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[casi] UN report details humanitarian disaster expected from war vs. Iraq

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A United Nations report marked “Strictly Confidential” and dated December 10, 2002, spells out in 
harrowing detail the likely humanitarian consequences of US-led war against Iraq.

Compiled by UN planners, the report makes clear that unlike the attack on Iraq in 1991, which it 
describes as a “relatively short, aerial bombardment of infrastructure, towns and cities”, the 
western powers are now planning “potentially a large scale and protracted ground offensive, 
supported by aerial and conventional bombardment.” [para 1]

Consequently, the potential devastation will be far greater than in 1991, it reports. Whereas a 
majority of the population of 26.5 million at that time had family members in work and access to 
cash and material assets, this is no longer the case.

Neither does the report consider it valid to make a comparison with the result of the recent war in 
Afghanistan where the population is predominantly rural and used to being “more self-reliant”. In 
Iraq the people are largely urbanised and under the sanctions regime imposed after 1991 have 
“become even more reliant on the state to meet their basic needs” [para 3] with “some 60 percent of 
the population (16 million) highly dependent” [para 11] on the monthly “food basket” from the 

Because of the possibility of a lengthy conflict, humanitarian access “would either be denied by 
one or other of the protagonists or severely hampered by security or safety concerns” [para 1]. The 
result will be unimaginably dire in a situation where the infrastructure on which the population 
are so dependent for government supplies—electricity network, railway system, roads, bridges and 
ports—will be, in the report’s terminology, “seriously degraded”.

The draft report, with a number of deletions presumably to protect the source inside the UN, was 
passed on to the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq (CASI), based in Cambridge, England. CASI 
released it in a press release dated January 7 and it is available on their website 

While the report’s opening sentence says war is “not inevitable”, the underlying assumption is that 
the UN needs to prepare for a very large-scale humanitarian disaster. There is no indication that 
this is only a “worst-case scenario” and only contingency planning is involved. Rather, the report 
indicates that UN officials have knowledge of US military planning.

The UN report predicts:

* “in the early stages there will be a large segment of the population requiring treatment for 
traumatic injuries” and “as many as 500,000 people could require treatment to a greater or lesser 
degree as a result of direct or indirect injuries”. [para 23] A footnote explains this is based on 
World Health Organisation estimates of 100,000 direct and 400,000 indirect casualties.

* * “in the likely absence of a functioning primary health care system in a post-conflict 
situation” that those particularly affected in the south and central regions will be 4.2 million 
under five-year-olds, one million pregnant and lactating women, two million internally displaced 
persons, and an unknown number of infirm, chronically ill and elderly. [para 24]

* “It is estimated that the nutritional status of some 3.03 million people countrywide will be dire 
and that they will require therapeutic feeding [according to UNICEF estimates]. This consists of 
2.03 million severely and moderately malnourished children under five and one million pregnant 
women.” [para 27]

* “Damage to the electricity network will result in collateral reductions in capacity in all 
sections, particularly water and sanitation as well as health.” As a result “39 percent of the 
population will need to be provided with potable water.” [para 28]

* “It is estimated that there will eventually be some 900,000 Iraqi refugees requiring assistance, 
of which 100,000 will be in need of immediate assistance”. [para 35]

It is notable that none of the major English language news sources have so far taken up the press 
release. This is in line with the self-censorship and uncritical government support witnessed in 
the US media and much of the British press during the military build-up over the last months.

The US media functions increasingly as the propaganda arm of the Bush administration and the 
Pentagon. It has a vested interest in suppressing the UN’s grim predictions, which are so clearly 
at odds with the official argument that civilian deaths will be kept to a minimum and that 
large-scale war casualties can be avoided. President George W. Bush’s recent announcement that 
there will be a “sweeping transition to democracy in Iraq” is shown to be a ridiculous lie 
considering the scale of devastation envisaged by the UN experts.

In Britain only the Daily Mirror carried a very brief report. In fact, details of the emergency UN 
plans, including this draft report, have apparently been available to the media for at least two 
weeks. A short article—cited on the CASI website entitled “UN chief issues secret orders for war in 
Iraq”—appeared in the Rupert Murdoch-owned British Times newspaper of December 23, 2002. The 
article, clearly referring to some of the report’s contents as well as other UN “internal 
documents”, makes clear that the order for secret preparations came from UN Secretary-General Kofi 

Since CASI is a British-based group it is perhaps more surprising that the UN report has received 
so little coverage in the British media. The explanation lies in the argument repeatedly put 
forward by the British government and supported in the media that Prime Minister Tony Blair has 
persuaded the US of the need to obtain international support for the war on Iraq through the UN.

The report—the product of top-level secret discussions within the UN—fly in the face of such claims 
that the body represents an “international community” which has any say in the conduct of the war. 
Rather, it demonstrates that the UN will play the role that the US expects it to—organising aid 
after American-led forces have destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure, flattened its cities, and killed or 
injured thousands of its population. Kofi Annan and UN officials are already planning and 
organising aid for the devastating war and UN officials have already held discussions with the 
European Union to fund its relief efforts.

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