A Call to Action on Sanctions and the U.S. War Against the People of Iraq

Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, Edward Said, and Howard Zinn

January 8, 1999

At the end of 1998, the United States once again rained bombs on the people of Iraq. But even when the bombs stop falling, the U.S. war against the people of Iraq continues through the harsh economic sanctions. This is a call to action to end all the war.

This month U.S. policy will kill 4,500 children under the age of 5 in Iraq, according to UN studies, just as it did last month and the month before that, all the way back to 1991. Since the end of the Gulf War, at least hundreds of thousands — maybe more than 1 million — Iraqis have died as a direct result of the UN sanctions on Iraq, which are a direct result of U.S. policy.

This is not foreign policy — it is sanctioned mass-murder that is nearing holocaust proportions. If we remain silent, we are condoning a genocide that is being perpetrated in the name of peace in the Middle East, a mass slaughter that is being perpetrated in our name.

The time has come for a call to action to people of conscience. We are past the point where silence is passive consent — when a crime reaches these proportions, silence is complicity. There are several tasks ahead of us.

First, we must organize and make this issue a priority, just as Americans organized to stop the war in Vietnam, and to protest U.S. policies in Central America and South Africa. We need a national campaign to lift the sanctions.

This kind of work has already begun, and those efforts need our help. For the past several years, individuals and groups have been delivering medicine and other supplies to Iraq in defiance of the U.S. blockade. Now, members of one of those groups, Voices in the Wilderness in Chicago, have been threatened with massive fines by the federal government for “exportation of donated goods, including medical supplies and toys, to Iraq absent specific prior authorization.” Our government is harassing a peace group that takes medicine and toys to dying children; we owe these courageous activists oursupport.

Such a campaign is not equivalent to support for the regime of Saddam Hussein. To oppose the sanctions is to support the Iraqi people. The people are suffering because of the actions of both the Iraqi and U.S. governments, but our moral responsibility lies here in the United States, to counter the hypocrisy and inhumanity of our leaders.

Also, there has been a virtual embargo on news of the effects of the sanctions in the mainstream media. For the most part, the American people do not know what evil is being carried out in our name. We must continue to apply pressure on journalists at all levels — from our local papers to the network news — to cover this tragedy. We should overwhelm the major press with letters to the editor and put pressure on journalists to cover the story.

And we must realize this could be a long struggle. Preparations should begin for all the possible strategies, including civil disobedience once a sufficient number of people are committed. Direct action that forces a moral accounting likely is going to be necessary.

Whatever else we are doing, we should treat this as an emergency and put it at the top of our agenda. Existing groups can work on the issue, new groups may need to be formed, and national networks need to be built. A good central source of information exists on the web at http://leb.net/IAC/.

Without action by us, the horrors will go on, the children will continue to die. We must appeal to the natural sympathies of the American people, who will respond if they know what is happening. We must therefore bring this issue, in every way we can, to national attention. The only way to avoid complicity in this crime is to do everything we can, and much more than we have been doing, to end the sanctions on Iraq. This issue must be discussed in every household and every public forum across the country.