CLUSTER BOMBS – DEADLY RAIN
Special to the Montreal Gazette by Robert J. Galbraith 2008
Five-year-old cluster bomb victim, Ali Mustapha Ghaleb is rushed to a Baghdad hospital. Barely alive and moaning in agony, his shrapnel-riddled body lies draped across the lap of his weeping, anguished mother. The pathetic scene is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s La Pieta.
Earlier in the day Ali had been out playing with some friends when he came across what he thought were discarded toys in the shape of small green bells, with little white ribbons trailing behind.
Squatting down, he began playing with one, then he dropped it. As it hit the ground it exploded, sending a blast of white-hot, pill-sized ball bearings ripping through his face and legs; turning him into an envelope of blazing heat and pain.
Ali, is a statistic of collateral damage, along with the dozens of others in the hospital that day, all innocent victims of cluster bombs -the deadly rain- which have been in use for more than 60 years.
On Friday, May 30,th 2008 in Dublin, Ireland, 111 nations signed a draft treaty, the Convention on Cluster Bombs, to ban the use of these horrific weapons.
The agreement, initiated with great humanitarian intent and good will, could turn out to be nothing more than wishful thinking, because those that refused to sign include the world’s largest military nations and the biggest users and makers of cluster bombs. These include China, Russia, the United States, India, Pakistan, and Israel, none of which were present at the Dublin meeting.
Also known as dumb bombs, cluster bombs are dropped by aircraft or fired using artillery shells and rockets. After being launched, the bomb falls for a specified amount of time or distance before their dispensers open, distributing the payload of hundreds (up to 2,020) of mini bombs, or bomblets, over the target area of more than two football fields. The bomblets contain an internal fuse that allows them to detonate above ground, on impact, or on a time delay, depending on the type of bomb used.
Cluster bombs are used to kill enemy troop formations and destroy their vehicles and artillery pieces. They are also used to render inoperable airport runways and structures, while others scatter land mines.
They pose a particular threat to civilians because they are dispersed over a wide area. Adding to this, dozens of bomblets fail to detonate, remaining live and deadly, often for years. It was one of these unexploded bomblets that maimed young Ali Mustapha.
The Convention on Cluster Bombs treaty requires signatories not to use cluster bombs, to destroy existing stockpiles within eight years, and to fund programs that clear old battlefields of unexploded bomblets.
An impassioned U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged every nation in the world to sign the pact “without delay,” after the twelve days of negotiations ended, with most diplomats embracing the accord.
The treaty contains several concessions sought by the United States and its NATO allies (many of whom agree with and support the accord), possibly resulting in too many loopholes, according to some human rights campaigners. For example, Article 21 of the agreement would allow British troops to call in U.S. air support that could include planes using cluster bombs, although British forces would not themselves use them. This concession avoids problems within NATO forces, between those whose signed the pact and those who abstained.
Washington dismissed the prospect that the treaty would alter U.S. policy on the issue of cluster bombs. “While the United States shares the humanitarian concerns of those in Dublin, cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility,” said State Department spokesman Tom Casey, adding that to join the ban would put U.S. soldiers’ lives at risk.
During the initial days of the war in Iraq, the United States used approximately 10,782 cluster bombs (according to U.S. Central Command). The British used about 2200.
Formal signing of the treaty will take place in Oslo in December, and would come into effect by mid-2009.