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US Developing Lethal Genetically Engineered Viruses

October 30th, 2003 - by admin

by Debora MacKenzie / New Scientist –


GENEVA (October 29, 2003) — A scientist funded by the US government has deliberately created an extremely deadly form of mousepox, a relative of the smallpox virus, through genetic engineering.

The new virus kills all mice even if they have been given antiviral drugs as well as a vaccine that would normally protect them. The work has not stopped there. The cowpox virus, which infects a range of animals — including humans — has been genetically altered in a similar way.

The new virus, which is about to be tested on animals, should be lethal only to mice, Mark Buller of the University of St Louis told New Scientist. He says his work is necessary to explore what bioterrorists might do. But the research brings closer the prospect of pox viruses that cause only mild infections in humans being turned into diseases lethal even to people who have been vaccinated. And vaccines are currently our main defense against smallpox and its relatives, such as the monkeypox that reached the US this year.

“Risky and Unnecesary
Some researchers think the latest research is risky and unnecessary. “I have great concern about doing this in a pox virus that can cross species,” said Ian Ramshaw of the Australian National University in Canberra on being told of Buller’s work. Ramshaw was a member of the team that accidentally discovered how to make mousepox more deadly (New Scientist, 13 January 2001). But the modified mousepox his team created was not as deadly as Buller’s.

Since then, Ramshaw told New Scientist, his team has also created more deadly forms of mousepox, and has used the same method to engineer a more deadly rabbitpox virus. But this research revealed that the modified pox viruses are not contagious, he says. That is good news in the sense that these viruses could not cause ecological havoc by wiping out mouse or rabbit populations around the world if they escaped from a lab. However, this discovery also means some bioterrorists might be more tempted to use the same trick to modify a pox virus that infects humans.

Such a disease, like anthrax, would infect only those directly exposed to it. It would not spread around the world and rebound on the attackers. But there is no guarantee that other pox viruses modified in a similar way would also be non-contagious.

Ramshaw’s team made its initial discovery while developing contraceptive vaccines for sterilizing mice and rabbits without killing them. The researchers modified the mousepox virus by adding a gene for a natural immunosuppressant called IL-4, expecting this would boost antibody production. Instead, the modified mousepox virus was far more lethal, killing 60 percent of vaccinated mice.

100 Percent Deadly to Animal Life
The addition of IL-4 seems to switch off a key part of the immune system called the cell-mediated response. Now Buller has engineered a mousepox strain that kills 100 percent of vaccinated mice, even when they were also treated with the anti-viral drug cidofovir. A monoclonal antibody that mops up IL-4 did save some, however.
His team “optimized” the virus by placing the IL-4 gene in a different part of the viral genome and adding a promoter sequence to maximize production of the IL-4 protein, he told a biosecurity conference in Geneva last week.

Buller has also constructed a cowpox virus containing the mouse IL-4 gene, which is about to be tested on mice at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Cowpox infects people, but Buller says the IL-4 protein is species-specific and would not affect the human immune system. The experiments are being done at the second-highest level of biological containment.

Why Are We Doing This? “Nine-eleven!”
Ramshaw says there is no reason to do the cowpox experiments, as his group’s work on rabbits has already shown the method works for other pox viruses. While viruses containing mouse IL-4 should not be lethal to humans, recombinant viruses can have unexpected effects, he says. “You’d hope the combination remains mouse-specific.”

Why his group’s engineered viruses are not contagious is a mystery, he says. It is not, for instance, because the host dies faster than usual, taking the virus with it. But his findings could explain why pox viruses containing IL-4 have never evolved naturally, even though the viruses frequently pick up genes that affect their host’s immunity.

Despite the concerns, work on lethal new pox viruses seems likely to continue in the US. When members of the audience in Geneva questioned the need for such experiments, an American voice in the back boomed out: “Nine-eleven.” There were murmurs of agreement.

Ramadan in Iraq: Chaos, Occupation and a Rising Cost of Living

October 30th, 2003 - by admin

by Aws Al-Sharqy / Islam Online –


BAGHDAD (October 30, 2003) — This year, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan in Iraq was marred by a series of explosions and attacks that rocked the capital Baghdad when suicide bombers targeted several police stations in the Al-Sayidia, Al-Khadra, Al-Doura and New Baghdad areas, and car-bomb explosions claimed the lives of more than 40 people and wounded 224 others.

After 10 years of economic sanctions, the beginning of the month of Ramadan saw Iraqis suffer yet another embargo under US occupation.

Although the interim Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) declared the lifting of the curfew during the month of Ramadan, many people are convinced that the atmosphere this Ramadan will be similar to that of previous years: the security situation is still chaotic, and escalating price increases bring to mind the dim images that prevailed during previous years, when economic sanctions put an end to many social events, including rites and rituals usually upheld during Ramadan.

The Taraweeh prayer (unique to the month or Ramadan) used to be held in tens of mosques in Baghdad. Now, however, many people prefer to pray at home given the continuous power outages, and few venture to pray at the mosques for fear of being targeted by robbers.

The First Ramadan Without Saddam
Iraqis are facing a sharp increase in the prices of foodstuffs at a time when unemployment is rife. Thus, preparing meals for Iftaar (breaking of the fast) has become a source of embarrassment for many housewives, whose efforts in this regard are hampered by rising costs.

For example, the price of one kilogram of meat has rocketed to 7,500 dinars (equivalent to $37.50). Iraqis expect further price increases in the coming days — an unfortunate situation which they have gotten used to. They blame traders for taking advantage of the advent of Ramadan to raise their prices to unreasonable levels.

The costs of fruits and vegetables have reached double the prices a few days prior to Ramadan. This has led to rising discontent among Iraqis despite the IGC’s attempt to alleviate their hardship through granting every government employee a 6,000-dinar Ramadan bonus (equivalent to $30).

Unfortunately, those not employed by the government, who constitute the largest segment of society, did not benefit from this gesture. Some Islamic charitable organizations have set up Iftaar feeding programs and started distributing clothing and foodstuffs to poor families, and mosques are urging affluent members of the society to support the less fortunate.

This is the first Ramadan without Saddam. For many, this means the freedom to practice their rites and beliefs without fear or surveillance. However, this freedom seems to be undermined by the concrete barriers and barbed wires that have become a common sight on the streets of Baghdad.

Iraqis also fear stray US bullets that do not differentiate between a person who wishes to perform the Taraweeh prayer and another who intends to carry out an operation against the occupying forces.

War Profiteers Flourish while Soldiers and Families Pay the Price

October 30th, 2003 - by admin

by Jeri L. Reed (the mother of a US soldier in Iraq) / Military Families Speak Out –


(October 30, 2003) — Close associates of George Bush, Dick Cheney and other key American officials scramble to enrich themselves from the suffering of the Iraqi people, while soldiers’ families and other concerned Americans collect old clothing to send to military hospitals in Germany and the United States. Wounded soldiers, risking their lives — not to “free the Iraqi people,” but to transform Iraq into a safe haven for investment — are flown from Iraq in flimsy hospital gowns or torn and bloody uniforms, missing not only a hand, an arm or a leg, but also all of their possessions.

Soldiers are lucky to arrive at Landstuhl, Germany, where wounded soldiers from Iraq are processed, or a stateside hospital such as Walter Reid Army Medical Center in Washington DC, with their few belongings in plastic garbage bags. In the Danvers, Massachusetts post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW), VFW members are so upset by this idea that they collect duffle bags or other luggage so that the soldiers do not suffer the additional indignity of arriving with their belongings in garbage bags, which appears to be the Army way.

