Milan Rai from ARROW (Active Resistance against the Roots of War) gave a talk at Cambridge last night about his recent trip to Iraq. Here is a brief report of what he had to say, written on behalf of CASI.
Mil travelled to Iraq on 14 February 1998 along with Martin Thomas. They co-ordinated their trip with the American group Voices in the Wilderness, who made the sanctions breaking trip for the eleventh time.
British Customs and the Mysterious Mr Duval: ARROW had decided to make the trip to Iraq in violation of the sanctions rules, which require anyone taking aid to Iraq to apply for a licence that often takes months to secure. They informed the Department of Trade and Industry of their decision the day before leaving, and arrived at customs early on the 14th, expecting some difficulties. They had with them a bag containing £400 worth of antibiotics for children.
They were not detained at Heathrow. However when they collected their bag upon arrival in Jordan, they found it empty. A few days later they did actually find a hand written note inside informing them that their medicines had been confiscated. They were given two names(a Mr Jeel and a Mr Duval) and a contact number. They phoned several times but there was no reply.
On arrival back in Britain Mil did actually receive a form from the Customs and Excise Anti-Smuggling Division. He rang them asking to speak to Mr Duval, they said if he gave them his number they would ring him back with Mr Duval's number. When Mil persisted they hung up on him. He is due for an interview with Customs next week. One wuold hope that they apologise for their mysterious, erratic and unacceptable behaviour. Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn MP has filed a paliamentary question on the debacle. Mil expressed his doubts as to whether Mr Duval actually exists!
The Amariyeh Shelter:
They visited this one time bunker on the 7th anniversary of the attack (during the Gulf War) which killed 400 civilians sheltering inside. The care taker there, who has built a shrine in the centre of the shelter to her daughter who was killed in the attack expressed her desire to congradulate the West on their values. "We used to think a degree from America was a big thing. Now we know what your values are", she said.
Al Mansur Teaching Hospital:
Mil told us some frightening stories of what the sanctions mean to doctors and to mothers caring for their dying children in this hospital. Whilst the group were in the ward, a half month old baby died. It was then revived. They asked how long it was likely to live. Maybe another two hours. The baby needed oxygen to survive but becuase of the sanctions oxygen masks are in short supply. Try explaining that to the mother of this baby.
Children with Leukeimia had a 98% survival chance before the sanctions. Now it is lower than 20%. In desperation doctors are substituting the required medicine with Immuno-Suppression drugs. This could be killing the children more quickly because of the fall in hygeine standards in the hospital.
Felusha General Hospital:
One doctor here decribed the sanctions as 'biological warfare'. One could argue this from two standpoints. Firstly a lot of the diseases people are dying from in Iraq are water-borne infections. The water purification systems were bombed during the Gulf War and they have not been fixed since then (lack of spare parts). Secondly the trickle of medicines is so small that doctors no longer do medicine scientifically. For example they can not give a course of antibiotics if there is only enough for one day.
Mil also spoke of the inadequecy of the oil-for -food programme and of the sadistic policy of Britain and the US in being so tight about what to allow into Iraq.
His observations only served to confirm what many of us have suspected for a while now. His thoughts and his stories illustated vividly and truthfully what sanctions were doing to ordinary people. What amazed me the most was how he was able to remain so calm in the face of so much injustice.
By Selwa Calderbank, 6th March 1998