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A War Of Deception

By Angana Chatterji

March 26, 2003

America’s war with Iraq is about deception, control, and the violation of local and international will. This war is not about freedom. It is about a superpower asserting itself in a unilateral world. Iraq, a repository of oil reserves, the second largest after Saudi Arabia, must be disciplined and punished. At the announcement of war, the Dow rallied over 282 points. The Bush administration prepares to bestow 900 million dollars to domestic firms in post war contracts for rebuilding Iraq. Who benefits from this war economy?

The impenetrable Bush coalition is ready. Foreign missions have been evacuated, armies mobilised, and body bags ordered. The call for war has been given. Ships roll in rough seas ready to parachute bombs which to wipe out evil must murder the innocent. President Bush, defining this as a war of ‘liberation’, says that the United Nations has not lived up to its responsibilities. Are his actions responsible?

Information available betrays this administration’s logic for war. The United States claimed to have destroyed 80 percent of Iraq’s military capacity in 1991. Since then, the United States and the United Kingdom have administered air strikes and deluged Iraq with explosives. So, what is this war about? Is it to protect the Kurds or Jews in Iraq, perhaps, given Saddam Hussein’s animosity toward minorities and alliance with Palestine? But Kurds were betrayed in the last war and Iraqi Jews have chosen to remain in Iraq, in a society where frayed remnants of secularism endure. Osama Bin Laden? There is no evidence that links Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda. Truth refuses alliance with this war. In the minds of many Americans this war is retribution for September 11. A vengeful war that desecrates the memory of those who died on that fatal day. Is it about nuclear weapons? Iraq has none. The United States possesses 10,729 nuclear warheads and is the only country to have used atomic weapons in a war. There is no evidence to imply that Saddam Hussein will use chemical and biological weapons against America, weapons Iraq developed in the 1980s, ironically, with the knowledge and support of the United States. Regional security? Does America care if Iraq violates its ‘lesser’ neighbours? The United States did not castigate Iraq when Saddam Hussein gassed 5,000 in the Kurdish town of Halabja. Let us remember as well that the United States used 19 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam. How does a nation with blood on its hands attempt to hijack the moral high ground?

Iraq, the land of ancient civilisation, heritage to all, drawn from the memories of Mesopotamia. A culture which connects us from prehistory to history. The triumphs and tribulations of Assyrians, Chaldeans, Akkadians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Hittites, Israelites, Lydians, Phoenicians, Persians have birthed its imagination. A multitude of religions, tribes and ethnicities has produced a profusion of art, music, religion, mythology, architecture, literature, and history. A land desecrated by corrupt regimes and untold horrors. Long forgotten is the Baath Party’s commitment to a socialist revolution, to equity and freedom. And now, a crusade led by America that only promises torment and adds to Iraq’s grief. This war will reinforce Islamic fundamentalists, marginalise progressive Muslims and strengthen the religious right. This war will escalate a thousand-fold the terrorist threat that terrifies people the world over. How shall we make President Bush understand? Millions have marched, people and governments have pleaded their dissent. They have failed to produce conscience and reason in the Bush presidency, or a commitment to international coalition building and bilateral relations. Should the world impose sanctions on America?

The Iraqi people want to be free of torture and fear, of the despot Saddam Hussein. At what cost? By whose will? They have not asked the United States to intervene. What of the retaliation, as Iraq signals the war, firing at three Kurdish villages north of Kirkuk? Eight hundred thousand Iraqi civilians died from the environmental and infrastructural impact of America’s first war with Iraq. Since 1991, there has been a 600 percent increase in cancers. Infant mortality rates have increased by 260 percent. It is over 12 years since the United Nations introduced Resolution 661, imposing ruinous sanctions against Iraq. Sanctions that have killed 1,684,850 since 1991, 704,162 of them children under five. Has all this made peace? A full-fledged war will induce 500,000 casualties in Iraq, leave 50 percent of the population without access to water, displace 2 million people, and create 600,000 refugees. Insolent actions of Empire. They portend dangerous consequences. Attending to the post war crisis will force UN agencies to redirect emergency funds from war torn Africa or refugees returning to Afghanistan. Will our world be safer?

Iraq possesses 110 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, of grave concern for regional and international security. In the first Gulf War, 700 oil wells burned for nine months, discharging toxic clouds that blinded the sun. Sixty million gallons of crude oil were unleashed into the environment, wounding the desert with 246 craters of congealed oil, damaging the coast for 1,500 miles. Eight hundred tons of depleted uranium were used in Iraq during the Gulf War, 300 tons of it scattered across Kuwait and southern Iraq. The beautiful marshes, the rivers, the skies, the seas rage in mourning. The desert is filled with trepidation. Where is our compassion?

Justice is not lucrative in the world order to which we acquiesce. Do we want to feed the hungry and shelter the displaced? Because we can. The world spends 800+ billion dollars each year in military outlays. In 2002, the United States alone spent 518.9 billion in military and related expenditure. Ninety-seven ships, attack helicopters, smart bombs, a 1000 fighter jets, and 250,000 soldiers march into Iraq. Each day at war will cost American taxpayers 517 million dollars. In contrast, the United Nations estimates that an annual allocation of 80 billion dollars would make available fundamental necessities and mitigate poverty for the underprivileged across the globe. Where is the will for ethical change?

The drums roll for combat. I think about women and men in Iraq, about children afraid in the shadows, about dreams in which they struggle to rest. What a mess we have made of this world. In San Francisco, opposition to this war is prodigious, as I write, in dissent and with all the failings of hope. When will we be heard?

(Angana Chatterji is a professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies.)