AFTER TWELVE years of deadly siege warfare, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, the United States is again poised to mount a major invasion of Iraq (which will probably be underway when this appears). The Bush administration is hell-bent on war and has made it clear that it will invade Iraq, engineer a "regime change" and remain as a colonial occupying force, with or without the fig leaf of a second United Nations resolution. Moreover, "It is now apparent that the White House gave its initial approval for a war with Iraq some time ago," writes political scientist Michael Klare, "well before President Bush uttered his ‘axis of evil’ statement in February 2002."1
The value to U.S. imperialism of expanding its hegemony in a region that contains two-thirds of the world’s proven oil reserves is obvious. For American military planners, Iraq is merely the easiest target, and the most strategic. Control of Iraq is not an end in itself, but the starting point of a plan to redraw the map of the Middle East. "An American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein–and the replacement of the radical Baathist dictatorship with a new government more closely aligned with the United States," argues former Bush speechwriter David Frum, "would put America more wholly in charge of the region than any power since the Ottomans, or maybe even the Romans."2 In the imperial strategy of the Bush administration, "the road to Damascus, Tehran, Riyadh and Jerusalem goes through Baghdad."3
As Klare, points out, "The removal of Saddam Hussein and his replacement by someone beholden to the United States is a key part of a broader United States strategy aimed at assuring permanent American global dominance."4
By early March, the U.S. had amassed a force that included 250,000 troops "deployed on land, sea and airfields within striking distance of Iraq."5 These forces are backed by 42,000 British and 2,000 Australian troops.6 The French, despite public criticism of Bush’s "rush to war," is busily retrofitting its munitions to be compatible with U.S. weapons, and have "conspicuously [sent]…an aircraft carrier on maneuvers just where it would be most useful in military action against Iraq."7
Other nations could soon deploy equipment that would be part of the invasion force, whether under the auspices of the United Nations or a so-called coalition of the willing ("coalition of the bribed and coerced" would be more fitting). The planned assault will have devastating consequences for the people of Iraq, who have suffered not only twelve years of sanctions, but the periodic bombardment of their country by British and American warplanes. Much of Iraq remains in shambles from the effects of the last Gulf War, and is therefore far more vulnerable to the consequences of the planned attack. As Anthony Shadid reported in the Boston Globe:
A U.S.-led attack on Iraq would probably devastate the country’s tattered and already overwhelmed infrastructure, shutting down power to hospitals and water treatment plants, cutting off drinking water almost immediately to millions of residents in Baghdad and possibly elsewhere and pouring raw sewage into the streets within hours, aid workers and specialists say.
Unlike the eve of the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraq’s infrastructure was largely intact despite an eight-year war with Iran, the country’s water, sewage and electricity systems today are far more vulnerable, UN reports show.8
A report by Medact, a British-based organization of health professionals, estimates that 48,000 to 261,000 total deaths would result in the first three months of an attack on Iraq, barring the use of nuclear weaponry, which could produce a radically higher death toll.9
"It is not a war they are starting, it’s a slaughter," Vincent Hubin, director of Premiere Urgence, the largest foreign aid agency operating in Iraq, warned the Financial Times. "It will be a catastrophe."10
Iraqis are suffering merely in anticipation of war. In northern Iraq, which is relatively much better off than the south and center of the country,
[D]octors and patients are confronting shortages and difficult choices in a health care system they worry might soon collapse.
After years of struggle and sanctions, hospitals are short of equipment, drugs, training, staff and supplies. The possibility of war makes matters worse. If war comes, doctors say, this strained system…will be overwhelmed….
