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Today's Guardian

In case you haven't seen it yet, today's Guardian is worth a look.  Below 
are two items:

1. Letter from George Galloway
2. Article by Ewen MacAskill

Best wishes,
Galloway to Hain: We'll see you in court

Thursday March 23, 2000
The Guardian

Peter Hain's parsimony with the truth about the Big Ben to Baghdad flight
(Letters, March 21) is miserly. The facts are these. After weeks of daily
cooperation with the Foreign Office, we were ambushed by Mr Hain acting -
we must suppose - on behalf of his new American friends. In a little over
24 hours over a weekend, he demanded we cut the number of journalists, aid
workers, doctors, religious leaders etc on board from 207 to 104, then to
"30 to 40" then "20 or so". That weekend he first said he would put the
flight to the UN sanctions committee as he was "bound to do", then that he
would not, then again that he would. 

When, in the teeth of opposition from my comrades, I surprised him by
acceding to all his demands, he came back giving me three hours to comply
with a new raft of demands from the US representative on the sanctions
committee. These were the reclassification of a typhoid vaccine as a
potential weapon, a bewildering array of new aviation questions and,
crucially, a demand for the precise purpose of each of the 29 people who
would be on board. All of this is in writing and available for inspection
and was widely reported.

In the face of these new demands, we called a press conference, announced
our refusal of these terms, the postponement of the flight and the
commencement of a legal case against the government for putting all of this
- unlawfully we contend - to the sanctions committee in the first place.
Hain's letter now claims there was no significance in these new demands and
that he obtained UN clearance as soon as we postponed the flight. Peculiar,
you might think, as we refused to answer the long list of new demands we
were given three hours to deal with. In any case we have seen no such UN
clearance and neither has anyone else. We will, however, see Mr Hain in

George Galloway MP

Battered Iraqis get by on a wing and a prayer

Some things can be mended, but not the knowledge deficit

Iraq: special report

Ewen MacAskill in Baghdad
Thursday March 23, 2000
The Guardian

Mustafa al-Aana, a medical student in Baghdad, can identify an automobile's
year and make at a glance, and so can every other driver in the Iraqi

It becomes easy after a while because there are few models newer than 1990,
the year President Saddam Hussein sent his army to invade Kuwait, United
Nations sanctions were imposed on his country and the world stopped for
ordinary Iraqis.

Car identification is an obsession. Drivers point out Austins, Vauxhalls and
Chevrolets. One driver reeled off the cars to either side of him: "Toyota
Crown '87. Honda '89. Volkswagen '92".

The vehicles keep running with bastardised spare parts and lots of
ingenuity. The main thoroughfare, Rasheed Street, looks life a moving
junkyard, with some of the cars dating back to the early 1960s. Mr Aana
drives a battered Datsun '79, which long ago ceased to have any paint on the
bodywork or any tread on the tyres.

Spare parts are hard to come by because of sanctions, and for three months
last year Mr Aana drove without brakes. He demonstrated his stopping system,
a combination of crashing down the gears and pulling on the hand brake.

"Now, I have a good brake system. Do not worry," he said, peering through
the windscreen, which had four big cracks. Above the windscreen hung a
little prayer: "Our God is great because he is the creator of the materials
of this car. Thanks for God."

Car breakdowns in the middle of the road are frequent, but Mr Aana claimed
that, even though the driving was high speed and aggressive, there were few
accidents, because people knew they would have difficulty repairing their
cars. Within minutes of that remark, he said calmly: "We may have an
accident." The traffic lights. had cut out, a frequent hazard in Baghdad
because of the power shortage.

He hurtled towards the mass of cars stuck at the junction, but his newish
brakes, put in by his dentist cousin, worked.

After 10 years they have still to be lifted, and the standard of living in a
country which had been among the wealthiest in the Middle East, has gone
backwards. Daily life is tough for just about everyone except the elite and
those who have got rich by smuggling in goods from Turkey, Syria, Lebanon
and Iran.

The sanctions have hit the middle classes badly, but it is the poorest who
are taking the brunt. Children selling in the street or begging are a
distressing sight. Infant mortality rates have soared, the sanitation system
is a health hazard and diseases and infections that had been eradicated,
such as cholera, diphtheria and polio, have returned. Medicine and medical
equipment, subject to sanctions, are in short-supply. The Iraqis claim that
1.2m people, many of them children, have died as a consequence of the
sanctions regime.

Mr Aana, 26, in the fourth year of studies at Baghdad's Almustanseria
University, lives with his parents - one an engineer and the other a teacher
- and his brother and sister, in a four-bedroom, two-storey house in the
al-Anleria district.

He is dressed in trainers, neatly pressed jeans and a fake designer-label
shirt. He is full of enthusiasm for life. He gets up at 7am and travels to
university by buses that are in an even worse state than the cars, pouring
out black smoke. "The pollution is killing us," he said.

In the evenings, he shuns the pool tables popular with his contemporaries
and watches little television, preferring to divide his time between the
mosque and study. "I have my dinner, I pray to my God and I go to bed."
Electricity is rationed to three hours on for every three hours off, leaving
much of the city in total darknesss apart from an occasional oasis of light
where someone wealthy has a private generator. Mr Aana studies by paraffin

He is imbued with a war-time spirit that makes him defiant about sanctions.
"Our grandfathers did not have electricity. We can go back to bikes. We will
not die of hunger. We can eat one date. We can eat bread and we will not
die. It is not a problem," he said. The main problem, he said, was
knowledge. Almost all his textbooks were out of date. Books and periodicals
as well as computers are banned under the sanctions regime. His main
textbook, Davidson's Practice of Medicine was updated every four years, he
said, but the copies the university had were dated 1980.

Rationing cards provide citizens with monthly flour, rice, sugar, tea,
cooking oil, beans, cheese, soup, soap and detergent, but in such small
quantities that, according to one resident, families ran out in about eight
days. "It is not enough. There is little protein, carbohydrates, so little
sugar and poor quality detergent," Mr Aana said.

Just about anything else, including medicine, is available in the markets,
but at such inflated prices that they are beyond the reach of all but the
wealthiest. The family income is supplemented by an overseas relative. Mr
Aana is better off than many, but even for him the shops of Arasat,
Baghdad's dowdy and dusty equivalent of Fifth Avenue, are just a dream.

When he finishes his studies, he can expect little material reward as long
as the sanctions remain in place. Inflation, running at Weimar Republic
levels, has made salaries almost worthless. Ten years ago, one Iraqi dinar
was worth $3.3; today $1 buys 1,900 dinars.

Wads of notes, a foot thick, are needed for even simple purchases. A doctor
who 10 years ago would have earned the equivalent of about $300-$400 now
takes home the equivalent of $1.50, enough to fill a car with petrol.

With salaries almost worthless, why bother studying? "I do it for my
country. It needs doctors," Mr Aana said. He seemed to mean it. Two
disastrous wars and 10 years of economic sanctions have not weakened the
Iraqi people. They may not like President Saddam but the sanctions have
united them against the west. Their sense of nationalism has strengthened.

"Here in Iraq, we can live with no brakes. I can live with no brakes," Mr
Aana said.


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