A Forgotten Humanitarian Disaster
By Lieven De Cauter
March 20, 2009 "BRussells Tribunal " --- The sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq is a sad occasion for the balance sheet: during six years of occupation 1.2 million citizens were killed, 2,000 doctors killed, and 5,500 academics and intellectuals assassinated or imprisoned. There are 4.7 million refugees: 2.7 million inside the country and two million have fled to neighbouring countries, among which are 20,000 medical doctors. According to the Red Cross, Iraq is now a country of widows and orphans: two million widows as a consequence of war, embargo, war again and occupation, and five million orphans, many of whom are homeless (estimated at 500,000). Almost a third of Iraq’s children suffer from malnutrition. Some 70 per cent of Iraqi girls no longer go to school. Medical services, not so long ago the best in the region, have totally collapsed: 75 per cent of medical staff have left their jobs, half of them have fled the country, and after six years of “reconstruction” health services in Iraq still do not meet minimum standards.
Because of the use of depleted uranium in ammunition by the occupation, the number of cancer cases and miscarriages has drastically increased. According to a recent Oxfam report, the situation of women is most worrisome. The study states that in spite of optimistic bulletins in the press, the situation of women keeps deteriorating. The most elementary supplies are still not available. Access to drinkable water is for large parts of the population a problem and electricity is functioning only three to six hours a day, and this in a state that was once a nation of engineers. More than four in 10 Iraqis live under the poverty threshold and unemployment is immense (28.1 per cent of the active population). Besides 26 official prisons, there a some 600 secret prisons. According to the Iraqi Union of Political Prisoners, over 400,000 Iraqis have suffered detention since 2003, among which 6,500 minors and 10,000 women. Torture is practiced on a large scale, and some 87 per cent of detainees remain uncharged. Corruption is immense: according to Transparency International, Iraq, after Somalia and Myanmar, is the most corrupt country in the world. The American Foreign Affairs journal calls Iraq “a failed state”. This is symbolised by the fact that Iraq, a state that has the third largest oil reserves in the world, must import refined oil on a massive scale. Authorities are on the verge of giving oil concessions for 25 years to international (also European) oil companies, though they have no mandate or legal authority to do so. Instead of being paid reparations for the enormous destruction wrought on the infrastructure of the country, entailing billions in oil revenues lost, Iraq is again in line to be robbed. There is large scale ethnic cleansing going on against the Turkmen, the Christians, the Assyrians and the Shebak. Kirkuk is being “Kurdicised” by massive immigration and illegal settlements (of Israeli inspiration) and its history falsified.
This data, referenced in numerous reports, was presented during an information session in the European Parliament organised by the BRussells Tribunal on 18 March by a panel of Iraqi specialists. On 19 March, there was a session in the Belgian Parliament where a national representative after the statement of Dr Omar Al-Kubaissi, a renowned Iraqi cardiologist and expert on health, frankly admitted that he had no idea of the scale of the humanitarian disaster. Who can blame him? In the European press we hear little or nothing concerning this humanitarian disaster. In the newspapers there is talk of elections, of an occasional bomb attack, of the political process, of the positive results of the “surge”, etc, but concerning the suffering the Iraqi people … next to nothing. We have fallen asleep and we console ourselves: Obama plans the retreat American troops; therefore the issue of Iraq is off the agenda. The truth is that we want to forget this humanitarian disaster, because the West is responsible. Of course, in the first and last instance the administrations of Bush and Blair, but also the Netherlands, Denmark, Hungary, Poland and Italy were part of the coalition and hence accessory while Antwerp was a vital transit port for the invasion. Therefore also Europe bears a heavy responsibility. How is it possible that we can dissimulate the impact of the war, which initially stirred world public opinion, in spite of the flow of shocking reports? “Darfur” sounds a bell meanwhile (and correctly so) as a sort of African holocaust, but the crimes against the humanity of a near “genocidal” scale in Iraq are swept under the carpet. If the press does not do its job, how can public opinion be touched? Even activists and well meaning politicians are not on the level. This type of disinformation, and the indifference that comes with it, one could call a form of negationism, or at least a type of immoral ignorance. Wir haben es nicht gewusst, we will say. But the people of the Arab region will not forgive us. Let this be clear.
Lieven De Cauter
philosopher, initiator of the BRussells Tribunal
20 March 2009