A war on the children, not on Saddam


In justifying its war on Iraq, the United States has swung between claiming that the country harbors weapons of mass destruction and
terrorists to saying that its president is a brutal tyrant who needs to be deposed in order to `liberate’ the Iraqi people.

The first reason is obviously a non-starter given that the case for this justification has been found to be built on forged documents,
plagiarized dossiers, and exaggerated intelligence. No less than the UN’s chief inspector Hans Blix has openly accused the US of
fabricating evidence; even the FBI and the CIA were reported to have protested against the distortion of their intelligence reports.
Clearly, the UN weapons inspection process has led to and still continues to lead to the disarmament of the country. There is no
reason to stop it now.

An Asian Peace Mission, composed of civil society leaders and parliamentarians, went to Iraq on the eve of war not only to express
Asian solidarity with fellow Asians, but also to see for themselves the real condition of the Iraqi people and the possible effects of
war on the population.

The team was headed by Rep. Loretta Ann Rosales, chair of the Committee of Human Rights of the Philippine House of
Representatives. Its members include Rep. Hussin Amin, also of the Philippine Congress, representing Sulu province where US troops are
planned to be sent for actual combat; Dita Sari, a labor leader from Indonesia and recipient of the prestigious Magsaysay award; Walden
Bello, executive director of Focus on the Global South, a regional policy research and advocacy center with offices in Manila, Mumbai,
and Bangkok; and Zulfiqar Ali Gondal, a Member of Pakistan’s National Assembly.

The team came out of Baghdad hours before the deadline of the US ultimatum convinced of at least one thing: This will not be a war
against Saddam Hussein. This will be a war against the Iraqi people, half of whom are children. They have been suffering from an ongoing
war, waged in the form of economic sanctions, and their suffering will only be exacerbated by another war.

Moreover, the oft-debunked yet still oft-repeated analogy between Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler that is used to exaggerate the
threat of Iraq – and to justify the war – does not stand. Germany in Hitler’s time was the most advanced industrialized nation in the
world. The mission members found out for themselves that Iraq, contrary to popular depiction, is a country that has been
effectively brought down to its knees. It is a ravaged nation.

`Are these the people you are planning to kill?’
The team arrived in Damascus on Thursday, March 13, but – after hours of waiting at the airport – only managed to fly into Baghdad
Friday night.

After the parliamentary members’ courtesy call on the Speaker of the Iraqi national assembly in the morning of March 15, the peace
mission immediately took off for the Al Mansour Children’s Hospital to see for themselves some of the worst effects of the ongoing
embargo against the country.

In the aftermath of the first Gulf War in 1991, the United States, working through the United Nations, prohibited Iraq’s importation of
products that they fear could be used for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. In practice, this has meant that thousands of
sick children have been denied access to medicine and medical services. According to the United Nations, up to half a million children have died as a direct result of the economic sanctions.

At the hospital, the peace mission visited Salah, a five year-old leukemia patient who is only waiting for certain death. His life
could have been saved had he undergone radiotherapy but the chemicals needed have been effectively out of reach because of US
fears that these might be used for producing nuclear weapons. Cases of cancer after have increased considerably after the United States
used depleted uranium in attacking Iraq during the Gulf War.

The mission also met Murtazan, a three year-old child suffering from lymphoma who may yet survive but only if his treatment continues –
an uncertain possibility given the arbitrary and often delayed approval of requests for medicine.

According to Dr Murtada Hassan, the shortage in drugs has been a catastrophe for Iraqi children. Before the sanctions in 1989, an
average of only 56 in 1000 children under five years old died every year. In 1999, that number more than doubled to 131 per 1000
children. At Dr Hassan’s hospital alone, two to three children now die every week because of different kinds of cancers and

“I feel very sorry when I go to the ward and stand beside my patient,” Dr Hassan told the mission members. “I can do nothing for
him simply because the drug is not available.”

