“Is the Price Worth It?” The Crippling Effects of U.N. Sanctions in Iraq

Mack DeGeurin
10 min readSep 2, 2018
Economic Sanctions are widely used by governments to pressure foreign regimes, but tucked under the surface are immense human costs to civilians. Photo courtesy Al Jazeera.

An Iraqi mother peeks through her black and gold embroidered hijab to gaze upon her child dying in her arms. The malnourished toddler lies motionless — his eyes shut, his skin pale. The words of 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl can be heard playing over the video. “We have heard that half a million children have died,” she says, referring to the effects of the U.N. sanctions effort in Iraq. Pausing for a brief moment to regain her thought, Stahl continues, asking then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “Is the price worth it?” The camera pans to Albright, who responds in a tempered diplomatic tone, “This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.” For Stahl, this historic interview would result in an Emmy award and wide journalistic praise. For Secretary Albright, however, her choice of words would spark a heated response from swath of the Arab world and would reinforce a narrative of anti-US sentiment festering since the very inception of the Iraq sanctions.

This choice of words by the United States’ first female secretary of state would send waves of public outcry through Iraq and the greater Arab world for the following days, weeks, and months. Albright’s defense of the sanctions policy and admittance of its civilian casualties is not enough alone, however, to explain the deep seated distrust felt by Iraqis of the American government. Much of the Iraqi sense of alienation from the US government can be traced back to the US refusal to support revolting forces in Iraq during the failed 1991 uprisings. Despite far reaching radio messages from President George H. Bush suggesting a full US backing of rebel fighters, opposing Iraqi forces found themselves abandoned and left to their own demise upon launching their attacks. US planes watched overhead as Saddam Hussein regime helicopters gunned down rebel fighters with ease. From this moment forward, the future implications of the US led United Nations sanctions on Iraq would be veiled with a sense of distrust from the Iraqi people, who it seemed more and more…

Mack DeGeurin

Texas expat, freelance journalist. Work has been featured in New York Magazine, Motherboard and Medium. I’m on Twitter @mackdegeurin