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Firas Al-Atraqchi: Before You Cheer...

Before You Cheer...

By Firas Al-Atraqchi

North American media, specifically those represented by CNN, MSNBC, and FOX, are jubilant, nearly giddy in their reporting of this incredible U.S. victory over the evil dictatorship of Iraq.

Flags waving, soldiers 'yahooing' as they enter Baghdad, ridiculing of the anti-war camp and the Hollywood protestors, lambasting Germany and France and other 'naysayer - these are just some of the reports and images fed through the public relations media.

U.S. media is touting this as the most effective military campaign in history, as the most humanitarian, with the least civilian deaths and damage to infrastructure ever planned and conducted.

U.S. General Thomas Franks is a hero, a genius in bringing victory at such a rapid pace.

Hold on. Before you cheer, consider the facts:

Since 1990, Iraq has been a nation torn apart by the most severe and punitive economic sanctions ever slapped on a sovereign country. Absolutely nothing could enter or leave the country without approval of a U.S.-led committee overseeing the sanctions regime. In 1990, Iraq's air force, mechanized brigades, artillery pieces, mortars, heavy rifles and other military hardware were already in need of repair. Imagine the wear and tear after 12 years of sanctions which prevented Iraq's military from upgrading, updating or enhancing anything.

Remember the images of January 16, 1991 - the way the night "sky over Baghdad lit up like a Christmas tree"? Compare that with March 19, 2003. There is a clearly significant drop in anti-aircraft fire in the night sky - there were barely a few traces to even make note of. Iraq had no weaponry worth mentioning.

While the U.S. polished its military might in the past 12 years, Iraq saw its army drop in numbers from one million commissioned men to barely 300,000. While the U.S. increased its airpower to near perfection, Iraq's air force dropped from 770 warplanes to nearly 280, with only a handful still able to fly, let alone conduct combat missions. Spare parts for Iraq's ailing military were strictly forbidden under the new sanctions regime.

Development in Iraq virtually ground to a halt, locked in a 12-year time warp. The telecommunications sector crumbled; the Internet was only allowed into Iraq in late 2000, and that after heavy lobbying at the U.N.

Disease and malnutrition swept the land as the World Health Organization released data showing the return of epidemics such as cholera, typhoid, and other deadly diseases. The U.N. said that more than 500,000 children died because of acute shortages in the health care system. Water mixed with sewage and due to lack of spare parts to fix the crumbling water filtration plants (illegally bombed during the 1991 Gulf War) families were forced to drain potable water from suspicious sources.

The educational system was not spared decimation in the past 12 years. In 1995, the Iraqi government launched a massive worldwide appeal to Iraqis living abroad to ship medical books to Jordan and then onto Iraq. Doctors in Iraq complained that they had not been able to attend conferences or medical institutions abroad; consequently, they could not bring themselves up to par with medical advancement elsewhere.

Iraq, already a Third World country, and some 383 billion dollars (U.S) in debt, sunk lower and lower into poverty, misery, and backwardness. This resulted in a massive brain drain. Thousands of Iraqis mustered what finances they could and left Iraq for greener pastures and not necessarily because they were escaping Saddam's clutches, as some media pundits have exaggerated.

The Iraqi army, once the vanguard of the Middle East, had been reduced to a rabble force of hungry, desolate, and extremely poor fighters. The only force equipped, trained, paid and fed to sustain any kind of military conflict was the Republican Guard. However, their gear had all become antiquated by 1992.

Iraq was hardly the formidable foe the war hawks made it out to be. Definitely not a victory worth mentioning. In fact, hardly a victory at all. And definitely not a war fought in only 21 days. Try 12 years. For 12 years, Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch (U.S. and U.K. monitoring of the no-fly zones) saw Iraq's radar, air force, and anti-aircraft weapons pummelled systematically and routinely. A weak and defeated Iraq since 1991 was being made weaker by the day for 12 years.

Moreover, this quick victory will only strengthen the arguments posed by the anti-war camps - that Iraq is a threat to no one.

Now take China for example. Ah, there's a fight for the history books...


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