"Day of Liberation" -- as George W. Bush calls it -- is set to
begin with a bombardment of 3,000 U.S. missiles delivered over 48 hours,
10 times the number of bombs dropped during the first two days of the
Persian Gulf War in 1991.
who have been briefed on the plans say the goal is to so stun the Iraqis
that they will simply submit to the overwhelming force demonstrated by the
Along with the destruction of buildings and the death of thousands from
the explosive power of the weapons, the U.S. invasion force intends to
paralyze Iraq's electrical and water systems, supposedly leaving Iraqi
soldiers and civilians alike with no choice but to throw up their arms and
Never before in world history will a dominant world power have struck at a
much weaker nation in a preemptive war with such ferocity. The strategy
could be called liberation through devastation.
the war plan also carries with it the potential of spiraling out of
control, as Bush secretly brandishes nuclear weapons as a threat
against the Iraqi government if it unleashes biological or chemical
warfare against U.S. troops. There is the possibility, too, that
Saddam Hussein's government has already pre-positioned some weapons of
mass destruction outside of Iraq as a retaliatory threat against
Bush's planned war a kind of poor man's mutual assured
destruction. [More on this possibility below.]
even if the war does not bring the world a big step closer to the
apocalypse, it is certain to mean the death of hundreds, if not
thousands, of Iraqi non-combatants, no matter how targeted or precise
the U.S. weapons. For those civilians, their end may come in the dark
terror of crushing concrete or the blinding flash of high explosives,
as it did for about 1,500 Iraqis who were crushed and incinerated in
the early morning hours of Feb. 13, 1991.
These civilians were hiding in the al-Amariyah bomb shelter in a
suburb of Baghdad at 4:30 a.m. when the first U.S. bomb ripped a
hole in the shelter's roof. Neighborhood residents heard screams as
people - mostly women and children struggled to push aside rubble
and escape. Then, the second bomb zipped through the hole created by
the first bomb. That explosion was followed by silence, with fewer
than two dozen people surviving.
Although there are no precise figures on the total number of civilians
who died during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, most estimates put the toll
at between 5,000 and 15,000. Besides the civilian dead, Iraqi military
casualties are placed at between 100,000 and 300,000. [See Bulletin
of the Atomic Scientists.]
According to international relief agencies, the suffering has
continued over the following decade. Since the war's end, Iraqi
civilians have continued to die as a result of a badly damaged
civilian infrastructure, crippling economic sanctions and high cancer
rates attributed to hazardous chemicals released during the war,
including the Pentagon's use of radioactive depleted uranium shells.
The United Nations predicts that the civilian casualties of a new war
will likely be even higher than in 1991, since the impoverished
population is heavily dependent on government handouts to survive and
those supplies will be disrupted by a U.S.-led invasion. In a
confidential report, UN planners say the coming war and its aftermath
could injure more than 500,000 civilians and leave nearly 1 million as
refugees. About 3 million Iraqis - out of a population of 23 million -
will suffer severe hunger, the
As many as 7.4 million people will need immediate humanitarian relief.
"The nutritional status of some 3.03 million persons countrywide
will be dire," the UN report said, adding that beyond hunger,
disease will sweep the country in "epidemic, if not
are already in a humanitarian crisis," said Margaret Hassan, Iraq
director for CARE, the U.S. relief organization. "Frankly, these
people can't take another one." [Boston Globe, Jan. 31, 2003]
Those warnings are echoed by other independent studies.
A report by the International
a Canadian non-governmental organization, says "because most of
the 13 million Iraqi children are dependent on food distributed by the
Government of Iraq, the disruption of this system by war would have a
devastating impact on children who already have a high rate of
The report says the physical state of Iraqi children makes them much
more vulnerable to war than they were in 1991. Besides their physical
weakness, the children are already fearful, anxious and depressed,
with many suffering from nightmares. The report concluded that war on
Iraq will cause a "grave humanitarian disaster," with
potential casualties among children in "the tens of thousands,
and possibly in the hundreds of thousands."
