Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cholera in a time of war

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As if things aren't bad enough in Iraq, there's now this:

A case of cholera has been confirmed in southern Iraq, a senior health official said today, raising fears the virulent water-borne disease is spreading through the country.

The vast majority of Iraq's 1,500 cases are in the north but cholera has been confirmed in Baghdad this week and now near Basra in the south.


The latest WHO report, dated Sept. 14, reported a total of 24,532 cases of people with symptoms of cholera such as diarrhea and vomiting in the northern provinces of Sulaimaniyah, Tamim and Irbil. It said 10 people have died — nine in Sulaimaniyah and one in Tamim.

This outbreak points back to two huge problems in Iraq: deficient drinking war and inadequate health care. And, while cholera and other such diseases are admittedly serious problems throughout much of the underdeveloped world, including Iraq, these two problems point back to two other problems specific to the present context: the gross mismanagement of the Iraq War and Occupation in general and the similarly gross mismanagement of the reconstruction effort in particular.

To be fair, the U.S. does not deserve the blame for everything that has gone wrong in Iraq, let alone for all that is wrong in and with Iraq more generally. Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, the PNAC neocons pushing for American hegemony, and the rest of the "we'll be greeted as liberators" warmongers deserve much of the blame, a lot of blame, but Iraq was hardly a healthy place under Saddam. And yet, one cannot help but wonder what would have happened, what would have been different, if there had actually been a genuine plan for "post-war" Iraq, for reconstruction, for nation-building, not just regime change. Would there still have been cholera, outbreaks of various such diseases? Yes, likely so -- but one imagines that there also would have been less deficient drinking water and less inadequate health care, that Iraqi society, both public and private, would have been in a better position to deal with such challenges.

Instead, the occupation has dragged on for years with no end in sight, Iraq has devolved into civil war, and the country, as a whole, remains in shambles. In short, the war has been lost -- regime change achieved, but little beyond that, and certainly not the new Iraq -- liberal, democratic, peaceful -- dreamed up by the warmongers, the delusional warmongers, who never seriously understood what they were doing, what forces they were unleashing.

No, it's no surprise that cholera is spreading through occupied, war-torn Iraq. But, as they say, it speaks volumes.

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