Prepared by

Karen Parker, J.D.
Anne Heindel, J.D.
Adam Branch Humanitarian Law Project/
International Educational Development





The situation in Iraq is (1) lingering consequences from the international war in 1991 and (2) current US/UK air attacks. There has also been armed conflict involving two Kurdish groups in the north, not necessarily directed against the Iraqi government. Internal unrest against the Iraqi government does not reach civil war proportions at this time.


The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Iraq in 1990 in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The Security Council approved the use of force as a last resort to drive Iraq from Kuwait. The then-USSR, under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbechev, sought to reach agreement with Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, but the US pushed for military action. On January 16, 1991, the US began air strikes, and on February 24 began groud operations – the same day that Iraq notified the Secretary-General that it had accepted a Gorbachev-brokered agreement to withdraw from Kuwait. The war formally ended in March 1991 (see SC Res 686), with Iraq’s final retreat from Kuwait and acceptance of a cease-fire agreement. The military operations included many incursions into Iraq itself, killing thousands of Iraqi civilians, injuring many thousands more, destroying hospitals and schools, and severely damaging Iraq’s infrastructure. Iraq’s water supply and medical facilities were essentially in shambles. The UN Under-Secretary-General, Maarti Ahtisaari, called the the destruction of Iraq "near-apocaliptic." Under Security Council resolution 687, the conditions to lift the sanctions expanded to include the destruction, under international supervision, of all ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometers, and all biological and chemical weapons and their research and manufacturing facilities. All goods, even humanitarian goods, for Iraq were to be approved by a special "approval" committee. The cease-fire agreement also included dividing Iraqi air space, creating two "no fly" zones: one in the north and one in the south. Iraq was to cease all air flights in these zones, while US forces could carry out air surveillance.

By 1996 UNICEF reported that 4,500 children under five were dying every month from hunger and disease as a result of UN sanctions, and that by 1994 alone, 500,000 children under five had died. World Food Program (WFP) reports at that time showed that four-million people, or one fifth of the population were then at severe nutritional risk, and that deaths from malnutrition had increased eightfold since 1989. In a sample of children living in Baghdad, WFP found 28% were stunted and 29% were underweight. Other sources report critical numbers of people with vitamin D deficiency, diarrhoea, dehydration, typhoid, diabetes and hepatitis. There was a lack of vaccines, antibiotics, and anaesthesia, and surgeries were reduced by 70%. Because chlorine was banned under the sanctions, water was unsanitary. In late 1996, Iraq was given permission to sell $2.14 billion of oil every 6 months to purchase food and medicine. However, a January 1998 mission to Iraq by the World Council of Churches found that malnutrition and illness of Iraqi civilians was in crisis proportions. On February 2, 1998, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged doubling allowed oil sales to $5.2 billion because the $2.14 "is inadequate to prevent further deterioration in humanitarian conditions in Iraq."

The health and nutrition situation of the people of Iraq has been further compounded by the use of weapons containing depleted uranium (DU) by US forces and some British forces during the Gulf War. The weapons have contaminated the ground and water supply. There has been a significant increase in miscarriages and birth defects as well as in the cancers and other illnesses attributed to the level of radiation from these weapons. Livestock and farm lands are seriously affected. Radioactive shell casings over much of Iraq continue to cause contamination, and Iraq has no capability for clean-up.

The health and nutrition situation of the Iraqi people was made even more precarious due to two severe empdemics affecting cattle: the screw worm fly and hoof and mouth disease. The screwworm fly, never known in Iraq or at that latitude, appeared first near Baghdad in 1996. Iraq has had no means to control it and the needed supplies have not been approved by the sanctions "approval"committee. The re-occurance of hoof and mouth disease, previously eradicated in Iraq, is in part blamed on the destruction of the vaccine laboratory by the sanctions commission due to fears that the facility could be used for weapons purposes.

The Iraqi-Kurdish Situation

Some fighting occurs between Kurdish groups and Iraq forces, and other groups have used arms against the government. In addition to civil disturbances, thousands have died since 1994 in fighting between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) for control of northern Iraq. The Iraqi government has been excluded from this area since 1991 by the military presence of the United States.

Iraqi assistance to the KDP in mid-1996 led to renewed bombing of the country by the United States. In October of that year, the PUK and the KDP agreed to a cease-fire, and in January 1997, they agreed to accept the presence of peacekeepers in disputed areas. Sporadic fighting has continued between the two factions. According to the KDP, in November 1996 Turkish troops bombed Kurdish villages in Northern Iraq and attacked civilians. Turkish troops often cross the border in search of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels and continued to do so throughout 1998 (see "Turkey").

