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NEWS SUPPLEMENT, 12-19/11/00 * U.S. ally Turkey doubting Iraq embargo * John Nichol - Back To My Cell (RAF hero John Nichol's emotional return to Iraq) * John Nichol: Ten years ago I tried to bomb your country yet now we're here as equals. My heart is very full. * Back to Iraq: The people [extract from BBC account of John Nichol's visit to Iraq] * Lift the sanctions against Iraq now [article by John Nichol in The Observer] * Analysis: Bashar's slow, steady start [on Bashar Assad in Syria] * Degraded policy [attack on sanctions policy by Jeremy Hardy in the Guardian] http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/printedition/article/0,2669,SAV 0011120412,FF.html * U.S. ALLY TURKEY DOUBTING IRAQ EMBARGO Ankara joins governments flying to Baghdad despite ban by Tom Hundley, Chicago Tribune, November 12, 2000 ANKARA, Turkey -- International resolve to maintain stiff sanctions against Iraq has slipped significantly in recent months, as the Baghdad regime learned last week when it successfully resumed commercial air service through no-fly zones in the northern and southern parts of the country. Russia and France were the first major powers to break the ice on international flights when they sent aid flights to Baghdad earlier this fall. Now Turkey, normally a close U.S. ally, has joined the growing list of nations to challenge the flight ban. The only member of NATO that shares a border with Iraq, Turkey has been one of the main bulwarks of the 10-year-old sanctions program--at an estimated cost to the Turkish economy of $35 billion in lost trade. But Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, in an interview last week, said the time had come for the U.S. and its allies "to explore if there can be some adjustment of the sanctions." "There is growing reaction against the sanctions," Cem said. "The U.S. really should consult with others to see what is wrong with the policy and to see if together we can develop a new one." The foreign minister argued that the sanctions had been in place for a decade, but had brought the U.S. and its allies no closer to their goal of undermining the regime of Saddam Hussein. If anything, Hussein is more entrenched now than he was when the Persian Gulf war ended. "We now have in Iraq a whole generation, which is underfed, which doesn't have enough vitamins, and which is growing up with a hatred toward everyone--their environment, their parents, their leaders, their neighbors," he said. "This generation is going to govern Iraq in five years time, and this will create an enormous danger for the whole region." Although the declared goal of U.S. policy is to topple Hussein--and Congress has set aside $80 million for this purpose--the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council have a more limited scope: to force Hussein to give up his existing weapons of mass destruction and prevent him from adding to his arsenal. Critics say the Clinton administration's bellicose policy, which includes flying daily combat missions over the no-fly zones in Iraqi territory, undermines the supposed purpose of the sanctions. "If your official policy is to remove the regime, you can't expect the regime to comply with the UN resolutions," said one diplomat in the region. The collapse of the Mideast peace process has been another factor contributing to the rapid erosion of international support for the sanctions. Escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians has put pressure on moderate Arab governments and strengthened the hand of more zealous ones across the region. "Saddam Hussein is seen as a figure who resisted the West. With the hostility all across the Arab world toward Israel and the United States, the political climate is very conducive to being exploited by Saddam," said Feridun Sinirlioglu, director of the Middle East desk at the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The French and Russian aid flights to Iraq were followed in quick succession by flights from Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Syria and Egypt. France and Russia obtained UN permission for their humanitarian flights, but Egypt and Syria did not. Although the two Turkish flights were cleared by the UN, some officials have indicated that in the future Turkey might not feel the need to ask for UN approval. Sinirlioglu pointed out that Turkey had stood with the U.S. in enforcing the sanctions even though it had cost the Turkish economy dearly in lost trade and contributed significantly to the impoverishment of the country's troubled southeast region. He also noted that Turkey allows the U.S. to use a Turkish air base and Turkish airspace for the fighters that enforce the no-fly zone over northern Iraq. Echoing Cem's concerns about Iraq's "angry generation," Sinirlioglu said: "We are not getting Iraq's people to our side by these harsh sanctions. The reality for us is that Iraq is our neighbor and Iraq will remain our neighbor. By sending aid, we are trying to gain the hearts of Iraq's people." In addition to the aid flights, Turkish officials recently held discussions with Baghdad about upgrading rail links between the two countries and increasing the flow of Iraqi oil through a pipeline that crosses Turkish territory to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. Although