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[casi] S. African delegate: 'A shadow of death hangs over Baghdad'

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'A shadow of death hangs over Baghdad'
By Tony Weaver

"A shadow of death" is hanging over Baghdad, the executive director of the University of Cape 
Town's Centre for Conflict Resolution, Laurie Nathan, told the Cape Times from the Iraqi capital on 

Nathan, who has been in Baghdad for a week with civil society organiser Roelf Meyer and a team of 
negotiators, said that "at the level of the Iraqi leadership, the mood is defiant. There is 
determination to fight".

"We have been in several meetings with top Iraqi officials, and they say that 99,9 percent of their 
official time is spent in war preparations, and 99,9 percent of their personal time is spent 
preparing the defence of their families."

Nathan painted a grim picture of a nation that is resigned that it will again have to go to war 
with the United States.

"Both at a government level, and on the streets, there is a sense of fatalism that war is 
inevitable, but there is also a vast sense of injustice - of an injustice at the hands of the US."

He said he had been particularly moved by a "beautiful poem" in a Baghdad newspaper on Thursday 
that read: "I did not come to war, she came to me."

"And that is the overwhelming sense here, a sense of a civilian population that will be hammered to 
death through no fault of their own.

"There is a slightly surreal feeling about it all. I talk to ordinary people, to taxi drivers, 
waiters. Today we visited a hospital, and spoke to people there, and as we talked to each other, we 
talked in the knowledge that they could soon be dead. It is an extraordinary feeling."

Nathan said that despite the momentum towards war, there was no visible evidence in Baghdad or on 
any of the roads outside the city of any military preparations, but there was nonetheless "a shadow 
of death that hangs over the city".

'An easily treated ailment like diarrhoea will become a fatal disease'
In the hospital he visited "I looked at children the same age as my daughter, four-year-olds, 
knowing that they will not survive a military invasion.

"The destruction of this city, and the damage to the population will not only be through direct 
casualties, but also through indirect casualties.

"One of the first targets the US will go for will be the electricity grid, and once that happens, 
water and sanitation will break down, and then an easily treated ailment like diarrhoea will become 
a fatal disease, with the children the first casualties," Nathan said.

He and Meyer have been in Baghdad leading a group of international conflict resolution specialists 
on a "peace mission" organised by the New York-based Centre for Economic and Social rights in New 

They have held a number high-level meetings with the Iraqi government, including with the deputy 
prime minister, Tariq Aziz.

But Nathan said he could not divulge details of the discussions as they "are very, very sensitive 
and it is very hard to say whether or not any of the ideas we have been discussing will bear fruit".

He and Meyer had been "very warmly welcomed" by the Iraqis and "we were given a lot of time by very 
senior people in government".

"It is fantastic that South Africans are playing such a major role, and that is for two key 
reasons. The first is that the Iraqis are very welcoming of South African initiatives because of 
the success of our own negotiated settlement.

"Secondly, the public statements of President Thabo Mbeki.

"These are unequivocally opposed to the unilateral use of force by the US."

Nathan said that the Iraqi government and UN officials in Baghdad all agree that "the primary way 
of avoiding war is compliance with UN Security Council resolutions on weapons of mass destruction, 
and we are not trespassing into that terrain at all, that is the UN mandate".

"What we are trying to think about are additional measures."

However, the Iraqi government was convinced that no matter how fully they comply with the UN 
resolutions, and no matter how much co-operation they give the UN weapons inspectors, "Bush is 
determined to go to war to oust Saddam Hussein and his leadership".

Nathan said the prospects for peace were gloomy: "We are at the precipice of an international 
catastrophe and the call for peace is urgent and should be issued widely.

"The long-term historical impacts will be vast. Just this morning, a colleague of mine said that a 
unilateral US military invasion is not only a war on Iraq, it is a war on the United Nations."

Nathan flew to Jordan on Thursday night on his way to Cape Town.

This article was originally published on page 2 of The Cape Times on 31 January 2003

Published on the Web by IOL on 2003-01-31 05:20:00

Jacob Park
Center for Economic and Social Rights
Emergency Campaign on Iraq
162 Montague St., 2nd Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11201
t:  718.237.9145 x21
f:  718.237.9147

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