Ten Years After (Iraq)
by Michael Parenti
Toward Freedom magazine, February 2001
Upon disembarking from the Olympic Airways plane that brought
me to Iraq in November 2000, I can see some of the effects of
the Western-imposed sanctions. What was once a busy international
airport is now a desolate strip. Two lonely planes sit as if abandoned
on the vast tarmac. There are no airport personnel to speak of;
no baggage carts or utility vehicles, not even any visible security.
On a wall inside the empty terminal is a handmade sign in
Arabic and imperfect English; it reads: "Down USA."
A large portrait of Saddam Hussein gazes down upon us. His image
can be found along the road to the city, in the hotel, and on
various public buildings.
I am part of an international delegation of Greeks, Britons,
Canadians, and US citizens. Included are journalists, peace advocates,
and members of the Greek parliament. Margarita Papandreou, former
first lady of Greece and devoted political activist, leads the
group. It s an especially moving moment for her. It has been her
dream for 10 years to be able to fly directly to Baghdad. And
this is the first flight to Iraq by a state-owned commercial airline
from the West in defiance of US/UN sanctions.
The Iraqi officials who greet us don't try to hide how pleased
they are about our arrival. "Your presence is a statement
against the inhuman means used against us. Iraq is a prosperous
country capable of fulfilling the basic needs of the people, but
we are being prevented from doing so by the UN sanctions,"
one of them says. "Feel free to go anywhere and speak to
KILLING A COUNTRY
Most people in the US don't know that Saddam was put into
power by a CIA-engineered coup to stop the Iraqi revolution- which
he did by massacring the communists and the left-wing of his own
Baath party. But in time, Saddam proved to be a disappointment
to his mentors in Washington. Instead of opening his country to
free-market capital penetration on terms that were thoroughly
favorable to Western investors, he devoted a substantial portion
of Iraq's export earnings to human services and economic development.
In 1972, Iraq nationalized its oil industry, and was immediately
denounced by US leaders as a "terrorist" nation.
Before the six weeks of air attacks known as the Gulf War
(which ended in February 1991), Iraq's standard of living was
the highest in the Middle East. Iraqis enjoyed free medical care
and free education. Literacy had reached about 80 percent. Most
Iraqi youth were educated up through secondary school. University
students of both genders received scholarships to study at home
and abroad. In the eyes of Western leaders, Saddam was that penultimate
evil, an economic nationalist, little better than a communist.
He would have to be taught a lesson. His country needed to be
bombed back into the Third World from which it was emerging.
The high explosive tonnage delivered upon Iraq during the
Gulf War was more than twice the combined Allied air offensive
of World War II. Within the first few days of bombing, there was
no running water in the country. More than 90 percent of Iraq's
electrical capacity was destroyed. Its telecommunication systems-including
TV and radio stations- were demolished, as were its flood control,
irrigation, sewage treatment, water purification, and hydroelectric
systems. Farm herds and poultry farms suffered heavy losses. US
planes burned wheat and grain fields with incendiary bombs, and
hit hundreds of schools, hospitals, rail stations, bus stations,
air-raid shelters, mosques, and historic sites. Factories that
produced textiles, cement, chlorine, petrochemicals, and phosphate
were hit repeatedly. So were the refineries, pipelines, and storage
tanks of Iraq's oil industry.
Iraqi civilians and soldiers fleeing Kuwait were slaughtered
by the thousands on what became known as the "Highway of
Death." Also massacred were Iraqi soldiers who tried to surrender
to US forces on a number of occasions. In all, some 200,000 Iraqis
were killed in those six weeks. Nearly all US planes, Ramsey Clark
notes, "employed laser-guided depleted-uranium missiles,
leaving 900 tons of radioactive waste spread over much of Iraq
with no concern for the consequences to future life."
Our delegation got a grim glimpse of the war's aftermath.
We visited the Al-Amerya bomb shelter where over 400 civilians,
mostly women and children, were incinerated by two US missiles.
Blackened, ossified body parts, including a child's hand, can
still be seen melded into the ceiling. Along one wall is the irradiated
shadow of a woman holding a baby in her arms, a ghoulish fresco
created by the heat blast. The shadow of another figure can be
seen on the cement floor. The shelter has become a shrine, with
candles, plastic flowers, and pictures of the victims. The guide
notes that US reconnaissance saw civilians using the shelter on
a nightly basis during the early days of the bombing, yet it was
still chosen as a target.
In the 10 years of "peace" since February 1991,
an additional 400 tons of explosives have been dropped on Iraq;
300 people have been killed and many hundreds wounded. The US
and United Kingdom, with the participation of France, imposed
a no-fly zone over the northern region of the country, ostensibly
to protect the Kurds. This newly found humanitarian concern didn't
extend to the Kurds residing on the Turkish side of the border.
The next year, another no-fly zone was imposed in the south, reputedly
to protect Shiite settlements, effectively dividing the country
into three parts. By 1998, the French had withdrawn from both
zones, but US and British air attacks on military and civilian
targets have continued almost on a daily basis, including strafing
raids against Iraqi agricultural developments. Baghdad's repeated
protests to the UN have gone unheeded. Since 1998, three members
of the Security Council-Russia, China, and France-and various
non-permanent members have condemned the raids as illegal and
unauthorized by the Security Council.
To drive the point home, on the second day of our visit, US
warplanes fired four missiles at the village of Hmaidi in the
southern province of Basra, one of which struck the Ali Al-Hayaini
school, wounding four children and three teachers. Several homes
were also hit.
Michael Parenti s most recent books are To Kill a Nation:
The Attack on Yugoslavia and History as Mystery. The second part
of this report will appear in the next issue.