While there are perhaps many rational reasons why the United States should not go to war against the Iraq, let me give you some humanitarian ones. It strikes me as frightening that in all this talk of war, and unseating Saddam we forget that the ones who will be affected the worst are the Iraqi citizens. And I find it hard to accept the argument that we are bombing them to bring them democracy.
There will be an estimated 1-2 million refugees generated as a result of the bombing. Turkey has already closed its border. It is believed that Iran will do the same. The UNHCR admits that it is ill prepared to deal with such a refugee crisis. Moreover, it is believed that once the war breaks out the UN will have to withdraw most of its 300 personnel working in the region. This will have catastrophic effects for the Iraqi people. A oft cited suggestion is to create a 'safe haven' within the war zone for the refugees. Such a concept has been tried twice- in Srebrenica and in northern Iraq to protect the Kurds- both times with disastrous consequences. It is merely a ploy by European nations fearful of an influx of refugees to attempt to convert a mass of refugees into what are called the 'internally displaced people'. For the the IDPs, as they are commonly known, there is no international mandate for the UNHCR to look after them. Moreover, since they remain within the conflict zone, chances of persecution or being caught in the crossfire are that much higher.
Nearly 16 million Iraqis out of a population of 22 million are dependent on the World Food Programme. But once the war starts, if the pattern is anywhere similar to the bombing during the Gulf War and the recent bombing in Afghanistan, then road, rail and other transport facilities will be badly hit. This in turn means that the food distribution network, fragile at best, will collapse completely. Already Iraq's population is devastatingly malnourished and we could have a famine of epidemic proportions on our hands.
Water purification and sanitation facilities once used to be Iraq's pride and joy. 95% of the urban population and 75% of the rural population was assured of clean drinking water. But the sanctions following the Gulf War have meant that nearly 70% of the purification plants do not work anymore and new parts cannot be imported. Moreover, nearly half a million tonne of sewage is deposited into Iraq's rivers daily. If there are strikes against water and electricity installations, it will mean that the water supply will be infected with raw sewage and disease and epidemic will ensue.
The UNICEF figures for the plight of Iraqi children are shocking. One in ten Iraqi children die before their fifth birthday (131 out of every 1000 live births). Iraq has suffered a faster increase in the rate of child mortality than any other country in the world (160 per cent in the decade to 2000). Seven out of ten infant deaths result from diarrhoea or acute respiratory infection linked to polluted water or malnutrition. All of these statistics will only get worse once the bombing starts and vital installations are hit.
Saddam is no angel. He has gassed his own citizens, and has been responsible for a brutal and repressive regime. But this war is not just about Saddam, it's also about the people he has oppressed. And it's my belief that we will create greater resentment among the Iraqi people if we bomb them, if we kill their children, if we make their already miserable lives that much harder. It might only increase support for Saddam rather than creating a grass roots movement to topple him.
Finally, I feel that we are so used to the jargon of war, that we blithely speak of Cruise missiles, cluster bombs and 'surgical air strikes' without a thought for what they mean. We forget that these are not part of some fancy computer game that President George Bush will play in his spare time, these are real live weapons that will wreak havoc on innocent civilians. Whatever the political justifications for war, we must consider its humanitarian implications before any action is taken. If indeed war does break out, it is my appeal to all noders, to set aside political differences and to do their bit to help the Iraqi people recover from a decade of bombing, repression and sanctions. We owe it to them.
The information for this WU has been taken from the MSF, Oxfam and Save the Children UK website as well as from various UN reports. If you want to know more about the Internally Displaced and the politics surrounding them, please see my node on Internally displaced persons