“I asked the nurses and the chaplains what the soldiers needed; and they said warm clothes, such as coats, sweaters, gloves, hats, long underwear, sweat pants and sweat shirts, sneakers, socks, new underwear… and anything else you can think of,” wrote a visitor to the military hospital at Landstuhl.

The weather in Germany is already cold, and soldiers are dependent on the work of the chaplains at the hospital who collect clothing and toilet articles for the soldiers’ use. The Army, unable to provide adequate equipment or supplies in Iraq, is even unable to provide those basic things for young soldiers who will spend their lives suffering from the serious injuries they received in this unjust war.

As if this was not enough insult, war profiteers do not bother to conceal their activities or their ties to Bush Administration officials; they promote them. “When Iraq is ready to rebuild, we will be there,” reads the website of the Bush-connected consulting firm, New Bridge Strategies. “The opportunities evolving in Iraq today are of such an unprecedented nature and scope that no other existing firm has the necessary skills and experience to be effective both in Washington, D.C. and on the ground in Iraq.” The firm proudly displays biographies of its leaders, listing their ties to George Bush, leading potential clients to believe that they offer not only easy access to government contracts, but also the protection of the US Army in Iraq, an essential factor for doing business there.

Independent business people who travel to Iraq, their eagerness for easy riches causing them to risk life and limb, find they are unable to get in the front door due to their lack of connections with the Bush Administration. Violating the principles of free market that they claim to uphold (like all other violations of democracy and freedom that have perpetrated the US government since September 11), Bush officials come under criticism for unfair contracts, awarded secretly without open bidding; again they claim that this is to protect national security. But while these greedy few complain of unfairness, the true injustice lies in the tragedy of the Iraqi people and the soldiers and their families, all of whom suffer while the wealthy profit.

The United States Congress recently approved another $87 billion to be divided by those profiteers, for reconstruction projects in Iraq and for supplying the troops. We can only expect those funds to be added to the billions already in the pockets of George Bush’s friends — with a large portion reserved for the infamous Halliburton, the company that sends Dick Cheney millions of dollars. Subsidiaries of this company hold contracts to provide the soldiers with food, water and mail delivery — the provision of none of which has been a success.

Families Forced to Send Supplies to Needy US Soldiers
For many months, those of us with family members in Iraq have been shipping food, essential clothing, water and, yes, even bullet-proof vests to soldiers, the items that private-sector companies are supposed to provide, companies receiving billions of dollars of our tax money. Since soldiers do not come from wealthy families, we have gone without paying our bills to provide those things (some people keep the receipts, as if one day they will have the opportunity to show them to George Bush and demand restitution).

Thinking we can rest in peace knowing that our children will at least have food despite the great cost, imagine our anger to find that in many areas of Iraq our packages do not arrive for months. Halliburton, the very company charged with providing food, water and other essentials, is unable to deliver the mails, meaning our soldiers still lack adequate supplies despite our efforts.

The money transferred from the US government to those wealthy profiteers has an additional effect on soldiers and their families: it is draining the budgets of essential government service programs, such as food assistance, health care and education.

The young families of soldiers (the wives are already cutting their small budgets to send their husbands food) often depend on those programs because of their low incomes. The programs from which they receive food assistance for their children have been reduced because of the drain of dollars, an implication of the high cost of the occupation of Iraq.

Their children now attend overcrowded, inadequate schools, many of which are unable to provide even the basics of education due to the lack of funds.

The families of National Guard and Reserve soldiers are facing a huge cut in income, as the Army pay is far less than what they received in the private-sector jobs they were forced to leave.

The prospect of soldiers staying in Iraq for extended periods has provoked an outcry from families, not merely because we miss our loved ones and fear for their safety, but because this war is driving us deeper into poverty.

Operation Iraqi Freedom does not represent freedom for neither the Iraqi nor the American people; the freedom it represents is only for war profiteers to enrich themselves at our expense. It does not guarantee Iraqi or American security; it is driving us deeper and deeper into insecurity. Iraqis and Americans are dying and are being wounded daily; we are all facing an insecure future, while George Bush and his friends hold barbeques at his ranch and discuss the division of the spoils.

Jeri L. Reed is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Oklahoma and member of Military Families Speak Out, a group of families with loved ones in the military who have opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Jeri is the mother of Cody, 21, a US soldier located at the Abu Gharib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq.

Investigate the Status of Wounded Vets

October 30th, 2003 - by admin

by Letter to Rep. Barbara Lee – Gar Smith / EAW

October 22, 2003

Hon. Barbara Lee
US Congress
Washington, DC

Dear Congresswoman Lee,

Thank you for generously agreeing to be the keynote speaker for the first Environmentalists Against War Teach-In during Fleet Week in San Francisco.

I am writing today as a journalist concerned about an issue raised in the course of an interview with a veteran of the current Iraq Occupation.

While the media’s focus has been on the soldiers killed in Iraq, other numbers are being overlooked. The majority of the 6,000-plus soldiers evacuated from Iraq have suffered “non-combat-related” illnesses. What problems does this phrase mask? Depression? Dehydration? Stress?

The second issue is even more grave because it suggests a cynical manipulation of mortality figures on the part of the government.

The Pentagon reports mortalities but downplays the number of wounded and does not report the severity of their injuries. While hundreds have died, thousands have been crippled for life.

According to soldiers who have served in Iraq, the government is covering up the total number of combat deaths by NOT reporting the number of wounded soldiers who subsequently die from their injuries after being evacuated from the battlefront.

How many US soldiers have subsequently died from their wounds? According to Pentagon and media reports, none of our wounded troops have yet died from their injuries. This seems difficult to believe. Could you investigate this issue? If you can obtain the actual figures from the Pentagon, I would like to publish the information on the EAW website. I would also like to join with you in issuing a press release on these findings.

Gar Smith, co-founder,
Environmentalists Against War

Iraq’s Guerrillas Adopt New Strategy: Copy the Americans

October 29th, 2003 - by admin

by Robert Fisk / The Independent (London) –


(October 28, 2003) — Understanding the brain. That’s what you have to do in a guerrilla war. Find out how it works, what it’s trying to do. An attack on US headquarters in Baghdad and six suicide bombings, all at the start of Ramadan. Thirty-four dead and 200 wounded.

Where have I heard those statistics before? And how could they be so well coordinated — well-timed, down to the last second? And why the Red Cross? I knew that building, and admired the way in which the International Red Cross refused to associate themselves with the American occupation — even at the cost of their lives, as the guards outside their Baghdad headquarters carried no guns.

So here’s the answer to question one. Algeria.

After the Algerian government banned elections in 1991 that would have brought the Islamic Salvation Front to power, a Muslim revolt turned into a blood-curdling battle between the so-called Islamic Armed Group — many of its adherents having cut their battle teeth in Afghanistan — and a brutal government army and police force. Within three years, the “Islamists” — aided, it seems, by army intelligence officers — were perpetrating massacres against the villagers of what was called the Blida triangle, a three-cornered territory around the very Islamist city of Blida outside Algiers. And the very worst atrocities — the beheading of children, the raping and throat-cutting of women, the slaughter of policemen — were committed at the beginning of Ramadan.

The Ramadan Effect
At Ramadan, Muslim emotions are heightened; in these most blessed of days, a Muslim feels that he or she must do something important so that God will listen to him or her. There is nothing in the Koran about violence in Ramadan or, for that matter, suicide bombers (any more than there is anything in the New Testament to urge Christians to carry out genocide or the ethnic cleansing in which they have become experts in the past 200 years) but Sunni Wahabi believers have often combined holy war with the “message,” the dawa during Ramadan.

