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Iraq news: Soaring death rates among Iraqi children

  • Iraqi Child Death Rates Soar (BBC Online)
  • Iraqis blame sanctions for child deaths (BBC Online)
  • UNICEF Releases Child Deaths Survey (Associated Press)
  • Mortality Up Among Children in Iraq (Washington Post)
  • US Won’t Halt Patrols Over Iraq (Associated Press)
  • High Oil Prices May Bring Windfall for Iraq (New York Times)
  • Iran Blames Iraq for POW Talks Breakdown (Agence France-Presse)
  • Containing Saddam (old article from the Economist)

Thanks to Drew Hamre for the NYT and Economist articles.


Iraqi child death rates soar
BBC Online, World: Middle East, Thursday, August 12, 1999 Published at 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Hospitals say they are short of even the most basic medicines

Iraqi children under five are dying at more than twice the rate they were 10 years ago according to a report from Unicef, the United Nations' children's fund. The report compiled in conjunction with the World Health Organisation and the Iraqi Government is the first survey of child and maternal mortality in Iraq to be carried since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. It shows a dramatic rise in child mortality rates in central and southern Iraq - areas controlled by the Baghdad government. Unicef estimates that over the last 10 years at least half a million child deaths could have been prevented.

Preventable deaths 

Iraqi doctors have warned that many more children will die of preventable diseases unless sanctions against the country are lifted. Unicef says that other factors, such as Baghdad's delay in distributing the aid supplies it is allowed to import under a food-for-oil deal, have contributed to the problems. To make matters worse, the social and physical infrastructure of Iraq is crumbling. The education system has been run down and figures show that children of educated mothers have a better chance of survival.

Sewers and water mains are not being maintained, which means that some children are falling victim to water-borne diseases that were virtually unheard of 10 years ago.

Stunted growth

Some sewers have collapsed allowing raw sewage to soak through the earth and into cracks in drinking-water pipes. The report also says that Iraqis are not eating enough and estimates that 20% of Iraqi children under five suffer stunted growth caused by malnutrition. It adds that in the northern Kurdish areas, where the UN runs the relief operation, the number of child fatalities is decreasing. The report recommends that more money is needed for humanitarian aid. It says the Iraqi Government should do more to promote breast-feeding, and it says the Iraqis and the UN Sanctions Committee should try harder to bring in supplies which children need for survival. The UN agency says that sanctions may have been intended by the international community to promote peace and security, but its says they should not harm children.


Iraqis blame sanctions for child deaths, by Middle East Correspondent Jeremy Bowen
BBC Online, World: Middle East, Thursday, August 12, 1999 Published at 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK

Hospitals battle with inadequate equipment 

In Iraq's hospitals and slums, and in the homes of many impoverished, once prosperous, families, it is easy to see the human suffering behind child mortality figures released by the United Nations Children's Fund. Unicef says that children under five in Iraq are dying at more than twice the rate they were 10 years ago. In Baghdad I saw three month old Elaf Kadhim lying close to death in the Saddam Children's Hospital, suffering from pneumonia, malnutrition and blood poisoning. The nurses had propped an oxygen mask, designed for somebody much bigger, over his face and were trying to keep the flies off him. His doctor, Ra'd Al-Janabi, said many more children would die if sanctions were not lifted. I suggested that it was more complicated than that - that sanctions were a highly political issue, based especially on the United States and Britain's opposition to Iraq's President Saddam Hussein. The doctor shrugged and said that was not his business, but the children were.

Food scarce 

In his garden, Karim Kadhum sat with his surviving son, Mustafa, and a photo of Hussein, his youngest, who died after he developed a chest infection. Mr Kadhum said the first and last reason for his son's death was sanctions. He said Iraqis do not have enough medicine or food. In the house of the Mohammed family in Baghdad, I saw the month's official food ration - in a tin and a few sacks. This is paid for by allowing Iraq to export a strictly controlled amount of oil. The ration is made up of rice, pulses, cooking oil, sugar, salt, tea and dried milk. It is enough to stop it all getting much worse, but not enough to make it better. In the next room sat Naba Mohammed, 3, a pretty, tiny girl. Like 20% of Iraqi under-fives, her growth has been stunted by malnutrition. At least she is surviving. Unicef estimates that at least 500,000 children have died, who ordinarily would have lived.


