The Humanitarian Impacts
of the Iraq Wars
by Peter Phillips
excerpted from the book
by Peter Phillips and Project
Seven Stories Press, 2003,
In 1998, Project Censored gave a top ten
rating to a story about how U.S. weapons of mass destruction were
linked to the death of a half-million children in Iraq. By then
it was clear that the U.N. sanctions advanced by the United States
against Iraq had taken the lives of more Iraqi citizens than did
the military actions of the first Gulf War itself. The sanctions
imposed on Iraq are causing shortages of food, medical supplies,
In May 1996, then-U.N. Ambassador Madeleine
Albright acknowledged on 60 Minutes that more than half a million
children under the age of five had died since the war ended. UNICEF
reported in 1998 that child mortality continued at 150 per day.
The United States, up to Gulf War II, held the position that sanctions
against Iraq must continue until it can be proven that the country
is unable to build biological or chemical weapons. Of these deaths,
many are attributed to depleted uranium (DU) weapons. Additionally,
severe birth defects are known to be caused by radiation exposure.
The rate of cancer in Iraqi children has increased dramatically.
Few Americans were ever fully aware of
the enormous human toll caused by the continuing war on Iraq.
The corporate media characterized the deaths, disease, and hardships
of Iraq as 'claims,' while misunderstanding and grossly understating
the damage and potential health hazards caused by the sanctions
and the use of depleted uranium.
The historical context of the U.S. being
the original supplier of the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq
was rarely mentioned in corporate media. Little media attention
was paid to 1994 Senate panel reports that between 1985 and 1989,
U.S. firms supplied microorganisms needed for the production of
Iraq's chemical and biological warfare. U.N. inspectors found
and removed chemical and biological components identical to those
previously furnished by the United States to Iraq. The Simon Wiesenthal
Center in Los Angeles reported that in 1990 more than 207 companies
from 21 Western countries, including at least 18 from the United
States, contributed to the buildup of Saddam Hussein's biological
and chemical arsenal.
By the year 2000, over one million Iraqi
children had either starved to death from U.N.-imposed sanctions
or become the victims of cancer and other maladies from exposure
to chemical and biological weapons. In the San Francisco Chronicle
on September 19, 1999, UNICEF was reported to have claimed that
an average 4,500 Iraqi children under the age of five die each
month and that the number of Iraqi children with cancer has increased
sevenfold. When asked about the effects of the sanctions on the
plight of Iraq's children, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
said, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price-we
think the price is worth it." The Houston Chronicle expounded
on Albright's position, stating that Washington refuses to take
responsibility for the human toll from economic sanctions
Denis Halliday, a former U.N. assistant
secretary general and coordinator of the U.N.'s humanitarian program
in Iraq, resigned his post in protest in 1998. Halliday stated
he no longer wanted to be a part of the devastating effects of
the sanctions on the children: "Sanctions are starving to
death 6,000 Iraqi infants every month, ignoring the human rights
of ordinary Iraqis, and turning a whole generation against the
West," Halliday stated. Halliday's successor, Dr. Hans Von
Sponeck, also resigned rather than carry out what he called "information
cleansing." Von Sponeck described in December of 2002 how
the Iraqi people were expected to live on only $174 per person
per year under the embargo. "Infant mortality has risen 150
percent since 1990," he stated.
CIVILIAN DEATHS: GULF WAR II
A postwar survey of hospitals by the Los
Angeles Times disclosed that during Gulf War II over 1,700 civilians
died and more than 8,000 were injured in Baghdad alone. Nationwide,
the number probably reached tens of thousands, but these are numbers
that the Pentagon chooses not to collect. Undocumented burials
were common during the war, making it impossible to get accurate
data on total civilian deaths. Given that the estimates are that
some 3,500 Iraqi civilians died in Gulf War I, almost all by air
attacks, it seams likely that the numbers for 2003 are much higher.
Rohan Pearce, writing in the Green Left
Weekly on April 16, 2003, stated:
According to the International Committee
of the Red Cross, on April 7, the A1 Kindi hospital in Baghdad-the
only hospital ICRC representatives could visit because of continuing
clashes between U.S. troops and Iraqi resistance forces-was admitting
around 10 patients per hour. Hospital staff had already been working
nonstop for three days.
An April 7 report by the BBC put the average
number of admissions to the hospital at 100 per hour. It noted
that even before the first incursion of U.S. troops in Baghdad
on April 5, all five major hospitals in the city were overflowing
with wounded-so many that the ICRC has given up trying to calculate
Journalists from the British Independent
reported that stocks of anesthetics at A1 Kindi had run so low
that when surgery was performed patients were being provided with
800 mg of ibuprofen-"the equivalent of two headache pills"-and
even the ICRC has only been able to provide medical supplies for
100 operations, falling short of enough for even one day's injured.
