With all the war fever about re-invading
Iraq, the press and politicians are ignoring
the opinion of the veterans of our last war in
the Gulf. But we veterans were there, and
we have unique and critical first-hand
knowledge of the course and consequences
of warfare in Iraq. Our opinions should be
solicited and heard before troops deploy for
battle, not after they have returned
wounded, ill or in body bags.
Another invasion of Iraq in 2002 will be very
different from the invasion of 1991. The
war's mission has changed in the intervening
years, from removing Iraq from Kuwait to
removing the entire Iraqi government and
military establishment from power. Because
the goal of the U.S. military has changed, the
Iraqi army may retreat to the cities, where
they may face better odds than in the desert.
During the open desert tank battles of '91,
U.S. tanks out-classed and out-fought
obsolete Iraqi tanks, and U.S. infantry
captured tens of thousands of poorly
supplied Iraqi soldiers operating without
command and control from Baghdad. But in
the urban warfare scenario of 2002, pitched
infantry skirmishes and ambushes in cities
may present a more level battlefield for Iraqi
troops fighting in their hometowns. The Iraqi
military can be expected to fight for each
block within each city with the most ruthless
means available. When faced with the
impending overrun of their nation, the Iraqi
military didn't hesitate to use chemical
weapons against Iran.
Because of these significant differences,
here are 10 reasons why, as a Gulf War
combat veteran, I oppose a second Gulf War
as a costly and preventable mistake.
1. U.S. troops are vulnerable to Iraqi
chemical and biological warfare agents -- if
Iraq is capable of using them. The gas masks,
detection alarms and protection suits don't
work, according to internal Department of
Defense documents uncovered during
investigations by the U.S. General
Accounting Office. This leaves U.S. troops
highly vulnerable to chemical and biological
attack. U.S. chemical and biological warfare
agent casualties in 2002 could be
significantly higher than in 1991. Only a few
months ago, the Pentagon sent out a press
release stating 140,000 U.S. soldiers were
exposed to low-levels chemical agents near
Khamisiyah, Iraq during the Gulf War.
While these soldiers appeared to return
home healthy, many tens of thousands face
long-term disabling medical problems that
are difficult to treat.
2. Scientific evidence shows that even
low-level chemical exposures are dangerous.
According to a recent National Academy of
Sciences report (Gulf War and Health,
September 2000), low-levels of chemical
warfare agents cause long-term medical
problems. This conclusion is based on
research resulting from the sarin attack in
Japan in 1995.
3. Research shows long-term adverse side
effects from mandatory vaccines given to
U.S. soldiers deploying to the war zone.
According to the product label insert made
by BioPort in Michigan, the sole producer,
the experimental anthrax vaccine has caused
several deaths. The National Academy of
Sciences this year concluded there are some
risks to the hotly debated vaccine.
4. The Gulf War battlefield remains
radioactive and toxic. Scientific research
funded by the military and released two
years ago links exposure to depleted uranium
(DU) ammunition with cancer in rats. Solid
depleted uranium bullets, ranging in size
from 25mm to 120mm, are used by U.S.
tanks, helicopters and planes to attack
enemy tanks and armored personnel carriers.
The Gulf War battlefield is already littered
with more than 300 tons of radioactive dust
and shrapnel from the 1991 Gulf War.
Another war will only increase the
radioactive and toxic contamination among
U.S. soldiers. As of today, U.S. troops are not
fully trained about the hazards of depleted
uranium contamination, even though
Congress enacted a law in 1998 requiring
extensive training, especially for medical
5. Research shows long-term adverse side
effects from mandatory pills given to U.S.
soldiers deploying to the war zone.
According to testimony before Congress
(Rand Corporation, 1999), the experimental
pyridostigmine bromide (PB) anti-chemical
warfare agent pills "can't be ruled out" as
linked to Gulf War illness. During the war,
soldiers were told to take one pill every eight
hours. After the chemical alarms sounded,
some soldiers, out of legitimate fear for their
lives, took more than the prescribed amount.
To date, the long-term consequences of PB
pills remain largely unknown.
