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The New York Times
June 3, 1991, Monday, Late Edition - Final

HEADLINE: U.S. Officials Believe Iraq Will Take Years to Rebuild

BYLINE: By PATRICK E. TYLER, Special to The New York Times DATELINE: WASHINGTON, June 2

Three months after the Persian Gulf war devastated Iraq's military and many of its civilian industries, the country remains seriously incapacitated, facing a potentially catastrophic health crisis this summer and many years of rebuilding its civilian economy, Bush Administration analysts say.

A comprehensive assessment of the damage from the intense 43-day allied bombardment remains classified within the Administration, which has been reluctant to divulge details. But an overview of the damage to key sectors of Iraq's economy emerged in recent days from a series of interviews with Administration analysts, who agreed to discuss it if they were not identified.

The assessment indicates that Iraq's electrical power industry may have been damaged well beyond the intentions of allied war planners, who developed a still-secret weapon that dropped thousands of metallic filaments onto the electrical network at key points to create huge short-circuits and blackouts on the night of January 17th, when the war began. This was followed by precision strikes on power plants.

Most Power Still Out

Even now, 80 percent of the the nation's power grid is out of service, and electrical shortages are aggravating the crisis in health care.

In addition, allied warplanes wrecked Iraq's civilian telecommunications system, described as a total loss by one estimate; and the bombing campaign seriously damaged the national network of roads and bridges, crippling commerce in a nation that straddles two major river valleys, those of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Generally, the war damage seems less visible in Baghdad than in many areas of the countryside.

The critical sector of oil production, the dynamo that drives Iraq's economy, requires a major infusion of cash, about $1.5 billion, to get its export pipelines going at prewar levels; and Iraq may not be able to maintain its gasoline production without Western technology, spare parts and expertise in the near term. Because of the international trade sanctions imposed after the invasion of Kuwait, however, Iraq has been unable to import urgently needed equipment and has not sold a cargo of oil, its principal source of income, since last August.

One of the major mysteries remains how many Iraqi soldiers and civilians died. United States intelligence agencies assert that they have not addressed this question and the Bush Administration has not indicated any official interest.

Intelligence officers connected with the United States Central Command conducted what they described as a purely mathematical exercise at the end of the war to estimate Iraqi war dead by subtracting prisoners of war and an assumed percentage of deserters and then assigning a mortality rate to those Iraqis who remained on the battlefield.

By this method, the command derived an unofficial death toll of about 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, and Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the allied commander, was said to have provided this unofficial tally in private briefings to members of Congress.

Some analysts have questioned this unofficial number, arguing that the United States estimate of 540,000 Iraqi troops in the war zone overstated the size of Iraqi forces and that desertion rates were underestimated. They also argued that such a large number of battle deaths would have been accompanied by at least as many wounded, and that no evidence of this has been detected by foreign relief agencies working with Iraq's medical system.

The Iraqi Government has not come forward with any authoritative estimate of war dead. Other unofficial estimates of Iraqi war dead have put the figure at 25,000 to 50,000.

Civilian Death Toll

Allied war planners sought to minimize civilian deaths in Iraq, though there were notable mistakes, including the attack on an air raid shelter in Baghdad that apparently killed more than 300 civilians.

A report issued this month by the environmental group Greenpeace estimated the number of Iraqi civilians killed during the war at 5,000 to 15,000, based on a review of statements by allied officials and other unofficial sources.

Overall, the American analysts say, the Iraqis are struggling precariously under a patchwork of short-term fixes and remedies that will probably deteriorate in the months ahead if the Bush Administration maintains trade sanctions in an effort to force President Saddam Hussein from power.

Similarity to U.N. Report

The Bush Administration's internal findings parallel those reported by a special United Nations mission to Iraq in March, which concluded that because of the damage inflicted on it, "Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology."

Some Administration officials had criticized the United Nations report, prepared under the supervision of Under Secretary General Martti Ahtissari, for describing the damage to Iraq with terms like "near apocalyptic." But in their detailed review of each sector of Iraq's economy, the United Nations and United States assessments are not dissimiliar.

The Central Intelligence Agency estimates a national repair bill in Iraq of up to $30 billion, about half of which would have to come from hard currency earnings on resumed shipments of oil to world markets. Add to this the $8 billion Iraq owes this year on its $80 billion in national debt, none of which has been paid, and a yet-to-be-determined bill for war reparations to Kuwait, and the outline of Iraq's post-war economic crisis takes an ominous shape, with or without Mr. Hussein.

Risks of U.S. Policy

Some analysts within the Administration suggested that its policy of maintaining sanctions was a risky course, both because of its impact on the Iraqi people and because it may backfire or fail.

One senior analyst said that as the Bush Administration discovered last fall when sanctions did not dislodge Iraq from Kuwait, there is no direct linkage between economic pain and political change in a police state like Iraq. This makes a sanctions-based strategy "inherently unpredictable," he said.

"To the extent Iraqis are convinced that life will be abnormal and harsh as long as Saddam is around, that is clearly an incentive for change," the senior analyst said. "But in a regime based on fear, the primordial interests of survival suggest that people would rather go hungry than take the risk of being dead."

