Thumbs Down on Bush's Gulf War II, by Gar Smith
War, Water and Iraq, by Juliette Majot, International Rivers Network.
March 7, 2003

War is not a movie. The home of Dr. Gasim Risun was destroyed by the impact of a US missile that failed to explode. His wife and children were seriously injured. Risun's home in Baghdad was not near any military or industrial targets. Credit: Alan Pogue /
Thumbs Down on Bush's Gulf War II, by Gar Smith

Twelve years ago, many of the organizations represented in this room today issued an International Call to Action warning of the environmental damage that war could bring to the Gulf region.

Twelve years ago, my magazine, Earth Island Journal, warned in advance of the probable devastation a Gulf war could bring. At the time, we feared that we would be accused of sensationalism. When the Gulf War broke out, we realized that we had underestimated the calamity.

Today, the sense of déjàvu is eerie.

That 1991 document declared: "We oppose innocent lives unjustly being sacrificed to establish the beachhead for a 'New World Order' base on military intervention to control access to oil and other natural resources."

We wrote then: "We are deeply concerned by the immediate and long-term environmental and human health implications of the use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons [and] the potential social and environmental catastrophe that would result from the bombing of chemical weapons facilities, oil drilling platforms and refineries."

We wrote then: "The devastation of the land, and the subsequent creation of millions of refugees are inevitable consequences of a full-scale war in the Persian Gulf."

We wrote then: "Recent experiences in Vietnam, Central America, Afghanistan and the Iran-Iraq war all clearly point to the grave ecological consequences of military build-up and warfare."

We wrote then: "The only intelligent response to the world's oil addiction is to reduce the demand, not to got to war to guarantee the supply."

Unfortunately, we also wrote then - in 1991 - "the [George H. W] Bush administration has no plans to change its energy policies whichEhave virtually destroyed efforts to promote energy efficiency and appropriate alternatives to oil."

New Units of Terror: "The Murrah Federal Office Building" and "9-11"
Baghdad is a city of 5 million that represents the birthplace - the cradle - of western civilization. Half of Baghdad's population is under the age of 15. It is a city of children.

The Pentagon plans to hit Iraq with as many as 3,000 cruise missiles in the first 48-hours of an attack. To put this in terms a US citizen can appreciate, when you think of a cruise missile exploding, think of the Murra Federal Office Building collapsing. The devastation from just the cruise missile attacks would equal 3,000 Murras.

In New York City, 3,000 people died in the September 11 attacks. The potential number of civilian deaths resulting from a US attack could reach 500,000. That would be the equivalent of 166 "9-11s."

Watching a US airstrike on television we see a sanitized violence - the grainy image of a targeted building disappearing in a silent, blinding flash of light.

When a bomb explodes, it creates a windblast that hits 7,000 mph. The explosion destroys everything - and everyone - within range, sterilizing the ground with temperatures of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Even the smallest of war's impacts can be environmentally long lasting. In the 1940s, Gen. George S. Patton practiced tank maneuvers in the California desserts. The marks from those tank treads are still visible.

Gulf War II: A Sequel the World Doesn't Want to See
George W. Bush recently said that the hunt for hidden weapons in Iraq was like "the re-run of a bad movie and I'm not sure I want to want to watch it again."

Many of us in the environmental community had the same reaction. But, for us, the re-run that we all fear is the REAL "bad movie" - a replay of spilled oil, flaming wells, darkened skies, poisoned winds, decimated wildlife and dying civilians.

In nature, there is no such thing as "Going it alone." Long-term survival requires cooperation and adaptability. Pre-emptive attacks are not a good strategy for long-term survival.

In nature, as in life, everything is connected to everything else. As that wise environmentalist Dwight David Eisenhower once observed: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

This premeditated march to war is a sequel the world can ill afford.