Iraq is allowed to sell all of its oil under the UN's oil-for-food program, this and other signs of warming toward Iraq became points of contention with the U.S. when Ankara linked them to its unhappiness over a House of Representatives resolution condemning the Turks for the World War I genocide of up to 1.5 million Armenians. The U.S. bowed to Turkish pressure and the resolution was withdrawn at the last moment. All of this has emboldened Hussein, who last week began using converted military aircraft to fly civilians to the northern city of Mosul and the southern city of Basra. A State Department official said the U.S. "will continue to monitor closely any Iraqi aviation to determine whether it poses a threat to our forces, Iraq's neighbors or the Iraqi people." So far, U.S. military planes have not challenged the Iraqi flights. The U.S. and Britain established the no-fly zones after the gulf war to protect Iraqi Kurds in the north and the Muslim Shiite minority in the south. Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told Arab news agencies that Baghdad intended to increase the passenger flights until the no-fly zones were broken. To encourage other nations to resume flights to the country, Iraq is offering a free tank of fuel to any incoming aircraft. http://www.mirror.co.uk/shtml/NEWS/P8S4.shtml * JOHN NICHOL - BACK TO MY CELL (RAF HERO JOHN NICHOL'S EMOTIONAL RETURN TO IRAQ) The Mirror, Monday 13th Nov 2000 WITH trembling hands, John Nichol touches the graffiti scrawled on the four walls which once imprisoned him. When he was last here, the former RAF navigator was a prisoner of war, suffering torture and interrogation at the hands of his Iraqi captors and afraid that he would never see his family again. Now he has gone back to revisit the horrific past and try to make sense of what happened to him there. "There were times I thought my life might have ended," he says. "I truly believed I was going to meet my maker. Words can't describe how I feel. Emotionally drained... my heart is pounding." John was a 27-year-old flight lieutenant when his Tornado was shot down by a missile over the Iraqi desert during his first airborne mission of the Gulf war in 1991. He and pilot John Peters ejected safely from the blazing jet, only to be captured and tortured until they agreed to appear on television and denounce their actions. Their battered faces were flashed across the world - lasting images of the horrors of war. Blindfolded and handcuffed, John was kicked, punched and whipped. Cigarette ends were extinguished on his face, tissue paper stuffed down his back and set alight. Days after the humiliating TV appearance, John was brought here, to the Military Police HQ in the capital, Baghdad. Today, returning with The Mirror and the BBC breakfast news, he crouches in the dust, examining the empty 9ft-square cell in minute detail. The smell of decay is unbearable, but John doesn't notice as he slowly works his way around the discoloured, flaking walls. Amid the Arabic graffiti left by other prisoners, pictures of women cut from newspapers have been glued to the plaster. He runs his hand over the rusting steel door - and jumps visibly at the sound of doors banging shut in the corridors. The stone floor is covered with pieces of rubble and rags and the beige walls are pitted with holes which he used to fear were left by bullets. Locked up for nearly 24 hours a day, he was allowed just 10 minutes' exercise every couple of days. His bed was a piece of foam and his one meal a day was bread, watery soup and occasionally meat or beans. "I was terrified for my life. I was the most scared human in the world," he recalls. "In the middle of the night I was kicked awake and brought here. When they took the blindfold off, I was standing in front of a group of Iraqi military policemen." The Iraqi military police who greet him today are smiling and shaking hands and offering tea. The prison commander, Brigadier Sa'ad Minim, has offered to help find his old cell. John's face flickers as his memory is triggered by a simple band of red, painted on the white walls. "There was a small barred window high up in my cell," he explains. "If I jumped up, I could just make out this red band running around the tops of the buildings." Then he stares through a tiny window and turns round, smiling. "Oh, my God! This is definitely it," he says. The block has been empty for seven years and the key has long been lost. The brigadier orders his men to force their way in with sledgehammers. Then the armed guards watch in amazement as John races around the corridors and finds his own cell. Despite his ordeal as a PoW, his stay here was bearable, he says. "I'm glad we came back to this prison, because I was treated with respect here," he tells the brigadier. "I wanted to come back and meet the Iraqi people as real people. It's amazing how friendly they've been. "I'm pleased I've made myself do this, but I won't be sorry to leave. Seeing the prison again took me back to some of my darkest days. I don't think I could have faced revisiting the bad places." There were a few lighter moments even then. He remembers being summoned by the guards to play football with them. "We came out here into the courtyard and they put me in goal," he says. "They kept shouting: 'Gascoigne' and 'Kevin