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Civilian Casualites in the War on Iraq
The Bush administration has argued that if Saddam Hussein refuses to disarm, it will go in and disarm him with or without a second UN Security Council resolution. The war is portrayed as a just and necessary war that would improve America’s national security by preventing future 9/11 type attacks, liberate the Iraqi people from the yoke of an evil dictator, and bring democracy to the Arab world. However infeasible these might be, these are all noble ends. But do the means justify the ends?
It has been estimated that the war would cost the American taxpayer about $100-200 billion at a time when budget and trade deficits are running at all time highs. Given the risks in any military operation, the war would also result in several hundred American casualties, even if Saddam does not resort to using biological or chemical weapons. About 200 Americans were killed during the Gulf War of 1991, but according to retired Colonel David Hackworth, the Gulf War syndrome has caused more than 200,000 casualties, including 10,000 dead.
However, even bigger costs would be imposed on the people of Iraq. The Bush administration is mute about these costs. The Gulf War, which had a comparatively simple objective of ejecting Saddam’s forces from Kuwait, resulted in more than 200,000 Iraqi deaths. Three-quarters of those killed were civilians. This time the US military will need to go in all the way into Baghdad, in order to effect regime change. Urban combat is likely to take place. Thus, the number of civilian Iraqi casualties will probably exceed those caused by the Gulf War.
The UN secretary general, Kofi Anan, expects the war will displace about two million Iraqis, create almost a million refugees and endanger the lives of 30% of Iraqi children under the age of five. It may leave as many as 10 million Iraqis dependent on food assistance from the outside. This would represent a serious problem for any country, but is likely to be catastrophic for a country like Iraq that has been subject to economic sanctions for the past 12 years.
These sanctions have not had any adverse impact on Saddam Hussein and his coterie, but they have taken a toll on the civilian population of Iraq. According to UNICEF, the United Nations Children Fund, the sanctions have created such a harsh resource-constrained and unhygienic environment in Iraq that kills 5,000 children under the age of five every month. The Economist magazine comments, "Even if the truth is half that number, it would still mean that about 360,000 children had died as a result of 12 years of sanctions."
Beyond triggering a massive humanitarian crisis, the war would destabilize the entire Middle East. There is rising anti-Americanism in the region, flowing from America’s continued support to General Sharon’s harsh occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. With the exception of Kuwait and Qatar, none of Iraq’s neighbors support an invasion of Iraq. Even in Turkey, public opinion is strongly opposed to the war.
This war would provide an outstanding recruitment opportunity for Osama bin Laden, and defeat the very purposes for which it is about to be fought. Douglas Hurd, who was the British foreign secretary during the Gulf War, noted recently in the RUSI Journal, "we may win the war in six days and lose it in six months."
Given the significant humanitarian and political costs of this war, should it be waged in the first place? This is a case where the ends do not justify the means. Other ways have to be found to disarm Saddam Hussein. As most of the countries in the world have argued, the inspectors should be given sufficient time and resources to accomplish their task. If they find that Iraq is in non-compliance with UN resolutions, the blame should be placed on Saddam Hussein. American has the world’s best-equipped and trained special operations forces. They should be entrusted with the job of capturing Saddam and bringing him to justice, whether in an American court or in the International Court of Justice. The Iraqi people have suffered enough during the past quarter century for the sins of their leader. There is no reason to add to their woes by raining cruise missiles and bombs on them.