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Re: [casi] where did the baby-parades story originate?

Dear List,

It originated at 'Newsday': Matthew McAllester,
who wrote the story, is Newsday's United Nations
Bureau Chief. Prior to that he was Newsday's Middle
East Bureau Chief, based in Jerusalem. (McAllester
is from the UK.)

I checked this out after Andreas posted the two
links - Sidney Morning Herald and Toronto Star.
And there is of course the one in Newsday itself.
They appeared on May 23/24. Essentially it's the
same story by McAllester, except for length. The
one in Newsday has some additions - shortest in the
SMH. - This is the Newsday link:

No doubt the story will spread like wildfire, and
there will be more in the same vein.

As Nicholas points out, the story makes two claims:
The baby-parade and the SH-is-to-blame. But, as
some CASI members have pointed out, the former claim
does not support the latter. Still, the uninformed
reader with a sound-bite attention span will jump
to the expected conclusion: If the parade part is
true, then the other bit must be true too.

That Saddam Hussein is to blame for the sanctions
misery is nothing new. The US/UK have been saying
this all along. But not even Haines or Rubin in
their wildest allegations have come with anything
quite as stupid as the quotes by this eyewitness,
Dr. Shibab. Still, it was the Newsday reporter
McAllester who wrote it.

To wit:

Dr. Shibab-- [Under the sanctions regime] "we had
the ability to get all the drugs we needed".

If nothing else, list members will probably
remember good old 'dual use'.

Again, Dr. Shibab-- "Yes, of course the sanctions
hurt - but not too much, because we are a rich
country and we have the ability to get everything
we can by money. But instead, he spent it on his

And if CASI members can't work this one out, then
CASI's mission would have been in vain. For one
thing, this [formerly] "rich country" is now at
the bottom of the poorest countries. And the only
money the GOI could get was by printing it - creating
inflation. The purse strings to the real money
under OFF were held in New York. Until 2001, the
GOI wasn't even allowed to see the statements of
the escrow account.

The inflation had reduced the salary of a public
servant or teacher to five dollars a month. A
doctor was making ten. So it is perhaps not
surprising to find a Dr. Shibab willing to make
such statements.

And the dead baby parades?

A bit difficult to refute from here. Perhaps there
were some. If so, it may seem distasteful. But is
death inflicted by this sanctions regime propaganda?
The perpetrators are certainly in no position to
cast stones, I think.

In any case, I found an article dated June 18, 2000,
which somewhat contradicts this alleged 'collecting
and freezing' custom. The story was written by the
same man: Matthew McAllester of Newsday.

By coincidence, it is the same place: Ibn Al-Baladi
maternity and paediatric hospital. (Apparently,
Dr. Shibab, the current witness, has only been there
for 10 months, according to the Newsday story.)

The story opens with a mother, who is just leaving
the ward with the body of her one-year-old daughter,
Yousser. She had just died. McAllester also witnesses
two other babies dying: Rinda Satar and Ali Hussein -
Ali's death is recycled in this current story.

And McAllester notices that all three mothers take
the bodies of their dead babies with them - right
away. He writes:

     "The hospital didn't even keep a record of
     their mother's names or their addresses. The
     women walked out of the building with their
     babies in their arms. All around the hospital
     the old electric clocks were stopped at
     different times. 12:52. 4:11. 5:32. And 1:07 in
     the room where Ali Hussein died.

     "It was a perfectly average day at Ibn Al-Baladi."

This has also been my understanding from people
who have been to Iraq: the parents take the dead
babies with them for burial - right away.

So I thought I just mention McAllester's earlier
observations. And I am attaching this story in case
anyone is interested.

Elga S.


06/18/2000 - Sunday - Page A 7, Inside Iraq

Iraq's Sacrificial Lambs

Its babies are dying in squalor; is UN embargo to blame?


Baghdad, Iraq - From the corridor outside the crowded
pediatric ward came the scream of a mother in the first
seconds of mourning.

Looking from side to side, a woman in a black head scarf
carried the limp body of her 1-year-old daughter Yousser
out of the ward's examination room. Her tears fell on
the scarlet fabric of the last dress Yousser would ever
wear. As she stood cradling her dead daughter, the woman
started to explain how she had first brought Yousser to
the hospital 10 days ago after the little girl developed
bloody diarrhea. Today she had brought her back, but it
was too late.