Keegan' at me, and I'd nod and say: 'Yes, they are good footballers.' It was bizarre." Now the brigadier calls his guards - and another impromptu game begins. It is a bizarre but emotional scene. John, in jeans and a shirt, kicks the ball to the guards, who throw themselves vigorously into the game despite the blistering heat and their heavy uniforms. The courtyard echoes to shouts and laughter and dozens of other officers crowd in to cheer them on. Afterwards. the guards hug and kiss John on both cheeks and ask to have their photograph taken with the curious British airman who was once their prisoner. When we are invited to stay for lunch, John jokes: "If we say No, will you allow us to leave?" "Of course," smiles the brigadier. "You are free to go." The last time, John heard those words was on March 5, 1991. He remembers: "A guard came into the cell one morning and said: 'The war is over. You will be going home in 20 minutes.' "I literally got down on my knees and said a prayer of thanks. I couldn't believe that I had survived. " John has co-written an account of his ordeal and has left the RAF to write thrillers. http://www.mirror.co.uk/shtml/NEWS/P24S1.shtml * JOHN NICHOL: TEN YEARS AGO I TRIED TO BOMB YOUR COUNTRY YET NOW WE'RE HERE AS EQUALS. MY HEART IS VERY FULL. day 2: RAF hero comes face-to-face with an old enemy The Mirror, Tuesday 14th Nov 2000 THE British Tornado was skimming over the Iraqi desert at just 50ft when the missile struck. Thrown sideways by the blast, the warplane erupted into flames, streaking through the air like a fireball. Flight Lieutenant John Nichol screamed at John Peters, his pilot: "We've been hit! We've been hit!" Desperately, the airmen battled to control the crippled aircraft, taking it into a steep climb before preparing to eject into enemy territory. John says: "This was the start of the end of my war - the start of the worst seven weeks of my life." Though they parachuted safely down, they were captured by Iraqi troops and tortured during a harrowing ordeal as prisoners of war. Today, John has returned to the southern Iraqi desert with The Mirror and the BBC breakfast news to try to pinpoint the spot where his wrecked Tornado has lain for almost a decade. Now the skies are virtually empty. Only the occasional whine of British and US jets, patrolling the no-fly zone imposed on Iraq at the end of the Gulf war, disturbs the silence. John is standing on the deserted runway of Ar Rumaylah air base, the site he was trying to destroy seconds before his mission came to a violent end. Beside him, shrapnel and rubble surround a 40ft crater carved out of the airstrip by an Allied bomber sent to finish the job. "This is what we were trying to do when we were shot down," explains John. The base guarded Iraq's biggest oil field, close to the border with Kuwait. But now there is nothing left, and Ar Rumaylah is just a ghostly shadow in the desert. We have driven hundreds of miles from Baghdad, hoping to find the place where John was shot down. At Al Basrah, the main city in this area, John flinches as an air raid siren begins wailing, a stark reminder that Allied jets still fly missions here. Armed with letters from the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, we arrive at one of the few occupied air bases left in the south, Shaibah, to ask permission to retrace John's steps. AN IRAQI MiG warplane on display above a portrait of Saddam Hussein dominates the main entrance, where guards stare incredulously at the documentation we show them. But the suspicions of the base commander, Staff Colonel Ala Salman Dawood, quickly disappear once he and John begin reminiscing about the war. "You are John Nichol?" he asks, staring intently at John. John nods. "You fly the Tornado?" John nods again. "How many hours?" asks the colonel, referring to John's flying record. "2,000", says John, and the colonel replies: "I also have 2,000." Ten years ago, they might have come face-to-face in combat. But now the two laugh and joke as they compare experiences. Colonel Ala was shot down 10 days after John, ejecting from his MiG when it was attacked by US Eagles. "It happens in war," says the colonel, whose forehead still bears the scars of his ejection. "We are airmen. We are the same. I haven't flown a plane for six years. "Now, only the birds are free to fly. It is terrible for a pilot." John takes out the photographs of his wrecked Tornado taken by British intelligence officers. In his pocket, he has the co-ordinates he took seconds before ejecting. The colonel agrees to help us and orders one of his men to fetch his pistol. Guards dressed in olive green uniforms and sky-blue berets throw their Kalashnikov rifles into the back of our car and climb in. As we drive through the desert, dozens of camouflaged tanks lie partially hidden in the sand. In the distance, the flames of the Ar Rumaylah oilfields light up the horizon. "If you'd told me 10 years ago that I'd be here with an Iraqi pilot, I'd have thought you were mad," says John laughing." This is incredible. "Ten years ago, I tried to bomb his country, and now we are here together as equals. My heart feels very full." The colonel smiles: "There must be something very special inside you to return to Iraq." At another bombed-out air base, Jalibah, the twisted wreckage of several Iraqi MiGs lies surrounded by the rubble of their hangars. As Colonel Ala and his men look at the scene in dismay and turn away, John studies the rusting remnants of the planes. Shards of wing lie next to battered engines. With the help of our translator, he turns to one of the soldiers and says: "How do you feel towards me, knowing that I came to your country to do this to you?" With a defiant look, the young guard replies: "It's not a matter of bearing malice towards you, but I would ask what you think of your country coming all this way to bomb us?