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Interview with Iraqi writer

Nasra al-Sadoun is a prominent Iraqi writer and political analyst. Her
translations from English and French into Arabic include the novels of
Marguerite Duras, James Baldwin and Alex Haley. She currently edits The
Baghdad Observer -- Iraq's sole surviving English newspaper -- and
serves as
Director-General in the Iraqi Ministry of Information and Culture. On a
recent visit to Delhi, she met Sukumar Muralidharan of Frontline for a
discussion on the situation prevalent in Iraq. Excerpts follow:

Q: You are here partly in an official capacity. How is the general
to your effort to create an understanding of the situation in Iraq?
A: What I find is that the Indian media depends largely upon the western
media as a source of information. And knowing that the western media is
of not only misunderstandings, but also disinformation about Iraq, I
think I
have been able in my few interactions with the media people, to create
understanding of the situation arising not only from the sanctions but
from the continuous military aggression against Iraq. The contacts have
preliminary, but it could be fruitful in the future to have more regular
contacts. I think that Third World countries should have direct contacts
through their media organisations.

Q: Essentially, the global situation is that except for two countries,
is general agreement that sanctions have long gone beyond any
In the neighbourhood of Iraq, how do you judge the popular mood?
A: All the people in the Arab countries are in full solidarity with the
people of Iraq. We are received wherever we go in the Arab world with
friendship and with a real sense of frustration that they can do
All of them are awaiting the lifting of sanctions. They are all talking
about the high human costs. Apart from the Arab countries, neighbouring
countries like Turkey and Iran have the same feeling. Sanctions have
hurting their economy apart from the Iraqi economy. Turkey has lost
because of the sanctions. Iran also is badly affected.
        UNICEF figures point out that a million children have died as a
of the sanctions. If you add on people from all age groups, then the
number of deaths is two million. This is a genocide. There is nothing in
history of the world which compares with this. Long since the military
action has been completed, there is no reason for keeping the sanctions
place. Also remember that in 1996, when Madeleine Albright was asked by
Lesley Stahl on CBS' Sixty Minutes about the number of child deaths, she
said I think it is a difficult choice, but it is finally worth it.

Q: There is the allegation that the Iraqi regime has been building
where it should be devoting all available resources to public welfare..
A: Building palaces as they are called, does not interfere with the
of food and medicine. What they call palaces are actually factories,
ministry buildings -- all of which are necessary for a country to
What resources do you need for building? We do not need to import
What we really need is foreign exchange. We have been cut off from the
and cannot import food and medicine and the raw material required to
continue with our lives. We are not permitted to sell our oil unless it
monitored by the U.N. and deposited in the escrow account. So building
palaces is not diverting resources.

Q: But these palaces are seen as symbols of the State's power?
A: Yes they are symbols of our sovereignty. Look at the historic palaces
that you have in India, all of you are proud of it. Also do not forget
during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, the Abbasid Palace was
Why was it bombed? Because it a thousand years old and is a symbol of
national esteem. It has been announced by the American administration
everything that would touch the Iraqi national pride would be targeted. 

Q: You mean to say that the objective of the sanctions is to undermine
popular will in Iraq and create the conditions for a violent upheaval?
A: Sanctions were preceded by a demonisation of Iraq and its people. But
knowing the Iraqi people, they have misunderstood us. If our country is
threatened then we will all forget our internal fights and stand

Q: But there is reported to be a lot of tension in the northern and
A: In the north, there is no governmental control and the American
keep overflying. The two Kurdish parties have been fighting each other
years now. The Turkish army has entered Iraq's northern region, killing
thousands of Kurds. Nobody seems to recall that the no-fly zones in the
north were imposed to protect the Kurds. Those who claim to be keen to
ensure the well-being of the Kurds should stop pretending.
        As for the southern parts, there is no greater problem than anywhere
in the world. Some infiltration takes place from Saudi Arabia and Iran.
throw a bomb here and a bomb there. It is all on a very low scale.
        The main problem in the northern and southern zones is the daily
bombing. Here they kill two or three persons, there they destroy a
school --
it has been going on since December 1998.

Q: The main assaults then come from Turkish bases and the American
A: Also from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. They target whatever comes to
minds. Sometimes they attack a shepherd with his flock, sometimes a
marketplace, a residential area. When the British Defence Minister was
about this, he said that they are bombing in defence of their pilots.
what are their pilots doing over our territory? 

Q: There has been some discussion about the impact of sanctions on civil
society, on family life, on traditional values and so on. I think Denis
Halliday after resigning as U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq made
speech at which he mentioned these precise problems. How do you see
and how is the population coping?
A: It is hard to say, but we are trying our best to safeguard the
family. If
the breadearner of a family dies, the children can no more afford to go
school. They go selling things in the market or sometimes begging, which
never seen in Iraqi society. These children grow up in the streets
of going to school, as all children did before the sanctions. Education
compulsory from kindergarten upwards and free upto the doctorate level.
a child who was seven when the sanctions were imposed is 17. What do you
expect of him, except that he could have become a delinquent.
        Iraq is a country with a young population. But since 1991, we have not
able to build schools and buy the chalk, the blackboards, the desks, and
on to keep them working.

Q: Have the literacy levels fallen too?
A: I do not have the statistics, but before the sanctions we had
illiteracy. Now there are a number of children who cannot read.

Q: Do you think there has been some kind of a shift in perceptions on
sanctions issue?
A: Yes there has. Seventy U.S. Congressmen recently signed a joint
letter to
their President asking for a lifting of the sanctions. Four senior U.N.
officials have resigned brilliant careers in protest. Others are not
satisfied. Read their reports -- the UNICEF, the WHO, the FAO. None of
personnel of the U.N. working in Iraq is accepting this genocide that is
being committed in their names.

Q: What does the future hold now? What does Iraq go from here?
A: We are a nation of survivors. We have survived for ten years and once
sanctions are lifted all these problems will be solved one after the
We have survived the Mongol invasion. Baghdad was completely razed, all
books were thrown into the river and the male population was killed. We
survive the new Mongols.


 Sukumar/Shobhana Muralidharan,
 B-1/1032, Vasant Kunj,
 New Delhi 110 070
 Phone + 91 - 11 - 6899361
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