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from today's observer

The following two pieces appeared in today's Observer (19th November 2000).
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1. Lift the sanctions against Iraq now

John Nichol
Sunday November 19, 2000
The Observer

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

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

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

2. Saddam indulges in execution orgy

Special report: Iraq

Paul Harris
Sunday November 19, 2000

A top-level defector from Baghdad has told British intelligence that scores
of senior army officers have been killed by Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi
leader, in purges over the past two years.
In February 1999, intelligence sources believe, Saddam ordered the killing
of 38 officers, including General Kamil Saachit Al Dulaimi, suspected of
plotting a coup.

Saddam has long been known to use execution as a routine disciplinary tool.
But the defector has revealed a detailed picture of the state violence the
Iraqi dictator uses to enforce his authority and of the personal interest he
and his family take in their brutal measures.

The orders for the execution of opponents to the regime are always signed by
an immediate member of Saddam's family or a close adviser. The signatory can
record whether or not the victim should be tortured before execution, the
defector said. Saddam's two sons, Udai and Qusai, have signed execution
orders, as have three of Saddam's half-brothers.

The defector has also revealed a massive new prison construction programme.
One, the Sijn Al Tarbout jail in Baghdad, is known as 'The Casket' and is
located underground. Prisoners are kept on a liquid only diet.

Another jail has been built on the site of an old factory at Rashdia on the
outskirts of the capital. The bunkers and workshops hold hundreds of
prisoners. Other cells were recently opened by Udai Hussein in the Olympic
Stadium garage.

The regime is becoming increasingly paranoid about opposition. Recent laws
make it illegal to 'slander' Saddam or his family. Those found guilty can
have limbs amputated. In September a man had his tongue cut out for breaking
these laws, before being driven through the streets as an example to others.

Britain and the United States are finding it difficult to maintain
diplomatic support for the United Nations sanctions imposed on Iraq.
Following the successful resolution of a Saudi airliner hijacking in
October, Iraq's international image has been given a boost and there have
been renewed calls for sanctions to be revoked. There is concern over the
humanitarian situation within Iraq.

Britain and the US believe Iraq is using the absence of UN inspectors to
hide weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons
stored in schools and hospitals.

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