`" John nods, and says: "Politics aside, I was carrying out orders, as you carry out your orders." They shake hands, and the guard tells John in Arabic that he is welcome in his country. John was 27 when he first set foot on Iraqi soil in 1991. Equipped with a map and a compass, we drive for an hour through the featureless desert, towards the spot where he believes he baled out. He knows the chances of finding his Tornado are slim. It probably crashed at least a mile from his last known position. We are finally forced to stop several miles short. The stretch of desert in front of us is peppered with mines. But we are almost at the point where John was captured. "It was somewhere out there," he says, pointing into the distance. "The vehicles the soldiers came in would have come along this same track." Harnessed to their orange and white parachutes and visible for miles around, it was only a matter of time before Iraqi soldiers captured them. He says: "John Peters and I were laughing, because we couldn't have been more visible if we'd tried. "There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. It was a terrible feeling - we were so exposed. "For a moment, we thought about taking them on and going out in a blaze of glory, but it was John who made me realise that there is always hope." For an hour, the two airmen made their way across the desert, praying they would be rescued. They realised they had been spotted when they saw a red truck half a mile away and Iraqi soldiers opened fire. Armed with only a pistol each, the airmen surrendered. Their hands were tied behind their backs and they were pushed into the back of the truck and driven to a nearby air base - the first of many locations they were taken to during their seven weeks as prisoners of war. John stands for a moment, gazing towards the horizon, before taking a few cautious steps into the danger area. AT HIS feet, empty gun cartridges lie rusting in the sand. John picks up a couple in his hand. "These could even be from the guns they fired at us," he says. Back in Baghdad, we visit the Amiriya air raid shelter, now a shrine to the 400 Iraqi men, women and children killed when it was bombed by the Americans. The Iraqis call this the most savage crime of the century. The Americans claimed the shelter was a military target and that the civilians were being used as a human shield. Whatever the truth, photographs of piles of bodies hanging on the inside of the shelter reveal the shocking effects of the bomb. John is uneasy as he walks in. He is all too aware that once, at the controls of his plane, he could have caused destruction like this. A giant hole has been torn through the centre of the shelter. The bodies were removed and it has been left as it was on the day it was bombed. There are row upon row of bouquets and flowers beside portraits of the victims. "You can feel that something hideous happened here," John says. "I don't think people have any concept of the devastation caused by modern warfare. "Just because you are sitting at the controls of a plane doesn't mean you are blissfully unaware of what is going on beneath you. War is not a computer game. "I have seen people killed, and when I was a prisoner in Iraq our prison was bombed. It was a terrifying experience. I know what the reality is. Coming back here has made me see the wider view. I feel very privileged to have been able to do that." On the last day of our trip, John begins packing his bags for the 12-hour drive across Iraq to Amman in Jordan, from where we will fly home. He feels depressed and emotionally drained after the events of the past few days. "Before I came back, I thought it would be exciting. Now I feel quite strange - melancholic," he says. "People here have gone out of their way to help me. I feel I've made friends with them, but I don't know if I will ever come back. I will carry on with my life and they will carry on with theirs. I wonder if our paths will ever cross again." He has thrown away one of the gun cartridges he picked up in the sand, explaining: "I suddenly thought: 'I don't want that to be my memory of this trip.' "Before I came back to Iraq, my strongest memories of this country were obviously those of being a prisoner here. I look back at the time with a mixture of feelings. With a degree of horror, but, in a strange way, with fondness. "I can't get away from the fact that it was a major part of my life. Everything changed from that point. "Now, I have the abiding memory of meeting the Iraqis as a free man for the first time. I have walked side-by-side with people who were once my enemies. That is what I will take home with me." SEE ALSO: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/middle_east/newsid_1028000/1028497.st mlow graphics version | feedback | help * BACK TO IRAQ: THE