The Days of Wonder in Iraq

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John Brady Kiesling came to the limelight with his courageous resignation from the State Department just before the war had begun in Iraq. He was a career diplomat. Colleagues and superiors had warned him that he would be throwing away his lifelong career for “nothing”. But Mr. Kiesling took the step beyond remaining ordinary, collecting the steady paychecks, and counting for his rewarding retiring days. After struggling through sleepless nights pondering on various aspects of the war issue, Mr. Kiesling came to the conclusion that a unilateral, “preemptive” strike against Iraq would simply not only be wrong, but harmful to the United States as well.

In his widely circulated resignation letter Mr. Kiesling wrote, “The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America’s most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson.” The path we were on would lead to “instability and danger, not security.”

Many of Mr. Kiesling’s warnings have materialized since then. Our world has not become a more stable and peaceful place after this unjustified war contrary to the endless propagations of voluminous attributions by the American Enterprise Institute and its surrogates in various clothes. Like the thousand years old barbaric tradition, they have displayed and replayed through the long tentacle of cable news media the prized grotesque photos of dead “brothers” of Baghdad, while the memory is still fresh for most of the world population on American rightful protests in displaying of dead and imprisoned soldiers by the fallen Iraqi regimes during the heights of the war breeching the Geneva Convention which is applicable to all the world citizens, Arabs and Non-Arabs, Americans and non-Americans.

This type of hypocrisy, double standards that irritates many, even the truest friends of America cannot but wonder what’s really going on behind these seemingly errant policies.

The major battles of Iraq war ended more than three months ago. Bush’s spectacular landing over American ship, proclaiming the victory in grandiose fashion were widely televised. But since then, there are mounting attacks on the American occupying forces in Iraq. On the average, 12 attacks per day are reportedly been committed “including assaults by mortar, sniper fire, hand grenades, land mines, RPGs, and, most chillingly, close-range shots to the back of the head in the midst of the noonday crowds in central Baghdad. Moreover, reports from Iraq suggest that the pool of “resistance” recruits and sympathizers is growing larger. Coalition troops now face not just renegade fedayeen, but tribesmen bent on vengeance, disgruntled ex-officials and soldiers, Islamist mujahideen, and simple criminals.” [1]

These attacks are termed as the desperate acts of old Baathist remnants.

In his recently published article in The New York Review of Books, Max Rodenbeck observes that after more than a hundred days of Iraq’s “liberation”, “the occupying power has still not revealed what it plans to do with wanted Baathists, although it has posted an almost comically large reward, $25 million, for the bigger fish. America has still not explained, to general Iraqi satisfaction, what the goals of its occupation are. It has not set a time limit for its presence. Nor has it restored public services to the meager standard Iraqis have long had to suffer, let alone improved them. The world’s most powerful military machine has not even provided basic security”. [2]

When Rumsfeld and others high in the Defense Department say that the defeated Baathists are solely responsible for the attacks on American troops, there might be partial truths in it. Yes, Saddam’s collapsed regime may have become vengeful, but perhaps there are other seething elements in action as well in Iraq.

The oppressed, bombarded and the decade old sanctioned Iraqis are glad to see Saddam’s regime is overthrown, but their pure distrust, anger and frustration toward the occupying forces, who are running their nation without any efficient coordination and long term management plan, who are not providing the basic amenities and securities to the mass, are equally condemned in every suppressed roar in the chaotic streets of Baghdad, and also in other cities and rural places.

Till now, the Bush Administration, at least the hawkish elements are able to manipulate public fears from September 11 catastrophe to further their aggressive agendas, “they adopted “the power politics of the schoolyard as their model of human interaction” and reduced a complex moral universe to a permanent face-off between “the forces of light and the forces of darkness.” They used “lies and half-truths” to build a case for invading Iraq as “a step toward a more complete power grab.” As the neo-conservatives began to drive American policy, old-school internationalists tried to come to terms with them, hoping to retain influence. But accommodation has proved no easy task.” [3]

Mr. Kiesling sums up this neo-conservative infested administration as the following: “This is an administration at war, and you are with them or you are against them”. And in the process, the rational paths toward reconciliation and peace are replaced by the irrational divine guidance and a thousand eyes for eye kinds of vengeance mood.

