President Obama, reading a prepared statement, was overcome with emotion. “Our hearts are broken,” he said. The victims were “beautiful little kids. They had their entire lives ahead of them: birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.” It was at this moment that the President reached up to the corner of one eye, touching an apparent tear.
On April 3rd, 1991, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 687, imposing sanctions on Iraq as a result of its invasion of Kuwait. This resulted in Iraq being economically isolated from the rest of the world community. But by the end of 1995 there were reports that the sanctions were having a devastating effect on the populace. A study in The Lancet, the journal of the British Medical Association, reported that up to 576,000 Iraqi children may have died since the end of the first Gulf War as a result of the sanctions imposed by the Security Council. UNICEF, in 1999, estimated that at least 500,000 children died who would have otherwise normally lived had it not been for the sanctions in place. The Security Council, led by the United States, rejected numerous appeals by Iraq to lift the sanctions.
In 2003 the US invaded Iraq for a second time. The second Gulf War was a bloody and brutal affair, costing the lives of over 4,400 US soldiers, with almost 32,000 wounded. But these figures pale in comparison to the suffering experienced (once more) by the Iraqi people. A study released in 2006 found that there were 655,000 more deaths in Iraq than normally would have been expected had coalition forces not invaded in March 2003. This figure was more than 20 times higher than a figure that then President George Bush was using. The study found that most victims were between the ages of 15 and 44.
Nowhere was the fighting more intense in Iraq than at the battle of Fallujah (I & II). The American attack was in response to the murder of 4 Blackwater contractors, who also happened to be ex-special forces. The first battle lasted from April 5 to April 30, 2004, and was primarily a Marine operation. It was some of the most intense fighting that US soldiers had seen since the battle of Hue City in Vietnam. A local Iraqi official reported that at least 600 civilians were killed, with 1,250 more wounded.
The second attack on Fallujah involved seven Marine battalions, plus two Army battalions, and was a multi-phased affair. Combat operations started on November 7, 2004, with fighting lasting until the end of December that same year. An estimated 3,000 insurgents were killed or captured, with 70 US soldiers killed in action (a total of 151 US soldiers died in both battles).
But disturbing revelations came out after the fact. There were reports that the US had used chemical weapons, a war crime. A documentary by RAI, the Italian state broadcaster, entitled “Fallujah: the Hidden Massacre” provided troubling evidence to support these claims. Photographs, videos and interviews with US soldiers who were part of the attack on Fallujah purported to show that phosphorus bombs were used on the city. There were also accusations that incendiary bombs known as Mark 77, a type of napalm, were also used. One US soldier is quoted as saying,
“I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah. Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone … I saw the burned bodies of women and children.”
More damning was an article in the March – April 2005 edition of Field Artillery Magazine. In it, officers of the 2nd Infantry’s fire support team reported that “White phosphorous [WP] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [high explosive]. We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.” A reporter with California’s North County Times, who was embedded with the Marines during the Battle of Fallujah in April 2004, reported seeing the same thing.
There were also reports that Coalition forces relied heavily on rounds comprised of depleted uranium (DU). DU is a by-product of the process used to manufacture enriched uranium for nuclear reactors and weapons. DU has 40 percent less radioactivity than natural uranium, but it has the same chemical toxicity and contains ionising radiation.
A medical study conducted on Fallujah after the battles (Busby et al 2010) confirmed anecdotal reports of an increase in infant mortality, birth defects and childhood cancer rates. It found that Fallujah had almost 11 times as many major birth defects in newborns than world averages. A prime suspect in all of this is what the report calls “the use of novel weapons,” possibly those containing “depleted uranium.” The increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia in Fallujah are greater than those reported in the survivors of the US atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
The US has now been fighting in Afghanistan for over 11 years (longer than the Soviet Union). A key component of US strategy in the Afghanistan / Pakistan theatre, or “AfPak” as the region is commonly known, is targeted drone strikes. America’s drone policy has reportedly killed between 474 and 881 civilians in the region, including 176 children. But apparently the targeted killing of children is now accepted military practice. Army Lt. Col. Marion Carrington of 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and who is assisting the Afghan police, is quoted as saying,
“It kind of opens our aperture. In addition to looking for military-age males, it’s looking for children with potential hostile intent.”
We watch the horrible images of pain and suffering coming out of a small town in Connecticut where 20 children were murdered less than 2 weeks before Christmas. We have no choice but to collectively mourn and take part in the families’ grief. That someone would engage in the systematic and premeditated murder of children is unfathomable and an abomination against everything it means to be human.
But the misery and torment that befell Newton can be multiplied a thousand fold across the Arab world. American policy and actions have resulted in the deaths (i.e. murder) of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent children. The deaths of these children can be considered as war crimes and a crime against humanity of the highest order. They should shock and outrage us, compelling us to demand an immediate change in American foreign policy. But in order for that to happen one must first believe that Arabs cry for their children too.
Tom McNamara is an Assistant Professor at the ESC Rennes School of Business, France, and a Visiting Lecturer at the French National Military Academy at Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan, France.