Gulf War Syndrome
On February 13, 1991, the United States dropped 2 smart bombs on the Al-Ameriya shelter in Baghdad, Iraq. The first million-dollar precision explosive entered through the roof, went through several feet of concrete and steel, then passed through the floor to the basement. The second smart bomb knew just where the boilers were, entering through the ventilation and blowing up the boilers, setting off explosions which sent the temperature inside above 400 degrees Celsius, cooking 408 civilians to a skeletal crisp and severely injuring the lucky ones.
As I walk through the Al-Ameriya shelter on Thursday, January 18, 2001, reading the names and ages of the 408 martyrs sent to Allah by this war crime, the silhouette of one martyr silently screams from a wall at my left while the handprint of a lucky survivor - burned to the wall - mocks the high-tech horror of stealth bombers and surgical air strikes in this hospital of hell; hey, people die in surgery all the time, right? There were no chemical weapons stockpiles here, no biological weapons - just a few hundred women of all ages and some boys who will never reach 18 years old. I bought this but the Iraqi people paid the price.
However, the most heinous war crime of the Gulf War was not bombing the Al-Ameriya shelter; it was not 42 indiscriminate days and nights of air strikes which started on January 16, nor carpet bombing Basra; it was not bombing 85 hospitals and more than 600 schools, nor was it unleashing 320 tons of depleted uranium on southern Iraq; the greatest war crime was not the 300 US casualties, most killed by friendly fire and jeep accidents, or the 10,000 Gulf War vets who returned home and died from Gulf War Syndrome.
The greatest war crime of the Persian Gulf War is that it never ended; there are 30,000 or so Americans serving active duty in the Gulf region, air strikes on average every three days since December '98, and - according to the UN - economic sanctions killed another 250 civilians today, just as they did yesterday and the day before and the day before. On Friday, March 30, the United States bombed Iraq again, just as they did the day after we left (January 20) in Al-Muthana, then Jan 27, then February 11 and February 16 and March 3 and June 5 and again and again ...
So let me revise what I said earlier about the Gulf War having never ended; war conjures up images of battlefields, dogfights and other confrontations where one group of combatants engages another in mutual murder. As I walked through the hospitals, I didn't see any of those children taking aim and firing; as I wandered the streets of Basra, I didn't see any beggar boys or bilingual out-of-work professionals taking off in fighter jets, but I did see barefoot, malnourished children playing near open sewer trenches, I did see a neighborhood waiting for the next air strike and I did see the slow decay of a society under the silent weapon of mass destruction we euphemize as economic sanctions. This is no war; this is the holocaust, this is a siege and this is lynching an entire nation because their dictator is a butcher. In no war under the Geneva Convention would 1,000,000 civilians die but this sanctions regime - this lynching - is the law of the land and a cross is burning.
In theory, food and medicine are exempt from the embargo. In theory, Iraq is allowed to sell oil through the UN's oil-for-food program; Iraq's oil revenues go into a French escrow account at a bank branch in Manhattan. Controlled by the security council, which is controlled by the US, this bank account holds money which can only be used to purchase humanitarian goods and the UN Security Council's Sanctions Committee, chaired by the UK's Peter Van Walsum and dominated by the United States, has the power to approve, block or hold these shipments indefinitely. Importing dual use items is the great concern - those that have a humanitarian application but can be converted into weapons of mass destruction. Chlorine, for example, is absolutely necessary to purify water but can also be converted into chemical weapons. Graphite is used in manufacturing cooling rods for nuclear reactors. Theoretically, you can take a few pencils and coat aircraft with graphite to make the plane invisible to radar. In December '99, Britain blocked a shipment of 1,000,000 pencils from Vietnam to Iraq because the items are dual use; that same year, a shipment of diphtheria vaccinations was blocked because the medicine was considered dual use. Safety equipment for sewage treatment facilities is dual use, syringes have been seen as dual use, pumping equipment for sewage and water treatment is dual use; as of November '99, according to Benon Sevon, the top UN official in Iraq, 100% of telecommunications, 65.5% of electricity, 53% of water/sanitation and 43% of oil contracts were on hold by the sanctions committee; practically anything, including toilet soap, can be considered dual use.