"Clean towels cannot be supplied because the hospital washing
machines overload the emergency generators," The Independent
In Umm Qasr, under British occupation,
the situation is much the same. Its clinic is overflowing, reported
Radio Free Europe on April 7: "The helpless staff includes
two doctors and 25 nurses, all working 12-hour shifts, who have
long ago run out of medicines, including simple antibiotics."
UNICEF has warned that 100,000 Iraqi children
under the age of five are in danger of serious illness after the
war. On April 2, the head of the U.N. agency's Iraq operations,
Carel de Rooy, said that more Iraqi children had died from drinking
unsanitary water than any other cause last year. Marc Vergara,
a UNICEF worker trying to ensure a sanitary water supply to the
country, told the April 9 Baltimore Sun: "What we're doing
is symbolic. It does not even come close to meeting the need."
Iraq's humanitarian crisis is exacerbated by the fact that 41
percent of the population is 14 years old or younger. An April
6 press statement by UNICEF noted that even for those children
who are saved from death, "there are other profound and debilitating
consequences that last for years to come." The statement
added: "The scars of war do not easily fade. Physical and
psychological trauma, fear and the loss of loved ones continue
to plague the lives of those who have endured such horrors."
HEALTH IMPACTS OF DEPLETED URANIUM
Gregory Elich reported in Global Outlook
(Winter 2003) of the impacts depleted uranium (DU) munitions from
the first Gulf War were having on the people of Iraq. DU munitions
(800 tons used during Gulf War I) leave thousands of alpha radioactive
particles in the environment with a half-life of 4.5 billion years.
People or animals ingesting even a single particle of DU suffer
grave consequences to their health. Leukemia and other cancers
have soared in Iraq in the past decade.
DU dust, when inhaled or ingested, creates
flu-like symptoms within a few days. Severe exposure may result
in respiratory problems vomiting and internal bleeding. The Royal
Society (2002) reported that DU contamination may lead to death
within a few days because of its toxic effects on the renal system.
Long-term impacts include cancer and compromised immune systems.
Christian Science Monitor's Scott Peterson
visited four randomly chosen sites hit by depleted uranium shell
in Baghdad and reports that local people haven't been warned of
the radiation danger, but U.S. troops have orders to avoid the
The May 15, 2003 Christian Science Monitor
At a roadside produce stand on the outskirts
of Baghdad, business is brisk for Latifa Khalaf Hamid. Iraqi drivers
pull up and snap up fresh bunches of parsley, mint leaves, dill,
and onion stalks. But Ms. Hamid's stand is just four paces away
from a burnt-out Iraqi tank, destroyed by -and contaminated with-controversial
American depleted uranium bullets. Local children play throughout
the day on the tank, Hamid says, and on another one across the
No one has warned the vendor in the faded,
threadbare black gown to keep the toxic and radioactive dust off
her produce. The children haven't been told not to play with the
radioactive debris. They gather around as a Geiger counter carried
by a visiting reporter starts singing when it nears a DU bullet
fragment no bigger than a pencil eraser. It registers nearly 1,000
times normal background radiation levels on the digital readout.
Alex Kirby reported on BBC News on April
15 that the U.S. rejected proposals for cleanup of DU sites in
Iraq-even though both U.N. and U.S. reports acknowledge the dust
can be dangerous if inhaled.
HUMANITARIAN IMPACT AT HOME
In addition to the impact on the families
of U.S. solders who are killed or wounded in the Iraq war, Jon
Elliston and Catherine Lutz reported in the Spring 2003 issue
of Southern Exposure that after war, there are sharp increases
in domestic violence when the solders come home. "We could
literally tell what units were being deployed from where, based
on the volume of calls we received from given bases," says
Christine Hansen, executive director of the Connecticut-based
Miles Foundation, which has assisted more than 10,000 victims
of military-related domestic violence since 1997. The calls were
from women who were facing threats and physical abuse from their
partners-the same men who were supposedly being deployed on a
mission to make America safer. "Then the same thing happened
on the other end, when they came back," Hansen adds.
Elliston and Lutz wrote:
It took the rapid-fire deaths of four
women to turn national attention to this oft-overlooked form of
domestic terror. The problem forced its way into the headlines
last July , following a spate of murders by soldiers stationed
at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. In the space of
just five weeks, four women married to soldiers were killed by
their spouses, according to the authorities. Marilyn Griffin was
stabbed 70 times and her trailer set on fire, Teresa Nieves and
Andrea Floyd were shot in the head, and Jennifer Wright was strangled.
All four couples had children, several now orphaned as two of
the men shot themselves after killing their wives.
The murders garnered wide attention because
they were clustered over such a short period and because three
of the soldiers had served in special operations units that fought
The murders have raised a host of questions-about
the effects of war on the people who wage it, the spillover on
civilians from training military personnel to kill, the role of
military institutional values, and even the possible psychiatric
side effects of an antimalarial drug the army gives its soldiers.
On the epidemic of violence against women throughout the United
States and on the role of gender in both military and civilian
domestic violence, however, there has been a deafening silence."