by Elias Davidsson
Middle East Labor Bulletin, Spring 1994
On January 17, 1991, three years ago, the Western powers, with the tacit or explicit approval of the political and intellectual elite, started pounding Iraq into the pre-industrial age. After 42 days of non-stop bombing, Iraq’s infrastructure was in rubble.
The peace movement, which warned loudly against the Gulf War before the onslaught, muted its protests during the bombings. After the slaughter, which left over 100,000 Iraqi casualties, the killing of Iraqis continued, albeit in a less visible form.
Through sanctions, the West continues to emasculate the Iraqi people and kill its children. The facts are known and have been published even in mainstream media. But the pecae movement seems to have lost interest in the fate of the Iraqi people. On January 17, 1994, only three years after Iraq was pounded by our armies and as our governments continue to starve the entire Iraqi people, there were no protests, no demonstrations, no outcries. Did we abandon the victims of our governments to their own fate?
What did we do to the Iraqi people?
The Iraqi people suffered most of all from the Gulf war and still do. It is estimated that 125,000 ? 300,000 Iraqis died as direct and indirect result of the Gulf war. Thousands of Iraqi children still die every week as a result of its effets and from the draconian sanctions imposed on Iraq.
Iraqi infrastructure has been shattered. Economic life is in ruins. The social fabric is being torn to pieces. It will require the Iraqis decades to rebuild their civil society and regain the pre-war affluence. The war did not rid Iraqis of their tyrant but added misery, devastation, diseases and civil war on top of repression.
Saddam’s decision to invade Kuwait was taken without the consent and knowledge of the Iraqi people. Iraqis who publicly opposed the invasion of Kuwait were apparently executed. Many of those who were sent to the front and did not have the chance to surrender to allied forces, were either burned to death by allied bombs or buried alive by US bulldozers.
The fathers and mothers of these unfortunate young Iraqis are now asked to pay reparations for deeds they have not committed nor endorsed. Such collective punishment defies the most elementary principle of justice, namely that one does not punish innocents. This extra-judicial retribution is carried out officially, legally and with impunity, under the banner of the United Nations and with the endorsement of all NATO members.
No government leader has yet been charged by the Security Council for this massive, lethal assault on human beings, human habitat, human society and the environment. Yet there is no question who these individuals are: In the very least, the political and military leaders of Iraq, the United States and Britain. As initators and commanders of the invasion, occupation and war, they bear individual responsibility under international law, in accordance with the Nurnberg Principles and the Geneva Conventions, for these acts. Every High Contracting Party to the Geneva Conventions, every state, is legally required, under the terms of the Conventions, to seek the prosecution of such individuals, regardless of their status and nationality. Yet all states have joined hands in shielding the criminals from prosecution. It appears cheaper ? politically ? to starve the Iraqi people than to offend the sensiblities of mass murderers.
It is important to note that such a gross dereliction by UN member states not only undermines international humanitarian law ? painstakingly elaborated after the experience of World War II ? but may be used as a justification for revoking the mandate states have to ensure international law. Under such conditions, alternative means have to be devised to ensure international peace and the rule of law.
Have we collective amnesia?
We, residents of relatively free and affluent societies, were able to follow, month after month, the preparations for the onslaught on Iraq. During the bombings we were provided enough information enabling us to conclude that the extent of such onslaught was incompatible with UN resolutions, international law and basic humanity.
Finally, after the war, we were provided with detailed accounts about the extent and nature of the devastation and the number of casualties. In spite of this overwhelming evidence of massive and systematic war crimes, there was no public outcry. Our response to these terrible crimes was critical, yes, but measured. Few voices dared or showed committed compassion for the people of Iraq.
Now, as the people of Iraq are still subject to tyranny from within and lethal sanctions from without, and desperately need international solidarity, the peace movement is absent. With few notable exceptions, particularly the effort initiated by Ramsey Clark, hardly any organisation had yet responded adequately to the challenge represented by these monumental crimes. It is easy to put all blame on “imperialist circles? who allegedly manipulate public opinion. Have we also been so thoroughly manipulated as to shut our eyes? Significant parts of the peace movement opposed the Gulf war and knew who prepared that war, and what could be expected from it.
Information about the consequences of the bombings on Iraq and the sanctions were duly published, even in mainstream publications. Evidence was more than adequate. The problem was not and is not the lack of knowledge. It seems that we too often establish our agenda to the tune of mainstream news, not to a long-term commitment. We thus tend to react to issues on a day-to-day basis and tend to quickly forget what moved us yesterday.
Without underestimating the tragedies befalling the people of Somalia, Yugoslavia and other war-torn areas, let’s remember that thousads of Iraqi children are literally executed by direct orders of our governments, that is in our name, not through natural disaster or civil war. I submit that the nature of this crie and its extent overwhelms in barbarity anything else our governments may do at this time.
Am I overstating the case?