News Release

Sanctions: Lesson from Iraq for Iran and Gaza


Gordon is author of the new book Invisible War: The U.S. and Iraq Sanctions (Harvard University Press) and just wrote the piece “Lessons we should have learned from the Iraqi sanctions” for Foreign Policy.

She said today: “If we are to understand the kind of damage that can be done by economic sanctions, we should know about the sanctions that were imposed by the UN Security Council, which in combination with the 1991 bombing strikes reduced Iraq from a modern, sophisticated country, to a pre-industrial country. Within the Security Council, the U.S. exerted enormous pressure to ensure that the sanctions would prevent Iraq from rebuilding and restoring the conditions necessary to sustain human life.

“Meeting behind closed doors, the 661 Committee of the UN Security Council managed the Iraq sanctions regime. And within that committee, the U.S. wielded extraordinary power, determining the crucial policies that would affect the entire population of Iraq. For example, Iraq was prohibited from importing ‘dual use’ goods, that had both military and civilian uses. However, the U.S. — and no one else — then defined ‘dual use’ in a very extreme way: everything that is used by civilians, that could possibly have any use by the military. At various points the U.S. blocked Iraq from importing plywood, glue, salt, and shoe leather on the grounds that they contributed to Iraqi industry. Equipment to make yogurt and cheese was blocked by the U.S. on the grounds that it could be used to produce biological weapons, and child vaccines were blocked on the same grounds. Water tankers were blocked by the U.S. on the grounds that they could be used for chemical weapons, even though this was disputed by the UN weapons inspectors. Antibiotics were blocked on the grounds that they might be used as antidotes to anthrax.

“The history of the Iraq sanctions has a lot to tell us, as we look at increasingly stringent sanctions on Iran, and as we see the impact of Israel’s embargo on Gaza. The U.S. sanctions on Iran target the nation’s oil and gas industries, which make up over a quarter of Iran’s economy, while the UN sanctions affect Iran’s shipping lines, and its banking system. For all of these, the damage will be broad and indiscriminate, inevitably impacting Iran’s entire civilian population. In the case of Gaza, the massive Israeli bombing of infrastructure has been accompanied by draconian restrictions on imports of everything from potato chips to cement, all in the name of security concerns. It is not surprising that the human damage is enormous, and constitutes serious ongoing violations of basic human rights.”

Gordon is professor in the philosophy department at Fairfield University in Connecticut and is currently a senior fellow in the Global Justice Program at the MacMillan Center, Yale University.

See the just-published review of Gordon’s new book by Andrew Cockburn in the London Review of Books, “Worth It.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020