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Iraq war 'could kill 500,000'

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http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99993043

Iraq war 'could kill 500,000'

14:00 12 November 02

NewScientist.com news service

A war against Iraq could kill half a million people, warns a new report by medical experts - and most would be civilians.

The report claims as many as 260,000 could die in the conflict and its three-month aftermath, with a further 200,000 at risk in the longer term from famine and disease. A civil war in Iraq could add another 20,000 deaths.

Collateral Damage is being published on Tuesday in 14 countries and has been compiled by Medact, an organisation of British health professionals. It comes as the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, is deciding how to respond to a series of deadlines on weapons inspections imposed by the United Nations.

If he fails to meet any conditions, the US and the UK have threatened to destroy Iraq's presumed weapons of mass destruction using military force.

The report has been commended by both medical and military specialists. "It is really important that people understand the consequences of war," says Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association.

"All doctors look at war with a very large degree of horror because they know the meaning of casualties," she told New Scientist. "Even in the cleanest, most limited conflicts, people die and people suffer."

General Pete Gration, former Chief of the Australian Defence Forces and an opponent of a war on Iraq, adds: "This is no exaggerated tract by a bunch of zealots. It is a coldly factual report by health professionals who draw on the best evidence available."

Nuclear attack

The report assumes an attack on Iraq will begin with sustained air strikes, followed by an invasion of ground troops and culminating in the overthrow of Baghdad.

It concludes that the resulting death toll will be much higher than either the 1991 Gulf War, which killed around 200,000 Iraqis, or the war on Afghanistan, which has so far left less than 5000 dead.

In the report's worst-case scenario, nuclear weapons are fired on Iraq in response to a chemical and biological attack on Kuwait and Israel, leaving a massive 3.9 million people dead. But the report states that even the best-case estimates for a short war would initially kill 10,000 people, "more than three times the number who died on September 11".

The report argues that the 1991 war led to the severe weakening of the health of Iraq's people and the country's healthcare infrastructure, and that this would mean higher casualties in any new war.

"Casualties, the cycle of violence and other consequences continue to affect generation after generation," says the report's author, health consultant Jane Salvage.

Rob Edwards

This story is from NewScientist.com's news service - for more exclusive news and expert analysis every week subscribe to New Scientist print edition.

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