Dr Hassan, who cannot even afford to buy updated medicinal books – much less attend international medical conferences – toured the
mission members around the hospital. Economic pressures caused by the embargo, he explained, have meant deteriorating hospital
facilities. Of the eight elevators, only two works. There is no Internet connection.

With only a limited number of air-conditioners working, Dr Hassan said most hospital rooms would become unbearably hot once summer
comes and temperature hits as high as 60 degrees centigrade. And Al Mansour is already one of the country’s premier hospitals.
Conditions are so much worse in most of the other hospitals.

Dr Hassan pointedly observed how the US, with its use of depleted uranium during the war, caused the sickness of thousands of Iraqi
children. Now, with its enforcement of economic sanctions, it is preventing their treatment and, in effect, ensuring their painful

After meeting the children who are yet to die in the cancer ward, the mission were guided to the hospital’s art room where Dr Hassan
showed the paintings and craftworks of those Iraqi children who have already died. Hanging on the wall were pictures of young Iraqi
patients, accompanied with the question, “Mr Bush, are these the people you are planning to kill?” At one point, Dr Hassan, took some
pictures displayed on the shelves, saying, “This one, we lost last week. That one, we lost a month ago.”

Healthy enough to die
The peace mission then proceeded to the headquarters of the UNICEF in Baghdad. There they were further briefed on the condition of
Iraqi children by the UNICEF’s representative to the country, Dr. Carel de Rooy. The picture he painted was dire and bleak.

Iraq has one of the world’s worst child mortality rates in the world. In the last decade, it had the greatest increase in mortality
rates – worse even than those of the poorest countries in the world. This does not come as a surprise given that the incidence of
preventable diseases has increased by more than 100% since 1990. Five million Iraqis lack access to safe water. Eighty percent of
them eat too little. Of the women, three out of five are anemic. The percentage of children under five who are chronically malnourished
is, in de Rooy’s words, “absurdly high.”

De Rooy stressed that the sanctions are not solely to blame. “But the sanctions have hurt and they have hurt tremendously.” At the root of the Iraqis’ woes, de Rooy conceded, is the economic embargo.

In response to the impending war, the UNICEF is making sure that the Iraqis will at least be healthy enough to resist the sicknesses that
war will bring, de Rooy said. If the US attacks power installations and water and sewage treatment plants again, as they did in 1991,
the result will be catastrophic in terms of hygiene and the spread of diseases.

What the UNICEF would be doing, in other words, is – given the strong possibility of a widespread outbreak of diseases – merely to make sure that the children will be healthy enough to die.

The real terrorism

After visiting the sick and the dying, the mission went on to visit the dead.

In February 1991, as the US-led coalition began pounding Baghdad with bombs, scores of families hid at the Al Amiriya bomb shelter in
the hope of surviving the war. The thick walls of the structure proved to be no protection.

Around 4 AM on February 12, a daisy cutter bomb launched by the United States fell on its roof, bore a three-meter hole through floors, and exploded. 407 people, most of them sleeping women and children, were instantly killed. It is a number that current US State Secretary Colin Powell – asked in 1991 about how many civilians were killed in the war – is “not terribly interested in.”

The pictures of these 407 war crime victims now line some of the halls of the Al Amiriya shelter, now a museum that preserves the way the place looked like in the aftermath of the bombing. The walls are still black from the ash and the soot. The big gaping hole through the roof and floors has become its central attraction. Mangled and bent wires and rods snake across the pillars. Dark and thick bloodstains forming the outline of the bodies of the victims still mark the floors.

In that instant when the bomb exploded, a mother who was cradling her baby was violently thrown off against the wall, leaving a visible outline reminiscent of “Madonna and child” against the black canvas of the wall.

“This is the real terrorism,” remarked a visitor who was moved to tears by pictures of the roasted charred bodies recovered after the

In the evening, the mission paid a courtesy call to Adbul Razzaq Al-Hashmi, former ambassador to Germany and France, who argued that the
economic sanctions and the threat of war have turned Iraq into a giant refugee camp where people do nothing but eat and sleep.

