That depends on how long the war in Afghanistan continues, but I think Iraq is probably going to have a larger overall environmental impact. We have been fighting in Afghanistan longer, since October 2001, than we have in Iraq, where the war began in March 2003 (though there was a considerable military buildup beginning in the summer of 2002). The war in Iraq is now almost over, with US forces being withdrawn and what troops are still there patrolling the countrysides as opposed to the cities. However, up until now Iraq has been a much larger-scale operation. At its height, counting the forces of all countries engaged on the US side, the Iraq war had about 300,000 troops engaged (we now have 98,000 left, almost all of them US troops). Since 2001, we’ve had about 48,000 US troops engaged in Afghanistan, and President Obama is going to increase that by about 30,000–still well short of Iraq totals. Why are these numbers important? Because the environmental impact of war goes beyond the damage caused by bombs or bullets, but also encompasses the total amount of resources needed to keep these operations going, which is huge. For every troop that puts boots on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan there is a long train of supplies and support that must follow him or her, everything from food, drinking water and medical support to ammunition, vehicles and communications. If you measured the “carbon footprint” of the wars, including the fuel expended in support operations, I think the Iraq War would probably be the larger share. The environmental impacts of the fighting itself include the destruction of infrastructure such as power grids and drinking water, which affect local populations, and even wildlife; for example, birds that used to migrate across Afghanistan can no longer do so because of the repeated bomb strikes and air operations that are going on in that area. War has a tremendous environmental toll, and once a war is over its environmental consequences often linger for a long time.
I believe that is a very difficult measurement to gage. I have done some research on the impact in Iraq, and here are my findings: over the past three decades, the agricultural heritage of Iraq has been greatly dismantled. Prolonged conflict, crippling sanctions, the Oil-for-Food Program and neoliberal economic reforms have hindered and greatly altered the agricultural economy of Iraq– as well as the health and general welfare of the Iraqi people. For more than a decade, Hussein allowed his own people to suffer malnutrition, disease and economic deprivation in a savage propaganda war waged against the sanctions. Even with relief provided by the UN, babies are malnourished, toddlers drink contaminated water and children lack basic medicine. Years of sanctions have debilitated the economy and created a society dependent on the UN Oil for Food Program and the Public Distribution System.
Just before announcing his departure from Iraq, U.S. proconsul and head of the CPA, Paul Bremer issued “100 Orders” to transfer Iraq’s economy and legal ownership of Iraqi resources into the private hands of U.S. corporations. Order 39 lays down the legal framework for Iraq’s economy by giving foreign investors rights equal to Iraqis in exploiting Iraq’s domestic market. The laws, which cover virtually all aspects of the economy–including Iraq’s trade regime, the mandate of the Central Bank, regulations on trade union activities, etc.– lay the bases for the US’ bigger objective of building a neo-liberal regime in Iraq. U.S.’s agricultural reconstruction work in Iraq not only gives easy entry to US agribusiness and pushes neoliberal policies, but is also an intrinsic part of the US military campaign. This work, which was managed by one of USAID’s contractors, Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), focused on accelerating “the transition from a command-and-control production and marketing system to a market-driven economy where farmers and agribusinesses are able to take risks and realize profits.” During ARDI’s three years, Iraq’s national wheat production dropped from 2.6 million tons in 2002 to 2.2 million tons in 2006 (despite a doubling in the area sown to wheat) and the national average yields for wheat plunged over those same years from 1.6 tons per hectare to 0.6 tons per hectare. ARDI was also playing a political game with wheat that was part of a larger US shock-therapy strategy for the Iraq economy and likely to have been of more interest to US agribusiness: its central objective was to liberalise and privatise Iraq’s wheat sector, and its Public Distribution System in particular. While the chaos following the US invasion made an immediate sell-off or dismantling of Iraq’s wheat sector impossible, and illegal under the Geneva Convention, ARDI tried to push the Iraqis down the alternative path of neoliberal reforms. Some of this privatisation is now being implemented in Iraq through the “International Compact with Iraq” – a five-year plan negotiated by the Iraqi government with the World Bank, the US and other major donors. When ARDI came to a close in 2006, USAID launched two new programmes – a US$343 million Inma Agribusiness Program and Izdihar (Iraq Private Sector Growth and Employment Generation). Both programs are being carried out by the Loius Berger Group Inc., one of the world’s largest infrastructure and development consultancies, and they are designed to prepare the way for agribusiness investment in the food industry. The impact of the reforms, combined with the continuing war, has been so catastrophic that by January 2009 the Chairman of the Iraqi Union of Industries confirmed that 90 percent of the country’s industries had closed since 2003.
