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Re: [casi] targeting of water treatment facilities (long)

Thanks to Jo Baker, Ruth Blakeley, Eric Herring, Ghazwan Al-Mukhtar, Tom
Nagy and others for responses on this issue. Particular thanks to Elga
Sutter for providing info on the Iraq Water Project.

As noted, there was a previous discussion of this question on the list back
in September 2000. Check out the archive.

I expect almost everyone on the list agrees with the US Department of
Defense (see Tom Nagy's references) that the allied forces made a deliberate
assault on the electricity infrastructure and that this led to severe
malfunctioning of the water treatment system, exacerbated by blocks on
necessary items for repair and maintenance.

In this context some may feel that the specific issue I raised (whether
water-treatment installations -- henceforth WTI -- were TARGETED) is of
secondary importance, particularly given the urgency of protesting the
imminent war, but I'll go over the questions for the sake of completeness.

What is at stake? Perhaps very little; if you believe that the allied forces
attacked the electricity system knowing full well what the consequences
would be for the water system, then whether WTI were specifically targeted
or not is beside the point. However, if there is plausible evidence that WTI
_were_ targeted, people who are less willing to believe the worst of their
own governments may be forced to think again -- the malice on display would
be even more obvious.

The range of logical possibilities seems to be

1) Water-treatment installations (WTI) were targeted as a deliberate means
of applying pressure on the regime via the population and were subsequently

2) WTI were exempted from the target list on humanitarian (or prudential)
grounds, but during the campaign some were added to target lists, either out
of frustration at a perceived lack of progress, or for other reasons.

3) WTI were exempted from the target list, but some installations were
bombed in error (misidentified, proximity to other targets, or bad luck).

4) WTI were exempted and were in fact not only not targeted, but were in
fact never bombed.

I assume we can discount 4) straight away. 3) seems to be the position of
the DOD -- see Dr Herring's DIA informant in his message of 24 Sep 2000.

The informant says (comments interspersed)

> we never deliberately destroyed
> such targets.  It would be folly to risk aircrew and
> aircraft to destroy such targets that offer no tactical or
> strategic advantage.

-- plausible

> Simply put, we did NOT go after the water plants to, in
> your words, to "cause many civilian casualties."

-- this could be entirely accurate but rather misleading, as it depends upon
how targets were defined; once people in the "black hole" had decided that a
target had enough military utility to go on the target list then they could
put out of their minds the question of what the impact on civilian welfare
might be. Once a target is accepted as military then the "collateral damage"
can be acceptable (in the minds of the perpetrators) as long as it is
"proportionate". People more familiar with military procedure than me could
tell us if this is a fair description.

> Keep in mind that of the few water facilities hit were hit
> because of two reasons; 1) they were misidentified and bombed by an
> aircrew under combat conditions and while being shot at ....The 2nd reason is
> simply because the target was part of a small grid system supporting a
> significant military target and the rule of proportionality was assessed and
> accounted for.

This is more plausible or less plausible depending on just how "few" WTI
were hit. Ghazwan has passed on the official Iraqi damage log (or some of
it); we also have Felicity's summary for which the source is (I think) Dr
David Levenson, who visited after the war on behalf of International
Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and whose testimony was relied
upon by Ramsey Clark's "War Crimes Tribunal" --

> During allied bombing campaigns on Iraq the country's eight multi-purpose
> dams had been repeatedly hit, simultaneously wrecking flood control,
> municipal and industrial water storage, irrigation and hydroelectric power.
> Four of seven major pumping stations were destroyed, as were 31 municipal
> water and sewerage facilities - 20 in Baghdad, resulting in sewage pouring
> into the Tigris." (Allies deliberately poisoned Iraq public water supply in
> Gulf War, Sunday Glasgow Herald, 17th September 2000)

How the Iraq/Levenson account can be reconciled with the following I do not

> In October 1991 the International Study Team concluded that "Direct physical
> damage, either from bombing or from looting during the civil uprisings, was
> found to be only a minor factor in the impairment of water and wastewater
> systems...." (Gabriel Carlyle, message of 24 Sep 2000)

So were the WTI hit (or destroyed) "few" or many? Let's take the

> 31 municipal water and sewerage facilities

If this is, say, ten per cent of the national total, and if a proportion of
those 31 could be shown to be in close proximity to other (non-WTI) targets,
then explanation 3) above is fairly plausible. However, if 31 is FIFTY per
cent of the total, and if those 31 were indeed "destroyed" and not just
damaged, and if a further percentage of installations received damage short
of destruction, -- then the explanation looks rather implausible. And we are
left with a choice between explanation 1) and explanation 2).

If anyone has any more detailed information about this it might be worth
following up.

DOD personnel and publications seem perfectly happy to accept responsibility
for attacking the electricity installations (though they claim the damage
went beyond that intended); in contrast they forcibly deny targeting WTI (if
Dr Herring's informant is representative). What are we to make of this? Dr
Herring and Ruth Blakely make the point

> My understanding of GWAPS [Gulf War Air Power Survey] is that attacks on
> sewage/water plants would not have been omitted from discussion due to
> sensitivity. (Herring)

> Given the openness in the report [GWAPS] vis a vis targeting electricity, I
> would be surprised that there would be any cover up re. water. (Blakeley)

However, any competent military planner aware of international law will have
no difficulty in coming up with arguments as to why it's OK to target
"dual-use" facilities like power stations. But it is specifically forbidden
to target "drinking water installations and supplies" in the Geneva
Conventions (Article 54 of the 1979 protocol that Nagy quotes in his
_Progressive_ article). So if during a bombing campaign such installations
are in fact bombed it is unlikely that the perpetrators would admit in
publicly-available documents to targeting them (even though the prospect of
appearing before a war crimes tribunal is extremely remote).

Although electricity generating plant is (commonsense tells us) an "object
indispensable to the survival of the civilian population" it is not
specifically mentioned in the protocol, and a military planner could argue
that attacking electricity generation would not be "for the specific purpose
of denying [its] sustenance value to the civilian population" but would have
a direct military benefit. It would be rather harder to argue the same re
water-treatment installations.



It is possible that (some) WTI was deliberately targeted, but the evidence
is not conclusive. It may be worth further investigation, if any decisive
evidence exists.

Destruction of the electricity infrastructure was sufficient to achieve the
same ends as deliberate targeting of WTI.

At some level in the DOD and US administration the consequences for the
civilian population of Iraq were well understood.

The perpetrators possibly regard themselves as protected by a legal
distinction that can be extracted from the Geneva Conventions.

Whatever conclusions we come to, we return to the sanctions regime as the
most obvious cause of continuing harm to the Iraqi poulation.


Any further comments welcome, though, as I said, there may be more urgent
questions for us to get involved with.

Andrew Goreing
Cambridge, UK

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