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[casi] Radio New Zealand interview

In transcribing this, I became painfully aware of wanderings off the question, missed opportunities 
mention important matters etc.. However, here it is, unedited.

Transcript of Tony Maturin's interview with Chris Laidlaw, Radio NZ, March 2. 2003.

Quaker Peace and Service and Bridge to Baghdad are working together to supply much needed medical
supplies to the Sindibad Clinic in Basra. New Zealander Tony Maturin has been and seen and saw many
disturbing instances in Iraq. He had a five year involvement in a Guatemala project, then has 
worked as part
of a New Zealand Quaker Peace and Service Committee project  on Iraq sanctions. He was invited to 
join a
group of MPs, journalists, doctors, documentary-makers and the like to visit Iraq in April last 
year, through
the aegis of the Belgium/Iraq Friendship Society.

As a result of that trip, Tony's even more now I think determined to raise funds for necessary 
supplies in
the medical field to Basra. He's involved in several fund-raisers.

CL 'Afternoon to you Tony, thanks for coming in.
Do you see this as your calling then, to make life more comfortable for the children of Iraq?
TM Partly, but I got into it through more of a calling to try to be a peacemaker and trying to do 
about injustice. That's what took me to Iraq in the first place.
CL What do you mean, injustice?
TM  The whole Iraq situation now is the result of just one huge injustice. I mean, they didn't ask 
for this.
They didn't ask for their country to invade Kuwait. And quite frankly, the United Nations had no 
right to
authorise the kind of attacks that went on in 1991. Which were war crimes. I mean they destroyed 
all the
life-giving infrastructure of Iraq, and that's where the problem is now. That, and the effects of 
CL Hmmmm, because it once was............
TM It once was a beautiful country with free education, a free health service ..........
CL one of the highest standards in the Middle East..........
TM Very high, probably equivalent to our own here I imagine. And a very well educated, very proud 
Brilliant people, lovely people.
CL and now?
TM Their education system is falling to pieces because the government can't pay the teachers - 
teachers I
saw spoke of being paid $7 a month - can't do much on that. Many of the children can't go to school 
they have to try to earn something for their families, because poverty probably effects sixty or 
percent of the people. And that's due to the sanctions, and due to the state of the country. But 
they're still
welcoming people. You see - for example, I met one man over there, I won't mention his name, we were
standing by the Tigris, and he said, "Look at those bridges, they were bombed in 1991 like the rest 
of our
infrastructure, and we've re-built them with our own hands". And they're very very proud of that. 
The Iraqi
government has been vilified and Saddam Hussein has been demonised so much that people forget that 
it was
this same government that provided a very good social structure. And a good life for a lot of 
people and paid
good wages to..........
CL And how are they feeling about things now, ten or twelve years down the track? And can they 
again if it happens all over again?
TM They're saying, "If they bomb us again, we will re-build again." They won't give in.
My fear is that they'll fight and be slaughtered, and have no one left to try and re-build.
CL What do you say to people who say, "Why doesn't Iraq look after its own children? And young 
people the
way it used to?" Or the way it did, when it could?
TM Well it can't. Full stop. You take a  - the water supply in Basra for example. I was there and 
got cholera
as a result of the sanctions too. The water supply there tends to be 40 percent sewage. Because, 
when the
power distribution was disrupted by the bombing in '91, everything fell to pieces. Because if 
you've got no
electricity you can't run water-treatment plants, you can't run your sewage plants, and what has 
happened is
that, when you get - when the power is out - and in some parts in the south, they still only get 
power for two
hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, that allows a suction in the water pipes, the 
seeps in from the broken sewage pipes into the water and that's what you get. And that's why people 
that most of the children's troubles would be easily curable - if they had the drugs. But they 
don't have the
CL So the disease like diarroeagh and things like that..........
TM Gastro-enteritis -
CL So what are the clinical supplies you want to try to get funds for to send into Basra?
TM The Primary Health Care Clinics are of course vital to the whole system, There used to be 
hundred of them, there are now only six hundred left. Because of the bombing and the sanctions and 
general conditions there. We work through an organisation called Bridge to Baghdad, based in Rome, 
have re-constituted and are now funding a little clinic in Basrah. Lovely little place, it's really 
beautiful to
walk into after some of the things you've seen there. It's completely run by Iraqi staff, one 
doctor, a lab
technician, two or three nurses. And we simply send the money to Bridge to Baghdad in Rome, they 
buy the
drugs that are needed and ship them through themselves, right through to Basra.
CL Getting them to where they want them to go.
TM Oh yes. Yes, there's no question about that.
CL They actually arrive at the clinic?
TM Oh yes, they're delivered by hand. Quaker Peace and Service have only been doing this for the 
last two
years. Before that we were engaged in trying to raise the sanctions, because that's THE big issue. 
If we
could get the sanctions raised, then many of these things would take care of themselves.
CL But, we've got to ask why those sanctions are on in the first place don't we?
TM Yes, we have. I think, generally speaking, most people in the United Nations  would have lifted 
years ago. Because they do violate the United Nations Charter. Many people have said that. Haliday 
that, he was the Assistant Secretary General, von Sponeck in the same position. Both of those people
resigned from their jobs of being in charge of the oil-for-food distribution in Iraq.