PEOPLE BBC News Online, Friday, 17 November, 2000 which includes the following: "I didn't expect anyone to be unpleasant or anything like that," John says as we stroll. "But on the other hand, I didn't expect them to be quite as friendly as they have been. Everywhere we've gone people have said hello and waved." In the oldest street in Baghdad, dating back to the Ottoman empire, we drink tea. In the corner of Hassan Adjmi teahouse there's a huge collection of old brass water boilers, and a row of modern aluminium teapots brewing. The room is half dark, filled with the sound of conversation, the rattle of backgammon dice, the clatter of dominoes. Old men smoke through ancient water cooled pipes, deep in thought. These are the thinkers of Baghdad: professors, writers and wise old men. "Iraq won the war," one of them tells John. "You don't believe you lost the war with Iraq. The future is more beautiful for Iraqi people than English." http://observer.co.uk/comment/story/0,6903,399683,00.html * LIFT THE SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAQ NOW by John Nichol The Observer, Sunday November 19, 2000 My hands were visibly trembling when I handed my passport to the border guard. Standing close by was an armed Iraqi soldier. The last time I had seen Iraqi guns they were pointed directly at me; some of them had even been fired. When I told my friends I was returning to Baghdad after 10 years they all said I was mad. Why would I want to return to the place where I was abused, humiliated and nearly died? As I waited at the Iraqi border, I asked myself the same questions. My journey had begun a few months before with an idea to make a film for the BBC as the tenth anniversary of the Gulf War approached. It had been an exciting proposition. I knew from colleagues in the RAF patrolling the no-fly zone that Britain and America were still bombing Iraq on a regular basis. This undeclared war goes largely unreported by the media, something which I find truly disturbing. More importantly, I wanted to meet real Iraqis and see how the war and subsequent years of sanctions had affected the 'man in the street'. Sanctions meant that I could not fly into Baghdad; the only way in is via Jordan and a 15 hour car journey. Sanctions also control the sale of Iraqi oil, a fact which seems to have escaped the Iraqis themselves as the only other vehicles on the road were oil tankers. Completely ignoring the restrictions, thousands of them plied the route between the Iraqi oilfields and ports in Syria and Jordan. Sanctions were imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War in an effort to force the regime into surrendering its weapons of mass destruction (WMD). United Nations inspectors were also put in place with a brief to find and destroy any undeclared weapons. As I entered Baghdad, I drove past the UN compound - it was deserted. The inspectors were evicted from Iraq during Operation Desert Fox, the three-day bombing campaign in December 1998. At the end of that operation, we were told that 'Saddam had been put back in his cage'. That may have been so, but he was in his cage with his people and his weapons and we had drawn curtains tightly around the bars. Despite our overwhelming technological superiority, without UN weapons inspectors on the ground, we have no real idea what is going on in the darkest corners of Iraq. In many ways, Britain and America have painted themselves into a corner, which really is the nub of the Iraqi problem. Sanctions, weapons inspectors and the no-fly zones are all inexorably linked. Until the UN is allowed to return and verify that all WMD have been destroyed, sanctions must stay in place, argue Britain and America. Iraq denies that it has any WMD and refuses to accept inspectors. But sanctions are having little effect on the regime; the only people suffering are the poorest. In a truly ludicrous state of affairs, even pencils come under the items banned by the sanctions. And the no-fly zones are in disarray. They were set up to protect from Iraqi repression the marsh Arabs in southern Iraq and the Kurds in the north. But, in an obscene piece of hypocrisy, we allow one of our Nato allies to bomb the very group we claim to protect. Aircraft patrolling the northern no-fly zone are based in Turkey and our pilots put their lives in danger on a daily basis to fly into Iraq and ensure that the Iraqi military is prevented from attacking the Kurds. However, Turkey itself is also fighting a war with the Kurds, who want an independent homeland. On a regular basis, the Turkish authorities ground our aircraft so that their own air force can attack the very Kurds that the RAF was protecting a few hours before. After the Turkish jets land, our own pilots get airborne to resume their mission over the still smoking craters. British and American policy is a shambles. And it is only Britain and America that maintain the current position. Over the last few months, an increasing number of countries have flouted the ban on air travel and have made symbolic flights to Baghdad. At the recent Baghdad trade fair, European nations were falling over themselves to ensure they would profit if sanctions are lifted. None of our old allies takes part in the regular attacks launched into the no-fly zone. Indeed, even Iraq has decided to ignore the restrictions and has