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[casi] Sweeney piece from today's Observer

Dear folks,

Here's the Sweeney piece from today's Observer. Letters should be sent to  (remember to include your address and telephone
number). Letters should be sent to the Observer by Tuesday evening at the

Four brief comments:

a) Sweeney claims that the regime has faked 'mass baby funerals' in Iraq.
This may well be true but is clearly totally irrelevant to the questions
'has there been a dramatic increase in child mortality in Iraq since the
1991 Gulf War?' and 'if there has been such an increase what are its
causes?' Similar remarks apply to Sweeney's allegations regarding human
rights abuses in Iraq.

b) Again, the Iraqi Government's own figures (as distinct from the UNICEF
survey data - see below) *are* almost certainly incorrect. However again
this is clearly irrelevant to any of the serious questions that arise about
the public health impact of the sanctions. Sweeney's clear intention
throughout the piece is to attempt to identify, in the minds of his readers,
the anti-sanctions position with the Iraqi Government. In doing so he
ignores the views of a wide range of highly credible organisations and
individuals (eg. Save the Children, Human Rights Watch and Hans von Sponeck)
who have spoken out on the issue.

c) Sweeney breezily rubbishes the conclusions of the August '99 joint
UNICEF - GoI child mortality survey, writing that it is 'open to question.
It was based on data from within a regime which tortures children with
impunity. All but one of the researchers used by UNICEF were employees of
the Ministry of Health, according to the Lancet.' In reality it is only
apologists for the sanctions, such as Mr Sweeney, who 'question' the
reliability of these surveys.

Indeed, UNICEF were careful to guard themselves against such allegations.
The following is the relevant extract from their August '99 document
'Questions and Answers for the Iraq child mortality surveys' (available on
the CASI web-site at )

Q: How can UNICEF be sure that the results are accurate/reliable?

A: The large sample sizes - nearly 24,000 households randomly selected from
all fifteen governorates in the south and center and 16,000 from the three
autonomous northern governorates - helps to ensure that the margin of error
for child mortality in both surveys is low. Another important factor was
that in the south and center of Iraq the survey interviewers were all women
and all were medical doctors. In the northern governorates 80% of
interviewers were female - each team had at least one female interviewer -
and all interviewers were trained health workers. UNICEF was also involved
in all aspects of both surveys - from survey design through to data
analysis. Specifically:

UNICEF had direct input to the design of the surveys - which are based on
internationally respected household survey format - the DHS (Demographic and
Health Survey) format;
UNICEF was involved in the training of all survey supervisors;
UNICEF conducted field visits to every governorate (major administrative
unit in Iraq) while the survey was being conducted;
UNICEF oversaw the process of data entry;
UNICEF had full access to the hard copies of the interview records and the
complete data sets for both surveys at all times.

Q: What checks have been made on the data?

A: Each questionnaire was first checked at the local level and then at the
governorate level by staff of the local statistical offices. This check was
primarily to determine whether the randomly sampled households were
correctly identified, visited and interviewed. Final editing and checking
was done at the central level for completeness and consistency. A number of
internal checks normally carried out for Demographic and Health Surveys
(DHS) were also completed for both surveys. The surveys and findings were
also reviewed by a panel of experts in early July. This panel included
senior personnel from DHS, Macro International, WHO and senior UNICEF offici
als from the Regional Office in Amman and New York Headquarters.

Q: Could the Government of Iraq have manipulated the data to give higher
mortality figures?

A: If the Government had attempted to manipulate the data by influencing the
survey interviewers to over-record the number of deaths or by directly
manipulating the survey data on the computer, this would have been detected
by analyzing the spread of births and deaths. The panel of experts who
reviewed the survey methodology and results looked for this, but it was not


d) Finally, Sweeney makes the totally ridiculous claim that 'the dead babies
are blamed by Saddam's regime on cancers and birth defects ... it says
[were] caused by depleted uranium weapons.' Of course, *nobody* has made any
such claim, though there are certainly people who would claim that *some* of
'the dead babies' have died in such a manner. Whatever the status of claims
about DU all independent observers agree that water-borne disease is the
biggest killer of children in Iraq today.

Best wishes,

voices uk

How Saddam 'staged' fake baby funerals

The Iraqi dictator says his country's children are dying in their thousands
because of the West's embargoes. John Sweeney, in a TV documentary to be
shown tonight, says the figures are bogus. Here he reports from Iraq on his

Sunday June 23, 2002
The Observer

The witness against the government of Iraq walked stiffly into the room,
metal callipers buckled to heavy medical shoes. They had tortured her two
years ago. She is now four.
Her father had been suspected of involvement in a plot to kill Saddam
Hussein's psychopathic son, Uday. He fled to the north of Iraq, but the
secret police, the mukhabarat, came for his wife, still in Baghdad, and
tortured her. When she wouldn't break, they tortured 'Anna' in front of her.