In Iraq, the American Proconsul Paul Bremer has indeed taken a few positive steps, like his initiative of a budget that surpassed Saddam’s old budget by two folds. There are also reports of “new goods and fresh opinions” beginning to give Iraqis a taste of the potential rewards of freedom. [4]

But Max Rodenbeck points out that amid these few positive steps, there are countless failures those were avoidable, and those would have caused less sufferings of the Iraqis who have already suffered much from Saddam’s brutal regime and American leaded economic sanctions and rogue war.

It is true that Americans do not have any ill wills towards Iraq. Most Americans truly wish to see a prospering Iraq where the ordinary Iraqis live in their peaceful life. The recent chaotic mess in every parts of Iraq is mostly due to “prewar misconceptions, wartime miscalculations, and postwar misrule.” There are no surprises here.

The “prewar misconceptions” was based on the neo-conservative’s drum rolling portrayal of a quick victory in Iraq following by a red carpet treatment of the “liberators” that has simply not been materialized.

The “wartime miscalculations” was based on Chalabi and Makiya types of expatriate Iraqis who had advised Pentagon that the “shock and awe” would obliterate all forms of resistance quickly, with minimal casualties for the Iraqis and Americans alike.

Well, things did not turn this way as well. The latest conservative estimate of Iraqi civilian casualties has exceeded the range of 5000-7000; that is “even assuming the number is half the lower figure, this represents ten times the human toll of September 11, relative to Iraq’s population.” Also, uncounted deaths of many thousands of Iraqi soldiers have hundreds of thousands of grieving family members alive, fuming in tears-full rage.

During the war, Rumsfeld was gloating in his neatly ironed suit on how precise American bombardments were, and in two-thirds of these cases, he was right about it. But there were still 1200 cluster bombs “dropped from the air, and many thousands more lobbed by artillery. (The effect of this was particularly devastating at Baghdad’s airport, where US troops feinted, withdrew, and then crushed six battalions of counterattacking Iraqis.) Each of the aerial bombs contained 200é300 bomblets, of which, on average, some 5 percent failed to explode. The dud rate for artillery-fired munitions was triple that figure. In other words, an absolute minimum of 15,000 such deadly objects are now scattered across Iraq, not to mention all the other forms of lethal discarded ordnance.” [4]

Back in November of 2002, an expert panel opined that disbanding the Iraqi army swiftly would cause tremendous resentments in the 400,000 strong Iraqi army, but the Bush Administration ordered Bremer to do this anyway, creating untoward angers in a defeated and now unemployed army and among their famished families.

Before and during the war in Iraq, the peace activists around the globe were united, coordinated with each other from across the oceans and mountains; borders and thousand miles distance didn’t matter; language barriers were forgotten. Their goal was the unified stance against the war, against the killing of children, men, women and elderly Iraqis. There were millions poured into the streets, lighting the candlelight vigils. The Priests, Rabbis, Imams and Pundits marched in unison forgetting the mundane theological crackpot differences. The atheists, agnostics, believers and communists and capitalists were under the same umbrella. A Muslim woman cried loudly hearing Pope John Paul’s last moment plea from the Vatican podium; Devoted Hindus raised their hands in prayers along with praying Imams in New Delhi’s interfaith march; this world of ours were overwhelmingly against this war and it remains so.

After the major bloodshed ended, the muscles of might and bombardment fright had incinerated the despised Saddam regime, thousands were buried and mourned for, the peace activists lost their steam, they felt stupefied finding that their heart-felt protests could not stop the war, could not bring a peaceful resolution that could have saved thousands of those who are now decaying in unmarked graves, or the wounded Iraqis living their miserable lives, amputees, and blind, feeling burden to their overburdened family. 

