The Aug. 12 news story "Mortality Up Among Children in Iraq" is a critical reminder of the high death rates of Iraqi children since the imposition of economic sanctions nine years ago.

I was part of a delegation that visited Iraq last fall. The article omits several important facts that help explain why children in the autonomous Kurdish territory in northern Iraq tend to fare better than those in central and southern Iraq. In our conversations with U.N. officials in Baghdad, we learned that under the U.N. oil-for-food program, some 13 percent of revenues go to the Kurdish northern region (15 percent of Iraq's population), while only 53 percent of revenues go to the remaining 85 percent of Iraqis.

In addition, international agencies responsible for distributing oil-for-food goods in northern Iraq are given a generous "cash component" to cover the expenses of transporting food and medicine from central storage facilities to local distribution points. No similar cash component is given to the Iraqi government, which is responsible for distributing food and medicine in the heavily populated central and southern sections of the country. As a result, some goods remain in central warehouses.

U.N. officials also told our delegation that oil-for-food revenues are woefully inadequate to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure. And so, children will continue to die from water-borne diseases bred because broken water-treatment systems have yet to be repaired.

While the Iraqi government bears much of the responsibility for the plight of its people, nine years of broad economic sanctions have amounted to a slow war against innocent children and civilians. There would seem to be little space for such a harsh policy in the theological libraries of those who subscribe to either pacifist or just-war understandings, or among those who believe in basic human rights.



Mennonite Central Committee

Washington Office