By Bob Herbert
York Times" -- --
We've heard from General Petraeus, from Ambassador Crocker,
and on Thursday night from President Bush. What we haven't heard
this week is anything about the tragic reality on the ground for
the ordinary citizens of Iraq, which is in the throes of a
catastrophic humanitarian crisis.
President Bush may not be aware of this. In his televised
address to the nation he warned that a pullout of U.S. forces
from Iraq could cause a "humanitarian nightmare."
A trusted aide should take the president aside and quietly
inform him that this nightmare arrived a good while ago.
When the U.S. launched its "shock and awe" invasion in March
2003, the population of Iraq was about 26 million. The flaming
horror unleashed by the invasion has since forced 2.2 million of
those Iraqis, nearly a tenth of the population, to flee the
country. Many of those who left were professionals marked for
death - doctors, lawyers, academics, the very people with the
skills necessary to build a viable society.
The Iraq Ministry of Health reported that 102 doctors and 164
nurses were killed from April 2003 to May 2006. It is believed
that nearly half of Iraq's doctors have fled. The exodus of
health care professionals in a country hemorrhaging from the
worst kinds of violence pretty much qualifies as nightmarish.
While more than two million Iraqis have fled to other countries,
another two million have been displaced internally. According to
the Global Policy Forum, a group that monitors international
"Most of these internally displaced persons, or I.D.P.'s, have
sought refuge with relatives, or in mosques, empty public
buildings, or tent camps.... I.D.P.'s live in very poor
conditions. Public buildings are particularly unsanitary, often
overcrowded, without access to clean water, proper sanitation
and basic services, in conditions especially conducive to
Iraqis are enduring most of their suffering out of the sight of
the rest of the world. International relief organizations and
most of the news media are largely kept at a distance by the
insane levels of violence.
Access to safe drinking water is a problem in much of the
country. (The World Health Organization was asked to help with a
recent outbreak of cholera in parts of Kurdistan that is
believed to have been caused by polluted water.) Sanitation
facilities are routinely crippled by violence and sabotage. The
economy, like the country's infrastructure, is in shambles.
The worst aspect of the nightmare, of course, is the rain of
death that has descended on Iraq since the U.S. invasion.
Controversy has surrounded virtually all attempts to estimate
the number of civilian casualties, but no one disputes that the
toll is staggering.
The U.S. government has behaved as though these dead Iraqis were
not even worth counting. In December 2005, President Bush
casually mentioned "30,000, more or less" as the number of
Iraqis killed in the war. The White House later said there were
no official estimates of Iraqi deaths.
We shouldn't be so cavalier. Based on all available evidence, it
seems unreasonable to believe that fewer than 100,000 Iraqi
civilians have been killed thus far. Many very serious scholars
believe the total is much higher.
As for the number of wounded and disabled Iraqis - men, women
and children who have lost limbs, or been paralyzed or otherwise
maimed in air, rocket and bomb attacks - no one has a real grasp
of the size of the problem.
"Just considering the number of the dead and the number of
displaced, this is probably the biggest humanitarian crisis in
the world," said James Paul, the executive director of Global
Policy Forum, which recently compiled an extensive report on the
war and occupation. "This is the biggest displacement of people
in the Middle East in a very long time."
The effect on children of the carnage, the dislocations and the
deteriorating quality of daily life has been profound.
Conditions in Iraq were dire for children even before the war.
One in eight died before the age of 5, many from the effects of
malnutrition, polluted water and unsanitary conditions.
Now, more than four years after the invasion, huge numbers of
Iraqi children are finding themselves orphaned, homeless,
malnourished, and worse.
According to Unicef, the U.N.'s children's agency: "Many
children are separated from their families or on the streets,
where they are extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Most children have experienced trauma but few receive the care
and support they need to help them cope with so much chaos,
anxiety and loss."
These are just a few of the things you won't hear much about
from the American officials in Washington who profess to care so
deeply about the people of Iraq.
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