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Why Don't "They" Like Us?:  Iraq

A continuation of Why Don't "They" Like Us?:

From Regime Change in the US:  Proposal from a Concerned Citizen:

The United States has repeatedly shown its willingness to target civilian populations with weapons of mass destruction, especially via the carpet-bombing of cities and infrastructures. It is the only nation to have ever used nuclear devices in war, and upon civilian targets. Among the structures bombed have been desalinization plants, water treatment facilities, police stations, electrical substations and generators, radar and communications stations, hospitals, highway, railway and other transportation facilities, factories for the manufacture of metal, plastic and wood products, and numerous other civilian centers.

Some excerpts from Some People Push Back:  On the Justice of Roosting Chickens by Ward Churchill:

On the morning of September 11, 2001, a few more chickens—along with some half-million dead Iraqi children—came home to roost in a very big way at the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center. Well, actually, a few of them seem to have nestled in at the Pentagon as well.

The Iraqi youngsters, all of them under 12, died as a predictable—in fact, widely predicted—result of the 1991 US "surgical" bombing of their country's water purification and sewage facilities, as well as other "infrastructural" targets upon which Iraq's civilian population depends for its very survival.

If the nature of the bombing were not already bad enough—and it should be noted that this sort of "aerial warfare" constitutes a Class I Crime Against Humanity, entailing myriad gross violations of international law, as well as every conceivable standard of "civilized" behavior—the death toll has been steadily ratcheted up by US-imposed sanctions for a full decade now. Enforced all the while by a massive military presence and periodic bombing raids, the embargo has greatly impaired the victims' ability to import the nutrients, medicines and other materials necessary to saving the lives of even their toddlers.

All told, Iraq has a population of about 18 million. The 500,000 kids lost to date thus represent something on the order of 25 percent of their age group. Indisputably, the rest have suffered—are still suffering—a combination of physical debilitation and psychological trauma severe enough to prevent their ever fully recovering. In effect, an entire generation has been obliterated.

...[I]t should be noted that not one but two high United Nations officials attempting to coordinate delivery of humanitarian aid to Iraq resigned in succession as protests against US policy.

One of them, former U.N. Assistant Secretary General Denis Halladay, repeatedly denounced what was happening as "a systematic program . . . of deliberate genocide." His statements appeared in the New York Times and other papers during the fall of 1998, so it can hardly be contended that the American public was "unaware" of them. Shortly thereafter, Secretary of State Madeline Albright openly confirmed Halladay's assessment. Asked during the widely-viewed TV program Meet the Press to respond to his "allegations," she calmly announced that she'd decided it was "worth the price" to see that U.S. objectives were achieved.

An excerpt from "Their Evilness Wasn't Outside History" by Alexander Cockburn. In the LA Times, 9/30/01:

Some reckon that providing any sort of historical context is an outrage to the memory of those slaughtered in the Sept. 11 attacks. Here's Christopher Hitchens, writing in the current Nation: "Loose talk about chickens coming home to roost is the moral equivalent of the hateful garbage emitted by [evangelists Jerry] Falwell and [Pat] Robertson, and exhibits about the same intellectual content."

Hitchens seems to be arguing that Osama bin Laden and his Muslim cohorts are so pure a distillation of evil that they are outside history. So all you can tell your kids is that the guys who planned and carried out the attacks are really bad guys.

This really isn't helpful, particularly since among those kids to whom we are trying to explain Sept. 11 are America's future leaders and policymakers. Don't we want them to understand history in terms more complex than those of flag-wagging at the moral level of a spaghetti western? What moved those kamikaze Muslims, among them many middle-class college graduates from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to embark on the training that they knew would culminate in their deaths as well of those of thousands of innocent people? Was it Bin Laden's extreme Muslim fundamentalism? I doubt the suicide bombers went to their deaths in the cause of forcing women to stay home and only go shopping when clad in blue tents or of having men never trim their beards. More likely they were moved to action by Bin Laden's main political themes as expressed on at least one tape in which he denounces Israel's occupation of Palestine and U.S. complicity with that occupation. He attacks the corrupt regimes of the Arab world and its leaders as bloodsuckers living off the oil which is a "common property."

