Don't Bomb Baghdad!
By Dr. Charles Clements
February 21, 2003
"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?"
- M.K. Ghandi
I am a public health physician and a human rights advocate. I have just returned from a 10-day emergency mission to Iraq to assess the vulnerability of the civilian population to another war. I'm also a distinguished graduate of the USAF Academy and a Vietnam veteran, so I have some sense of the potential consequences of the air war we are about to unleash on Iraq as a prelude to the introduction of American troops.
The population of Iraq has been reduced to the status of refugees. 60% of them - or almost 14 million Iraqis - depend entirely on a government provided food ration that, by international standards, is the minimum required for sustenance.
Unemployment is greater than 50% and the majority of those who are employed make between $4-$8 a month. (The latter figure is the salary of a physician who works in a primary health center.) Most families are without economic resources as they have sold their possessions over the last decade to get by. Hospital wards are filled with severely malnourished children and much of the population has a marginal nutritional status.
The food distribution program funded by the UN Oil-for-Food sales is the world's largest and is heavily dependent upon transportation, which will be one of the first targets of the war. The US will sever transport routes to prevent Iraqi armed forces from movement or re-supply. The feeding program will be its first victim.
Even before the transportation system is hit, US aircraft will spread millions of graphite filaments in wind-dispersed munitions that will cause a complete paralysis of the nation's electrical grids. Already literally held together with bailing wire, because they have been unable to obtain spare parts due to sanctions, the poorly functioning electrical system is essential to the public health infrastructure.
The water treatment system too, has been a victim of sanctions. Unable to import chlorine and aluminum sulfate to purify water, there are already 1,000% increases in the incidence of some waterborne diseases (typhoid cases increased from 2,200 in 1990 to more than 27,000 in 1999).
People will not have potable water in their homes and they will not have water to flush their toilets. The sanitation system, which frequently backs-up sewage ankle-deep in Baghdad neighborhoods when the ailing pumps fail, will now have no pumps at all. There will be epidemics as water treatment and water pumping will come to a halt. Pregnant women, malnourished children, and the elderly will be the first to succumb.
Iraq's healthcare system cannot handle an emergency of this nature - with thousands of victims of "collateral damage" as we have promised a cruise missile every five minutes for the first 48 hours, seeking out military, intelligence, and security forces around Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul, Iraq's largest cities.
Even though it is against the Geneva Conventions to target infrastructure that primarily serves civilians, this did not cause us to pause in the Gulf War and will not this time. If the US pursues this war without the backing of the UN Security Council, it will undermine a half-century of efforts by the world community to establish a foundation of humanitarian and human rights law to guide international behavior. Such an act violates the UN Charter and makes mockery of the institution we have helped to fashion in the hopes it would help prevent crimes against humanity. Many might define the consequences of such an attack on the population of Iraq as just that.
There was a lot that made me angry on that trip. I have worked in war zones before and I have been with civilians as they were bombed by US-supplied aircraft, but I don't think I've experienced anything on the magnitude of the catastrophe that awaits our attack in Iraq.
Saddam Hussein is a monster, there is no doubt about that. He needs to be contained and many former UN weapons inspectors feel he has been "defanged." His neighbors do not fear him any longer. There are many Iraqis who want him removed - but not by a US war.
We may be unleashing forces of hatred and resentment that will haunt us for decades in every corner of the world. I can just hear Osama Bin Laden now "please President Bush, there's nothing better you could do to help the cause of Al Qaeda!"
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Charlie Clements graduated at top in his class at the Air Force Academy and had a distinguished career in Vietnam until he refused to fly any more missions as a matter of conscience. In 1982, when the war in El Salvador escalated, Clements entered El Salvador with 75 pounds of medical supplies on his back and spent a year inside the country treating civilian victims of US-supplied bullets and white phosphorous rockets. Witness to War, a film about Clements' life, was nominated for an Academy Award as the Best Documentary Short for l986.