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[casi] Re:Times magazine 14th July

Dear List,

I read about the trshing of the airport with overwhelming sadness. There
seems to be no effort to understand anything about that which Iraqis hold
dear - from the antiquities which are all our heritage to the airport of
which they were so proud, Here is what I wrote for Middle East International
in November 2000. If this is a repeat posting, apologies. It seemed
relevant. The Captain who took the troops to task and had the courage to
speak out deserves a medal. Decency has not entirely died in those of the
backbone of the USA.

Best, felicity a.

Letter from Saddam International Airport.

For ten years the people of Iraq have been deprived of the most basic
essentials to sustain life and policies of a United Nations - established to
Œprotect succeeding generations ....¹ - have culled an average of 6,000
children a month. Yet the Iraq I have just returned from is an Iraq I did
not recognise - an Iraq with hope.

The opening of Baghdad International Airport in August and incoming flights,
are effectively eroding the embargo from within. ŒThere are tears in our
eyes every time a flight lands¹ remarked a friend. Isolation has been as
grinding as deprivation.

There were tears in the eyes of the passengers on Olympic Airways flight
3598 from Athens to Baghdad too as the Captain touched down, welcoming us to
Baghdad. It had been organised by Greek NGO¹s, the former first lady of
Greece, Margarita Papandreou, with the backing of the Greek Government. M.P.
George Galloway¹s spectacular flight to Baghdad, which arrived two days
earlier, had anything but the backing of the British government.

Two previous flights in which he was involved having been blocked, Galloway
borrowed the peronal just of the President of Bulgaria and flew from London
Manston airport with a group including Lord Rea and Father Michael Barry,
informing the Foreign Office that they were going on a pilgrimage to Sophia.
In the event, they touched down in Bulgaria only to  refuel and headed on.
One can only speculate on Peter Hain¹s reaction when Galloway rang him in
the early hours and said: ŒGood Morning from Baghdad,  Minister of State...¹

Baghdad¹s airport is  vast, marbled, efficient and very much open for
business. The fortuitous hijacking of a Saudi flight (during Iraq Tourism
Week) was a public relations coup for Iraq and disaster for Britain¹s
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook who declined to thank Iraq for its hospitality,
a diplomatic gaffe which reverberated around the world. ŒWhat is your most
memorable moment of your ordeal in Iraq?¹ asked a journalist of one of
passengers. ŒThe tears in our eyes when we left¹ was the reply. Rumours are
rife in Baghdad that the hijackers responsible for this favourable limelight
- who applied for political asylum - are living in considerable comfort.

The increasingly isolationist rhetoric of Britain and America no longer
count on the Baghdad street. Shop windows gleam, shutters are repainted,
merchants rise at dawn to wash and sweep. Travel agents are reopened after
ten years and Royal Jordanian and Aeroflot airlines are importing computers,
polishing, and preparing for regular flights. As always it is a looking
glass world. Few can either afford purchases or travel, but hope is back and
in the Iraqi Airways office in the Palestine Hotel is a triumphant timetable
for flights to Mosul and Basra - defying  British and American planes
routinely bombing the Œsafe havens¹ in which the two cities lie.

Beneath the surface tragedy is unabated. ŒWe shall visit another sadderly
place¹ said the Director of Baghdad¹s Childrens Hospital, excellent english
suddenly ambushed by emotion. Chronic shortage of diagnostic equipment,
anaesthetics, blood, drips, pain relief, antibiotics meant that five day old
Omar, with an internal obstruction was set to become another fledgling
victim of embargo.

Another Œsadderly¹ place is Basra Maternity Hospital, where birth
abnormalities are recorded, exhibiting further horrors in a new generation
of new born, linked it is thought to depleted uranium weapons used in the
Gulf war. A tiny body with neither arms, legs, or head. A part formed face
with one cyclopian eye and a nose at the hairline. ŒI want the world to hear
my voice, to know what has happed here¹ says paediatrician, Dr Jenan

The great ziggurat at Ur, believed birthplace of Abraham is damaged from the
missiles which fell nearby in 1991, 1998 and 1999 when US or UK planes
bombed, in a policy upheld by their Christian leaders. In Basra, children in
a school next to a barracks did not even look up or break from their
playground games as the sirens warned of a further attack. I joined the
soldiers who pointed up to the returning planes, pinpricks in the
stratosphere. They did not even cast a glance at their 1950¹s anti aircraft
guns, there was no contest.

Another soldier who had earlier offered to show us the road to Ur pointed
out damage from both the Gulf war and subsequent bombings. The vast power
station which had supplied the region had remained off line since being
damaged in 1991 he said as we passed it. What was clearly bomb damage was
visible over vast tracts, mile after mile. A member of the Sheffield
delegation handed him a statement in Arabic, explaining the reason for their
visit - solidarity with the people of Iraq. He read it slowly and carefully.
Then he said: ŒIt is traditional in the south to offer travellers
hospitalty. My home is very simple, but I have five chickens, you will eat
well...¹ It was just days before Ramadan, which when ended, the chickens
would have undoubtedly been part of the traditional celbratory feast. He was
prepared though, to offer them to strangers from a land who had wrought such
devastation on his country. We pleaded pressure of time and declined, moved
beyond words.

In Mosul, we visited  Deir Matti - St Matthew¹s Monastry -  perched high on
Mount Maqloub, the Lourdes of the Middle East, where the sick are bought to
what is reputed to be the Saint¹s buriel place, to benefit from his powers
of healing. On the event of the 1999 eclipse scientists and astonomers from
throughout the Middle East gathered on Mount Maqloub, the highest point in
the region, to watch. They were rewarded with the Monastry being shaken to
its foundations as the village below was bombed by patrolling UK or US
flights. The area is also a favourite for bombings of flocks of sheep and
their child shepherds. The priests are witness to the ongoing grief. ŒPlease
tell Tony Blair that he is a very, very bad man¹ said the aged priest in
charge solemnly.Half an hour after we left, there were reports of another

The help Iraq¹s people deserve is incalculable, but the airport is a beacon
of hope and a there is a new phrase on the street: Œfor us the embargo is
over¹. There is though an outstanding question. Satellite surveillance of
Iraq is such that the State Department boasted that Œa coca cola can in a
trash bin¹ could be picked up. How come the building of a vast international
airport was such a surprise?

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