End the War Against Iraq
Voices in the Wilderness (Campaign to stop the sanctions)
Iraqi Sanctions - Making a Difference
Silent Victims: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Persian Gulf War
In the winter of 1991 I watched anti-aircraft missiles light up the Baghdad sky as CNN correspondents reported live from the Persian Gulf War in Iraq.
I never personally felt threatened by the Gulf War. Watching bombs go off on a television screen is a very distant way to be involved. The war was merely an inconvenience if it interfered with another show I wanted to watch.
When the noise died down, the media blitz ended, and the United States and its allies declared victory, I, along with most of the country, thought the war was over.
I was wrong. It was only just beginning. Ten years after Operation Desert Storm, the United States still continues to wage war against the Iraqi people. Thousands of people are dying, most of them children. How did the U.S. get involved in such tragedy and why are so many people still under attack? Let's first take a step back and see how the war started.
In the 1980s, Iraq was engaged in an 8-year war with Iran, my native country. To fund the war, Iraq borrowed money from its Arab neighbors, including Kuwait, a small oil-rich nation to the south. When Kuwait began to call in those debts and to pump oil from a disputed region (defining borders in the Middle Eastern deserts can be tricky), Iraqi President Saddam Hussein responded with force. Iraq had long considered their southern neighbor to be a part of their country and on August 2, 1990, Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait. Troops also assembled along the Saudi Arabian border causing Saudi Arabia to request that U.S. troops come help defend against a possible attack.
Michael Milazzo was part of the 82nd Airborne, a parachute infantry division of the U.S. Army and rapid response force designed to be anywhere in the world within 18 hours. A member of the reconnaissance team, his unit was deployed to eastern Saudi Arabia in August 1990.
World's Largest Roadrunner
The attack on Saudi Arabia never materialized. However, an Allied coalition of 34 countries had formed against Iraq. In November, the United Nations Security Council authorized the use of "all means necessary" to eject Iraq from Kuwait and set a deadline of January 15th for Iraq to withdraw.
Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was a threat to U.S. oil interests. But sensing that the American people would not support a war based on oil, the U.S. government used the Iraqi injustices against its small "helpless" neighbor as cause for military action.
As January 15th approached, Michael and the troops began moving north towards the Iraqi border. The deadline rolled around and Saddam Hussein was not budging. At 2:38am Baghdad time, an Apache helicopter air strike by the coalition marked the beginning of what was known as Operation Desert Storm.
A week later, Iraq began blowing up Kuwaiti oil wells and started an "environmental war" by dumping millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf.
President Bush called upon the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam Hussein. Many of them did so and soon the common soldiers gained control of most of the country. Instead of helping out, the U.S. allowed Iraq to use helicopters and short-range missiles to put down the rebellion. Michael remembers the Republican Guard (the elite forces of the Iraqis) firing upon civilians. It was very surprising for him to observe so much violence inflicted on Iraqis by other Iraqis and also to see how much the southern Iraqi people seemed to love the American troops, wanting their assistance. But it was also very frustrating. "Our hands were tied. It was a miserable time. We wanted to help them. They wanted our help. But we left them out to dry. We let them wilt in the desert."
Continued air strikes and the start of an Allied ground campaign battered down the Iraqi troops. On Feb 26th, they began retreating from Kuwait City. Coalition forces entered and hoisted the Kuwaiti flag while President Bush declared Kuwait liberated. On Feb 27th, exactly 100 hours after the ground battle started and 6 weeks after the air attacks began, Bush suspended all U.S. and allied attacks. The war was over! Victory was declared!
But wait, don't get too excited. There's a part of the story I haven't told you about yet-sanctions. Sanctions are something you may never have heard about or thought about. The children in Iraq do not have the same luxury.
Four days after Iraq invaded Kuwait, economic sanctions were imposed, meaning trade was cut off and the country was denied almost everything, including food and medicine.
Michael noticed the effects of the sanctions as soon as he arrived. "People were starving. Kids were eating leaves off the trees…and there weren't even that many trees."