So why are they still there? Because the US wants them there. I have no hesitation in saying that. 
When you
hear the way the US has manipulated the Sanctions Committee - luckily for you and possibly your 
listeners I
left my notes behind today - I could have given you loads of details about how they held up million 
millions of dollars worth of humanitarian goods, for political purposes. To try to sway say Russia 
to their
way of thinking. I could send you the details ..........
CL No, no, there's a lot been published on this. The people who live in Iraq say that this is 
nothing to do with
anything but oil.
TM I agree. And, power in the Middle East. It goes back to - what I've been reading about, is the 
Policy Guidelines, which was started, well largely by Cheney and Wolfowitz and Co. about ten or 
years ago. And they're built on three main planks. One is that the US must be the only superpower 
in the
world, and must not let anyone come anywhere near them, either militarily or financially. Or in any 
way. The
second is that they must not allow the rise of any regional power which might challenge them 
regionally. And
the third is that they must control Middle East oil. You've got to go back to that and then 
everything falls
into place.
CL So, what's the general feeling in Iraq, of the people you saw and talked to, in all sorts of 
walks of life
TM Um, I was on my back with cholera quite a bit and didn't get around as much as I would have 
liked to -
the people I talked to - what I picked up mainly was that this was a huge problem. It wasn't just 
hospitals, it wasn't just health, it wasn't just rebuilding one thing or the other, it all had to 
be fitted in. And
Iraq has no money to do that, because they don't get money. They don't get money for their oil, it 
all has to
go through the United Nations.

Now, I picked up - many of them that I spoke to, although they didn't say they disliked Saddam 
Hussein, and
I'm sure most of them do - there's a great deal of fear there - which I didn't pick up, I didn't 
see any sign
of it. But they all said, "Well, he's one Arab leader who has stood up to the United States." And 
people said that to me. You know, there's still pride in being Iraqi, there's still pride in being 
part of an
ancient civilisation, which sort of over rides everything else, and underpins everything else. I'm 
sure most of
them would like to see the last of Saddam Hussein. But they're still saying, "But that's not up to 
international community. That's our affair."
CL But people can't really leave the country if they want to without paying huge sums of taxes to 
get out,
can they?
TM No, no, they can't.
CL So, you know, they're an oppressed people.
TM In a way, but not nearly as oppressed as the US would have us believe. And even our government 
have us believe. You don't pick that up. You still see the little businesses, the teenagers 
gathering on the
corners as ours do. I went to visit people in their houses, though the people I saw were quite rich 
they were professionals, they were living quite a nice life style. But the poverty there is 
tremendous I know.
But it's poverty that's concerning them and not so much the repression now.
CL Do they understand why they're suffering?
TM  Yes.
CL Most of them.
TM Yes, they say it's the sanctions, over and over, in the hospitals in the streets, everywhere.
CL So what are some of the cultural aspects that have had to change because of these sanctions, 
that you
TM Schooling very largely, education. Teenagers are now saying - instead of automatically going on 
University, they're saying, "Well, what's the use of going to University when an engineer gets 
seven or eight
dollars a month. when a doctor gets twenty or thirty dollars a month? When I can go and be a manual 
and possibly get five or six dollars a day, if I can get a job. There's a certain amount of money 
in the
country, Dinars, which they've the government to thank for because they printed them. Produced a 
inflation of course, but at least kept a certain amount of money flowing around within the country, 
they've the government to thank for that.

Aspects like marriage for example, parents used to marry of young people when they reached sixteen 
seventeen and the hormones started flowing -
CL Because of the Muslim religion -
TM No sex outside marriage yes, and then they'd get married and later go back to university and 
on with their education. That's had to stop, people don't have enough money to run a family on 
their own like
CL What's the police force like over there?
TM I don't know. I was in Guatemala as you said, and the police there of course are all armed and 
there are
military all over the place and there's people carrying rifles at the ready all over the place. 
Iraq was not like
that. I saw one or two soldiers working traffic lights for example. Some of them had guns, but they 
were all
nice friendly people, they weren't looking menacing at all. The repression in Guatemala was ten 
times more in
evidence than it was in Iraq.
CL Okay, what about home life for Iraqis? Changed dramatically?
TM Yes obviously -
CL You visited an Iraqi home you said.
TM I visited one as I said, they were fairly well off people, he was a professional. But many 
people have
sold - a large proportion of the population have sold nearly all their possessions in order to make 
ends meet.
Not many of them have their - what we would consider life-giving things like fridges and electric 
any more, let alone books and all the things that make life comfortable. There's a market there 
where people
take their books to sell and one of our group went down there and saw a man who had three books on 
ground in front of him, got talking to him. And he said that these were the last three books, "One 
of them -
this is the first day I've brought it here - my main interest is mediaeval English poetry -  that's 
my favourite
book, I swore I'd never sell it, and today I've brought it down. And half an  hour ago," he said, 
"I saw a
man pick it up, and I thought no, I can't do this, and I rushed over and took it back from him!" 
But that's
fairly typical.
CL Where's all the money from this oil going though? You've got to ask haven't you?
TM How much money? The first thing you've got to ask is, how much money? And then you've got to ask 
proportion of it do the Iraqi government get, which is none - nil - apart from what they can 
smuggle out.
Don't forget that the oil price is also controlled by the Sanctions Committee, which is also 
controlled by the
United States, and I can give you the details but I haven't got them in my head. Iraq gets 
something like
$170 a year per head of population to supply everything a person needs. That's all they get. And 
that is
controlled by the United Nations Sanctions Committee as well.  Because twenty five percent these 
days goes
to repayment of debt to - compensations to Kuwait.