So what was the message?

In Baghdad, the message of the past two days was simple: it told Iraqis that the Americans cannot control Iraq; more important, perhaps, it told Americans that the Americans could not control Iraq. Even more important, it told Iraqis they shouldn’t work for the Americans.

It also acknowledged America’s new rules of combat: kill the enemy leaders. The United States killed Saddam’s two sons. It has boasted of killing al-Qa’ida members in Afghanistan and Yemen, just as Israel kills Palestinians in Hamas and Islamic Jihad. So was it by chance that the Black Hawk helicopter shot down in Iraq was hit over Tikrit, just after Paul Wolfowitz had passed through town?

And the assault on al-Rashid Hotel almost killed Wolfowitz. He was “a room away” from one of the missile explosions. The architect of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq was almost assassinated by America’s enemies.

And then there’s the Red Cross, the very last neutral humanitarian organisation, after the double suicide attack on the UN, which might have provided some communication between the US and its antagonists. Now it, too, has been smashed. Some of America’s enemies may come from other Arab countries, but most of the military opposition to America’s presence comes from Iraqi Sunnis; not from Saddam “remnants” or “diehards” or “dead-enders” (the Paul Bremer titles for a growing Iraqi resistance), but from men who in many cases hated Saddam.

They don’t work “for” al-Qa’ida. But they have learnt their own unique version of history. Attack your enemies in the holy month of Ramadan. Learn from the war in Algeria. And the war in Afghanistan. Learn the lessons of America’s “war on terror.” Kill the leadership. You’re with us or against us, collaborator or patriot.

That was the message of yesterday’s bloodbath in Baghdad.

Copyright: The Independent. UK.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

US Troops Continue to Destroy Iraqi Flora, Crops

October 29th, 2003 - by admin

by Firas Al-Atraqchi Freelance Columnist / IslamOnline –


(October 20, 2003) — Day after day, disturbing news continues to emerge from Iraq, detailing the systematic and callous destruction of Iraq’s flora and agricultural areas

Citing security issues, US troops have cut down precious date trees — often the life-sustaining source of many Iraqi villages — burned and razed crops, agricultural yields and fields, drained swamps, and burned grassy knolls where it is alleged that Iraqi ‘terrorists’ are hiding.

In June, CNN aired a segment on US military efforts to pursue and capture ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. In the background, CNN viewers were allowed a three-second glimpse of US soldiers lighting bushes, trees and grassy riverbeds. The bushes came to life in a blazing fire. Presumably, kerosene or some fuel was used. Then CNN cut in with another shot of a US patrol.

The segment showing US soldiers burning the aforementioned areas was never shown again.

Now, evidence is coming to light that US soldiers at the very least are unfazed and negligent of Iraq’s agriculture and at the very most carrying out a systematic campaign of punishing farmers and their farmlands on the suspicion that they harbor ‘Saddam loyalists’ or other anti-American forces.

Torching Fields Fuels Anti-Americanism
Ironically, the punitive measures themselves are spawning a new breed of anti-American might that cares little for Saddam and even less for politics. The psyche of the Middle Eastern farmer, whether it be in Jordan , Upper Egypt or in the Tigris-Euphrates river valleys of Iraq, is that life is based on the land, and the land is the pride and honor of every farmer. When the land is defiled and violated, it becomes incumbent upon the farmer to avenge the honor of his family and tribe.

This is nothing new; it has existed in this fashion since Sumerians began using irrigated farming techniques 5,000 years ago. Yet, probably because of cultural ignorance, US forces continue to destroy valuable crops.

“US soldiers driving bulldozers, with jazz blaring from loudspeakers, have uprooted ancient groves of date palms as well as orange and lemon trees in central Iraq as part of a new policy of collective punishment of farmers who do not give information about guerrillas attacking US troops,” says journalist Patrick Cockburn in The Independent.

Last week, Israeli forces bulldozed 220 homes in Gaza, leaving some 1,500 Palestinians homeless. Israeli forces cited security concerns: tunnels used to smuggle weapons could have been under these houses. Israeli forces have also been known to blow up the homes of families of suicide bombers.

Collective punishment. But in Iraq it is producing deadly results for US forces.

Farmers have sworn to destroy every American they see, whether it be a journalist, businessman or soldier — it does not matter.

Iraqi farmers have long issued complaints against US forces, dating back to the mid 1990s when the Baathist government accused US and UK fighters of firebombing valuable crop fields in the south and north of the country.

In April 1999, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Iraqi doctors had complained of depleted uranium making its way into the Iraqi food chain and contaminating Iraqi farmland. The doctors cited the unusual rise in stomach cancer and leukemia in farming and rural communities.

Farmers Provoked to Resist US Troops
According to an investigative article by Jeffery St. Clair in Counterpunch, the war in Iraq has proven particularly difficult for farming communities to stomach. He says that the consequent looting and wanton violence left precious irrigation systems destroyed, warehouses and grain silos unusable, and very little fuel for nearly-defunct tractors and harvesters.

The farmers have not received any assistance or guidance from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) or the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC).

Further adding to the farmers’ frustrations is that both the CPA and IGC are about to abolish the food-rationing system set up by Saddam’s government — a system that the United Nations labeled the most efficient in the world. Economic analysts have warned that this would seriously endanger the livelihood of the 60 percent of Iraqis who rely on that system for sustenance.

While foreign governments meet to pledge financial assistance to the rebuilding of Iraq (the European Union has promised $234 million, the UK government $300 million), and the US Congress debates demanding that Iraq pay back a suggested 20-billion-dollar loan, the Iraqi farmer is left in a quagmire. He must care for his extended family and endure constant harassment from US troops who smash their way into the sanctity of his home, rummage through his private things, and see his wife (wives) and female relatives in a private setting [A grievous affront to Muslim culture – Ed.]. He has no one to voice his concerns to, no one to take up his cause and no one to reimburse his financial losses.

When political commentators question who comprises the Iraqi resistance, they now have their answer. It is not the radical “Islamists,” as western media has called them. It is not the misguided impudence of Osama bin Laden’ s flock. It is not foreign fighters who seek to find Iraq a convenient battleground against all things American.

No, it is the Iraqi farmer, the most basic of the Iraqi peoples — a man who has toiled the land in the tradition of his forefathers, stretching back to the Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian empires.

Firas Al-Atraqchi is a Canadian journalist of Iraqi heritage. Holding an MA in Journalism and Mass Communication, he has eleven years of experience covering Middle East issues, oil and gas markets, and the telecom industry. You can reach him at firascape@hotmail.com.

“A Gift from God”: Iraqi Engineers Revitalize Marshes Drained by Hussein

October 29th, 2003 - by admin

by Rajiv Chandrasekaran / Washington Post –


ZAYAD, Iraq (October 11, 2003) — The surging water from the Euphrates River first quenched the desiccated soil around this village. Then, with a steady crescendo, it smothered farming tracts, inundated several homes and enveloped the landscape to the horizon.

“Hamdulillah ,” intoned Salim Sherif Kerkush, the stout village sheik. Thank God.

Thin reeds now sprout on the glassy surface. Aquatic birds build nests on tiny islands. And lanky young boys in flowing tunics spend the first few hours of each day as generations of adolescent males in their families have: gliding across the water in narrow wooden boats to collect fish trapped in homemade nets.