6. The Iraqi civilian opposition was
abandoned by U.S. troops in the first Gulf
War. After U.S. troops had liberated Kuwait
and conquered southern Iraq at the end of
February 1991, former President George
H.W. Bush encouraged the Iraqi opposition,
mainly civilians, to rise up against the Iraqi
dictatorship in March 1991. However,
former President Bush left the rebels twisting
in the wind to be ruthlessly killed by the
Iraqi army's Republican Guard flying
helicopters allowed by the cease-fire
arranged by U.S. military and political
leaders. U.S. troops in southern Iraq in
March 1991 were ordered not to interfere.
How can U.S. troops or Iraqi rebels be
confident this won't happen again? Long
oppressed by the Iraqi military, what will the
civilian population do if Iraq is liberated?
The American public won't support a
long-term occupation and high casualties.
7. Many post-cease-fire military actions of
the first Gulf War were deplorable. In March
1991, the Iraqi army was in a full route
inside Iraq. Against orders, former General
Barry McCaffrey slaughtered thousands of
retreating Iraqi soldiers after the cease-fire
(documented in the article, "Overwhelming
Force," by Seymour Hersh, The New
Yorker, 2000). Many U.S. soldiers returned
home with serious objections about the
course and consequences of such actions,
including the horrific carnage of the
"highway of death," littered with hundreds of
destroyed cars, tanks and human remains
(see "Prayer at Rumayla" by Gulf War
veteran Charles Sheehan-Miles, Xlibris,
2001). Will there be another massacre of
Iraqi soldiers? Will Iraqi troops slaughter
U.S. soldiers in retaliation, killing U.S.
prisoners or retreating U.S. soldiers? And will
the press be allowed onto the battlefield to
record what really happens?
8. No one has been held accountable for
arming Iraq with chemical and biological
weapons from 1980 to 1990. A recent news
article reported that top aides for former
presidents Reagan and Bush armed Iraq with
these weapons during Iraq's war against Iran
between 1980 and 1988 ("Officers Say U.S.
Aided Iraq in War Despite Use of Gas," New
York Times, Aug. 18, 2002). Some of these
former George H.W. Bush aides now work
for President George W. Bush. These
advisors did nothing to stop the sale of the
chemical agents to Iraq, did nothing to stop
the use of the agents by Iraq, and did nothing
to tell the world about Iraq's crimes, even
when the world learned Iraq used poison gas
against civilians. These top political aides
have remained silent for more than 14 years,
and many refused to comment on the recent
9. U.S. allies in Europe oppose invading Iraq.
They have refused to supply soldiers,
funding or logistical support. Some of the
serious U.S. battlefield casualties from 1991
were sent to U.S. military hospitals in
Germany. Where will our casualties be flown
to for emergency care if Germany follows
through on its policy to remain neutral and
not allow the use of German airspace? This
contrasts sharply with the more than 30
nations allied with the U.S. during Desert
Storm in 1991. Today, the U.S. has no Arab
allies. In 1991, the U.S. forgave billions in
outstanding loans owed by Egypt to buy its
support. Now Egypt and other Middle
Eastern nations oppose a second invasion of
Iraq. If something goes wrong, where will
U.S. troops retreat if Saudi Arabia won't
allow U.S. troops within its borders? We
must avoid another Gallipoli.
10. The Department of Veterans Affairs will
not be able to care for additional casualties
because VA can't even take care of current
VA patients. Most veterans now wait six
months to see a VA doctor, and most
veterans wait more than six months to
receive a decision on a VA disability claim.
Many of those waiting in line are Gulf War
veterans, many with unusual illnesses.
According to VA, of the nearly 700,000
veterans who served in Desert Shield and
Desert Storm, more than 300,000 have
sought VA healthcare, and more than
200,000 have filed VA disability claims. Two
weeks ago, President Bush slashed $275
million from the healthcare budget of the
Department of Veterans Affairs.
Although the Iraqi government is a corrupt
dictatorship that must eventually be
removed, current proposals to remove the
government by deploying hundreds of
thousands of U.S. troops are deeply flawed.
A premature attack against Iraq, especially
when the public opposes it, would be a
horrible mistake. Since 1990, more than 400
U.S. soldiers have died in the Gulf War
theater of operations. Untold hundreds of
thousands of Iraqis, both soldiers and
civilians, also died. A second invasion of
Iraq for one man is not worth one more life;
let's use common sense and avert a second
The author is a Gulf War combat veteran.