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Feature article in the Sydney Morning Herald today, starting on front page, on the Iraq sanctions... http://www.smh.com.au/news/0102/27/pageone/pageone21.html PAGE ONE SADDAM'S CHILDREN: THE DAMNED OF IRAQ The United Nations sanctions designed to hurt one man, Saddam Hussein, have instead brought a proud nation of 24 million to its knees. Paul McGeough returned to Baghdad 10 years after reporting the Gulf War for the Herald. Eight-year-old Ali Zuaid is a child of the world's harshest economic blockade - it was in force at his birth and he will die before it is lifted. Surrounded by his distraught family, this skinny little boy lies motionless in a spartan ward at the Saddam Hospital for Children. A gentle pulse in his neck is the only sign of life. Hands crossed on his stomach, he stares at a child's painting which is pinned above his bed. Dr Sami Ghossan says Ali probably will die within two weeks. The boy has cancer and the hospital is unable to treat him - the United Nations economic sanctions prevent it from getting the necessary drugs, he said. Wearily, the doctor moves through the wards, pointing to a dozen other children who are dying - their treatment too is being thwarted by the sanctions' ban on drugs and equipment that might also be used to develop chemical weapons. Today is the 10th anniversary of the end of the war that forced Saddam Hussein's army to retreat from neighbouring Kuwait, which it had invaded six months earlier. Since then the world, kept to the task by the United States, has sought to punish Saddam for his reckless dream of military expansion. The dictator president has been frustrated. But today he is more firmly in power - his stocks are rising in the Middle East and he and his inner circle continue a pampered existence in their fine Baghdad palaces. It is the children - from Kirkuk in the north to Basra in the south - who are dying. Malnutrition kills as many as 7,000 a month among those under five years old, according to the humanitarian wing of the UN. And infant mortality is up by 150 per cent since 1990. It is the children's mothers who have their hands out on street corners in a city in which begging was unheard of; it is their fathers whose average annual income has been slashed from $US3,500 to $US500; and it is their brothers and sisters who are being pulled from school by the thousands for tasks as menial as selling single cigarettes in the streets in a desperate bid to maintain plunging household incomes. Disease and illness have risen sharply in the 10 years. Tuberculosis is up twofold, diabetes up sixfold; heart disease is up threefold; mental illness has more than doubled. In Baghdad, they live in a city in which most of the raw sewage is dumped into the Tigris River - because the treatment plants have broken down. They live in homes in which the power goes off for 18 hours at a time - because only 40 per cent of generating capacity has been restored since the Gulf crisis. Most of the factories from which they might have derived an income are closed - because of the sanctions-induced double-whammy of no power and no raw materials. Iraq has tumbled from number 85 to 126 on the UN's human development index, a nation-by-nation measure of well-being, to find itself sandwiched between Burma and Lesotho. A proud people, the Iraqis have been brought to their knees, and it is only now, a decade on, that serious attention is being given to the long-term implications of a punishment policy intended for one - but which hit 24 million who have no say in the big picture. Baghdad has been isolated from the world for 10 years. For most, the only way in is a 10-hour drive across a desert glazed in shale. It is a route that jaded Jordanian courier drivers insist on taking at up to 220 km/h. The journey begins in Amman, the Jordanian capital, and the first real break in the monotony is at the Trebil border post; a truculent Iranian border official demands that travellers take an on-the-spot AIDS test. It is here too, as clouds of swirling dust blow in from the vast Saudi desert to the south, that visitors get the first signs that all is not well - signs of excess and of privation. Since the Gulf crisis, Iraq has built a 500-kilometre highway from the border to Baghdad. It has six lanes, but there are no private cars - just hundreds of trucks. Every 20 kilometres there is an elegant, floodlit overpass - but these flyovers don't go anywhere, only a handful carry a crossroad. At the border service station, another child who should be at school is the first Iraqi currency trader to greet the visitor. At the time of the invasion of Kuwait the Iraqi dinar (ID) was worth $US3. Now it is worthless. $US1 fetches 1,780 dinars and, with the biggest note being ID250, $US100 is worth a bundle of paper the size of a housebrick. Approaching Baghdad at night, there is no glow in the sky as there is with most other capital cities. The lights are out. Much has changed. The Herald was here for the 1991 bombing - when the entire city was bathed in a frightening glow as allied bombers took out the Dora Oil Refinery; as so-called smart bombs sliced through communications towers and power station smokestacks; as bridges collapsed and office towers imploded. Life stopped for the Iraqi people. They shuttered themselves in their homes, with entire cities and towns