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The rotting remains of Iraq

Three years ago, in August 1990, the Gulf crisis began with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The US missile attack on Baghdad in June 1993 confirmed that the West is still waging war on the Iraqi people.
Not content with bombing Iraq into oblivion, the United Nations security council is starving the Iraqis of food and medical supplies and robbing them of their land. Jude Edwards reports on the hidden horrors of the Gulf War

On 26 June, president Bill Clinton claimed to be striking a blow against international terrorism as he authorised a cruise missile attack on the centre of Baghdad, killing at least eight civilians. The US attack was presented as a response to an Iraqi-sponsored attempt on the life of ex-president George Bush. Shortly before the attack, the United Nations security council had voted to maintain sanctions on Iraq in view of its failure to comply with UN resolutions. Three days after the bombing of Baghdad, a US congressional committee reported that Iraq had rebuilt much of its nuclear capacity and was defying UN demands on disarmament.

The image of Iraq in the West remains that of a powerful military threat. The reality is a country devastated by the impact of 90 000 tonnes of bombs dropped in 43 days during the Gulf War of 1991, and by the subsequent effects of punitive sanctions imposed by the Western-run UN security council. This picture of Iraq is carefully hidden from the public eye, as Harvard public health expert, Eric Hoskins recently discovered.

Shelving the truth

In February Hoskins was commissioned by Unicef (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) to compile a 'situation analysis' on Iraq. His 32-page draft, 'Children, war and sanctions' presents a picture of a ruined country whose 18m inhabitants are fighting a daily battle for survival. It includes expert witnesses who conclude that the main threat to the health of Iraqi children comes from continued UN sanctions and the infrastructural damage caused by Allied bombing.

Unicef refused to publish the Hoskins report. 'We did not commission him to do a report on the effect of war and sanctions', said an official, 'we are not satisfied with it. We have, in fact, shelved it' (Independent, 24 June 1993). While the UN security council continues to strangle Iraq's economy and endorses military strikes against Iraqi targets, Unicef helps to ensure that what the West has done to the Iraqi people remains hidden.

The public image of the 42-day bombing campaign in 1991 was one of hi-tech warfare, in which F-117A batwing stealth bombers launched precision-guided bombs against sophisticated laser targeting systems on the rooftop of the Iraqi Ministry of Defence. Journalists and politicians presented the West's battle with Saddam Hussein's Iraq as a 'robo-war' against military targets, resulting in minimal 'collateral damage' (civilian casualties). The reality was a war of attrition waged against the entire Iraqi population.

88 500 tonnes

Coalition forces dropped 88 500 tonnes of bombs in 109 000 sorties. In all 250 000 bombs were dropped, and only 22 000 of these were 'smart-bombs' (guided missiles). The bulk of the bombing was carried out by B52s flying at 40 000 feet. They have only one function in war - carpet-bombing. At 4.30am on 13 February 1991, US pilots sent a laser-guided missile down a ventilation shaft at the al-Amariyah bomb shelter in Baghdad. At least 300 people, and possibly as many as 1600, were killed.

While US president George Bush was accusing Saddam of concealing his 'weapons of mass destruction', the American and British forces were openly deploying theirs. These included napalm, fuel air explosives which create a gas cloud that blasts a shockwave over 50 000 square feet destroying everything in its path, and 'daisy-cutters', 15 000lb bombs containing gelled slurry explosive. The Iraqis were subjected to an additional 20-30 000 tonnes of explosives from artillery shells and rocket-launchers. (See P Walker, 'The myth of surgical bombing in the Gulf War', in R Clark et al, War Crimes, pp85-6)

The Western forces also used some more low-tech killing methods. In the first two days of the ground offensive that began in February 1991, the Americans employed tanks and earth movers to bury thousands of Iraqi soldiers alive. Sand was piled into Iraqi trenches as armoured vehicles poured machine gun fire into the ditches, making surrender impossible. According to General Anthony Moreno, 'what you saw was a bunch of buried trenches with people's arms and things sticking out of them' (quoted in F Kelly, 'War crimes against the Iraqi people', in War Crimes, p50).

