[Last update: 13 November 2002]

Physicians: Iraq War Would be 'Catastrophe'
U.S. Invasion May Cause Massive Loss of Life, Report Says

by George Edmonson
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution (12 November 2002)

Washington --- A report to be released today predicts that an invasion of Iraq could lead to a "human catastrophe" of casualties as high as 250,000 within the first three months.

"Collateral Damage: The Health and Environmental Costs of War on Iraq" was prepared largely by Medact, the British affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. The U.S. affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility, also was involved and will participate in promoting the report's release. Most of the estimated casualties would be Iraqi civilians caught in the bombing, said Bob Schaeffer, a spokesman in Massachusetts for the International Physicians organization.

It was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for what the committee called its "considerable service to mankind by spreading authoritative information and by creating an awareness of the catastrophic consequences of atomic warfare."

The study also looks at the impact of an invasion on the public health system and on such necessities as agriculture, water and energy, he said.

"We're saying that there'll be a very large short-term impact and an even more profound longer-term impact," Schaeffer said. "The report uses the word 'human catastrophe' even if it does not escalate to the level of poison gas, civil war or nuclear weapons."

The estimates of casualties, he said, range from a low of 50,000 to as much as 250,000.

James Snyder, spokesman in Washington for Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the report uses information about Iraq invasion scenarios, as well as knowledge gleaned from study of the 1991 Persian Gulf War and U.S. actions in Somalia and Panama.

Schaeffer said physicians associated with the international organization also had made some inspection tours, and their findings were factored in.

"The estimates and ranges are based on sound science and previous experience," Snyder said.

Not much public data has come out on the extent of possible casualties from an invasion of Iraq. Some experts at the Pentagon have discussed the possibility of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein using human shields and placing military targets within civilian sites, such as hospitals and schools.

Others, such as former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, have raised the prospect of quick action limiting the number of deaths, particularly those that might be caused by Saddam.

Ibrahim Al-Marashi, an analyst at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California who favors an invasion, estimated as many as 100,000 combat casualties during the first three months of fighting. But such estimates are extremely difficult, Al-Marashi said, because so many variables exist about how a war might unfold.

"The way Saddam would respond is such a wild card in this," he said.

The focus of the International Physicians' report is on Iraq, and it does not deal in depth with the possibilities in other nearby nations such as Israel, Saudi Arabia or Turkey, said Snyder said

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