22 February 2001

Iraq: The Undeclared War

By Rahab S Hawa

When US Secretary of State James Baker III warned Tariq Aziz, the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq in Geneva in 1991 that Iraq would be bombed backed into the Stone Age, he was true to his word and more.

Last Friday's (16 February) bombing attack on Iraq is part of the Unfinished Agenda of the US in Iraq.

The air strikes - which killed two and severely wounded twenty others, comprising women, children and old people - were deemed as a 'humanitarian act' by the British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon. 'It's about specifically the protection of people on the ground in Iraq' he said.

Unknown to many, even US citizens, the US (and UK) war on Iraq has been going on for the past ten years and it continues unabated.

Almost daily, US planes have been bombing Iraq, perpetrating a low-intensity war in the so-called 'no-fly zones' in northern and southern Iraq, and launching missile attacks on a wide variety of targets that include towns, villages, open fields, livestock farms and public facilities and infrastructure.

This war no longer makes it to the front pages of the Western mainstream media (indeed. it is no longer newsworthy). When it does, it is trivialised, as in last Friday's attacks.

Even the UN is powerless to protest against these aerial assaults, which are killing people and animals, or destroying homes, farmlands and public facilities and infrastructure with nearly every strike. Just like in Yugoslavia and Kosovo, the US has not suffered a single casualty.

The 'no-fly zones' were established by the US and its allies in 1991 and 1993, purportedly to protect Kurdish and Shite communities from the Baghdad government. This was done without the mandate of the UN Security Council. As such, the US and the UK have declared that Iraq cannot fly its own planes in its own airspace and proclaimed that they would shoot down any Iraqi aircraft that flies in these two zones.

The 'no-fly zones' have been challenged by Iraq as being illegal and this has been used as an excuse to bomb Iraq almost daily since 1998, by US and UK aircraft flying from bases in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Last Friday's air attacks were launched from US bases in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as well as from US warships in the Gulf.

Iraq has called this latest act of aggression, 'a unilateral use of force against the sovereignty of an independent state'.

According to the Pentagon, the US and its allies have flown more than 280,000 sorties since the 'no-fly zones' were imposed almost ten years ago.

These missions are regular target practice for the US to try out its latest bombs and missiles, with a difference: it is used on real and live targets in Iraq.

This is why the Supreme Court-elected US President George W. Bush described the air strikes on Friday as 'a routine mission conducted to enforce the no-fly zone' over Southern Iraq.

This 'humanitarian war' in the no-fly zones has resulted in carnage and misery on the ground due to the aerial bombardments.

A Washington Post report in June 2000, citing an Iraqi air defense spokesman, said that 300 Iraqis had been killed and 800 were wounded by the strikes over the past 18 months. Some 200 of those killed were civilians. It said that the casualties were occurring now at the rate of one civilian every three days.

Since December 1998, the Iraqis alleged that there have been 21,600 penetrations of Iraqi airspace by US and UK planes.

The report claimed that the sites targeted by the US-UK air strikes were either in towns and villages, or in open fields, with civilians living nearby, 'with no signs of any military target present or having been present near the sheep and the boys who tend them in scenes reminiscent of the Bible'.

In one account, an attack on May 12, 1999 in a field at Abu Auani, near Mosul in the north killed 19 and wounded 46 people. After the initial missile attack, men gathered to aid the wounded and the dead; while doing so, another missile landed and hit more people.

These stories and the genocidal effects of the ongoing sanctions now entering its eleventh year reveal the horrors of the silent undeclared war that is perpetrated on Iraqi civilians. According to UN data, more than 1.5 million people have perished as a direct result of the sanctions and more than 5,000 Iraqi children die every month from the impact of the sanctions.

On top of this, war reparations imposed by the UN after the Gulf War are strangling Iraq, according to the London Guardian. The daily stated on June 15 last year, that Iraq has already paid $7 billion, but it still owes $276 billion, out of which $21.5 billion is claimed by Kuwait (which has so far received $2.9 billion for the destruction of property and putting out fires after the war).

Apart from this, Iraq has to pay interest on delayed compensation since 1990, which will add up to a further $320 billion. This means that Iraq will be paying Kuwait reparations till 2125.

The only money available to Iraq through the oil-for-food programme (where it is allowed to sell a limited amount of oil) amounts to $5.2 billion, which goes first to pay for war reparations to Kuwait, and payment for UN operations, leaving it with hardly any finances left.

The oil-for-food deal has failed to meet the minimum humanitarian needs of Iraq's 22 million people. Aid agencies working in Baghdad had declared that the UN deal could barely meet ten percent of Iraq's food and medicine needs.

Dennis Haliday, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq who resigned in protest, has stated that Iraq would need some $30 billion a year to meet its current requirement for food, medicine and infrastructure. Even doubling the oil-for-food deal cannot begin to repair Iraq's shattered economy, infrastructure and medical system, which is in near total collapse.

This punishment and torture inflicted on an entire nation defies all rationality and morality. It happens to be part and parcel of US policy to destabilise the current regime in Iraq.

However, this policy has started to unravel. France, which together with the US and UK, imposed the 'no-fly zone' in the South, had stopped its participation in patrolling it since 1998, calling them 'pointless and deadly'. It has condemned the Friday attacks as being illegal.

Russia has increasingly protested against the policy, criticising last Friday's air attacks as a challenge to international security and the world community. The latest US-UK bomb attacks have drawn condemnation from NATO members, who were treated as if they do not exist, hence never consulted.

In the UN Security Council, France, Russia and China have voiced their objections to the ongoing sanctions regime.

The Arab states have been sending humanitarian flights into Baghdad in solidarity with the Iraqi people and thumbing their noses at the UN sanctions.

Starting on 26 February, Iraqi officials will hold two days of talks with UN Secretary General Kofi Annam to seek an end to the impasse over arms inspection and the eleven years of sanctions.

Last Friday's US air attack on Iraq was seen as an attempt to keep the war going and to derail efforts for a solution to the problem during the upcoming UN talks.

'When the issue of the Iraqi dossiers was about to be closed, the US unleashes military actions and ruins this process' said Russia in its criticism of the latest bombings.

Some observers see the latest bombings as a repeat of the 'New World Order' syndrome, a renewal of a policy of aggression and war in the Middle East that ensures US-Israel dominance in the region and the furtherance of Zionist policy, which opposes Palestinian state sovereignty and the enforcement of sanctions on Iraq, Iran and Libya.

As promised, the new US president has taken a stronger military stance with Iraq.

Indeed some of the warmongers from his father's Gulf War days have found their way back to the Bush administration. They include Vice President Dick Cheney, who was Defence Secretary during the Gulf War; Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Paul Wolfowitz, now Deputy Secretary of Defence and Robert Blackwell, a close ally of Ariel Sharon, the newly elected Israeli Prime Minister.

The warming of ties between Iraq and the Arab states including Iran and Turkey, and the extent of Arab peoples' solidarity with the Palestinians, which the Al-Aqsa intifada has aroused, is viewed as a threat to US and Israeli interests. The latest bombing also serves as a warning to the Arab states.

More than anything, US behaviour is a constant reminder to the rest of the world that this hyperpower has a self-appointed mission over and above the heads of the UN and the Security Council to its global responsibilities.

To paraphrase Madeleine Albright, the former US Secretary of State; 'If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. When we can change things, we ought to do so'. The rest of the world has to fall in line.            -ends