The Most Cowardly War in History
By Arundhati Roy / World Tribunal on Iraq
July 22, 2005

Arundhati Roy. To watch a Deep Dish TV video clip (18.7 MB) of the opening of the final session of the WTI (with the introductory speech by Arundhadti Roy), click on: saturday_opening.mp4
The opening statement of Arundhati Roy (edited) on behalf of the Jury of Conscience of the World Tribunal of Iraq. The Tribunal consisted of three days of hearings investigating various issues related to the war on Iraq, such as the legality of the war, war crimes, the role of the media, the destruction of the cultural sites and the environment. The session in Istanbul was the culminating session of an extended commission of inquiry held around the world over the past two years.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY (June 26, 2005) -- This is the culminating session of the World Tribunal on Iraq. It is of particular significance that it is being held here in Turkey, where the United States used Turkish air bases to launch numerous bombing missions to degrade Iraq's defenses before the March 2003 invasion. All this was done in the face of enormous popular opposition by the Turkish people.

The testimonies at the previous sessions of the World Tribunal on Iraq in Brussels and New York, have demonstrated that even those of us who have tried to follow the war in Iraq closely are not aware of a fraction of the horrors that have been unleashed in Iraq.

The Jury of Conscience is not here to deliver a simple verdict of guilty or not guilty against the United States and its allies. We are here to examine a vast spectrum of evidence about the motivations and consequences of the US invasion and occupation, evidence that has been deliberately marginalized or suppressed.

Every aspect of the war will be examined -- its legality, the role of international institutions and major corporations in the occupation, the role of the media, the impact of weapons such as depleted uranium munitions, napalm, and cluster bombs, the use of and legitimation of torture, the ecological impacts of the war, the responsibility of Arab governments, the impact of Iraq's occupation on Palestine, and the history of US and British military interventions in Iraq.

This tribunal is an attempt to correct the record. To document the history of the war not from the point of view of the victors but of the temporarily -- and I repeat the word temporarily -- vanquished.

Before the testimonies begin, I would like to briefly address, as straight-forwardly as I can, a few questions that have been raised about this tribunal.

The Tribunal Is an Act of Resistance
The first is that this tribunal is a Kangaroo Court that represents only one point of view. That it is a prosecution without a defense. That the verdict is a foregone conclusion.

Now this view seems to suggest a touching concern that, in this harsh world, the views of the US and the so-called Coalition of the Willing headed by President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have somehow gone unrepresented. That the World Tribunal on Iraq isn't aware of the arguments in support of the war and is unwilling to consider the point of view of the invaders.

Let me say categorically that this tribunal is the defense. It is an act of resistance in itself. It is a defense mounted against one of the most cowardly wars ever fought in history, a war in which international institutions were used to force a country to disarm and then stood by while it was attacked with a greater array of weapons than has ever been used in the history of war.

Second, this tribunal is not in any way a defense of Saddam Hussein. His crimes against Iraqis, Kurds, Iranians, Kuwaitis, and others cannot be dismissed. However, we must not forget that when Saddam Hussein was committing his worst crimes, the US government was supporting him politically and materially. When he was gassing Kurdish people, the US government financed him, armed him, and stood by silently.

Saddam Hussein is being tried as a war criminal even as we speak. But what about those who helped to install him in power, who armed him, who supported him?

There are remarkable people gathered here who in the face of this relentless and brutal aggression and propaganda, have doggedly worked to compile a comprehensive spectrum of evidence and information that should serve as a weapon in the hands of those who wish to participate in the resistance against the occupation of Iraq.

It should become a weapon in the hands of soldiers in the US, the UK, Italy, Australia, and elsewhere who do not wish to lay down their lives -- or to take the lives of others -- for a pack of lies. It should become a weapon in the hands of journalists, writers, poets, singers, teachers, plumbers, taxi drivers, car mechanics, painters, lawyers -- anybody who wishes to participate in the resistance.

The evidence collated in this tribunal should, for instance, be used by the International Criminal Court (whose jurisdiction the US does not recognize) to try as war criminals George Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard, Silvio Berlusconi, and all those government officials, army generals, and CEOs who participated in this war and now profit from it.

The assault on Iraq is an assault on all of us: on our dignity, our intelligence, our humanity, and our future.

We recognize that the judgment of the World Tribunal on Iraq is not binding in international law. However, our ambitions far surpass that. The World Tribunal on Iraq places its faith in the consciences of millions of people across the world who do not wish to stand by and watch while the people of Iraq are being slaughtered, subjugated, and humiliated.

A Nationwide Health Disaster
Although the Iraq Ministry of Health has supposedly gained its sovereignty and received promises of over $1 billion of US funding, hospitals in Iraq continue to face ongoing medicine, equipment, and staffing shortages.

During the 1990's, medical supplies and equipment were constantly in short supply because of the sanctions against Iraq. The war and occupation brought promises of relief from effects of the sanctions: instead, the occupation has closely resembled a low-grade war since its inception. Allocation of resources by occupation authorities has been dismal. Throughout Baghdad there are ongoing shortages of functional equipment and medicines of even the most basic items such as analgesics, antibiotics, anesthetics and insulin. Surgical items and basic supplies like rubber gloves, gauze and medical tape are running out.

In April 2004, an International Committee of the Red Cross report stated that hospitals in Iraq are overwhelmed with new patients, short of medicine and supplies and lack adequate electricity and water, with ongoing bloodshed stretching the hospitals' already meager resources to the limit.

A general practitioner at the prosthetics workshop at Al-Kena Hospital in Baghdad, Dr. Thamiz Aziz Abul Rahman, said, "Eleven months ago we submitted an emergency order for prosthetic materials to the Ministry of Health and still we have nothing. This is worse than even during the sanctions."