With the soaring quagmire like environment existing in Iraq, where all the prewar premonitions, warnings from the anti-war activists are coming to float around Bush Administration’s forceful Merry-Go-Round depiction of the real events, anti-war peace activists are getting motivated once again, their days of slumber are getting replaced with the vitalized new goals for achieving a non-violent world.

Paul Rogat Loeb writes in his recent Znet article, “To most Iraqis, US troops have become symbols of colonialism and chaos. The longer they stay, the more they become targets, and the more Iraqis will resent the US for imposing our will and grabbing for oil while failing to secure basic needs like electricity, clean water, and physical safety. Because the UN represents the entire international community, including eighteen Arab states, a UN administration, in contrast, would be far less likely to be seen as a foreign military occupation. Although the new forces would probably still face some opposition, both armed and unarmed, they won’t be tarred with the same neocolonial agenda. Iraqis wouldn’t view them as simply in it to dominate their country or project American power. Without the disruption of a growing armed insurgency, efforts at restoring basic services, maintaining stability, and setting up a democratic and representative Iraqi government would be far easier. A UN Mandate might even allow a similar transition to when UN forces finally ended Indonesia’s bloody occupation of East Timor and supervised that country’s return to democracy.” [5]

One may ask: why is the Bush Administration so opposed to the ideas of giving United Nations the upper hand in this messy transition period in Iraq? It is perhaps the powerful capital interests of the neo-conservatives, and the profit-seeking corporations combined who are behind this administration’s opposition to the United Nation’s leading role idea.

 

Paul Wolfowitz was blunt in his remark this week that he would not like to see UN taking the leadership role in Iraq because he believes UN to be painfully slow in its execution of plans. There is no surprise here either. This is the same man who before the war was promulgating the fabricated ideas of tons and tons of WMDs scattered around in Iraq, who was forceful in his global agenda of seeing neo-conservative’s imperial dream come true.

A few decades before, in another blunder filled American adventure, many thousands of American soldiers gave their life for a battle that seem quite senseless in today’s light. The same arrogance, similar fervent pursuance of divine ideology based goals were in play in those blood ravaged Vietnam war era, killing hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians along with lost lives of American soldiers in the jungle of Southeast Asia.

Yes, Iraq is not Vietnam. America has acquired vastly more sophisticated killer machines and its technological and economic superiority is unsurpassed. But in the guerilla war, where the rage and resentment arising from witnessing beloveds’ torn up bodies, suffering through bleak and frustrating agonies of lawlessness, Saddam’s strong military boots are replaced by American military boots with no clear goal and exit strategy of the occupying forces in sight, the increasing likelihood is there of a more stronger resistance warfare spreading all over Iraq.

Only the international communities united under the established international laws abide by the UN, can save the miseries and sufferings of Iraqis, it can also put international peace keeping forces who will be less target to the guerilla warfare thus saving young American soldiers’ lives from bullets and hand grenades.

“Chas. Freeman, the retired ambassador, is more direct. “We have a national mentality now that says, if you see a problem, shoot it! Because we know that we’re very, very good at shooting things.”[6]

But shooting the problem will not bring peace in Iraq.

 

The World Health Organization (WHO) calls it the “biggest mass poisoning of a population in history”. There are millions of Bangladeshis exposed to poisonous arsenic from drinking water. Even rice and other crops irrigated with toxic water are in question. The rise of cancer, ulcers, gangrene, and painful warts are reported from various corners of Bangladesh those are directly linked to arsenic poisoning. WHO says that within the next decade one-tenth of all deaths in southern Bangladesh will be due to this arsenic crisis. That is about 20,000 deaths per year.

Will anyone be held responsible for this?

Arsenic, Microbes and Tragedy of Turtle Pace

Scientists observe that the arsenic poisoning in water is a natural phenomenon. Many of them believe that arsenic has been eroded naturally from the Himalayas by the Ganges over thousands of years and deposited amid silt in the river’s delta region. [1] Many believe that arsenic used to be attached with the silt on iron hydroxide particles. And now, either “as bacteria break down the iron compounds, ” or “due to changes caused by pumping” [1] of millions of wells, arsenic is coming loose from the silt and seeping into the water. Most wells in Bangladesh get their water from the depth zone of 65 to 260 feet below the surface level, and this is the same zone that arsenic is poisoning water as well.

