“IT IS not a war they are starting, itâ€™s a slaughter. It will be a catastrophe.” Thatâ€™s how Vincent Hubin, director of Premiere Urgence, the largest foreign aid agency operating in Iraq, described the Bush gangâ€™s drive for a new war on Iraq.
But this will be only the latest stage in more than a decade of U.S. warfare–military and economic–against the people of Iraq. Here, ANTHONY ARNOVE–editor of the book Iraq Under Siege, now republished in an updated edition–describes the last Gulf War and its aftermath.
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THE 1991 Gulf War against Iraq wasnâ€™t really a war at all. It was a one-sided slaughter in a country that was no match for the massive armed might of the U.S. military and its many allies.
During the month-and-a-half-long war, the U.S. military dropped 88,500 tons of bombs on Iraq and Kuwait–the most concentrated aerial bombardment in the history of warfare. Despite all the hype about “smart bombs,” 70 percent of all U.S. bombs missed their targets. In fact, “[p]recision-guided bombs, the icon of Pentagon briefings and the militaryâ€™s preferred image of the Persian Gulf War, made up barely 7 percent of the U.S. tonnage dropped on Iraqi targets,” the Washington Post later reported.
Tens of thousands of civilians died in the air war. More than 300 civilians were killed in one attack alone–when two Cruise missiles hit the Amiriya bomb shelter on February 13, 1991. Many of the people in the shelter were killed from the direct impact of the missile. But others burned to death by a combination of fire and scalding water from burst pipes. To this day, the Pentagon claims that the shelter was a “legitimate military target.”
U.S. bombs also destroyed essential Iraqi infrastructure to provide for civilian needs, particularly safe water and electricity–not as an accident, but as part of an explicit strategy. “Amid mounting evidence of Iraqâ€™s ruined infrastructure and the painful consequences for ordinary Iraqis, Pentagon officials more readily acknowledge the severe impact of the 43-day air bombardment on Iraqâ€™s economic future and civilian population,” Barton Gellman of the Washington Post wrote a few months after the war.
“Though many details remain classified, interviews with those involved in the targeting disclose three main contrasts with the administrationâ€™s earlier portrayal of a campaign aimed solely at Iraqâ€™s armed forces and their lines of supply and command. Some targets, especially late in the war, were bombed primarily to create postwar leverage over Iraq, not to influence the course of the conflict itself. Planners now say their intent was to destroy or damage valuable facilities that Baghdad could not repair without foreign assistanceâ€¦Because of these goals, damage to civilian structures and interests, invariably described by briefers during the war as â€˜collateralâ€™ and unintended, was sometimes neither.”
No one knows how many retreating Iraqis were slaughtered on the infamous “Highway of Death.” U.S. forces openly boasted about a “turkey shoot” as they repeatedly strafed the line of people and vehicles traveling along the highway from Kuwait into Iraq.
“From the ground, I witnessed the savage results of American air superiority: tanks and troop carriers turned upside down and ripped inside out; rotten, burned, half-buried bodies littering the desert like the detritus of years–not weeks–of combat,” one U.S. Gulf War veteran recently wrote of the aftermath of the attack. “The tails of unexploded bombs, buried halfway or deeper in the earth, served as makeshift headstones and chilling reminders that at any moment, the whole place could blow.”
The media briefly showed the horrific images from the slaughter. But the reports were buried under pressure from U.S. officials.
The corporate media have also ignored the story of how more than 1 million rounds of depleted uranium (DU) shells were used by the U.S. in Iraq and Kuwait. The Pentagon uses these outrageous munitions because they can pierce tanks and other thick surfaces–but the shells leave behind a toxic disaster. “Today, nearly 12 years after the use of the super-tough weapons,” the Settle Post-Intelligencer recently reported, “the battlefield remains a radioactive toxic wasteland.”
“Iraqi physicians say depleted uranium is responsible for a significant increase in cancer and birth defects in the region. Many researchers outside Iraq, and several U.S. veteransâ€™ organizations agree; they also suspect depleted uranium of playing a role in Gulf War Syndrome, the still-unexplained malady that has plagued hundreds of thousands of veterans.”
Thereâ€™s no reason to believe that Bushâ€™s new war on Iraq wouldnâ€™t produce similar atrocities. In December 1998, when the U.S. military was once again bombing Iraq, the Air Force dropped millions of propaganda pamphlets. One showed a picture of the “Highway of Death”–littered with burned vehicles and dead bodies–and warned: “If you threaten Kuwait, the coalition forces will destroy you again.”
The war that never ended
THE GULF War left Iraq shattered. But that didnâ€™t stop the U.S. from maintaining a strict economic embargo that had been imposed by the United Nations (UN) following Iraqâ€™s invasion of Kuwait.
“The recent conflict has wrought near-apocalyptic results upon the economic infrastructure of what had been, until January 1991, a rather highly urbanized and mechanized society,” officials of the UN mission to Iraq wrote. “Now, most means of modern life support 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.”
