"Iraq Under the Sanctions: Economic, Political, Social and Cultural Effects"

Conference Co-Sponsored by
The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII)
and the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI)

Conference Program

Description of the Conference

The United States’ military involvement in Iraq since March 2003 has kept Iraq – if not its people – in the news. By contrast, the devastating economic sanctions imposed on Iraq throughout the 1990’s have received scant attention. The three-day conference co-sponsored by The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII) and the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI) brought together Iraqi, American, and European scholars to uncover the economic, political, social, and cultural consequences of the sanctions. The conference differed from recent macro-level publications in its additional emphasis on the lived experiences of individuals who struggled, adapted, and endured the thirteen catastrophic years when Iraq could import and export almost nothing and receive no funds.

The conference began with two keynote presentations. Hans von Sponeck, the former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq and author of A Different Kind of War (2006), provided an overview of the processes and products of the resolutions that the United Nations Security Council adopted following Iraq’s August 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait and its subsequent refusal to withdraw. Although proposed as a punishment for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the U.N. economic sanctions were directed against the innocent Iraqi population, rather than the rulers responsible for the invasion. During the period of the Sanctions, household income and the standard of living in Iraq diminished greatly. The literacy rate dropped as primary and secondary school enrollment declined. Malnutrition and morbidity escalated and infant and child mortality increased. Many who were able to migrate did so, leaving a “brain drain” in Iraq and an increased number of female-headed households. Without the basic requirements of paper and money, Iraq’s once renowned literary production and consumption shrank, as did its cultural production in other areas.

The second keynote speaker, Joy Gordon, a philosopher and ethicist at Fairfield University and author of Invisible War (2010), presented data from a variety of sources, including U.N. documents and interviews. Gordon stated that key to understanding the stringency of the Sanctions was the fact that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. was able to exercise unprecedented control over the U.N. She delineated the workings of the various bodies involved in the Sanctions, both in the U.N. and the U.S. government, all operating behind closed doors with surprisingly little public accountability. Gordon showed that the blocking of items was often arbitrary, even when they were not on the proscribed list, which included the most mundane of items.

Following the keynote presentation, five separate panels were devoted to the economic, political, social, and cultural dimensions of the sanctions. The panels consisted of Iraqi, American, and European scholars who presented papers that underscored the “on the ground” strategies that everyday Iraqis employed to survive. Following each panel, audience members, consisting mainly of Iraqis based in Jordan, contributed their own experiences and insights on the Sanctions period.

The papers and personal testimonies resulting from the three-day co-sponsored conference on the effects of the 1990s Sanctions on the political, economic, social, and cultural life of Iraq will be revised for publication as an edited collection.

For further description of the conference, see the article (pages 16-20) in the 2011 Fall TAARII Newsletter, Issue 06-02.