“The water is our life,” Kerkush said as he gazed at the marsh that now comes within a few feet of his house and stretches as far as the eye can see. “It is a gift from God to have it back.”

A dozen years after Saddam Hussein ordered the vast marshes of southeastern Iraq drained, transforming idyllic wetlands into a barren moonscape to eliminate a hiding place for Shiite Muslim political opponents, Iraqi engineers have turned on the spigot again.

The flow is not what it once was — new dams have weakened the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers that feed the marshes — but the impact has been profound. As the blanket of water gradually expands, it is quickly nourishing plants, animals and a way of life for Marsh Arabs that Hussein had tried so assiduously to extinguish.

In Zayad, a tiny hamlet about 210 miles southeast of Baghdad that was one of the first places to be flooded, residents have rushed to reclaim their traditions. Kerkush drove to the port city of Basra to buy a wooden boat known as a mashoof . His children assembled fish nets. Other relatives scoped out locations to build a house of reeds.

The marsh has once again assumed its omnipresent role in the village. Women clad in black head-to-toe abayas wade into the water to wash clothes. The mullet found in the murky depths, though small and bony, is grilled for dinner every night. Swamp grasses are cut to feed the cows and sheep that will eventually be traded for water buffalo.

“Everyone is so happy,” Kerkush said as he watched his son stand in a mashoof and steer it like a gondolier with a long wooden pole. “We are starting to live like we used to, not the way Saddam wanted us to live.”

A Simple Life Destroyed
Born in 1949, Kerkush remembers a childhood identical to those described by his father and his grandfather. It was, he believes, a way of life little changed since the days of the ancient Sumerians who lived near the marshes and were the first humans to practice irrigated farming.

The progress of the 20th century — the advent of cars and computers, of television and telephones — did not penetrate the dense reed beds and narrow waterways that protected their village.

“It was a very simple life,” he recalled. “We would fish. We would collect the reeds. We would plant rice.”

They rarely ventured more than a few villages from home, and outsiders rarely ventured into the marshes. In hamlets such as Zayad, home to about 120 families, everyone is related and marriage among cousins is common.

The marsh dwellers were largely unknown to the outside world, even to other Iraqis, until British explorer Wilfred Thesiger chronicled the seven years he spent with them in his 1964 book “The Marsh Arabs.” The marshes, he wrote, were a place where one could encounter “stars reflected in dark water, the croakings of frogs, canoes coming home at evening, peace and continuity, the stillness of a world that never knew an engine.”

Although Hussein’s government built dams along the Tigris and Euphrates in the 1970s, and paved roads through the wetlands in the 1980s to move supplies to the front lines during the eight-year war with Iran, the marshlands remained largely intact. In 1990, an estimated 300,000 people lived there.

Everything changed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Shiite Muslims in the south rose up against Hussein’s government. Some Shiite leaders, particularly those who sneaked into the country from Iran, hid in the marshes, which were out of the reach of Hussein’s tanks and artillery. The Shiite leaders were welcomed — and aided — by the Shiite Marsh Arabs.

Even after Hussein’s army quashed the revolt by slaughtering thousands of Shiites and attacking their villages, the president was bent on retribution. He ordered the marshes drained.

To subvert nature, he approved the construction of a massive network of canals, pipelines and dams. State-owned businesses and private firms were required to dispatch all their bulldozers to work on the projects. Sunnis from Hussein’s strongholds in central Iraq, including Tikrit and Fallujah, were encouraged to travel south to help dig.

The engineering feat was enormous — and remarkably successful. The Euphrates, which spilled entirely into the southern half of the marshes, was diverted into a wide new canal called the Mother of All Battles River that stretched more than 100 miles around the former wetlands. Farther upstream, billions of gallons of Euphrates water was redirected in another canal and dumped into a depression in the desert.

The same strategy was employed on the Tigris River, parching the northern and eastern sections of the marshes.

Before Hussein’s drainage project, Iraq’s marshes were the Middle East’s largest wetland, covering about 7,500 square miles. By the late 1990s, satellite images indicated that less than 10 percent of Iraq’s marshland had any water. What remained was miles of parched, salty earth covered with clumps of scrub brush.

With no way to fish or farm, no reeds or birds, legions of Marsh Arabs had no choice but to leave the only place they considered home. Tens of thousands fled as refugees to Iran. By 1993, the United Nations estimated there were only 50,000 marsh dwellers left, and their numbers continued to dwindle over the following years.

In Zayad, the water level dropped as if someone had pulled a plug, residents said. Soon there was only mud. The reeds died. The birds flew away. The water buffalo had no place to roam.

Unlike their neighbors, the people of Zayad opted to stick it out instead of moving. Hunger was rampant. Some were forced to sell their possessions for food. Reed homes fell into disrepair because there were no building materials. Instead, the villagers built mud-brick huts. “We went from having everything to having nothing,” Kerkush said. “Our land turned to desert. How can anyone live in the desert?”

Redirecting the River
In mid-April, a few days after Hussein’s government fell, Ali Shaheen returned to his job as director of the Irrigation Department in Nasiriyah. Located about 25 miles northwest of Zayad, Nasiriyah was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting during the war. But with the hostilities over and Shiites firmly in control of the local government, he decided to try to reverse the damage Hussein had wrought.

With a US military escort, he drove to Garmat Bani Hassan, a town a mile away from Zayad. There, he ordered creaky metal gates on the Euphrates to be cranked open for the first time since 1991.

Shaheen, a short, balding civil engineer with a stubble-covered face, did the same thing with two other gates before embarking on a bigger engineering challenge — redirecting the Euphrates. He requisitioned several Irrigation Department bulldozers and smashed the dam Hussein had constructed to divert water to the Mother of All Battles River. For good measure, he had Hussein’s river blocked off with a mountain of dirt.

He had no orders to redirect the rivers. There was no functioning Irrigation Ministry at the time. But he assumed he was doing what the Marsh Arabs wanted.

“Drying the marshes was a crime,” said Shaheen, who joined the Irrigation Department in 1998, after the canals and dams were built. “I felt I needed to do whatever I could to restore what Saddam destroyed.”

As the Euphrates returned to its original course, water surged toward Zayad and other villages on the western side of the marshes that are closest to the river’s mouth. The arid flats were covered with more than three feet of water, swallowing the scrub brush and a few homes that were built after the marshes were dried.

Shaheen calculated that more than 1 quadrillion gallons — a 1 followed by 15 zeroes — were needed to fill the Euphrates side of the marshes. But the flow at Nasiriyah, which had been 106,000 gallons per second before 1991, was down to 21,000 gallons per second because of new dams and irrigation canals built in Iraq, Syria and Turkey over the past decade. “The water we have is not enough,” he said.

By midsummer, the water’s advance had slowed. Villages just a few miles east of Zayad are still dry, with residents wondering when they will be able to ride a mashoof again.

If the flow does not increase, Shaheen predicted it will take more than 100 years to flood the marshes. “It’s not an issue of opening the gates and dams over here,” he said. “We need more water from upstream.”

Iraq’s new minister of water resources, Latif Rashid, said increasing the flow will require Syria and Turkey to reduce their consumption. “We’d like our just share,” he said. “They should respect our needs.”

Shaheen and other Iraqi water experts said they believe Hussein told Syria and Turkey to take as much water as they pleased — a policy that many say now needs to be reversed. Compared to the mid-1980s, the volume of water flowing into Iraq through the Euphrates has fallen 50 percent, according to the Water Ministry.

