[ The following letter from Iraq first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute. Dr. David Hilfiker is part of a delegation from the peace group Voices in the Wilderness. He is the author of two books -- Healing the Wounds and Not All of Us Are Saints -- and of the primer, Urban Injustice, How Ghettos Happen.]
In a few days I’ll leave
Part of my bewilderment, I’m sure, is that I’ve been reading the American press only sporadically over the last three weeks, so I’m not subjected to the rationales, which by their very repetition begin to seem to make sense. Certainly the view from the rest of the world is very different. But I’m sure what causes most of my bewilderment is that I’ve been in the midst of the human cost of this past twelve years, and I struggle to think what it is that might conceivably justify this level of human suffering.
I’ve talked to one woman who lost her daughter three years ago, in what the Pentagon called a “mistake.” She lives in Basrah in the south of
I’ve visited pediatric cancer wards in both south and north, where an incidence of certain cancers (especially leukemia) some three to four times higher than before the war is certainly due to some combination of depleted uranium, vastly increased pollution in the country (for a variety of sanction-related causes), poor nutrition, waterborne contaminants, general ill-health, and lack of effective treatment options … all due to the war and the sanctions. I talked with a very poor, uneducated woman whose six-year-old daughter was dying; she simply could not understand why it was all happening. I don’t either.
We’ve visited a number of water treatment plants that are falling apart across the country because of the effects of the war and the sanctions. Without purified drinking water, the children are dying, an under-five mortality rate 2 1/2 times higher than before the war. How can we possibly explain to ourselves not allowing parts for water treatment, money to pay for installation of new plants, and so on, when the water and sanitation disaster is the primary cause of the increased child mortality that now takes some 13% of all young children?
When asked that kind of question, apologists for
The problems it seems are several. Most of the goods that can be imported under the OFFP have to go through a UN Security Council committee, which deliberates in secret and where the
Another major problem is that, though the OFFP allows for food, medicine, equipment and so on, it doesn’t allow
The net effect of this is well over a million excess deaths in twelve years. (Precise statistics here are unreliable in part because the Iraqi government doesn’t have the funds to do the technical work and in part because the
I have a certain friend living in
What about these weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that Saddam has? (I realize this is getting a little long, but please stay with me.) Let’s look at that.
1) The United States has incredibly sophisticated monitoring equipment. We have access to thousands of defectors and certainly intelligence agents inside Iraq. For the past eight months we have had every motivation in the world to find those weapons, but we apparently haven’t even been able to give the UN inspectors reasonable clues to where those weapons might be.
2) But let’s suppose Iraq does have some small number of WMD. (Scott Ritter, the former US Marine and former head of the UN inspection team, estimates the team got rid of 95% of what Saddam had and we did not feel strongly enough pre-1990 to be worried about them then.) No one suggests that Iraq is even close to developing a delivery vehicle capable of launching an attack on the US. Furthermore, Saddam knows he would be a dead man if he tried. Can it possibly be worth over a million deaths to prevent that infinitesimal chance of harm to the US?
3) But couldn’t Saddam give them to al Qaeda? First of all, Iraq and al Qaeda are enemies. (Iraq is run by infidels according to al Qaeda.) Second, Saddam knows that US intelligence would find out, and he’d be a dead man again. Even if he could, there are many other states that could do the same thing, and we don’t seem to be invading them
4) And I think that’s the strongest argument. If Iraq has WMD, it is only one of many nations (and probably some smaller groups) that have them. Russia, China, France, Great Britain, smaller ex-Soviet states, Israel, Pakistan, India, Iran, North Korea and certainly others. Unfortunately, the toothpaste is out of the tube. From now on, WMD will be available to almost anyone who wants them. And that being the case, it seems to me obvious that waging war is no longer an option for the control of such weapons. (And if Iran and Israel are going to be allowed to keep theirs, why should Saddam not try to keep his?)
Even if you believe these arguments aren’t as bulletproof as I do, how could anyone honestly believe they are weak enough to warrant more than a million deaths?
Given the length, I guess I’ll have to make the arguments against oil and power at more length elsewhere. Suffice it to say, I don’t think it’s about oil, because the strength of our economic system gives would give us control of the oil, anyway. Perhaps it’s about power, but only a school-yard bully’s kind of power; if that’s really it, we’re in more trouble than I thought. Perhaps it’s about Israel … well perhaps it’s about Israel. I don’t know that situation well enough to make a cogent argument.
I suppose I could have made most of those arguments before I came here, but being here has kept me out of the US media propaganda. (I’m sorry for the derogatory, simplistic term, but I have come to believe that the media’s insistence on repeating the administration’s arguments as if they were cogent amounts, in fact, to propaganda.) More importantly, the human face of Iraq’s suffering will no longer give me peace. I pray that these faces will continue to haunt my dreams until our country stops what it is doing.
My friends, this is the Vietnam of this generation. What we are doing here is an unspeakable evil. I’m sure God will forgive us, but-if we don’t do all that we know how to do to stop this war and end these sanctions, will we be able to forgive ourselves?”