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Major article on sanctions in Sydney Morning Herald

Feature article in the Sydney Morning Herald today, starting on front page,
on the Iraq sanctions...



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

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

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
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

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 ..."

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