UNICEF Releases Child Deaths Survey

By Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press Writer, Thursday, August 12, 1999; 1:59 a.m. EDT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The first survey of child deaths in Iraq since the 1991 Persian Gulf War shows the death rate among children under 5 who live in government-controlled areas has doubled.

But the death rate among children in the autonomous north, where the United Nations runs a humanitarian relief operation, dropped significantly during the same period, the U.N. Children's Fund said in a report to be released today.

The findings show that Iraq is faced with an ongoing humanitarian emergency, according to Carol Bellamy, UNICEF's executive director. UNICEF recognizes that economic sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 are intended to promote peace and international security, Bellamy said.

``But our concern is that ... they should be designed and implemented in such a way as to avoid a negative impact on children,'' she said. UNICEF officials say a host of factors have influenced the child mortality rate, including the sanctions, two wars, a collapsed economy, and Baghdad's own response.

The survey is likely to inflame the ongoing debate in the U.N. Security Council over whether to ease the sanctions -- regardless of whether Iraq has fully complied with U.N. demands to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction. The UNICEF findings back a trend that U.N. officials identified in a recent report: U.N. humanitarian relief operations were more effective in areas outside the control of President Saddam Hussein.

The survey found that in government-controlled central and southern Iraq -- home to 85 percent of the country's population -- children under age 5 are dying at more than twice the rate they were 10 years ago. Between 1984 and 1989, there were 56 deaths of children under 5 per 1,000 live births compared to 131 deaths per 1,000 live births from 1994 to 1999. UNICEF said this puts the child mortality rate in most of Iraq on a par with rates in Haiti and Pakistan.

By contrast, in the autonomous northern region, the mortality rate of children under 5 declined by over 20 percent -- from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births during the years 1989-94 to 72 deaths per 1,000 live births between 1994 and 1999. Bellamy also noted that Iraq's child mortality rate was on the decline in the 1980s. If that decline had continued in the 1990s, there would have been a half-million fewer deaths of children under 5 from 1991 to 1998.

UNICEF urged the international community to provide more money for humanitarian efforts in Iraq and called on the U.N. committee overseeing sanctions and the Iraqi government to give priority to directly improving the well-being of children. The survey also said the Iraqi government should implement nutrition programs, adopt a national policy promoting breast-feeding, and replace the baby formula in the current food rations with additional food for nursing mothers.

UNICEF surveyed nearly 24,000 randomly selected households in south and central Iraq between February and May, in cooperation with the Iraqi government, and 16,000 households in the north, in cooperation with local authorities. All interviewers were trained health workers. Bellamy said the surveys were reviewed by a panel of independent experts. UNICEF's chief statistician, Gareth Jones, said the margin of error was less than 5 percent.

In an effort to help ordinary Iraqis cope with sanctions, the United Nations has allowed Iraq to sell limited amounts of oil to buy food, medicine, and other humanitarian aid since 1996. In a two-year review of the oil-for-food program released in April, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said billions of dollars worth of food and medicine had been delivered, but the program cannot -- and was never meant to -- meet all the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. While the United Nations runs the relief operation in northern Iraq, it relies on the Iraqi government to implement the program in the central and southern regions.


Mortality Up Among Children In Iraq - Study: Rate Doubled Following Sanctions
By Colum Lynch, Special to The Washington Post, Thursday, August 12, 1999; Page A21

UNITED NATIONS¡·Iraqi children are dying at twice the rate they did before Baghdad's 1990 invasion of Kuwait led to the Persian Gulf War and U.N. economic sanctions, according to a joint U.N.-Iraqi survey to be published today. The random survey of 24,000 households with youngsters under the age of 5 is the most comprehensive study of children's mortality in Iraq since the Gulf War ended, and it quantifies the devastating impact that war and sanctions have had on ordinary families.