Again the moan of a mother. This time from inside the
examination room. It was 3:03 p.m.- seven minutes since
Yousser had died.

"Another one," said Dr. Uldram Ahmed, chief resident of
the pediatric section of Ibn Al-Baladi maternity and
pediatric hospital in a poor part of Baghdad known as
Saddam City.

Lying on his back inside the examination room was Ali
Hussein. Facing him on a wall of the room was a
photograph of two chubby, European-looking toddlers
giggling as they fed long grass to a kid goat. Ali was
not like those children.

He looked brittle. The right nostril of his nearly
fleshless nose was crusted in blood. His minuscule hands
were curled and motionless. He was 10 weeks old and
looked like he'd lived through a century. His teenage
mother leaned over him as Dr. Ghassam Rashid Al Baya
pressed his stethoscope to the naked baby's gray chest.

"He died?" asked Ahmed, who was looking on.

"Yes," Al Baya replied, still listening to Ali's chest
for a sound he knew he would never hear.

"Second one dead," Ahmed said. "Look at the bloody
vomitus." Ali's last, crimson breath formed a tiny wet
cloud next to his head on the orange wrap he lay on.

"He died," Al Baya confirmed, tucking his stethoscope
away into the pocket of his white coat. "He passed."
Ali's mother enclosed him in the stained orange blanket
and glided out of the room in silence. He was the third
that day. The first died at 8 a.m. The second was
Yousser. And there was another, a 4-month-old girl,
Rinda Satar, across the corridor gasping what Ahmed said
would be her last breaths. Two of them, Ali Hussein and
Rinda Satar, were from the same neighborhood, Hai Al

The hospital didn't even keep a record of their mother's
names or their addresses. The women walked out of the
building with their babies in their arms. All around the
hospital the old electric clocks were stopped at
different times. 12:52. 4:11. 5:32. And 1:07 in the room
where Ali Hussein died.

It was a perfectly average day at Ibn Al-Baladi.

"You see, they died of poor feeding, loss of weight,"
said Al Baya, who earns the equivalent of a dollar and a
half per month. He's 30 years old and has been a doctor
for six years. He has lost count of the number of babies
who have died in his hands. Today's dead suffered from
malnutrition, stomach infections, bacterial infections,
chronic loss of weight, the doctors said. The usual.
With proper nutrition, clean water, efficient sanitation
and sufficient medical supplies, most of these babies
would survive, the doctors said. It hasn't always been
this way. Not that long ago Iraq had one of the best
health care systems in the Middle East. Infant mortality
rates were comparatively low.

But now this is normal at Ibn Al-Baladi.

"It is one of the results of the embargo," Al Baya said.
"This is a crime on Iraq. What is wrong with these poor
children? Are they soldiers that they have to be treated
like this? They are not soldiers." Al Baya may have lost
count but other people are trying to record the numbers
of children who have died in Iraq since the UN Security
Council imposed economic sanctions on the country in
August 1990. While not the only way of judging the
effect of the sanctions, the number of children who have
died is perhaps the most stark indication of its impact
on the Iraqi people. UNICEF, the United Nations'
children's organization, last August put the number of
children under age 5 who have died since the start of
the sanctions at 500,000.

>From 1994 to 1999, UNICEF says, more than one in 10
Iraqi children who live in the main part of the country
under the control of President Saddam Hussein died
before they reached the age of 5. A similar survey for
the period from 1984 to 1989 had the death rate at less
than half the current rate. Iraq blames the United
Nations and the Western powers-mainly the United States
and Britain-who insist on maintaining the embargo.

The United States insists that Hussein is to blame for
refusing to allow arms inspectors free rein in Iraq, for
refusing to spend government revenue on essential
services, for mismanaging the medical supplies imported
under the UN's Oil for Food Program and for exploiting
the common people of Iraq for propaganda purposes.

"We've been pretty clear about not wanting to see babies
dying," said a State Department official who spoke on
condition of anonymity. "Those 500,000 babies died
needlessly because of a government that doesn't care
about them." "It has transcended the bounds of tragedy,"
said Riyadh Al Qaysi, Iraq's deputy minister of foreign
affairs. "It's a concrete genocide." The apportioning of
blame is highly politicized. Deciphering where that
blame truly lies is difficult.

