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The Legacy of the Gulf WarThe Amariyah shelter, in a Baghdad suburb, is one of the first places international visitors are taken when they visit Iraq. It is the site where 394 Iraqi women and children were killed as they hid in a reinforced shelter on 16 February 1991, during the height of the Gulf War. The shelter has been cleaned up for the most part, but the gaping hole in its six-foot thick ceiling and the huge crater in its floor remain a vivid testament to the two bombs dropped upon it that fateful night. The building has been turned into a shrine where family members, friends, as well as visitors, come to pay their respects to the dead.
The Gulf War ended - supposedly on February 28, 1991 - when Iraqi forces were defeated by a massive ground attack after 42 days of bombing from the air. However, in many ways the war never ended. It has left a profound legacy.
One of the legacies of war is the memories of loved ones killed or disabled by war. The Amariyah shelter is only the most well-known of sites where civilians were killed. There are many others, including a Baghdad marketplace where some 35 civilians were killed when a British fighter pilot missed his target. Not to mention the 100,000 or so Iraqi soldiers who were killed. For the families and friends of the victims, the losses of their loved ones remain vivid.
Another legacy is the ongoing bombing that has been carried out since 1991 by Britain and the United States. Unauthorized by the United Nations, the U.S. and Britain patrol the northern and southern portions of Iraq to monitor what are deemed "no fly" zones. This action is ostensibly to prevent Iraq from launching airborne attacks on opposition groups based in these parts of the country, and has supposedly focused on military targets. But over the years numerous non-military sites have also been hit, with many civilian casualties. Between March 2000 and October 2001, U.S. and British bombing of Iraq resulted in 235 casualties. The war on Iraq is the longest sustained US air operation since Vietnam.
A third legacy of the Gulf War is the toxic impact of the depleted uranium which was dispersed through the Iraqi ecosystem. Depleted uranium, or DU, is a form of radioactive waste used to coat missiles and bombs so that they may penetrate bunkers, tanks and other armored targets with greater ease. When DU explodes, it vaporizes into a highly radioactive dust that is easily inhaled or ingested. Some 320 tons of DU were fired onto Iraq during those six weeks.
In the past decade, rates of childhood cancer, blindness and congenital anomalies have increased dramatically. Rates of leukemia, lymphoma and bone cancer are many times higher than they were in 1990. The majority of victims are children who were not even born during the Gulf War; the lives of unborn children could be threatened for generations to come. Although the U.S. denies that DU is the cause of the increases in illness, Iraqi doctors are convinced that DU is to blame.
Finally, the sanctions have perpetuated a war-like state in Iraq. Sanctions have prevented Iraq from adequately feeding its people, caring for its sick, educating its children and youth, rebuilding its devastated infrastructure and restoring its economy. Numerous organizations have documented how sanctions have deepened human suffering in Iraq over the past decade. (See accompanying article.)
For the people of Iraq, the legacy of the Gulf War is very great. In many ways, the war has never ended; it has just taken new forms. That the United States should contemplate launching another military offensive against a people who have already suffered so much is a travesty.