According to a Boston Globe article, the combination of the 1991 war
and a decade of UN sanctions has transformed Iraq from a relatively
prosperous Middle Eastern country - where a chief health concern had
been childhood obesity - into a Third World nation where even casual
observers can't miss how Iraqis struggle to survive.
"In Baghdad, women with babies in their arms beg on the
streets," the Globe reported. "In cities like Basra to the
south, poverty is inescapable. Raw sewage and trash choke the streets
of a city once known for its glimmering, Venetian-style canals."
"Iraq was not a Third World country in 1990," said Denis
Halliday, a former UN assistant secretary general who quit over UN
sanctions. "Now you have this vulnerability out there."
Even in a short war, the civilian population will be put at risk.
Pentagon planners have confirmed that shutting down important city
services, such as water and electricity, will be one of the early
goals of the U.S. assault. The planners say the strategy calls for
using high-powered microwaves and other high-technology weapons to
disable these vital services without permanently destroying them. [NYT,
Feb. 2, 2003]
If the war doesn't end quickly, however, the interruption of these
services can be expected to spread disease and death among the
civilian population. If Iraqi troops withdraw into Baghdad and other
major cities, forcing the U.S. military to wage time-consuming urban
warfare, the lack of clean water and the absence of medicines could
prove as deadly as the U.S. armaments.
U.S. bombing campaign also will surely claim many civilian casualties.
While the Bush administration stresses that its planned bombardment of
ancient Baghdad and other cities will concentrate on military and
government targets, the Pentagon's track record for precision bombing
doesn't instill confidence. In recent conflicts, U.S. warplanes have
inflicted substantial civilian death, either accidentally or on
For instance, in 1999 during the Kosovo crisis, U.S. warplanes killed
non-combatants when going after civilian targets in Yugoslavia, such
as bridges and even a television station that was deemed a government
propaganda outlet. The lethal attack on the TV station was
intentional. An international uproar followed the apparently
accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy. The CIA blamed an
"outdated map" for that fatal attack.
In the Afghan bombing campaign, U.S. warplanes struck two wedding
parties and twice bombed the headquarters of the International Red
Cross. It is estimated that the U.S. bombardment of Afghanistan has
killed about 4,000 civilians.
A major difference between Afghanistan and Iraq, however, is that
Afghanistan consists of a mainly rural population and Iraq has a
largely urbanized population, with Baghdad alone crammed with about 5
There is also no telling how out of control the war could spin, with
Bush determined to destroy Saddam Hussein's government to avenge what
many conservatives view as George H.W. Bush's failure to finish the
job in 1991.
younger Bush even has approved the use of nuclear weapons if Iraq uses
chemical or biological warfare. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Bush's
order, signed last September, reverses a decades-old U.S. policy of
creating deliberate ambiguity about how Washington would react to a
situation in which unconventional weapons were deployed against U.S.
forces or their allies. "The United States will continue to make
clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force -
including potentially nuclear weapons - to the use of [weapons of mass
destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends
and allies," the presidential document states. [Washington Times,
Jan. 31, 2003]
In addition to an "overwhelming" retaliatory nuclear strike,
Bush also is considering plans to use "tactical" nuclear
weapons to destroy underground bunkers and similar critical targets.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon is hastily developing
computers to help decide when nuclear weapons would be used against
fortified bunkers and how to measure collateral effects from radiation
"From the start of the Bush administration, we have seen
increasing interest in 'usable' nuclear weapons," said Christine
Kucia, analyst at the Arms Control Association, a research group that
studies proliferation issues.
tailoring nuclear weapons for tactical warfare situations, such as
bunker-busting, Kucia said the Bush administration is changing the
status of nuclear devices that "have been reserved for decades as
the absolute weapons of last resort.
To put them in the realm of
usable weapons is to take on a whole new definition that has never
been explored and, frankly, should not be explored." [L.A. Times,
Feb. 3, 2003]
'Poor Man's MAD'
also may find that his goal of destroying Hussein and his government
has been countered by Iraq's suspected pre-positioning of chemical and
biological weapons outside Iraq for use only if the United States
In other words, Bushs strategy might touch off
precisely the nightmare scenario that he says he is trying to prevent.