"There is a total lack of logic on either side, with the
American government or the Iraqis," said a senior
diplomat in Baghdad.

There may be no better place to look at the roots of
Iraqi suffering than Hai Al Tarak, the neighborhood of
little Ali Hussein and Rinda Satar. It is right on the
edge of Baghdad, on the frontier of Saddam City, itself
a vast slum of 2 million people.

Over and over, the water is named as the chief culprit
behind the dying babies of Hai Al Tarek.

"The water is so dirty, cloudy," said Jassima Abed, 32,
the mother of Rinda, the dying four-month old. "There
are worms in the water and it has a bad odor." Rinda had
similar symptoms to Ali Hussein: Bloody diarrhea, loss
of weight, lethargy, vomiting. In the hospital, she lay
on stained blankets, her breath rasped and the skin
around her stomach was drum-tight. The doctors said the
actual cause of death would be a bacterial infection.

Such tragedies are commonplace in Hai Al Tarek.

In the single-room hut of mud bricks she shares with her
husband and two children, Samira Kassim, 23, flapped at
the flies that buzzed around her and talked of how her
4-year-old son, Mazen Karim, died in February.

"He started to lose weight day after day and his skin
started to stretch. I took him to the hospital on
December 29th. They put oxygen on his nose but he was in
a coma. He didn't want to eat. It's because of the water
and the dirtiness around. I always told him not to use
it or play in that water but I expect he did." Kassim
lost another son two years ago. She is pregnant again.
Her children bathe once a week in the dirty water, which
they get from a neighbor's pipe and store in plastic
containers in the room. Often, there's not enough water
coming out of the taps. She throws the family's urine
from a bucket into her front yard where it evaporates in
the sunshine. Her children play in the street, which is
covered in garbage and has an open sewage ditch running
down the side.

Her husband works for the Baghdad sewage system and
makes the equivalent of five dollars per month.

In 1990, fewer than a thousand people lived in Al Tarek.
Now there are more than 30,000 living in sloppily built
homes of bricks, mud and concrete blocks.

There is no sewage system. Trucks sometimes come and
remove the solid waste from the homes. Ditches of urine
and other liquid waste line nearly every street where
barefoot children play. A huge disused canal full of
toxic water and raw sewage sits between Al Tarek and
Saddam City. The water in Al Tarek, residents said, is
frequently smelly, cloudy and, as Abed said, full of

It's so bad that sometimes Al Tarek people fetch water
from the main parts of Saddam City, itself an
impoverished mini-city where herds of goats chew at
piles of garbage in the street.

"We are always sending requests to the mayor for new
water pipes and the answer is always there are not
enough pipes and pumps because of the embargo," said
Jihad Nasser, 59, the mukhtar or unofficial head of the
community. "The government promised a sewage system but
when the war started none came." And so the people of Al
Tarek drink whatever water they can find.

Saad Behnam Abdullah, at the end of another 16-hour day
in his tatty office as director general of the Baghdad
Water Supply Authority, said he was not at all surprised
to hear about the deaths of the children in Al Tarek.

On his wall was a wistful poster of a large plan the
authority had in the late 1980s-before the embargo-to
build new reservoirs, pumping stations, treatment plants
and pipelines around the city. None of that has been
started even and the city's aging water and sewage pipes
are cracking all over the place.

The problem with Baghdad's water is not its quality when
it leaves the pumping stations, he said. It's that the
water and sewage pipes have started to disintegrate and
that means raw sewage is being sucked into the water
supply en route to people's homes. Anupama Rao Singh,
the UNICEF representative in Iraq, also said this is the
main problem. With hardly any money to spend on the
systems, Abdullah and his colleagues can't hope to
repair the pipes.

A vicious cycle is going on underground in Baghdad. When
the water and sewage pipes leak, the nearby ground
shifts and settles, causing further cracks. And that
causes more leaks. And then the ground shifts and
settles again. It's getting worse all the time, Abdullah

When asked how much it would cost to repair the system,
Abdullah erupted in bemused and tired laughter.

At Al Tarek, the problems are worse than for most of the
city, he said. The supply of water there is low, he
said. It's at the end of the line and the water pressure
is at its weakest, and as Al Tarek continues to grow,
the demand for water is pushing people to tamper with
the pipes.