Dr. Qasim al-Nuwesri, the chief manager at Chuwader General Hospital, one of the two hospitals in the sprawling slum area of Sadr City, Baghdad and home to 3 million people, added that they, too, faced a shortage of most supplies and ambulances. The lack of potable water was the major problem. "Of course we have typhoid, cholera, kidney stones... but we now even have the very rare Hepatitis Type-E... and it has become common in our area," said al-Nuwesri, adding that they never faced these problems prior to the invasion of 2003.

Chuwader hospital needs at least 2,000 liters of water per day to function with basic sterilization practices. According to Dr. al-Nuwesri, they received 15% of this amount. "The rest of the water is contaminated," added al-Nuwesri, "Without electricity, our instruments in the operating room cannot work and we have no pumps to bring us water."

At Fallujah General Hospital, Dr. Ahmed said of the April 2004 siege that "the Americans shot out the lights in the front of our hospital. They prevented doctors from reaching the emergency unit at the hospital and we quickly began to run out of supplies and much-needed medications." He also said that Marines kept the physicians in the residence building several times, intentionally prohibiting them from entering the hospital to treat patients.

Hospitals Subjected to Raids and Shortages
In November, shortly after leveling Nazzal Emergency Hospital, US forces entered Fallujah General Hospital, the city's only healthcare facility for trauma victims, detaining employees and patients alike. According to medics on the scene, water and electricity were "cut off," ambulances targeted or confiscated, and surgeons, without exception, kept out of the besieged city.

Hospital raids by US military and US-backed Iraqi forces now appear to be standard operating procedure. On the 18th of this month, doctors at the main hospital in Baquba went on strike, saying they are fed up with constant abuse at the hands of aggressive Iraqi police and soldiers. Dr. Mohammed Hazim in Baquba, pleaded for his governor to protect him and his colleagues from "organized terrorism of the police and army."

When wounded Iraqi security forces showed up demanding treatment, Dr. Hussein told one of them he would require an x-ray. The doctor was told to go to hell by the policeman he was treating and was then beaten. The same policeman then ordered another police officer to put a bag over the doctor's head and take him away. "Our security guards tried to stop them, telling them I was a doctor, but they didn't listen and beat the security guards too," he said, "Then one of them put a gun to my head and threatened me."

Similar behavior has been reported during the recent US-Iraqi military operations in Haditha and Al-Qa'im. Doctors also recently went on strike at the large Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad in a very similar incident.

The former ambassador of Iraq, Paul Bremer, admitted that US-led coalition spending on the Iraqi Health system was inadequate when he said, "It's not nearly enough to cover the needs in the healthcare field."

When asked if his hospital had received assistance from the US military or reconstruction contractors, Dr. Sarmad Raheem, the administrator of chief doctors at Al-Kerkh Hospital in Baghdad said, "Never ever. Some soldiers came here five months ago and asked what we needed. We told them and they never brought us one single needle┬ů We heard that some people from the CPA came here, but they never did anything for us."

At Fallujah General Hospital, Dr. Mohammed said there has been virtually no assistance from foreign contractors, and of the US military, he commented, "They send only bombs, not medicine."

International aid has been stymied by the horrendous security situation in Iraq. After the UN headquarters was bombed in Baghdad in August 2003, killing 20 people, aid agencies and NGOs either reduced their staffing or pulled out entirely.

With senior Iraqi doctors fleeing Iraq en masse for fear of being kidnapped, interns and younger doctors are left to deal with the catastrophic situation. The World Health Organization last year warned of a health emergency in Baghdad, as well as throughout Iraq if current conditions persist. But despite claims from the Ministry of Health of more drugs, better equipment, and generalized improvement, doctors on the ground still see "no such improvement."

Two Years On and No Progress
Over two years into the illegal occupation, while Iraq sits upon a sea of oil, ongoing gasoline shortages plague Iraqis who sometimes wait 2 days to fill their cars. Most of Iraq, including the northern region, receives on average 3 hours of electricity per day amidst the nearly non-existent reconstruction efforts. Even the better areas of Baghdad receive only 6-8 hours per day, forcing those who can afford them to use small generators to run fans and refrigerators in their homes. Of course, this is only for those who've been able to obtain the now rarefied gasoline.

The security situation is horrendous. With over 100,000 Iraqis killed thus far and the number of US soldiers killed approaching 2,000, the violence only continues to escalate.

Since the new Iraqi so-called government was sworn in two months ago, well over 1,000 Iraqis and over 165 US soldiers have died in the violence. These numbers will only continue to escalate as the failed occupation grinds on. As the heavy-handed tactics of the US military persist, the Iraqi resistance continues to grow in its number and lethality.

Cholera, typhoid and other water-borne diseases are rampant even in parts of the capital city as lack of reconstruction continues to plague Iraq's infrastructure. Raw sewage is common across not just Baghdad but other cities throughout Iraq.

With 70% unemployment, a growing resistance and an infrastructure in shambles, the future for Iraq remains bleak. While the Bush Administration continues to disregard calls for a timetable for withdrawal, Iraqis continue to suffer and die with little hope for their future. With each passing day, the catastrophe in Iraq resembles the US debacle in Vietnam more and more.

Dr. Wamid Omar Nadhmi, a senior political scientist at Baghdad University who was invited to this tribunal, told me last winter: "It will take Iraqis something like a quarter of a century to rebuild their country, to heal their wounds, to reform their society, to bring about some sort of national reconciliation, democracy and tolerance of each other. But that process will not begin until the US occupation of Iraq ends."

And it is now exceedingly clear that the only way the Bush Administration will withdraw the US military from Iraq in order for Iraqis to have true sovereignty is if they are forced to do so.

Copyright Arundhati Roy, World Tribunal on Iraq, 2005

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