recently begun internal domestic flights around the country. After 10 years, the time has come to admit that the current state of affairs is not working and to review the situation. The great problem is that there appears to be no means of ending the dispute. What conditions must be met for the no-fly zones to be removed? No one seems to know any more. How long can sanctions remain in place? Again, no answer. No one can deny that parts of the Iraqi regime are repressive and evil. But we manage to deal with other similar regimes on a daily basis. After 10 years, sanctions have failed to produce the required result. It is time they were lifted. Perhaps the removal of sanctions can be linked to a return of some sort of independent weapons inspection team. Whatever the options are, they have to be better than the current stalemate. As I travelled around Iraq, I was struck by how friendly and personable the people were. At an Iraqi airbase, I was given lunch by an Iraqi air force colonel who might have tried to shoot me out of the sky 10 years ago. It seemed strange to sit with my former enemy and to talk about the realities of war. But we both agreed on one thing - there was little that the military could do to solve the current situation. Only our respective leaders could do that. It must be an unpalatable thought for our politicians, but perhaps the time has come for them to talk to their former adversaries. € John Nichol and John Peters were captured when their RAF Tornado was hit by a missile over Iraq during the Gulf war early in 1991. Both men were tortured and forced to appear on Iraqi TV to denounce the war. John Nichol's latest book, Decisive Measures , is published by Hodder & Stoughton at £16.99. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/middle_east/newsid_1026000/1026836.st m low graphics version | feedback | help * ANALYSIS: BASHAR'S SLOW, STEADY START by BBC News Online's Martin Asser, Thursday, 16 November, 2000 It is 30 years since the coup which put Syria's Hafez al-Assad in undisputed power but the most intriguing questions revolve around the last five months, under the tutelage of his son Bashar al-Assad. "Doctor Bashar" promised wide-ranging political, economic and administrative reforms, and many Syrians hoped he would be a breath of fresh air after the decades of stifling authoritarian rule. Mr Assad's grip on power has been strengthened by the people's gratitude that Syria has not been plunged into chaos since the old man's demise - there were fears the untested 34-year old opthamologist was ill equipped to face the challenges from his father's corrupt and secretive old guard. But, if the succession - a dynastic first among the dictatorial Arab republics - has been smooth and a new mood of openness is beginning to emerge, there has little been discernable change in the government's intrusive control of people's lives and its ultra-cautious approach to policy making and strategy. While there has been much talk of plans for economic modernisation and establishing a stock exchange, visitors to the country remain disappointed by the stagnation and lack of economic activity. Bashar has earned a reputation as a hard worker and good listener, and has taken steps to address Syria's image as a violator of its citizens' human rights. But, notwithstanding a sizeable amnesty to celebrate his father's anniversary - the second batch of prisoner releases since July, Syria's jails remain packed with political prisoners - more than 1,000 of them from the Muslim Brotherhood alone. But there have been public calls for more democracy - something that would have received short shrift in the days of Hafez. In September, a group of 99 Syrian intellectuals and artists dared to petition the president to introduce political pluralism and end Syria's remarkably enduring "emergency" rule. More recently, there was damning condemnation of government mistakes and corruption in a speech at - of all places - Syria's rubber-stamp parliament, a body which earned international derision when it hastily amended the constitution in June to allow someone of Bashar's tender age to become president. "We must break the economic monopoly and stop government handing out benefits and making decisions to suits its cronies," MP Riad Seif told his astonished colleagues. These moves hardly amount to the promised sea-change in the way Syria is run, but they are a reflection of frustration and impatience for reform - and of the government's willingness to allow criticism to be voiced in public. Bashar's key partner has been Muhammad Mustafa Miro, the prime minister appointed a few months before June, the pioneer of anti-corruption and moderniser of Syria's antediluvian banking sector. The strongmen of the last decades, Messrs Khaddam, Tlass, Aslan, Suleiman - though not Bashar's Uncle Rif'at - are waiting in the wings and some of them could still have their own ambitions to rule Syria. So what the new ruler still has to do is win policy arguments over such issues as the economy, Iraq and Israel, and the future of Syria's massive military presence in Lebanon. Lebanon is thought to be one of Bashar's strong suits, but he has yet to come up with a solution to the growing anger of those Lebanese who want to see the back of the 35,000 Syrian troops stationed there. At least the Palestinian