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Likely humanitarian consequences of war on Iraq: for the Kurdistan region
KurdishMedia.com - By Dr Mohammed M. A. Ahmed 09 December 2002
Many articles have recently been written about different war scenarios and their humanitarian and economic consequences for the Iraqi people. War against Iraq in 2003 would be much different than the Gulf War of the 1991 in that it might require a longer duration and a more intensive ground combat. Though the main objective of the 1991war was to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqi occupation forces, the aim of the next war would be to change the regime in Baghdad.
Aside from limited ground combat in the open desert, the allies used only their air power in 1991 to disrupt the mobility of the Iraqi army inside Iraq by destroying airbases, roads, bridges, industrial complexes, electric grids, water and sewage systems and suspected missile sites, which was accomplished during a relatively short period of time (90 days). By the time the war ended, the country was in complete disrepair, many thousands of civilians were killed and large numbers of people were internally displaced.
Despite a widespread dislike for the regime, most of the Iraqis would be extremely cautious to rise up against it as they did in 1991. The regime is very cruel and merciless, and has a well organized party network, entrenched throughout different institutions and in different parts of the country. Their crimes and corruption will make many party members think twice before turning their back on the regime. Having learned from the 1991 Gulf War and knowing that it is no match for the allied forces in an open confrontation, the regime might draw the enemy to the alleys of major cities and towns with a view to inflicting upon them maximum casualties. In the absence of a military coup, the next war is expected to result in thousands of civilian casualties and internally displaced people.
A war of this nature might cause considerable civilian casualties and human suffering not only during confrontations, but far beyond it. The economic and humanitarian impact of the 1991 war continues to be strongly felt by the Iraqis until now and is expected to linger for many more years to come. In order to have a more realistic understanding of the outcome of another war, it might be worthwhile to recall the aftermath of the 1991Gulf War. Aside from military casualties, some 30,000 civilians were killed during the Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in 1991.
Between 1.5 and 2 million Kurds fled from their homes in the middle of winter to the snow-covered mountains in order to escape possible chemical attack by the Iraqi army for having risen against the government. About 600,000 to 800,000 Kurds lined up on the Iranian border and over a million on the Turkish border. While the Iranians opened their borders to many thousands of Kurdish refugees, the Turks used dogs, sticks and rifle butts to block their passage to Turkey. The Kurds were stranded on steep mountain slopes without shelter, food, or proper clothing for many days.
Thousands of Kurds perished as a result of hunger and exposure; some 1000 children and elderly died every day until the allies created the no-fly zone beyond the 36th Parallel in northern Iraq. Those who had escaped from Kurdish territories controlled by the government are still in the no-fly zone, which is protected by the allies. At present, there are some 800,000 internally displaced people, mostly Kurds, in the Kurdish region. The Arabization policy of the government in Kurdish territories under its control continues to take its toll on the Kurds, many of them live in tents and unsafe buildings.
After their uprising in 1991, some 600,000 to 800,000 Shiites fled their homes to escape Saddam Hussein`s revenge in the south and sought refuge in Iran. The government continued hunting down those Shiites who participated in the uprising and demolished their homes, houses of worship, and business centers. Of these people, there still are large numbers of refugees in Iran and some 300,000 internally displaced in Basra.
Though much of the physical damage to the infrastructure caused by the allied bombardment during 1991 was repaired after the war, it has now become dysfunctional, caused partly by the United Nations sanctions, which have restricted importation of certain types of material from abroad. The economy in the center and south, which were weakened during the Iraq-Iran war, has gone from bad to worse because of mismanagement and widespread corruption.
Those who are close to the regime have become very rich, while the rest of the population live in utter poverty because of high unemployment. It is reported that thousands of children have died from malnutrition and childhood diseases due to the absence of balanced food nutrients and of the needed vaccines for children`s vaccination.
However, the Oil-for-Food program, which became operational in 1996, has helped improve the humanitarian situation in the country. Though the Oil-for-Food program has reduced hunger among the Iraqis, shortages of medicine and of sanitary drinking water continue to take their toll on the Iraqis, especially in the center and south of the country. Despite two economic embargoes on the Kurds, one by the United Nations and another by the Iraqi government, the Kurdish region has economically prospered since it started receiving some 13 percent of the oil revenue earmarked for the Oil-for-Food program. The improved security in the Kurdish region, which has been assured by the allies, has contributed not only to the improved economic and social conditions therein, but has also been responsible for the democratization of local institutions. The improved security has encouraged many Kurdish entrepreneurs to return home from Diaspora and invest their savings in different kind of projects.
Since the regime change in Iraq would require ground troops and likely urban warfare, the humanitarian consequences of such a war on Iraq is expected to be much greater than that of the 1991 Gulf war. The precision of targeting or lack of it could have a great bearing on civilian casualties or the so-called collateral damages. Targeting civilian infrastructure such as power grids, water and sewage systems, industrial complexes, roads and bridges is expected to cause many civilian casualties during and in the aftermath of a war. Aside from likely high civilian casualties, prolongation of war is expected to take its toll on local populations, who might seek safer environment in the Kurdish region, where there are better social services, healthcare, sanitary drinking water, food, and shelter. Unless the Kurdish administration is prepared to receive additional internally displaced people,
the situation in the region might become very chaotic.
In cooperation with non-governmental organizations and the United Nations agencies, the Kurdish administration must prepare detailed plans for the possibility of accommodating a specific number of refugees and internally displaced people, including Kurds, Arabs, Turkmans, and Assyrians. This would require designation of the location of camps, number of tents, tonnage and storage of different types of food required as well as the provision of drinking water.
Accommodations must be placed in locations where people most likely will move to from the south. People from Baghdad, Khanaqin, and Mandali are likely to move toward Sulaimani and its environs; those from Kirkuk and its environs to Chamchamal and Sulaimani; and those from Mosul and its environs to Duhok.
It is reported that the neighboring countries have made plans to close their borders in the face of human flow into their countries. Turkey has made it clear that they might move their troops some 60 miles into southern Kurdistan to prevent the repeat of the 1991 population movement to its borders. However, some people suspect that Turkey might exploit the situation in order to impose its hegemony on the people of southern Kurdistan-Iraq. Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria have also declared that they will close their borders to the fleeing Iraqis and that they might establish refugee camps within Iraqi borders. So far, they have declined to share their ideas or plans with the United Nations agencies in order to prevent a catastrophic situation from developing.
In the absence of appropriate mechanisms to control population movements northward, considerable security problems might be created in the Kurdish region with long-term social and political implications. The longer these people remain in the Kurdish region, the more difficult it becomes to repatriate them to their homes.
Consequently, the region might lose its Kurdish character demographically as well as politically. It is therefore imperative that adequate planning is made in advance for receiving , sheltering and eventual repatriation of incoming refugees, who could overburden the existing facilities, which are accommodating some 800,000 internally displaced people at present, mostly Kurds. In the absence of a plan, the incoming people will disappear in the middle of the existing population, which would make it difficult to monitor their movements. The lack of a plan and proper control mechanism might jeopardize the security of the region and the gains made during the past twelve years.
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