Rashid said he was shocked to see the extent of the destruction when he recently flew over the former marshlands with L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq. “It’s hard to imagine how catastrophic it is,” he said.

He said he has set up a commission to develop a plan to restore the marshes in a way that ensures that new farms and villages are not flooded and that upstream demand does not deprive the wetlands of sustenance. But he warned that results would not come soon.

“It’s not a question of opening a dam or turning a knob,” he said. “This is going to take a long time.”

Restoring Marsh Life
Sitting atop a reed mat on his concrete porch, Kerkush said he dreams of once again building a mudheef — a long, domed-roof structure made of tightly woven reeds that Marsh Arabs used to receive visitors. Clad in a crisp white tunic and a black-and-white head scarf, he would sit inside and entertain other sheiks with black coffee and tales of days past. “The mudheef was center of our social life,” he said. “We didn’t need television.”

Because of new roads and with his shop in a nearby trading town, outside influences have permeated the marshes faster than the water. He has heard of the Internet and would like to “bring it” to the village. “I’d like a mudheef and the Internet,” he said with an optimistic gleam. “I don’t want to live entirely in the past.”

When his son piloted his boat back to shore, Kerkush walked over to examine the morning’s catch, just as his father did years ago. The metal bucket was half empty. The tiny mullet inside would be worth no more than 2,000 Iraqi dinars — about $1 — at the nearby market. It was not his son’s fault, Kerkush said. “The marsh is not fully back to life,” he said. “The fish have not had enough time to grow.”

The rest of the marsh is similarly nascent. The reeds are not yet sufficient to rebuild the huts destroyed by Hussein’s army. The birds that have returned are not the right species to trap.

But as the scion of a clan that has lived here for perhaps 5,000 years, Kerkush said he is willing to be patient while engineers and politicians figure out how to pump more water into the marshes.

“Saddam did everything he could to kill us,” he said. “You cannot recover from that right away.”

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Tet Revisited? The Ramadan Offensive

October 28th, 2003 - by admin

by William Rivers Pitt / Truthout –


Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

— W.B. Yeats, ‘The Second Coming’

History loves to repeat itself.

On January 31, 1968, soldiers from North Vietnam launched what has become known as the Tet Offensive. The attacks were breathtaking in scope: North Vietnamese soldiers stormed the highland towns of Banmethout, Kontum and Pleiku, invaded 13 of the 16 provincial capitols in the Mekong Delta, attacked the headquarters of both America’s and South Vietnam’s armies, stormed the US embassy compound in Saigon, and took the city of Hue.

The attacks came as a complete shock to American forces. A 1968 CIA report concluded, “The intensity, coordination and timing of the attacks were not fully anticipated.” The report went on to state that, “another major unexpected point” was the ability of the North Vietnamese to strike so many targets at the same time.

In the technical jargon of war, the attacks were a failure, as the North Vietnamese soldiers were eventually beaten back. General Giap, commander of Vietnamese forces, had a different perspective. “For us, you know, there is no such thing as a single strategy,” said Giap after the war.

“Ours is always a synthesis, simultaneously military, political and diplomatic — which is why quite clearly, the Tet offensive had multiple objectives.”

Tet Failed Militarily but Succeeded Politically
The political aspect of the offensive worked. By March of 1968, President Lyndon Johnson’s approval rating had fallen to 30%, and approval for his handling of the war had fallen to 26%. Walter Cronkite, the most trusted voice in American television journalism, stated publicly that the war was unwinnable. An explosion of dissent rocked the American homeland, culminating in Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election, and in the police riot at the doorstep of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

The two lessons from Tet:

• 1) Underestimating a guerilla enemy that is fighting on its own ground is deadly policy;

• 2) The American people will not long stand for a bloodbath in a faraway land that has no clear objective, spends the lives of American soldiers to no good end, and costs billions and billions of dollars better spent elsewhere.

The Tet Offensive in January 1968 began a long, slow slide into ignominy and defeat for the United States that, to this day, still echoes long and loud along the hallways of power and the streets of everyday America.

Tet in Baghdad?
It is happening again. In the last 72 hours in Iraq, a dizzying series of attacks have rocked Baghdad. It began with the downing of a Blackhawk helicopter. It did not end there.

Several missiles were fired at the Baghdad Hotel where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying during his tour of the war. Wolfowitz, one of the chief architects of the conflict, escaped unharmed but was visibly shaken after the attacks. An American officer was killed in that attack.

In separate attacks, three American soldiers were killed and four wounded. Two of the deaths came when a patrol from the 1st Armored Division was struck by a roadside bomb. The third death came in Abu Ghraib, on the western edge of Baghdad, when a Military Police unit was attacked.

There have been 349 American soldiers killed in Iraq during this conflict, and thousands more wounded. Since George W. Bush strutted across an aircraft carrier in the garb of a combat pilot in May, after he said, “Bring ’em on” in June, there have been 211 American soldiers killed.

Put another way, we have lost more troops in the nine months of this war than we had lost in Vietnam by 1964. History tells us quite clearly that our Vietnam casualty rate skyrocketed in the years to come.

Four different Iraqi police stations were bombed in Baghdad on Monday, and a massive explosion tore into the offices of the International Red Cross. 34 people were killed, and 224 were wounded.

The attacks took place in rapidfire succession between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. local time, strongly suggesting a high degree of coordination.

Chilling Similarities to Tet Offensive
The similarities to Tet are chilling. In 1968, the attacks came at the onset of the Vietnamese New Year, a holiday that American command believed would herald a temporary quieting of the violence. In Iraq, these attacks come at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The American command in Baghdad believed the holiday would bring a slacking of the attacks that have been plaguing American forces. This assumption ran so strong that the Baghdad curfew was partially lifted by American forces just before the brunt of the attacks hit.

One difference between Tet and Baghdad is that we knew, in Vietnam, who was attacking us. We have no idea who has been behind these attacks in Iraq. The inability to even identify the attackers beyond the catch-all “Evildoers who hate freedom” means we have little hope of thwarting future attacks.

The most pointed similarity is clear: These attacks are meant to cause a political reaction. The United States military, on the whole, will not be undermined by these attacks or by the loss of four more soldiers. The political ramifications, however, are a different story, and in the long run the political reaction will directly affect the military.

The Bush administration has been trying to sell a rosy perspective of this war to the American people, a perspective that was eviscerated by these attacks. Worse, the attacks will have a further chilling effect upon the administration’s attempts to bring the international community into this fight, something even the most hard-core go-it-aloners in Washington have come to see as absolutely necessary.

With every explosion at a non-American outpost, with every targeting of the United Nations and the Red Cross in Iraq, this war becomes more and more the sole property of the United States and the Bush administration. Each time this happens, it becomes less likely that an international coalition will be formed to bail America out in Iraq. The old sign above the cash register at your corner store says it all: “You break it, you buy it.”

Bush Says Attacks Are Good News
George W. Bush responded to these most recent attacks by saying the intricately coordinated and highly effective attacks were a sign that the unidentified insurgents were becoming “desperate.” He described the attackers as people who “hate freedom” and “love terror.”

This is the reaction of a man residing comfortably in Bizarro World, a land where up is down, black is white, and reality has no place at the table. Basically, Bush is trying to tell us that these attacks are good news, that these “desperate” moves are a sign of looming American victory.

Ask the thousands of dead Iraqis if this is good news. Ask the Red Cross, which is strongly considering pulling out of Iraq, if this is good news. Ask the international community, which is being pressured into leaping aboard this sinking ship, if this is good news. Ask the families of the dead and wounded American soldiers if this is good news.

