Counting the Cost of War on Iraq: Public meeting speeches

Here are four of the talks from "Counting the Cost of War on Iraq" public meeting 29th January 2003 at RMIT, Melbourne, Australia

Sponsored by Victorian Council of Churches, Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW), ACF and RMIT


The meeting was a great success with Storey Hall overflowing - over 800 people!

" Dr Carmen Lawrence, MP: How many dead Iraqis will it take?
" Dr Rob Moodie, MAPW: The RSecond&Mac226; Gulf War in Iraq; suffer the little children
" Dr Sue Wareham, President, MAPW: The Australian government is about to involve our nation in the continuation of a crime against humanity.
" Scott Burchill: All power to the UN when it pleases the allies

Dr Carmen Lawrence, MP

How many dead Iraqis will it take?

January 30 2003

reprinted in the Age newspaper http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/01/29/1043804405887.html

It seems we are meant to believe that the children of Iraq somehow deserve their fate, writes Carmen Lawrence.

So much of the talk by those pressing for an attack on Iraq is stripped bare of the bloody reality of war. It is clinical, anaesthetised and intentionally devoid of emotion.

I don't think I have once heard Prime Minister John Howard talk of the Iraqi lives that would be obliterated, the inevitable legacy of disability, homelessness and the stream of refugees that would result from attacking Iraq.

We are meant to forget that war is about killing and maiming other people, about destroying their homes and communities. We are meant to ignore the fact that they are human at all, with the same hopes and fears as we have. We are invited to deny our shared humanity with the people of Iraq.

Failing this, we are asked to consider that they are lesser human beings who somehow deserve their fate or that their death is a reasonable price for us to ask them to pay for our objectives.

When Madeleine Albright, then US ambassador to the UN, was asked on television what she felt about the fact that more than 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of sanctions, her now notorious reply was that "it was a hard choice" but that, all things considered, "we think the price is worth it".

Arundati Roy describes this as the "the sophistry and fastidious calculation of Infinite Justice". Using this calculus, how many dead Iraqis will it take to make the world a better place? How many dead children to satisfy the Bush administration and its allies that Saddam Hussein has paid a fair price for refusing to fully cooperate with the US weapons inspectors? How much blood for oil?

If clinical detachment doesn't allow us to feel comfortable with this algebra, then perhaps a phoney patriotism arising from our fear of being left alone without the umbrella of US power will overwhelm our squeamishness.

Australia has fought so many wars, sacrificed so many of its own citizens and those of other nations for fabricated causes.

Surely after the horrors of Vietnam, we can't be gulled again into fighting and killing on the paper-thin pretexts being offered by President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair? As Roy puts it: "They first use flags to shrink-wrap people's minds and smother real thought, and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury their willing dead."

The last Gulf War was fought without the grim, brutal reality of war ever being shown to us. It was made to look like a little boy's video game. The military control of the images, the refusal to allow the media anywhere near the action, allowed us to retain the comfortable fantasy of a war without pain.

Eliot Cohen in a recent edition of the journal Foreign Affairs argued that "the most dangerous legacy of the Persian Gulf War (is) the fantasy of the near-bloodless use of force".

We can no longer maintain this denial.

We know what did happen in Iraq and what is likely if the US, Britain and Australia attack again. Even the language of "surgical strikes", "precision bombing", "collateral damage" and "soft targets" cannot disguise the fatal impact of bombs on flesh and blood.

Medact, the British equivalent of Australia's Medical Association for the Prevention of War, estimates that if the threatened attack on Iraq eventuates, between 48,000 and 260,000 people on all sides could be killed. Civil war within Iraq could add another 20,000 deaths.

They estimate that later deaths from adverse health effects could add a further 200,000 to this hideous total.

The estimates of the toll of death and misery that might result from an attack on Iraq do not include the use of nuclear weapons that the US is said to be planning (Los Angeles Times, January 26).