Carol Bellamy, executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which wrote the report, said the U.N. embargo and the Iraqi regime are both to blame for the precarious state of children's health. She urged the international community to increase humanitarian aid, and she called on Iraqi authorities to work with the U.N. Security Council to ease the sting of sanctions, particularly
on children. "I don't think the international community can just assume that they have no responsibility and assume that oil-for-food will take care of everything," Bellamy said, referring to the program that allows Iraq to sell $5.2 billion of oil every six months to buy food and medicine. "At the same time, I don't want to let the [Iraqi] government off the hook."

In the most heavily populated regions of central and southern Iraq, the survey found the mortality rate for children under 5 years old has risen from 56 per 1,000 before the economic sanctions to 131 per
1,000. Infants less than 1 year old are now dying at a rate of 108 per 1,000, up from 47 per 1,000 before the sanctions. The picture was reversed, however, in the autonomous Kurdish territory of northern Iraq, which lies outside of Baghdad's control. A survey of 16,000 homes there revealed a declining mortality rate for children under 5. It has dropped from 80 deaths per 1,000 newborns before the Gulf War to 72 per 1,000 between 1994 and 1999. Bellamy attributed the discrepancy to the large amount of international aid pumped into northern Iraq at the end of the war. In contrast, humanitarian assistance began to reach central and southern Iraq only after April 1996, when Iraq agreed to the terms of the U.N.'s oil-for-food program.

While public health clearly has deteriorated under the U.N. sanctions, Bellamy said the Iraqi regime has aggravated the problem in several ways, such as encouraging bottle-feeding of infants, which exposes them to impure water. Benon Sevan, the head of the U.N.'s humanitarian relief program in Iraq, also has raised concerns about the alleged hoarding of medical supplies and equipment in government warehouses. And he has criticized the Iraqi regime for giving contracts to unreliable
middlemen who provide the government with defective products. But Sevan added that a U.N. committee responsible for approving imports into Iraq has dragged its heels.


U.S. Won't Halt Patrols Over Iraq

Tuesday, August 10, 1999; 10:53 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. warplanes will not modify their patrols of no-fly zones in Iraq because of Wednesday's eclipse of the sun, the Pentagon said Tuesday. ``If the Iraqis don't want to be attacked, it's very easy for them to arrange that. They can simply not challenge allied planes flying in patrol of the no-fly zones,'' Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said. ``If they don't challenge the allied planes, the allied planes will not respond.'' He was asked at the Pentagon whether the military would suspend airstrikes to avoid hitting Iraqis who might be out in the open watching the eclipse, which includes Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan in its sweep.

U.S. warplanes have been striking Iraqi military sites or returning fire when provoked on the average of 15 times a month in the eight months since Operation Desert Fox, the last use of cruise missiles against Iraqi targets, Bacon said. He said the reprisal attacks are degrading Saddam Hussein's air defense systems ``slowly and systematically.'' He said the airstrikes have averaged about six a month in the southern no-fly zone and nine a month in the northern one.

U.S. warplanes struck at Iraqi military sites Tuesday in a second consecutive day of bombings in the northern zone, the Germany-based U.S. European Command said. Air Force F-15s and F-16s dropped precision-guided bombs on two separate communications facilities, north and northeast of Mosul, 250 miles north of Baghdad, the command said in a statement. The statement said the sites were relaying radar information to anti-aircraft artillery units. The jets left the area safely, and damage to the Iraqi sites was being assessed, the statement said. Bacon also reported U.S. airstrikes Tuesday in the southern zone but provided no details. The official Iraqi News Agency said two people were injured in the attacks in northern Iraq and one was injured in the southern part of the country. The report said several more were injured and others killed when missiles struck near a church outside the northern city of Mosul.

U.S. and British planes patrol zones in north and south Iraq, set up after the 1991 Gulf War to protect Iraq's Kurdish and Shiite Muslim minorities. Iraqi forces have challenged allied planes in the zones since Dec. 28. Baghdad says the zones violate Iraqi sovereignty and international law.

Bacon also was asked whether the London-based Iraqi National Congress can expect U.S. protection if the anti-Saddam opposition group follows through on plans to hold regular meetings in northern Iraq.