The truth is that the war on Iraq never ended. Twelve years later, the country is still suffering from the devastating sanctions. According to the United Nations Childrenâ€™s Fund, between 1990 and 1998, under-5 child mortality rates doubled in Iraq–leading to half a million “excess” deaths.
Many more died from easily preventable waterborne diseases and lack of adequate medical supplies. The sanctions have kept out chlorinators, fertilizers, vaccines, ambulances and other vital civilian goods–under the pretext that they could have a military “dual use.”
And the bombing never stopped. U.S. and British planes taking off from Turkey and Kuwait have regularly bombed Iraq in a war that the corporate media have deliberately chosen to ignore. While the U.S. claims it is “enforcing UN resolutions,” no resolution ever authorized the so-called no-fly zones.
Still today, the U.S. claims that all the suffering in Iraq is caused by Saddam Hussein, not the bombing or the sanctions. Thatâ€™s nonsense. As Tun Myat, administrator of the UN oil-for-food program in Iraq, told the New York Times, “People have become so poor in some cases that they canâ€™t even afford to eat the food that they are given free, because for many of them the food ration represents the major part of their income.”
The embargo has created massive inflation in Iraq, wiping out the savings and earnings of the overwhelming majority of Iraqis. Unemployment has skyrocketed, and children now beg–or sell themselves for sex–in order to help feed their families.
Meanwhile, more than one-fourth of Iraqâ€™s limited oil revenue is diverted to pay reparations to the Kuwaiti government and multinational oil companies, and to finance the UNâ€™s operations in Iraq. To use what little is left, Iraq has to apply to the UN–where the U.S. uses its veto on the sanctions committee to routinely block requests for imports.
The lies they tell to justify war
THE U.S. government never says that itâ€™s going to war for oil, profit or power. No, it only goes to war for “democracy,” to “liberate” countries, to “defend human rights” or to “oppose aggression.”
When Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, Washingtonâ€™s reaction was outrage. “A line has been drawn in the sand,” George Bush Sr. declared. “If history teaches us anything, it is that we must resist aggression or it will destroy us.” British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Bushâ€™s main ally, added, “If we let Iraq succeed, no small country can ever feel safe again. The law of the jungle takes over.”
But Bush and Thatcher took a different view of Iraqâ€™s aggression prior to August 2. Both countries armed and backed Iraq and supported Saddam Hussein when he was a faithful ally and served their strategic interests in the oil-rich Middle East.
The U.S. supported Iraq during its brutal war with Iran in the 1980s–at the cost of 1 million lives. Washington increased its aid to Iraq after the government used poison gas against Iranian troops–and then against the minority Kurdish population inside Iraq–killing thousands.
When U.S. ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie met Saddam in Baghdad on July 25, 1990, just one week before the invasion, “she said President Bush wanted better relations with Saddam and that the United States had no opinion on Saddamâ€™s dispute over borders with Kuwait,” the Washington Post reported.
Whether or not this was meant as a trap, itâ€™s clear that the Iraqi president felt emboldened by support from Washington and thought he could get away with an attack on Kuwait. After all, the U.S. itself has just invaded Panama and engineered a “regime change,” taking out its former ally Manuel Noriega and killing thousands of Panamanians–with no outcry about “the law of the jungle” or “resisting aggression.”
It was also sheer hypocrisy for U.S. officials to talk about protecting the border with Kuwait–which was an artificial creation of British imperialists who carved up the two countries in the 1920s to better control the regionâ€™s oil. Kuwait was–and is–a fiefdom for a tiny privileged elite allied with the West. But Bush proudly called the country a “friend.”
Then he and his cronies–many of whom are back on the scene in new roles in the Bush Jr. administration–launched a relentless PR campaign to force a war with Iraq. The Pentagon announced in September 1990 that Iraq was massing hundreds of thousands of troops of its border with Saudi Arabia. But when the St. Petersburg Times in Florida decided to look for the evidence and bought commercial satellite images of the area, they found nothing. “That [Iraqi buildup] was the whole justification for Bush sending troops in there, and it just didnâ€™t exist,” says Jean Heller, the reporter who broke the story.
Then the U.S. brought a 15-year-old Kuwaiti “refugee” named Nayirah to testify before Congress about how she had witnessed Iraqi troops steal incubators from a hospital, leaving 312 babies “on the cold floor to die.” When the Senate voted to give support Bush Sr.â€™s war, by a margin of only five votes, seven senators recounted Nayirahâ€™s story in justifying their “yes” vote.
But the story was a hoax. Nayirahâ€™s false testimony was part of a $10 million Kuwait government propaganda campaign managed by the PR firm Hill and Knowlton. Nayirah was not a hospital volunteer, but the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington.
“We didnâ€™t know it wasnâ€™t true at the time,” claims Brent Scowcroft, Bushâ€™s national security adviser. But, he admitted, “It was useful in mobilizing public opinion.”