uprising has relieved some of the pressure from Israel. As the intifada rages, no-one is talking about Syria's desire for a peace deal being sidelined by success on the Palestinian track. But, on the other hand, with peace in abeyance, the diplomatic and economic salvation that a treaty with Israel would have brought is out of the question as well. http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,399317,00.html * DEGRADED POLICY by Jeremy Hardy The Guardian, November 18, 2000 Monday sees the launch of a national petition against sanctions in Iraq. It will probably pass unnoticed. Sanctions aside, Britain and America bomb Iraq whenever they feel like it, and with no news coverage at all. Presumably, the purpose of the bombing and sanctions is to degrade something. The something is ourselves. I'm sure those who are reinventing world politics in the light of a new-found enthusiasm for western military intervention, are convinced that Saddam Hussein is about to fall at any moment. If he does at least Iraq will be newsworthy. Saddam is getting more press these days anyway because he's sitting on a lot of oil. So are we, if only we had the wit to renationalise it, but since we gave it all away, we rely on oil companies to make nice with dictators and help them to crush internal opposition so that we can keep our hauliers trucking. The oil-for-food programme is one way in which the west has sought to keep the oil coming. In fact, the amount of oil which Iraq is allowed to export was set higher than its much degraded industry was able to produce. Even then the programme is not as generous as it sounds, because the oil money is held in a UN-managed account with 30% coming off the top in reparations and imports subject to approval by the Security Council. Equipment vital to Iraq's electricity and water supplies are held up. As a result water is frequently contaminated (there's a biological weapon for you) and the national grid could completely pack up at any moment. The British government line is that medical shortages are the result of stockpiling. Former UN humanitarian co-ordinators, Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, who resigned in succession over sanctions, both dispute this. The infrastructure was degraded by the west and distribution suffered. In addition, some medicines and equipment are useless without others. Much is lost through spoilage during power cuts. In fact, von Sponeck stated, "We have found no evidence that there is a conscious withholding of medicines ordered by the government." It is possible that such a policy exists. Certainly, Saddam has a cavalier disregard for the suffering of his own people. He boasts to them of how he enjoys his lavish lifestyle, free from the ravages that sanctions and bombs have brought to ordinary Iraqis. He feasts while they suffer. Perhaps he does withhold medicines. But how would that boost the case of the dwindling number of politicians who support the sanctions? It further demonstrates that the 10-year war we have waged against his people, while ostensibly having "no quarrel" with them, is all grist to the mill as far as he is concerned. That is why all the voices for change in Iraq, and all Saddam's opponents in exile, are telling us to stop. The west certainly has a curious notion of what it is not to have a quarrel with someone. I suppose in the sense of fisticuffs over a Leylandii tree, it is not a quarrel. Perhaps extermination is a better word. According to Unicef, which as a UN agency is forced to tread carefully, sanctions have contributed to the deaths of 500,000 children since the Gulf war, and 800,000 are chronically malnourished. Asked to comment on such figures, Madeleine Albright has replied: "We think the price is worth it." And it is always worth going to her rather than to Robin Cook. The organ grinder doesn't mess about. She plays a simple tune that's easily recognisable. The monkey leaps about all over the place, making a lot of silly noises. So let's listen to Washington rather than Westminster. Albright told us in 1997: "We do not agree ... that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction sanctions should be lifted." In 1998, former weapons inspector Scott Ritter said: "Sanctions only punish the people of Iraq, they don't punish this regime." In June this year, the former head of Unscom, Richard Butler, said: "We now know that using economic sanctions to bring about compliance in the weapons area does not work." Deputy US national security adviser, Robert Gates, said back in 1991: "Iraqis will pay the price while [Saddam] remains in power. All possible sanctions will be maintained until he is gone." That year, Colonel John A Warden III, of the US air force, said that the wrecking of Iraq's electricity system "gives us long-term leverage". According to Mike Horn, who flew F-15s in two tours of duty in the northern no-fly zone, "You'd see Turkish F-14s and F-16s inbound, loaded to the gills with munitions. Then they'd come out half an hour later with their munitions expended." When US pilots flew back over the Kurds whom the no-fly zone ostensibly protects, they would see "burning villages, lots of smoke and fire". Instructions were not to interfere. Someone remind me who this quarrel is with? -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://www.casi.org.uk