Because of these holds, war reparations (now 25% down from 30% but soon to be raised to 30% by the smart sanctions), administrative costs and other red tape obstacles, Iraq has received, in goods, only 1/3 of its sales under oil-for-food since December '98 ... there is no cash component to this program, so how do you finance civil service? Teachers? Doctors? My 250 dinar bill was worth $813 in '89; when I was in Iraq it was worth about 15 cents, which means the purchasing power of the Iraqi people is next to nothing. With no foreign investment or cash allowed into Iraq by UN sanctions, there is no economic recovery. As Hans von Sponeck, the former head UN official in Iraq, told Congress in May '00, at its best, oil-for-food brought Iraq seventy cents per day per person in goods. What is the figure today? The average has improved: as of February 22, 2002, Iraq has received less than $12 per person per month. Even if everything in the country worked, that would still amount to nothing.
Last year, US diplomats on the Sanctions Committee blocked export to Iraq of vaccines against hepatitis B, diphtheria and tetanus. In May '01, $700 million dollars of contracts on hold were released; apparently the supplies were not weapons of mass destruction but they were held up in months and years of red tape, and every month that these shipments were held another 5,000 Iraqi children died. There's no accountability: no oversight or second-guessing of the Sanctions Committee's decisions, only a list of contracts - a classic smoke-filled room behind closed doors situation. The new smart sanctions plan doesn't change this situation and the noose around Iraq's neck is still tightening - more than $5.3 billion in humanitarian goods and oil production spare parts on hold by the sanctions committee and more than 90% of these holds are by the United States. Today, 250 civilians died.
Turn the clock back a ways ... In 1921, Sir Percy Cox of the British Office of Colonial Affairs creates Kuwait by carving the coastal region of the Basra province from Iraq and instilling a puppet monarchy under King Faisal. This geopolitical move, drawing a line across the Rumalia oil fields, essentially cut off Iraq's access to the Persian Gulf. Though the British puppet monarchy in Iraq had no real say in the matter, this maneuver planted the seeds of a conflict that would erupt 70 years later.
1951 sees a growing popularity in Iran's nationalist leader Mohammad Mossedeq and this regime does the usual thing a nationalist government does - they nationalize foreign holdings, most notably the Anglo-Iranian Petroleum Company (commonly known as BP - British Petroleum). Of course this was intolerable to the western empire, so the usual suspects of black ops, including the CIA and Norman Schwartzkopf, Sr. (recognize the name?) overthrow the Mossadeq government in 1953 and install Shah Reza Pahlevi, a butcher so intolerable to his own people that the desertion rate in the Iranian military by 1979 (the end of the Shah's reign) reached 60%.
In 1958, a similar uprising occurred in Iraq: Abdel Kassem leads a popular uprising, successfully ousts the British monarchy, and starts doing the usual thing a nationalist leader does - he started nationalizing western holdings, then helped form OPEC in 1960 and a CIA-aided coup got him out of there in 1963 or, as a CIA operative once said, "The target suffered a terminal illness before a firing squad in Baghdad."
The power vacuum in Iraq left by Kassem's removal was filled by the most ambitious, brutal and US-backed faction that western powers were willing to see in power: the Baath Party. It didn't hurt that the CIA provided the Baathist party with a list of opponents including trade unionists, socialists and pluralists, either. These opponents were later murdered and by 1968 their regime was secured.
It could be that the Baathists got comfortable or forgetful, but either way they did the intolerable in 1972 when Iraq, under the slogan "Arab oil for Arabs," nationalized its oil industry. Subsequently, Iraq is placed on the official list of nations that support terrorism (Syria is on that list today); President Nixon, Henry Kissinger and the Shah of Iran funneled arms through Iran to Iraqi Kurds, though the destabilization of another uprising was never part of the picture, as evident in the Pike Congressional Report:
"Neither the foreign head of state (the Shah) nor the President nor Dr. Kissinger desired a victory for our clients (the Kurds). They merely hoped to ensure a level of hostilities high enough to sap the resources of the neighboring state (Iraq). Even in the context of covert action, ours was a cynical enterprise."
Does this sound familiar? Does this look familiar? To this day, US tax dollars are appropriated to Iraqi Kurds (though military support to Turkey is used to massacre Kurds). In 1998, Clinton and Congress appropriated $97 million in arms to the Kurds, though only $2 million was spent, and Reuters reported in Jan '01 that Clinton set aside another $12 million to the Kurdish INC (Iraqi National Congress) just before he left office ... another cynical enterprise. Now Washington can't figure out whether it will audit the INC or put them at the head of the post-Hussein government.
