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"Sanctions blight Iraq's lost generation" (fwd)

--Forwarded message:

Sanctions blight Iraq's lost generation 

By Samia Nakhoul 

BAGHDAD, June 8 (Reuters) - Instead of
going to school, eight-year-old Alaa
Mohammed spends his days sitting on a
sun-baked pavement in Baghdad selling
polythene bags to support his destitute

``We have no money at all. I have to work to
give money to my mother so she can buy
food for us,'' said Alaa, sadness in his black
eyes. The boy makes around 500 dinars (30
U.S. cents) a day. 

Alaa and his peers are known here as the
``generation of al-Hisar (the embargo).''
Their struggle for survival is a testament to
the collapse of normal life under U.N.
sanctions, imposed on Iraq in 1990 for its
invasion of Kuwait. 

Alaa has heard of the ``hisar'' that forces him
to spend his childhood on the street, but he
is too small to understand it. 

Ahmed Mohammed, 13, makes a one-hour
trip into the city every morning to sell
handmade reed flutes for 450 dinars each.
His joy is to go home with money in his
pocket for his family. 

The tale repeats itself in every street of Iraq.

The haggard children of the Gulf War have
been thrown into a world of misery, where
play has given way to worry about their
daily bread. Toys and new clothes are
unimagined luxuries. 

``I feel happy when I sell and sad when I
don't. I don't like to play. All I want is to
make money to help my family,'' said
Mohammed. The whites of his eyes are
discoloured, betraying the malnutrition that is
rife among Iraqi children. 

Relief officials say the physical hardships of
Iraq's 22 million people mask the long-term
erosion of an education system that once
produced the Middle East's highest literacy
rate in a country proud of being the cradle of
ancient civilisations. 

``How can I think of school when there is no
food at home?'' asked Hisham Zuheir, 14,
who washes cars. ``To go to school, I need
money for stationery, I need books and I
need clothes.'' 


Broken desks and chipped paint show the
desperate shortage of funds crippling
once-smart Baghdad schools. 

At the Amina Bint Wahba Primary School,
students leap across a small canyon of
broken sewers to reach their classes. They
drink soiled water and use filthy latrines.
Roofs leak in winter and there are no fans to
ward off searing summer heat. 

Dirty classrooms, many without windows or
doors, are crammed. Pupils sit on the
ground for lack of desks. Books have to be
shared and recycled. Some schools operate
two shifts to teach 70 students in
classrooms designed for 30. 

Iraq says it has been unable to repair
classrooms of 4,157 schools damaged by
allied bombing in the 1991 Gulf War and
needs to rebuild another 150 schools. 

The quality of teaching has dropped because
of the lack of resources and technology. A
teacher earns 4,000 ($3) dinars a month, the
price of a kilo (2.2lb) of meat. Many survive
by moonlighting. 

The cash-strapped government no longer
enforces compulsory education. Nor does it
build schools, grant scholarships abroad and
subsidise meals and school supplies as it did
in the 1970s when it was flush with money
from oil revenues. 

Under the new Iraq-U.N. programme which
allows Baghdad to sell $4.5 billion worth of
oil for humanitarian goods, Iraq earmarks
$100 million for education, compared with
1.5 billion dinars ($4.5 billion at the official
rate) it spent before the embargo. 

Gloria Fernandez of the U.N. Children's
Fund (UNICEF) said appalling conditions at
schools and impoverishment of the family
had led to a decrease in school enrolment
and to an increase in the dropout rate, mainly
in primary schooling. 

In 1995, she said, only 58 percent of Iraq's
four million school-age children completed
primary school. In 1998, 87 percent
enrolled, but many never show up for class. 

``The situation in the education sector is
extremely worrisome and dramatic,''
Fernandez said. ``Between 1991 and 1998
you have one whole generation of primary
pupils that is lost, which means the future
generation of Iraq is lost.'' 


Relief officials say malnutrition is now
affecting 37 percent of Iraqis under five,
creating physically and mentally stunted
children with learning disabilities. 

Headmistress Nadira al-Bayyati said she
could see the effect of the lack of food on
the children's minds. ``They are weak, they
are tired and cannot concentrate,'' she said. 

One thing Iraqi children are learning at
school is to blame the United States for their

``I don't like America because it is fighting
the people of Iraq. At school they tell us
America is fighting us. They tell us down
with America,'' said 10-year-old Ayman. 

``America is mean state, it is an enemy. It is
imposing an embargo on us and depriving us
of everything. America hates us, I hate
America too,'' said Mohammed Walid, a
14-year-old mechanic. 

Some children remember the Gulf War
bombing. Others recall vivid images of their
parents selling household goods to survive. 

``The embargo took everything we have. We
needed money, we sold our furniture, we
sold our beds, our cooker and fridge. We
have no food anyway to keep in the fridge,
we get it day to day,'' said Zuheir. 

U.N. officials say Iraq's ruined
infrastructure can be rebuilt but the damage
to children will be hard to repair. 

``It will be a long time before Iraq can
recuperate. A recovery will require many,
many years,'' Fernandez said. 

Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh, in
an interview with Reuters, accused the
United States of seeking to destroy Iraq's
education system along with its economy. 

``This is deliberate. They want the Iraqis to
eat food only but food is not enough. The
new generation is a lost generation for Iraq.
One of their (U.S.) objectives is to have this
wealthy country run by poor and uneducated
people,'' he said. 

Iraq's child workers, most of whom cannot
read or write, may feel doomed to a life of
menial jobs, but some dream of returning to
school if they ever get the chance. 

That may come too late for this generation.
``They will be Iraq's most considerable
loss,'' Fernandez said. 

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