Iraq: menu of one single dish

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
2 May, 2017
Editorial: 94
Fecha de publicación original: 18 noviembre, 1997

Going against the tide is not the way of a prudent person

At the same time as both inside and outside the Net the debate rages about how to distinguish reliable information from false, the genuine from the fake, the person you really want to talk to from intrusive impostors, once again we have the US selling us all the junk their Defence Department is capable of spewing forth. It can’t go to waste. A large proportion of right-minded people are prepared to swallow this without thinking twice. The proof that validates the lies coming from the White House is –of course– technology. This time it is the turn of the U2’s, the spy planes that leapt to fame when Soviet gunfire brought Gary Powell down from the skies (a lot of readers will have to search through the archives for details). It’s amazing what these CIA planes are capable of. After 6 years of bombardment, dismantling, inspections, and the checking and rechecking of Iraq’s entire industrial, civil and military infrastructure, they are still able to detect, as clear as daylight, factories producing bacteriological and chemical weapons, missiles of mass destruction and military installations where the future horrors that will threaten New York and Dallas are being cooked up. Someone should tell Saddam Hussein to stop putting neon signs on the roofs of his war factories because the U2‘s churn out photos of them every time he turns them on at night to brighten the lives of his fellow citizens. And, we all know what happens next. The international community is horrified when they are told of “photographs” (which it never sees) and then aircraft-carriers glide off to the Gulf to keep them happy.

The Gulf War was the last episode of the way nations had conducted international affairs so far by hi-jacking information. And yet we are still incapable of reacting to the rash of spring fever which breaks out in the US every time the Iraqi dictator stamps his foot and says he’s had enough! We take up our fighting cock stance proclaiming that this is intolerable despite the fact that we don’t have a single shred of information about plausible evidence to judge things as they really are. Luckily for Clinton, Iraq is a country excluded from the Net. So, there is no way we can hear the other side of the story from the Iraqi people themselves. And that must mean that they are up to no good.

Information does exist, however. For example, we know that malnutrition is a problem affecting the whole Iraqi population, not just children, as was the case three years ago. The most advanced Middle Eastern society after Israel was systematically bombarded back into the Middle Ages during the war thanks to the destruction of civilian targets, a fact denounced by the UN itself in a report issued three weeks after the war ended. Bridges, water treatment plants, reservoirs, hydroelectric plants, irrigation pipes, dams, experimental farms, herds of livestock etc., were all swept away by a forest of fire which we couldn’t see through the trees of intelligent missiles that went in through windows killing only those with more than three stars on their lapels.

The same occurred with the military infra-structure. The crude sophistry of “dual purpose technology” –civil and military– allowed the US to establish a permanent watch on the only Arab country (apart from Iran when it was thought it would become the pro-US power in the region) which invested its oil profits in economic development and not in propping up a royal caste system, even though its political system would not get Her Majesty’s seal of approval. Over a period of seven years, any industry which produced goods for the army, from trousers to condensed milk, was immediately listed as a military installation and subjected to permanent vigilance. Any improvements which were introduced were consequently also subject to reprisals. One of the industries which suffered most, logically enough, was that of refrigeration. Fridges are vital for keeping food fresh as we all know. But the engine of a fridge plays a key part in cars, trucks and aeroplanes. And we all know what Hussein does with them when he has them. Aeroplanes especially. As a result, he is not allowed to have refrigerators factories lest they be accused of increasing his military arsenal.

When UNICEF and the FAO warned (too late as usual) of the serious malnutrition problem which was spreading like a oil stain all over Iraq, Resolution 986 of the UN Security Council agreed, in December 1996, to exchange “food for petrol”. Despite the prolongation of this agreement in June this year, UN agencies assure us that malnutrition is taking a heavy toll with deaths and crippling diseases of all kinds, amongst children and adults. The FAO mission which visited Iraq recently and issued its report last month explained that “between 1991 and 1997 a nutritional catastrophe was only avoided in the centre and south of Iraq because of rations distributed by the Government and, in the north, by the World Food Program and several NGOs”. Exactly what was meant by “avoiding a nutritional catastrophe” the report did not make clear, for in other parts of the same they claimed that malnutrition is still a serious problem all over the country and that hospitals, especially paediatric hospitals, are having to deal mainly with malnutrition for which the best medicine is a hearty plate of chicken and rice. The FAO, using the language so typical of bureaucrats with diplomatic immunity, says “it is difficult to estimate the nutritional impact of RCS 986 because the first time wheat flour was distributed was in April and it was only in August that full rations were delivered to the population”.

Apart from this aid, technicians from the UN agency for food and agriculture verified that harvests have been poor “due to inadequate soil preparation as a result of the lack of machinery and tools, the degradation of the soil and irrigation systems as well as pests and crop diseases. Cereal production amounted to 2.200 million tons in 1997, the lowest since 1991”. What the FAO didn’t say was that Iraq is not able to make the fertilisers it needs because the US has decided that these factories are dual-purpose. It seems that in the morning, when the U2‘s are able to take good photographs, Saddam is spending his time manufacturing “nitrogenated” products for the fields. But, during the night, especially when there is no moon and the sky is cloudy, he prepares the chemical explosives for the next war. In fact, the US is right because this is how they make their chemical weapons. That’s why they know what a fertiliser plant can entail. When not one fertiliser plant is left in Iraq in the name of peace in the international community, they’ll lift the embargo on this sector and force the Iraqis to buy what they need abroad. In other words from them, or the Germans, or the English, or even the Spanish, after all their government is always disinterestedly ready to let their military bases be used for a good old bombing, as long as it’s to comply with the lofty objectives of the international community.

Iraq, then, and not the anecdotal vicissitudes of the Net, clearly demonstrates the danger of decision-making information being dependant exclusively on one source with nothing to check it against. Iraq teaches us that content in the Net should reach all social sectors so that we are able to extract information from them which challenges the vision of the world held by political-industrial-military lobbying. Iraq is a blatant example of how far we still have to go in order to make significant connections between our “fundamental” provincial problems and “trivial” world events. Seeing it from this point of view, globalisation is still just a bad joke.

Translation: Bridget King.