In 1979, Saddam Hussein becomes president of Iraq. Iraq invades Iran in 1980 with no outcry from the US government (considering the fears among western powers that the Iranian revolution would have the same impact the French Revolution did, this probably saved the CIA the task of engineering another coup). As the war goes on, US aid to Iraq increases and Iraq is removed from the list of countries that support terrorism in 1982, and then the US restores full diplomatic relations with Iraq in 1984. However, having Iraq emerge as a dominant military force in the Persian Gulf was not an aim. As Kissinger said, "Too bad they both can't lose ... I hope they all just kill each other." With the aid of the US, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Britain, the Soviet Union, West Germany and just about everybody except Iran and Israel, Iraq emerges from the Iran-Iraq war's 1988 cease-fire a potentially huge market - 70% dependent on imports and becomes a rising first-world nation.
The day after the Iran-Iraq cease-fire, Kuwait begins exporting above OPEC quotas, dropping prices and costing Iraq billions in lost revenue. In response to Kuwait's overproduction and slant drilling into Iraqi oil reserves, Iraqi publicly accuses Kuwait of conspiring to destroy Iraq's economy July 17, 1990, and Iraqi troops begin to mass on the Kuwaiti border the next day. As this buildup occurs, April Glaspie, the US Ambassador to Iraq, tells the Baghdad government, "We have no interest in your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your border dispute with Kuwait." On August 2, 1990, Iraq invades Kuwait; four days later, the UN Security Council passes Resolution 661, imposing economic sanctions against Iraq - the most comprehensive embargo in modern history - and freezing its foreign assets. For the first several months, food and medicine are officially included in the embargo and Iraq begins rationing goods.
On January 16/17 (depending on the time zone), coalition forces led by the United States begin 42 days and nights of bombing, an act of a mad God passing judgment on a nation of 23 million civilians and one Saddam. Iraq was destroyed because Saddam invaded Kuwait and, 10 years after Iraqi troops withdrew from Kuwait - 10 years after the February 28 cease-fire - Iraq is still being bombed because Saddam invaded Kuwait. Iraq is not allowed to rebuild because Saddam is a "threat to our national security," as Sen. Fred Thompson's office told me last year. The death of more than half a million children from economic sanctions is a price worth paying, as Madeline Albright said on 60 Minutes, because we must contain Saddam Hussein.
Sanctions are difficult to understand but everyone understands bombs, right? An F-117 drops a precision bomb and the bad guy goes boom. Maybe shrapnel gets an innocent bystander, and maybe a few missiles go astray and hit a neighborhood or two or ... it's just, as Timothy McVeigh and the United States government say, collateral damage. Sanctions are trickier, quieter; there are no explosions to send you into the streets or video game-style war footage for armchair warmongers and war resisters, but there is also no medicine to silence the screams. According to Kofi Annan's July '00 letter to the Security Council, Iraq had only received $8 billion in goods, yet had sold more than $32 billion of oil; to this day, roughly 1/3 of Iraq's oil revenue has arrived in Iraq - yeah, Iraq is allowed to sell oil to buy civilian goods, but how much can one survive on $12 per person per month? That, according to the UN's Office of the Iraq Programme, is what Iraq has received - in goods - under the sanctions regime.
Former assistant Secretary-General Denis Halliday and top UN officials say that more than 1,000,000 civilians have died as a direct result of economic sanctions; that number is a couple of years old. One out of every three Iraqi children under five suffers from chronic malnutrition; cancer can't be cured, diarrhea is deadly and a cold will kill you. Anemic mothers who cannot produce breast milk because of malnutrition have to mix baby formula with contaminated water. Since Iraq's water treatment/purification facilities were bombed during Desert Storm and because sanctions have prohibited the import of chlorine and spare parts, only 41% of the population has access to potable water. The water is poison and Sien Ahmed, whom I met dying in a Baghdad hospital from cancer and malnutrition, must drink it.
