Doctors from a Nobel Prize-winning peace group that plans to warn President Saddam Hussein of the horrors of a gulf war said Monday they know their trip to Baghdad may be used for Iraqi propaganda purposes, but that they have a moral duty to try to prevent an armed conflict.
A war between Iraq's million-strong army and the U.S.-led multinational force would be a medical catastrophe, they said, resulting in tens of thousands of seriously injured and overcrowding inadequate medical facilities."There are always people who will pin the label of dupes and propaganda tools on an organization such as ours, but the label has not stuck," said American Dr. John O. Pastore, a spokesman for the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
"The truth is the medical consequences of this conflict are something none of the countries involved is prepared to deal with," he said. "It is our moral responsibility as physicians to deliver that message as loudly and eloquently as we can."
Members of the group, which won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, were in Cairo Monday on a Middle East tour that will take them to Baghdad, where they hope to meet personally with Saddam.
The Iraqi president has met with other Americans and Western groups that have promoted a peaceful settlement to the gulf crisis, using the opportunity to promote his contention that world leaders allied against him do not have the support of their people.
Pastore and other doctors said in an interview that there were not enough medical facilities in the Middle East to handle the massive number of injured that would result from conventional warfare. If Iraq were to use its deadly arsenal of chemical weapons, the toll would be catastrophic, they said.
"The number of beds for treatment is miniscule compared to the number of injured we are going to see on the first and second day," he said. "Many of these injuries will be burns, which are very difficult to treat and need to be treated immediately."
He said the United States' largest overseas hospital, in Wiesbaden, Germany, had only 240 beds and emergency provisions for 500 more, while U.S. hospital ships such as the USS Mercy can handle up to 72 casualties over 24 hours.
"And we are talking about a war that is estimated to result in 5,000 to 20,000 killed in the first 10 days," he said. "We cannot even estimate the wounded, but it would be far higher."