Humanitarian Disaster May Loom In Basra

*Humanitarian disaster may loom in Basra if something isn’t done quickly. The city has fallen to British forces and some of the population has turned on Baath enforcers, killing them. But despite their evident joy at being liberated, the people of the city are thirsty. They do not have access to clean water, and will be tempted to drink badly polluted river water; the river “is where sewage is dumped” according to the UNICEF spokesman. The 100,000 children under the age of five are now exposed to the risks of dehydration, diarrhea, and possible death. All this is despite the British having delivered thousands of bottles of drinking water to southern Iraq from Kuwait. Looting has broken out on a vast scale, with the poor carrying away everything that isn’t nailed down from the nicer hotels and other businesses. There has been a run on the Central Bank, but not of the traditional kind–people are just carrying away its holdings. That this sort of thing should be happening a day after the city fell is perhaps not surprising, but if it is still going on later this week it will take a lot of the sheen off the victory. And, the Americans should beware of letting Baghdad fall into a similar state. WHO is warning that Iraqi hospitals are so overburdened that there is now an increased danger of disease outbreaks.

*Reuters is reporting that 3,000 Iranian clergymen and seminary students demonstrated in Qom on Tuesday to protest the presence of US troops in the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. They chanted “Death to America” and “Death to warmongers” and set fire to a coffin draped with US and British flags. Conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami (no relation of the president’s) is quoted as saying, “The occupation of those cities by infidels is condemned and is an attack against Shiites in the world. America and Britain, by ignoring all the international rules, are acting like Hitler,” Classes were all cancelled at the seminaries for the demonstration (though note that 3,000 is not a big turn out–there are tens of thousands of seminary students in Qom). Ominously, they asked permission from Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei to go to the shrine cities to protect them from the infidels. Iran is so far cooperating with the US demand that no one be allowed to cross over to Iraq from Iran while the war is going on. But after the war is over, the pilgrimage trade of Iranians to the shrine cities will start up again, and this traffic is going to present severe problems to US troops if they insist on remaining at these holy sites. For the US to rule Iraq means it is ruling the Shiite shrine cities, and this is going to cause trouble. It could cause a very great deal of trouble.

*Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri blasted the US Tuesday for reverting to the Law of the Jungle in attacking Iraq without UN sanction and for heaping abuse on the world body. Note that Indonesia only gained something like real democracy about three years ago, and that Mrs. Megawati was known as a friend of the US and a moderate. Paul Wolfowitz, who used to be US ambassador to Indonesia, seems to have been hoping for its current state to be a model for a liberalizing Muslim world. But note that there have been absolutely huge anti-war demonstrations in Jakarta (300,000 strong according to press reports), and now the president is denouncing us. The Bush administration just never “got it” about the UN. It was worth waiting a little bit to get that Security Council majority. The US has lost major good will and legitimacy by proceeding in the teeth of world opinion. It did not have to be this way. And, note that the US is having to loudly tell India, “Do as I say and not as I do.” The Indians say that they could use the same arguments Bush put forward about Iraq to justify a preemptive strike on Pakistan, which they regard as a sponsor of terrorism in Kashmir and as a military regime addicted to weapons of mass destruction. The US does not have any moral authority left in lecturing the Indians on restraint.

*Likewise, the Pakistani fundamentalist parties have parlayed their anti-American rhetoric and rallies into increased popularity even with secular voters. One effect of the US military operations of the past year and a half has been to empower the teachers of the Taliban in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Taliban of Afghanistan have regrouped and made several strikes at the Karzai government lately. When Afghanistan has elections, if it does, who do you think is going to win in Paktia Province?

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