Losing Sleep Over Layla Al-attar (And Countless Thousands Of Other Dead Iraqis)

by Rick Giombetti

RIP, 1944 - 1993

Six years ago on March 18, 1997 former National Security Advisor Anthony
Lake withdrew his nomination to become Director of the Central
Intelligence Agency. Lake was subjected to a right-wing campaign against
his nomination, characterizing him as a "liberal" who was too soft to
head the international arm of the U.S. government's intelligence
bureaucracy. Then President Bill Clinton promised to "go to the mat" in
defense of Lake's nomination. How did Clinton "go to the mat" for Lake?
His administration countered the right-wing campaign against Lake by
claiming he had "lost no sleep" over the deaths of Iraqi civilians in
previous Clinton ordered bombing raids ("The White House is worried
about 'a right wing smear campaign' against Mr. Lake. It is
counter-attacking, talking him up as a man so tough-minded that he lost
no sleep when a U.S. missile aimed at Iraqi intelligence headquarters
went awry and killed civilians in 1994." -N.Y. Times, Feb. 3, 1997, p. 12).

It's become an unwritten rule in the post Cold War era that if you are
going to become president of this country, or have a hand in U.S.
foreign policy, then you had better have the stomach for killing Iraqis.
Of course, Anthony Lake isn't the only American who hasn't been losing
sleep over dead Iraqi civilians. In a May 1996 interview with Lesley
Stahl of CBS, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright said it was "worth the price" to kill an estimated
500,000 Iraqi children with economic sanctions in an attempt to
overthrow a little tin-horn dictator in Baghdad named Saddam Hussein

As the intimidating U.S. led military force assembled around Iraq begins
its march on Baghdad, and returns an independent Arab nation to its
former colonial status, it's misleading to see this event as the
beginning of a war. The U.S. has been in a constant state of war against
Iraq since the first week of August 1990, when a naval blockade was
started in reaction to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. In the 12 years since
Iraqi forces were expelled by a 43 day U.S. led bombing campaign, a
punitive sanctions regime against Iraq has been zealously kept in the
place by Washington. Also, U.S. and British warplanes have flown tens of
thousands of mission over Northern and Southern Iraq since 1991 as well.
A majority of Americans were ignorant of this war against Iraq, thanks
in no small part to the mass media not covering it much, but obviously
that doesn't mean it wasn't happening.

Nearly ten years ago in the early morning hours of June 27, 1993, bombs
from U.S. warplanes struck the Baghdad home of renowned Iraqi artist
Layla Al-attar (See:, who
was director of the Iraqi National Art Museum. The official rationale
for the bombing raid that killed al-Attar was an alleged Iraqi plot to
kill former President George Bush, Sr. while he was making a visit to
Kuwait. The plot has never been verified by a named source and probably
never existed. What can't be denied is the existence of a bombing raid
that killed a powerful voice for recognition of women artists in the
Arab world and her husband. It also left their daughter Rema blind in
one eye.

Very little journalism about Al-attar's life and work exists in this
country. The latest example I could find is a brief mention of al-Attar
at the website for the Columbia River Peace Fellowship in Hood River,
Oregon (See: The only other written
journalism about Al-attar I have been able to find are a couple of 1998
pieces written by Dennis Bernstein, host of KPFA's Flashpoints radio
program in Berkeley, for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and
(See: and Her life and death was
also the subject of a segment on Pacifica's Democracy Now! radio program
on February 20, 1998 (See:

Iraqi artist Mohammed Al-Sadoun recounted Al-attar's life and work, plus
his own recollections of having personally known and worked with her in
Bernstein's Bay Guardian piece:
"It was really tragic and a big loss for those close to the art
community," Al-Sadoun said. He was in Baghdad just before the bombing
doing research on Iraqi art for his Ph.D., and al-Attar's work was a
part of the research. "I remember all the sweet time we spent together,
visiting her every day at the museum and her house. We had meetings; we
had a lot of things."

Layla Al-attar contributed to the Iraqi community in many ways,
al-Sadoun said. "First as a very fine woman artist, but also as an art
leader, where she was involved with art business, curating exhibitions,
international exhibitions such as the 1988 exhibition.

"The exhibition brought thousands of artists to Iraq from many different
countries, including the United States. To find a female leading an art
establishment in a country like Iraq, with an Arab-Muslim culture, was
really significant."

It was also quite significant in the Arab community that al-Attar's
paintings contained naked women, mingling with trees and the natural
environment. "I am trying to bring into the society of ideal faith," she
wrote in introducing one of her exhibitions, "the role of women, the
dignity of their existence and their humanity. My instrument to
accomplish that is made of lines blended with waves of color, sincere
feelings, and true wishes that arrive at a state of satisfaction."

Al-attar's daughter Rema moved to the United States after the bombing
raid and was living in the Bay Area at the time Bernstien had his
articles published. She left Baghdad soon after the bombing raid and
underwent extensive facial surgery in Los Angeles and Canada before
moving to the Bay Area. Rescue workers had reached Rema in time to save
her, but couldn't dig through the rubble of the destroyed home in the
time to save her parents.

