By Will Vanwagenen

Since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, American Mormons have been among the staunchest supporters of the war, as well as its executor, President Bush. As a Mormon who has lived in Iraq and witnessed first hand the tragedy that has befallen that country, such support for the bloodshed amongst my fellow Mormons, whom I know to be otherwise good-hearted and kind, is saddening. It is my hope that the following review of US military activities in Iraq from 1991 to the present will cause at least some members of the LDS Church to reevaluate their current position in support of ongoing US atrocities against the people of Iraq.

After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the US/UK imposed a blockade and sanctions on Iraq through the UN. The Washington Post reported that the sanctions were meant to both “inflict serious pain on Baghdad of the kind that would change Saddam’s behavior” 1 as well as “to incite Iraqi citizens to rise against the Iraqi leader.”2 Because Iraq depended on Western parts and supplies to maintain electrical, water treatment, and sewage treatment plants, embargoing the importation of such supplies gave the US considerable leverage against Saddam’s regime, as well as the Iraqi population generally. The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) predicted that Saddam’s regime would seek to circumvent the sanctions because “Failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population. This could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease and to certain pure-water-dependant industries becoming incapacitated, including petrol chemicals, fertilizers, petroleum refining, electronics, pharmaceuticals, food processing, textiles, concrete construction, and thermal power plants. Iraq’s overall water treatment capability will suffer a slow decline, rather than a precipitous halt. . .” 3

Because the blockade would include food imports, upon which Iraq was heavily dependant, the Post, after interviewing a top administration official about the embargo, thought it useful to wonder how long the blockade would have to be imposed before Iraq’s available reserves of wheat, rice, and corn would run out, causing the Iraqi population to begin to starve. 4 The Post’s administration source admitted however, that attempting to starve the Iraqi population may not be effective because, “Electricity, desalinization, infrastructure. . . food shortages – all will affect Kuwait first. . . I don’t think anyone thinks people will starve to death in Iraq. If they start starving it will be in Kuwait.” The same administration official goes on to say that, “I don’t think we have a clue what Iraq can sustain,” which is further problematic because, in the Post’s words, “officials acknowledge that the United States will have difficulty holding together the embargo, particularly if oil supplies run short and cause public discontentment in the participating nations.” 5

In addition to spreading mass disease among the Iraqi civilian population through sanctions, US planners initiated a massive bombing campaign against Iraq in order to kill as many of Saddam’s conscripted soldiers as possible, as well as destroy Iraq’s civilian infrastructure once the Gulf War finally began in February 1991. Rather than simply forcing an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, the decision was made, in the words of Assistant Secretary of State for Politico-Military Affairs Richard A. Clark, to “eliminate Saddam’s army once and for all.” 6 Consequently, Clark asked a member of his staff, John Tritak, to explain to the US generals “the ‘unconditional surrender’ logic that Churchill had insisted on in World War II.” When convoys of Iraqi troops were retreating from Kuwait along the lone desert highway back to Basra in Iraq, US aircraft bombed the defenseless soldiers mercilessly. Clark laments this, but only because of its negative impact on US public relations efforts. He comments that, “the pro-war tenor of U.S. news reporting began to change. American television carried stories of American aircraft slaughtering retreating Iraqi troops. Returning pilots were interviewed plane-side talking about ‘turkey shoots.’” 7 As a result of the decision to eliminate Iraq’s army “once and for all,” the Sunday Mail reports that, “a senior allied officer in Riyadh estimated that 60,000 to 80,000 Iraqis were killed by the relentless allied air strikes before the ground war started, most of them buried alive when their bunkers collapsed on top of them. It was likely an additional 15,000 to 25,000 Iraqi troops were killed in the four days of combined air and ground attacks.” In the same article, the Mail reports that General Schwarzkopf was hesitant to give an exact toll of the dead, assuring us only that it was “a very, very large number.” A Defense Intelligence Agency official noted that an exact death toll was difficult to determine because, “the guys in the field just weren’t counting. They still aren’t. They just poured them into common graves and covered them.” So, as a senior official commented, “A ballpark figure of 100,000 is about as good as we can do for now.” 8

