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Horses and Zebras in Falujah

by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 17 June 2008
It's unfortunate that we didn't know of the essential harmlessness of chemical weapons before the Iraq war, back in the days when we were warned incessantly about the deadly dangers of Saddam's non-existent arsenal of biochemical munitions.

I wholeheartedly concur with Capt. Maddox's analysis. It is beyond dispute that poor diet and poor prenatal care and lack of medical facilities are responsible for many if not most of the birth defects in Fallujah. I am glad to hear of the American efforts to restore some of the health care facilities that were destroyed—in some cases deliberately—during the American demolition of the city in late 2004.

I am also heartened by Capt. Maddox's implicit recognition that the sanctions regime imposed on Iraq during the 12 years before the unprovoked invasion of that country had a catastrophic effect on the nation's medical infrastructure. Many essential medicines, machines and medical technologies were banned from entering Iraq, and, as is well known, not only the medical but also the industrial, agricultural, economic and social infrastructures were devastated by the sanctions. Capt. Maddox is certainly correct in acknowledging the long-term effects of these draconian strictures on the life and health of the most vulnerable and innocent people in Iraq.

Of course, the pre-war deterioration of Iraq—once one of the most developed, modern and secular states in the Middle East—was not due solely to the sanctions regime. It began during the long war with Iran, when Saddam Hussein began diverting resources from social services and the economy into a vast military buildup. This buildup was of course actively encouraged and greatly assisted by the United States, which supplied Saddam with money, credits, dual-use technology for weapons of mass destruction—and military intelligence, helping guide his bombing raids on Iranian cities and his chemical weapons attacks on Iranian forces. This assistance continued after the Iran-Iraq war; indeed, under President George H.W. Bush, it intensified to its greatest height, after Bush brushed aside warnings from the intelligence services and ordered federal agencies to increase their cooperation with Saddam's regime.

What's more, Bush's presidential directive to increase aid to Saddam came months after Saddam "gassed his own people" in the Kurdish town of Halabja. Bush and his top advisers, including Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, worked strenuously to thwart a Congressional condemnation of the attack, and continued to ply Saddam with both overt and covert assistance. This US-backed military buildup continued up to the very day before Saddam invaded Kuwait.

All of this—much of which was well-documented in a prize-winning series by the Los Angeles Times in 1992 ( among many other places)—also contributed mightily to the "poor infrastructure, lack of prenatal care, lack of doctors/nurses/and paraprofessionals, lack of obstetrical equipment, and lack of resuscitation equipment" that Capt. Maxwell so rightly decries. It also accelerated the long degradation of physical and civic infrastructure to which he alludes.

Capt. Maddox makes no reference to another, more recent, cause of the "poor infrastructure, lack of prenatal care," etc. in Fallujah; i.e., the above-noted destruction of the city by American forces in 2004. The destruction of the medical facilities that remained in Fallujah at that point no doubt also played a part in the sad cases of cerebral palsy, deformed limbs and mental retardation that Capt. Maddox and his comrades see among the city's children today.

And surely we are all heartened to learn from Capt. Maddox that the use of chemical weapons like white phosphorus and depleted uranium have no lasting ill effects. Why, all those stories you hear about the dangers of chemical weapons are just urban myths, exotic "zebras" haunting poor, primitive minds. It's unfortunate that we didn't know of the essential harmlessness of chemical weapons before the war, back in the days when we were warned incessantly about the deadly dangers of Saddam's non-existent arsenal of biochemical munitions. Or are chemical weapons only dangerous when they are aimed at—or rather, said to be aimed at—Americans?

Again, I sincerely applaud the efforts of Capt. Maddox and all American personnel who seek to mitigate the devastating effects of the American destruction of Fallujah, the years of harsh sanctions, and the military build-up and repression supported so strongly, for so many years, by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. I wish him and his team all success and a safe return—just as I fervently wish for the safe return of all American forces from this unjust, unjustified and unnecessary conflict.

photo of Chris FloydChris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at

This column is republished here with the permission of the author.

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This story was published on June 18, 2008.