If I had to cite what steeled the homicidal and suicidal resolve of the suicidal Muslims, my list surely would include the exchange on CBS in 1996 between Madeleine Albright, then-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and reporter Lesley Stahl. Albright was maintaining that sanctions had yielded important concessions from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Stahl: "We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And you know, is the price worth it?"

Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price? We think the price is worth it."

That exchange was infamous all over the Arab world. So would it be unfair today to take Albright down to the ruins of the World Trade Center and remind her of her words? Was that price worth it too?

Media won't tell truth about US policy in Iraq

Extra!, November/December 2001
"We Think the Price Is Worth It"

Media uncurious about Iraq policy's effects—there or here

By Rahul Mahajan

Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.

—60 Minutes (5/12/96)

Then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's quote, calmly asserting that U.S. policy objectives were worth the sacrifice of half a million Arab children, has been much quoted in the Arabic press. It's also been cited in the United States in alternative commentary on the September 11 attacks (e.g., Alexander Cockburn, New York Press, 9/26/01).

But a Dow Jones search of mainstream news sources since September 11 turns up only one reference to the quote—in an op-ed in the Orange Country Register (9/16/01). This omission is striking, given the major role that Iraq sanctions play in the ideology of archenemy Osama bin Laden; his recruitment video features pictures of Iraqi babies wasting away from malnutrition and lack of medicine (New York Daily News, 9/28/01). The inference that Albright and the terrorists may have shared a common rationale—a belief that the deaths of thousands of innocents are a price worth paying to achieve one's political ends—does not seem to be one that can be made in U.S. mass media.

It's worth noting that on 60 Minutes, Albright made no attempt to deny the figure given by Stahl—a rough rendering of the preliminary estimate in a 1995 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report that 567,000 Iraqi children under the age of five had died as a result of the sanctions. In general, the response from government officials about the sanctions' toll has been rather different: a barrage of equivocations, denigration of U.N. sources and implications that questioners have some ideological axe to grind (Extra!, 3-4/00).

There has also been an attempt to seize on the lowest possible numbers. In early 1998, Columbia University's Richard Garfield published a dramatically lower estimate of 106,000 to 227,000 children under five dead due to sanctions, which was reported in many papers (e.g. New Orleans Times-Picayune, 2/15/98). Later, UNICEF came out with the first authoritative report (8/99), based on a survey of 24,000 households, suggesting that the total "excess" deaths of children under 5 was about 500,000.

A Dow Jones search shows that, although some papers covered the UNICEF report, none mentioned that the previous figure had been contradicted. In fact, papers continue to cite the obsolete Garfield numbers (Baltimore Sun, 9/24/01).

Who's to blame

The summer of 2001 saw a revival of long-discredited claims that sanctions are not to blame for Iraq's suffering, but that Saddam Hussein bears sole responsibility—an argument put forward in a State Department report (8/99) issued shortly after the UNICEF report on the deaths of children. Seizing on the fact that infant mortality had decreased in northern Iraq, which is under U.N. administration, while more than doubling in the rest of the country, where the government of Iraq is in charge, the State Department accused Baghdad of wide-scale misappropriation of funds from Iraqi oil sales earmarked for humanitarian purposes.

Michael Rubin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who spent nine months as a private citizen in northern Iraq, has pushed this argument in at least eight op-eds in papers ranging from the Wall Street Journal (8/9/01) to the Los Angeles Times (8/12/01). These op-eds follow the same basic theme: Since conditions in the north of Iraq are much better than the rest of the country, Saddam must be taking oil-for-food money and using it to buy weapons; Iraqis don't want sanctions lifted, they want Saddam out; the U.S. should support the overthrow of Saddam.