A few MIT scientists put emphasis on the microbe’s involvement; they believe that “arsenic-breathing bacteria may be playing a role in the arsenic contamination of water wells in Bangladesh.” [2] This research may provide valuable insights on the ongoing efforts by the researchers on this tragic issue.

There are lots to learn on these arsenic-breathing microbes. In an article published in the Science journal, two of the researchers wrote, “It’s possible that they are environmentally significant. For instance, they may play a role in arsenic contamination of water wells by converting arsenic from a largely inert form into a toxic, water-soluble form.” [2]

Many calls it a great tragedy for the poor people of Bangladesh who are already suffering from devastating yearly floods, immense poverty, corruption and other misfortunes associated with any other poor nations.

The Bangladeshi government and other international organizations have taken a few good steps. The World Bank is currently funding a project to survey and replace wells in 4000 villages of Bangladesh. But due to the sheer bureaucracy since the inception of this project in 1998, “so far, only about 15 percent of the country’s wells have been tested”. [1] That’s called the turtle pace and is not acceptable in this increasingly alarming arsenic crisis.

Noble Goal of UNICEF and Bangladesh Government?

Drinking water is becoming more and more a scarce resource around the globe. On June 5, the World’s “Environment Day”, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan provided a stark gloomy picture of this priceless commodity, he said, “Water-related diseases kill a child every eight seconds. One person in six lives without regular access to safe drinking water. Over twice that number — 2.4 billion — lack access to adequate sanitation.” [3]

In the beginning, a few decades ago, due to the pollution on the surface water in Bangladesh, due to the rising cholera and typhoid and other water born diseases among the populace, especially the children, it was UNICEF that led the mass wells digging effort in Bangladesh. About 10 million or more wells now exist in Bangladesh from this massive effort. UNICEF’s original goal and intention were noble. They wanted to replace the polluted water sources, rivers and ponds that caused diseases and deaths among the populace.

In the time of distress, and arsenic is nothing but a full-blown catastrophe that is still materializing, one cannot stop wondering, is their any responsibilities that UNICEF should assume? Does the past and previous Bangladeshi government have any dubious roles in this tragedy? No saner person can accuse any purposeful, intentional maligns regarding arsenic crisis in Bangladesh, but is there any criminal negligence involved?

From the very beginning when this crisis came out to the public, UNICEF kept their points of opinion straight regarding their inability of identifying arsenic in any possible testing before undertaking the massive well-digging operations in Bangladesh. They maintain that at the time, standard procedures for testing the safety of groundwater did not include tests for arsenic [which] had never before been found in the kind of geological formations that exist in Bangladesh. [4]

But there are critics who do not buy into UNICEF’s official hand-wash version of responsibility. Many believes that it was religion like dogma held by the public health officials at the time without the knowledge of local geology, who maintained that ground water was safe without initiating a thorough scientific tests that would include arsenic test as well. Even in late 1980, before the arsenic news finally came out from its slumber, a British engineer named Peter Ravenscroft blew the alarm whistle on arsenic in ground water from his testing in Bangladesh. He said that he first found arsenic in groundwater in the late 1980s and published his findings in 1990. [4]

Though there were alarming number of arsenic poisoning cases being reported across Bangladesh, as far as 1985 when ill Bangladeshis were crossing border to India for medical treatment, but the Government of Bangladesh maintains that it knew about the crisis from 1993. It took another two precious years before acknowledging the widespread arsenic problem. And it took a few more years for the international organizations before offering their monetary help in the battle against arsenic.

