Radix - Violent Conflict and Disasters - Iraq and the Second Gulf War

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) ReliefWeb: "Iraq: Humanitarian law must be respected" Brussels, 18 May 2004. Need for a democratic transition. Public Statement from the European Development and Humanitarian Aid NGO Community on the current situation in Iraq 

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) See also pages on Goma/Nyiragongo, Israel/Palestine and Afghanistan

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bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) and David Alexander "A Feckless World: Warfare, Disasters and Democracy" April 2003 (download Word file: 40KB)

Notes on the Ideas of ‘Clean War’ and ‘Collateral Damage’
(download Word file (34KB))
Ben Wisner bwisner@bucknell.edu 577-3376 (office)

17 March 2003

1. Scope: These notes concern civilian casualties, indirect civilian death and illness, damage to civilian infrastructure, disruption of the economy and livelihoods, and harm to the ecology of the region.

2. Legal issues: The Geneva Accords on warfare require belligerent parties to minimize injury to civilians. This goal has not been observed, and, indeed, the ratio of civilians to soldiers killed in conflict has risen from 0.1: 1 during the First World War to 10: 1 during the Vietnam conflict. I know of no comparable requirement in international law that defines and forbids or requires limits to damage to ecosystems during war, or the practice of ‘ecological warfare’ (e.g. intentional ‘scorched earth’ practices, destruction dams and levees in order to create floods, use of weather modification as a weapon, etc.).

3. Background: In 1985 one author counted more than 120 wars since the end of World War II. Another source that took a narrower definition gives the total for the 20th Century to be 165 wars that claimed 180 million lives. At the regional and local scale war has disrupted and degraded the environment, for instance, in Vietnam and The Gulf. In the long run creation of bomb craters, burning of forest or wetlands or poisoning with herbicide can either trigger extreme events (such as landslides) or remove people’s protection from extremes (such as coastal mangroves as a screen against high winds). Unexploded landmines deny people access to arable land, thus reducing food security. Rural people in Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, Eritrea, and Cambodia have lost limbs trying to farm in heavily mined areas. 

4. First Gulf War: During the 1991 war, the U.S. destroyed electricity supplies, shutting off power to hospitals, water treatment facilities, etc., with the excuse of destroying Iraq’s ‘command and control’ ability. This began a series of disastrous events that undermined public health. Transportation networks were also targeted, so that distribution of food and other essential items to Iraq’s primarily urban civilian population was disrupted. Because humanitarian organizations could not cope with the large number of civilians whose lives were put in danger by this wholesale destruction of lifeline infrastructure, there were 47,000 avoidable child deaths within 8 months of the 1991 war. 

5. Effect of Sanctions: During the 12 years since the first Gulf war, Iraq’s rank in the UNDP’s Human Development Index has fallen from 96 to 127. This sets a dark record for the most rapid decline in human welfare in recent history. Between 1990 and 2000, Iraq’s under-five mortality rate increased by more than 150% to 56 per 1000 live births. At least 500,000 children have died during the 12 years of sanctions because of shortages of food, medicine and medical equipment, and due to the collapse of sanitation systems (chlorine for water treatment was defined as a ‘dual use’ and hence banned import).

6. Likely Effect of a Second Gulf War: Homeless refugees and internally displaced persons are likely to number 2 million. The likely refugee-host countries (Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Iran) and the Kurdish region of northern Iraq are poorly prepared to receive such a large influx. The U.N. has been trying to raise $120 million for the first phase of caring for refugees, but so far donors (including the U.S.) have pledged only a quarter of this amount. After the 1991war there were 15,000-30,000 refugee deaths in camps in Turkey and Iran due to measles, diarrhoea, typhoid, and cholera. Food security will suffer dramatically. Sixteen million Iraqi (60% of the national population) depend entirely on a network of 45,000 distribution points for the food-for-oil system (a system that every observer, including the U.S. and U.K. agrees is fair and efficient). Without this system, which will almost certainly collapse during bombardment and invasion, they will have no source of food. Because of deterioration in the Iraqi economy during 12 years of sanctions, these people have very low incomes, so cannot be expected to purchase food even if it were available outside the food-for-oil system. The U.N.’s World Food Program has only enough food stockpiled to provide emergency rations to 500,000 people for 10 weeks. It estimates that it would need ten times that amount in the event of war. As many as 30% of Iraqi children could be at risk of death from malnutrition in the event of a war. Health care and health would also be affected. Water treatment, the ‘cold chain’ that allows distribution and storage of heat-sensitive vaccines and medicines would break down without electric power. UNICEF estimates that 500,000 Iraqi children under five are not yet vaccinated against childhood diseases that could kill them in crowed refugee situations under the added stress of malnutrition. A vicious circle would take many lives: poor hygiene, contaminated water, poor nutrition, and lack of medicines. The number of functional primary health care centers in Iraq fell from 1,800 to 929 because of the first Gulf war. There are currently regional hospitals with a capacity of 27,000 beds. These health care facilities are already short of medicine, equipment, and supplies. They would not be able to cope with the number of civilian injuries in a war and the subsequent outbreaks of disease. 

