Casualties in the U.S. War of Shame
Revolutionary Worker #989, January 10, 1999
In October of last year, a delegation from Voices in the Wilderness, a pacifist group based in Chicago, visited a hospital in the city of Basra in southern Iraq. A doctor at the hospital told the delegation about the significant increase in birth defects, childhood cancers and leukemia in Iraq since the 1991 Gulf war. The hundreds of tons of "depleted uranium shells" fired by U.S. forces during the war are strongly suspected as the cause of this increase. The shells exploded into microscopic fragments, spreading radiation into the environment. And the destruction from the war and the economic sanctions have devastated Iraq's health care system, greatly magnifying the problem.
A member of the delegation, Bert Sacks, recalled a conversation with the doctor about one of her young leukemia patients: "They did have chemotherapy to give the child. But the child died because at the age of one-and-a-half, when a child should normally get measles vaccines, there were no vaccines. The child died from measles. To use sanctions to deny adequate vaccinations and Tylenol and anesthetics, clean sheets for the hospitals, is a terrible thing to be doing."
Sacks continued: "This doctor then looked up. She was a very professional woman. But in the stress of this conversation she began to cry. It certainly affected me very much. Then she looked up when she composed herself. And she said, `This is a crime. This is a crime which your country is doing.'"
Even before the surprise attack by U.S. and British forces this December, Iraq and its people were deeply weakened by war and economic sanctions. Every month 4,500 Iraqi children under the age of five die from starvation and disease--because the sanctions, enforced by military action of the U.S. and its allies, deprive Iraq of adequate food and medicine.
Then, for three nights in December, the U.S.-British forces fired 400 cruise missiles at this already battered country. The official justification was the supposed threat of "weapons of mass destruction" from Iraq --which doesn't even have air defenses capable of shooting down hostile aircraft flying over its territory.
Pentagon briefers praised the "accuracy" and the "effectiveness" of the missiles and smugly noted that there were no casualties among the American forces. But what about the people of Iraq? How "accurate" were the missiles, when one aimed for a target in southern Iraq landed across the border in Iran? How many more neighborhoods were destroyed? How many more Iraqis lost their lives because of what the U.S. warmakers call "collateral damage" from the bombings?
In the days after the cruise missile attack, the U.S. continued to pound Iraq. U.S. and British warplanes patrolling the "no flight zones" in northern and southern Iraq fired several times at Iraqi anti-aircraft crews for daring to fire, or even turn on their radars. The U.S. has declared large parts of Iraq off limits to Iraqi aircraft. Any attempt by Iraq to oppose these "no flight zones" are considered "provocations" that justify U.S. retaliation.
The U.S. rulers have claimed for themselves the right to reach out to a region of the world thousands of miles away, steal the skies over a poor country, and then retaliate when that country tries to take self-defense measures.
These repeated poundings of Iraq seem like the insane actions of a bully who is intent on pulverizing a helpless victim. But there is deadly, cold-blooded logic behind this madness--the logic of imperialism.
Iraq is in a region that is the oil jugular of the world. The U.S. itself imports a relatively small amount of oil from this area. But many other countries depend on Gulf oil to fuel their economies. The military and strategic control of this region is crucial to the U.S.'s position as the world's imperialist superpower.
And in order to maintain this position, the U.S. ruling class has felt compelled to exhibit its predominance by pummeling Iraq time and time again. It seems that for the U.S. rulers, any assertion of national sovereignty by poorer nations poses a threat to their imperialist interests. Iraq refused to "assume the position" and open up every corner of the country to intrusive searches by U.S.-controlled inspectors. In the eyes of the U.S. rulers, this was reason enough to launch 400 cruise missiles.
In the streets of the U.S., cops routinely shoot people and then claim "justified homicide." The U.S. is doing this to a whole country and its people.
The U.S. imperialist war and sanctions against Iraq are totally without honor. The human cost of these shameful U.S. actions has been immense: One million Iraqis have died as a result of the sanctions, including 700,000 children.
Dr. Jasim Mazin is the chief resident at the Saddam Central Teaching Hospital for Pediatrics in Baghdad. In his five years at the hospital, almost all his leukemia patients have died. In countries like the U.S., the cure rate for leukemia is close to 70 percent. But in Iraq, where even basic medicines and surgical supplies are scarce, the cure rate for leukemia is near zero.
Dr. Mazin talked to the New York Times about one of his patients, three-year-old Isra Ahmed. "It's still not too late to save this girl's life if we can give her a bone-marrow transplant. But we don't have the equipment to perform that kind of operation. We're helpless.
Dr. Mazin pointed out that Iraq used to have one of the best health systems in the Arab world. Now, the doctors can not even read medical journals from overseas because they are among the items banned by the U.S.-enforced embargo.
"I can't believe I use disposable syringes on one patient after another, or perform operations with worn-out instruments in operating theaters that are not even disinfected," he said. "It's very difficult to work very hard on a patient, try to care for him, and then lose him because you can't get some silly thing that you could pick up in a drug store in any other country.
Then Dr. Mazin added an even more chilling comment: "And this is the best-supplied children's hospital in Iraq. If you go out into the provinces, you see that things are much worse."
The policymakers in the U.S. halls of power are perfectly aware of the human suffering taking place in Iraq. But to these global gangsters, the people dying in Iraq are just numbers in their murderous calculations of empire.
Anyone who doubts this should check out what U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright said on the CBS program 60 Minutes in 1996. Albright was asked, "Half a million Iraqi children have died--more children than died in Hiroshima. Is the price worth it?" Albright's answer: "Yes, we think the price is worth it."
Can anyone sit in silence as those in power carry out such horrific war crimes?
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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