5. U.S. Intentionally Destroyed Iraqs Water System

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:


The Progressive
September 2001
Title: “The Secret Behind the Sanctions: How the U.S. Intentionally Destroyed Iraq’s Water Supply”
Author: Thomas J. Nagy

Faculty evaluator: Rick Luttmann
Student researchers: Adria Cooper, Erik Wagle, Adam Cimino, Chris Salvano

During the Gulf War the United States deliberately bombed Iraq’s water system. After the war, the U.S. pushed sanctions to prevent importation of necessary supplies for water purification. These actions resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians many of whom were young children. Documents have been obtained from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which prove that the Pentagon was fully aware of the mortal impacts on civilians in Iraq and was actually monitoring the degradation of Iraq’s water supply. The destruction of civilian infrastructures necessary for health and welfare is a direct violation of the Geneva Convention.

After the Gulf War, the United Nations applied sanctions against Iraq, which denied the importation of specialized equipment and chemicals, such as chlorine for purification of water. There are six documents that have been partially declassified and can be found on the Pentagon’s web site at http://www.gulflink.osd.mil. These documents include information that prove that the United States was fully aware of the costs to civilians, especially children, by upholding the sanctions against purification of Iraq’s water supply.

The primary document is dated January 22, 1991 and is titled, “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities.” This document predicts what will take place when Iraq can no longer import the vital commodities to cleanse their water supply. It states that epidemics and disease outbreaks may occur because of pollutants and bacteria that exist in unpurified water. The document acknowledges the fact that without purified drinking water, the manufacturing of food and medicine will also be affected. The possibilities of Iraqis obtaining clean water, despite sanctions, along with a timetable describing the degradation of Iraq’s water supply was also addressed.

The remaining five documents from the DIA confirm the Pentagon’s monitoring of the situation in Iraq. In more than one document, discussion of the likely outbreaks of diseases and how they affect “particularly children” is discussed in great detail. The final document titled, “Iraq: Assessment of Current Health Threats and Capabilities,” is dated, November 15, 1991, and discusses the development of a counter-propaganda strategy that would blame Saddam Hussein for the lack of safe water in Iraq.

The United States’ insistence on using this type of sanction against Iraq is in direct violation of the Geneva Convention. The Geneva Convention was created in 1979 to protect the victims of international armed conflict. It states, “It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless, objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population such as foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installation and supplies, and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.” The United States, for nearly a decade, has “destroyed, removed, or rendered useless” Iraq’s “drinking water installations and supplies.”

Although two Democratic Representatives, Cynthia McKinney from Georgia and Tony Hall from Ohio, have spoken out about the degradation of Iraq’s water supply and its civilian targets, no acknowledgment of violations has been made. The U.S. policy of destroying the water treatment system of Iraq and preventing its re-establishment has been pursued for more than a decade. The United Nations estimates that more than 500,000 Iraqi children have died as a result of sanctions and that unclean water is a major contributor to these deaths.

UPDATE BY JOHN NAGY: “The Secret behind the Sanctions” gives Americans an ax to break out of the cocoon of denial enveloping the genocidal intent and effects of nearly 12 years of economic sanctions against the people of Iraq. This ax is equipped with three blades:

*Blade 1 summarizes partially declassified documents showing that in 1991 the U.S. devised a plan for the total destruction of the water supply; that the U.S. knew in detail the lethal consequences of the plan for the children of Iraq and the U.S. and even assessed the most probable impacts of disease throughout 1991.

*Blade 2 furnishes instructions for accessing the named documents from the Department of Defense’s own website.

*Blade 3 gives evidence ranging from Rep. Hall’s letter to Sec. of State Albright through UN statistics showing that the genocidal plan had been and continues to be implemented with all of the horror predicted by the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Tragically and criminally, these DIA documents were actively hidden from the American people till 1995 by which time a compliant mainstream media had driven the fatal lies of genocide denial deep into the American psyche.

DEVELOPMENTS SINCE THE PUBLICATION OF THE STORY: Several anti-sanctions groups have reported that the Progressive article ranks among the most powerful in persuading the public of the evil of the sanctions. The article opened a new front against sanctions by the publication of David Duncan’s “A prayer for children and water” and Ned Breslin’s “Water as a Weapon of War.” Now the environmental community and water engineering community are alerted to the updated horror of the U.S. tactic of poisoning wells. The article has now been translated into Spanish, Danish, and Swedish with summaries available in French and German and stories on the content of the article appearing in newspapers as geographically removed as Katmandu, Nepal; Cork, Ireland; and Moscow, Russia. In the U.S., the mainstream media has ducked and covered with the exception of the Orlando Sentinel, the Madison Capital Times, and the National Catholic Reporter. In contrast, U.S. alternative media has acted honorably, including Democracy Now! and Counterspin. Until recently the only venue in Washington, D.C. to discuss the content of the article was at the Department of Defense ethics conference, JSCOPE. Recently I was able to reach audiences in the belly of the beast at a teach-in at American University, then at the World Congress of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War-Physicians for Social Responsibility.

My advice to people working in this area is to look for editors, reporters and, advocates of the integrity of Matt Rothschild, Felicity Arbuthnot, and Sam Husseini and allies in the peace movement abroad (e.g., McMaster University and University College, Cork ).

Tom Nagy is an ex-refugee, ex- public health postdoctoral fellow, pacifist, parent, and professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.