Comments on the predictions made in "Likely Humanitarian Scenarios"
This is a response to Fred Kaplan's article "How Many Dead Iraqis?", which was published in
Slate magazine on February 25. In it, he claims that the casualty figures
contained in the leaked UN document "Likely
Humanitarian Scenarios" are based on the false assumption that
infrastructure will be significantly damaged in a war. This is an initial response, and does not address every claim in full detail.
- A war would almost certainly be primarily urban, with a focus on Baghdad.
It seems highly unlikely that the US military could bomb and/or storm
Baghdad and avoid civilian infrastructure (namely electricity), even if it
- US policy-makers and war planners paid a scant political/image price for
their conduct during the Gulf War. Most people, including journalists,
still seem to presume that in all wars, most deaths directly resulting from
being hit by bombs, bullets, etc. The Gulf War confirmed yet again that when
the military destroys or incapacitates essential civilian infrastructure on
which many civilians depend, a public health crisis will ensue. However,
these foreseeable consequences often seem lost on journalists and the lay
public. There is little reason to think journalists and others watching the
military's conduct (perhaps other than select NGOs), will focus on items
linked to public health as such. They will instead look out for bombing
raids in which large numbers of people will die. The Bush Administration
knows all of this, and probably won't expect public health-related image
- US officials have failed to explicitly acknowledge their Geneva
Convention and Additional Protocol obligations. They have failed to rule
out, e.g., targeting Iraq's electricity grid. In fact, in Afghanistan they
often targeted what few electricity facilities remained.
- US officials make argue that targeting the infrastructure will expedite
the Government of Iraq's surrender and thus save lives. They will of course ignore the
public health consequences of disabling the infrastructure. Additionally,
they will overstate the speed with which the infrastructure could again be
- Even if the US military miraculously avoids the civilian infrastructure,
food supplies will still be severely disrupted. The likely resulting
consequences for an extremely vulnerable population, especially young
children, are quite clear. See, for example, CASI's press release on the
vulnerablility of children in the event of war.