United States analysts say they do not know how much Mr. Hussein has in the way of hard currency to buy food and medicine in the short term, which he has been permitted to do since the United Nations began allowing humanitarian shipments on March 22. While $4 billion of Iraqi cash is frozen in foreign banks, they say Iraq is close to exhausting its cash reserves.

At the outset of the war, the Bush Administration said its objectives included the elimination of Iraq's offensive war making ability and weapons of mass destruction. But in carrying out a strategy to achieve these goals, the Pentagon appears to have miscalculated the multiplying effects on public health of its large-scale destruction of Iraq's electricial power system, which fed civilian as well as military industries.

The system powered water purification and sewage treatment plants, the loss of which led to a sharp increase in disease during and after the war.

A report issued by a Harvard University study team this month said that "the collapse of electrical generating capacity has been a crucial factor in this public health catastrophe." The team predicted tens of thousands of additional war-related deaths by the end of the year, a finding the Administration has not disputed.

"Without electricity, hospitals cannot function, perishable medicines spoil, water cannot be purified and raw sewage cannot be processed," the study team's report said.

Short-Circuiting Power System

Many of Iraq's electrical power plants were struck on the first night of the allied air war. Iraqi engineers and technicians later told Western visitors that allied warplanes dropped thousands of metallic filaments onto electrical transformers and power lines, causing a spectacular short-circuiting process.

"It was really metallic threads, like a person's hair, very fine," said Julia Devin, a member of the Harvard team that toured Iraq in late April and early May and who returned with samples of the filaments collected from Iraqi plant technicians.

An Air Force official this week confirmed the description of the attack.

Tomahawk cruise missiles and guided bombs dropped from warplanes thereafter destroyed individual generating units, and these repeated attacks knocked out half of the country's generating capacity and damaged a large part of the other half, according to one Administration analysis.

An Iraqi official last week said engineers had restored 1,580 megawatts of generating capacity out of what Western officials say was a prewar level of about 9,000 megawatts.

The Iraqi Government announced this week that eight-hour daily blackouts will be a continuing feature even where electricity has been restored in major cities. Many smaller towns and villages still are without electricity.

The longer term prospects for repairing the system may deteriorate due to the country's lack of access to Western technology, spare parts and expertise.

Communications Badly Hit

Of equally high priority on the allied target list was Iraq's telecommunications sector. Bombers struck telephone exchanges, microwave relay stations and cable networks, along with dedicated military links.

The multibillion-dollar telecommunications system that Iraq had built with state-of-the-art Western technology is the most severely damaged segment of Iraq's civilian economy, United States analysts say.

"The Iraqis are going to have to completely rebuild the system and they cannot do it without foreign equipment and expertise," said one analyst.

While some telephone and telex circuits to the outside world and among major Iraqi ministries and military complexes have been restored, most Iraqis are likely to be without telephone service for the foreseeable future.

Oil Production Resumed

Iraq resumed oil production in April and, according to a Central Intelligence Agency estimate, could be exporting one million barrels per day -- about a third of its prewar production level -- by summer's end if sanctions are lifted. With a $1.5 billion investment in new pumps for its export pipelines through Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Iraq could be exporting 2.7 million barrels per day by the end of 1992, according to the C.I.A. estimate.

Refining oil for domestic gasoline consumption has been more problematical. Most major refineries suffered serious damage and Iraqi engineers will need foreign assistance and parts to repair them.

Repairs at two large refineries enabled Iraq to lift gasoline rationing this month, but United States analysts say they are not sure the country can maintain gasoline output without access to spare parts and chemical additives produced outside the country.

Damage to Transportation

Iraq's highway and rail system is pocked by bomb craters and downed bridges. About 40 major bridges across the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers will have to be replaced, which can probably be done without foreign assistance, analysts say. Another 10 bridges are seriously damaged.

Perhaps as important as this damage, Iraq's only tire factory, whose output served the whole country until it shutdown last fall, remains idled by lack of access to imported raw materials.

Though Iraqi military engineers have worked around much of the damage with temporary bridges, transportation disruptions and bottlenecks, especially in southern Iraq around Basra, will have a significant impact on traffic and distribution for many months if not years.

Public Health Endangered

The threat to public health in Iraq is of great concern to international relief agencies and health experts. Daily power blackouts are causing re-contamination of some drinking water supplies and threaten the country's ability to operate sanitary hospital wards and operating rooms, where refrigeration of drugs, vaccines and blood is of critical importance.

Some back-up generators have failed for lack of fuel and parts.

United States analysts said the compounding effect of continued poor sanitation in many parts of the country, the onset of summer heat and shortages of doctors and nurses could speed the growth of cholera, typhoid and gastroenteritis that may already have claimed tens of thousands of lives. Many foreign health workers left Iraq before and during the war and have not returned.

Inflation has priced baby formula above the income level of many poor families, and transportation problems along with the closing of many regional health clinics have seriously retarded the level of health care services.Increasing child mortality is the most serious concern, public health experts and relief officials say.

Copyright 1991 The New York Times Company


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