Decade of Shame: The U.S. War on Iraq

January 16, 1991: The Bombing of Baghdad

By Larry Everest

Revolutionary Worker #1086, January 14, 2001, posted at

Ten years ago, on January 16, 1991, the U.S. launched "Operation Desert Storm" against Iraq and its people. For the next 42 days, the huge military might of the main imperialist power on the planet, joined by its allies, was unleashed on a poor Third World country. U.S. and allied planes pounded Iraq--averaging 2,000 sorties a day. By the time the war was over, they had dropped 88,000 tons of bombs, equivalent to over seven Hiroshimas.

I traveled to Iraq as an RW correspondent in June of 1991, some three months after the end of the Persian Gulf War. From Amman, Jordan, I went to Baghdad, Iraq's capital, and then south to Basra, near the war zone. I also briefly visited Iraqi Kurdistan to the north and east of Baghdad. Along the way I talked to as many people as I could--doctors, workers, housewives, business people, government officials. I saw the devastation wrought by the war: bombed-out hospitals, apartment buildings, bridges, roads, water plants, and factories. And I learned of the Iraqi people's determination to survive the bombs and everything else the U.S. had thrown at them.

But almost ten years later, the thing I remember most clearly is the children--in hospital after hospital, in Baghdad and Basra and places in between. Children so thin from being sick and malnourished that it seemed they might break if held too tightly. Their mothers keeping a vigil by their bedsides, helpless to save them.

The horror of it all was that this wasn't the result of some unknown disease or a new scourge like AIDS. This slow, painful, heartbreaking death was from starvation and ordinary diseases like diarrhea, typhoid, pneumonia, and whooping cough which should be easily treatable. But the U.S. war machine had destroyed Iraq's infrastructure, making the delivery of safe, clean water impossible. And the U.S. strangulation of Iraq meant it couldn't import needed foods, medicines, and equipment to prevent ordinary illness from turning into the nightmare of starvation and death.

Today, the scene hasn't changed all that much: children are still wasting in Iraq's hospitals and dying at the rate of some 4,500 a month because U.S. economic sanctions and U.S. military assaults continue against Iraq.

The U.S. war on Iraq was--and continues to be--a high-tech mass murder from a safe distance, directed mainly against the civilian population. There has not been one shred of right or justice in anything the U.S. has done to Iraq for the last ten years. Every justification the imperialists have uttered is a lie; every action they've taken a shameful crime.


When the bombing started ten years ago, the U.S. claimed it was striking with "surgical precision." But in reality, military targets weren't the only things hit; so were homes, apartment buildings, hospitals, bridges, factories, water and power plants, bomb shelters, and government offices. A direct missile hit on the Amiriya air raid shelter in Baghdad killed hundreds of civilians.

On February 22, 1991, the U.S. launched its 100-hour ground war. Heavily armed U.S. units drove deep into southern Iraq, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake. On February 26, the U.S. attacked Iraqi troops as they were trying to retreat north on the road from Kuwait to Basra; U.S. planes bombed both ends of the road, cutting off escape, then massacred the troops in between. The six-lane highway from Kuwait City to Basra was littered with burnt-out tanks, trucks, and bodies; it became known as the "highway of death."

U.S. massacres continued after the February 27 cease-fire. On March 2, the Army's 24th Mechanized Infantry Division killed thousands of retreating Iraqi soldiers--including by firing into a crowd of 350 disarmed prisoners. The officer in charge--General Barry McCaffrey--later became the "drug czar" under President Clinton and a pointman for stepped-up U.S. intervention in Colombia.

The U.S. claimed there were 13,000 Iraqi casualties in the war; studies since the war put the real figure closer to 200,000.

Every Justification a Lie

After Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the U.S. began a massive troop build-up in the name of "liberating Kuwait" and "protecting peace and democracy." But the Kuwaiti regime actually is a reactionary pro-Western kingdom. And the fact that the assault on Iraq continued long after this feudal dictatorship was restored exposed the true U.S. aims.

The U.S. imperialists' real objectives were to tighten their stranglehold on the Persian Gulf--where two-thirds of the world's oil reserves are located--and their domination of the Middle East, a critical political, geographic and military crossroads between Asia, Africa and Europe. Many other countries around the world 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 top-dog imperialist power.

The Gulf War was about propping up the most loyal pro-U.S. regimes in the region, while punishing any forces, like Iraq, who might in any way challenge this setup. The war against Iraq was also aimed at strengthening Israel and forcing an unjust peace upon the Palestinian people.

And, in 1991, the U.S. also wanted to deliver a message--written in the blood of the Iraqi people--to the whole world: the Soviet Union had collapsed, and there was now a "new world order." The U.S. was Number 1--the globo-cop--and it would viciously assault any who dared stand in its way.

U.S. War Against Iraq's People

In the ten years since "Operation Desert Storm," much has been revealed about the enormous atrocities and war crimes committed by the U.S. and its allies during the Gulf War. The U.S. deliberately attacked Iraq's civilian infrastructure--knowing full well that this would mean the deaths of tens of thousands of ordinary Iraqis.