In fact, oil-for-food money is administered by the U.N., and disbursed directly from a U.S. bank account to foreign suppliers, so direct misappropriation of funds is impossible. Allegations about misappropriation of goods on the other end have repeatedly been denied by U.N. officials administering the program in Iraq (e.g. Denis Halliday, press release, 9/20/99), a fact that has garnered virtually no media coverage (Extra!, 3-4/00).

The disparity between north and south in Iraq has to do primarily with structural factors not considered in mainstream media coverage, including the fact that the north, Iraq's breadbasket, is far less dependent on imported food. Per capita, citizens of the north receive 50 percent more oil-for-food relief, and much more humanitarian aid.

While Rubin was given space for his misrepresentation of the effects of sanctions, critics of the sanctions were virtually shut out of the debate. When the Bush administration put forward a proposal for a new, supposedly less deadly embargo known as "smart sanctions," only one major newspaper (Seattle Times, 5/14/01) carried an op-ed that criticized the plan for not doing enough to help the Iraqi people. Among those who could not get published were Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, both former coordinators of the U.N. oil-for-food program who resigned because the program failed to prevent the humanitarian disaster caused by sanctions.

Biological warfare?

With renewed concern about biological warfare in the U.S., it's worth noting an instance of the use of disease for military purposes that has gone almost uncovered. Last year, Thomas Nagy of Georgetown University unearthed a Defense Intelligence Agency document entitled "Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities," which was circulated to all major allied commands one day after the Gulf War started. It analyzed the weaknesses of the Iraqi water treatment system, the effects of sanctions on a damaged system and the health effects of untreated water on the Iraqi populace. Mentioning that chlorine is embargoed under the sanctions, it speculates that "Iraq could try convincing the United Nations or individual countries to exempt water treatment supplies from sanctions for humanitarian reasons," something that the United States disallowed for many years.

Combined with the fact that nearly every large water treatment plant in the country was attacked during the Gulf War, and seven out of eight dams destroyed, this suggests a deliberate targeting of the Iraqi water supply for "postwar leverage," a concept U.S. government officials admitted was part of military planning in the Gulf War (Washington Post, 6/23/91).

A Dow Jones search for 2000 finds only one mention of this evidence in an American paper—and that in a letter to the editor (Austin American-Statesman, 10/01/00). Subsequent documents unearthed by Nagy (The Progressive, 8/10/01) suggest that the plan to destroy water treatment, then to restrict chlorine and other necessary water treatment supplies, was done with full knowledge of the explosion of water-borne disease that would result. "There are no operational water and sewage treatment plants and the reported incidence of diarrhea is four times above normal levels," one post-war assessment reported; "further infectious diseases will spread due to inadequate water treatment and poor sanitation," another predicted.

Combine this with harsh and arbitrary restrictions on medicines, the destruction of Iraq's vaccine facilities, and the fact that, until this summer, vaccines for common infectious diseases were on the so-called "1051 list" of substances in practice banned from entering Iraq. Deliberately creating the conditions for disease and then withholding the treatment is little different morally from deliberately introducing a disease-causing organism like anthrax, but no major U.S. paper seems to have editorialized against the U.S. engaging in biological warfare—or even run a news article reporting Nagy's evidence that it had done so. (The Madison Capitol Times—8/14/01—and the Idaho Statesman—10/2/01—ran op-eds that cited Nagy's work.)

Decreased safety?

While there has never been much sustained attention in U.S. media to the costs of sanctions inside Iraq, one might expect the renewed concern for safety to occasion critical re-appraisal of whether U.S. policy towards Iraq contributes to or undermines American security. But there has been no such re-examination of, for example, the December 1998 bombing campaign known as "Desert Fox."

Contrary to much subsequent reporting, Iraq did not expel U.N. weapons inspectors in December 1998; rather, the U.S. withdrew them in preparation for conducting the unprovoked, unauthorized military strike. Many critics at the time suggested that this would make it impossible to conduct future inspections—especially after it was revealed that the CIA had been using weapons inspection as a cover for military espionage (Washington Post, 1/6/99; Extra!, 3-4/99)—rendering verification that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction impossible. This analysis got little play in the media at that time.

