by Larry Everest
Revolutionary Worker #1120, September 30, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org
"I'm a member of the civil defense guard, and I went to the shelter the next day after the bombing. There was flesh all over the place, and you could hear children screaming in the rubble, but you couldn't get to them. I remember one woman with tears coming down her face, but making no sound, looking for her children. She found seven of them, but hadn't found her two-year-old. There were only charred bodies that she couldn't recognize. She was saying 'maybe it's him, maybe it isn't.' I'll never forget it. When I'm thinking or relaxing it plays over and over in my mind."
Dr. Ameed Hamid, Director,
Iraqi Red Crescent Society
In February 1991, 500 Iraqis were incinerated when an American cruise missile struck a civilian bomb shelter in the Amiriya neighborhood in northwest Baghdad. In mid-July of that year, when I drove through this quiet upper middle class area with its wide streets, comfortable two-story homes, and well-kept gardens behind brick walls, it was hard to imagine that anything so horrible could ever have happened here. And from the outside, even the massive half-block-square, two-story cement shelter looked relatively untouched.
"We should go to the roof," my taxi driver said, and up we went. At first glance, things looked okay, but then I could see a small protrusion of twisted steel rods jutting into the air near the middle of the building.
We walked over to those twisted rods, and I got the chills. I stood at the edge of a hole, maybe six feet across, blasted through four or five feet of concrete and steel. You look straight down into a dimly lit, blackened cavern. The odor of burnt flesh still hung faintly in the air, and you could visualize how, in a single moment, one bomb turned a place of safety into an inferno of death for hundreds of men, women and children--an inferno with heavy steel doors, thick concrete walls, and no way out.
In his September 20, 2001 speech to Congress, President Bush condemned those who are "threatening people everywhere by sponsoring and sheltering and supplying terrorists" and terrorists who kill and "make no distinctions among military and civilians."
He was pointing the finger at Afghanistan's Taliban rulers and militant Islamist networks in the Middle East, but other images came to my mind.
I thought about Iraqi civilians being incinerated in an air-raid shelter in Amiriya during the Gulf war, of Iraqi soldiers shot down on the highway as they retreated at the war's end, and of Iraqi mothers watching their children waste away for lack of clean water and medicines.
Before the Persian Gulf war, George Bush, Sr. said, "We have no argument with the people of Iraq, indeed, we have only friendship for the people there." Now George II tells the cameras, "The United States respects the people of Afghanistan...but we condemn the Taliban regime...... The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends."
But no country has been responsible for the deaths of more innocent civilians than U.S. imperialism. And my travels in Iraq in 1991, several months after the official end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war, were an eye-opening journey into how the people in countries around the world experience U.S. freedom and democracy.
SMART BOMBS AND DUMB BOMBS
"We are in the intensive care unit of Basra Teaching Hospital and you can see that the unit has been severely damaged and almost destroyed by the air raid which occurred on the 26th of January. The raid took place about half past 7, and it was probably meant to destroy a civilian bridge across the river, which was used to get to the other side of Basra. One of the bombs was actually dropped on the hospital grounds and you can see the crater of the bomb there. As a result of the explosion and blast, the structure of the building was damaged and there are many holes; the windows broke and many window frames buckled from their places. Three patients died in this unit as a result of the air raid because the central oxygen supply was destroyed and the ceiling fell on them."
Dr. Walid al-Rawi, Director of
During the Gulf war U.S. media coverage focused on high-tech "smart" bombs--guided missiles and bombs which supposedly never missed their military targets and minimized "collateral damage." The Pentagon claimed that few civilians were harmed, thanks to "careful targeting and expert use of technology." In reality, such weapons made up only 7% of the 88,500 tons of bombs dropped on Iraq. The rest were old-fashioned gravity bombs which missed their targets three times out of four.
In Baghdad, I visited some workers living in a building on a small side street in the downtown area. A bomb or missile had hit their neighborhood--totally destroying a half dozen nearby apartment buildings, collapsing one section of their roof and damaging a nearby church.
In Basra, workers showed me where bullets had ripped down through their roofs. In one neighborhood, across a highway from the port area, I saw a series of bomb craters, 10 to 15 feet across, marching straight toward a residential area. All that was left of the area was the burned-out shell of a 1963 Chevy Impala.
I drove by food warehouses that had been destroyed and a Pepsi warehouse that had been attacked. I later learned that 14 people were killed, 46 wounded and 128 homes damaged or destroyed in the Pepsi bombing.
Peasants in the village of Al Kuds (Jerusalem) just outside of the southern city of Amarah told me their school had been hit and that hundreds of bomb fragments had fallen on them. In Amarah alone, doctors at Saddam General Hospital recorded 82 deaths and 800 wounded during the Gulf war--80 to 90% civilians.
