ZNet | Foreign Policy

Talking With Friends And Family About Iraq
A Thanksgiving Table Guide

by Yifat Susskind; MADRE; November 25, 2002

Like people everywhere, most people in the US think it’s wrong to kill civilians as a means of pressuring their government. But for many, the link between this conviction and opposition to the US plan to attack Iraq is severed by fear, misinformation and a desensitization to what war will really mean for ordinary people in Iraq. This guide is intended to help combat the euphemisms ("collateral damage") and passive language ("bombs fell") that obscure the suffering that the Bush Administration’s plans will cause. We hope it will be useful to you in navigating conversations about the war and encouraging family and friends to take a stand for peaceful alternatives.

This "Thanksgiving Table Guide" is part of MADRE’s Every Child Has a Name campaign to raise funds for an emergency shipment of children’s medicines and milk for Iraqi families threatened by a US attack.

What does war mean for women and families in Iraq?

The Bush Administration wants to bomb Baghdad, a city of five million people. This would cause a humanitarian catastrophe equivalent to a heavy air bombardment of Los Angeles.

A November report by the global health organization Medact estimates that at least 50,000 civilians are likely to be killed by a US attack (www.medact.org/tbx/pages/section.cfm?index_id=2) .

Many more civilians are likely to die from longer-term effects of a bombing, including environmental damage and the destruction of food supplies, agriculture and critical infrastructure, such as pharmaceutical plants and hospitals.

Remind people that this war is broader than the attack now being planned by the Bush Administration. It includes the combined impact of the 1991 Desert Storm bombing and the 12 years of sanctions and intermittent bombing since then. British and US forces have bombed Iraq more than 50 times this year alone and killed over 500 people since 1999.

What has been the impact of US-led sanctions and bombing on Iraqi women and families?

According to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, US-led sanctions have killed over one million people.

Nearly 60% of the dead are children under the age of seven.

4,500 children die every month from starvation and preventable disease (a six-fold increase since 1990).

The number one killer of young children is dehydration from diarrhea caused by water-borne illnesses, on the rise since the US bombed the electricity grids that powered Iraq’s water treatment plants. Sanctions have prevented Iraq from importing replacement parts for chemicals needed to treat water.

Iraq's public health sector is nearing total collapse from a lack of basic medicines and supplies.

Diseases not seen for decades have reemerged -- cholera, typhoid and an epidemic of malaria.

Southern Iraq has seen a three-fold rise in childhood cancers since the US dropped radioactive uranium-tipped bombs on the area.

Without hard currency, Iraq’s economy has virtually collapsed.

Iraq's social fabric is unraveling, with a huge increase in begging, street children, crime and prostitution.

This widespread suffering is occurring in a country that was, thanks to oil revenues and Ba'athist social policies, fairly prosperous, with an educated workforce, solid middle class, modern infrastructure and sound public services.

 Remind people that although the media ignores the humanitarian disaster caused by sanctions, they constitute a devastating attack on the most vulnerable Iraqis and should be considered weapons of mass destruction.

What would a new US-imposed government mean for Iraqi women?

Iraqi women are among the most emancipated in the region, although they suffer severe repression as citizens of Iraq. For while their government suppresses civil and political rights, it has guaranteed women social and economic rights.

Before US-led sanctions destroyed Iraq’s ability to provide public services, women enjoyed rights to education, employment, freedom of movement, equal pay for equal work, universal day care and five years maternity leave. The 2002 United Nations Arab Human Development Report rates Iraq first among Arab countries for women’s empowerment.

While Iraqi women long for democratic rights, they have little reason to be optimistic about a new, US-backed regime, which is most likely to be a military dictatorship under different leadership ("Unveiled: The Thugs Bush Wants in Place of Saddam," www.sundayherald.com/27877 ).

Iraqi women know that the US supports governments guilty of some of the world’s worst human rights violations against women (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the early years of Afghanistan under the Taliban).

 Remind people that unlike "regime change" in Afghanistan, where the oppression of women was a key public relations point for the Bush Administration, no effort has been made by the US to push for the inclusion of women in a "post-Saddam" Iraq.

Doesn’t Iraq pose a military threat to the US?

· Credible analysts such as former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter maintain that the military threat from Iraq is exaggerated and that since the Gulf War, Iraq has been largely disarmed (http://click.topica.com/maaatKmaaS8Dhb1Bjcmb/). In October 2002, the CIA issued a report saying that the military threat from Iraq is at its lowest in a decade ("Analysts Discount Attack by Iraq," www.washingtonpost.com).