Turning now to the destruction of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure, one US officer who played a central role in the air campaign against Iraq explained that strategic air bombing is meant to strike against not only military targets, but also against “all those things that allow a nation to sustain itself.” 9 Iraqi power-generating plants were among the main US targets, as they produced the electricity needed to keep water and sewage treatment, medicine production, and hospitals running. US forces flew 215 sorties against the power-generating plants, using primarily laser-guided GBU-10 bombs. US bombing damaged seventeen of Iraq’s twenty generating plants, eleven of which were destroyed completely, and none of which could be repaired without significant Western assistance. After a few days of the air war, one US target planner commented that, “Not an electron was flowing,” from any Iraqi generating stations. Four months after the war, pentagon analysts estimated Iraqi electricity production had only returned to 1920 levels, a time before water and sewage treatment relied on electricity. 10

The logic of destroying civilian infrastructure was explained by Col. John A. Warden III, deputy director of strategy, doctrine and plans for the Air Force: “Saddam Hussein cannot restore his own electricity. He needs help. If there are political objectives that the U.N. coalition has [after the war], it can say, ‘Saddam, when you agree to do these things, we will allow people to come in and fix your electricity.’ It gives us long-term leverage.” And if Saddam still refused to comply, this “leverage” could be used against the Iraqi people themselves. Another Air Force planner explains why: “Big picture, we wanted to let people know, ‘Get rid of this guy and we’ll be more than happy to assist in rebuilding. We’re not going to tolerate Saddam Hussein or his regime. Fix that, and we’ll fix your electricity.’ ” 11

US targeting of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure caused the infant mortality rate among Iraqis to increase significantly. Confirming the predictions of the DIA noted above, a study sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) concluded that, “There were approximately 47,000 excess deaths among children under five years of age during the first eight months of 1991. The deaths resulted from infectious diseases, the decreased quality and availability of food and water, and an enfeebled medical care system hampered by the lack of drugs and supplies.” 12 While in May of 1991, an investigative team from Harvard Medical School reported that due to the destruction of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure, “at least 170,000 children under five years of age will die in the coming year from the delayed effects” of the bombing. 13

Responses varied among US war planners regarding later accusations that targeting Iraq’s infrastructure during the 1991 Gulf War was unjustified, though all confirmed that the effects on civilians were deliberate. As one US official stated, “People say, ‘You didn’t recognize that it was going to have an effect on water or sewage. Well, what were we trying to do with [United Nations-approved economic] sanctions — help out the Iraqi people? No. What we were doing with the attacks on infrastructure was to accelerate the effect of the sanctions.” 14 One senior Air Force Officer felt targeting Iraqi civilians in this way was acceptable because, after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, “The definition of innocents gets to be a little bit unclear. They do live there, and ultimately the people have some control over what goes on in their country.” 15 Satisfied with the way things turned out, then Secretary of Defense and current Vice President Dick Cheney commented that all US targets in the bombing of Iraq were “legitimate” and that, “If I had to do it over again, I would do exactly the same thing.” 16

At the end of the bombing campaign, US forces stopped short of going on to Baghdad, calling instead on Iraqis to overthrow Saddam. The Iraqi Shiites and Kurds responded, rising up against Saddam en masse, with the expectation of receiving US support. Much to the Shiites’ and Kurds’ horror, US troops instead stood by and watched as Saddam mercilessly crushed the uprising. Richard A. Clark commented on this event as well, explaining that the first Bush administration allowed Saddam’s elite republican guard divisions to remain intact after the ‘91 war, and that, “at the request of the Iraqis, the no-flying rule was amended to permit the Iraqi army to fly its helicopters.” As a result, Clark continues, Saddam “used his surviving Republican Guard units to massacre those who did rise up against him, notably the Shi’a, the ‘marsh Arabs’ in the south, and the Kurds in the north. Iraqi helicopters mowed down the rebels. US forces stood by.” The bodies of those massacred by Saddam’s republican guard during these uprisings constitute the vast majority of bodies in the mass graves discovered after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Clark explains that the US allowed the massacres because the Arab nations did not “want to see the Shi’a Muslim majority take over Iraq and set up a pro-Iranian regime.” 17 Richard Perle, a former member of the current Defense Policy Board, as well as one of the main architects of the 2003 US invasion, commented that:

