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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 response 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 full 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 an understanding of the situation arising not only from the sanctions but also from the continuous military aggression against Iraq. The contacts have been 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, there is general agreement that sanctions have long gone beyond any justification. 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 nothing. 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 been hurting their economy apart from the Iraqi economy. Turkey has lost billions because of the sanctions. Iran also is badly affected. UNICEF figures point out that a million children have died as a consequence of the sanctions. If you add on people from all age groups, then the total number of deaths is two million. This is a genocide. There is nothing in the history of the world which compares with this. Long since the military action has been completed, there is no reason for keeping the sanctions in place. Also remember that in 1996, when Madeleine Albright was asked by 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 palaces where it should be devoting all available resources to public welfare.. A: Building palaces as they are called, does not interfere with the import of food and medicine. What they call palaces are actually factories, homes, ministry buildings -- all of which are necessary for a country to function. What resources do you need for building? We do not need to import anything. What we really need is foreign exchange. We have been cut off from the world 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 is 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 that during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, the Abbasid Palace was bombed. Why was it bombed? Because it a thousand years old and is a symbol of Iraq's national esteem. It has been announced by the American administration that 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 the 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 together. Q: But there is reported to be a lot of tension in the northern and southern districts? A: In the north, there is no governmental control and the American planes keep overflying. The two Kurdish parties have been fighting each other for 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 else in the world. Some infiltration takes place from Saudi Arabia and Iran. They 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 American 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 seaborne fleet... A: Also from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. They target whatever comes to their minds. Sometimes they attack a shepherd with his flock, sometimes a marketplace, a residential area. When the British Defence Minister was asked about this, he said that they are bombing in defence of their pilots. Now 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 a speech at which he mentioned these precise problems. How do you see these 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 to school. They go selling things in the market or sometimes begging, which was never seen in Iraqi society. These children grow up in the streets instead of going to school, as all children did before the sanctions. Education was compulsory from kindergarten upwards and free upto the doctorate level. Now 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 been able to build schools and buy the chalk, the blackboards, the desks, and so 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 eradicated 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 the 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 the 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 the sanctions are lifted all these problems will be solved one after the other. We have survived the Mongol invasion. Baghdad was completely razed, all our books were thrown into the river and the male population was killed. We will survive the new Mongols. (ENDS) -------------------------------- Sukumar/Shobhana Muralidharan, B-1/1032, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi 110 070 Phone + 91 - 11 - 6899361 -------------------------------- -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email email@example.com Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://welcome.to/casi