It is a triage in anticipation of a triage, driven by shortages taking almost every form: blood bags, catheters, X-ray film, sutures, antibiotics, anesthesia and reagent kits, which are used to determine blood types to ensure safe transfusions.…
"As a surgeon I cannot say this more clearly," said Dr. Giorgio Francia, a manager for Relief International, a Los Angeles-based health aid organization that is assessing the region’s medical needs. "If someone goes to a hospital, and he needs a transfusion and they do not have reagent, he will die. Period."11
A research team of 16 humanitarian experts–including Hans von Sponeck, former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, that visited Iraq in January 2003–found a similar pattern throughout the country. The team, organized by the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), found that:
- 92 percent of hospitals surveyed indicated they were lacking basic medical
- Intra-operative and post-operative surgical care is virtually unavailable;
- Basic laboratory tests are limited by a chronic lack of essential equipment
- Damage to electrical and water systems will severely constrain medical
- Shortages of medications, including antibiotics, already undermine routine
medical care; and
- Iraq’s medical system is poorly equipped to handle care of civilian casualties resulting from war.12
CESR also obtained three confidential UN planning documents that warn of a "humanitarian emergency of exceptional scale and magnitude." One of the released documents, the Integrated Humanitarian Contingency Plan for Iraq and Neighboring Countries, estimates that "30 percent of children under five would be at risk of death from malnutrition."13
UN humanitarian officials who met an international conference in Geneva for two days in February "warned of devastating humanitarian consequences of a war in Iraq." A report on the conference, buried in the "Briefly Noted" section of the New York Times, stated that the "United Nations has estimated that in the event of a war, around two million Iraqis would be forced to leave their homes, while anywhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million would flee the country altogether. Further, Iraq’s current level of food supplies are expected to last no more than six weeks from the start of a war, and drinking water supplies could be affected immediately."14
Twenty-nine countries and 21 aid groups attended the Geneva conference to discuss the impact of war on Iraq, but one country was notably absent: the United States, "which declined an invitation saying its relief planning has been under way for several months."15 Nothing could be further from the truth. While the U.S. government will once again put on a public relations show of offering "humanitarian aid" to people who it is bombing, as it so cynically did during its aerial assault of Afghanistan, the efforts of the U.S. military have been focused on a massive and brutal invasion of Iraq, despite the harm it will cause to millions of Iraqis. When the U.S. made a show of announcing its humanitarian plans for its "war of liberation," Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley boasted that the Bush administration was assembling a "60-person civilian disaster assistance response team, the largest in U.S. history."16 Sixty people for a country of 22 million people in which 60 percent of the population is totally dependent on rations for their subsistence and in which Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the current UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, warns that war "could spark a humanitarian crisis on a scale far worse than the famine in the Horn of Africa or the war in Afghanistan" in which "mass starvation could follow."17
"Shock and Awe"
While the scenario for the war could change, it will almost certainly begin with several days of overwhelming attacks from the air, using a strategy that war planners call "Shock and Awe." As the Sun Herald of Sydney reported,
The U.S. intends to shatter Iraq "physically, emotionally and psychologically" by raining down on its people as many as 800 cruise missiles in two days.
The Pentagon battle plan aims not only to crush Iraqi troops, but also to wipe out power and water supplies in the capital, Baghdad.
It is based on a strategy known as "Shock and Awe," conceived at the National Defense University in Washington, in which between 300 and 400 cruise missiles would fall on Iraq each day for two consecutive days. It would be more than twice the number of missiles launched during the entire 40 days of the 1991 Gulf War.
"There will not be a safe place in Baghdad," a Pentagon official told America’s CBS News after a briefing on the plan. "The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before."18
The March 5 New York Times reported that the number of missiles that would be fired at Iraq in the first two days might be as high as 3,000.
Military analysts predict that "aircraft carriers are expected to play a larger role than in Operation Desert Storm." The U.S. Central Command, based in Qatar,
will rely on up to five carriers packed with aircraft to unleash munitions, while providing air cover for Army and Marine ground units, military officials said.
Operating from the Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf, and northern Arabian Sea, the floating air fields can "hit a lot more aimpoints in a 24-hour period" than the six aircraft carriers deployed during the first Gulf War, said a senior officer who asked not to be named.19
The aerial bombardment of Iraq is likely to be accompanied quickly, or even immediately, by the entrance of heavily armed U.S. troops, invading the country from three fronts: Kuwait, to the south; Jordan, to the west; and a combination of Turkish bases or an airlift from the north. At press time, plans for basing 62,000 troops in Turkey were set back when the Turkish parliament, angered by U.S. bullying and concerned about the massive opposition to war in Turkey, defeated a bill to authorize the U.S. war plan. But the Bush administration, in a show of immense imperial arrogance, is pressing for another vote, and the Turkish government already provides air bases to the U.S. military that would almost certainly be used in an attack.20
One key objective of U.S. troops on the ground has been spelled out clearly in U.S. war planning documents: the "quick takeover of the country’s oil fields."21 "It’s fair to say land component commanders have crafted strategies that would allow us to secure and protect those fields as rapidly as possible," a senior U.S. Central Command official told the New York Daily News on condition of anonymity.22 The key fields U.S. troops will seek to seize are most likely Kirkuk and Mosul in the north and west, Qurna and Rumaila in the south.
