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Rajpal's Column

26th April 1998

Confirmation of last week's argument

By Rajpal Abeynayake

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'Iraq, oil and the sick girl' the article published in these columns last week argued that international sanctions spearheaded by Britain and the US against Iraq, have blasted the notion that these two countries are waging a war dictated by a moral imperative. The argument that the US/ British interest in Iraq is more due to the realpolitik of oil, rather than the 'conscience' which has pricked the leadership of these countries triggered some responses.

But nothing will strengthen the case made in last week's article more that a superb analysis made by New Statesman columnist John Pilger, in a piece titled "Truth and the people lie bleeding". Pilger recently wrote a book called "Hidden Agenda" about true Western motives in Iraq. We break with tradition to reproduce here (bold-type emphasis is ours) in this column, the Pilger's article in full:

"Few of us", wrote Arthur Miller, "can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied."

Last Saturday Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, declared that Britain was "in the lead to help the Iraqi people" and that "it is not the UN which is starving Iraqis . . . there are no sanctions on importing food or medicine."

This is false. As the American and British governments prepare to bomb Iraq, they are deliberately denying ordinary Iraqis the most basic needs for survival.

People are being operated on without anaesthetic because hospital equipment is banned under a UN sanctions policy designed in Washington and London. Bandages, sutures, medical swabs, stethoscopes, X-ray equipment, scanners, refrigeration for antibiotics, blood matching and water-purification equipment, even ambulances, are among the life-saving items vetoed by the US-controlled UN Sanctions Committee in New York.

With an economy largely created by and dependent on the west (the result of its oil wealth), Iraq imported 70 per cent of its basic needs. Since sanctions were imposed in 1990 much of agriculture has collapsed because fertiliser is banned. Pesticides and animal-feed equipment have been classified as "dual use" and banned. Baby food, enriched powdered milk, children's clothes, sanitary towels, light bulbs, schoolbooks, paper, pencils, shoelaces - all are banned.

Buried beneath the current British and American propaganda is the truth that for seven years the two western powers have been conducting what is in effect a war on the civilian population, in breach of both the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sanctions were meant as an alternative to war. Iraqis have suffered both. According to the UN Special Rapporteur in 1991, Iraq is now "a country bombed back to a pre-industrial age for a considerable time to come". In evidence submitted to the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the major international relief agencies reported that the US and British bombing in 1991 had "substantially destroyed" Iraq's electricity, water, sewage, communications, health, agriculture and industrial infrastructure, producing "conditions for famine and epidemics."

Three years ago the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) reported that the 1991 allied attack, combined with the effect of sanctions, had been responsible for the deaths of more than 560,000 children in Iraq. The World Health Organisation confirmed this figure, which has now been superseded by Iraqi health ministry statistics, showing that 1,211,285 children died from embargo-related causes between August 1990 and August 1997.

In a letter to the UN Security Council the former US attorney general, Ramsey Clark, who has led a commission of inquiry in Iraq since 1991, wrote that most deaths "are from kwashiorkor, wasting or emaciation which has reached 12per cent of all children, stunted growth which affects 28 per cent, diarrhoea, dehydration from bad water or food . . . common diseases preventable by vaccinations, and epidemics. There are no deaths crueller than these. They are suffering slowly, helplessly, without simple remedial medication, without simple sedation to relieve pain, without mercy."

These are the facts Robin Cook ( the British foreign Secretary ) never mentions. This is the forgotten, largely unreported, "weapon of mass destruction" that the US and Britain are using not against Saddam Hussein, but ordinary Iraqis. Although there is disquiet in the west about an attack on a crippled nation, the dominant voice is led by the media's vocabulary of inevitability as the "countdown" clichés of 1991 return: "Time is running out . . . diplomatic efforts exhausted . . . pinpoint targeting."

Once again the TV maps and computer graphics and images of fighter aircraft set against the dawn light carry the momentum. Like the build-up in 1990, the human consequences, the blood and charred flesh, can be denied in advance, as war itself is declared a science and the use of "surgical" and "smart" (now "brilliant") weapons frees politicians and journalists from any humanitarian dilemma.

Again, the truth plar less than 7 per cent of the weapons used were hi-tech or "smart". More than 88,500 bombs were dropped on Iraq - the equivalent of seven Hiroshimas. Most of them missed their targets, precipitating one of the great civilian slaughters of the late 20th century. With honourable exceptions this, too, has been consigned to media oblivion , thus beckoning its repetition.

In 1991 the serious media lauded the "miraculously light casualties". "Like two sports commentators, [the BBC's] David Dimbleby and the defence correspondent David Shukman, were almost rapt with enthusiasm," wrote Greg Philo and Greg Mclaughlin in their study of the Gulf war coverage. "They called for freeze-frames and relays and they highlighted 'the action' on-screen with computer 'light pens'. This is the promised hi-tech war,' said Shukman. 'Defence contractors for some time have been trying to convince everybody that hi-tech weapons can work... now, by isolating [the target], they are able to destroy [it] ... without causing casualties among the civilian population around.'"

In the US the famous television news anchorman Dan Rather told his huge audience: ''There's only one thing we can all agree on. It's the heroism of the 148 Americans who gave their lives so that freedom could live"

In fact a quarter of them were killed, like their British comrades, by other Americans.

As for the Iraqis, they were Unpeople, and still are. Ten months after the allied attack the well-respected Medical Educational Trust in London published a comprehensive study of casualties. Up to 250,000 men, women and children were killed or died as a direct result of the American and British-led attack on Iraq.

There was minimal coverage of this. Moreover, most of the dead were almost certainly killed unlawfully: either by "saturation" British and American weapons, which qualified as "weapons of mass destruction" and whose legality has yet to be tested under the Geneva Convention; or by attacks on civilian centres, such as the RAF attack on al-Nasiriyah; or while retreating and surrendering.

The only time the true nature of the "war" was revealed was in the massacre of hundreds of people fleeing to Iraq on the Basra road. The BBC correspondent Kate Adie reported: "Those who fought and died for Iraq here turned out to be from the north of the country, from minority communities, persecuted by Saddam Hussein - the Kurds and the Turks."

This was probably the most revealing news of the war; but without context and explanation it was almost meaningless. Most of those massacred on the Basra road were troops conscripted from minorities persecuted by Saddam and were his bitter opponents - the people whom President Bush and Prime Minister John Major had called on to "take heart" and "rise up in revolt".

Basra road was only one of many massacres. The others were not reported. Unknown to journalists, corralled by the military authorities in Saudi Arabia, in the last two days before the ceasefire American armoured bulldozers were ruthlessly deployed at night, burying Iraqis alive in their trenches, including the wounded. Six months later, New York Newsday disclosed that three brigades of the US 1st Mechanised Infantry Division - "the Big Red One" - "used snowploughs mounted on tanks and combat earth-movers to bury thousands of Iraqi soldiers - some still alive - in more than 70 miles of trenches". A brigade commander, Colonel Anthony Moreno, said: "For all I know, we could have killed thousands." The same machines were later used to dump the dead in pits.

On 2 February New York Newsday disclosed that President Clinton had signed a directive authorising the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iraq under "certain conditions". "We are," wrote Robin Cook, architect of Britain's ethical foreign policy, "in the lead in trying to help the Iraqi people."

("Hidden agendas" by John Pilger will be published next month by Vintage Books )


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