Message from Iraq

IssueJune - August 2002
Comment by Joanne Baker

Just as springtime Baghdad shows - with the crumbling of sanctions - a faint glimpse of promise, however superficial, it is hard to believe that the threat of war is gathering again.

Here in the streets of Baghdad, the shop windows are displaying ever more goods, although one seldom sees a customer; there is the occasional flash of a new yellow Nissan taxi - sold to the drivers at half price by the government; new red and white striped double-decker buses made in China with German engines now commandeer the streets; trenches are being dug for new water pipes and there is even the promise of new telephone exchanges.

The suburbs of the “nouveau riche” are growing and although many regret the social changes taking place, any money entering the economy has to be a bonus. War, of course, does not rightly describe what would be an unwarranted and devastating attack on a sovereign nation that has already been subjected to almost 12 years of embargo and the consistent destruction of civilian infrastructure.

Gulf War II

While the defence department in Washington plans for an “acceptable” 30 000 US military casualties in the event of a ground attack, employees within the United Nations buildings in Baghdad are desperately attempting to draw up contingency plans for what they believe would be an almost instantaneous mass famine plus three million internally displaced people and half a million refugees.

Iraqis themselves are for the most part resigned and resistant, bracing themselves for the worst. The consequences of another major military attack on Iraq are, however, almost unthinkable. Life in this country is fragile enough with between 5000 and 6000 children under the age of five still dying every month - a legacy of the infrastructural damage caused by the first Gulf War and the relentless continuation of sanctions. The majority of Iraqis are heavily dependent on the food ration from the “oil for food” deal for their basic survival. Even salaried people, such as school teachers, rely on it for 83% of their nutritional needs.

War would mean the immediate exodus of all international staff and the collapse of the humanitarian programme. As most of the food is imported the country would run out of basic stocks in a very short period of time. The inevitable re-targeting of essential civilian infrastructure such as sanitation, water, power generation, telecommunications, bridges, roads, schools and hospitals and so forth would provoke a humanitarian catastrophe of unbelievable proportion and it is tragic to think that many of the young Iraqi soldiers facing US and allied troops would be those same children who were traumatised by the bombardment of the first Gulf War and who have grown up under the deprivations of the embargo.

The vets experience

The toxic pollution of the last war remains and is undermining the health of civilians and soldiers alike. There has been as alarming increase in cancers, leukemia and genetic deformity. One epidemiological study made recently by doctors in Basra shows a definite link between the use of depleted uranium (DU) and the rise in childhood cancers and leukemia.

In late April, a meeting took place in Basra between two Gulf War veterans, both suffering from serious medical consequences from the Gulf War, one was an Iraqi veteran and the other Bernard McPhillips, a Scottish Gulf veteran who had made the journey to Iraq as an act of solidarity and to collect further evidence of the allied use of depleted uranium.

Veterans in both the US and Britain are concerned about the future. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3 May, 2002, the US government has suddenly begun to address some of the complaints associated with Gulf War syndrome. Many veterans are cautious, saying that with Gulf War II looming, how they are treated could have an impact on how willingly the next generation of young US citizens step forward to fight in the war on terrorism. Toxic wars on the environment can result in damage that may last for many generations. The threat is often, as in the case of radioactivity, invisible.

Standing by the burnt out tanks and trucks on the Jahra-Basra road which was shelled with DU rounds in 1991, I was struck by the breath-taking beauty of the desert, a soft green after the spring rains - so vulnerable to the technology of our advanced weapons systems; as vulnerable as the beautiful young children dying in the hospitals without sufficient cancer drugs or pain relief, robbed of a future.

Resisting global domination

The message from Iraq is that it has no need of Western “liberation” or “intervention”. However slowly, it can mend itself politically and economically. It is important to remember that behind the sanctions lies at least $120 billion of debt, not to mention $200 billion in claims on the compensation fund and a $100 billion claim from Iran for war losses. Even with a revived oil industry, oil revenue would barely service the debt. It is estimated that Iraq has lost $140 billion in oil revenue due to the sanctions. With the US/IMF in charge it would remain at the bottom of the list of highly indebted nations and would be ravaged by multinational corporations. Many Iraqis speak with nostalgia of the age before oil. “If only we had lived in that age,” they say.

The greatest hope for this country lies in its cultural integrity and the artistic and academic excellence of its people. This above all is what the international community must protect. There is no evidence that Iraq is involved in terrorism or that it has developed weapons of mass destruction. If the US truly believed it had, they might not be so eager to invade. The “war on terror” has simply become a bid for global domination and control of resources and we must support Iraq in its resistance.