Early on 26 February 1991 Iraqi troops began to pull out of Kuwait. The allies left open only two roads out of Kuwait City. They met at the Kuwaiti town of al-Mutlaa where the fleeing soldiers became a human traffic jam. Despite Bush's assurances that retreating Iraqis would not be fired on, coalition forces were given orders to 'find anything that was moving and take it out' (W Arkin, D Durrant and M Cherni, On Impact: Modern Warfare and the Environment - A Case Study of the Gulf War, p109).


Kill zones were assigned every 70 miles along the road (later known as the highway of death). 'As we drove slowly through the wreckage, our armoured personnel carrier's tracks splashed through pools of bloody water' (On Impact, p108). Refugees, mostly Palestinians, trying to escape Kuwait were caught up in the fire, as North Carolina guardsman Mike Ange explained: 'You know, you have a little Toyota pick-up truck that was loaded down with the furniture and the suitcases and rugs and the pet cat and that type of thing all over the back of this truck, and those trucks were taken out just like the military vehicles' (quoted in B Moyers, PBS Special Report: After the War, p51). The massacre of soldiers and civilians on the road out of Kuwait was dubbed a 'turkey-shoot' by US airmen. An estimated 25 000 were killed.

The Gulf War devastated Iraq, sending a developing country back to the Dark Ages. The allied bombing campaign effectively destroyed Iraq's infrastructure. Bombs wrecked 90 per cent of Iraq's electricity generating plants. To date only 40 per cent of prewar output has been restored. Almost half of Iraq's 900 000 telephone lines were rendered irreparable. Around 1200 tonnes of explosives were dropped on the 28 major oil installations.

The bombing devastated living standards and, in particular, healthcare in Iraq. Shortly after the bombing campaign ended in February 1991, the UN sent a team to report on postwar conditions in Iraq. In the introduction to their report the team, headed by UN under secretary general Martti Ahtisaari wrote that 'nothing we had seen or read prepared us for what has befallen the country':

'The recent conflict has wrought near apocalyptic results upon what had been, until January 1991, a rather highly urbanised and mechanised society. Now most of modern life's supports have been destroyed or rendered tenuous. Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology.' (UN document s/22366).

In 1990 the World Health Organisation (WHO) classed Iraq as a developed country in terms of its healthcare facilities. In 1993 Iraq cannot even supply its citizens with clean drinking water. The result is that diseases which were nearly eradicated in 1990, have reappeared with a vengeance taking thousands of lives.

Sewage swamps

Before the Gulf War Baghdad received 450 litres of water a day per citizen, the rest of the country receiving 200-250 litres. The bombs closed down all of Iraq's electricity-operated water-treatment stations. After the war Baghdad could only be supplied with 10 litres a day for each citizen. That figure gradually rose to 30-40 litres, less than 10 per cent of prewar supplies. Even this was sporadic and did not cover the whole city, never mind the whole country. Large areas of Iraq are still entirely cut off from the water system. The lack of water, coupled with a severe decline in the quality of what little water there is, has ruined the health of many Iraqis. The landscape of southern Iraq is marred by the appearance of immense swamps of raw sewage caused by the failure of pumping stations which resulted from the electricity shortage. Untreated sewage from Baghdad is dumped directly into rivers which are also the main source of drinking water.

Infrastructural damage in Iraq has been compounded by the impact of sanctions. UN sanctions were imposed against Iraq three years ago, in August 1990 (Resolution 661). To be allowed to import any product Iraq must plead before the UN sanctions committee - even when it wished to import black cloth to provide mourning clothes for the one in 10 married Iraqi women who are war widows.

In September 1990 the sanctions were strengthened by UN Resolution 666, which stated that no food was to be allowed into Iraq until the UN security council declared the country a humanitarian emergency (how many Iraqis had to starve before this became an emergency was not spelled out). Between August 1990 and April 1991 the total amount of food to reach Iraq was enough to last its population one day. Before the war Iraq imported over 70 per cent of its food. In March 1991, pressure from non-governmental groups working in Iraq resulted in the declaration that Iraq was a humanitarian emergency. Even then, Iraq was not allowed to import food; the UN was to provide supplies. In fact the UN ensured that the process for getting food into the country was so complex that agencies and businessmen were deterred from dealing with Iraq.