reverberating as bombs and missiles sought out key components of Saddam's weapons and industrial complex. Many city windows remain criss-crossed with masking tape, but virtually all the war damage has been cleaned up. So much so that at first glance Baghdad appears to be back on its feet - horns blare and ramshackle traffic is gridlocked; the muezzin regularly call people to prayer; the Masgoof fish restaurants on the banks of the Tigris are full most nights; and markets and stores are well stocked with goods from around the region and the world. But it is a veneer. Information remains in the tight grip of Saddam's Information Ministry - it runs the newspapers and TV and radio and it appoints an individual minder for each visiting journalist. No, there is no access to the areas bombed two weeks ago by the US and Britain; no, there will be no interviews with the Chinese workers who Washington says are installing fibre-optic cables that will improve Baghdad's ability to target patrolling US aircraft - because the Security Ministry has denied that any Chinese are here. The regime loathes giving out information, but piece together the anecdotes and guestimates and the picture of the Iraq in which little Ali will die is a bleak tale of what a UN report describes as a continued decline into abject poverty. Only a handful of Iraqis has money to spend. Some chosen few in the Public Service can afford to go about in socks while they send their shoes out to be polished, but an economist, Humam Al Shamaa, estimates that 90 per cent of homes have an income of less than $US200 a year. These days a Boeing 747 pilot is on guard duty at one of the UN compounds in Baghdad - and a doctor and an engineer share the guard house with him. Unemployment is said to be as high as 60 per cent and as the professional and skilled classes who have not fled the country scrounge for menial jobs, the poor and the unskilled are pushed to the fringes. The government hands out food rations at heavily subsidised prices, but a UN source estimated that the poverty trap forces as many as 70 per cent of households to sell or barter some of their monthly ration. Academics who once toured the world now rely on the government for clothes handouts and a wage of about $US8 a month. At the University of Baghdad, Professor Mizin Bashir told how his household enjoyed two fridges and a freezer before sanctions but two of the three had broken down and there were no spare parts to fix them or money to replace them. One of his colleagues said that he simply had to walk away from his broken-down car because he could not afford parts to fix it. It comes down to UN staff to monitor the strictly controlled exceptions to the sanctions. Increasingly, they are sympathetic to the people - not the leadership - of Iraq. One of them said: "A lot of us feel very uncomfortable with what we see here ..." Another accused the US of being the "villains" and of being more concerned with outcomes to do with the security of Israel than with the well-being of the Iraqi population. One of their colleagues, despairing that the UN committee that vets all Iraqi contracts was sitting on deals worth billions of dollars, complained: "You'll never finish the job of rebuilding Iraq if so many contracts are on hold. And it's not as if the country doesn't have the oil money to pay for them." Swearing by the resilience of the Iraqis, the Herald's information ministry minder, Salar Mustafa Jaf, worried more about the future than the present. He said: "It's a bad thing for the West that a whole new generation of Iraqis has grown up under sanctions and Western distortion about us. "I'm not talking about the hostilities or the enmity in their hearts, I'm talking about when the British and the Americans want development contracts from us. They will not be acceptable when today's young people become tomorrow's decision-makers." Little Ali Zuaid will not be among them. Cases such as his disappear all too easily in the diplomatic arm-wrestling over who is responsible for denying him the treatment he needs - Saddam because he will not bend on revealing his weapons program? Or the US-led bloc at the UN which has been reluctant to ease the sanctions for humanitarian reasons out of fear that Saddam will then be able to get away with weapons development? This week another high-ranking Iraqi delegation is in New York, searching for a break to the impasse on arms inspections which is at the heart of US reluctance to ease the sanctions despite continuing efforts by France, Russia and China to do so. As they went off, a former Iraqi Ambassador to Paris and Bonn, Dr A.K. Al Hashimi, said: "We feel that the US is cornered - no longer can it persuade other countries of its position." Another measure of the depth of feeling with which Washington must contend is the anger of Mr Denis Halliday in a speech he gave at Harvard University in 1998. Resigning in disgust from his position as head of the UN's relief program in Iraq, he said: "Sanctions continue to kill children and to sustain high levels of malnutrition. Sanctions are undermining cultural and educational recovery. Sanctions will not change governance to democracy. Sanctions encourage isolation, alienation and, possibly, fanaticism ..." -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- 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://www.casi.org.uk