humanity and for an end to the terrible situation that Iraq faces today.
US/UK Out of Iraq!
End the Occupation!
Self-determination for Iraq Now!
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