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Reporter's Toolbox Posted December 28, 2001
Effects of Sanctions on Iraq

Trustworthy studies that may determine the front of the next war
By Matt Welch, OJR Staff Writer and Columnist

Print version
Reporter's Toolbox:
01/02       The Complex World of Iranian News
01/02       Guide to Online News in Iran
12/01       Effects of Sanctions on Iraq
01/01       A Guide to Indian Earthquake Relief Online
01/01       Russian Journalists Spread Wings Online
How have United Nations sanctions affected Iraq? Before September 11, this question mostly concerned policy wonks and human rights activists. Now, they may help determine the next front of the War on Terrorism.

Information about this issue thrives online. Like the anti-globalization movement it complements, the anti-sanctions drive, which gathered steam in the United States from 1998-98, spread its message and won its converts on the Internet, through sites such as the Iraq Action Coalition, International Action Center, Nonviolence.org’s Iraq Crisis Antiwar Homepage and Voices in the Wilderness, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Citizens Concerned for the People of Iraq, advocacy journalist John Pilger’s home page, anti-sanctions leader Robert Jensen’s Iraq “Fact Sheets,” and dozens of others.

Though partisan, most of these sites feature a collection of links to independent surveys, breaking wire-service stories, and articles chosen from hundreds of media outlets. As in the Kosovo War, advocacy sites, human rights groups and interested non-journalists have taken advantage of the Web’s ease of publishing and hyperlinking capabilities to provide a far greater quantity of sites on the topic at hand than the traditional media itself.

The best, and probably the single most comprehensive starting-point to address the issue, is the Campaign Against Sanctions in Iraq (CASI), which was launched at the University of Cambridge in 1997. CASI is more promiscuous, and less partisan, than its counterparts in the U.S. and Middle East. The society’s biases (which it backs up with good documentation) are mostly on display at its Guide to Sanctions, and on its very active e-mail discussion lists.

Fact-hounds will get a bigger kick out of CASI’s Information Sources section, which links to literally thousands of articles and studies, divided up into U.N.-related documents, reports associated with governments, activities by non-governmental organizations and religious institutions, academic research reports, news sources (specialist, Arab, British and otherwise), and other miscellaneous links. No news organization that I have ever seen has compiled a more exhaustive and impressive set of online resources dedicated to a single topic.

CASI has also posted the entirety of a study hailed by many as the most convincing study to date on child mortality in Iraq, a 1999 survey by Columbia University Professor Richard Garfield.

The International Community

Do any Google search on the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, and 80% of the results will be from people who oppose United Nations (and U.S.) policy. Most of the remaining 20% will be related in some way to the U.N. itself.

The international community and its organizations are well-represented online when it comes to their activities, and the situation, inside Iraq. A good place to start is the U.N. Web site.

Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. The U.N. Security Council immediately condemned the invasion and demanded Iraq withdraw (Resolution 660), and on Aug. 6 passed Resolution 661, prohibiting all imports from Iraq and occupied Kuwait, freezing all of Iraq’s overseas assets, and blocking all exports to Saddam Hussein’s country “not including supplies intended strictly for medical purposes, and, in humanitarian circumstances, foodstuffs,” until Iraq complied with Resolution 660 … which it never did.

Every relevant Security Council resolution (such as 678, authorizing the use of force to liberate Kuwait; 687, imposing the post-war sanctions regime; and 986, setting up the oil-for-food humanitarian relief program) can be found be found on the U.N. website, most of them at the Office of the Iraq Programme (OIP). They are crucial in providing the diplomatic background to the ongoing crisis.

The OIP also has helpful pages providing basic background to the program, a fact sheet, an especially useful chronology (with 90 or so links to various events and resolutions), statements by the OIP executive director, and weekly updates of the program’s activities.

Besides being a source of diplomatic initiatives, the U.N. is a vast bureaucracy that is constantly churning out reports, most of which can only be found online (unless you spend a lot of time in Swiss libraries). This is certainly the case with the effects of sanctions on Iraq. Probably the most-quoted of such surveys is a 1999 report by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on child and maternal mortality in both the Saddam Hussein-controlled part of the country, and the autonomous provinces in the north (the results are quite different between the two).

