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A few years ago, I stepped into the horror of the Gulf War. It was April 1999, and the place was Baghdad’s al-Amiriya bomb shelter.
Living most of my life in a refugee camp in Gaza, where the murder of innocent people at the hands of Israeli troops is routine, I was little hesitant to walk into al-Amiriya. I was not braced for what I would witness. I already knew that hundreds of people had wasted there, during the Gulf War, in 1991, when an American ‘smart’ bomb shattered the giant compound. But that’s all I knew.
It was cold, damp and dark. A few lonely florescent lamps were not working since the regular bombing of Baghdad’s electric generators by US-British warplanes left the city without any power for most of the day, everyday. Ironically, the only light shed on the shelter came from the monstrous hole in the roof, made eight years ago by the American bomb.
The shelter was designed to withstand a nuclear attack on Baghdad; it was solid and giant, and had the capacity to host hundreds of people. Among the scores of colorful pictures of the victims, there were a few photos of three Palestinians families. They were refugees, working and living in Iraq, and there, in this place, they died.
When the American bomb fell, the shelter’s doors shut down, automatically. The doors were designed to do so, since the attack was never expected to target the shelter itself, but nearby areas. Those who didn’t immediately die as a result of the massive explosion pounded at the door and screamed for help.
American officials at the time assured us that that the place was used for military purposes; as they always do, when innocent people are “mistakenly” killed.
The powerful explosion penetrated to the bottom floor where giant water tanks were stored. On that floor, families cooked and washed. Some of these tanks boiled with water. Seconds later, the tanks exploded and the boiling water rose to over three feet.
You could still see the mark of where the water rose, as well as the impression of the human flesh that melted to the wall due to the intense heat of the water.
“These are the marks of a woman’s skin still holding her child,” an Iraqi woman, who lost her entire family in al-Amiriya said. She left her husband and nine children and ran home to bring some food. She came back to find them all dead. Since then, she has lived in a tiny trailer in the shelter’s backyard, escorting visitors with her black cloths and a candle. “These are my children”, she points to a framed picture of happy looking children, neatly dressed and smiling politely.
As I stepped out of al-Amiriya’s “tour”, I could never escape the echoing voices of the Iraqi children, pounding at the door, pleading to God and to humanity to get them out of the inferno.
But al-Amiriya was neither the beginning, nor is it the end.
During the 1991 Gulf War to “liberate Kuwait”, uncounted innocent lives were taken. Some estimates put the number of Iraq casualties during the war at over a million. Even the most moderate estimates are catastrophic.
The US has successfully liberated the oil fields in Kuwait, but the Iraq tragedy continues to unfold. Anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 Iraqi children have die every month, as a direct result of the US-led UN economic sanctions on Iraq that followed the war. Even United Nations’ own reports testified to that.
The Oil-for-Food program, which came into effect nearly five years after the end of the Gulf War, was of little significance to assist an ailing economy and a ruined infrastructure. Iraq was still banned from importing many products using the little funds that the program provided.
Over a week ago, the United States and its British allies began yet another war against Iraq, killing and maiming hundreds thus far, with the aim of “liberating Iraq”, and “freeing the Iraqi people.” It’s appalling how such twisted logic can hold for such a long time.
An MSNBC commentator explained the reason why the first day of bombings in Iraq, was so concentrated and not widespread. “We have to keep in mind that in a few days, we will own this country,” he said.
We need not examine such statements however, nor the provocative comments made by top US army officials, nor the desecration of an Iraqi flag and the offensive replacement of an American one, after the Umm al-Qasr battle. If this eagerness to invade Iraq was for the sake of the Iraqi people, why have we tortured and starved an entire generation of them for so long?
We can disagree on the reasons behind the war; whether it was for strategic control, the oil or Israel. But rational people should have no illusions, that saving the Iraqi people is not one of the reasons we are investing over $100 billion to finance this indefensible war. If you wish to have further proof, pay a visit to al-Amiriya shelter. Despite everything, it is still standing.
RAMZY BAROUD is the editor-in-Chief of PalestineChronicle.com and the author of “Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion.”
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