The American troops gave the Iraqis rations such as MREs (meals ready to eat) and medicine, but it just wasn't enough. "Kids were crawling in and out of bunker complexes looking for food. Some of the bunkers were booby trapped--actually a lot of them were--but there was no way we could have stopped those kids from looking for food."
After the war officially ended, sanctions were kept in place by the United Nations and enforced by the U.S. and Britain with the stated aim of getting rid of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The effects have been devastating.
Documents have shown that during Operation Desert Storm, Allied forces deliberately bombed Iraq's public water supply. In fact, bombings destroyed nearly all of the country's public health infrastructure, including not just water, but sewage, electric and communications systems as well. Sanctions have prevented Iraq from importing the spare parts they need to repair these damaged systems. So what does this all mean? What would it be like if you were a kid in Iraq? First of all, you probably wouldn't have any clean water. Sewage would be everywhere. Your school would have no desks and when the sewage would come in, you'd sit on bricks. You would likely be malnourished. Many of your friends would be dying. Some of them might have cancer or respiratory problems from being exposed to chemicals like depleted uranium during the war. And the hospitals would not have regular access to medicines, so their survival rates would not be so hot. Items like yellow fever vaccinations for children would not be allowed into the country because of the thought that they would be capable of being used in weapons of mass destruction. Don't even think about playing video games to take your mind off things. The State Department banned Sony PlayStation II, saying that Iraq was importing them to disassemble them and use the parts to create weapons. (I know that video games have come a long way since I was a kid, but I find that claim to be a bit bizarre).
It's not just sanctions. Bombings have also affected the children of Iraq.
For Michael, one thing that he took away from his experience is that "kids everywhere in the world are all the same…they're just kids. They like to play games, they like to eat candy." But sometimes the innocence of childhood is stripped away by the horrors of war. Michael tells a story of a Bart Simpson doll attached to one of the Hum-Vs that he and his fellow soldiers were driving. One day someone decided to take the doll off and throw it to the kids who were following along behind them. The children responded in terror. "They scattered, ducked, and took cover as if we were throwing a bomb or a grenade. But it was just Bart Simpson." Children have been traumatized by all the bombs going off.
At least the bombings stopped a long time ago, right? Guess again my friends. Since January 1999 (after another military conflict called Operation Desert Fox), U.S. and British planes have been bombing Iraq 2-3 times a week. The claim is that we are enforcing the "no-fly zones," in which Iraqi planes are not allowed to fly, in order to protect the Kurdish and Shiite minorities in the north and south. But it's not just military targets that we are bombing. We are also killing civilians. We have bombed grain silos and food storages and residential areas and villages and even flocks of sheep. (You never know when sheep are going to start using those Sony PlayStations and cause some real trouble.)
The U.S.' actions have also caused long term psychological and emotional damage. Mark Schneider of the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace (CCMEP)saw this first hand during a trip to Iraq with 8 other Coloradans last year. "Iraq used to have strong relations with the West. Now, anyone under 25 doesn't have any sense of that. The only relationship they have is through bombings and sanctions. There's a high degree of hatred."
When Michael returned home from Iraq, he did not immediately start thinking about the sanctions. "It wasn't in the press, it wasn't in our consciousness. I think a lot of us were willing to think that after we left, things would just get better. But that was absolutely not the case." It is Michael's personal goal to contact other Gulf War Veterans who feel the same way he does. "This is not an honorable thing. This is not a fight against an oppressor. This is a fight against ordinary people like you and me. The king is in his castle. The only victims are essentially innocent people."
I know it may still seem very distant. Iraq is far away, and this time there aren't even TV stations blasting us with images of warfare. Yet, when thousands of children who weren't even alive during the Gulf War are now being killed by sanctions, how can we sit by and do nothing? It is not fair to punish the people of a country for the actions of their leader. This is one issue I feel like I must take a stand against and hope that you will too. How many more innocent people must die before our government feels the same way?
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Links to Other Dispatches
Stephanie - America the bully? Corruption in Latin America
Jennifer - So what is NAFTA all about anyway?
Nick - Is peace in the Middle East just a pipe dream?
Stephen - "Operation Just Cause" was anything but just