U.S. Intentionally Destroyed Iraq's Water Supply

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
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  • Date: Tue, 10 Sep 2002 22:59:31 +0100

U.S. Intentionally Destroyed Iraq's Water Supply 

Over the last two years, I've discovered documents of the Defense
Intelligence Agency proving beyond a doubt that, contrary to the Geneva
Convention, the U.S. government intentionally used sanctions against
Iraq to degrade the country's water supply after the Gulf War. The
United States knew the cost that civilian Iraqis, mostly children, would
pay, and it went ahead anyway. 

The primary document, "Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities," is dated
January 22, 1991. It spells out how sanctions will prevent Iraq from
supplying clean water to its citizens. 

"Iraq depends on importing specialized equipment and some chemicals to
purify its water supply, most of which is heavily mineralized and
frequently brackish to saline," the document states. "With no domestic
sources of both water treatment replacement parts and some essential
chemicals, Iraq will continue attempts to circumvent United Nations
Sanctions to import these vital commodities. Failing to secure supplies
will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the
population. This could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics,
of disease." 

The document goes into great technical detail about the sources and
quality of Iraq's water supply. The quality of untreated water
"generally is poor," and drinking such water "could result in diarrhea,"
the document says. It notes that Iraq's rivers "contain biological
materials, pollutants, and are laden with bacteria. Unless the water is
purified with chlorine, epidemics of such diseases as cholera,
hepatitis, and typhoid could occur." 

The document notes that the importation of chlorine "has been embargoed"
by sanctions. "Recent reports indicate the chlorine supply is critically

Food and medicine will also be affected, the document states. "Food
processing, electronic, and, particularly, pharmaceutical plants require
extremely pure water that is free from biological contaminants," it

The document addresses possible Iraqi countermeasures to obtain
drinkable water despite sanctions. 

"Iraq conceivably could truck water from the mountain reservoirs to
urban areas. But the capability to gain significant quantities is
extremely limited," the document states. "The amount of pipe on hand and
the lack of pumping stations would limit laying pipelines to these
reservoirs. Moreover, without chlorine purification, the water still
would contain biological pollutants. Some affluent Iraqis could obtain
their own minimally adequate supply of good quality water from Northern
Iraqi sources. If boiled, the water could be safely consumed. Poorer
Iraqis and industries requiring large quantities of pure water would not
be able to meet their needs." 

The document also discounted the possibility of Iraqis using rainwater.
"Precipitation occurs in Iraq during the winter and spring, but it falls
primarily in the northern mountains," it says. "Sporadic rains,
sometimes heavy, fall over the lower plains. But Iraq could not rely on
rain to provide adequate pure water." 

As an alternative, "Iraq could try convincing the United Nations or
individual countries to exempt water treatment supplies from sanctions
for humanitarian reasons," the document says. "It probably also is
attempting to purchase supplies by using some sympathetic countries as
fronts. If such attempts fail, Iraqi alternatives are not adequate for
their national requirements." 

In cold language, the document spells out what is in store: "Iraq will
suffer increasing shortages of purified water because of the lack of
required chemicals and desalination membranes. Incidences of disease,
including possible epidemics, will become probable unless the population
were careful to boil water." 

The document gives a timetable for the destruction of Iraq's water
supplies. "Iraq's overall water treatment capability will suffer a slow
decline, rather than a precipitous halt," it says. "Although Iraq is
already experiencing a loss of water treatment capability, it probably
will take at least six months (to June 1991) before the system is fully

This document, which was partially declassified but unpublicized in
1995, can be found on the Pentagon's web site at www.gulflink.osd.mil.
(I disclosed this document last fall. But the news media showed little
interest in it. The only reporters I know of who wrote lengthy stories
on it were Felicity Arbuthnot in the Sunday Herald of Scotland, who
broke the story, and Charlie Reese of the Orlando Sentinel, who did a

Recently, I have come across other DIA documents that confirm the
Pentagon's monitoring of the degradation of Iraq's water supply. These
documents have not been publicized until now. 

The first one in this batch is called "Disease Information," and is also
dated January 22, 1991. At the top, it says, "Subject: Effects of
Bombing on Disease Occurrence in Baghdad." The analysis is blunt:
"Increased incidence of diseases will be attributable to degradation of
normal preventive medicine, waste disposal, water
purification/distribution, electricity, and decreased ability to control
disease outbreaks. Any urban area in Iraq that has received
infrastructure damage will have similar problems." 

The document proceeds to itemize the likely outbreaks. It mentions
"acute diarrhea" brought on by bacteria such as E. coli, shigella, and
salmonella, or by protozoa such as giardia, which will affect
"particularly children," or by rotavirus, which will also affect
"particularly children," a phrase it puts in parentheses. And it cites
the possibilities of typhoid and cholera outbreaks. 

The document warns that the Iraqi government may "blame the United
States for public health problems created by the military conflict." 

The second DIA document, "Disease Outbreaks in Iraq," is dated February
21, 1990, but the year is clearly a typo and should be 1991. It states:
"Conditions are favorable for communicable disease outbreaks,
particularly in major urban areas affected by coalition bombing." It
adds: "Infectious disease prevalence in major Iraqi urban areas targeted
by coalition bombing (Baghdad, Basrah) undoubtedly has increased since
the beginning of Desert Storm. . . . Current public health problems are
attributable to the reduction of normal preventive medicine, waste
disposal, water purification and distribution, electricity, and the
decreased ability to control disease outbreaks." 

This document lists the "most likely diseases during next sixty-ninety
days (descending order): diarrheal diseases (particularly children);
acute respiratory illnesses (colds and influenza); typhoid; hepatitis A
(particularly children); measles, diphtheria, and pertussis
(particularly children); meningitis, including meningococcal
(particularly children); cholera (possible, but less likely)." 