The de-stabilizing effect of the airstrikes was evaluated at the time by analysts like the Merchant International Group (London Times, 1/1/99) as likely to increase the threat of terrorism. Yet more recent U.S. policies have followed a similar approach. In July 2001, the U.S. decided to dump a proposed protocol for inspections and other mechanisms designed to give teeth to the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, preferring instead to rely on surveillance and espionage coupled with unilateral enforcement (New York Times, 7/25/01)—presumably through more strikes like Desert Fox, and like the August 1998 bombing of the El Shifa plant in Sudan, which turned out to produce pharmaceuticals, not chemical weapons. Since then, it has been reported that U.S. bioweapons research "pushes" the limits of the 1972 treaty, and that the Pentagon is even planning to produce a new strain of anthrax, ostensibly to test anti-anthrax procedures (New York Times, 9/4/01). Even before the September 11 attacks, bombing of Iraq had dramatically increased. In February 2001, two dozen U.S. and British planes attacked Iraqi radar installations, some of them out of the "no-fly" zones. In August and early September, there were at least six more pre-planned attacks to degrade Iraqi air defense. This was part of a comprehensive plan for multiple strikes, with a U.S. government official quoted (on MSNBC, 9/14/01) as saying "Hitting targets one by one doesn't draw the same kind of attention or reaction. It takes longer, but it should eventually get the job done." It's certainly true that the bombing campaign didn't receive much notice from a Gary Condit-fixated media.

Independent military analysts like George Friedman of Stratfor (a private intelligence company) had concluded that this sustained attack on Iraqi air defense was a prelude to another major bombing like 1998's Desert Fox. This is particularly relevant once again, with frenzied attempts by commentators to link Iraq and bin Laden, or to assert that such a connection wasn't necessary to justify a renewed bombing of Baghdad (William F. Buckley, National Review, 10/9/01). Laurie Mylroie, an analyst noted for a 1987 New Republic article urging the U.S. to support Saddam Hussein ("Back Iraq," 4/27/87), has been making her rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows and op-ed pages (e.g., Wall Street Journal, 9/13/01; CNN Crossfire, 9/27/01) peddling her book, Study of Revenge, claiming that Iraq was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, based on the questionable analysis of the identity of one man.

TV's drive to convict Iraq may have something to do with the fact that Iraq has real targets for bombing campaigns, unlike Afghanistan, which is already in ruins after more than 20 years of U.S., Soviet and other foreign meddling. Although no immediate plans to bomb Iraq have been revealed, if the Bush administration follows the advice of hawkish pundits like William Kristol and Fred Barnes, don't expect U.S. journalists to do a better job than they have so far in explaining the bombing's impact on the people of Iraq—and on U.S. security.

Rahul Mahajan, a leader of Peace Action and the National Network to End the War Against Iraq, is the author of the forthcoming The New Crusade: America's War on Terrorism (Monthly Review Press). He can be contacted at rahul@tao.ca.

More comments on Iraq

A decade ago I was appalled at the consequences of the Gulf War. Over 100,000 innocent civilians, who never voted for Saddam Hussein, were killed by our bombs. Surely, I felt, there must have been a better way to deal with that crisis. I opposed that war from the start and told my friends I feared it would come back to haunt us.

A high-school buddy vanished on Sept. 11. He worked on the 92nd floor of the tower that was hit second but collapsed first. Nobody has heard from him. The aching in my heart is as indescribable as, I'm sure, was the aching in the hearts of the Iraqi survivors. News reports tell us that Osama bin Laden's hatred for the United States began with that war. We now feel the depth of his rage, his madness. The haunting has begun.

Miguel Munoz, letter, LA Times, 9/16/01

"Slipping Through Sanctions" (Oct. 19) was commendable but seriously failed to discuss the extent of the horror the sanctions have imposed on the people of Iraq, if not on the wealthy or on Saddam Hussein. It has been fully documented by many sources, including UNICEF, that over 500,000 children have died since the sanctions were imposed by our country. Between the 1991 bombing and the sanctions, over 1 million Iraqis have died and continue to die by the thousands every month.