To quote from the article by William Arkin: "According to multiple sources close to the process, the current planning focuses on two possible roles for nuclear weapons: attacking Iraqi facilities located so deep underground that they might be impervious to conventional explosives; thwarting Iraq's use of weapons of mass destruction."

The bizarre contradiction inherent in using nuclear weapons - the ultimate "weapons of mass destruction" - for the purpose of eliminating "weapons of mass destruction" appears to have escaped the warmongers in the Bush administration.

As Arkin also observes, planning for the possible pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons "rewrites the ground rules" and "moves nuclear weapons out of their long-established special category and lumps them in with all the other military options".

Until now, even the US reserved the use of nuclear weapons for retaliation against nuclear attacks or immediate threats to national survival.

This very significant and terrifying shift in US policy on nuclear weapons use passed with barely a shiver in the Australian media.

We know that Saddam Hussein is a bloody murderer. But why look to war as the only solution? In fact, this is not a war in the sense that we normally understand it.

A unilateral attack would be just that. Iraq has not attacked the US or Britain or Australia. The use of the word "war" is designed to cultivate the perception that we are under attack and that war is the most effective response to that threat.

As one anti-war activist wrote, to call something a "war" creates a willingness to use force in the service of what appears to be an indisputable objective - the desire to overcome one's enemy.

All too often, the debate about a possible attack on Iraq focuses on the strategic issues of interest to military specialists and those fascinated by the technical possibilities of combat. Rarely is enough attention paid to the savagery of modern warfare.

We need to speak the truth about the suffering any attack would inflict upon our fellow human beings, to repudiate the all too ready use of force.

We need to tell Bush and Blair and Howard that we will not be complicit in an act of mass murder.

[This is an edited extract of federal Labor backbencher Carmen Lawrence's address to an anti-war rally at RMIT last night.

Dr Rob Moodie, MAPW

The second Gulf War in Iraq; suffer the little children.

Learning lessons from the Past

In April 1991, about six weeks after the end of the Gulf War, a group of Harvard University postgraduate students from the school of public health and the law school quietly slipped into Iraq. We drove from Amman to Baghdad, met with public health officials, put Red Cross/Crescent stickers on the sides of local taxis and drove off to visit 12 sites all over Iraq accompanied only by interpreters. Our aim was to examine the effects of the sanctions against the Iraqi government, the Gulf War itself and the Civilian war that followed, on the under five population of Iraq.

We visited hospitals and health centres in Baghdad, in the Kurdish areas such as Erbil, Sulamaneiya, and Mosil in the north, and the Shiite areas such as An Najjef, and other major cities such as Basra in the south. We witnessed the grave worsening of protein-calorie malnutrition in young children, and we documented the onset of epidemics of typhoid, and other serious forms of malnutrition. We smelt the unforgettable smell of a cholera epidemic. We photographed and we copied out hospital and health records by hand. We met so many wonderful Iraqis, the same as us, but terrified of their leader and frightened after the Allied bombings and the ensuing civil war.

We documented a new effect of bombing. This was a new form of biological warfare, where in essence the national electricity grid was short-circuited in the first few days of bombing, then power stations were later completely bombed. We saw the unworkable water chlorination plants and filmed the untreated sewage spewing into the Tigris and Euphrates, to infect a nation. This is collateral damage it is just that it happens well after the bombing, and to potentially a much greater population.

The team also witnessed the terrible aftermath of a half-won war against Saddam. The Gulf War unleashed a short but horrible civil war. Saddam's soldiers crushed the Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in the north and south, making him even more dangerous to his population than he had been before the war. We talked with surgeons who had to operate with guns to their heads, nurses who had to work in hospitals being bombed.

We estimated that 50-70,000 children under the age of five died in eight months following the Gulf War from causes directly related to the war. This was later confirmed in a further study by our colleagues in 8,000 households. During and after the Gulf War there was much talk in the popular press of 'surgical' bombing. It was claimed that the 'precision' bombing was so well targeted that bombs could virtually enter the front door of a selected building and exit only destroying military targets, with no damage to the civilian population. Our study and subsequent studies showed this to be patently untrue. As we know now modern warfare kills far more civilians and comparatively far fewer soldiers than wars of bygone eras.