Gulf War II, like all bad sequels, features the same cast of characters (Cheney, Powell, Wolfowitz) rehashing the same simplistic plot. As with most bad sequels, the only thing that promises to set Gulf War II apart from the original is a host of new, improved special effects.

At the conclusion of our remarks, I am inviting other members of the environmental community to join me in reviewing George Bush's script for Gulf War II. I personally plan to give this Oval Office production a "thumbs down."

Gar Smith, along with Peter Drekmeier and China Brotsy, is a co-founder of Environmentalists Against War.
If you would like a "Thumbs Down on War" poster for your home or office, send $1 to The-Edge, c/o Gar Smith, PO Box 27, Berkeley, CA 94701.

Water, War and Iraq, by Juliette Majot / International Rivers Network

Artist Neam Ahmad holds a ceramic dove of peace outside her studio near Mosul, Irak. Credit: Alan Pogue /
Waging a war with Iraq necessarily means waging a war against the most scarce and valuable commodity in the Middle East - water.

In this region, where the war over oil has only temporarily eclipsed the war over water, limited freshwater resources are threatened by more than the after-effects of oil fires and spills, and chemical and biological contamination. Water-supply installations, including canals, high dams, and water desalinization plants are military targets. Water sanitation systems are also targets

Iraq's water and energy production and distribution infrastructure were severely damaged during the Gulf War. It has been widely reported that coalition forces bombed Iraq's eight multi-purpose dams during the Gulf war, destroying flood control systems, irrigation, municipal and industrial water storage, and hydroelectric power. Major pumping stations were targeted and municipal water and sewage facilities were destroyed. The US Defense Department has recently claimed that Iraq plans to destroy dams as part of a scorched earth strategy in the event of an invasion.

While piped water reaches most urban homes in Iraq, 65 percent of it is not treated (Oxfam, January 23, 2003). Most rural homes in central and southern Iraq do not have access to piped water at all. Air strikes in 1991 destroyed much of the country's power supply, severely affecting water and sanitation systems. Although most water treatment plants have their own generators, 70 percent of them do not work, according to UNICEF.

Destruction of water sanitation systems has been slow and recognized by the US government as a direct consequence of sanctions against Iraq. According to the United States Defense Intelligence Agency document "Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities" (January 22, 1991), the DIA acknowledges that unless Iraq convinced the UN or individual countries to exempt water treatment supplies from sanctions for humanitarian reasons, water treatment capability would suffer a slow decline, and finally fully degrade. The consequence of this steady degradation is the highest rate of child mortality in the world, with seven of ten infant deaths resulting from diarrhea or acute respiratory infection linked to polluted water or malnutrition.

Water shortages in Iraq have been worsened by one of the most serious droughts in recent history. Water resources are now less than half normal levels. According to UNDP, recent droughts may have affected up to 70 percent of all arable land. In addition salination affects more than 75 percent of land in Iraq and is one of the major causes for desertification (UNDP 2003).

In addition to the immediate impact of renewed fighting in Iraq on irrigation and industry, the destruction of the region's already limited water resources will diminish the likelihood of lasting peace settlements in the region. In particular, relations between Israel, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq - already strained in the area of fresh water allocations - are likely to further suffer.

Conflict between Syria, Turkey, and Iraq has long centered on competition over the waters of the Euphrates, which flows from southern Turkey, through Syria and Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf. Dams built, under construction, and in the planning stages in Turkey are considered by Iraq to directly threaten its water supply.

According to Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, behind-the-scenes discussions were held at the beginning of the Gulf War to discuss using the Turkish dams to deprive Iraq of a significant fraction of its fresh water supply. While no such action was taken, the military value of what Gleick refers to as a "water weapon" is clear.

The humanitarian tragedy of war in Iraq would extend far beyond the period of direct conflict as a consequence of intentional environmental destruction.

For More Information, contact: International Rivers Network, 1847 Berkeley Way, Berkeley CA 94703. (510) 848-1155; FAX: (510) 848-1008.

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