Material Breach: US Crimes in Iraq

by Heather Wokusch

Dissident Voice

December 2, 2002



D-Day of December 8th quietly approaches - the day Iraq must provide the UN Security Council with a complete accounting of its weapons programs, plus its civilian chemical/biological/nuclear production and research activities. Even though UN weapons inspectors have criticized the December 8th deadline as unrealizable, the consequences for missing it will be catastrophic: Iraq will be in "material breach" of UN resolution 1441, and therefore subject to swift and decisive military action.


But at this point, UN 1441 seems little more than a whitewash pretext for a US-led attack on Iraq. With US warplanes patrolling Iraq's no-fly zone, bombing raids against Iraq ongoing, multiple aircraft carriers on alert and 60,000 US troops currently in or around the Persian Gulf, it's clear the war has already begun, "material breach" or not. When it's convenient for the Bush administration, Iraq will be found to have violated some aspect of the UN resolution, and the current buildup and covert military activity will explode into an all-out attack.


The justification (that Iraq's Hussein violates international law with his weapons of mass destruction and is thus a menace to world peace) seems a bit ironic in light of US actions in Iraq these past eleven years.


Case in point. Article 54 of the Geneva Conventions clearly states that destroying or rendering useless items essential to the survival of civilian populations is illegal under international law and a war crime. Hard then to explain the 1991 US bombing of electrical grids that powered 1,410 water-treatment plants for Iraq's 22 million people. An excerpt from a 1998 US Air Force document, entitled "Strategic Attack," chillingly explains: "The electrical attacks proved extremely effective ... The loss of electricity shut down the capital's water treatment plants and led to a public health crisis from raw sewage dumped in the Tigris River." A second US Defense Intelligence Agency document, 1991's "Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities," predicted how sanctions would then be used to prevent Iraq from getting the equipment and chemicals necessary for water purification, which would result in "a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population" leading to "increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease."


So basically, in defiance of international law, the United States knowingly destroyed Iraq's water supply, then for the past eleven years has prevented the contaminated drinking water from being treated, even though it was obvious those most affected would be millions of citizens doomed to preventable disease and death. If that's not a material breach, what is?


Then there's the depleted uranium (DU) weaponry the United States and its allies used on Iraq during the Gulf War, despite foreknowledge its radioactivity would make food and water in the bombed regions unsafe for consumption on an indefinite basis (DU remains radioactive for 4.5 billion years). Add in the fact that trails of carcinogenic dust left in a DU bomb's wake spread in the wind to be absorbed by plants and animals, thereby devastating a region's food chain. Of course, humans inhale and absorb DU dust as well, which has most likely led not only to dramatically elevated levels of birth defects and cancer cases among Iraqi civilians, but also to a wide litany of suffering among Gulf War vets; a recent study, for example, found that even nine years after the war, veterans afflicted with Gulf War Syndrome ailments still had DU traces in their urine. This while there has yet to be any US governmental study on the effects of DU inhalation...


We can expect DU to be used in the next attack on Iraq too, in spite of the inhumane risks to civilians and military personnel alike. According to a Defense Department report, "the US Military Services use DU munitions because of DU's superior lethality" adding, "Gulf War exposures to depleted uranium (DU) have not to date produced any observable adverse health effects attributable to DU's chemical toxicity or low-level radiation." With more than one out of six American Gulf War vets having reported health problems since their service, and over 9,000 having died since the war ended, not to mention the marked increase in Iraqi birth defects and cancer cases in DU-bombed regions, denial like that is nothing short of material breach, an affront to both human rights and common sense.


And what if the December 8th deadline is met, and no weapons of mass destruction are found by U.N. weapons inspectors inside Iraq? Says US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "What it would prove would be that the inspection process had been successfully defeated by the Iraqis.  There's no question but that the Iraqi regime is clever, they've spent a lot of time hiding things, dispersing things, tunneling underground." So it would appear regardless of how the inspections turn out, the Iraqis will be attacked anyway.


In facing a no-win situation, Hussein could seem like a martyr to others in the region; he could also see little option but to unleash whatever destructive powers he has left. Backing someone like him into a corner is foreign policy at its most disastrous, a dangerous development for the entire region and very bad news for the unfortunate service men and women thrown into that quagmire.


It's clear that Saddam Hussein is a loathsome ogre who has shown criminal disregard for his population. What's also clear though is that the US record in the region is disgraceful if not downright criminal. Consider that for the two years following Hussein's infamous 1988 gas attack on the Kurds at Halabja (an attack in which US-built helicopters were apparently among those dropping the bombs) the US government seemed quite uninterested in his possession of chemical weapons, or any other weapons for that matter. Remember too, that a 1992 Senate committee report entitled "US Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual-Use Exports to Iraq," demonstrated that Hussein bought technology and materials necessary to create nuclear, biological and chemical weapons from none other than the States and Britain - and continued to make purchases even after the attack at Halabja. Factor in the water supply degradation, DU toxicity and debilitating sanctions and it's hard to imagine the average Iraqi embracing American forces as welcome liberators.


The bottom line is that the US has some questions to answer about its past conduct in Iraq, questions that can't be answered by another full-scale war.


Heather Wokusch is a free-lance writer with a background in clinical psychology. Her work as been featured in publications and websites internationally. Heather can be contacted via her website:







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