More than ever, of course, many people struggle with the question, "Why do so many people hate Americans?" We can never answer this question adequately if the journalists we trust to tell us what our country does to others refuse, for whatever the reason, to do so.

Bruce Terrence, letter, LA Times, 10/23/01

It was ironic that the Oct. 19 front page featured both the Iraqi sanctions and anxiety over the shortage of anthrax vaccines ("U.S. Plagued by Chronic Shortage of Key Vaccines"). The anthrax scare is possibly related to the Sept. 11 tragedy, which was rightly classified as a terrorist attack.

After the attack, there was one burning question in everyone's mind: "Why?" To which a host of pundits spewed a whole lot of reasons from the ridiculous "They hate us because we love freedom" to the plausible "They hate our foreign policy." But, whatever the reason, we were all unified in that it was an act of terror, wherein innocent people were held accountable for wrongs they did not commit.

So how is it not also wrong that our government has targeted the civilian population of Iraq for the wrongs that its dictator Saddam Hussein committed? After all, they are innocent too, and especially so, since they can't claim to live in a democracy with the power to influence their government. How can it be right that we wring our hands and worry about the shortage of vaccines for a possible terrorist threat when the Iraqi people are forced to live with hunger, disease and death every day?

Sridhar Subramanian, letter, LA Times, 10/23/01

Comment:  When the first person can explain to me how killing 3,000 American adults is evil, but killing a couple hundred children for each of these adults isn't evil, please do so. I await with bated breath any American's rationalization for killing half a million innocent children.

Some people have claimed that our bombing of Iraq doesn't count as evil because we're at war. We are? Okay, let's ignore the fact that Congress didn't declare war against Iraq per the Constitution, and that the Gulf War ended in 1991. Consider the following:

US Code:  Definition of Terrorism

"International terrorism" means activities that -- (1) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or any State;

(2) appear to be intended -- (A) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (B) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (C) to affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping; and

(3) occur totally outside the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to coerce or intimidate, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.

Looks to me like the bombing fits our own definition of international terrorism perfectly. Therefore, Churchill and the others are right. Legally as well as morally, we're committing terrorism in Iraq.

The US invades Iraq
And the terrorism continues. From the LA Times:

Brutality that boomerangs

By Saree Makdisi

Saree Makdisi, a professor of English literature at UCLA, is teaching in London for the summer.

July 29, 2005

Iam angered and sickened by the bombings here in London on July 7, but I am equally angered by the unthinking reactions in the United States and Britain to those disgusting attacks.

The usual self-congratulatory contrast between "our" civilization and "their" barbarism has set the stage for a cycle of moralistic inquiries into the motivations of suicide bombers and the supposed duty of "good" Muslims to restrain "bad" ones.

Few have noticed that suicide bombing is merely a tactic used by those who lack other means of delivering explosives. Fewer still seem to notice that what happened in London is what occurs every time a U.S. or British warplane unloads its bombs on an Iraqi village.

But, you may say, our forces don't deliberately target civilians. Perhaps not. But they have consistently shown themselves to be indifferent to the civilian casualties produced by their operations.

"Collateral damage" is the inevitable result of choosing to go to war. By making the choice to go to war in Iraq, we made the choice to kill tens of thousands of civilians. It does not matter to bereaved parents whether their child was killed deliberately, as the result of a utilitarian calculation of "the greater good," or of the callous indifference of officials from a distant power.

American and British media have devoted hours to wondering what would drive a seemingly normal young Muslim to destroy himself and others. No one has paused to ask what would cause a seemingly normal young Christian or Jew to strap himself into a warplane and drop bombs on a village, knowing full well his bombs will inevitably kill civilians (and, of course, soldiers).

Because "our" way of killing is dressed up in smart uniforms and shiny weapons and cloaked in the language of grand causes, we place it on a different moral plane than "theirs."

I read an article about a Marine sniper who was given a medal at a California ceremony for having shot dead 32 Iraqis during the battle for Fallouja last year — young men who were defending their city from an invading army. A nod to their deaths was made by the sniper and a chaplain, but these are the sentiments that struck me:

"He didn't kill 32 people," said a sergeant major. "He saved numerous lives…. That's how Marines look at it." And his mother said, "It's difficult. You send off your little boy and he comes back a man who has protected everyone."

Clearly, "our" lives are all that matter and "their" lives literally don't count.

And are we really expected to believe that such brutal indifference to other people's lives has nothing to do with what happened in London three weeks ago?

"It is by distortedly exalting some men, that others are distortedly debased," the Anglo American revolutionary Thomas Paine warned two centuries ago. As a result, he added, "a vast mass of humankind are degradedly thrown into the background of the human picture." His point was that if people are treated inhumanly, they will cease to act humanly.

Our governments dismiss out of hand any connection between the London bombings and the war in Iraq. Such attacks, they say, predate 2003. But Iraq was first invaded in 1991, not 2003. Then a decade of sanctions against that country killed a million Iraqis, including 500,000 children. Over the same period, unwavering support for Israel has resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent Palestinians and the total paralysis of an entire people. Tens of thousands have been slaughtered by U.S. and British forces in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001.

At no point has peaceful protest, persuasion, demonstration, negotiation or remonstration made so much as a dent in the single-minded U.S. and British policy. If all legitimate forms of dissent go unheeded, illegitimate forms will be turned to instead. Some will resort to violence, which does not produce the desired result but may, by way of unthinking reaction, give vent to the inhumanity with which they have been treated for so long. Paine was right: People who are treated brutally will finally turn into brutes.

This is not a war between "civilization" and "barbarism" but a war between one form of zealotry and another, one form of ignorance and another, one form of barbarism and another. More of the same, underwritten by ignorance, will not yield solutions. The time has come to be human, and — motivated by sympathy, actuated by reason — to think and act as human beings, not unthinking brutes.

More attempts to rationalize our killing

>> Not our fault Sodom [Saddam Hussein] is so antisocial. <<

The person who pulls the trigger is personally responsible, whether it's a US bomber over Iraq or an inner-city gangbanger. Have you suddenly decided to abandon your belief in personal responsibility? That's good to know. I'm glad to hear you're now excusing people's crimes and looking for societal causes instead.

>> But what if we just mow down the actual people who commit mass murder without first trying to comprehend their reasons and wringing our hands over how horrible American arrogance is? <<

The actual people who committed mass murder are already dead. Try again.

Rob, e-mail exchange, 11/13/01

Here's a question for warmongers:

A genie appears and offers you a deal. He'll eradicate all terrorism, as Bush defines it, from the face of the earth. The price: 500,000 American children, including your own, will die at the same time (instantly and painlessly, if it makes a difference).

Would you sacrifice 500,000 American children, including your own, to rid the world of an "evil" that supposedly threatens civilization? Yes or no?

Rob, letter to the LA Times, 11/13/01

Colin Powell and NATO are saying we must have zero tolerance for terrorism, that there's "no justification whatsoever" for it. In other news, US bombers continue to kill innocent men, women, and children in Iraq.

Rob, letter to the LA Times, 12/7/01

The Indian-Iraqi connection
Indian Wars led to Iraq?
Native soldiers die in vain
Jodi Rave:  Tribes, Iraqis Have Sovereignty Issues in Common
Another Voice / Nation Building U.S. Experience with Indians Parallels Iraqi Venture
LaDuke:  The Case Against the War
"As Indigenous survivors of the genocide in the Americas, it is our responsibility to resist perpetuating violence against other nations."
LaDuke "compared the war in Iraq to the...colonialism that allowed European settlers to justify their conquest of the Native Americans."

More Native intelligence on foreign wars and conflicts
Native intelligence:  the long view
Prison abuse shows America's values:  the Native connection
The Indian-Palestinian connection

Related links
Terrorism:  "good" vs. "evil"
America's exceptional values
Culture and Comics Need Multicultural Perspective 2000
America's cultural mindset

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