Current Situation:

In December 1998, the United States and British forces, acting on their own, began a country-wide bombardment of Iraq under the name "Operation Desert Fox" because of differences between the US and Iraq over the weapons inspection process. Since the termination of "Desert Fox" in January 1999, Iraq began challenging aircraft patrolling the "no fly" zone and is reported to have fired over 400 times. During 1999, US and British planes dropped an estimated million pounds of bombs on 400 military targets. However, while the US and British forces have suffered no casualties, a number of Iraqi civilians have been killed or injured, and numerous schools and hospitals have been hit. Also in 1999, there was information provided by UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter that the US CIA improperly used UNSCOM and "manipulated" information to justify Desert Fox.

In the fall of 1999, the United Nations established a new weapons-inspection authority (UNMOVIC) and Hans Blix (Sweden) was appointed its head, officially taking office in early March, 2000. Iraq has issued statements that it will not cooperate with UN inspection programmes until sanctions are lifted, and it is unclear whether Blix will be able to carry out his mandate without modification of the programme.

There is increased pressure on the United States and UK to end the sanctions following recent assessments from UN bodies (UNICEF/WHO/FAO:World Food Programme) of the worsening situation of Iraqi civilians. Debate over the sanctions increased sharply with the resignations of two UN coordinators of humanitarian aid to Iraq. In September 1998 Dennis Halliday resigned, calling the sanctions a "totally bankrupt concept." His replacement, Han von Sponeck, resigned in early 2000. Von Sponeck’s resignation was followed by the resignation of the World Food Programme’s coordinator in Iraq. Both of these UN officials commented on the gross inadequacy of the Oil for Food programme to provide for basic needs. They claim the result has been high numbers of deaths from stavation or preventable medical problems as well as the acute suffering of the Iraqi people. The UN officials attest to the medical and educational catastrophe of the Iraqi people. A number of international charities and non-governmental organizations, invoking fundamental principles of humanity and humanitarian law, are actively defying the sanctions to bring humanitarian aid to Iraq. A former British POW of the Iraqi military during the Gulf War is joined by British members of Parliament in a sanctions-breaking mercy flight called "Big Ben to Baghdad." An Italian group, Bridges to Baghdad, a US group, the American Friends Service Committee, a Greek group, Mothers for Mutual Security, and a bar association of Jordan are among those joining in sanctions-defying actions to Iraq. In August 1999, the Sub-Commission appointed member Mark Bossuyt (Belgium) to prepare a working paper on sanctions in light of existing humanitarian and human rights law.

The Iraqi-Kurdish Situation

An new peace agreement between the PUK and KDP was signed in September 1998 but has not yet been implemented. In October 1999, the two groups agreed to a prisoner exchange. Both groups have also unilaterally declared "provisional" governments, in violation of their 1998 agreement.

UN Action:

UNIIMOG (8/88-2/91); UNIKOM (4/91-99); UNSCOM - UN Special Comm; UNMOVIC (3/00-present).

SC Res 1293 (3/31/2000).

SC Res 1284 (12/17/99). SC Res 1281 (12/10/99).

SC Res 1280 (12/3/99). SC Res 1275 (11/19/99).

SC Res 1266 (10/4/99). SC Res 1242 (5/21/99).

SC Res. 1210 (11/24/98). SC Res 1205 (11/5/98).

SC Res 1194 (9/9/98). SC Res 1175 (6/19/98).

SC Res 1158 (3/25/98). SC Res 1154 (3/2/98)

SC Res 1153 (2/20/98). SC Res 1143 (12/4/97).

SC Res 1137 (11/12/97). SC Res 1134 (10/23/97).

SC Res 1129 (9/12/97). SC Res 1115 (6/21/97).

SC Res 1111 (6/4/97). SC Res 1060 (6/12/96).

SC Res 1051 (3/27/96). SC Res 949 (10/15/94).

SC Res 712 (9/19/91). SC Res 706 (8/15/91).

SC Res 688 (4/5/91). SC Res 687 (4/3/91).

SC Res 678 (11/29/90) SC Res 665 (8/25/90)

SC Res 668 (4/5/91). SC Res 666 (9/13/90).

SC Res 661 (8/6/90). SC Res 660 (8/2/90).

