Aces and Eights: Dealing Death in Iraq

“God is great. The nation will be victorious, and Palestine is Arab.”
– President Saddam Hussein, gallows statement
The strengthening sun warms the tomato, lettuce, and pepper seedlings in our shed-roof greenhouse. The “atmospheric river”/ climate-chaos pummeling  the apparently doomed American west is merely a newsy bit of ephemera here in Maine. It mixes easily with the “And-Now-This” formula of jumbling “stories” about puppies,“Awareness-walks” or ocean plunges, unpaid business promotions, war propaganda, Bail-outs-4-Billionaires, and celebrity diversions.
Spring arrives officially on March 20th. And some of us remember other anniversaries on this day.
The UK Guardian (3/18/23) reports a campaign by “Indivisible” —— described as a “left-wing (sic) political umbrella movement” (sic) —which has unveiled a project picturing lesser-known “MAGA” Republican congress people on playing cards of various suits and numbers—— to “make these folks famous,” and  maybe “raise the profile” of their right-wing policy views. George Santos, “the only household name among the group,” is depicted as the 7-of-spades.
It’s all in good (innovative?) fun…. sorta….
But on the 20th anniversary of the (Second) war on Iraq (3/20/2003) I was reminded of the “Most-Wanted Iraqi” playing cards printed up and distributed to US troops in 2003 by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. The aim was “to help troops identify the most-wanted members of President Saddam Hussein”s government…. mostly members of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party” or the president’s family. As soldiers “played cards” they would see “the faces and titles of the wanted Iraqis….. in case they run into the wanted individuals in the field.” (Wikipedia)
President Hussein was the Ace of Spades. Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, frequently the  (highly articulate) spokesman for Iraq’s government, adorned the eight-of-spades card: Both imprisoned in 2003—— now dead.
The 2003 war, launched with George W. Bush’s bombing of Iraq’s cities in the “Shock and Awe” campaign was merely a continuation of “Poppy” Bush’s 1991 “Gulf War” triumph that destroyed most of Iraq’s urban infrastructure through bombing. International “sanctions” imposed before the blitzkrieg were continued, preventing the restoration of the sewage systems, drinking water treatment facilities, power plants, electrical grid, and other civilian infrastructure. The import of medicine, repair parts, chemicals like chlorine, water pipe, and even pencils was prohibited.
In May of 1991, subsequent to visiting cites in Iraq, the “Harvard Study Team” released a report (“Public Health in Iraq After the Gulf War”) on the bombing’s aftermath to scant media attention. Composed of law students, public health physicians, a public health specialist and attorneys——mostly from Harvard, and funded largely by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, the team reported, “This study documents a public health catastrophe. Specifically, it projects that at least 170,000 children under 5 years of age will die in the coming year from the delayed effects of the Gulf Crisis.”
In July of 1991, Dr. Roger Normand, a member of the study team delivered a lecture at Biddeford’s McArthur Library. It was the week of July 4th. The daily paper featured pictures of locals waving flags but was “unable” to cover the event, or so I was told. We did  get some coverage from the local weekly (see Biddeford-Saco Courier, 7/11/91, pg 5). Allison Whiting’s report cited the likely death toll of 170,00 noting: “Most of these children will die from gastroenteritis, cholera, or typhoid in combination with malnutrition.”
Prior to U.S. bombing, the main health issue for Iraq’s kids, was “childhood obesity.”
Death is the predictable result when water treatment plants, sewage systems, and power generation/distribution infrastructure are destroyed in a country where most of the population lives in cities.
The Courier piece noted that the “already alarming disease rates” were expected “to increase with the onset of hot summer weather.”It continued, “Normand called for the lifting of the sanctions that prevent medicine and food from reaching destitute Iraqis. He warned that this once self-sufficient country may become dependent on hand-outs if conditions do not improve.”
Sadly, the sanctions were a bipartisan affair and continued under William Jefferson Clinton, now combined with regular bombing and sabotage. Roger Normand and some Study Team members continued their work. In 1996 they were able to guide a CBS “60 Minutes” crew on a tour of Iraq. Footage of the dying kids was combined with Lesley Stahl’s interview of Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.
Stahl: “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
(Without disputing the number) Albright icily responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—— we think the price is worth it.”
Twenty years ago and a million (plus) corpses later, Poppy Bush’s son began “finishing the job,” starting with more much-televised barrages against Iraqi cities, and eradication of Iraq’s governmental institutions.
Its leadership, bereft population, and a “lost generation” of Iraqi kids wounded, stunted, or starved by venomous “sanctions”  were finally left holding a “dead man’s hand.”

Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: