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Article from Independent on Sunday (March 8th)

Another report from Robert Fisk.

You can e-mail letters to the independent at
You should include a postal address and (if possible) a telephone number.

It's interesting to note that the Independent on Sunday *is* currently
running a
campaign - to decriminalize cannabis. 
A rather interesting set of priorities.
Note that this is a *campaign*. They're not asking concerned readers to
send in money to a charitable fund but to turn up in force to a mass rally
in London. Following the Fisk article I've included another by Graham
Ball that's on the Independent on Sunday's website.


 Children starve, Saddam survives

Robert Fisk, among scenes of appalling filth, is told: 'When you have no
food, you don't worry about democracy or who your leaders are' 

IN FRONT of Fatima Hassan's house, a tide of pale-blue and creamy-white
liquid streams gently through an open sewer. Her iron front door cannot
hide the stench, nor the sound of the screaming, barefoot children in the
street . Jumping the sewer - leaping across the little canyon of filth -
is a pastime for the kids of the Basra suburb of Dour Sheoun. Stand
outside Fatima's door and they run towards you, blistered, whey-faced,
with large eyeballs, the irises ivory-white with malnutrition. 

On my way down from Baghdad, I handed a beggar girl a 250-dinar note -
scarcely 10p - only to see her thrown to the road by her friends, the
money torn from her dirty fist. Here, a woman - a bright, pretty woman in
a black chuddar with a white headband - introduces us to her eight-year
old daughter, Roula, then suddenly says: "Please take her with you."
Sundus Abdul-Kader is just 33 - and she is ready to give away her own
child. Fatima has five children. Her husband was a car painter in Kuwait
before Saddam Hussein invaded the emirate; he stayed on for eight months
after its liberation, still working but unpaid by his Kuwaiti employers.
Now he sells sandwiches. "We don't eat eggs or milk," she says. "We can't
afford to eat meat. We drink the tap-water - we don't boil it. This little
boy of mine has trouble breathing, this one has a swollen stomach because
of the water. We go to the hospitals but the doctors say there is no
medicine. Wherever we go, they say there is no medicine." 

Outside, an older woman in black pushes her way through the street
urchins. "I have two crippled people in my family," she pleads. "They have
fever and sore throats. Can you take them with you to Europe?" 

We explain that we are not doctors, but she thrusts into our faces a thick
piece of yellow paper with a history of muscular dystrophy from which her
relatives are suffering. 

After half an hour, my writing hand grows numb listing the sicknesses and
starvation. A child has anaemia, another has severe respiratory problems,
a third cannot control its bowels; it appears to be dying. "When are you
going to lift the sanctions?" yet another woman shouts at me. "Our
children need food and clothes." 

At the end of the street, there is a tootling trumpet, a fat man with a
drum and a stooped old soldier marking time for a squad of 300
middle-aged, half-bearded men, all carrying Kalashnikov rifles but most of
them in shoddy uniforms. These are the local Dad's Army, Saddam's heroic
Volunteers, preparing to withstand the might of the US. They march round a
traffic island while the children chant the national anthem. 

"A country that stretches its wings over the horizon 

And clothed itself in the glory of civilisations. 

This land is a flame and a light, 

Like a mountain that overlooks the world. 

We have the anger of the sword 

And the patience of the Prophet." 

Then the kids return to sewer-jumping. And this, remember, is the country
which - according to Bill Clinton and Tony Blair - threatens the whole

North of Basra, the Baathist militiamen and soldiers cruise the Baghdad
highway in pick-up trucks, the soldiers in balaclavas, a heavy machine-gun
fixed to the roof of the driver's cab, searching for the Shia Muslim
guerrillas of the marshes. Where the marsh Arabs live by the road, massive
tank pens have been built alongside their villages, 30 or 40 T-55 battle
tanks in each compound, an army of occupation in its own country. For Iraq
is disintegrating by the day, its cities run by their governors, almost
out of touch with Baghdad. No one travels the bandit-held roads at night. 

Saddam's portrait still stands, pallid and fading, around the streets of
Basra. It hangs inside the foyer of Basra's General Hospital, an old
infirmary built by the British before the 1914-18 war with tiny yellow
bricks and narrow Scutari-style corridors. 

Dr Abdul-Amir Al-Hafaji wants to show us his children's ward. It is a
disgrace, the floors stinking of urine, the pillows spattered with blood,
the blankets filthy. The hospital ran out of disinfectant long ago. Rubber
gloves are rewashed between operations. Syringes are re-used. So are the
plastic shoes which staff wear on the blood-slippery floor of the
operating theatre. 

On one bed lies Montaza Nather with abdominal distension and fever, one of
nine children who sell cigarettes on the street to support a family, whose
father earns just #1.66 a month. He is starving, a child of only 17kg who
should weigh twice as much. There are flies on his face and hands. Two
small girls are sick with typhoid, watching us carefully, ignoring the
legions of flies crawling on the blankets. 

"We were forced to reopen our pediatric clinic two years ago because there
were so many sick children," Dr al-Hafaji says. "It's due to malnutrition,
poverty, lack of medicines. We are short of antibiotics and anti-diarrheal
medication. We are having a hundred typhoid cases a month, but it is two
or three times that in summer." He appears not to notice the evil smells
from the floor. "We used to have an excellent vaccination programme. We
had pure water. Typhoid, malnutrition, diarrhea, measles, polio - we never
saw such cases." 