It seems that the efforts of the international community to punish Saddam have consistently hurt the poorest and most vulnerable in the country. Our team was constantly told by Iraqis we met in 1991 that the military were the least affected by the sanctions, that the sanctions hit the most vulnerable in the community, not the strongest. According to Hans van Sponeck, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq during the late nineties the sanctions continued to dramatically worsen the lives of the vulnerable populations the elderly, the disabled, the young and the rapidly increasing numbers of very poor Iraqis.

According to rigorous studies by UNICEF, mortality rates of infants and of under-five children have doubled during the 1990s, making Iraqi children even sicker and more vulnerable then they were in 1991. So if war strikes again, and strikes as suggested by knocking out the electricity supply to cripple Iraq, as a doctor I can surely predict that Iraqi kids will die in droves.

As a person I can only feel for the ordinary Iraqis, vilified in this country and others if they try to escape their terror in Iraq, and now caught between the might, the bombs and the biological warfare of the West, and the terror of a maniacal dictator and his torturous followers.

If war does go ahead, and after US Secretary of State Colin Powell's and Jordan's King Abdullah's speeches to the World Economic Forum at Davos a couple of days ago, it seems inevitable, then we have to make an enormous investment to prevent the collateral damage, to prevent intended or unintended biological warfare and prevent the deaths of, without exaggeration, over a hundred thousand innocent Iraqi's.

The 'First' Gulf War got Saddam out of Kuwait but it made him more brutal and more terrifying in his own country and it killed thousands of ordinary people, like you and me. If we don't learn from history then all we do is repeat it.

Dr Rob Moodie is a member of MAPW and CEO of VicHealth

Dr Sue Wareham, MAPW

A crime against humanity

The Australian government is about to involve our nation in the continuation of a crime against humanity.

Under international law, civilians must be protected in times of conflict. In particular, children must be protected. These basic tenets of civilised society have been most severely violated by Western policy towards Iraq over the past 12 years., commencing with the deliberate devastation of Iraqi society in the 1991 Gulf War and its disproportionate effect on the lives of children. The economic sanctions continued the process of crippling Iraqi civilians' ability to simply survive. The people are even less able to withstand warfare now than they were in 1991.

The report Collateral Damage: the health and environmental costs of war on Iraq which was written by the UK affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, has estimated that further war on Iraq could cause the deaths of up to half a million people. In the best possible case scenario which the report identified, tens of thousands of people would die.

I won't quote other figures because previous speakers have done that, but I will mention two things highlighted in the recently leaked UN report Likely Humanitarian Scenarios0. That report stated that the Iraqi population are much more reliant on the Iraqi government now than in 1991, especially for their food. In the event of war, distribution of the monthly food ration will almost certainly be disrupted by attacks on roads, bridges etc. The report also stated that children under 5 will be particularly vulnerable to the effects of this war.

Other long-term effects of the war will include the use of cluster bombs, many of which lie unexploded in Afghanistan still from the US war of terror there, waiting for the touch of a civilian such as a curious child.

In addition this war will see the use again of large amounts of depleted uranium, which already pollutes Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan.

For Prime Minister Howard to decide whether war is an appropriate response to suspected weapons of mass destruction, let him visit a war zone and see the rotting corpses, the burnt and mutilated children and the epidemics. But let him not hide behind shameful platitudes and myths about minimal civilian casualties. Let him visit the Ameriyah bomb shelter in Baghdad where hundreds of women and children were incinerated in 1991, and then talk to us about precision-guided weapons and clean surgical strikes.

Of course this war will have nothing to do with what we commonly call weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Of these three, nuclear weapons remain by far the most destructive in their human and environmental impact. By all reports, Iraq has no nuclear weapons. North Korea and Pakistan present a far greater nuclear weapons threat to the US than does Iraq. And the US itself has over 10,000 nuclear weapons. I'll come back to that.