· The Administration has offered no evidence to support its alarming rhetoric about Iraq. For instance, that Iraq "retains the infrastructure needed to build" a nuclear weapon (as Bush warned in his September 12 speech to the United Nations) is not the same thing as building one. No credible authority believes that Saddam Hussein possesses nuclear weapons.

· According to former UN weapons inspectors, 95% of Iraq’s chemical weapons have been destroyed. Iraq may possess stores of biological agents, since the US supplied Baghdad with stock for anthrax, botulism and other diseases in the 1980s. However, Ritter and others point out that the potency of these agents is expired and that Iraq lacks the delivery systems (e.g., long-range missiles and rocket launchers) to turn chemical or biological agents into weapons.

 Remind people that the most likely scenario in which Saddam Hussein would launch weapons of mass destruction is an all-out war aimed at deposing him -- exactly the course being pursued by the US.

Haven’t inspections proven futile because of Iraq’s noncompliance?

US allies, the United Nations and even the CIA contend that UN inspections have fundamentally succeeded in facilitating the disarmament of Iraq ("Analysts Discount Attack by Iraq," www.washingtonpost.com) .

· Iraq refused to continue with inspections when it was discovered that the US was using inspectors as spies. Iraq also refused to cooperate when inspectors demanded unrestricted access to any site in Iraq. The US similarly refuses to admit UN weapons inspectors to all US laboratories.

· Today’s mass media often repeat the US claim that inspectors were thrown out of Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1998. Actually, they were withdrawn by request of President Clinton on the eve of his Desert Fox bombing campaign (www.madre.org/art_iraq_factsheet98.html#iraq ).

· The US has undercut Iraq’s incentive to cooperate with inspectors by declaring that sanctions (originally imposed to compel disarmament) will remain in place even after Iraq complies with inspections.

Doesn’t Iraq support terrorism against the United States?

Every attempt by the Bush Administration to link Iraq to international terrorism has failed. A 2002 study by the State Department ("Patterns of Global Terrorism") found no association between Iraq and terrorist groups. A 2002 CIA report demonstrates that Baghdad has been consciously avoiding actions that could antagonize the US ("The Case Against War," www.thenation.com ).

An alliance between the secularist Ba’ath Party and al-Qaeda is highly improbable. Saddam Hussein has used extreme repression against Islamicists; Osama bin Laden considers Saddam Hussein an infidel.

Raising the specter of Iraqi cooperation with "terrorists" seems like a cynical scare tactic. After all, Bush’s plans to invade Iraq pre-date the attacks of September 2001 ("Bush Planned Iraq Regime Change Before Becoming President," www.sundayherald.com/27735 ).

The strongest "link" between Iraq and al-Qaeda is that attacking Iraq may increase support for al-Qaeda by fueling resentment against the US and exacerbating conditions, such as political instability, mass displacement, poverty and social breakdown, that give rise to political extremism, including acts of terrorism.

Hasn’t Iraq violated UN Security Council resolutions?

Yes, Iraq has failed to comply with 12 Security Council resolutions. These violations should be addressed by the Council itself. No country has the right to unilaterally enforce UN resolutions (Articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter).

Moreover, Iraqi violations are relatively few and minor compared to those of countries like Turkey and Indonesia, which are in violation of multiple resolutions and enjoy strong support from the US. Israel, the world’s leading violator of Security Council resolutions (44 to date) is the largest recipient of US aid worldwide.

Bush rails against Iraqi violations of UN resolutions while declaring his own willingness to violate a fundamental principle of the UN Charter: attacking Iraq without authorization from the Security Council (www.madre.org/art_bush_un_quotes.html ).

Remind people that Bush’s concern about compliance with the United Nations is quite selective: since taking office, he has scrapped more international treaties and violated more UN conventions than the rest of the world has in 20 years.

Isn’t Saddam Hussein a murderous dictator?

· Saddam Hussein’s human rights record is among the worst in the world. Yet US policy has not addressed this crisis. For instance, there is no Security Council resolution mandating Iraqi compliance with international human rights law.

· Meanwhile, the US itself has created a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in Iraq through the world’s toughest sanctions.

· In fact, the US is obstructing the most effective international mechanism for prosecuting and preventing the kinds of human rights violations committed by Saddam Hussein, namely, the International Criminal Court.