More self-reliant
The following day, March 16, the mission started the day by visiting the Iraqi Ministry of Health. Dr Umaid Mubarak, the Minister of
Health, elaborated on the effects of the embargo and the war. He recounted how the offices of the health ministry was among those that were bombed as military targets during the previous war. For some reason, drug stores and medical dispensaries were also destroyed.

Mubarak riled against the unfair and unjust manner by which the sanctions were being enforced and the process by which the Oil for Food Program was being implemented. Under this program, Iraq is allowed to sell its oil then use its revenues for buying what it needs. But what it needs only a special UN committee virtually controlled by the United States can determine.

Iraq can only make requests for certain items, including medicines, subject to the approval of this special committee. This process has not only been tedious, it has also often been capricious. Requests for certain items which could theoretically be used for chemical weapons but which are absolutely necessary for certain medical treatment have been turned down. As much as $5.2 billion worth of requests for goods and medicine- earned by Iraq in the form of oil revenues- still have to be delivered to people in dire need of them.

Despite this, Mubarak told the mission that the Iraqi people have not only managed to get by, they have also been forced to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient. “We have become different Iraqis since 1991,” Mubarak said.

Like Tybalt
At the Baghdad University, the peace mission members saw for themselves the academic community’s defiant resolve not to let war get in the way of their education. On the eve of war, there were classes as usual. Students were milling on the school’s corridors, playing volleyball on the grounds, or – in one class – studying William Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The team walked into this English literature class and spoke with
around fifty, mostly female, college students to ask them what they thought of the coming war.

The students knew what this war was about and what it was not about. They knew their history by heart. On US President George Bush’s pronouncements that they’re bombing Iraq to liberate them, one student retorted, `That’s what those who wanted to conquer Iraq through the centuries all said.’

The US and its allies hope that the suffering wrought by the embargo and the war will compel the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam
Hussein. Instead, they’re only solidifying their support for him. This was evident in the way student after student expressed their
support for the regime and their disgust for Bush. “He’s like Tybalt,” one student, alluding to a character in Romeo and Juliet,
was moved to say.

Professor Abdul Sattar Jawad said that while some buildings in the university were bombed in 1991, he and his students still see the school as their refuge. He recounted how back then, a Ph.D candidate was defending his dissertation even as bombs were falling down elsewhere in the city.

Jawad thinks it’s wishful thinking, the idea that Iraqis will be cheering out of the streets and welcoming their “liberators” when they arrive in Baghdad. He says that the embargo has definitely affected the educational system by making it difficult to import books and by making it impossible for him to attend international academic conferences.

Jawad, who lectures on American writers like William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, said he’s finding it more and more difficult to teach his students to distinguish between American culture and American aggression. In the face of a hailstorm of bombs, he
asks, “How can I convince my students that American culture or democracy is good?”

But he is convinced and, it seems, so are his students. Asked whether the books they’re studying shows that the United States is
inherently aggressive and violent, the students were unanimous in saying `No.’ All of the students agreed that continuing to go to
school is their strongest statement in showing their resolve not to be dampened by the threat of war. Staying at home, they said, is
already a sign of despair and surrender.

International Solidarity
After the visit to the university, the mission went to the Press Center at the Ministry of Information building where scores of international news organizations have set up offices and have even put up camps to monitor the situation in Baghdad. During the press conference attended by reporters of media outfits from Europe, Canada, and the Middle East, the mission discussed their objectives for coming to Baghdad at this critical time.

Rep. Etta Rosales stressed that the mission hopes to express a strong message of Asian solidarity to their fellow Asians, the Iraqi people. Rep. Hussin Amin emphasized that his district in Mindanao may soon be the next target of American military deployment. Zulfiqar Gondal answered questions about the sentiment of the Pakistani people regarding the war. Dita Sari shared the Indonesian people’s sympathy for their fellow Muslims who will be most affected by the conflict.

The press conference was broadcast that evening on Iraqi and Arab television, enabling the team to accomplish one of its primary objectives: to convey the message of Asian solidarity directly to the Iraqi people in their hour of need.