TERROR FROM THE SKY
"I have a son 5 years old. During the air raid he was shaking, shivering, saying 'Bush is coming, Bush is coming.' After the ceasefire American airplanes were flying over Baghdad, crossing the sound barrier, making this explosive sound, frightening the children, and writing with blue smoke, 'USA.' What was the purpose except frightening Iraqi children?"
Dr. Ameed Hamid, Director,
The people of Iraq endured 43 nights of continuous bombing by U.S.-led forces in 1991. Dr. Faiz Arabi, of Children's Welfare Hospital in Baghdad, described what he experienced:
"When the bombing started we were stuck in the tunnel between our hospital and the Health Ministry for 10 days. No one would go out because three people who had walked around in the Medical Village were killed by bullets. The Defense Ministry is close by so there was a lot of bombing, shattering windows and shaking the walls, so we went into the underground tunnel. We only had 30 of our several hundred patients left; we had discharged the rest of them. Those left were mostly malignancy patients, and all but 10 died from lack of food and water."
"It was horrible--impossible to describe. There were 1,000 people stuck in this tunnel, which is a couple of hundred meters long. We slept like horses, standing up. Finally after about 10 days we went up to the other floors to use the bathroom, to wash and to look around. We ate what little food had been in the hospital and what we could bring from home."
"A lot of women died during the war because they couldn't get to the hospital to deliver their children. I heard of three pregnant women who died at home because their cars were out of gas and they couldn't get to the hospital. Even if they had gotten to the hospital, they may not have survived. It's very difficult to deliver babies without electricity or sterilized instruments."
U.S. Air Force Lt. General Charles A. Horner, who had overall command of the air campaign, called such psychological terror a "side benefit" of U.S. bombing. "The message is loud and clear that they are involved in a war and it's not going well."
SLAUGHTERING RETREATING SOLDIERS
Driving from Basra to the southern city of Nasiriyah, I saw burnt-out wreckage of every type of vehicle imaginable--from tanks to school buses--along the sides of the road.
In Amarah, Drs. Jabbo and Salem Mohammed al Saedi, the regional health director, told me that retreating Iraqi soldiers had been slaughtered 100 miles from the fighting in southern Iraq and some 140 miles north of Kuwait:
"They [the U.S.] bombed the soldiers when they were retreating, and that was a tragedy I saw in front of my own eyes. We're 186 kilometers from Basra and it's 40 kilometers from Basra to Sufwan [Iraq's border with Kuwait], and they attacked soldiers who were retreating on foot. Personally speaking, I don't think that was war, because we officially retreated from Kuwait. Everybody was retreating toward the north, from Basra to Amarah; a lot of them came walking because everything was collapsing at that time. But on the roads they were attacked by airplanes all the time until the ceasefire [some 3 days later]."
"You know that a tired soldier has thrown away his gun, thrown away his helmet, taken off his shoes, and is just trying to walk to safety. There were thousands of these soldiers. And the airplanes just attacked. The number of soldiers killed was in the hundreds. Everybody was running--sometimes they were even run over by cars or other vehicles. Sometimes they were buried all together."
"We have a health center in a small village 30 kilometers east of Amarah called Khahala. Once Dr. Salem and I went there, and we found 504 casualties; from 7 o'clock in the morning until the ceasefire 13 hours later, there were 504 casualties."
"I'm not telling you things I didn't see, I'm telling you a personal experience. I have seen this with my own eyes."
Shortly after I returned from Iraq, it was revealed that U.S. armed forces had buried 6,000 to 8,000 Iraqi soldiers alive in their trenches, and on March 2--after the February 27 cease-fire--the Army's 24th Mechanized Infantry Division killed thousands of retreating Iraqi soldiers--including by firing into a crowd of 350 disarmed prisoners.
THE DESTRUCTION OF IRAQ'S CIVILIAN INFRASTRUCTURE
"Since the war Iraqi children have been exposed to biological warfare, massive biological warfare. When you destroy the infrastructure of a country, sewage with all its germs will flow into the streets; you stop pure water from reaching the children; you give them malnutrition; you prevent medicines from reaching the country. So it's an excellent environment for death and disease."
Iraqi relief official
During the Iraq war, U.S.-led forces totally destroyed 11 of Iraq's 20 power generating stations, and damaged another six. While the war was raging, U.S. officials claimed that this massive destruction was aimed at shortening the war and saving American lives. But in the July 8-14, 1991 issue of the Washington Post Weekly, Col. John A. Warden II, deputy directory of strategy, doctrine and plans for the Air Force, admitted the strategy was designed to tighten the U.S. stranglehold over Iraq: "Saddam Hussein cannot restore his own electricity. He needs help. If there are political objectives that the UN coalition has, it can say, 'Saddam, when you agree to do these things, we will allow people to come in and fix your electricity.' It gives us long term leverage."