'A mystery'

By November 1991 the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation had noted that 'serious food shortages are now affecting the majority of the population of Iraq'. Staple foods are rationed by the government. But the rations last only 10 days out of each month. The rest of the time people are forced to buy on the black market where the average monthly salary of a government employee is worth between £7.50 and £11; for a non-government employee it is £6.50, while a doctor would make approximately £11.50. With inflation running at 1000 per cent in February 1993, food prices are around 45 times higher than prewar. By 1991 real wages had dropped to between five and seven per cent of 1990 levels, and to date there has been no increase. Unemployment among Iraqi males tops 50 per cent.

As Charles Richards noted in the Independent early this year, 'it remains a mystery how ordinary Iraqis make ends meet' (24 January 1993). For many thousands of Iraqis the answer is simple; they don't. According to Iraqi figures supplied to the United Nations on 14 May 1993, incidents of death from malnutrition in children under the age of five have risen from 90 in August 1990 to 1183 in February 1992. WHO confirm a four-fold increase in child mortality.

The high incidence of malnutrition and infectious diseases resulting primarily from the inadequate water supply place a huge burden on Iraq's health system. Yet sanctions prevent even the most basic medicines from reaching patients. Before the Gulf War Iraq imported $500m worth of medicine each year. UN sanctions make it illegal for Iraq to purchase medicine or medical equipment. Unofficial sanctions, such as the complex licensing system for companies trying to export anything from the USA to Iraq, make matters worse. Experts today estimate that since August 1990 less than a thirtieth of Iraq's medicine requirements have been met.

Cholera returns

Doctors in major hospitals are re-using disposable needles 10 times. In the country's main paediatric hospital, 98 per cent of admissions are children with infectious diarrhoea. The hospital has no drugs and no medicated milk with which to treat them. By April 1991, cholera had returned to Iraq. By May 1992, polio was again claiming the lives of children, diphtheria has doubled and meningitis quadrupled. The bombing ensured that hospitals could not be supplied with basics like electricity, windows and water, and the sanctions have prevented the import of medicines.

In May 1991 a team of experts from Harvard University led by Eric Hoskins, published a report entitled 'Public health in Iraq after the Gulf War'. It estimated that 50 000 children under the age of five had died during and directly after the war, and that a further 170 000 under-fives were likely to die in 1992 of malnutrition resulting from the effect of UN sanctions. (Quoted in A Alnasrawi, 'Iraq: economic consequences of the 1991 Gulf War and future outlook', Third World Quarterly, Vol13 No2, 1992.)

Child killers

Hoskins' team found that Iraqi hospitals had been 'reduced to mere reservoirs of infection since most medicines are in short supply, laboratories cannot function, operating theatres have no supplies, and basic services including food, water and electricity are unavailable' (E Hoskins, 'The truth behind the economic sanctions', in War Crimes). At Kirkuk hospital a nurse told them that she had just completed an emergency cesarian section with 'flies swarming over the incision because the operating room windows had been shattered during bomb blasts', and sanctions will not allow their replacement.

In March 1992 Iraq's health ministry claimed that 21 772 people had died in the previous two months as a direct result of UN sanctions. WHO then announced that between August 1990 and January 1992, 31 330 children below the age of five and 67 636 over fives had died of malnutrition and disease. The mortality rate for infants had trebled since 1990 (quoted in Middle East International, 15 May 1992) Despite these figures the security council of the UN has renewed the sanctions every six weeks.

Not content with destroying Iraq, the Western powers have laid down the conditions on which they might allow it to exist. On 6 April 1991 the Iraqis reluctantly accepted the West's ceasefire conditions; sanctions would be maintained indefinitely, American planes would continue to control Iraqi airspace, and the UN would have a free hand to redraw Iraq's borders. On 27 May this year, the security council agreed to move the border and give a piece of Iraqi territory to Kuwait, virtually landlocking Iraq. 'The council wishes to stress to Iraq the inviability of the international boundary between Iraq and Kuwait', it stated, 'and that serious consequences would ensue from any breach thereof'.