Ask al Qaeda, and they will tell you this is nothing but good news. This war on Iraq, built on a foundation of misinformation and lies, has led to the greatest recruiting drive in that group’s bloody history. The opportunity to kill more Americans is good news for them. The ability to rock the American government is good news for them.

Osama bin Laden smiles today, and it was George W. Bush who put the grin on his face.

William Rivers Pitt is the Managing Editor of truthout.org. He is a New York Times and international best-selling author of three books – “War On Iraq,” available from Context Books, “The Greatest Sedition is Silence,” available from Pluto Press, and “Our Flag, Too: The Paradox of Patriotism,” available in August from Context Books.

© Copyright 2003 by TruthOut.org, http://www.truthout.org. For fair use only.

In Rafah: The Death of a Town

October 28th, 2003 - by admin

by Chris McGreal / The Guardian (London) –


(October 27, 2003) — The moment al-Brazil plunged into darkness, Amjad Alweda knew what was coming. He grabbed his wife and three young children and bundled them down a pitch-black stairwell to a room at the back of their small block of flats. And then he stopped and listened.

The sound of the tanks echoes along the streets around here so it seems they are coming from every direction at once and you never know which way to run,” says the 32-year-old Palestinian man.

Minutes later an engine roared and tons of steel — he didn’t wait to discover whether it was a tank or a bulldozer — came crashing into the front of Alweda’s computer shop. He squeezed his children through a back window and told them to run as the clanking monster tore at his livelihood.

“The soldiers were calling over the megaphones for everybody to leave their houses but there was no chance for people to get out before they started shooting from the tanks. It was completely dark and there were bullets flying around,” he says. “Usually, we try and stay in the house when the fighting starts but we knew the army had been everywhere else so it must be our turn.”

Operation Root Canal
For two weeks now, the Israeli army has been grinding its way through Rafah refugee camp in the southern tip of the Gaza strip. “Operation Root Canal” is ostensibly aimed at destroying some of the dozens of tunnels the military says are used for smuggling weapons under the border with Egypt.

As about 65 tanks, armoured vehicles and mammoth armour-plated bulldozers rolled into Rafah, the Israeli army said it had intelligence that surface-to-air missiles were being hauled through the tunnels. But there was no sign of them as dozens of Palestinians attempted to exact some kind of price for the attack with pistols, AK-47s and homemade hand grenades. By the time the Israelis withdrew to the fringes of the camp where the tanks and bulldozers are perpetually at work, 18 Palestinians were dead, including three children under 15 years old, and more than 120 were wounded.

Just three tunnels were found, and no weapons. But in the process, the military crushed or rocketed nearly 200 homes, throwing about 1,700 people onto the street. The army claimed it never happened, that just 10 homes were wrecked, and then sent back the bulldozers to grind the evidence that the houses ever existed into the dirt.

200 Homes Destroyed by Tanks, Rockets and Bulldozers
The raid was one of the largest of the past three years of intifada, rivaling the notorious leveling of the heart of Jenin refugee camp last year in the scale of destruction, if not loss of life. Yet there was barely a peep of protest from Britain or other European countries over the attack, and President George Bush defended the Israeli assault as a necessary part of the war on terrorism.

There is no such thing as a quiet night in Rafah. The shooting usually begins around dusk, punching the darkness with rapid machinegun fire and tracer bullets for minutes at a time. Most of the Palestinian fire is aimed at the concrete pillboxes and lookout posts planted every 50 metres between the edge of Rafah and the Egyptian border where Israel retains control of a narrow strip of land along the frontier known as the Philadelphi road.

The border is a tangle of wire, broken buildings and mud, bearing a resemblance to a World War I battlefield. Not far beyond, are the Egyptian lookout towers, a tantalizing reminder to Rafah’s 145,000 residents that there is world outside the occupation.

For Every Jewish Citizen Killed, 70 Residents of Rafah have Died
Palestinian bullets rarely reach their intended target. Israeli fire is more effective. The results can be seen peppered over the front of the houses that face the border, and in the death statistics.

Palestinians in Rafah have killed three soldiers and one Jewish settler during the intifada. The Israelis have killed about 280 people in Rafah over the past three years, accounting for about one in nine Palestinian deaths during the uprising and making the refugee camp and neighboring small town one of the most dangerous places in the occupied territories. One in five of the dead are children or teenagers.

The Israeli military has designated Rafah a war zone. In doing so, the military exempts itself from many of its own restraints and provides a ready justification for the “collateral damage” of civilian deaths.

The government’s view is summed up by a declaration signed by several cabinet ministers at an international summit in Jerusalem earlier this month that states “the war on radical Islam is a righteous cause. The state of Israelis, symbolically and operationally, on the frontline of the battle to defend civilization.”

A War to Defend Civilization from Radical Islam
The latest battle was fought in al-Brazil, a civilian neighborhood of Rafah refugee camp. The tanks moved in after dark, and the bulldozers tore down power lines. Among those fleeing as the tanks blasted away at Palestinian fighters was Naja Abu Neima, a 55-year-old grandmother.

When she returned three days later, there was nothing left of her home. Today she is camped on an island of broken bricks and concrete under a makeshift shelter with a carpet on top and twisted metal sheeting against two sides.

“This tent represents all that is left of my house. All of our furniture, clothes, fridge, everything is destroyed,” she says. “They killed my son a few months ago, and now they have destroyed my house. The Israelis claim we are terrorists. What do you see with your own eyes?”

Most of the casualties ended up at Rafah’s only hospital. The director, Dr Ali Mousa, is resigned to the parade of corpses but he was unprepared for those of a couple of young children. “Their bodies arrived here without any heads. Can you imagine how two children — 12 and 15 years old — come to be without heads? They were hit by a tank shell. What could they have done to tanks?” he says.

“This is the worst attack of the past three years because they closed Rafah from all sides. The attacks on the refugee camps on the border are taking more and more time. It used to be they came in for a few hours at a time, but now it’s for days.”

Dr Mousa faced a daily battle to get the wounded out of the battle zone and to move the serious casualties on to better facilities elsewhere in the Gaza Strip. One of his medics was shot in the chest as he helped move a man with a gunshot wound to his head.

“Many people tell us about pregnant women trying to get to hospital by moving from house to house, trying not to get shot,” says Dr Mousa.

“What Threat Is a Child to a Tank?
After smashing in the front of Alweda’s store, the army decided that his home, two floors above the shop, would make a good sniper’s nest. The flat has a view across the open ground in front of the buildings and up each of the approaching side streets. The snipers broke up the floor tiles in the hallway and packed the fragments into sandbags. The military also destroyed much of the furniture and Alweda’s small computer store where dozens of machines lay among the rubble. “I work as a teacher in a refugee school. We are not highly paid. I earn $630 (£370) a month. It cost me $5,000 to set up my shop,” he says.

The soldiers stayed in al-Brazil three days and demolished a couple of dozen homes without finding any tunnels. Their final victim of the raid was 15-year-old Shadi Abu Elwan who went to help a friend recover furniture from under the rubble.

“There was gunfire and Shadi’s friends found him lying on the floor bleeding from his head,” says the dead boy’s distraught father, Nabil Abu Elwan. “His head was completely broken by a bullet. He lived for a few minutes more, but then he died.

“When his friends looked they saw a tank parked close by, on the same side where the Palestinian homes were destroyed. My son was no threat to the tank, he was just helping his friends. I believe the Israeli soldiers in the tank like to kill people because they don’t think of the Palestinians as people, they think of us as animals. Even the women and children are animals to them. It’s sport, hunting. What can one boy do to them in their tanks? What threat was he?”

