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Articles from Independent (March 10th)

Today's Robert Fisk article + an article about the Independent's appeal.

Letters to


 Rotting hulks bear witness to wasting of Iraq

Robert Fisk visits the once-bustling port of Basra, crippled by sanctions 
"FIVE Englishmen ran this port until 1958," Ali al-Imara proudly
announces. "The first chairman was John Ward, from 1919 until 1942, and
then we had William Bennett until 1947. They were very good men. 

"In 1958, Mr Shaawi took over; he was a very good man too." There is no
mention of the 1958 Iraqi revolution that ended British stewardship of
Basra's old harbour. 

Today the gates to the wharf are still adorned with well-polished Tudor
roses in heavy brass, but the slates have cascaded off the roofs of the
old colonial offices. The railway lines, laid down when Basra was an
international rail terminal, are corroded with weeds.

The great sluggish waterway of the Shatt al-Arab drifts past the hulks
tied up on the quays. Here is the Yasmine, a trawler under whose black
paint it is still possible to read the words "Lord Shackleton, Port
Stanley, FI (Falkland Islands)"; and there the Wisteria, all
6,742-blackened tons of her. 

Who set fire to her, I ask three Iraqi officials on the quay? "An Iranian
missile hit it in 1981," one of them replies. But his friend mutters in
Arabic: "Tell him it was the Americans." Then they all chorus: "It was the

Basra lives on lies. If only the Iranians hadn't attacked Iraq and closed
the river in 1980 (it was the Iraqis who invaded Iran). If only the UN had
not slapped sanctions on Iraq after the Iran-Iraq war (forget the little
matter of Kuwait in 1990). Even the ships have changed their names in
embarrassment. The supply ship Atco Sara, according to a half-erased name,
used to be the Pacific Prospector of Illinois and, before that, the
Northern Builder. 

Behind us, the marshalling yards are filled with long freight trains,
massive grey wagons hooked up to leave on a journey that should have
started in 1980, the trucks now entangled with weeds and bushes. Mr
al-Imara strides along the docks. "If it wasn't for sanctions, we would
have this port dredged and running," he says.

It is an odd affliction that now besets Iraq's bureaucracy. Tutored to
boast of all that is best about Iraq, they now have to publicise all that
is worst. It must be an awfully difficult transition. For who knows when
the orders might come down from Baghdad to reverse the process yet again?
Mr al-Imara says he is a poet as well as being "foreign relations adviser"
to Basra port. And he quotes a work of his called Confrontation:

"When you shoot with a bullet from anywhere,

The bullet will head straight for my chest;

Because the events through which we have passed

Have made my chest round."

And we look at Mr al-Imara's rather diminutive chest and laugh politely.
Whose bullets, we wonder silently, is the poet referring to? Surely not
those which scar the facade of Basra's central police station, still a
gutted marble shell beside one of the city's fetid canals. Certainly not
those which smashed into the burning governorate building during the same
1991 uprising by Basra's Shiite Muslim majority. And not the bullets which
were fired into the city's police cars. On the grainy old television in
our hotel room, President Saddam Hussein is seated before his
Revolutionary Command Council, making a joke at which his uniformed
courtiers guffaw.

The Corniche of Martyrs corrects any misapprehensions about the enemy. For
along the west bank of the Shatt al-Arab, below the dank portals of the
Basra Sheraton hotel, stand the dead heroes of President Saddam's
"Quadassiyeh" war, the chosen two dozen Iraqi soldiers - out of perhaps
half a million - whose death will not have been in vain. Each man,
modelled from photographs, points across the muddy waterway towards the
precise location on the war front, inside Iran, at which he died during a
war which President Saddam named after Iraq's ancient victory over the

The soldiers, three times life-size, are identified by name, along with a
colossus down the bank representing General Adnan Khairallah, one of the
greatest of all Saddam's military leaders. He stands facing his
cannon-fodder, right arm raised in honour of their courage; though we must
spare a thought for the enormously popular general, who died "tragically,"
in a helicopter crash not long after the war ended. Below these statues,
the street urchins hawk nuts parcelled in old newspaper at eight pence a

They are as far as they can get from the food chain, at the furthest
corner of Iraq, clamped between Iran's suspicions to the east and Kuwait's
hatred to the south, dominated by rusting ships and the towering dead.
What would Mr Ward and Mr Bennett make of all this? 


 Money pours in for child war victims

Independent Iraq Appeal
A WEEK has gone by since Robert Fisk began his reports on the plight of
Iraq's children and The Independent's appeal has already raised nearly
#10,000. The money is going to help children struck down by leukaemia
because of weapons used during the Gulf War. Many are dying because of a
lack of medicines and it is towards importing these cancer-treating drugs
that your donations will go.

Officials of the UN sanctions committee and the British government have
said authorisation for medicines of this kind could be issued with minimum
delay. Every application for export of medicines must be separately
approved by the Department of Health, the Foreign Office and the
Department of Trade and Industry.

We have called on Care International and Medical Aid for Iraqi Children to
help oversee their procurement and delivery from start to finish. Both
groups are already working in Iraq. 

Care International's Lockton Morrissey, who is based in Iraq, explained
the path our consignment will take once it is shipped into Jordan. "The
goods will come into Aquaba port where they will be tested by the ministry
of health to make sure they are what we say they are. Because of the
no-fly restrictions on Iraq we then have to transport the drugs by road,
in refrigerated trucks. 

"When a delivery gets to the Iraqi border we have to present documentation
to show that it is authorised under the sanctions. After further checks in
Iraq, it will carry on to the ministry of health in Baghdad and be checked
again. It will then be released to us to distribute."

The drugs will be administered by well-qualified doctors to those who most
need them. Professor Soad Tabaqchali, medical director of Medical Aid,
said: "The capability of the Iraqi doctors is not in question. Most of
them have been trained in Britain and are very highly qualified. But
sanctions have left them in the impossible position of having nothing to
treat their patients with."

The help of Independent readers will allow these doctors to save lives
that would otherwise be lost. 

Please send cheques, made out to The Independent Iraq Appeal, to PO Box No
6870, 1 Canada Square, London, E14 5BT.







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