Iraq Under Siege

edited by Anthony Arnove

Iraq Under Siege is a collection of articles, essays, and interview transcripts documenting the deleterious effects of UN-imposed, US- and UK-backed economic sanctions placed on Iraq through the entirety of the ’90s. Written pre-9/11, the pieces portray the widespread suffering that befell the average Iraqi during the period while leaving members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime untouched––arguing that initiatives that were thought at the time to come with less “collateral damage” than direct military confrontation were not only amoral, but also ineffective.

There’s a wide range of writing styles and abilities throughout Iraq Under Siege, and not all pieces are created equal here. While a call to action from a prominent member of Voices in the Wilderness––an organization committed to ending the sanctions against Iraq––was heartfelt and informative, it couldn’t stack up in my mind against articles written by prominent scholars and journalists, like Noam Chomsky and Robert Fisk. (This was actually my introduction to the writing of the latter, and I’ll most definitely be reading more of his work.) The collection also becomes a bit repetitive as we go, with numerous writers using the similar quotes, stats, and general arguments. This makes me think that seeing the work apart from the book would have strengthened each piece, but, as it stands, it makes the read more and more tedious as it goes on.

Nonetheless, I came away from the book greatly affected by the arguments that were presented. I honestly knew very little about the US-Iraq relationship before the 2003 invasion––likely because I was still in high school in the early 2000s and only starting to take interest in global affairs. Of course, I’d heard superficially about the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and the subsequent expulsion of their forces by the US and UK in the early ’90s, but I had little to no idea of anything that happened in between. Having read Iraq Under Siege, Western policy and action in the Middle East makes a lot more sense to me now. I’m especially left with a sense of understanding of the US approach to foreign affairs through the Cold War and post-Cold War eras, in a way that kind of frightens me. Even with the negatives, I’d highly recommend giving this book a read if, like me, you don’t know a lot about what was happening in pre-9/11 Iraq, or if you emerged from the period feeling that Saddam was solely to blame for starving his people.