Afterwards, some of the mission members went to Baghdad’s Freedom Square to attend the unveiling of a giant anti-war mural painted by
famous Korean artist Choi Byung Soo. There they met other peace delegations from Mexico, Japan, and Korea. At one point, the mission
was approached by a man struggling to say in English that Iraqis were very happy to have all of them in their city.

In the evening, the team organized an Asian Solidarity Night to gather and discuss with representatives of many of the other foreign contingents who have gathered in Baghdad to oppose the war. They shared their findings, insights, and plans with peace activists from as varied a set of countries as Australia, Ukraine, Russia, Italy, Canada, Sweden, South Korea, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

They also used the occasion to formally acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Kathy Kelly from Voices in the Wilderness, the organization that has been sending batches of Americans to Baghdad, including some 9-11 victims; Han Sang Jin of the Nonviolent Peaceforce-Korea; Wadah Qasimy and Hasan al-Baghdadi of the Iraqi foreign ministry; and Fahdi Hefashy, honorary consul of the Philippines to Syria; and Grace Escalante, Philippine consul general to Iraq.

Some of the foreign delegates who were in Iraq plan to stay on even during the war. They give themselves just a 20% survival rate in case war breaks out. A number of them are determined to camp out as “human shields” to protect military targets such as hospitals, bridges, power installations, and water treatment plans. Bombing these sites is considered a war crime.

The program of activities was independently designed and discussed by the mission members themselves – not imposed or pre-arranged by the Iraqi government. In between the events, the mission had the chance to interact with ordinary Iraqis from all walks of life – taxi drivers, waiters, government employees, shopkeepers, policemen, etc. These interactions were spontaneous and random – not guided by minders from the Iraqi government.

By the night of March 16, the Palestine Hotel, where the mission and many other foreign journalists and peace activists were staying, was
abuzz with the news of Bush’s final ultimatum to the United Nations and Saddam. Not a few delegates were seen openly shedding tears and
bidding goodbye to those who were leaving and those who were staying.

The team was originally planning to stay on until the night of March 17 – possibly even the 18th – but by this time, it had already been announced that the flight back to Damascus had already been cancelled. The price of renting vans for overland trips across the border had more than tripled and there was less and less assurance of securing one as staffs of embassies, UN agencies, as well as
Iraqis scrambled for the limited supply of vehicles. The evacuation of Baghdad began even before the mission arrived but accelerated on
the night of March 16, the even of the US ultimatum on Iraq to disarm.

It was for these reasons that despite their intent to continue their fact-finding mission, the mission was forced to pack up and leave the following morning, heeding the urgent and insistent advice of the Philippine consul general. On the road to Damascus, the mission encountered cars ferrying families fleeing to safer ground and forming long queues at the gasoline stations.

As the team was leaving the country at the Iraq-Syria border, the team chanced upon and talked with a group of volunteers from Morocco, Algeria, Palestine, and Syria who were entering Iraq to fight the United States and its allied troops.

After a grueling 15-hour trip, the peace mission arrived in Damascus on March 18 then left for Manila, Jakarta, and Karachi the next day.

The mission promised to bring the message of the Iraqi people back home to their respective countries: This is not a war against terrorists. This is not a war against Saddam. This is a war against the Iraqi people, especially the children who make up half of the population.


Rep. Loretta Ann Rosales, Head of Mission, Akbayan! party-list representative to the Philippine House of Representatives and chair of the Committee on Human Rights

Prof. Walden Bello, executive director, Focus on the Global South
(Mumbai, Bangkok, Manila)

Zulfiqar Ali Gondal, Member of Pakistan’s National Assembly

Dita Sari, labor leader from Indonesia, Magsaysay awardee, 2001

Rep. Hussin Amin, representative of the first district of Sulu,
Philippine House of Representatives

Jim Libiran and Ariel Fulgado, reporter and cameraman from “The
Correspondents,” a television documentary show

Herbert Docena, Research Associate, Focus on the Global South