The Sunday Herald of Scotland recently reported on a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency document detailing how the U.S. planned to systematically destroy Iraq's water system by bombing dams and water and sewage facilities. Before the war 96% of Iraqis had access to clean drinking water; three years after the war only 45% did. Eight out of every ten instances of disease in Iraq today results from contaminated water. So the U.S. has been waging a form of germ warfare against the Iraqi people.

Over 500 tons of radioactive depleted uranium shells were fired at Iraqi forces. Upon impact, the uranium in these shells oxidizes into a fine mist which can be readily inhaled into the lungs and which contaminates food and water supplies. Iraqi doctors report that cancer rates are now four times higher than in 1991 and that this epidemic is killing thousands of Iraqis near the war zone, including children who weren't even born during the war. Depleted uranium is also thought to be a factor in the "Gulf War Syndrome" that afflicts many U.S. soldiers.

A Continuing War on Iraq

A cease-fire between the U.S.-led coalition and Iraq was declared on February 27, 1991. But the U.S. has continued the war on this oppressed country through sanctions, military strikes, and subversion. More people have been murdered after the war officially ended than while it was officially going on!

U.S. pressure has kept the economic sanctions in force. Iraq can only sell a portion of its oil (the country's main source of income) in exchange for food and is also banned from importing many needed goods, such as medicine. The sanctions are a devastating weapon of war on a country which is dependent on foreign sources for much of its food, medicine, and industrial technology.

In 1997 the UN reported that over 1.2 million Iraqis had died since the Gulf War as a result of medical shortages, including 750,000 children below the age of five. In 1999, UNICEF, a UN organization focusing on children, reported that Iraqi kids under five are dying at twice the rate they were before the sanctions began. Over one-quarter of Iraqis born since the Gulf War are underweight. Denis Halliday, a UN official who supervised the "oil for food" program in Iraq, quit his position because he said the U.S. and its allies were committing "genocide" against the Iraqi people.

After the cease-fire, the U.S. stole the skies over Iraq by declaring that large parts of north and south Iraq were "no-fly" zones for Iraqi aircraft. Over the last ten years, U.S. planes have flown over 280,000 sorties in Iraq. For much of 1998-99, U.S. and British planes struck Iraq every day, firing thousands of missiles. In the last two years, over 300 Iraqis have been killed in these bombings. This air war has barely been mentioned in the mainstream U.S. media.

The CIA has funded, organized, and trained pro-U.S. groups in attempts to organize a military coup against the Iraqi government. In 1998 Congress passed the "Iraq Liberation Act" and gave nearly $100 million to anti-Hussein groups.

The U.S. imperialists claim that their continuing aggression against Iraq is aimed at preventing the spread of "weapons of mass destruction." This, too, is a ridiculous lie. The U.S. is the world leader in the manufacture, possession, and use of weapons of mass destruction. It has been spending $50 billion a year on its military forces in the Persian Gulf alone. At one point in 1998 the U.S. had two aircraft carriers, 400 aircraft, 24 ships, and 24,000 troops surrounding Iraq. The UN says it has destroyed several hundred tons of chemical weapons in Iraq--but the U.S. has over 31,000 tons of chemical weapons! So the U.S. has absolutely no right to lecture anyone on weapons of mass destruction!

Ten Years of Resistance

From the moment the U.S. began preparing a military assault on Iraq in summer of 1990, many people in the U.S. and around the world opposed it. Marches, demonstrations, teach-ins, and other forms of mass action against the war took place, including powerful demonstrations in the Middle East. Marchers shut down the Bay Bridge, a key transportation artery linking San Francisco and the East Bay. Beginning with Jeff Paterson--the first GI to refuse to go to the Persian Gulf--2,000 active-duty soldiers and reservists refused to fight in the unjust war.

Since 1991, opposition has continued to U.S. actions in the Persian Gulf. Many different organizations have spoken out against the deadly impact of the sanctions. Groups of activists have defied the embargo by bringing supplies directly to Iraq. Protests and teach-ins against the ongoing U.S. war against the Iraqi people have never stopped. Last summer 1,000 activists and youth held a vigil outside the Democratic National Convention in L.A. to protest the sanctions and U.S. military attacks. Hatred of the U.S. has deepened and hardened throughout the Middle East as a result of the U.S. crimes against Iraq.


The U.S.'s war against Iraq is a war without any honor and justice--only shame and cowardice of a murderous bully. When the true history of this war is written, it will be among other infamous crimes: the U.S. cavalry massacre of Indians at Wounded Knee in 1890, the U.S.-backed massacre of peasants in El Salvador in 1932, the Nazi bombing of Guernica, Spain in 1937, the Japanese rape of Nanking in China in 1939, the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the U.S. massacre of Vietnamese villagers at My Lai in 1968....

U.S. crimes against Iraq have been carried out by both Republican and Democratic administrations. In 1996, U.S. Secretary of State Madeline 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."

Now, as the new Bush administration prepares to take power, the old Gulf War criminals are being recycled into the highest positions of power. In 1991 Dubya's father, George Sr., was president. James Baker, Bush's no-recount pointman in Florida, was Secretary of State. Vice President Dick Cheney was the Secretary of Defense. Secretary-of-State-to-be Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So mass murder on behalf of imperialism is given the highest honors and rewards.

Yet one more reason to overthrow this rotten system and bury it forever!

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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