Of course, Layla Al-attar, her husband and her daughter are far from the
only victims of this 12 year war against a people with whom we have no
quarrel. However, we don't like counting the people who die under the
bombs built and launched with our tax dollars. Shortly after the first
Gulf War a Carnegie Mellon University academic named Beth Osborne
Daponte was hired by the U.S. Census Bureau to estimate the number of
Iraqis who died during and immediately after the 1991 Operation Desert
Storm bombing campaign. She put her estimate at 158,000 men, women and
children, both civilians and soldiers. In return, she was reprimanded by
her government, her report rewritten and her career sidetracked. Daponte
stood by her estimate all along, but, needless to say, she won't be
counting dead Iraqis after the invasion of the country goes down in a
matter of days (See:

Meanwhile, it's worth remembering the number of U.S. soldiers who died
during Gulf War I ranges from 146 - 158 (I always get a different number
everytime the subject comes up in any article I read or radio program I
listen to about Gulf War I. This number of U.S. Gulf War causalities
does not take into account the thousands of veterans who have come down
with a series of illnesses known as "Gulf War Syndrome." One of the
suspected culprits in these illnesses is the use of depleted uranium
shells during Gulf War I. As with Gulf War I, we can expect most Gulf
War II casualties among U.S. soldiers to be caused by the radiation and
toxins in the environment they are serving in.). Most of them died in
accidents and from "friendly fire," or fire from their own fellow
American soldiers. Most of the British soldiers who died were killed by
Americans. American and British soldiers getting ready to invade Iraq
are much more of a threat to themselves than the Iraqis are, that's for

The Iraqi military, no match for the U.S. led forces back in 1991, is a
shadow of its former self after over twelve years of bombing and
sanctions. Both the U.S. and Britain boast of not having lost a single
warplane since the end of Gulf War I, after having flown tens of
thousands of missions over Northern and Southern Iraq. Northern and
Southern Iraq has been a de facto target practice range for U.S. and
British warplanes. Just one example of how hapless Iraq is militarily.

In short, Gulf War I was a massacre and there is no reason to believe
the coming invasion and occupation, or Gulf War II, will not be another
massacre, possibly even worse than the first one. Given the kind of
devastating weaponry that is likely to be used, plus the manner in which
U.S. and British forces might carry out the coming invasion, it's no
wonder the estimates of the number of Iraqis who might die are as high
as 500,000. In late January, CBS News reported that the Pentagon was
contemplating a plan called "Shock and Awe," which calls for raining
down up 800 Cruise Missiles in and around Baghdad during the first 48
hours of a nation-wide bombing campaign against Iraq. Such a campaign
would be focused on the central part of the country, and mostly in and
around Baghdad. There isn't much left to bomb in the North and South
these days. "No place in Baghdad will be safe," said an unnamed Pentagon
official (See: ).

Last week the U.S. military tested a new bunker busting bomb, what
Robert Fisk of the U.K. Independent calls the "Mother Of All Bombs," or
the "Massive Ordinance Air-bust Bomb," the "MOAB." Weighing in at 21,500
pounds, it weighs over 6,000 pounds more than the badly misnamed "Daisy
Cutter" bomb it will be replacing (Moab being a far more appropriate
name, since it is the ancient name for the region that borders modern
Israel/Palestine and Jordan, a region the ancient Israelites conquered
with systematic pillage, slaughter and rape. "Don't mess with God's
chosen people," is the message the U.S. government is sending the Arab
world by possibly deploying this devastating on Iraq first.). This bomb
is not a nuclear bomb, but it packs such fire power that it has the
firepower of a small nuclear bomb. Virtually every physical structure
within a 1.7 mile radius of the where the MOAB is dropped is completely
razed to the ground. The devastating power and crude delivering method
of the MOAB (It gets dumped from a C-130 cargo plane with a parachute to
break its fall) provides a stark contrast to all the assurances from
Pentagon sources that the coming bombing of Baghdad will be "surgical"
and only use "precision" bombs.

Also rumored to be in use for the first time in a combat situation is
what is know as a "microwave bomb." In an interview published at website
for the Canadian based Center for Research on Globalization (See: ) Russian military
analyst General Vladimir Slipchenko describes how one of these microwave
bombs might work if dropped in Iraq: "The principle by which these
weapons operate is as follows: an instantaneous discharge of
electromagnetic radiation on the order of two megawatts. At a distance
of 2-2.5 kilometers from the epicenter of the explosion the "microwaves"
instantly put out of action all radioelectronic systems, communications
and radar systems, all computers, radio receivers, and even hearing aids
and heart pacemakers. All these things are destroyed by the meltdown
method. Just imagine, a person's heart explodes!"

As U.S. led military forces "Shock and Awe" there way to Baghdad, it's
worth remembering the life and times of a voice for secular modernity in
the Arab world like Layla Al-attar and how she died. She is just one
example of the people who will die in the thousands in the coming
invasion. Support for this kind of military violence outside our legally
recognized borders can only continue as long as it is possible to
pretend the military fire power at our government's disposal is limited
and "precision" guided, that our military violence brings "freedom" and
"liberation" to its victims, that the victims of our violence aren't
human and the leaders of our government who order assaults like the one
that killed Lalya Al-attar, and the soldiers who carry out those orders,
are not criminally responsible for their actions.

The time is long overdue for us to start losing some sleep over the
violence we have been perpetrating against Iraqis for the past dozen
years. -Rick Giombetti

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