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.
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.
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
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 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.
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
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.
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.)
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
'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
'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
'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