News Release

Iraq’s Coronavirus Crisis Was Made Possible by Decades of War and Occupation


DAVID BACON, dbacon at, @photos4justice
Bacon is a California-based writer and photojournalist. He just wrote a piece for The Nation: “Iraq’s Coronavirus Crisis Was Made Possible by Decades of War and Occupation.”

He writes: “On paper, the virus’s toll in Iraq today stands at 1,031 officially confirmed cases, with 64 deaths. … This past week Reuters reported that confirmed cases numbered instead between 3,000 and 9,000, quoting doctors and a health official — a report that led the Iraqi government to fine the agency and revoke its reporting license for three months. The higher figure would give Iraq a per capita infection rate higher than South Korea, one of the virus’ early concentrations. …

“Economic desperation contributes to the impact of the virus, but another factor makes it much more lethal. The spread of COVID-19 is taking place in a country with a devastated healthcare system. The U.S. owns a great part of the responsibility for this. Two invasions, a decade of sanctions and the occupation largely caused the ruin of Iraq’s medical and public health systems.

“According to an analysis by the Enabling Peace in Iraq Center, ‘Before the imposition of international sanctions in 1991, Baghdad operated some of the most professional and technologically advanced healthcare and public health institutions in the Arab world.’ The Ministry of Health operated 172 modern hospitals, 1200 primary care centers and 850 community clinics, providing free healthcare with an annual budget of $450 million. While the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s produced enormous casualties, the infrastructure itself was not attacked.

“Instead of rebuilding the healthcare system and basic infrastructure, the occupation introduced private ownership. Now Iraq has a two-track system in which basic services are provided by the Ministry of Health, although they’re no longer free. Sami Adnan, an activist in Workers Against Sectarianism, which helped organize the protests that began last October, charges, ‘Today we have to pay for every single visit and often, in order to get treatment, we are obliged to give a bribe to the few remaining doctors in the country.’ …

“Sami Adnan says, ‘the reasons why we took to the streets in recent months were precisely these: the social and health system is totally insufficient to meet people’s needs. Inside our tent village in Tahrir Square we are disinfecting everything: clothes, tents, mattresses, blankets, tools and utensils. We are distributing personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves.’

“Iraqi journalist LuJain Elbaldawi agrees: ‘The situation in Iraq is heading toward a comprehensive health crisis that the government is unable to cope with; thus, has resorted to drawing from civil society institutions, religious organizations and charities.'”

Bacon also recently wrote the piece “America’s Farmworkers — Now ‘Essential,’ but Denied the Just-Enacted Benefits” for The American Prospect.