As US-led strikes in Syria and Iraq continue to cause massive civilian deaths, the past is a warning about whitewashing the pain and suffering caused by foreign interventions.

These days, when people talk about Iraq, they tend to conjure up the same mental images that have been pressed home by a careless mainstream media. Iraq is not the country of thousands of years of history, culture and civilizational progress, it is the country of so-called IS terrorists, also known as Daesh. Iraq is the country of jaw-droppingly corrupt politicians. Iraq is the country of sectarian Shia jihadists, who are no better than IS themselves. Iraq is a country on the verge of disintegration, with the Kurds making yet another bid for independence next month. 

What the media often overlooks and forgets are Iraq’s most important assets that will determine the success or failure of its future – Iraqi children. Where children are mentioned, it is often as a number or a figure to be added to the unending stream of emotionally detached statistics. They are also often used for propaganda purposes, or in academic papers designed to absolve the West of its war guilt and the decimation of generations of Iraqis during a historical epoch that can only be termed as the Iraqi Holocaust.

Cherry-picking facts to suit an agenda

In July of this year, two academics from the London School of Economics drew some wild conclusions from a set of reports jointly produced by a collaborative effort between the United Nations and the post-2003 invasion Iraqi Ministry of Health. According to Professor Tim Dyson and Dr Valeria Cetorelli from the London School of Economics, the claim that 550,000 Iraqi children died as a result of US-led and UN-sponsored sanctions was a “spectacular lie.”

Massive infant mortality in Iraq resulting directly from Western military intervention, sanctions, imperialism and simple base greed is not a spectacular lie at all. What is spectacular is how little context is provided in the research paper, and how little care and attention is paid to the statements of senior US officials at the time, indicating that such needless and wanton killing of children actually occurred.

Dyson and Cetorelli appeared to take particular umbrage with a UNICEF report from 1999 where the 550,000 figure originated. According to the researchers, the regime of former president Saddam Hussein inserted their own researchers into the data collection process, expertly manipulated statistics, successfully deceiving UNICEF researchers and the entire planet along with them, and this “lie” was not uncovered until after the illegal invasion in 2003.

What the researchers fail to clarify is why researchers employed by the toppled Baathist regime were less trustworthy than researchers employed by the Iraqi health ministry operating under the direct tutelage of the US occupation forces? Dyson and Cetorelli categorically fail to consider how the data may have been affected by people working under US occupation and who may have had an inherent bias towards anything the old regime did – good or bad. As the military governors of the “new Iraq,” the US and its collaborators had an interest in skewing facts to blame a regime that could no longer voice dissent or offer up a defence.

Secondly, the researchers fail to acknowledge admissions made by senior US officials at the time, officials who oversaw the sanctions regime that proved so deadly to Iraqis of all kinds, especially children.

In an Emmy award-winning segment for CBS’ 60 Minutes show in 1996, veteran reporter Lesley Stahl interviewed then-US secretary of state Madeleine Albright about the sanctions regime. The segment, broadcast years before the UNICEF report that is now being doubted, showed Stahl asking Albright if it was worth imposing sanctions that led to the deaths of half-a-million children in Iraq, adding that the figure was higher than the number of Japanese children that died when the US dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. Albright’s response was not a denial, but simply, cruelly and coldly, “We think the price is worth it.”

Whitewashing Western war guilt

 What one must really bear in mind is that Albright did not dismiss the astronomical figure of Iraqi deaths, or even deny that they were inaccurate. Albright, who had access to the intelligence assessments of multiple world-leading intelligence agencies – including the CIA – did nothing to detract from the reporter’s assertions, or even to deny them outright, but responded to the question candidly and revealingly, showing that the figures at the time when the interview was conducted were likely accurate.

 Rather than engage with these realities and the fact that the West, led by the United States, is directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children over a period of six years in the 1990s, these LSE academics decided to attack a single report. They did not deem it necessary to consider other sources of data that supported the figures cited by the report, despite alluding to the fact that even former British prime minister Tony Blair referenced the report in 2010.

Again, these are not average members of the public who have limited access to intelligence assessments and reports, primarily relying on open source data. When these senior Western officials and world leaders cite these reports or say that it was worth killing half-a-million children, they do so whilst having access to some of the most advanced assessments produced by some of the world’s most cutting-edge intelligence agencies.

Such a narrow selective use of data demonstrates that Iraqi infant deaths are seen as being of minor importance in the academic “fact production” industry that provides a handy shield for Western war criminals to hide behind. This gives the impression that no one really cares, as long as the Western conscience is absolved of any guilt, and as long as the victims of these criminal acts are non-Western children, mere numbers to debate over rather than to despair over.

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