HSV Lecture 2016 – Lessons from Iraq: What has Australia learnt?

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Lessons from Iraq: What has Australia learnt?

HSV Public Lecture by Dr Margaret Beavis, President of Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW), at Hawthorn Community Precinct on 25 August 2016

The MAPW opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq. Of the allied soldiers 4,804 were killed and 32,223 injured; lots of veterans are now homeless. So far the cost of the war has been 1.7 trillion dollars and is estimated to be eventually 4 trillion dollars. The long-term health impacts have been post-traumatic stress disorder and moral injury. There are difficulties in obtaining exact data about the effect of the war. Some data are based on a direct count, some on a derived count. It is estimated that in the order of one million people died, based on media, hospital, police reports and regional surveys in the country. About half the doctors fled during the war; the health system collapsed – no immunizations were available. About 1.9 million Iraqis became refugees and 1.7 million were displaced inside Iraq. There have been huge health impacts on food, clean water, health care and housing.

In the world Iraq has one of the highest concentrations of landmines including those from its previous wars with Iran and the US; their effect is evident in the number of amputees in Iraq. There is an ongoing destabilisation in the region. Iraq is a failed state, with a loss of public service including the police force and a breakdown of sanitation. Sectarian conflicts have caused much destruction. There has been environmental damage in Iraq, including destruction, toxic materials, emissions from the conflict with oil wells burning; in the first four years 141 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted. There have been indirect costs to Australia of the Iraq war including loss of dead to our society and its impact on families, the effect on military spending reducing funds available for health, education, housing, etc., militarisation of our society, increased risk and markedly increased fear.

The Chilcot report found that the UK chose to join the invasion before peaceful options were exhausted, intelligence was presented with an unjustified certainty and despite explicit warnings consequences were underestimated.

International military spending in 2015 was $1,676 billion. What could the reallocation of military spending achieve? The Sustainable Development Solutions Network found that its targets could be met with 51% of this money, e.g. 13% would mean no poverty or hunger.

The number of people worldwide displaced by war has reached a staggering high of 65.3 million, consisting of 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 million asylum seekers and 40.8 million internally displaced people. In Australia, the decision to go to war is a ‘captain’s pick’. Such a decision should go before Parliament.

Report by Joe Sampson