“The first Bush administration had its reasons for holding back in 1991. When it had called for an uprising, it had something very different in mind: a coup in Baghdad by one of Saddam’s Sunni henchmen. This was and remained the remedy for Saddam recommended by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA contended that the mass uprising in the south might bring to power Shiite extremists who would then tilt toward Shiite Iran.” 18

Once Saddam was successful in suppressing the Shiite and Kurdish uprisings, the Bush administration was content to leave Saddam in power and further punish the Iraqi people by maintaining the sanctions regime. Thomas Friedman, the State Department’s semi-official spokesperson at the New York Times indicated that, “The President felt that Mr. Hussein and his army were broken and no longer represented any external threat, especially since Mr. Bush contentedly assumed that his intelligence reports were correct and that all of Mr. Hussein’s nuclear capabilities had been destroyed. Sooner or later, Mr. Bush argued, sanctions would force Mr. Hussein’s generals to bring him down, and then Washington would have the best of all worlds: an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein. In the meantime, the foreign policy expert in Mr. Bush said: Ignore him.” 19

President Clinton kept the sanctions regime in place upon taking power in 1993. In 1996, as the number of dead Iraqi children due to the sanctions continued to rise, Clinton’s secretary of State Madeline Albright was confronted with the moral dilemma of killing children to achieve political ends. Citing a 1995 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report, 60 Minutes reporter Leslie Stahl asked, “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, not contesting the number estimate of dead children, replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.” 20

By 1998, however, former members of the Bush administration who orchestrated the 1991 destruction of Iraq, including Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Elliott Abrams, wrote an open letter to President Clinton explaining the sanctions were not working well enough. The letter states that they are “convinced that current American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding,” not because too many innocent children were dying with no effect upon Saddam, but because, “we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition to continue to uphold the sanctions or to punish Saddam when he blocks or evades UN inspections. Our ability to ensure Saddam Hussein is not producing weapons of mass destruction, therefore, has substantially diminished.” It was important that Saddam not acquire these weapons because, “the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard.” They go on to ask President Clinton to implement a strategy for “removing Saddam’s regime from power” that will “require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts.” 21

When George W. Bush became president in 2001, those people who fought the first Gulf War and in 1998 were advocating another war against Iraq returned to office. Thus, a renewed assault on an already decimated Iraq became an objective of American foreign policy before 9/11, long before there was any talk of an Iraqi threat to the homeland, and before anyone was paying any real attention to Osama bin Laden. With 9/11 came the pretext and ability to mobilize public opinion for an invasion. Even though the propaganda barrage focused on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, this was not a threat to America itself, because, as the recently appointed Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice explained in late 1999, “If they [Iraq] do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration.” 22

Despite the fact that Iraq was a weak country posing no threat to any of its neighbors, the Bush administration and the US media jointly led the American public to believe that a second 9/11 was imminent, courtesy of Iraq. This belief provided President Bush with strong public support for a new war on Iraq.

Before the war began, the Bush administration declared that the strategy of “Shock and Awe” bombing would be used to assault Iraq. “Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance” was written by researchers at the National Defense University in 1996. The authors noted that with the fall of the Soviet Union, we finally enjoy the luxury of the “dominance and superiority of American military power, unencumbered by the danger of an external peer competitor,” thus providing a valuable opportunity to test new strategic conceptions of war. The goal of Shock and Awe is to apply “our resources to controlling, affecting, and breaking the will of the adversary to resist.” For this to be successful “psychological and intangible, as well as physical and concrete effects beyond the destruction of enemy forces and supporting military infrastructure, will have to be achieved” (my emphasis) in the hope that “the non-nuclear equivalent of the impact that the atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on the Japanese” will result. “This Shock and Awe may not necessitate imposing the full destruction of either nuclear weapons or advanced conventional technologies but must be underwritten by the ability to do so. . . to convey the unmistakable message that unconditional compliance is the only available recourse. It will imply more than the direct application of force. . . This could include means of communication, transportation, food production, water supply, and other aspects of infrastructure.” In contrast to the concept of “Decisive Force” employed in the first Gulf War, in which “military force would be . . . targeted primarily against the military capabilities of an opponent,” the violence unleashed in “Shock and Awe” would be “all encompassing” in “scope”, using “force against force and supporting capability” (my emphasis). 23

In other words, if “Shock and Awe” bombing were to be used in the invasion of Iraq, America would directly target Iraqi civilians and the infrastructure necessary for their survival, as well as threaten the use of nuclear weapons in an offensive capacity, in order to “break the will” of the Iraqi regime and force its capitulation.

