While US plans for the production of Gulf War II rumble on relentlessly, the
Danish campaign to abolish the sanctions against Iraq was given a huge boost by
the visit of Professor Tom Nagy at the start of June. Here, Nagy presented unshakeable
documentation for how the sanctions have been applied to ban the import of water
purification equipment and chemicals, thus provoking epidemics of diseases such
as cholera, hepatitis and typhoid fever.
Nagy’s current position is Associate Professor in the school of business and
public management at George Washington University, and has previously held full-time
research posts in the area of public health.
While searching on the Pentagon’s Gulflink site for data that might shed some
light on Gulf syndrome, Professor Nagy almost accidentally entered the search
term “water”, and was horrified by one of the reports he turned up. Headed “Iraq
water treatment vulnerabilities” and dated January 1991, the Defense Intelligence
Agency report details the difficulties the civilian population of Iraq were predicted
to experience in finding potable water in the presence of restrictions on the
import of water purification equipment and chemicals.
Like a warder doing his rounds to ensure that all doors are securely locked,
the report addresses, point by point, the various sources of water that might
be considered, explaining why each one is precluded:
- Most of Iraq’s water supply “is heavily mineralized and frequently brackish
- “Precipitation occurs in Iraq during the winter and spring, but it falls primarily
in the northern mountains.”
- Iraq's rivers "contain biological materials, pollutants, and are laden with
The document states: “Unless water treatment supplies are exempted from the
UN sanctions for humanitarian reasons, no adequate solution exists for Iraq's
water purification dilemma ...” And it explicitly presents the expected consequences
for the civilian population: “Unless the water is purified with chlorine, epidemics
of such diseases as cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid could occur.”
A series of six related reports document the degradation of the Iraqi water
supply that took place in the first half of 1991. Predictions were made of outbreaks
or epidemics of hepatitis and cholera, and the fulfillment of these predictions
was subsequently documented in detail.
In an article published in The Progressive magazine, Nagy quoted Representative
Tony Hall, Democrat of Ohio, who wrote to then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright,
expressing his concern about blocks and holds placed on contracts for import of
water purification equipment and chemicals in the UN Security Council. Holds on
seventeen out of eighteen contracts were placed by the United States, and the
last was placed by the United Kingdom.
Professor Nagy’s article, “The Secret Behind the Sanctions”, has been nominated
by Project Censored as one of the top ten censored stories of the year 2001. In
contrast, Nagy was overwhelmed by the level of attention he received in the Danish
media. Two national newspapers and one of the foremost current affairs programs
on national radio lined up for in-depth interviews.
And the reception from the Danish public was equally powerful. The audience
at a meeting entitled “Stop the Cholera War”, held at Copenhagen University on
June 4, was by turns curious, appalled, moved, and many of those present were
ultimately inspired to participate in an ongoing campaign to abolish the sanctions.
Nagy’s presentation was remarkably up-beat, culminating in a patriotic proposal
that the US make atonement for its inhumane policies of the past by investing
in a global clean water project: "According to the World Health Organization,
2.3 million children under the age of five are dying every year as a result of
water-borne diseases. This could be globally prevented for the sum of nine billion
dollars annually. The United States should pay this sum as a memorial to the children
who have died in Iraq, and as a sign of remorse." This measure, he argued, would
likely be more valuable in countering terrorism than any increase in military
The next day was Constitution Day, on which Danes traditionally take a half
day off to listen to elected representatives making cheerful speeches about the
thriving state of Danish democracy. First stop for Nagy was the Christiansborg
Peace Watch, which has been standing in protest outside the Danish house of parliament
every day since Denmark entered the War on Terrorism on October 19 last year.
An interview for the radio was followed by a photo session for one of the newspapers
and a train ride to the provincial capital of Odense, for a Constitution Day meeting
with a distinctly different flavor.
Coverage in the newspapers and on radio over the next weekend and into the
following week was very gratifying for the visiting professor. A double-page spread
appeared in the Sunday edition of the daily Politiken, under the heading: “When
Water is a Weapon”. The Monday interview in the independent intellectual broadsheet,
Information, bore the heading: “US Deliberately Lets Children Die”.
A follow-up article in Information, under the title “Denmark Shuts Its Eyes”,
presented the responses of the foreign policy spokespersons of a range of Danish
political parties. Perhaps most significantly, the press secretary of the Conservative
Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that the minister was unable to make a statement,
as the ministry was unaware of documentation for the assertion that the United
States has banned the import of water purification equipment.
Clearly, the Danish Committee for Peace and Development in Iraq has a significant
level of ignorance to address. But with the success of Tom Nagy’s visit behind
it, the committee is confident that an October visit from former UN humanitarian
coordinator in Iraq, Hans-Christof von Sponeck, will do much to create enlightenment.
Meanwhile, Professor Nagy has returned to Washington more than content with
a level of media coverage that currently seems almost unimaginable within the
United States. But perhaps it is still possible that he will be recognized as
a prophet in his own land. Norbert Payne is a technical writer who regularly
does logistical support in the field, including water supply and purification
in refugee camps, for a medical NGO.
Coilín ÓhAiseadha is a medical doctor with clinical experience in Northern
Ireland. Currently self-employed as a full-time freelance translator. Contact:
Coilín ÓhAiseadha firstname.lastname@example.org
Both authors are Irish, but living in Copenhagen, Denmark, and active members
of the Peace Watch,
which has stood in protest outside the Danish house of parliament since Denmark
entered the War on Terrorism, on October 19, 2001.