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%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% >From The Economist, April 25: Waiting for the next Iraqi Crisis. As tension rises once again between Iraq and the United Nations, ordinary Iraqis are once again the losers. Ask an Iraqi for the time, and he will not be able to tell you. Pawned watches lie in piles in the jewellery shops. No matter: with the United Nations' economic embargo now in its eighth year, with the government and the UN gearing up for yet another row over weapons inspections, and with international efforts to ease the plight of ordinary Iraqis getting nowhere, the passage of time seems pretty meaningless in Iraq. If anything, it is moving backwards. To Hamid Al-Ghreiry, a prisoner-of-war who returned to the country this month after 16 years' captivity in Iran, everything is "much worse than in the 1970s". In February, Kofi Annan, the UN's secretary-general, averted an American-British bombardment of Iraq when he persuaded the government to allow inspectors into eight presidential sites previously placed off-limits. After a four-month crisis, some observers were bold enough to detect a new spirit of co-operation between Iraqi authorities and UNSCOM, the UN body charged with seeing that Iraq neither has nor proposes to have any chemical and biological weapons or long-range missiles. Yet UNSCOM's latest report, handed to the Security Council at the weekend, is gloomy, concluding sombrely that there has been "virtually no progress" in verifying Iraq's disarmament during the six months under review. This means, to nobody's real surprise, that sanctions will remain in place at least until the next report. But Iraq has furiously rejected these findings, setting the stage for another crisis. Officials say that UNSCOM, which now has access to every building in the country, can no longer claim that Iraq is hiding anything. This means, they say, that sanctions should be brought to an end. UNSCOM replies that opening sites is not enough: Iraq must also provide positive proof of its claims to have put an end to its chemical and biological programmes. UNSCOM inspectors in Baghdad concede that Iraq has been less obstructive of late. But their questions about inconsistencies in Iraq's account of its weapons programme still go unanswered. Even the issue of presidential palaces may not be solved. The inspectors consider their recent visits to the compounds as no more than a starting-point but Iraq, which accuses the inspectors of spying for America, has said it will not tolerate open-ended snooping into Saddam Hussein's various homes. Cracks are also appearing in the UN scheme to expand the oil-for-food plan, whereby Iraq is allowed to sell a certain amount of oil to buy humanitarian supplies. After Mr Annan sent a special team to assess the scale of Iraqi deprivation, the Security Council decided that the government should be allowed to increase its oil sales from $2 billion-worth to $5.3 billion-worth. But Iraq says that its sanction-stricken oil-wells can pump no more than $4 billion-worth - and then only after $300m of spare parts have been agreed to by the UN's Sanctions Committee and installed. A team sent by Mr Annan to inspect Iraq's pumping capacity reckons that even the $4 billion estimate is optimistic, given the slump in oil prices. Despite the UN's own assessment of Iraqi needs, the scale of the expanded deal will have to reduced. So far, the scheme has brought Iraqis little relief. Although oil-for-food was supposed to start nearly two years ago, progress has been intolerably slow. The monthly ration did not reach the level originally envisioned by the UN until this March - and is still not so very different from the one that the Iraqi authorities used to supply on their own. A study conducted by the World Food Programme last year showed scarcely any improvement in the diet: it found that 27% of children in a typical provincial town were stunted. The first medical supplies arrived less than a year ago, and World Health Organization statistics show the incidence of all manner of illnesses rising unabated: the number of Iraqi babies who die before they are one has more than tripled since sanctions began. Iraq blames this continuing distress on the American and British representatives on the Sanctions Committee, which regulates all imports. These Americans and British, say Iraqi officials, deliberately delay harmless supplies, ostensibly because they might have some implausible military purpose. They cite the examples of pencils for schoolchildren, which they banned lest their leads be turned into weapons, and ambulances, whose delivery was delayed for fear that the army might appropriate them. Even the UN monitors in Baghdad seem a little mystified by the committee's fear that humanitarian goods will be put to nefarious ends. They themselves are there, after all, to ensure that this dpes not happen. America and Britain argue that the Iraqi government has itself to blame for oil-for-food's slow progress. To begin with, Iraq spurned the plan. Then, they say, when the scheme did eventually come into operation, the government simply stopped spending the money it already had on basic rations and medical care and used it for other things instead. Certainly, the government has found money from somewhere, despite the blockade on its oil sales. A grandiose new palace is going up on the outskirts of Baghdad (for guests, the information ministry says). Newly completed mosques adorn most Iraqi cities. And the police zip around Baghdad in smart new Hyundai cars which plainly did not enter with the approval of the Security Council. But neither tightening the loopholes in sanctions nor tinkering with the oil-for-food programme will do much good, according to UN workers in Baghdad. They argue that extra rations or medical supplies are