Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq


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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.

  1. 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 wanted to.
  2. 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 problems.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 adequately functional.
  5. 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.

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