"The lack of quantity is forcing people to find other
ways to get water and it's not good for their health,"
he said. "They're bursting pipes, getting that water
mixed up with polluted water and sewage, pumping water
on their own from the mains pipes. That creates a
negative pressure, which can suck in sewage.

They are causing this pollution but they're obliged to
do it. They don't have water. This has caused so many
cases in the hospital." Who's to blame for this?
"America," said Kassim without hesitation.

American officials say that such responses are the
result of fear of Hussein's regime and lack of
understanding of the situation. If Kassim had blamed the
Iraqi government while speaking in front of a government
official, the consequences for the family might have
been dire. Foreign reporters in Iraq have government
minders with them at all times except in meetings with
diplomats and aid workers.

In one of the few moments that a reporter had away from
the minder, a medical worker departed from the party
line. "The people can't say what they really feel," the
medical worker said. "It's the political regime that's
the problem. Of course they blame the government."
American officials say the Hussein regime mishandles the
supplies that come into Iraq under the Oil For Food
program. Established in late 1996, the UN-administered
program allows Iraq to sell large quantities of its oil.
The UN handles the profits. The Iraqi government
requests supplies, a UN committee reviews the requests
and, if approved, the goods are shipped to Iraq. In
Northern Iraq, which is currently run by two Kurdish
parties, the UN directly administers the distribution of
aid. In the south and central parts of Iraq, still under
Hussein's control, the Iraqi government runs the aid

UN officials in the south dismiss the American
government's claims about widespread and manipulative
Iraqi mismanagement.

"Not one of the observer mechanisms has reported any
major problems in humanitarian supplies being diverted,
switched or in any way misused," said George Somerwill,
spokesman for the UN in Iraq. Rather, aid workers said,
the program is clunky, bureaucratic and operates in a
country whose infrastructure has been devastated.

"Not all contracts are approved in time," said Dr.
Hussien Zakar, officer in charge of the World Health
Organization in Iraq, which monitors the distribution of
medicine and the Iraqi health care system. "Not all
shipments arrive in sequence. They're not always
efficiently distributed. There's a lack of transport and
funds for that." These same problems with the embargo
make it difficult to do anything about the water and
sewage mess, UN officials say. The sanctions committee
has repeatedly withheld approval for engineering
equipment the Iraqi government says it needs for the
water or sewage systems because, the committee says, the
equipment could also be used for the Iraqi military. UN
officials in Baghdad say most of these objections,
especially those raised by the United States and
Britain, are not valid.

Iraqi government officials also say they have no money
to spend on the new trucks for distributing medication,
partly because the Oil for Food program allows them no
cash allowance, only materials.

"Saddam finds money to spend on trucks for his army,"
the State Department official said. "Why doesn't he
spend it on distributing medication?" Another point
American officials like to make about the Iraqi
government's expenditure choices is the comparatively
healthy state of Iraq's private hospitals. Newsday made
an unscheduled visit to one private hospital in Baghdad
and conditions there were markedly better than in the
public hospitals visited.

"There are very obvious disparities within the country,"
said Singh, of UNICEF.

A simple car journey testifies to that. Drive from
central Baghdad, past some of the city's new private
hospitals with expensive German cars parked outside,
then through the boulevards of Saddam City and into Al
Tarek and you see that disparity.

In Al Tarek, in Kassim's room, her neighbor Aria Rishak
Ghelan told how she too had lost a child.

It was April 21 of last year, she said, when she noticed
that her 5-year-old boy Sajad Abbas had started to
suffer from the same symptom that all the sick children
from Al Tarek seem to have-diarrhea.

"I took him to Al Qadissiya hospital and the next day I
lost him," she said. "At 9 a.m. he died. Nobody
explained why.

"I was married twelve years ago," said Ghelan, 29, who
wore a black head scarf and was barefoot. "Life was good
then and we were living with my husband's parents." That
was before the embargo. Three years ago, with a growing
family, they had to find their own home and the only
place they could find was Al Tarek, which is where
people in Baghdad go when they have no other option.
Most people there build their own homes out of whatever
they can find on any patch of land they can find. They
have no legal right to live there.

"There are many things here," Ghelan said. "We don't
usually get enough to eat, the water is bad and there is
sewage outside." "It is a horrible life," said Ghelan,
who has four surviving children. "If the conditions
continue like this it will just get worse."

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