It is January 15, 2001, and I'm walking through the Al-Wathba water treatment facility which provides 35% of Baghdad's water. Looking around at all the bone-dry settlement tanks - which are supposed to be full of water to let the debris settle to the bottom - I remind myself that this is the best water treatment facility in Iraq but half of the equipment here doesn't work and hasn't in years; its filters were installed in 1932 when this facility was built, and the US/UK-dominated sanctions committee routinely blocks spare parts for the pumping equipment. Al-Wathba requires 10 metric tons of chlorine per month but chlorine is dual use and prohibited under the sanctions, so this purification plant (and other facilities) relies on Iraq's rationing system, which the FAO has given an A rating, for its 3 metric tons of substandard chlorine per month. Kassem Hammad, the head engineer/director, of this facility tells me that it was not bombed during Desert Storm but the station around the corner that lifts the water from the Tigris river was; just up a ways from this lift (which still has a hole in the ceiling from a US bomb) station is the spot where semi-treated sewage gets pumped back into the Tigris. If it rains enough or if the sewage treatment facility loses power for one hour (spare parts for backup generators have been blocked or put on hold), then untreated sewage must be pumped back into the Tigris; there are no fish living in this part of the river and new dams in northern Iraq and Turkey mean the Tigris is uncharacteristically low - less water to purify, less water with which to treat sewage. Does this make sense? Water is life and water is death.
It's January 16, 2001, 11:59 PM Baghdad time. Most of our delegation is here to observe or participate in this demonstration on the 10-year anniversary of the Persian Gulf War. I'm looking around as crowds continue to gather - people of all ages and walks of life, from students to teachers to laborers, are milling around, waiting for this thing to start. This is the first government-sponsored demonstration I've ever been to. In fact, an Iraqi acquaintance in the US told me that a lot of these people have to participate ... don't forget, this is a nationalist totalitarian state. We start marching and chanting, "US! UN! END THE SANCTIONS NOW!" and get herded up to the front of the procession right before I hear stomping and chanting like I've never heard; as I turn around I see a crowd of thousands marching toward us blowing fire and brimstone, chanting in Arabic: "OUR BLOOD FOR SADDAM!" The march ends in a rally with speeches, flag-burning, more blood for Saddam, and I have to say, it's pretty intimidating; being one of 40 Americans in the whole country, I stick out quite a bit, so I decide to back away and watch. In the midst of all the stomping, the curses and chants, groups of 5-7 people turn around to say, "A salaam alaikum," "Where are you from?", and "Welcome to Iraq." As I am talking with a kindergarten teacher about school violence and recent shootings in the US, his dishdasha-clad companion approaches, vigorously shakes my hand, takes his only ring off and hands it to me; "Shoukran" is all I can say ... my people drop bombs on this man, and he gives me his only piece of jewelry? Could I show such generosity? Could I treat the enemy with such love and dignity? This guy wants my nametag - a piece of paper in a plastic sleeve - and I slip on a ring that says Allah onto my middle finger. Hell, how can I return the favor ... of course! I pull off my NY Yankees stocking cap, hand it to this man, hug him ... he put it on his head, grins a mouthful of teeth at me while giving me the best two thumbs up I'll ever see.
As I walk through Saddam Children's Hospital in Baghdad, the last thing on my mind is the history and politics and double-dealings of political scum; I'm looking at a bunch of malnourished children in an overcrowded hospital, the walls and flesh and minds of those decaying around me telling a story that may never make it into history books; at least, not in this country. Ten years ago a major health concern for children was obesity; now the number one cause of death for children under five are treatable infections (gastrointestinal, meningitis). Of course this is aggravated by malnutrition, and severe cases such as nutritional marasmus are now the second leading cause of death for children under five. Epidemic fatal diarrhea and no working traffic lights in a country sitting on the second largest oil reserve in the world - how can this be? A country where the art of writing and the wheel were invented, where Abraham was born and the Garden of Eden once stood, where doctors educated at top medical schools around the world practice third-world medicine, where a man whose rage and dignity tell me that I will be treated as a human being while my country murders his daughter Sien Ahmed before my eyes, where people who get bombed on a regular basis tell me they want peace, where people on the street ask me if it really is true that kids bring guns to school in the United States, where an angry mob burns the starts and stripes, kisses my face and says, "Welcome to Baghdad" - this is Iraq.
Voices in the Wilderness
1460 west Carmen Ave
Chicago, IL 60640
Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC)
founded by Gulf War Vet Eric Gustafson
These two are the best; one is peace activist/non-violent war resister, the other is information and research-intensive. Here's my contact info:
1000 S. Cooper
Memphis, TN 38104