Gulf war syndrome

WE HAD all known it all along but this is official now. Tens of thousands of people had been exposed to chemical warfare agents during the first Gulf war in 1990.

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Published: Sun 13 Jun 2004, 9:15 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:30 AM

A report by the United States General Accounting Office has reported that the figure of those affected by the chemicals used in the first Gulf war is much, much higher than admitted by the US. The then US government had revealed in 1996 that, "some people may have been exposed to chemicals when US troops destroyed a stockpile of agents at Khamisiah in southern Iraq." The affected, in addition to countless Iraqis, included over 100,000 US troops and 9,000 Britons. The GAO says the figure of those affected on both sides had been much, much higher.

These conclusions are not drawn by some fuzzy Washington or London think-tank given to academic exaggeration. The GAO is the investigative arm of the US Congress. And it has arrived at these findings after years of investigation. That is why, when the GAO says the estimates by the US and UK governments about those affected are seriously flawed, we have reason to sit up and take notice. The GAO has found that the US and the UK have drastically underestimated the extent of damage caused by the chemical warfare. The GAO sleuths say the plume of smoke after the stockpile blast travelled much further than originally estimated. The disaster could have covered a large area in Iraq affecting a large part of the population apart from the invading troops.

Although the first Gulf war against Saddam's Iraq - in military terms - had ended in America's favour, there were other colossal costs to pay. Some 700,000 US troops had formed the invasion army. In addition to tens of thousands of casualties on both sides - more on the side of Saddam - those who were part of that campaign have regularly complained of what has become known as Gulf War syndrome. All wars are painful and hurt all parties involved. But the first Gulf war was more so because the invading troops had little experience of fighting a desert war. As a result, the war inflicted grievous physical and psychological injury on the troops.

Decades after that war, the Gulf war veterans continue to battle with that trauma and have been fighting for compensation in courts of US and UK. Who can forget the fact that Timothy McVeigh, the American executed for Oklahoma bombing, had served in that invading army of 1990 in Iraq? And we are not even talking about the havoc this war wreaked on the poor Iraqis. Thousands and thousands of Iraqis paid with their life for Saddam's delusions of grandeur. Then there were those - women and children - who suffered in silence. Not only that war brutalised Iraqi psyche forever, but also tens of thousands became victim of the chemical poison in the air.

There are lessons to be learned from all this. Casualties of a war are not confined to battlefield alone. Its disastrous effects are felt long after the campaign is over.

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