The army’s claim that tunnels exist is not in doubt. Some of those uncovered are quite sophisticated, with wooden paneling, lighting and even phone lines linking the two ends. The tunneling began back in the early 1980s under the domination of two Bedouin families who made a small fortune charging fixed fees to smuggle people, cigarettes, drugs and alcohol into Rafah. Even today, a packet of cigarettes is noticeably cheaper in Rafah than in Gaza city.

But the military says their main use of the tunnels today is to shift weapons. “This operation is the inevitable cost that the people of Rafah are paying for the tunnel industry. The trouble is that when no one else is practising law and order, we have to do it ourselves,” says an army spokeswoman, Major Sharon Feingold.

If Tunnels Were the Objective, Why Target Homes?
The newly homeless in Rafah question what the destruction of their houses has to do with unearthing the tunnels. “Any house used to shoot at the (Israeli) force immediately lost its immunity and was destroyed,” says Feingold. “This was partly the reason for so many houses being destroyed. There was a lot of resistance at the beginning of the operation.”

When Israeli troops go in to Rafah, they rarely have an easy time of it. “Our main duty is to block any attack using all kinds of local made weapons we have,” says one of the fighters in the camp, who goes by the nom de guerre of Abu Abed. “There is no balance between the force we have and the occupation army. We know our simple weapons can’t affect their forces, but we want them to know there is a price to pay when they come.”

Abu Abed waves a pistol and one of his comrades fiddles with the pin on a hand grenade until he is asked to stop. “I think this resistance is one of the reasons the Israelis don’t try and reoccupy all of Gaza like they have done with Jenin and Nablus and those other places,” he says.

But “the resistance” is not always welcome. Few want to talk about it, although Alweda was unusually frank: “Sometimes we kick the resisters out of our areas. We don’t want to get stuck in the crossfire,” he says. Abu Abed admits as much. “We face lots of trouble with the Palestinian civilian population and it happened several times that we clashed with them because they don’t want us. When we face a problem, we call our leaders and they usually order us to withdraw,” he says.

For the governor of Rafah, Majid Ghal, the claims about tunnels and resistance are all nonsense. He says the demolitions are yet another grab for Palestinian land. “What they are doing is to carve out a buffer zone between Rafah and the border. The Israelis have always said they do not want Palestine to control its borders or to have borders with other countries. They are trying to drive people out,” he says.

Destroying Homes Is ‘A Long-term Policy’
The army denies any such motive. But a clue to Israeli intent can be found in comments made on Israel radio a year ago by the then head of the military’s southern command, which has responsibility for Gaza. Colonel Yom Tov Samya said house demolition was a policy and an end in itself, not a by-product of a search for tunnels. “The IDF (Israeli Defense Force) has to knock down all the houses along a strip of 300 to 400 metres. It doesn’t matter what the future settlement will be, this will be the border with Egypt,” he said. “Arafat has to be punished, and after every terrorist attack another two or three rows or houses on the Palestinian side of the border have to be knocked down … This is a long-term policy. We simply have to take a very extreme step. It is do-able and I am happy it is being done, but it’s being carried out in doses that are too small, I regret to say. It has to be done in one big operation.”

Last Tuesday, nine young Rafah men in ill-fitting, rented shiny black suits had other ideas. All were to be married later that day, and all came from families whose homes were bulldozed a few days earlier. But first there was a bus tour under a banner with mangled English spelling but a clear enough sentiment: “Wedding among destuton despit the pans”.

The nine grooms placed flowers stuck in makeshift vases fashioned from discarded Israeli shell casings on the remnants of their homes. “It’s to send a message to our enemies that we will go back to our homes,” says Younees Abu Jazaar, a fresh-faced 20-year-old who married a cousin. “We feel the pain but life can’t stop. We are kind of happy to be getting married but kind of sad because we no longer have homes. But why should we allow them to wreck everything for us?”

Wedding Parties amidst the Rubble
Next stop was Gaza International Airport, a monument to Yasser Arafat’s vanity, but also a source of some pride to the residents of neighboring Rafah. The Israelis put the airport out of business at the beginning of the intifada by bulldozing craters into the runway, but the staff still turn up for work.

The bridegrooms posed beneath posters of “martyrs” — suicide bombers, fighters and innocent Palestinian civilians killed — before moving on to the arrivals hall for photographs next to the luggage carousel.

“We are very proud of our airport,” says Abu Jazaar. “Look at how beautiful it is. This is our hope, that all life can be as beautiful as this airport. Except the runway. Right now our life is like the runway.”

A few hours later, the nine were married in Rafah stadium where most of their parents are once again living in tents half a century after their families were driven to Gaza by Israeli independence.

The Iraq Death Count: No-one Is Counting the Full Cost

October 28th, 2003 - by admin

by John Sloboda and Hamit Dardagan / Iraq Body Count –



The Iraq Death Count: No-one Is Counting the Full Cost
John Sloboda and Hamit Dardagan / Iraq Body Count

Indifference and Obfuscation

(October 27, 2003) — Western official sources and much of the Western media have shown an obsessive level of interest in deaths of westerners during the Iraq conflict – at least by comparison with their interest in the Iraqi dead. We know the name, age, date and place of death of every European and American.

There is constant and immediate updating of and rumination on the implications of the western death toll by political commentators, government spokespersons, and front-line media. Yet the Western death toll (around 400), is completely dwarfed by the Iraqi death toll (around 7,500 to 9,500 civilian deaths reported to date, and an unknown number of military deaths, claimed by different commentators as likely to be between 10,000 and 45,000). Table 1 [see below] shows the most up-to-date estimates of total deaths available, with key sources.

So little attention and interest is shown by Western officialdom towards Iraqi deaths, and so consistent is the refusal by the US and UK administrations to engage in any discussion or evaluation of the toll on Iraqi lives, that their stance is beginning to take on an increasingly surreal quality. Independent attempts to draw attention to the Iraqi death toll and its consequences are typically brushed aside as politically-motivated or “anti-American,” and the atrocities of Saddam held up as justification enough for the “collateral damage” of the war which ousted him from power. However, when Government obfuscates on this issue to its own members of parliament, then we know that something is very wrong indeed.

Llew Smith, a UK Labour MP recently wrote to the UK Defense Minister, Adam Ingram, and got the following reply: “Whilst the Ministry of Defense has accurate data relating to the number of UK service personnel that have been killed or injured during Operation Telic (the invasion of Iraq), we have no way of establishing with any certainty the number of Iraqi casualties.”

In a further question, Smith asked the Defense Secretary if he would examine reports of Iraqi deaths from eyewitness correspondents embedded with the military in the invasion of Iraq; request the Coalition provisional authority to make a survey of deaths reported in hospitals in Iraq, from 19 March to 1 May, arising from military conflict; and make the estimating of Iraqi military deaths part of the aim of interrogation of Iraqi military commanders in custody.

Mr. Ingram’s reply stated: “Any loss of life, particularly civilian, is deeply regrettable, but in a military operation the size of Operation Telic it is also unavoidable. Through very strict rules of engagement, the use of precision munitions and the tactical methods employed to liberate Iraq’s major cities, we are satisfied that the coalition did everything possible to avoid unnecessary casualties. We do not, therefore, propose to undertake a formal review of Iraqi casualties sustained from 19 March to 1 May.”