7. Armaments, Tactics and their Consequences: Smart weapons do not guarantee a minimum of civilian injury. Firstly, they invite ever more delicate ‘surgical’ strikes at military targets very near to civilians or civilian infrastructure. Secondly, the tactic of ‘overwhelming force’ invoked perfected in 1991 and leading to the current notion of an attack that will inspire ‘shock and awe’ can only result in massive infrastructural and likely civilian harm. From at least the invasion of Panama (1989) onwards, the U.S. military and political leadership has present a highly controlled media image of “smart weaponry” and highly deliberative process of target choice that minimizes civilian casualties. Repeatedly these images have been contradicted by revelations such as the PBS documentary, “The Panama Deception”, the bombing of an air raid shelter in Baghdad, the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, a market place in Kosovo, and a Red Cross warehouse in Kabul. Each time such incidents have been termed ‘accidents’ or ‘aberrations’, and promises of even higher tech, more accurate weaponry are made. The ‘accuracy’ of Patriot missiles in the defense of Israel from Iraqi Scud missiles in 1991 was also exaggerated. The use of depleted uranium for armor piercing shells during the 1991 war left behind highly toxic, radioactive particles of glass (fused because of the high heat of the fires these shells produce on impact). This dust has been implicated in Gulf War Syndrome in U.S. veterans of that war and statistically significant increases in cancer in civilians in Iraq and northern Kuwait. 

8. Conclusions: Three is no such thing as a ‘clean’ war. The accuracy of ‘smart weapons’ does not guarantee the safety of civilians, and it may even tempt field commanders to attempt to hit targets very near civilians. The tactic of ‘shock and awe’ will cause catastrophic damage to essential urban infrastructure. ‘Collateral damage’ is a euphemism for systematic disregard for the medium and long-term public health effects of destroying lifeline infrastructure, essential civilian services, and forcing the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians. It is hypocritical at the very least for U.S. military and political leaders to claim that their tactics are designed and implemented in a way that protects civilians. The health consequences of another war could be catastrophic. Health workers around the world have warned of these consequences (the World Medical Association, representing 8 million doctors in 70 countries; the International Council of Nurses, the World Dental Association, the International Confederation of Midwives, and the World Confederation of Physical Therapy). 

9. Endnotes:

1. Van der Wusten (1985); White (1999).
2. SIPRI (1976); Kemp (1991); Seager (1992); Austin and Bruch (2000). Iraqi forces set 650 oil wells ablaze, producing acrid smoke. Between 4-8 million barrels of oil entered the sea, and 60% of Kuwait was covered by 35-150 million barrels, some of which entered the grown water and from which evaporating toxins added to air pollution (Greenpeace 1992; Hoskins 1997).
3. SIPRI (1980); Westing (1984a, 1984b & 1985).
4. See International Landmine Movement http://www.icbl.org/ .
5. Unless otherwise specified, data is taken from Centre for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), The Human Costs of War in Iraq. Cambridge, UK: CESR, 2003 http://www.cesr.org . 
6. Jane Salvage, Collateral Damage: The Health and Environmental Costs of War in Iraq. London: Medact, 2002 http://www.medact.org .
7. J. Steele & L. Harding, “Agencies warn of Iraqi refugee crisis”. Guardian Weekly Mar. 13-19, 2003, p. 2.
8. Anon., “Unicef facing race to immunise Iraqi children” Ananova (5 March 2003) http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_757450.html .
9. Caldicott (2002).
10. Anon., “Threat of war is affecting mental health of Iraqi children, says report”. Psychminded.co.uk (16 February 2003) http://www.psychminded.co.uk/news/

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) See also pages on Goma/Nyiragongo, Israel/Palestine and Afghanistan

bluesquiggle.gif (968 bytes) and the second page of links for Violent Conflict and Disasters

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