of limited use without improvements to Iraq's debilitated sanitation system, electricity grid and transport network. Much of the spending in the expanded oil-for-food deal, on whatever scale it proceeds, is expected to be put to such ends. But these improvements can take place only when the Sanctions Committee agrees to the needed imports. And it could all be brought to naught if the current snarling should lead to a military strike that smashes Iraq's crumbling infrastructure before it can even begin to be repaired. %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% >From The Independent, 25th April : Poisoned Tigris spreads river of death in Iraq by Patrick Cockburn, Baghdad. When Hulagu, the grandson of Genghis Khan, sacked Baghdad in 1258 Iraqis say that the water in the river Tigris changed colour twice. On the first day it turned red with the blood of the thousands slaughtered by the Mongols; on the second it went black because of the ink from the books - from what were then the greatest libraries in the world - which Hulagu threw into the river. Now the Tigris has changed colour again, It is a rich cafe-au-lait brown, because raw sewage from 3.5 million people in Baghdad and cities upstream is entering the river. As with Mongols the new colour implies disaster. Contamination of drinking water is the main reason why the proportion of Iraqi children who die before they reach 12 months old has risen from 3.7 per cent in the year before sanctions were imposed in 1990 to 12 per cent today. "The infrastructure is collapsing," says Dennis Halliday, the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq. "Electric power is 40 per cent of what it used to be. This affects drinkable water supplies and infant mortality." In the flat Iraqi countryside everything, both water and sewage, must be pumped. There are few wells. Almost all water must come from the Tigris and Euphrates and both get progressively dirtier as they pass through the cities of Iraq on their way to the sea. In Diyala province, east of the capital. last week, a woman named Nahay Mohammed was clambering down the side of an irrigation canal with a steel bucket to get water. "It is bad water, of course," she said. "it gives you stomach pains and hurts the kidneys, but the purified water supply was cut off in 1991". Heliathan Alwan, a farmer from the same village, said he had recently visited the nearest town to see if they could restore the drinking water but was told it was impossible. A visit to the main water plant showed why. The technician in charge was away and we were shown around by a watchman who said he earned 3 pounds a month. He lived beside the plant in a mud-and-reed house, which looked exactly like those inhabited by ancient Sumericans 3000 years ago. Half the pumps were not working and those that were had been repaired by the International Committee of the Red Cross. In Baghdad, Evaristo Oliveira, a water and sanitation engineer with the red Cross, says the main problems in supplying water are lack of spare parts, absence of staff and poor electrical supply. He said: "I have seen plants where there are naked electrical wires carrying a high current and the only insulation are plastic bags." Dennis Halliday says that his office has estimated that $10bn is needed to restore Iraq's elctrical system, but only $300m can be afforded. He adds: "We gave generators that are 20 years old. When we go to the manufacturers either they don't make the spare parts any more or they don't want to sell them." Given that Iraq has the capacity to export only $4 billion worth of oil every six months it is unlikely that the Iraqi electrical system will be restored any time soon. In the meantime, Baghdad has power cuts of about five or six hours a day - a figure which rises to 14-16 hours in the countryside. In what was once a prosperous village called al-Yaat on the banks of the Diyala river, Buha'a Hussein al-Sayef explained the effect of the lack of electricity and water on his community of 300 people. The small water purification plant has long ceased working. They now pump contaminated irrigation water directly to their homes. Mr Al-Sayef said: "Last year some of our fields dried and because we did not have enough electricty to pumo water to them. We had to abandon them." In theory, people in Al-Yaat should be better off than almost anybody else in Iraq, They have rich land, grow their own food and can take advantage of high prices in the city. Mr Al-Sayef said that life was not quite like that. He introduced his cousin Ahmed, a visibly ailing 24-year-old who had been operated on at the Cromwell hospital in London in 1985 for heart problems. He was meant to have further surgery, but the family had not been able to pay for it. Other farmers say that, along with the deterioration of the water and electricity supply, the collapse of the Iraqi medical system is their main problem. "I am desperate," said Ali Ahmed Suwaidan, as he stood in his farmyard in the nearby village of al-Aitha. He held out old X-rays of the head of his five-year-old daughter Fatima, who was playing at his feet. "There is something wrong with her balance," he explained. "She cannot stand up." He held her upright for a moment and then removed his hands. Fatima immediately crumpled. "Everybody here feels gloomy and depressed because of the results of sanctions," says Mr al-Sayef. "That is probably why so many people fall ill". The reasons for the depression are obvious enough. "For most Iraqis the pleasant things of life are missing," says Dennis Halliday. Iraqis need to look forward to more than getting just enough to eat to stay alive. He says that when Iraqi children were asked in a poll what they would like for their birthday most said they wanted an egg. %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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