January 17th and February 28th mark the 10th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm’s beginning and cease-fire. An estimated 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, tens of thousands of non-combatants, and 148 American soldiers died. My unit lost two men. I am a veteran of that war.
During that brief time, American-led coalition forces-under the guise of defending the often ignored international principle of territorial sovereignty-successfully ousted the Iraqi army from Kuwait. When I returned home in September 1991, I thought the war was over. Yet ten years later, the Gulf War continues.
In the summer of 1997 and again last October I learned this firsthand. I returned to Iraq to investigate the political and humanitarian situation there. I was unprepared for what I saw-a once modern civilian infrastructure severely damaged by a decade of war and sanctions.
I witnessed pediatric wards filled with dying children, streets flooded with sewage, the Tigris River turned foul with disease, and generations of families losing hope. This situation must stop.
The Gulf War began on Jan. 17, 1991. Many people believe it ended on Feb. 28 of that same year, with a cease-fire agreement. However, according to U.S. Public Law 102-25, the “Persian Gulf Conflict Supplemental Authorization” passed by Congress on April 4, 1991, the war will continue until there is a Presidential proclamation or an act of Congress to end the war. For ten years now, neither has occurred. Now that he is in office, President George W. Bush should end the war his father began. But he’s unlikely to pursue this course considering some recent statements from his cabinet.
In his first public speech after being selected as the next Secretary of State, General Colin Powell promised to “re-energize” sanctions and “confront” Iraq. During his confirmation hearing, Secretary Powell avowed his commitment to protect “babies” in the countries that neighbor Iraq from “weapons of mass destruction” and blamed the government and “people of Iraq” for invading Kuwait. Rather than ending the war, such rhetoric indicates a possible escalation of it.
But Bush and Powell should reexamine our policy toward Iraq. The costs of maintaining the war — including the rising civilian death toll in Iraq and the costs to American servicemen and women — are too high.
Since 1991, the United States has launched three major air strikes against Iraq. The most intensive, Operation Desert Fox, was carried out in December 1998 when Congress was considering whether or not to impeach President Clinton. And in the two years since Desert Fox, U.S. and British war planes have conducted a low-intensity air war over most of Iraq.
The United States and Britain have imposed “no-fly” zones that cover more than 60 percent of Iraq. Officials say the “no-fly” zones, which are not sanctioned by the U.N., are designed to protect Iraqi Shi’ites in the South and Iraqi Kurds in the North. Yet Hans von Sponeck, the former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, says bombings in those areas have killed 144 Iraqi civilians since 1998.
This represents the longest sustained air campaign since the Vietnam War. On the ground, U.N. sanctions have devastated Iraq’s civilian population, contributing to massive poverty, unemployment, widespread disease and malnutrition. Tonight, more than two million children will go to bed hungry in Iraq. This month, thousands of children will die there. According to U.N. estimates, sanctions have claimed more than a million Iraqi lives already. The blockade was imposed to isolate the government of Saddam Hussein, but because of the toll on Iraq’s civilians, the sanctions isolate the United States and undermine respect for the United Nations. Saddam Hussein — a man no one expected to survive long after the ground war – is more entrenched than ever before.
The Veterans Administration now considers more than 136,000 Gulf War veterans to be disabled as a result of toxic exposures, illnesses and injuries connected to their wartime service. And American casualties continue, too. Late last September, Lt. Bruce Joseph-Donald died when the naval fighter jet he was operating went down over the Persian Gulf. Many nations are openly challenging the U.S. policy toward Iraq. In August, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was the first head of state to visit Iraq since the Gulf War. In the last six months, more than 80 international humanitarian delegations have defied the U.S.-declared air-travel ban and flown into Baghdad. Even Britain, our last remaining coalition partner, has been “looking behind the scenes at the introduction of so-called smart sanctions and an end to the southern no-fly zone,” according to the London Guardian.
Despite all these pressures to reconsider the sanctions, the United States continues to use its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to block efforts to lift or modify the sanctions. As an alternative to the deadly bombings and sanctions, the United States could pursue a policy of narrow containment. President Bush should allow for a new international consensus to form around a strict military embargo that targets Saddam Hussein, without harming innocent civilians.
As a first step, Bush can issue the appropriate executive order. End the war.