The British Geological Survey Saga

The British Geological Survey is in trouble. In May 2003, a British judge ruled that 750 Bangladeshi arsenic victims should be able to sue the British Geological Survey, or BGS, a British government-owned research body, for failing to spot the poison in wells sunk across Bangladesh over the past 20 years. [1]

In 1992, BGS conducted a “reconnaissance survey” in Bangladesh to find out water quality in 150 wells “in central and northeastern Bangladesh”. [1] Though the World Health Organization had set international standards for testing arsenic in water supplies [1] eight years prior to BGS’ survey in Bangladesh, BGS for seemingly unexplainable “ignorant” reasons did not include arsenic as the trace elements in their tests.

Geochemistry professor John McArthur at London’s University College firmly believe that BGS should have looked for arsenic in their tests since “the BGS should have known about a series of studies linking an epidemic of arsenic poisoning just over the border in western India to contaminated water pumped up from the Ganges delta. They included a report by the World Health Organization published four years before.” [5] The British judge was quite right that there is indeed a case that BGS must explain about its inability to conduct the arsenic test that could have detected the crisis years earlier.

Statistics of Deaths of the Poor

For the vast majority of poor Bangladeshis, who have limited access to clean water, their ponds, rivers are polluted, who had depended on the deep-wells for so long, now are facing dilemma.

Water is the most essential element of life. And now they have the choice of drinking either the polluted water from the surface sources or poisoned water from deep-wells.

Arsenic is a slow killer. There are already high rises of malicious diseases among the Bangladeshi populace, and in this impoverished nation, who keeps the meticulous statistics of deaths of the poor on the countryside?

Bottled Water: Are They Safe?

Like sprouted mushrooms, there are plentiful of bottled water industries already doing good business, taking this lucrative water-crisis as a profit making opportunity. It is not to say that there is anything wrong in this type of business if they really can provide safe drinking water for the mass. In a recent two-year research studies conducted by the international researchers [6], it was found that most bottled water on sale in Bangladesh is unsafe for drinking. These researchers claimed that the bottled water does not conform to international standards for safe drinking water.

Here are their findings: “More than half the bottles carried information about minerals and other constituents, which were not well founded. The researchers, however, didn’t disclose the brand names of the bottled water, certified mostly by the Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institute, the official authority to certify safety of these products. Plasma Plus, an application research laboratory, carried out the water sample analysis on 58 brands of drinking water including four imported brands labeled as mineral water. The study also showed 80 percent of the manufacturers didn’t mention the address or location of their plants as required by the regulation. Some addresses were also found to be false.” [6]

Even if with strict government policies and regulations, safer water can be purchased through these bottled water companies, it cannot be the solution for the millions of poor Bangladeshis who won’t be able to afford the relatively exorbitant price associated with these bottle water that only well-to-do folks can afford in Bangladesh.

Promising Developments

There are some promising developments in tackling the arsenic problem are starting to coming out for the public. “Procter & Gamble is developing a flocculant agent to remove arsenic and heavy metals from water – a procedure that is being field tested in Bangladesh” last winter. [7] There are positive developments on harvesting rainwater as the possible solution to this crisis; many Bangladeshi villages have already adopted this technique. Other manufacturers, researchers are developing new water purification equipments, methods. The major obstacle is to developing and marketing the water purification equipments that can be affordable for all Bangladeshis.

The World Bank and UNICEF are jointly working on this aspect, lending their essential monetary help for various projects. And why shouldn’t they? It’s their gone awry “good” project is the cause of arsenic crisis in Bangladesh. They should open their coffers more leniently in finding the permanent solutions of this dreadful crisis.

Notes:

[1] George Monbiot, “America is a Religion“, The Guardian, July 29, 2003

[2] Max Rodenbeck, “The Occupation“, The New York Review of Books, August 14, 2003 Issue.

[3] Bob Thompson, “Preemptive Strike“, The Washington Post, July 27, 2003.

[4] Paul Rogat Loeb, “Hope Out of Quagmire“, Znet, July 30, 2003.

[5] Bob Herbert, “Dying in Iraq“, The New York Times, July 31, 2003.

[6] Picture Reference: http://www.mcc.org/gallery/02_08/photos/irq_02_02_17.jpg

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Canada.

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