A further major nuclear threat arises from the dangerously degraded state of command and control of former Soviet nuclear facilities. A US Dept of Energy Task Force on Russia concluded that the US should be spending some $3 billion annually for the next 10 years on keeping Russia's nuclear arsenal and fissile material out of the hands of terrorists. Instead the US is spending approximately $1 billion annually on this, and possibly $200 billion, maybe more, on war against Iraq. So much for concern about what terrorists might get hold of.

As for chemical weapons, the US and the UK seemed pretty comfortable with their use on Iranians and Kurds right through the 1980s when they were supplying Saddam Hussein.

And biological weapons...well, the US killed off any progress towards ensuring verification of the Biological Weapons Treaty in December 2001. US research on biological agents continues in a way which renders the distinction between defensive and offensive research very murky.

In early December Iraq's 12,000 page declaration of its weapons programs arrived at the UN, and was promptly confiscated by a US official. The 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council eventually received only an edited version.

The original Iraqi documents named the approximately 150 corporations which supplied Iraq with nuclear, chemical, biological and missile technology, including US and British firms. No wonder the Iraqi documents needed a little editing.

One might have thought that one useful component of Mr Howard's anti-terrorism campaign might be ensuring that these merchants of death who supplied Iraq with its weapons capacity in the first place are tracked down and locked up. In fact Australia has just the place for them. It's about time our detention centres were used for those who really threaten our security.

Let's go back to nuclear weapons. Probably the most blatant and dangerous of all violations of international law currently is the continuing refusal of the major nuclear weapons states, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council who now sit in judgement on Iraq, to get rid of their own weapons in accordance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty The importance of fulfilling the NPT was reinforced in July 1996 when the International Court of Justice delivered its advisory opinion on the general illegality of nuclear weapons. Importantly, the Court treated the use of nuclear weapons, and the threat to use nuclear weapons as a single indivisible concept. The judges drew no legal distinction between use and threat to use nuclear weapons.

In March 2002 the US Nuclear Posture Review was leaked to the press. The review stated that the US would be prepared to use nuclear weapons against 7 states which it named, including Iraq. This threat of illegal and barbaric action was repeated by Emperor Bush on December 10 in his 'National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction' . Like a criminal conveniently announcing ahead of time his plans for mass murder, he declared that part of his strategy for combatting weapons of mass destruction is to use them.

Where was Howard when these shocking announcements were made ? Well he must have been home in bed with laryngitis because we didn't hear a peep from him. Not a word. Our ally announces willingness to commit the most grievous and hideous crime imaginable, and our government is silent.

And this war is about weapons of mass destruction?

Would a UN authorised war have any greater merit than a unilateral attack ? To answer that, let's consider: Would SC authority reduce the human cost of the war? Would SC authority reduce the almost certain terrorist backlash, either in the short or long term, as a result of this war? Would SC authority reduce the chances of Israel using the cover of the war to ruthlessly drive even more Palestinians from their homes, or reduce the number of suicide bomber attacks on Israel ? I believe the answer to all these questions is no. On the contrary, any war on Iraq under current circumstances, would provoke, not prevent, acts of terror.

The Security Council is entrusted by the United Nations to preserve international peace and security as set out in the UN Charter. The UN Charter begins 'We, the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war...' That is the role of the Security Council, to save us from the scourge of war, not to commence a war. Authority for war by the SC now would be to turn the UN Charter on its head. As one of the placards at the recent Washington DC rally put it 'To make war for the sake of peace is like making love for the sake of virginity.'

This is a time of crisis for us as a nation. We have a prime minister who has already brought shame to us all by the dehumanising of refugees in this country, who lied when he promised parliamentary debate before sending troops off to war, who is not listening to his people and who has not answered a single one of the many grave concerns about both the global and local implications of this war.

The implications for us are the very real prospect of hideous acts of revenge on our soil. But even more importantly than that is the almost certain humanitarian catastrophe which will be perpetrated in our name on other civilians, many of them children. At its core, our government's support for the forthcoming war is an attack on our common humanity with people everywhere. We cannot allow this to happen.