Under Order 81 on “Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety”, the CPA has made it illegal for Iraqi farmers to re-use seeds harvested from new varieties registered under the law. Iraqis may continue to use and save from their traditional seed stocks or what is left of them after the years of war and drought. It can be argued that the purpose of the law is to facilitate the establishment of a new seed market in Iraq, where transnational corporations can sell their seeds – genetically modified or not, which farmers would have to purchase afresh every single cropping season (GRAIN). While historically the Iraqi constitution prohibited private ownership of biological resources, the new US-imposed patent law introduces a system of monopoly rights over seeds. Inserted into Iraq’s previous patent law is a whole new chapter on Plant Variety Protection (PVP) that provides for the “protection of new varieties of plants.” PVP is an intellectual property right, or a kind of patent for plant varieties which gives an exclusive monopoly right on planting material to a plant breeder who claims to have discovered or developed a new variety. The inhabitants of Mesopotamia have used informal seed supply systems to plant crops, suited to their particular environment. According to the FAO, 97 percent of Iraqi farmers in 2002 still used saved seed from their own stocks from last year’s harvest, or purchased from local markets (Hassan, 2005).
The new law is presented as being necessary to ensure the supply of good quality seeds in Iraq and to facilitate Iraq’s accession to the WTO; however, the law will facilitate the penetration of Iraqi agriculture by the likes of Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow Chemical – the corporate giants that control seed trade across the globe. Eliminating competition from farmers is a prerequisite for these companies to open up operations in Iraq, which the new law has achieved; Iraqi farmers will have to buy and plant so-called “protected” crop varieties brought into Iraq by mostly American transactional corporations. The man who is in charge of dismantling Iraq’s agriculture is Daniel Amstutz, formerly an executive of the Cargill Corporation; he is assisted by Cargill, Monsanto, Dow and Texas A & M’s Agriculture Program and its subsidiary the Arizona-based agriculture research firm, World Wide Wheat Company.
“The US has been imposing patents on life around the world through trade deals. In this case, they invaded [Iraq] first, and then imposed their patents. This is both immoral and unacceptable”, writes Shalini Bhutani of Focus on the Global South. The new Order is an extension of the old genocidal economic sanctions. (Hassan, 2005).
More than 2 million in the south are expected to be victims of a severe water shortage, “described as the most critical since the earliest days of Iraq’s civilisation.” The damage of below-average rainfall for two winters in a row has been exacerbated by a number of new dams built in Turkey, Syria, and Iran, utilizing water from the once-mighty Euphrates River that has provided the region with water for centuries. Approximately 70 percent of the water entering Iraq comes from river flow controlled by Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Iraq’s marshes are in even more danger of drying up than they were under Saddam Hussein, who purposefully drained many of the marshes as a punishment to the residents. Scientists using Italian funding hope to map the current water flow in the Iraq marshes as a first step toward understanding how to stabilize and revitalize the marshes. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working up a model that details the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates. Meanwhile, the Center for Restoration of the Iraqi Marshes (CRIM), an organization of several Iraqi ministries created in Venice, will put together a “master plan.” “We need an international and Iraqi consensus,” says Thomas Rhodes, an American ecologist and head of USAID’s southern Iraq region based in Basra. Marsh advocates yearn for a vast reclamation project, with ecotourism to fuel the anemic local economy. He says it could be done for as little as $100 million, using Iraqi labor. Alwash worries that USAID, which is focusing on replanting date palms and ensuring the health of farm animals in southern Iraq, fails to grasp the enormous agricultural and economic benefits to the Marsh Arabs of a successful restoration
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