What Powell Didn’t Say

Tasneem Jamal Armed Conflicts


Ernie Regehr
and Gerry Barr

Published by the Ottawa Citizen

Gerry Barr is president and CEO of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation

The U.S. secretary of state didn’t tell the United Nations that a war against Iraq will produce a humanitarian disaster, with children among those most at risk.

Colin Powell, the U.S. secretary of state, presented a new set of “facts” to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday to expose Saddam Hussein’s ongoing deceit and defiance and to justify a U.S.-led attack on Iraq. But there were some key facts his briefing did not include.

There was no attention, for example, to the costs of war. Conservative tallies of the human costs of the 1991 Gulf War are 56,000 soldiers and 3,500 civilians killed in combat, 35,000 people killed in post-war revolt and its violent suppression by the Iraqi regime, and 110,000 civilian deaths in the first year after the war due to post-war adverse health effects. This initial total of 204,500 deaths has in subsequent years grown by hundreds of thousands of additional premature deaths due to decimated infrastructure in Iraq and mandatory economic sanctions against the  country.

This time around, because the war objectives now include the full conquest and indefinite occupation of Iraq, the risk of loss of life is greater than it was 12 years ago. Casualties within the first three months of an attack could go as high as 50,000 to 250,000. War will produce an extraordinary humanitarian disaster, with children among those most at risk. Already about 500,000 Iraqi children are 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 UN study warns that war could produce two million Iraqi refugees. Two million young children and one million pregnant women 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.

And if you doubt that the infrastructure of Iraq will be destroyed, look at a second set of facts that Mr. Powell’s Security Council briefing omitted, namely an account of the military tactics his government intends to employ.

A battle plan, promising to use precision-guided weapons to destroy the Iraqi civilian infrastructure in the first days of the war, has been developed over a decade of trial and lots of error in Kosovo and Afghanistan. It is called “Shock and Awe” and “focuses on the psychological destruction of the enemy’s will to fight,” according to Harlan Ullman, an analyst and one of the authors of the plan. It calls for a massive barrage attack on Baghdad with 600 to 800 cruise missiles in the first two days of the war. The intended effect, says Mr. Ullman, is to be “rather like the nuclear weapon at Hiroshima.” Mr. Ullman also says 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.”

It is an objective disturbingly close to that of terrorism.

William M. Arkin, a nuclear weapons and strategy analyst, says current U.S. battle plans include two possible uses for nuclear weapons against Iraq: attacking underground Iraqi facilities that might be impervious to conventional explosives; and thwarting Iraq’s use of weapons of mass destruction.

One expects that at least minimum sanity will prevail and nuclear bombing will not become a reality in Iraq. But even without their actual use, the integration of nuclear options into war planning is, itself, a violation of the accepted international obligation of nuclear states 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.

A third set of facts was also overlooked at Wednesday’s Security Council briefing: the broad range of strategic risks that need to be considered in any war. A U.S.-led war on Iraq could, ironically, increase nuclear proliferation pressures and undermine international peace and security. Regimes chronically at odds with the United States are likely to conclude that they must do one of two things: either curry special favour with the U.S. or acquire a nuclear weapons capability clandestinely and then flaunt it.

War also risks further destabilizing the entire Middle East region, undermining broad support for the struggle against terrorism, fomenting hostility between the West and parts of the Islamic world, and causing costly disruptions to the world economy.

Mr. Powell presented the Security Council with compelling evidence of Saddam Hussein’s deceitful ways. But even more compelling is the evidence he ignored, that his own government’s planned war on Iraq will violate humanitarian law and visit extraordinary consequences on the vulnerable people of Iraq.

© 2003  Canwest News Service

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