Like the previous document, this one warns that the Iraqi government
might "propagandize increases of endemic diseases." 

The third document in this series, "Medical Problems in Iraq," is dated
March 15, 1991. It says: "Communicable diseases in Baghdad are more
widespread than usually observed during this time of the year and are
linked to the poor sanitary conditions (contaminated water supplies and
improper sewage disposal) resulting from the war. According to a United
Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)/World Health Organization report, the
quantity of potable water is less than 5 percent of the original supply,
there are no operational water and sewage treatment plants, and the
reported incidence of diarrhea is four times above normal levels.
Additionally, respiratory infections are on the rise. Children
particularly have been affected by these diseases." 

Perhaps to put a gloss on things, the document states, "There are
indications that the situation is improving and that the population is
coping with the degraded conditions." But it adds: "Conditions in
Baghdad remain favorable for communicable disease outbreaks." 

The fourth document, "Status of Disease at Refugee Camps," is dated May
1991. The summary says, "Cholera and measles have emerged at refugee
camps. Further infectious diseases will spread due to inadequate water
treatment and poor sanitation." 

The reason for this outbreak is clearly stated again. "The main causes
of infectious diseases, particularly diarrhea, dysentery, and upper
respiratory problems, are poor sanitation and unclean water. These
diseases primarily afflict the old and young children." 

The fifth document, "Health Conditions in Iraq, June 1991," is still
heavily censored. All I can make out is that the DIA sent a source "to
assess health conditions and determine the most critical medical needs
of Iraq. Source observed that Iraqi medical system was in considerable
disarray, medical facilities had been extensively looted, and almost all
medicines were in critically short supply." 

In one refugee camp, the document says, "at least 80 percent of the
population" has diarrhea. At this same camp, named Cukurca, "cholera,
hepatitis type B, and measles have broken out." 

The protein deficiency disease kwashiorkor was observed in Iraq "for the
first time," the document adds. "Gastroenteritis was killing children. .
. . In the south, 80 percent of the deaths were children (with the
exception of Al Amarah, where 60 percent of deaths were children)." 

The final document is "Iraq: Assessment of Current Health Threats and
Capabilities," and it is dated November 15, 1991. This one has a
distinct damage-control feel to it. Here is how it begins: "Restoration
of Iraq's public health services and shortages of major medical materiel
remain dominant international concerns. Both issues apparently are being
exploited by Saddam Hussein in an effort to keep public opinion firmly
against the U.S. and its Coalition allies and to direct blame away from
the Iraqi government." 

It minimizes the extent of the damage. "Although current countrywide
infectious disease incidence in Iraq is higher than it was before the
Gulf War, it is not at the catastrophic levels that some groups
predicted. The Iraqi regime will continue to exploit disease incidence
data for its own political purposes." 

And it places the blame squarely on Saddam Hussein. "Iraq's medical
supply shortages are the result of the central government's stockpiling,
selective distribution, and exploitation of domestic and international
relief medical resources." It adds: "Resumption of public health
programs . . . depends completely on the Iraqi government." 

As these documents illustrate, the United States knew sanctions had the
capacity to devastate the water treatment system of Iraq. It knew what
the consequences would be: increased outbreaks of disease and high rates
of child mortality. And it was more concerned about the public relations
nightmare for Washington than the actual nightmare that the sanctions
created for innocent Iraqis. 

The Geneva Convention is absolutely clear. In a 1979 protocol relating
to the "protection of victims of international armed conflicts," Article
54, it states: "It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render
useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian
population, such as foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water
installations and supplies, and irrigation works, for the specific
purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian
population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in
order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any
other motive." 

But that is precisely what the U.S. government did, with malice
aforethought. It "destroyed, removed, or rendered useless" Iraq's
"drinking water installations and supplies." The sanctions, imposed for
a decade largely at the insistence of the United States, constitute a
violation of the Geneva Convention. They amount to a systematic effort
to, in the DIA's own words, "fully degrade" Iraq's water sources. 

At a House hearing on June 7, Representative Cynthia McKinney, Democrat
of Georgia, referred to the document "Iraq Water Treatment
Vulnerabilities" and said: "Attacking the Iraqi public drinking water
supply flagrantly targets civilians and is a violation of the Geneva
Convention and of the fundamental laws of civilized nations." 

Over the last decade, Washington extended the toll by continuing to
withhold approval for Iraq to import the few chemicals and items of
equipment it needed in order to clean up its water supply. 

Last summer, Representative Tony Hall, Democrat of Ohio, wrote to
then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright "about the profound effects
of the increasing deterioration of Iraq's water supply and sanitation
systems on its children's health." Hall wrote, "The prime killer of
children under five years of age--diarrheal diseases--has reached
epidemic proportions, and they now strike four times more often than
they did in 1990. . . . Holds on contracts for the water and sanitation
sector are a prime reason for the increases in sickness and death. Of
the eighteen contracts, all but one hold was placed by the U.S.
government. The contracts are for purification chemicals, chlorinators,
chemical dosing pumps, water tankers, and other equipment. . . . I urge
you to weigh your decision against the disease and death that are the
unavoidable result of not having safe drinking water and minimum levels
of sanitation." 

For more than ten years, the United States has deliberately pursued a
policy of destroying the water treatment system of Iraq, knowing full
well the cost in Iraqi lives. The United Nations has estimated that more
than 500,000 Iraqi children have died as a result of sanctions, and that
5,000 Iraqi children continue to die every month for this reason. 

No one can say that the United States didn't know what it was doing. 

Source:  The Progressive 

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