The Siege of Iraq

Philosopher and author Michael Walzer called it “the oldest form of total war”. History attests to the horrors of the Roman siege of Jerusalem, the Prussian siege of Paris, the Nazi siege of Leningrad. Sieges are designed to inflict such horrible suffering on the civilian population that their will to resist collapses – or, to quote Walzer again, that the “fearful spectacle of civilian dead” will cause the government to surrender to the besieger’s demands.

As we begin the third Christian millennium, siege warfare is making a comeback – big time. In the old days, we only used to be able to lay siege to a city. Now we can inflict the horrors of besiegement to an entire country. Take the case of Iraq. Like all good sieges, the siege of Iraq has several key elements.

The 1991 Gulf War bombing of Iraq laid the foundation. More than 60% of the 88,500 tons of bombs (more bombs than the US dropped on Germany and Japan during World War 2) were dropped on the cities and villages of Iraq. US planes specifically targeted the infrastructure of Iraq, knocking out the electrical grid for the entire country.

Imagine what happens to a modern country when electricity is removed. Premature babies and frail elderly people die, because incubators and life support machines shut down Sick people die, because medicines spoil in ruined refrigerators. Always the weakest die first. That’s the design of a siege – “the fearful spectacle.” And then irrigation systems fail. Clean water can’t be provided, sewage systems break down. The city – now the whole country – is flooded with disease ridden water. Siege.

Then add the “sanctions.” It means that Iraqi oil is off the market. Iraq got about 95% of its foreign exchange from the sale of oil. So, after the bombing, take away 95% of their money, nothing can be repaired. The economy collapses. It is the “Great Depression” times 10, times 100. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has reported 500,000 children now dead as a direct result of the sanctions. Imagine tens of thousands of grieving families.

Then add the “oil for food” program. If it worked perfectly, it would allot each Iraqi about $1 a day to exist on. But the besiegers can be clever even then. Enter the veto.

Every contract under the “oil for food” deal has to be approved by a committee. Any member of that committee can veto any contract for any reason. The US is a permanent member of that committee, and has exercised that veto more than 1000 times in the past three years – next is Britain with 120 vetoes. Sometimes we exercise a “straight” veto. For example, we invariably veto spare parts to repair the water or sewage systems and for oil production. We sometimes veto baby milk powder because it has phosphates, and that can be used for bombs. We veto chlorine for water purification because it can be used for chemical warfare. The same with many drugs.

But the really winning strategy is what the United Nations calls “the problem of complimentarity.” We allow life support machines, then veto the computers needed to run them. We allow dentists chairs, then veto the compressors. We allow insulin, then veto the syringes.

Then, finally the bombing. We are now engaged in the longest bombing campaign since the Vietnam War. The Government admits to 30,000 sorties over Iraq in 1999 alone. Imagine how you are going to explain the constant sonic booms and air raid sirens to your child.

In fact, you don’t have to imagine. You could go to Iraq with a delegation of Voices in the Wilderness and see for yourself. Just be warned: we bring medicine and toys to Iraqi children, and this is against US law. It is punishable by up to $1,000,000 in fines and 12 years in a federal prison – because, you see, we are breaking the siege…

Think “siege”. Think of our “total war” against Iraq. Think of the fearful spectacle of civilian dead. Then think, please of those whom history will associate us. And think about what kind of world we are constructing for our children.

Extracted from the Austin American Statesman 20,3,2000. With thanks to Richard Greaves for posting this in. The author of the above article has resigned his post as Professor in ethics at Fairfield University, Connecticut to work full time against the siege of Iraq.