Pandemic Potential in Mid East Bio Warfare
The 39 Scud surface missiles that Iraq fired at Israel in 1991 carried conventional warheads. Today, a CIA document is reported that, in the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein contemplated a biological attack but gave it up when three Iraqi air force Mig warplanes sent to test the opposition’s defensives were downed over the Persian Gulf.
Then, as now, little attention has been paid to the pandemic factor inherent in biological warfare – and its potential for mass population shifts.
The danger of biological warfare turning into a pandemic is of particular concern in the Middle East, given the medical, social and economic conditions prevailing in the region, according to the experts consulted by debkafile. These conditions appear to have persuaded the Iraqi ruler that he holds an unanswerable deterrent. The rush of activity around Israel’s defenses – the dispatch of US anti-missile, anti-air batteries and an exercise for integrating US and Israeli systems – arises from the conviction that Israel is one of Iraq’s targets of choice and the Washington’s undertaking to protect the country against Iraqi retaliation for a US assault on Baghdad.
The pandemic factor in bio warfare has unfolded quietly but with devastating consequences since Saddam fourteen years ago launched one of the largest biological and chemical attacks on a civilian population in history. To punish Iraqi ethnic Kurds for supporting Iran in the brutal 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, he dropped poisonous substances on the Kurdish town of Halabjah, killing an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Iraqi Kurds. The population of that once vibrant market town on the Iranian border was halved outright, but there were also dire genetic consequences.
Christine Gosden, head of Medical Genetics at Liverpool University in northwest England, says that to this day, Halabjah’s inhabitants are prone to cancer, respiratory disorders, skin rashes and birth defects, such as Down syndrome, as well as infertility and mental health problems. Cleft palates and spina bifida appear in three times more people than in nearby Suleimaniyeh.
Iraq’s genocidal bio-war agents, such as rotavirus, which only kills infants and children, still cause deaths today.
And today, the threat of Iraq again resorting to bio-engineered weapons raises an even broader pandemic peril.
For instance, if Iraq were to retaliate against Israel for an American offensive by disseminating smallpox, or a similar bio-warfare agent, an epidemic might ensue, but Israel’s medical services are capable of containing it. However, a comparable standard of medicine is totally lacking in surrounding countries. Such a bio-weapon, especially if Saddam were to use two or more, could spread around the Middle East and the world in the space of one week.
The hazard would be as great if Baghdad were to employ biological agents against US troops.
These regional conditions would blow a contagion to pandemic proportions:
1. The lack of adequate medical treatment facilities in most Middle East countries.
2. The movement of oil from and through the Middle East out to Western countries.
3. Poor sanitary conditions in most regional countries.
4. A water shortage after five years of drought, which even an abundantly rainy winter in 2002-2003 would not suffice to alleviate.
5. The 2-4 million visitors each year making the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.
One possible scenario would have West Bank Palestinians fleeing from contamination by an Iraqi biological attack aimed at Israel, but spreading to their centers. These refugees would carry the infection to surrounding countries like Jordan, Syria, Egypt, or even Iran. All the vehicles heading out of the region would carry the contamination with them. Smuggled goods across the borders would have the same effect.
debkafile‘s military source report that in late November, Jordan deployed military units along its frontier with Israel and the West Bank to forestall any such an exodus and asked Israel to cooperate by lining up troops on its side of the Jordan river frontier. Our sources say the prime minister’s office delayed its reply to the plea from Amman. The royal palace appealed to Washington to intercede with Ariel Sharon – so far without effect. A source familiar with the exchanges between the three capitals summed up the present state of play: “Why must we rush to solve a non-existent problem at this moment? Jordan has effectively cut down the incoming Palestinian traffic to 100 a day. We don’t need to look as though we are working with the Jordanians to seal off the border. After war breaks out and should we find ourselves facing biological or chemical attack, we’ll confront that problem, like the hundreds of others that will no doubt arise.
debkafile‘s political sources comment: On the one hand, the flight en masse of refugees from Palestinian controlled areas is a delicate political issue; on the other, migration pressures could swing out of the control of any authority, whether American, Israel or Jordanian.
US war planners in Washington are taking into account potential war-inducted major population shifts in the Middle East of minorities in flight from war zones or those taking the opportunity to seek greener pastures, whether for a better deal as minority groups or a better life in general. Seen in those terms, the Palestinian potential for migration is not among the largest.
In terms of the hazards of transmitting bio-engineered disease worldwide, a far greater danger is seen in Washington as posed by the annual pilgrimage to the Saudi holy cities of Mecca and Medina by some four million Muslims from 70 countries. Many travel by air, journeying from South America to North America, Britain, France, Germany, the Far East and all corners of the globe. Even if a state of war reduces the Hajj by fifty percent, millions will still flock to the Saudi cities in 2003, providing Saddam Hussein and fanatical terrorist groups like al Qaeda with an ideal breeding ground for turning outbreaks of smallpox or anthrax into a world pandemic. Most intelligence analysts agree today that neither Saddam nor al Qaeda will scruple to transform this holy event into a doomsday weapon.
While the Hajj research center in Saudi Arabia has gone to great lengths to ensure the pilgrims’ safe passage from one sacred site to the next, there is no way it can protect the vast crush of humanity gathering around each site from infection by even a single contaminated victim. Millions of pilgrims will then head home carrying the blight with them. The outcome could well be population movements in waves unprecedented since the Middle Ages.