Smith goes on to conclude: “Surely this is both an inhumane and unacceptable position. As at least part of our aid to postwar Iraq must be targeted at assistance to families left without breadwinners who have been killed or seriously injured by the invasion, then our planners are going to have to calculate the numbers of families left destitute by their loss.” (Independent, 18 September 2003, page 19 www.independent.co.uk ).

Any sober reflection on the Iraq crisis, from any side of the political spectrum, must surely conclude that the nature and extent of the damage inflicted on the Iraqi people as a result of the US/UK coalition action is one of the most important factors determining what is happening in Iraq now and what is likely to happen in the future.

Assessment of the human cost is vital in determining the nature and timing of actions needed to bring stability to Iraq and the entire Middle East. The refusal of the USA and the UK administrations to publicly face up to the facts, and their consequences, is a self-defeating ostrich-like posture that will simply inflame the enormous problems now festering in Iraq and neighboring countries.

Every human life is equally valuable, and there is absolutely no human justification for placing the honoring and remembering of US or UK casualties above that of Iraqi casualties. The failings of the West in this respect, are, and will be seen as, racist in general, and anti-Arab in particular.

The Iraq Body Count Project
Since January 2003, Iraq Body Count has been compiling a comprehensive public data base of media-reported civilian deaths in Iraq which flow from the US/UK military actions and subsequent occupation. The data base is on a publicly available web-site which is updated as soon as the research team have verified the figures from two or more approved media sources.

The “bottom line” is an automatically updated total, which is conveyed, via downloadable web-counters, to over 5,000 web-sites worldwide. We publish both a minimum and a maximum for each incident, and also for the total, to accommodate variations in estimates and potential uncertainties in the reports.

Although the cumulative total is an important statistic, and the one which is most often quoted in media reporting on our work, the data collected and archived allows more specific and focused questions to be answered, at least in part. Previously published analyses (available at http://www.iraqbodycount.net/editorial_aug0703.htm )
have focused on
• (a) the geographical distribution of deaths over the country (editorial 1),
• (b) the number of deaths from cluster munitions (editorial 2), and
• (c) deaths where names and other personal details of victims are available (editorial 3).

We have also published the first estimate of civilian injuries drawn from media reports which mention such injuries in the context of reporting civilian deaths. (editorial 4). We hope shortly to upgrade the public data-base so that it can be searched and sorted on-line by web-users, who may thus be better enabled to conduct their own analyses on our data using a range of different sort criteria.

The glaring gap in the “counting the dead” project is any reliable total for Iraqi military deaths. The published estimates are little more than informed guesses, and are not based on reliable data. By contrast, the information about civilian deaths, whilst scattered and multiple-sourced, is precise and relies on very little estimation or extrapolation. Our insistence that any incident entering our data base is tied to a specific location and time-frame ensures that we deal only in actual, rather than projected, deaths.

Steady Increase in Post-war Violent Deaths
Our most recent analysis is focused on the single most important source of information about civilian deaths since the end of the “war-phase”. This is the Baghdad city morgue. All victims of suspicious or violent death are supposed to be referred here by the hospitals so that an autopsy can be carried out through forensic examination. The figures are not entirely representative because, in some cases, families simply bury their dead without going to the authorities. Many journalists have interviewed morgue staff, and this report is typical:

“We used to receive about 300-350 cases per month – an average of 10 a day,” said Faik Amin Baker, director of the Medical Legal Institute in Medical City, which oversees the running of the morgue. “The figures now are more than triple that. We sometimes get 40 to 45 cases in one day.”

Source: http://www.baghdadbulletin.com/pageArticle.php?article_id=88&cat_id=1 (date 8 August 2003)

Based on analysis of over 20 different press reports filed between May 2003 and the present, we are now able to show conclusively that the rate of violent deaths has steadily risen since April, and is far above comparable figures for the same period of the previous year. Drawing from key media reports which quote precise totals (rather than per-day or per-week estimates), Table 2 shows the monthly totals of deaths arriving at the Baghdad Morgue.

From April 14th to 30th September, 3,563 violent deaths were recorded by the Baghdad city morgue. When corrected for pre-war death rates in the city a total of at least 1,886 excess violent deaths in Baghdad emerges from reports based on the morgue’s records.

IBC’s latest study is the first comprehensive count to adjust for the comparable “background level” of deaths in Baghdad in recent pre-war times. It is therefore an estimate of additional deaths in the city directly attributable to the breakdown of law and order following the US takeover and occupation of Baghdad.

The study confirms the widespread anecdotal evidence that violence on the streets of Baghdad has skyrocketed, with the average daily death rate almost tripling since mid April from around 10 per day to over 28 per day during August.

Another worrying development is that during the pre-war period deaths from gunshot wounds accounted for approximately 10% of bodies brought to the morgue, but now account for over 60% of those killed. The small number of reports available for other cities indicate that these trends are being mirrored elsewhere in the country.

’Collateral Deaths’ Unacknowledged by US Troops
Although the majority of deaths are the result of Iraqi on Iraqi violence, some were directly caused by US military fire. There is evidence that these deaths, often from indiscriminate use of firepower, increasingly fail to be reported or remain unacknowledged by occupation forces.

The Geneva Conventions and Hague Regulations, to which the US and UK are signatories, place the responsibility for ensuring public order and protecting the civilian population from violence on the occupying powers. UN Resolution 1483, which recognized the US/UK as the de facto occupying authority in Iraq, clearly bound them to these duties. But the US/UK are manifestly failing to fulfil them, compounding the death and destruction already unleashed by their invasion of Iraq. At the same time the US, in particular, resists any multilateral initiatives which would lead to an early end to its dominance over the country.

Meanwhile the latest reports from the nation’s capital show that, as throughout the summer, the city’s daily death toll continues to rise. But reporting this rise may become more difficult, as coalition forces suppress the free movement of journalists.

Pepe Escobar, a journalist for the Asia Times, reports that “The CPA has in fact censored journalists’ visits to Iraqi hospitals. Special permission is now required – and the wait can be eternal.” (source Sep 19, 2003: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/EI19Ak02.html )

British journalist Robert Fisk has reported this too — but notes that while “this means we’re not in theory supposed to find out the [casualty] figures, …in fact we can get into the hospitals, because we know many of the doctors or there are other ways in, and usually the security guards are very sympathetic towards us. They’re Iraqi. They want us to tell the story of this great tragedy for the Iraqis.” (Source: Democracy Now interview, Sep 18, 2003: http://www.indybay.org/news/2003/09/1646484.php )

And unlike our great leaders, those Iraqi hospital workers don’t believe the public needs to be guarded from the truth.

Table 1

Conflict-related deaths in Iraq between March 20th and October 23rd 2003 (maximum documented or estimated)

Iraqi 9500 (1)
Western Journalists 14 (2)

Iraqi 45,000 (3)
US 349 (4)
Other coalition (including UK) 52 (5)

Maximum total deaths 55,000

(1) source http://www.iraqbodycount.net
(2) Source: http://foi.missouri.edu/jouratrisk/chronology.html
(3) Source http://www.adn.com/24hour/world/story/845251p-5936488c.html ; and http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,965089,00.html
(4) source: http://www.antiwar.com/ewens/list.html
(5) source: http://lunaville.org/warcasualties/Summary.aspx

Table 2

Total deaths recorded at the Baghdad Morgue — April through September 2003.

Daily rate of deaths from gunshot wounds

April 14-30
May 462
June 626
July 780
August 872
September 667

Total : 3563

© Copyright John Sloboda and Hamit Dardagan 2003 For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement .

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