Condemning Iraqis to a slow death

Wednesday, July 3, 1991

A commission of inquiry sponsored by the three main organisations in the French peace movement (Appeal of the 75, Peace Now, and Forum for a Just Peace in the Middle East) visited Iraq in mid-May. The independent commission of 15 was supported by members of the Socialist Party left, the Green Party, the Communist Party, the Revolutionary Communist League (the main Trotskyist organisation in France), the CGT trade union federation, SOS-Racisme and other organisations. The following interview was made in Jordan on May 25, shortly after commission members returned from Iraq.

What weapons were used by the coalition forces?

General Gallois: The coalition forces had three categories of aims and methods.

There were acts of spectacular destruction, to show Baghdad what American high technology was capable of. Thus, buildings of no military interest were destroyed near a hotel full of journalists to show the latter that the Americans could destroy buildings without suffering any loss. The Palace of Congresses, the Ministry of Light Industry, the Interior Ministry and a telephone exchange were destroyed.

Then there was another series of attacks of strictly military importance away from the capital and journalists — the destruction of bridges, means of communication, relay stations, of underground air force and other bunkers, and roads and railways to make transport and communications difficult. It seems that there were few mistakes in these operations.

In the third and final category were those that took place in the south, around Basra. Here, almost everything was destroyed, largely without error, but at the same time civilian targets were hit unintentionally. For example, in Basra we saw two villa-lined roads that had been totally destroyed, although there was no military installation in the vicinity. Six hundred civilians died here. It is clear there were sizeable civilian losses during the war.

Some 7-8% of the material used was high tech. Such weapons are very expensive and were, in my judgment, used sparingly. Otherwise, traditional arms were used, often old weapons from Vietnam War stocks. They were efficiently used and caused considerable damage. Thus, again in Basra, we saw the crater made by a 500 kilo bomb, some 15 metres from the front of a big hospital. All the hospital's windows had been smashed and the walls knocked down. In the intensive care unit, there were fragments of shells 30 centimetres in diameter some eight or 10 centimetres from patients' heads. It seems that the target was a bridge some 500 metres away.

We also saw destruction that seemed to have been inflicted gratuitously: corn silos, electric pylons, petrol stations, dairies. All this can of course be explained as the inevitable accompaniment of war, but in that case they should not have announced to the world that this was to be a "clean" war. The disinformation on this point has been striking. All kinds of military — above all technological — virtues were presented as fact when they had not all been realised.

Antoine Comte: Much of the destruction did not seem to have anything to do with the UN mandate, which insisted that the occupation of Kuwait end. We saw factories destroyed, hospitals damaged (sometimes indirectly), the whole road system destroyed, bridges in all directions.

The second problem is that we saw things that ran totally contrary to what is called the rule of law. We saw ambulances and buses that had been machine-gunned.

Malek Boutih: There seem to have been two wars. There was the war of Baghdad, which was very meticulous, very high tech, and the up-country war, which was rather less meticulous. When dealing with a bridge, a residential district nearby might also be hit; while knocking out a factory, another adjacent district would be hit. It is outside Baghdad that the big losses were suffered, in my view. And it is there that people are facing the biggest economic and food difficulties.

What people there are now expecting from the Western and other coalition countries is not that the whole thing is put behind them, but that the Iraqi people are not left to die while the coalition washes its hands of all responsibility.

What about the suction bombs?

General Gallois: We went to the Kuwaiti frontier to find the famous road along which the Iraqi troops retreated. That road is strewn with a huge number of burned-out vehicles. The paint has been burned away to reveal the scorched steel. This was done after Kuwait had been freed. This was the destruction of a retreating army — not very glorious. The so-called fuel-air explosives produce heat comparable to a single kilotonne atomic bomb. While it is not certain, I have the impression that such weapons had been used against these vehicles.

What is your estimate of the war's victims?

General Gallois: The Iraqis do not want to give these figures out of pride. They do not want to admit to their misery, which they feel ashamed of. According to current figures, there were perhaps 15,000 military fatalities — this is certainly an underestimate — and 25,000 civilians killed, which is possible. Then there

has been the civil war, that is to say the Kurdish rebellion in the north and the Shiite rebellion in the south, and the repression against these. A figure of 30,000 victims of these conflicts has been given.

To this should be added the 1,800,000 Iraqis who have fled their homes, 1,200,000 in the direction of Iran (Kurds and Shiites), and 600,000 Kurds towards Turkey. These latter have been able to return thanks to the efforts of the United Nations.

I have been struck by the role of television in this. The media had access to the north, and the international community was moved to action. There was no television coverage of what was happening in the south, and nobody has taken any interest in the Shiites. It seems law and morality are dictated by the television!

What currently faces the Iraqis?

General Gallois: Iraq, a country that was emerging from underdevelopment, is probably going to lose 15 or 20 years. It is absolutely essential that the present sanctions are lifted. They are illegal. There is no United Nations resolution stating that the Iraqi government does not have the right to feed its people. Iraq imports 70% of its food, but there have been no imports for eight or nine months owing to the embargo. Thus, this country is being starved by an international community that seems indifferent to its suffering.

The first need is to lift the sanctions to permit food and medical imports, both of which are urgently needed. After that, there could perhaps be negotiations over some kind of political measures of economic reparation. But for the moment the main thing is that the Iraqi people should not have to pay for the misdeeds of their leaders.

When Mr Bush says that Mr Saddam Hussein must go at any price, he is claiming a right to interfere which has not before been recognised in international law. It is up to the Iraqi people to decide if they want to keep Saddam Hussein as president or not, and not a choice for the president of the United States.

In 1992, 200,000 children will probably die of the side effects of what they have lived through — dehydration, pollution, gastric disorders, and all kinds of disease due to a lack of medicine and care. There is a great urgency from this point of view.

Douceline Bonvalet: The primary problem is water. This has been rendered acute by the destruction of the purification plant in Baghdad and the canals in a country where water is scarce and people find themselves obliged to drink polluted water, with a risk of catastrophic epidemics. These have not yet occurred, but we read in a Baghdad journal that 30 cases of cholera have shown up in the Baghdad region.

Further problems result from the 10-month embargo, as well as the war itself. Thus far, there is undernourishment rather than famine. But such undernourishment can have very serious consequences for infants. They are not yet dying from hunger, but their resistance to disease has been reduced, and dehydration occurs more easily. On average, families have cut their food consumption by half. This is getting worse by the day, and if the embargo is not lifted, deaths will result.

The embargo is also affecting the supply of medicines, which are almost all imported. The Iraqis are using up their stocks and doctors are reducing their prescriptions. Vaccinations are also a problem. The lack of milk — which is all imported — is also a serious problem for children. The embargo is an underhand way of condemning people to a slow death.

The country's infrastructure has suffered. Between 150 and 165 bridges have been destroyed. A considerable effort has been made over the past decade to build up the country's transport system. Iraq has excellent three-lane highways, but all the river crossings have been destroyed. Rebuilding the bridges will be expensive and will divert resources away from development.
[From International Viewpoint.]