Iraq: “Likely humanitarian scenarios” – The devastating consequences of a war

A document made public last Tuesday by a British student group ’Campaign against Sanctions on Iraq’ revealed that as many as 500,000 people in Iraq could suffer injuries and require medical treatment if the United States and its allies launch a war. The group obtained a confidential United Nations’ ’contingency planning report’.

The report paints a dire picture of Iraq after extensive bombing and ground fighting. The report refutes the fairy tale notion that 21st Century wars are sophisticated high-tech operations designed to reduce the civilian suffering to an absolute minimum. "Unlike the progression of the military intervention in 1991, a future confrontation is expected to develop beyond the preparatory, and relatively short, aerial bombardment of infrastructure, towns, and cities into potentially a large scale and protracted ground offensive, supported by aerial and conventional bombardment. The resultant devastation would undoubtedly be great."

The report paints a ghastly scenario of the consequences of a US-led invasion. The population in need of humanitarian intervention would be 5.4 million, according to the UN report. But even this huge figure only accounts for those in the south of the country, "who would be accessible" by the humanitarian organisations. The main centre of fighting would be in the centre and north of Iraq. The UN expects a further 2 million "internally displaced persons" and refugees marching south as soon as conflict begins.

The absence of a functioning health care system in a post-war situation would leave 5.2 million people in a particularly vulnerable situation, in the centre and the south of the country alone. Amongst these victims are an expected 4.2 million under 5-year olds and one million pregnant and lactating women. It is estimated that 3.03 million people will require therapeutic feeding.

Total devastation

The UN report expects a US-led attack to mean the total devastation of all major infrastructure facilities, such as bridges, railroads, electricity supplies and provisions for clean potable water. They go on to say that the devastation of the electricity network means the sewerage system could be destroyed. In Baghdad alone this would leave 4 million people vulnerable to the outbreak of diseases, such as cholera and dysentery, in "epidemic if not pandemic" proportions. "The present low vaccination rates for diseases such as measles, meningitis and the like will be ever present."

The UN’s ’oil-for-food’ programme and the international sanctions against Iraq have gravely undermined the situation for the population and will lead to even greater casualties in the event of a war. The document warns those that think this will be a mere repetition of the 1991 Gulf War. "There is temptation in some quarters to equate the situation following any future military intervention in Iraq, with the population’s ability to cope at the time of the 1991 conflict. Such comparisons are not valid, as the sustentative majority of the population, immediately prior to the events of 1991, were in full employment and had cash and material assets available to them to cope with the crisis…all except the most privileged have completely exhausted their cash assets and have also in most cases disposed of their material assets. Accordingly the bulk of the population is now totally dependent on the Government of Iraq for a majority, if not all, of their basis needs and unlike the situation in 1991, they have no way in coping if they cannot access them: the sanctions regime, if anything, has served to increase dependence on the Government as almost the sole provider."

This is the real cost of the war plans by US imperialism and its allies. However as the huge anti-war protests around the world have shown, including in Los Angeles last weekend, working people and youth they are determined to stop this barbarous war for oil.

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January 2003