In her 11/2/01 report for NPR on the "diminished expectations" of the young people of Iraq, Audio Report (requires RealPlayer) Kate Seelye interviews several Iraqi children who are making a futile effort to secure an education. The sanctions embargo imposed on Iraq since the Gulf War in 1991 by the US and Great Britain (under a shaky and questionable UN authorization) has caused widespread poverty, and some say hundreds of thousands of deaths. The focus of the Seelye report is on the crippled Iraqi education system and the generation of young Arabs growing up with little or no hope of attaining anything like the middle class lifestyles common in Iraq before 1991. The unstated conclusion of the Seelye report is that the uneducated generation growing up without hope for a better life forms an enormous pool of potential terrorists who can quite understandably blame the US and "the West" for their desperate circumstances.
Left out of the excellent Seelye report is an inquiry into the reason for the destruction of the Iraqi education system. Since the US bombing destroyed bridges, roads, factories, public water, sewage and power systems, and the ten years of embargo have prevented rebuilding, it might be assumed that the education infrastructure has been incidentally crippled by the war and the resulting poverty and deprivation. This is not a full picture. The damage to educational opportunities was called for by the US overall goal to deprive Saddam Hussain of the ability to develop "weapons of mass destruction" - at that time as well as in the future. One of the basic resources targeted by the US air and ground strikes and the subsequent embargo has been the technological knowledge base that is essential for sophisticated weapons development. In order to prevent this knowledge base from being rebuilt, the US intentionally brought about the collapse of the Iraqi education system.
President Bush (the First) and Richard Butler, head of the UNSCOM weapons inspection program, and other top officials over and over reiterated their goal of preventing future weapons development in Iraq. It was clear as early as 1992 that the Iraqis must be prevented from attaining the level of technological expertise, scientific and engineering sophistication, needed to pursue a weapons program. That the current generation of Iraqi children is being deprived of an education is not an item of "collateral damage." The poverty and economic deprivation being perpetuated in Iraq by the US/Great Britain embargo has failed in its intention to force the Iraqi people to rebel against Saddam, but it has has succeeded in preventing the rebuilding of the education system. Individually, their extreme poverty means that mere survival demands far too much time and work for children to have an opportunity to study - even if some resources were avilable.
In attaining our goal of preventing the education of Iraqi children, we have provided recruiters for al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations with hundreds of thousands of young people ripe for conversion to the most radical fundamentalist forms of Islam. If they find no hope in this life, they can be persuaded to turn toward the next life.