Mr Howard has made it clear that reasoned argument and logic are irrelevant in Australia's policy towards Iraq. Therefore let him be met with overwhelming public opposition to his odious and dishonest policies. That will mean all of us mobilising everyone we know who opposes this war to make their voices heard.

We do this partly because, on this small planet of ours, our only security is our common security and our common humanity with all people. But we do it primarily because it's the right thing to do.

Scott Burchill

All power to the UN when it pleases the allies

January 30, 2003

[http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,5908575%255E7583,00.html ]

WHEN US Secretary of State Colin Powell announced at Davos on Sunday that "we continue to reserve our sovereign right to take military action on Iraq alone or in a coalition of the willing", spare a thought for Alexander Downer.

Australia's Foreign Minister knows that no such sovereign right exists. Under the UN Charter, no member-state can take military action against another without explicit UN Security Council authorisation, other than in self-defence. Neither condition currently exists, or is likely to develop. In fact, UNSC 1441 only talks about the Security Council convening to discuss UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission reports. There is no authority for individual members to take unilateral action. Under the UN Charter, even the threat of war is illegal.

Downer will also recall that last September he declared "we have no intention, as Australians, of playing any part in anything which would be illegal in breach of the law, Australia has no intention of doing anything which is in breach of international law" (ABC's Lateline, September 24, 2002).

So how will he reconcile his commitment to the rule of law if Australian troops join a US-led military strike against Iraq which, if not backed by a new UN mandate, will be a clear breach of international law?

It's a challenge made more complicated by Prime Minister John Howard's declaration that he might ignore the veto power of a Security Council permanent member who wishes to forestall military action against Iraq, if he regarded it as "capricious" violation of the wider sentiment of the council (ABC's 7.30 Report, January 23, 2003).

These statements raise a number of important concerns. First, the process whereby international law is made - via the passing of UN Security Council resolutions - cannot be disregarded just because the outcome isn't welcome. Howard's new approach to UN voting displays contempt for "due process" and the rule of law. He might reflect on how important international law is to middle powers such as Australia, and the implications of Washington trashing it in Iraq.

Second, the international community doesn't only express its views when UN Security Council resolutions are passed. It is speaking just as loudly when it rejects draft resolutions passed by members. The rule of law may not be a high priority for Washington given that the US is the only country to have vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states to obey international law, but this is not a precedent that Canberra should follow.

THIRD, what are the implications of this new policy for relations with Israel? Since the early 1970s, the US has vetoed 22 draft Security Council resolutions on Palestine alone - this figure doesn't include seven vetoes relating to Israel's invasion of Lebanon in the '80s. The US has normally been out-voted 14-1 on these resolutions, though it is difficult to recall Howard condemning Washington's "capricious" use of its veto in these cases or arguing that the resolutions should be enforced regardless on the basis of broader council sentiment.

Last week, Howard invoked NATO's intervention in Kosovo in 1999 as a precedent for action "that was not authorised by the United Nations" (Radio 3AW, January 24, 2003).

He's right. There are many examples of states ignoring the UN. Washington's wars in Indochina were never brought before the UN, for obvious legal and political reasons. However, the problem with the Kosovo precedent is that NATO's attack on Serbia was almost certainly illegal. Security Council authorisation was not sought by Washington or London in 1999 because of Moscow's likely use of its veto power, thus a very dubious claim to "the right of humanitarian intervention" was invoked. No such right to humanitarian intervention can be, or is being claimed in the case of Iraq, so the Kosovo example is irrelevant to contemporary events.

Howard, Downer and Powell are effectively saying that the moral authority of the UN depends on whether it does the bidding of Washington and its allies. And President George W. Bush reiterated this line in his State of the Union address yesterday. If the UN reflects a different view, its very legitimacy and future is in question, and the process by which it has been passing Security Council resolutions since the '40s can be disregarded. This is an attitude to international law and order which defines nations as rogue states.

Scott Burchill is lecturer in international relations at Deakin University in Melbourne.

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