And when were talking about compensation, I've got no doubt that the Coalition people should pay 
compensation to Iraq for what they did in 1991. They had no reason to do it whatsoever. Because 
when the
Iraqi army was in Kuwait, how can you bomb to pieces Iraq in the north, the bridges, the transport 
and the communications system and the hospitals? How can you say that is something to do with 
getting the
army out of Kuwait? It wasn't and they were war crimes. And there's large group of lawyers in the 
now, and there's another one in Britain who have served notice on Bush and Blair, that if that 
happens again,
"You'll be where Milosovitch is now."
CL Yeah, that's been pretty well documented.
TM Yeah, but I hope it works.
CL But this guy's e-mail says he's been emotionally and psychologically exhausted, endured so much, 
he'll be
ready to burn, burn with revenge those who caused this with every drop of oil we have, and I know 
we have
a lot of it and I know we're paying the price so that they can control the oil and for no other 
TM Yes I met that guy -
CL Was that the guy who -
TM Very well educated guy. He used to live in Australia, used to export, I think heart monitors from
Australia to Iraq. He said he'd taken the precaution to stash his money with a bank in Britain, and 
neither can he get his money, nor can he go and get it. He's a very very nice guy. I had a lot of 
talking with

What he's responding to is a plan that has been leaked, though I think it's probably scare tactics, 
I don't
know, I wish it was only scare tactics, the plan to attack Iraq this time, they're saying it's 
going to take two
days, on the first day between three and four hundred cruise missiles will hit Baghdad, on the 
second day
between three and four hundred, it should be over in minutes almost, it's to disorientate, to - I 
forget the
words now - that's what he's responding to.
CL How do you feel having been there, and listening to news of recent days? Are you optimistic or
pessimistic that there'll be a war?
TM You float around. Sometimes I'm optimistic, I hear so much opposition from around the world to 
the US,
because it is the US that's driving it and Britain has been pretty aptly described as a poodle I 
think. I go
back to some of the things I saw there, some of the kids with cancer and they couldn't be treated 
and I
know who's responsible and I feel pretty angry about that. Sort of drives me on a bit. I sort of 
take things
day by day now because -
CL There's still time for peaceful -
TM Sure, sure, yes I'm sure yes. Because things are moving pretty quickly. I don't know enough 
about the
US. I do know - well, I heard Bush's speech, you know you can't help falling about laughing at this 
sort of
Hollywood stuff and I don't know how people believe him, but the reflection is, you think, what on 
earth is
their media telling them? Because that is the general perception coming from inside the States. The
perception of the States from the outside is entirely different.
CL Saddam Hussein is not, by all accounts though a very nice human being.
TM He's both. And I've met people who've said exactly that. He runs his country - mostly him I 
expect yes -
he runs his country with a carrot and stick approach. He can be very very generous and very very 
vicous as
well to his opponents. I think that about sums it up. But it's not just him. You've got a whole - 
it' just like our
government, it's not one person, it's government departments, and there are people of high 
integrity in those
departments, yes.
CL So what's happening now, raising funds, we've got off that a bit and I want to get onto clinical 
for Basra, what's happening?
TM Last year we raised $44,000, this year we're well down, I think just under $20,000 so far. We 
had the initial big response that we did last year, but we did start a bit later. And I'm just 
wondering what
people are thinking. Perhaps they're thinking, well if there's going to be a war, then all our 
money will be
wasted. But the people we're giving it to said, no, if there's going to be a war, we'll need it 
more than ever,
because the public health system will not stand another war. Everything will break down, and it 
will only be
us who are supplying these things. That's the best I can say.
CL Thank you Tony, good talking to you about it, and lots of work for you and Quaker Peace and 
Service to
get through yet?
TM Yes, indeed !
CL Good having you on the programme.
TM Thanks very much.
CL Tony Maturin, Quaker Peace and Service and the humanitarian side of what's going on in Iraq 
End of interview.

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