· Most of Saddam Hussein’s atrocities were committed while he was a close US ally. The US sold Iraq weapons even after learning that Iraq used illegal chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians in the Halabja massacre of 1988. US intelligence agencies believe that the massacre was carried out with US-made helicopters. Only in 1990, when Saddam Hussein disobeyed the US with his unauthorized invasion of Kuwait, was he transformed from a key asset to "the Butcher of Baghdad."

Remind people that no matter what, the US has no right to pursue "regime change." The violent overthrow of a sovereign government should not be considered a "policy option," but a grave violation of core principles of the UN Charter and a blow to the foundations of international law and collective security.

What’s the real aim of the war?

The most fundamental reason for war derives from the US doctrine of permanent military supremacy developed by Republican ideologues Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Powell, presented in documents such as the Defense Department’s "Defense Planning Guidance 1994-1999" and Bush’s September 20, 2002 national security policy paper ("Bush to Outline Doctrine of Striking Foes First," www.nytimes.com). The doctrine outlines US military domination over friends and enemies alike; control over key global resources (oil, natural gas); and disdain for international law, multilateralism and the national sovereignty of other countries. Iraq is a test case of this doctrine.

Iraq possesses the world’s second largest reserves of oil after Saudi Arabia. The US has been angling for years to increase its access to Iraqi oil.

War provides the Republicans with a diversion from corporate scandals, a faltering economy, their attack on civil rights and policies that hurt poor and middle-income people. Veteran Republican strategist Jack Pitney summed it up: "If voters go to the polls with corporate scandals at the top of their list, they’re probably going to vote Democratic. If they go [thinking about] the war on terrorism and taxes," Republicans have the advantage.

Are there alternatives to war?

Inspections: The destruction of most of Iraq’s arsenal in the 1990s resulted not from bombing, but from inspections conducted through the United Nations. We should demand that the findings of today’s inspectors, and not the military goals of the US, guide policy on Iraq.

Disarmament: The best defense against "weapons of mass destruction" is global disarmament. As a starting point, we should demand that military sanctions against Iraq be expanded to all countries in the Middle East (as called for in UN Resolution 687, specifying Iraq’s disarmament requirements). Demands for disarmament should focus on the US, which is the world’s biggest arms dealer with policy blueprints for dropping nuclear bombs on seven countries.

Diplomacy: Although its member states are subject to bribes and bullying by the US, the United Nations remains our best hope for international cooperation. We should demand that the US defer to the United Nations as arbiter of threats to international peace and security.

Protection for Iraqi women and families: Those who have paid the highest price for the 13-year conflict between the US and Iraq are ordinary Iraqis. We should demand that US-led sanctions be lifted immediately and that Iraq, like all countries, be held accountable to international human rights standards.

Overcoming fear, demanding justice

A November 2002 poll by the Christian Science Monitor shows that a majority of US citizens now support the assassination of foreign leaders in the "war on terror" and that one in four can imagine backing the use of nuclear weapons. This growing willingness to support violence reflects the fear that has become a common denominator of public life in the US since September 11, 2001. As people committed to human rights, we can point out ways that the Bush Administration has sought to channel this fear into support for its war against Iraq (for example, by lying about Iraqi involvement in the September 11 attacks, as the White House did again on September 26, 2002). And we can point out that this exploitation of grief and fear for political gain is a form of violence.

But to enable people to actively challenge Bush’s war, we need to address people’s fear directly. We can start by acknowledging that fear is a reasonable response to a period of terrorist attacks, anthrax killings and sniper shootings (however unrelated they may be). And we can suggest that a legitimate concern about security doesn’t have to mean reflexive support for government policies. Finally, we can initiate conversations about central questions, such as:

What kind of foreign policy would minimize the chances of another attack in the US and protect the human rights of people around the world? Will our security best be served by being the world’s bully or by working in cooperation with other countries? How can we broaden our understanding of "security" to address the needs of the millions in the US who do not have homes, jobs, health care or economic security?

How can we build public consensus around widely-held values like protecting children and families, using violence as a last (not first) resort and respecting the rule of law?

How can we work to hold our leaders accountable to the vision of a society we want to live in?

One way to take a stand for peace and human rights is to join MADRE in Every Child Has a Name. The campaign is an initiative of our Justice, Not Vengeance program, which monitors Bush’s "war on terror" and calls for a US foreign policy that respects human rights and international law. Visit MADRE’s website, www.madre.org , for more information.