And all this, I kept reflecting, was supposed to make the Iraqi people
rise up against the president whose portrait hangs even on the walls of
their homes. "They may not like Saddam," a dispirited Western aid official
tells me later, "but these people have been reduced to penury. They live
in shit. And when you have no money and no food, you don't worry about
democracy or who your leaders are. All you care about is surviving." 

Independent Iraq Appeal 

Robert Fisk's reports from Iraq over the past week have highlighted the
tragedy of children dying for lack of basic medicines. Many are suffering
from diseases which may be linked to the Gulf War seven years ago. The
Independent has launched an appeal for these children, and is working with
the charities Care International and Medical Aid for Iraqi Children, which
are already doing much to relieve poverty and sickness in Iraq, to ensure
your money goes directly to help them. Please send cheques, made out to
Independent Iraq Appeal, PO Box 6870, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5BT. 


Heed our rallying cry
By Graham Ball 

IT IS TIME to stand up and be counted. For the past six months the
Independent on Sunday has led the debate on decriminalising cannabis. Now
it is time to turn words into people power. We want the thousands who have
already signed our petition to join countless others who believe the
Government's war against cannabis is harming our society, to join us in

We are planning a mass march through the heart of the capital on Saturday
28 March and it should prove to be the biggest pro-cannabis demonstration
for 30 years. 

Caroline Coon, the artist and original founder of the drug charity
Release, who helped organise the last "pot rally" in London in 1968, is to
support our march. 

"People should never believe that demonstrations are useless. People power
on the streets does change things," said Ms Coon who continues to campaign
actively for drug law reform. 

"The drug issue is more important today than it was 30 years ago because
authoritarian governments are now using the war against drugs, which is
really a war against people, to undermine democracy and civil liberties. 

"Thousands of people speaking with one voice could force the Government to
change the law. We know that prohibition is the worst way to reduce any
harm drugs may do. Prohibition wastes millions of pounds in tax revenue
which could be better spent on reducing poverty." 

The deputy director of Release, Greg Poulter, is equally resolute in his
support for the march. "It is necessary to show the politicians the
strength of feeling in the country for reform of the cannabis laws.
Demonstrations of this sort can send a message to the Government that they
need to respond to public opinion and not remain entrenched in the
discredited doctrine of prohibition," he said. 

Supporters wishing to take part in the march should assemble in Hyde Park
for a mid-day departure for Trafalgar Square where speakers including IoS
editor Rosie Boycott, Howard Marks and Paul Flynn MP will address the

Groups from as far afield as Scotland, Wales and the North- west have
already indicated that they will be attending. And a delegation from the
European parliament is also expected. 

"We shall be urging all our supporters to attend, " said Alun Buffry,
spokesman for the Campaign to Legalise Cannabis International Association
(CLCIA). "The time is right to support the IoS march. We have noticed a
distinct change in attitudes since the campaign began in the newspaper.
The fact that a lot of professional people were prepared to put their name
to the petition that has been running each week seems to have encouraged a
lot of people to announce in public what they may have previously only
whispered in private." 

As yet no one can guess how many campaigners will support our march, but
we are urging individuals to start organising groups and let us know how
many to expect. 

A 1996 survey revealed that 8.3 million adults between the ages of 16 and
59 had admitted to using cannabis, and it only requires a fraction of that
total to make a point on the streets. 

But how the point is made is almost as important as the point itself.
Rosie Boycott has urged supporters to be streetwise. "It is important that
everyone remembers that we are out to change the law, not break it," said
Ms Boycott. "It would be naive not to recognise that we will be
scrutinised by hostile eyes. We must not provoke police reaction. We want
to change the law on cannabis by legal and democratic means," she said. 

Danny Kushlick, of the drug law reform group Transform, says he is
impressed by the way the IoS has taken the argument forward. "Up until now
there has been no attempt to get people on the ground involved," he said. 

And the campaign is having an effect, he thinks. "I've noticed a major
shift in the last three months, with the House of Lords committee and the
Police Foundation investigation. People are coming out of the woodwork and
everything seems to be happening with a rush. It is quite astonishing." 


ROLL UP, roll up for the great cannabis march. On Saturday 28 March
supporters of the Independent on Sunday's decriminalise cannabis campaign
should gather at Reformer's Tree in Hyde Park for the biggest march in
support of cannabis for 30 years. (There is no tree there any more - a
lamp-post marks the spot.) 

The procession will follow a police-approved route, out of the park and
into Park Lane. From here the marchers head down to Hyde Park Corner and
turn into Piccadilly. From Piccadilly Circus we will turn right into the
Haymarket and from the south end of the Haymarket turn left into Trafalgar

The Royal Parks agency insists that no stalls are erected in Hyde Park and
requests that banners be kept furled until marchers are on the road.
Collections are banned en route and the authorities request that litter in
Trafalgar Square be kept to a minimum. 

Notwithstanding the limitations, the organisers are determined that the
day should be a celebration rather than a confrontation. 

"In 1967 at the time of the first 'pot rally' in London the underground
was in its infancy," said Caroline Coon, who founded Release that year.
"The scene in San Francisco was far more advanced and Allen Ginsberg came
over and addressed the crowd in Trafalgar Square and was almost arrested." 

Thirty years later the tables of tolerance are turned. Professor John P
Morgan of the City of New York Medical School and co-author of the book
Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, said: "This is marvellous news. I cannot
conceive of a demonstration like this in America just now. I wish you
success. The eyes of the western democracies are upon you."









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