Last October, the CIA judged the likelihood of Iraq attacking the
United States without U.S. provocation as "low" but rising
dramatically if the U.S. prepared for a preemptive strike.
"Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting
terrorist attacks with conventional or C.B.W. [chemical or biological
warfare] against the United States," wrote CIA director George
Tenet in an Oct. 7 letter to Congress. "Should Saddam conclude
that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would
become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions." [See
the Nation to War."]
the CIA's assessment, the Bush administration has received specific
warnings from abroad that easily transportable stockpiles of chemical
and biological weapons indeed have been moved outside Iraq so they can
be deployed against Western targets as retaliatory weapons.
the U.S. news media has largely kept this devastating possibility away
from the American people, the Washington Post made an oblique
reference to this potential danger in a Feb. 4 article entitled
"CIA, Allies Tracking Iraqi Agents." The article states,
"U.S. allies also are on alert for signs that Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein has sent agents abroad to arm Iraqis or terrorist
groups with conventional, chemical or biological weapons, officials
said. They said some of the weapons may already be in place outside
"poor man's MAD" for mutual assured destruction
should be a major element in an informed debate inside the United
States especially since Bush outlined the ease with which these
weapons can be moved and deployed. In his State of the Union address
on Jan. 28, Bush said "it would take one vial, one canister, one
crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we
have ever known."
what if the vial, canister or crate is already en route? Might that
"day of horror" actually be precipitated by Bush's invasion
of Iraq, not delayed or prevented by going to war? Certainly, if one
accepts the "evil" portrait of Saddam Hussein as painted by
Bush, you'd have to assume that Saddam has long ago moved these
dangerous weapons into positions where they can be of the most use to
him as a retaliatory weapon against a U.S. invasion.
Yet even assuming U.S. forces succeed in eliminating
Saddam Hussein and his army without a catastrophic escalation, the
post-war period promises to be complicated and dangerous. The Bush
administration has sent out mixed and confusing signals about what a
"liberated" Iraq will look like.
At times, the administration has outlined plans to occupy Iraq for at
least 18 months, possibly installing a military governor in the style
of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Japan after World War II. But it is not
clear how the U.S. will police a population that is certain to include
anti-American radicals ready to employ suicide bombings and other
terror tactics against an occupying force.
Some of Bush's political allies also have urged pumping Iraqi oil to
compensate the U.S. government for the war's cost. While this idea
might play well with Americans wary about paying billions of dollars
in scarce tax dollars to occupy a foreign country, it won't sit well
with many Iraqis and millions of others across the world, especially
Islamic populations that already suspect a Western imperialist motive
behind the war.
The war's devastation and the U.S. occupation also could play into the
hands of the terrorist leader who had been the focus of the war on
terror before Bush shifted his attention to Iraq.
The still-at-large Osama bin Laden spelled out in a
recent message that he plans to gain a propaganda advantage from any
U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, by presenting himself as the
defender of the Arab people.
who tries to destroy our villages and cities, then we are going to
destroy their villages and cities," the al-Qaeda leader said.
"Anyone who steals our fortunes, then we must destroy their
economy. Anyone who kills our civilians, then we are going to kill
George W. Bush drew his own line in the sand during his State of the
Union address. "Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam
Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option," Bush
declared as the U.S. built up a vast military force surrounding Iraq.
With that buildup in mind, Bush addressed what he called the
"brave and oppressed people of Iraq." He told them,
"Your enemy is not surrounding your country - your enemy is
ruling your country." He then added, "the day [Saddam
Hussein] and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your
Bush also pledged that while he would use the "full force and
might of the United States military" to disarm the Iraqi
government, the U.S. will fight "by just means - sparing in every
way we can, the innocent."
How many of those innocents are not
spared in the impending invasion and the numbers of dead are
likely to horrify the world may become the new measure of how
dangerous the post-war period will be for both the American and the