Her father, 'Ali', is a thick-set Iraqi who worked in Saddam's privileged
inner circle. He described what they did to her: 'They had a wooden stick.
They would squeeze her feet and ask "Has Daddy called you?" - she
understood - "Does Daddy contact you?"'

She is a victim of Saddam's brutality, proof that he is prepared to dispense
violence against even his country's children. By a cruel irony, her father
is also witness to Saddam's efforts to portray those same children as
victims of Western sanctions, which he claims have cost hundreds of
thousands of young lives.

Osama bin Laden justified the 11 September attack on America by referring to
a million dead Iraqi children - killed by sanctions. But there is a belief
among many Iraqis that Saddam is inventing the numbers.

Ali, outraged that Saddam's torturers may have crippled his daughter for
life, spoke openly about how the regime's propaganda has faked mass baby
funerals - 'evidence' of the 7,000 children under five the regime claims are
being killed each month by sanctions.

Small coffins, decorated with grisly photographs of dead babies and their
ages - 'three days', 'four days', written usefully for the English-speaking
media - are paraded through the streets of Baghdad on the roofs of taxis,
the procession led by a throng of official mourners.

There is only one problem. Because there are not enough dead babies around,
the regime prevents parents from burying infants immediately, in the Muslim
tradition, to create more powerful propaganda.

The taxi drivers do what they are told - as everybody does in Saddam's
Iraq - to their evident disgust. Before Ali defected to the north, one
friend of his, a taxi driver, explained how it worked: 'I went to Najaf [a
town 100 miles south of Baghdad] a couple of days ago. I brought back two
bodies of children for one of the mass funerals. The smell was very strong.'

Ali continued: 'The taxi driver didn't know how long they'd been in
freezers, perhaps six or seven months. The drivers would collect them from
the regions and would be informed of when a mass funeral was arranged so
they would be ready. Certainly, they would collect bodies of children who
had died months before and been held for the mass processions.'

A second, Western source, went to visit visited a Baghdad hospital and, when
the official Iraqi minder was absent, was taken to the mortuary. There, a
doctor showed the source a number of dead babies, lying stacked in the
mortuary, waiting for the next official procession.

Anna was the youngest witness to child torture by the Iraqi government in an
investigation, The Mother of All Ironies, to be broadcast by BBC2's
Correspondent today. It found six other adult witnesses in the Kurdish safe
haven in the north - the only part of Iraq where people are free to speak.

The most chilling witness was one of Saddam's torturers, who was captured
spying against the Kurds this year. 'Kamal' told us: 'They would bring the
son in front of his parents, who were handcuffed or tied, and would start
off with simple methods of torture, such as cigarette burns. Then they
started using other methods of torture, more serious ones.

'They would tell the father that they'd slaughter his son, and they'd bring
a bayonet out, and if the parents didn't confess they'd kill the child. 'The
interrogator has the right to kill the child, or perform any other butchery,
whatever's necessary.' And then Kamal chuckled.

It is an absolute of the government of Iraq - and others - that thousands of
Iraqi children are dying every month because of sanctions. We managed to get
a cameraman to accompany a fact-finding trip into Iraq this year by the
Great Britain-Iraq Society, led by its chairman, Labour MP George Galloway.

At the start of the trip Galloway, in Iraq for the ninth time in
two-and-a-half years, said: 'Every six minutes an Iraqi child will have died
under the embargo. That's every six minutes of every day, of every night,
every year for 12 years.'

In 1999 Unicef, in co-operation with the Iraqi government, made a
retrospective projection of 500,000 excess child deaths in the 1990s. The
projection is open to question. It was based on data from within a regime
that tortures children with impunity. All but one of the researchers used by
Unicef were employees of the Ministry of Health, according to the Lancet.

The dead babies are blamed by Saddam's regime on cancers and birth defects
which first appeared in 1991 and were, it says, caused by depleted uranium
weapons. While no one should underestimate the lethality of these weapons
and the stupidity of the US military machine, the claim does not make
radiological sense. According to Dr Nick Plowman, head of clinical oncology
at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, the claim 'is ridiculous. It flies in
the face of everything learnt from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.'

Cancers do not develop overnight. Bombs that fell in 1991 could not have
caused cancers or birth defects in that year. Fast leukaemias might occur in
four or five years, heavy tumours around now, said Plowman.

Richard Guthrie, a chemical weapons researcher at Sussex University, said:
'It's much more likely to be chemical weapons. There are serious clusters of
cancers in the south of Iraq near Basra. In the late Eighties, Basra was
almost taken by Iranian human-wave offensives, and Saddam stopped these by
dropping chemical weapons on them and, by accident, on his own people.

 John Sweeney's report will be shown in Correspondent on BBC2 at 7.15pm

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