Better Than War?

An Exchange about UN Sanctions

Sanctioning Death in Iraq

Joy Gordon

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the consequences were felt well beyond those two countries. The attack took place at a critical juncture in the history of the United Nations—at a moment when there was an unprecedented potential for the abuse of power within the Security Council. The events that followed would devastate Iraq’s own population, and bring into question the moral legitimacy of the United Nations Security Council.

Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq had used chemical weapons against the Kurds and against Iranian soldiers in the Iran-Iraq war. Hussein’s political enemies were subjected to torture, and they and their families were summarily executed. Iraq had spent years trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and invaded Kuwait without justification. In the early 1990s, the Soviet Union was replaced by Russia, which was in no position to take on the Western powers within the Security Council. Now it was suddenly possible for the Council, at the behest of the United States, to impose a kind of punishment on Iraq that had never been seen before in the history of global governance.

The massive bombing campaign of the 1991 Gulf War devastated Iraq’s entire infrastructure. The allied forces, led by the United States, bombed roads, bridges, electrical generators, water treatment plants, and factories. A UN envoy wrote that Iraq had been reduced...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.