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March 6, 2003

Physicians’ group urges surveillance instead of war

A war with Iraq would create a medical and public health disaster and could trigger massive terrorist retaliation against the United States and any allies, local members of Physicians for Social Responsibility said during a rally March 4 on the steps of Pitt’s Parran Hall.

The physicians urged intensified surveillance and inspections to contain Saddam Hussein’s forces and eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Attack plans leaked by Pentagon sources, aimed at inducing what military strategists call “shock and awe,” propose unleashing 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles in the first 48 hours of the campaign — 10 times more bombs and missiles than were fired during the opening stages of the Gulf War, noted Pitt pediatrics professor Jack L. Paradise.

Devastation resulting from a new war with Iraq would be “far more profound” than in 1991, he said. Before the Gulf War, most of Iraq’s working-age population had jobs, cash and material assets. “In contrast now, unemployment rates are high and most Iraqis have exhausted their financial resources,” Paradise said. “Tragically, most are now totally dependent on the government for their basic needs and, unlike the situation in 1991, they have no way of coping if that support is interrupted.”

The Pentagon says its Baghdad targets would be military and political, but they include water and power facilities for a city of 5 million people, more than half of them aged 15 or younger, said Paradise.

He cited a UN study estimating that war with Iraq would kill thousands, displace 2 million people, cause as many as 500,000 civilian casualties requiring treatment, and leave hundreds of thousands of Iraqis with war-related diseases such as cholera and dysentery. “All of them would require attention from a medical system in a country whose infrastructure would be in a state of collapse,” Paradise said.

Richard H. Michaels, a Pitt professor emeritus of pediatrics, said the huge cost of a war and Iraq’s post-war reconstruction would divert badly needed funds from U.S. health care, education and environmental protection programs. “More ominously, the possibility is real that a war in Iraq might trigger an increase in terrorist activity,” he said.

“One of the Bush administration’s arguments for war in Iraq is that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction could be provided to terrorists who would then use them against the United States and its allies. But the administration seems to ignore the CIA warning, and the common-sense estimate, that terrorism will likely increase, not decrease, if war occurs,” Michaels said.

War with Iraq could very well serve Osama Bin Ladin’s goal of galvanizing the Muslim world against the West, according to Michaels. “And the main target of that fanaticism will, of course, be us,” he said.

About 60 physicians and medical students participated in the rally, which drew about the same number of supporters and onlookers.

— Bruce Steele

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