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The nightmare they have in store for Iraq

February 28, 2003 | Pages 6 and 7

WHAT WOULD you call 1 million children under the age of five at risk of starving to death? The Bush administration calls it acceptable collateral damage.

According to a confidential United Nations (UN) report leaked to the media, as many as 30 percent of Iraqi children under the age of five--more than 1.2 million kids--"would be at risk of death from malnutrition" during a U.S. invasion of Iraq. NICOLE COLSON reports on what Iraq could look like after Washington launches its planned onslaught.

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AS USUAL, the media frenzy about the Bush administration's "orange terror alert" in February came complete with frantic speculation about the safety of America's water supply. But Americans aren't the ones who should be worried.

According to a UN report drafted in January, close to two in three people in Iraq would be without access to sanitary water after a U.S. military attack. The report, from the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, speculates that a "medium-impact" scenario--a military campaign lasting two to three months--would cause "the collapse of essential services in Iraq...[and] could lead to a humanitarian emergency of proportions well beyond the capacity of UN agencies and other aid organizations."

Some 10 million Iraqis would be "highly food insecure, displaced or directly affected by military action," the UN report estimates. And a severe medical crisis is nearly guaranteed, with "as many as 500,000 [requiring] treatment to a greater or lesser degree as a result of direct or indirect injuries."

The World Health Organization estimates 100,000 direct casualties from a U.S. war--and 400,000 indirect casualties, many of them because of "the outbreak of diseases in epidemic, if not pandemic, proportions."

More than a decade of barbaric UN economic sanctions has paved the way for this horror--something that the UN report itself acknowledges. "[T]he effects of over 12 years of sanctions, preceded by war, have considerably increased the vulnerability of the population," it says.

The government's food ration accounts for 80 percent of average household income in Iraq today, and 60 percent of the population--about 16 million people--rely solely on the monthly food basket "to meet all household needs and would be directly and seriously affected by a disruption of the food distribution system," according to the UN.

As one UN official told the Washington Post, "[T]here could be a few million refugees heading to Iran. There could be six million people in Baghdad without access to clean water or electricity. There could be millions more waiting for someone to give them food because that's what they've come to depend on…Are we and everyone else ready for that? No."

What usually goes unmentioned is the fact that so many Iraqi civilians will be at risk precisely because the U.S. military plans to target Iraq's civilian infrastructure, such as power plants and water treatment facilities--just as it did during the first Gulf War.

According to media reports about the Pentagon's "Shock and Awe" strategy, the U.S. plans to use more cruise missiles in the first 24 hours of an assault than it used in the entire Gulf War in 1991. Washington's more honest hawks admit that the plan is to impose as much misery and suffering as possible--to "encourage" the civilian population to rise up. As if this could justify the horror that the U.S. is about to cause!

Even before the war, the White House was trying to shift the blame for civilian casualties onto Saddam Hussein. "I will say to you," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer recently declared, "that every step will be taken to protect civilian and innocent life. The greatest risk to civilian life, of course, comes from Saddam Hussein, who has shown that he is willing to kill his own people with chemical weapons, he is willing to put his own people in harm's way as human shields."

In other words, anyone who dies must have been a human shield for Saddam. That lie is a world away from the questions that millions of Iraqis are asking themselves today. "Will they bomb in my street?" Moayad Al-Haidari, who lives in Baghdad with his wife and two sons, said to the Christian Science Monitor last week. "Will American commandos arrive here? Or will Iraqis fight with Americans near the gate of my house?"

"We can't do anything, because all those things could happen, or none. It is one of the weapons of American psychological war--all this talk of war, all these years." The family has done its best to try to prepare for war--stockpiling water tanks, batteries, candles, rice, oil and sugar. Like other Iraqis, this month, they were issued their government food ration for both June and July--in case war breaks out, and the program is derailed.

The Haidaris are luckier than some. Many Iraqis are forced to sell a portion of their food baskets each month to pay for necessities like rent or medical care. "Over the last two months, the Iraqi government has provided the populace with double rations in anticipation of war," Human Rights Watch reports. "However, information from inside Iraq indicates that these rations will, at best, suffice for a brief time. There are also reports that poorer Iraqis have sold their rations to raise capital for important other needs, including medicine and the cost of possible flight from their cities."

Back in 1991, the Haidari family was forced to hide in the center of their home--huddling with their sons on mattresses as U.S. bombs shattered every window in the building. There was, they say, a constant smell of burning. And "one day, it rained black rain," Moayad says.

Now, the Pentagon is preparing to use 10 times more firepower than it used in 1991--itself the most intensive aerial bombardment in history. And much of the firepower will be directed toward cities like Baghdad, where--no matter what the military may claim about its "smart bombs"--thousands of civilians will inevitably be killed.

"Ten times?" a shocked Moayad asked the reporter. "Send this message [to America] from a small Iraqi family: Think about the civilization of the country, the human beings, not only the strategic issues like oil and power."

The Pentagon's new bomb

BUSH'S NEW Gulf War could see the use of a new weapon of mass destruction: the e-bomb. The Pentagon has been developing a weapon that destroys the circuits of electronic equipment with a microwave pulse.

"A properly constructed e-bomb can effectively 'fry' everything electric and electronic within several miles of the point of detonation," says one military analyst writing in the right-wing DefenseWatch newsletter. "And the pulse is not the end. During the next 15 minutes or so, collapsing electrical systems and communications grids will distribute the pulse, and create their own smaller pulses, analogous to an earthquake aftershock. The entire affected electrical and communications system will tear itself apart--self-destruct."

The Pentagon defends the e-bomb as a humanitarian alternative--because it wouldn't cause as many casualties. Except for--oops--anyone caught in the microwave beam, either directly or by a reflection off a metal surface.

And that's not to mention the destructive power of a weapon that indiscriminately disables everything electronic in a several-square-mile area--hospitals, home electricity, all communications, water sanitation equipment.

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