GA Res 54/178 (12/9/99). GA Res 54/18 (10/29/99).

GA Res 53/157 (12/9/98). GA Res 52/141 (12/12/97).

GA Res 51/106 (12/12/96). GA Res 50/191 (12/22/95).

GA Res 49/203 (12/23/94). GA Res 48/144 (12/20/93).

GA Res 47/145 (12/18/92). GA Res 46/134 (12/17/91).

Comm Res 2000/17. Comm Res 1999/14.

Comm Res 1998/65. Comm Res 1997/60.

Comm Res 1996/72. Comm Res 1995/76.

Comm Res 1994/74. Comm Res 1993/74.

Comm Res 1992/71. Comm Res 1991/74.

Sub-Comm Dec. 1999/110. Sub-Comm Dec 1998/114.

Sub-Comm Dec. 1997/119. Sub-Comm Res 1996/5.

Sub-Comm Dec. 1996/107. Sub-Comm Res 1995/3.

Sub-Comm Dec. 1995/107. Sub-Comm Res 1994/14.

Sub-Comm Dec. 1994/111. Sub-Comm Res 1993/20.

Sub-Comm Dec. 1992/106. Sub-Comm Res 1991/13.

Sub-Comm Dec. 1991/108. Sub-Comm Res 1990/13.

Rpt S-G (S/2000/22). Rpt S-G (S/2000/208).

Rpt S-G (S/2000/269). Rpt S-G (S/2000/292).

Rpt S-G (S/2000/347). Rpt S-G (S/2000/520).

Rpt S-G (E/CN.4/1999/573). Rpt S-G (E/CN.4/1999/187).

Rpt S-G (S/1998/1100). Rpt S-G (S/1998/889).

Rpt S-G (S/823). Rpt S-G (S/1998/269).

Rpt S-G (S/1997/935). Rpt S-G (S/1997/685).

Rpt S-G (S/1997/255). Rpt S-G (A/52/476).

Rpt S-G (S/1995/836). Rpt S-G (S/1994/1111).

Rpt S-G (S/1994/489). Rpt S-G (S/26520).

Rpt S-G (S/258630). Rpt S-G (S/25514).

Rpt S-G (S/22799).

Reports of the Special Rapporteur:

Max van der Stoel: E/CN.4/1992/31; E/CN.4/1993/45; E/CN.4/1994/58; E/CN.4/1995/56; E/CN.4/1996/12; E/CN.4/1996/61; E/CN.4/1997/57; E/CN.4/1998/67; E/CN.4/1999/37.

Andreas Mavrommatis: E/CN.4/2000/37.

Reports of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances:

E/CN.4/1990/13; E/CN.4/1991/20/ E/CN.4/1992/18; E/CN.4/1993/25; E/CN.4/1994/26; E/CN.4/1995/36; E/CN.4/1996/38; E/CN.4/1997/34; E/CN.4/1998/43; E/CN.4/1999/62; E/CN.4/2000/64.

Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention:

E/CN.4/1995/31/Add.1; E/CN.4/1996/40/4/Add.1.

Reports of the Special Rapporteur on Torture:

P. Kooijmans: E/CN.4/1991/17; E/CN.4/1992/17; E/CN.4/1993/26.

Nigel S. Rodley: E/CN.4/1994/31; E/CN.4/1995/34; E/CN.4/1996/35 & Add.1; E/CN.4/1997/7 & Add.1; E/CN.4/1998/38 & Add.1; E/CN.4/2000/9.

Reports of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions:

S. Amos Wako: E/CN.4/1990/22; E/CN.4/1991/36; E/CN.4/1992/30.

Bacre Waly N’diaye: E/CN.4/1993/46; E/CN.4/1994/7; E/CN.4/1995/61; E/CN.4/1996/4; E/CN.4/1998/68 & Add.1.

Asma Jahangir: E/CN.4/1999/39 & Add. 1; E/CN.4/2000/3 & Add.1.

Report on Internally Displaced

Francis M. Deng: E/CN.4/1995/50.

Reports of the Special Rapporteur on the Elimination of Religious Intolerance:

Angelo Vidal d’Almeida Ribeiro: E/CN.4/1992/52; E/CN.4/1993/62.

Abdelfattah Amor: E/CN.4/1994/79; E/CN.4/1995/91; E/CN.4/1997/91; E/CN.4/2000/65.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Racism:

Maurice Glélé-Ahanhanzo: E/CN.4/2000/16.

Complete Country Reports