There’s Not Enough Evidence to Justify War

Tasneem Jamal Armed Conflicts

Ernie Regehr

Published by The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario)

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has now brought new “evidence” to the UN Security Council which he says exposes Iraq’s ongoing deceit and defiance and thus justifies an American-led attack.

But there are three additional categories of evidence that should be central to any decision on military action and all of it was missing from Powell’s briefing.

First, any Security Council authorization of the resort to force must include a credible projection of the likely consequences. Based on several studies of the 1991 war on Iraq, conservative estimates put the death toll at 56,000 soldiers killed in combat, 3,500 civilians killed in combat, 35,000 civilians and combatants killed in postwar revolt and its violent suppression by the Iraqi regime, and 110,000 civilian deaths in the first year due to postwar adverse health effects.

This initial total of 205,500 deaths has in subsequent years grown by hundreds of thousands of additional premature deaths due to the decimated infrastructure and economic sanctions.

This time around, in a war that plans full conquest and indefinite occupation, the risks are greater than they were 12 years ago.

In addition to high levels of combat deaths, the British Oxford Research Group estimates a civilian death toll of 10,000, but notes that the experience of urban warfare in Beirut suggests the toll could go much higher.

Other studies have produced much higher estimates of civilian deaths and a Canadian-led International Study Team of physicians and public health experts, headed by Dr. Eric Hoskins of War Child Canada, concluded from its January visit that war will produce an extraordinary humanitarian disaster, with children bearing the brunt of it.

Some 500,000 Iraqi children are already acutely malnourished and most of the country’s 13 million children depend on food distributed by the government, a distribution system that will be among the first casualties of war.

A leaked United Nations study warns that war could produce two million refugees. Two million young children and one million pregnant or nursing mothers will require therapeutic feeding. A war could produce 100,000 direct casualties requiring immediate medical care, with another 400,000 afflicted by war-related outbreaks of cholera, dysentery and other diseases.

All of these will require attention from a medical system in a country whose infrastructure will be in a state of collapse.

Assumptions about the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure is based on the second kind of evidence that Powell’s Security Council briefing omitted, namely an account of the military tactics his government intends to employ.

American media, notably The Christian Science Monitor and the CBS Evening News, have, in recent weeks, reported on U.S. war plans to use precision-guided weapons to destroy the Iraqi civilian infrastructure in the first days of the war. The battle plan, appropriately dubbed “Shock and Awe” by its originators, “focuses on the psychological destruction of the enemy’s will to fight.”

According to Harlan Ullman, a Washington analyst and one of the authors of the plan, a barrage of 600 to 800 cruise missiles will hit Baghdad in the first two days of the war. The intended effect is to be “rather like the nuclear weapon at Hiroshima,” says Ullman.

Ullman told CBS that in addition to striking military command targets, “you also take the city down. By that I mean you get rid of their power, water. In two, three, four, five days, they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted.

Other reports, including the Los Angeles Times and the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper, show even more odious levels of war planning.

According to “multiple sources close to the process,” says nuclear weapons and strategy analyst William M. Arkin, current U.S. planning focuses on two possible uses for nuclear weapons against Iraq: “attacking Iraqi facilities located so deep underground that they might be impervious to conventional explosives; thwarting Iraq’s use of weapons of mass destruction.”

One must obviously hope and expect that some minimum level of sanity will prevail and that nuclear use will not become a reality, but even without actual use, the integration of nuclear attack options into war-planning specifically violates the obligation on nuclear weapon states, affirmed in the context of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and related Security Council resolutions, not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states (and Iraq, despite the vile hopes of Saddam Hussein, is not a nuclear power).

Even contemplating such use radically lowers the nuclear threshold and will generate, not ease, nuclear proliferation and nuclear use interests in other states whose future may include the enmity of the United States.

Finally, the third category of information required before the Security Council can make a responsible decision on the resort to force should be about a credible postwar recovery program.

In 1991, the death toll was highest after the fighting stopped, when a devastated infrastructure condemned vulnerable Iraqis to death by neglect. It will be so again and the Bush administration has offered no evidence that they have given it any more than cursory attention.

Powell has made a convincing, albeit familiar, case that Saddam is a master of deceit.

What he did not do is explain why war on the people of Iraq is an appropriate response.

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