While Turkey’s initial rejection of the U.S. troop basing arrangement has thrown the plans into question, the Bush administration has been in open conversation with the Turkish government about Turkish troops occupying the northern part of Iraq, where Ankara already has 1,200 soldiers operating. The United States have forged agreements with Turkey and Kurdish groups operating in northern Iraq to ensure that "both Turkish and Kurdish forces left the northern Iraqi cities of Mosul and Kirkuk to the American forces. Those cities are the centers of oil production in the region, and Washington plans to grab the oil fields before either Iraq destroys them or the Kurds seize them."23
Despite their rhetoric about protecting Kurdish human rights, Turkey and the United States are both eager to prevent the Kurds from achieving self-determination in the aftermath of the war. "Turkey is going to position herself in that region in order to prevent any possible massacres, or the establishment of a new state," Abdullah Gul, the current prime minister of Turkey, told Turkish reporters.24 Meanwhile, U.S. officials have stressed repeatedly that they will "respect the territorial integrity of Iraq," a euphemism for maintaining a strong central government in Baghdad that will prevent Kurds from fighting for a homeland, which they have long been denied; preventing Shiites, the majority of the population, from taking control of the government, which would be a major threat to Saudi Arabia; and keeping the country from breaking into smaller parts that the United States might not be able to as easily control, thereby threatening its power over the flow of oil from the region.
Bush’s war plans for assaulting Iraq explicitly state that the U.S. seeks "to preserve Iraq as a unitary state, with its territorial integrity intact" and to "prevent unhelpful outside interference, military or non-military," which the Times of London rightly notes is meant as a "warning to neighboring countries, particularly Iran."25 The chance of a military conflict between the United States and such regional powers is hardly out of the question. Especially if the war does not go quickly, and the U.S. military finds itself unable to immediately repress unrest, U.S. soldiers might find themselves in a situation in which Shiite militias from Iran, a number of which are already operating in the country, and Turkish soldiers are firing on them, rather than serving under their command.
Weapons of mass destruction
The U.S. plans to use a whole range of weapons that will send a signal to Iraq’s neighbors, and beyond, of the preponderance of U.S. military might. The U.S. "invasion will be testing ground for the most sophisticated military equipment yet seen," the Financial Times reports.26 These weapons include:
Nuclear weapons. Iraq could well see the use of "strategic" nuclear weapons, including so-called mini-nukes or bunker busters. The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, leaked in March 2002, states that "greater flexibility is needed with respect to nuclear force and planning than was the case during the Cold War…. Nuclear attack options that vary in scale, scope and purpose will complement other military capabilities."27 Leaked Pentagon documents also reveal plans to potentially use a new generation of "enhanced radiation weapons."28 The Blair government, the main ally in the U.S. war plan on Iraq, has also said it is willing to use nuclear weapons. Geoff Hoon, the British defense secretary, told members of parliament, "I am absolutely confident, in the right conditions, we would be willing to use our nuclear weapons."29
Depleted uranium munitions. Depleted uranium (DU) is used to create very dense armor-piercing munitions that can slice through tanks and other targets. More than one million DU rounds were used in the 1991 Gulf War.30 Despite the severe health problems experienced by Iraqis and Gulf War veterans exposed to depleted uranium weapons in 1991, including the high incidence of cancer in southern Iraq, U.S. and British officials have not ruled out their use again. In fact, "British forces being deployed to the Gulf are being equipped with…[a] weapon implicated in long-term civilian casualties–anti-tank shells with tips made from depleted uranium," the Guardian reported in February.31 British Defense Secretary Hoon said, "I would be extremely reluctant to say to members of Britain’s Armed Forces that there is a piece of equipment that allows them to do their job more effectively but they cannot use it because some concerns appear to exist about it."32
Electronic weapons. "Many of the star weapons from the Persian Gulf War of 1991 are back and deadlier than ever," according to the New York Times. "Yet according to military experts, the biggest technical revelation of another war in the region may not be improvements to old systems but rather a new category of firepower known as directed-energy weapons."33 The weapons, also known as high-power microwave (HPM) munitions, are allegedly intended to disable equipment, such as computers and military electronics, but they also "could destroy nearby heart pacemakers and other life-critical systems in hospitals or aboard aircraft," according to Time magazine. They generate "as much electrical power–two billion watts or more–as the Hoover Dam generates in 24 hours."34
Cluster bombs. In addition to traditional cluster bombs, a weapon that has a "unique civilian impact," in the words of military analyst William Arkin, the U.S. military may use a new model of "cluster bombs that scatter titanium rods on impact."35 Cluster bombs include as many as 200 small "bomblets" that routinely do not explode on impact, and remain to explode only when someone steps on them or a child picks one up.