Rather than denounce the idea that America should target Iraqi civilians on a massive scale, with the intent to recreate the “impact that the atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on the Japanese,” President Bush responded enthusiastically to the concept of “Shock and Awe” when it was introduced to him by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld in the lead-up to the war. 24 Three weeks before the invasion, CBS Evening News reported positively about this new strategy, interviewing the author of “Shock and Awe,” Harlan Ullman. CBS also quoted one Pentagon official who had been briefed on the plans as saying, “There will not be a safe place in Baghdad . . . the sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.” 25 At the end of the report Dan Rather commented, “We assure you this report contains no information that the Defense Department thinks could help the Iraqi military” protect its civilian population from a repeat of the horrors of the US air force’s 1991 bombing campaign.

Because US war planners openly advocated targeting civilians in the bombing campaign, it is unsurprising that they were largely successful in achieving their goals. According to a study by US and Iraqi researchers, led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published in The Lancet, some 100,000 Iraqis had died by late 2004 as result of the US-led invasion and occupation, primarily due to US/UK bombing. 26 This survey encompassed the period before wide-scale sectarian violence had erupted in Iraq, which is now the primary killer of Iraqi civilians. The violence in Iraq began to evolve after US planners began constituting a new Iraqi government and a new Iraqi Army and Police loyal to the US and which consisted primarily of the majority Shiite sect. Sunni Iraqi insurgents began targeting not only US forces, but the largely Shiite Iraqi Army and Police as well because of their “collaboration” with the foreign occupiers, while foreign Al Qaeda militants flooding to Iraq began attacking Shiite markets and holy places, killing scores of civilians, due to their belief that Shiites are “infidels.” Shiite militias such as the Badr Brigade began a campaign of assassinations of former regime members, both independently and as members of the Iraqi police, and eventually evolved into death squads targeting Sunnis generally. After the bombing of the Samarra Shrine in February 2004, sectarian hatred intensified, causing the other largest Shiite militia in the country, the Mahdi Army, to participate in death squad activities against Sunni civilians as well.

In another study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published in October 2006, researchers estimated the number of excess Iraqi deaths since the 2003 US invasion had reached some 600,000. 27 By January of 2007, the United Nations reported that the number of Iraqi civilians killed in 2006 alone reached 34,000 as a result of US and coalition military operations, sectarian killings by Shiite death squads and bombings by Iraqi insurgents and Al Qaeda operatives. 28

In review, the US government has killed hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq over the last two decades. Many of those killed have been civilians who were deliberately targeted by the US military through bombing and sanctions. The State Department’s 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, written by then Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, outlines the basic motivations driving US foreign policy planners since that time. It states that the US must “preclude any hostile power from dominating a region critical to our interests. . . In the Middle East and Persian Gulf, we seek to foster regional stability, deter aggression against our friends and interests in the region, protect U.S. nationals and property, and safeguard our access to international air and seaways and to the region’s oil.” 29

The US government has unleashed untold amounts of violence against hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis over the past twenty or so years for the sake of economic and strategic interests and in order to remain the world’s sole superpower. In other words, the US government routinely kills innocent children of God for the sake of getting gain. As American Mormons, we should resist these actions of our government which mirror the first sin recorded in Mormon scripture:

And Cain said: truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret that I may murder and get gain. Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan, and he gloried in his wickedness. And Cain went into the field, and Cain talked with Abel, his brother. And it came to pass that while they were in the field Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew him. And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands (Moses 5:31-33).