Since then, U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency documents have surfaced showing that the U.S. deliberately destroyed Iraq's water system by bombing dams and water and sewage facilities and then prevented Iraq from rebuilding it through punitive sanctions that prohibit the import of needed equipment and chemicals.
Without electrical power Iraqis cannot get enough clean water, and sewage goes untreated. Contaminated water and raw sewage has led to sharp and continuing increases in death and disease. The contamination of Iraq's water supply,coupled with shortages of food and medicine, has led to sharp increases in disease, starvation, and death across Iraq.
Iraq's children are trapped in a vicious cycle of food shortages and contaminated water. Food shortages make children more susceptible to disease; meanwhile diarrhea from bad water, now four times as prevalent as in 1990, makes it impossible to absorb the food they do consume.
STARVATION IN THE FERTILE CRESCENT
At the Children's Welfare Hospital in Baghdad, Satenya Naser was trying to comfort her emaciated, one-and-a-half-year-old son Hamid, but he cried at the slightest touch. When I met Satenya, she was in her in mid-30s. Her look was direct, steady. Since January she had only been able to feed Hamid rice water. "Milk isn't available," Satenya explained, "but even if it was available it is too expensive for me."
Hamid's diet and the contamination of Baghdad's water supply after the U.S. bombing combined to give him a severe case of diarrhea beginning in January 1992. It lasted four months, and Hamid lost half his body weight--he was down to 15 pounds and looked half his age--before he was admitted to the Hospital two months ago. He had the blotchy skin and distended belly characteristic of kwashiorkor, severe protein deficiency due to malnutrition. Hamid was so weak he couldn't even lift his bony arm.
I saw mothers like Satenya and children like Hamid in ward after ward in hospitals in Baghdad, Amara and Basra. At that time, I didn't, however, see a single American, British, French or Soviet TV crew filming them. America's media was far too busy discussing whether Iraq possessed "weapons of mass destruction."
"We doctors used to only see malnutrition in textbooks or pictures from Africa," Dr. Faiz Arabi, Hamid's pediatrician explained. "Our teachers told us that the last case of kwashiorkor in Iraq was in Baghdad in 1959. Now we've started to see kwashiorkor cases here in 1991."
Satenya lived with her husband and nine children in a two-room house on the outskirts of Baghdad. Her husband, an unskilled laborer, made 120 dinars a month. A tin of powdered milk, which cost 3 dinars before the war, had risen to 35--over $100 at the official exchange rate. "How can I buy milk for my children?" she asked.
At Saddam Pediatric in Baghdad, 50 to 100 patients were admitted each day; fully half were suffering from malnutrition. In Amarah the pediatric ward was doubled from 35 to 70 beds, but the flood of starving children was so great they had to be discharged after six days to make room for new ones. These children faced food shortages as soon as they left the hospital--and 30% ended up coming right back.
Doctors also described an enormous range of psychological traumas caused by the war--from increased bed wetting to severe phobias. Some infants were brought to the hospital after eating dirt in an unconscious effort to compensate for their iron and calcium deficiencies. In Baghdad, down the hall from Hamid, lay a 10-year-old boy from Kurdestan who stopped eating and talking when his neighborhood was bombed. "He looked like a ghost when he first came to the hospital," Dr. Arabi said, "He's kept alive by intravenous fluids, but still won't speak."
By 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 were dying at twice the rate they were before the sanctions began, now estimated to be 5,000 per month.
All told, the U.S. and its allies are responsible for murdering anywhere from 500,000 to 1,500,000 Iraqis, perhaps more, over the last 10 years. They killed between 100,000 and 200,000 during the Gulf war. And they've killed hundreds of thousands more since then with sanctions that prevent Iraq from importing needed food, medicines and equipment to rebuild its devastated economy and social infrastructure.
PREPARING TO ATTACK IRAQ--AGAIN
I read in the New York Times that there is once again talk of attacking Iraq--even though government officials admit they have no proof of any Iraqi involvement in the September 11 events. It is hard to imagine how such an attack would be worse than the constant bombing runs by U.S. and Britain that have pounded Iraq since the Gulf war ended. In the last ten years, U.S. planes have flown over 280,000 sorties in Iraq. For much of 1998 and 1999, U.S. and British planes struck Iraq every single day. In the last two years, hundreds of Iraqis have lost their lives in the bombing.
When asked in a press conference about U.S. bombing runs in Iraq following September 11, Attorney General Ashcroft shrugged and said that this was not part of the new war--just routine.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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