The original Kuwait-Iraq border had been drawn in the sand in 1922 by Sir Percy Cox, British High Commissioner, at a time when both were under imperial occupation. The UN has now gone further. As BBC correspondent Tim Llewellyn has noted in the Spectator, the boundary the UN has drawn goes 'slap through the middle of Umm Qasr', Iraq's only remaining working port: 'This leaves the naval base and about a dozen civilian houses in what is now, de jure, Kuwait, though there is not a single Kuwaiti in sight...the nearest properly populated Kuwaiti area is an oilfield over 40 miles south of Umm Qasr.' (5 June 1993)

Ignoring Iraqi protests at the iniquity and breach of sovereignty which this policy represents, the UN security council is today able to act like the old colonialist Sir Percy Cox, while passing its actions off as a justified defence against Iraqi 'aggression'.

The Basra road, February 1991

'It breaks my heart'

Kais Al-Kaisy is an Iraqi businessman living in England. His brother and nephew were killed in June's US bombing of Baghdad

'The attack happened at 2am our time, Sunday morning. All morning I tried to get through to Baghdad, but the lines were jammed. Not until four o'clock did I receive the first call from my sister. She could not speak to me for some time. Then she broke the news that my brother and his 18-month old baby son Mohammad were killed. His wife was critically injured and was taken to hospital.

'The intended target was one of the buildings of the intelligence services in a residential area. Now this interrogation centre obviously housed government officials, but it breaks my heart that nobody is mentioning the poor political detainees there.

'What disturbed me most about this attack is the figures coming from Iraq and not being denied by the Americans. Only eight killed. Now the people that I know-- my brother and his son, Mrs Akbar, her husband and her help - makes five killed in two houses that are not even in the area that the official communique mentioned. The house in which my family lived was about a mile from the target, which says a lot for the pin-point accuracy the Americans claim their missiles have. So we don't know the extent of the civilian damage and casualties in these areas.

'I think about 15-20 000 people attended the funeral, and one of the upsetting questions I was asked by the TV networks was did

I honestly think these demonstrators, who should have been called mourners, were organised by the regime. I was sick. I said, look, forget the personal tragedy, all you have to do is look at the pictures coming from Iraqi television to see that the grief was absolutely genuine. People sometimes can't put party politics aside and deal with matters on a humanitarian basis.

'When I arrived at my office that Monday morning I rang my MP, Simon Coombs. He expressed some sympathy, but he failed miserably to give me an apology for what the Americans did and for what he thought the British government's reaction would be. He started justifying the bombing with force, which was sickening. I said there is nothing I can talk to you about, I thought I was talking to some decent man. So I slammed the phone down. I then rang Tony Benn, who was very sympathetic. He invited me to the House of Commons to hear the government statement. The BBC were outside afterwards, and when they asked what I thought of the statement I said it is a shame that they leave their consciences behind and toe the party line.

'I also raised the issue of the sanctions against Iraq with the press, but they were not interested. The imposition of sanctions ultimately is not affecting the Iraqi government, it's killing innocent people. The United Nations has made it absolutely clear that food

and medicine are allowed into Iraq. But Iraq has no foreign currency, and Iraqi assets in the West, most of which are in America, the UK, Italy and France, have been frozen. This is not the West's money, it belongs to the Iraqi people.

'Only two weeks ago Douglas Hurd confirmed that no money will be unfrozen for any purpose whatsoever. The governments also bureaucratically prevent or delay the import of goods which are meant to be allowed into Iraq. I know of at least one British body scanner that has been paid for in full by the Iraqi ministry of health, but has not been delivered.

'As a result of the bombing and then the sanctions, life in Iraq is absolutely miserable. Just before the imposition of sanctions 30 eggs cost 75p; one egg today costs £3. A small chicken before cost between 50 and 60 pence, today it costs £60. There is a lack of vaccines, antibiotics, anaesthetic, spare parts for hospital equipment, kidney machines, ECG machines.

'The Iraqis have suffered a lot. The regimes in the neighbouring countries are not any better than that in Iraq, but there are no sanctions against those people. Democracy is a fig leaf that they can wave when they like. Where are the sanctions against Israel which has never complied with one single UN resolution?'
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 58, August 1993

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