  1. White House Counts on Military Buildup to Force Saddam’s Hand. Washington Post, August 15, 1990.
  2. Allied Air War Struck Broadly in Iraq; Officials Acknowledge Strategy Went Beyond Purely Military Targets, Washington Post, June 23, 1991, Sunday, Final Edition.
  3. Defense Intelligence Agency, “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities” Jan 18, 1991. Links to this DIA document can be found at “War Crimes, US Planners and Iraq’s Water Vulnerability: A Conversation with Professor Thomas Nagy.” ZNet, June 03, 2003.
  4. The Post reports, “According to unofficial estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of July 1, Iraq reported wheat reserves equivalent to two months supply; a four-month supply of rice, and barely 10 days supply of corn. In each case, Iraq has some added production of its own that could alleviate shortages. According to Department estimates, Iraq’s dependence on foreign food is about 70 percent in years of good rainfall, and 80 percent in bad years. White House Counts on Military Buildup to Force Saddam’s Hand, Washington Post, August 15, 1990.
  5. White House Counts on Military Buildup to Force Saddam’s Hand. Washington Post, August 15, 1990.
  6. Clark Richard A. Against All Enemies, p. 63.
  7. Clark Richard A. Against All Enemies, p. 64.
  8. Preceding three quotes found in: Sunday Mail, Iraqi toll: Is it 100,000? March 24, 1991.
  9. Washington Post, June 23, 1991.
  10. Washington Post , June 23, 1991.
  11. Washington Post, June 23, 1991.
  12. This quote comes from a NEJM Editorial written by Leon Eisenberg, and can be found at The study he cites can be found at: Ascherio A, Chase R, Cote T, et al. Effect of the Gulf War on Infant and Child Mortality in Iraq. New England Journal of Medicine, 1992;327:931-6. [Erratum, N Engl J Med 992;327:1768.].”
  13. Washington Post, June 23, 1991.
  14. Washington Post, June 23, 1991.
  15. Washington Post, June 23, 1991.
  16. Washington Post, June 23, 1991.
  17. Clark, Richard A. Against All Enemies, p. 66.
  18. An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror. David Frum, Richard Perle, 2003, Random House, New York, p. 16-17.
  19. A Rising Sense That Iraq’s Hussein Must Go, July 7, 1991, New York Times.
  20. 60 Minutes (5/12/96). FAIR reports that “It’s worth noting that on 60 Minutes, Albright made no attempt to deny the figure given by Stahl–a rough rendering of the preliminary estimate in a 1995 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report that 567,000 Iraqi children under the age of five had died as a result of the sanctions. . . In early 1998, Columbia University’s Richard Garfield published a dramatically lower estimate of 106,000 to 227,000 children under five dead due to sanctions, which was reported in many papers (e.g. New Orleans Times-Picayune, 2/15/98). Later, UNICEF came out with the first authoritative report (8/99), based on a survey of 24,000 households, suggesting that the total “excess” deaths of children under 5 was about 500,000. (
  21. Letter to President Clinton on Iraq, Project For a New American Century.
  22. Condoleeza Rice, “Promoting the National Interest,” Foreign Affairs, January-February, 2000, as cited in Bush in Babylon, Tariq Ali, p. 147. America’s enormous stockpile of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons serve as a deterrent to any power who might think to attack our homeland. The Soviet Union, long our bitter enemy, never used their nuclear weapons because it was clear to them that that any attack against America would be met with an overwhelming nuclear response. Even the monster Stalin understood this. If Saddam were to acquire weapons of mass destruction, he would plainly understand that any use of these weapons against America, including by way of some proxy terrorist organization such as al-Qaeda, would be met with such a response as well, particularly after the Taliban regime was swiftly punished for such a proxy attack. If the US would destroy his country and kill tens of thousands simply for invading Kuwait, how could he not take Rice’s threat seriously that “national obliteration” would result if he attacked America itself?
  23. Ullman, Harlan K. “Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance.” National Defense University, 1996.
  24. Woodward, Bob. Plan of Attack, Simon and Schuster, 2004, p. 102.
  25. “Iraq Faces Massive U.S. Missile Barrage,” CBS News Online, January 24th, 2003.
  26. “Mortality Before and After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: Cluster Sample Survey.” The Lancet, Volume 364, Number 9445, 30 October 2004.
  27. New York Times, October 10, 2006.
  28. New York Times, January 16, 2007.
  29. New York Times, May 24, 1992, Pentagon Drops Goal of Blocking New Superpowers.