The U.N. Security Council published a lengthy and useful 1999 Humanitarian Panel Report on Iraq, synthesizing the studies of a dozen U.N. agencies and several outside groups. Of those organizations, the World Health Organization alone has published a half-dozen major reports on Iraq under sanctions.

The International Committee for the Red Cross is also active in the country, publishing annual studies, a useful summary of a "decade of sanctions," and other humanitarian check-ups. The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization has done several studies on the nutritional status of Iraqis (such as this October 1997 report), but its website is not the easiest to navigate.

Meanwhile, you can compare U.S. and Iraqi propaganda by visiting Iraq’s U.N. Mission Website, and this State Department list of "Myths & Facts about Iraq."

Old Media Begins to Catch up

With Osama Bin Laden making Iraq sanctions one of his main complaints, and with critics of the war against Al Qaeda pointing to Iraqi death numbers as Exhibit A in the "Why do they hate us?" theory, news organizations have finally gotten around to sorting through the rhetorical war of wildly divergent numbers and facts. For the first time perhaps ever, the traditional media has begun making up ground on the non-journalist Web sites that took such a commanding early lead.

The war-supporting New Republic posted a column by Peter Beinart Sept. 20 declaring that sanctions are not responsible for malnutrition and disease, based on a June 2001 TNR special report about northern Iraq. Slate.com followed with an "explainer" column Oct. 9 trying to track down the number of dead children. The Guardian UK came out the next day with a column tracing the origins of some of the most inflated claims. Keith Marsden of the Wall Street Journal published a numbers-debunking piece in November (not yet available online), and both The Nation and The National Review Online took healthy swings at the issue in early December.

A medium once associated with rumor and opinion, has transformed into the raw-materials information factory from which mainstream journalism can derive finished products in the form of opinion columns. Activists are learning the value of presenting a better library, while news organizations are relegated complicated topics to the op-ed pages. With each new global conflict, the equilibrium is changing a few more notches.
 
What reliable sources have you found online to clarify reports (and rumors) about Iraq?
 



Matt Welch Matt Welch is an OJR Staff Writer and Columnist. His work is archived at mattwelch.com.


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© Copyright 2001 Online Journalism Review
rg/deathnumbers.htm" target=_blank>Iraq’s U.N. Mission Website, and this State Department list of "Myths & Facts about Iraq."

Old Media Begins to Catch up

With Osama Bin Laden making Iraq sanctions one of his main complaints, and with critics of the war against Al Qaeda pointing to Iraqi death numbers as Exhibit A in the "Why do they hate us?" theory, news organizations have finally gotten around to sorting through the rhetorical war of wildly divergent numbers and facts. For the first time perhaps ever, the traditional media has begun making up ground on the non-journalist Web sites that took such a commanding early lead.

The war-supporting New Republic posted a column by Peter Beinart Sept. 20 declaring that sanctions are not responsible for malnutrition and disease, based on a June 2001 TNR special report about northern Iraq. Slate.com followed with an "explainer" column Oct. 9 trying to track down the number of dead children. The Guardian UK came out the next day with a column tracing the origins of some of the most inflated claims. Keith Marsden of the Wall Street Journal published a numbers-debunking piece in November (not yet available online), and both The Nation and The National Review Online took healthy swings at the issue in early December.

A medium once associated with rumor and opinion, has transformed into the raw-materials information factory from which mainstream journalism can derive finished products in the form of opinion columns. Activists are learning the value of presenting a better library, while news organizations are relegated complicated topics to the op-ed pages. With each new global conflict, the equilibrium is changing a few more notches.
 
What reliable sources have you found online to clarify reports (and rumors) about Iraq?
 



Matt Welch Matt Welch is an OJR Staff Writer and Columnist. His work is archived at mattwelch.com.


[ Frontpage ] [ Resources ] [ Reporter's Toolbox ] [ Back to Top ]
© Copyright 2001 Online Journalism Review