``To the extent that our patrols in the northern no-fly zone prevent Saddam Hussein from moving military forces or equipment in the area, anybody meeting in northern Iraq would benefit from that,'' Bacon said. ``Other than that, there's no specific protection.'' The opposition group sought U.S. military protection to allow it to meet in northern Iraq.


High Oil Prices May Bring Windfall for Iraq
By BARBARA CROSSETTE, New York Times, August 10, 1999

UNITED NATIONS -- Rising world oil prices coupled with a big increase in its production could earn Iraq a record $6.3 billion in the current six-month phase of the program that allows it to sell oil to raise money for food, medicines and other civilian goods, officials and diplomats said on Monday. But despite the windfall, the government refuses to spend more on childhood nutrition and maternal health, ignoring the advice of U.N. officials, the executive director of the United Nations Iraq program, Benon Sevan, has told the Security Council. And medical supplies remain stockpiled in warehouses. Sevan said he had asked the Iraqi government on a recent trip there to take an inventory and explain why goods had not moved.

Unicef and the Iraqi government have recently completed a survey of children's health that is expected to show a steep deterioration since the Persian Gulf war in 1991 and the imposition of international sanctions on Iraq. The release of the findings is being held up by the Iraqis, U.N. officials say. Some suggest that it will show greater advances in nutrition and maternal health in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, where the United Nations has been running the program, than in the regions where Iraqis have been in charge.

By the end of July, Iraq was pumping an average of 2.84 million barrels of oil a day, according to Bridge News London, a specialist news service. That brings Iraq close to its target of 3 million barrels a day. Excluding subsidized sales to neighboring Jordan and oil for Iraq's own use, the output leaves oil worth about $2.3 billion for export in the six-month period that ends in November. Oil prices have more than doubled in the last six months, and if they remain high, in the $19 to $20 a barrel range, Iraq could outdo even the most optimistic projections. The prices have risen in part because the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Iraq is a member, has taken action to limit oil output.

Under the program, known as oil for food, Iraq is permitted to sell up to $5.2 billion in a six-month period. Until now Iraq has not been able to meet the target, and diplomats expect that previous shortfalls will be taken into account and the Iraqis will not be penalized if they exceed the limit. A third of the money goes to compensate victims of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, and a fixed amount is also set aside for aid to the Kurdish regions. The program began in 1996 -- nearly five years after it was first offered to President Saddan Hussein, who held out instead for an end to sanctions -- and more than $3.4 billion in food and $700 million in medicines and medical equipment have reached Iraq.

The Iraqis and key U.N. officials say that to raise public health standards, Iraq must also rebuild or improve electricity supplies and sanitation services. But numerous Iraqi requests to buy machinery for these programs has met resistance in the Security Council. Last week, Sevan wrote to the chairman of the sanctions committee with a long list of items Iraq wants to buy that have been blocked by the United States and occasionally by Britain. But American officials contend that many of the items that Washington has put on hold are suspect because they have more than one potential use and could be intended for weapons programs.


Iran Blames Iraq for POW Talks Breakdown
Tuesday, August 10, 1999. Arabia Online

TEHRAN (AFP) -- A top Iranian commander blamed Iraq on Tuesday for the breakdown in their POW talks as a new war of words erupted between the two nations following a threatening speech from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. General Abdollah Najafi, the head of Iran`s committee on POWs from the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, accused Baghdad of intentionally blocking the negotiations to resolve one of the thorniest issues between the neighbors. "Iraqi officials very obviously engineered the breakdown in the talks which began July 24 in Baghdad," Najafi told reporters here. "After the second day we knew that their political officials were looking to block the talks. The negotiations went nowhere and that was exclusively the fault of the Iraqi authorities," he said. He accused Iraqi officials of trying to alter a final report on the 10 days of talks without the permission of the Iranian delegation and said in the end they had refused to sign the report anyway.

The charge comes two days after Saddam made a provocative "Great Victory Day" speech marking the 11th anniversary of the war`s end in which he threatened to use force to resolve outstanding issues between the two nations. The hardline Jomhuri Eslami paper said Tuesday that the speech was "purely for internal politics. He is afraid the Iraqi people will revolt, so he takes every opportunity to show off his dictatorial power." Tehran and Baghdad have yet to sign a peace treaty following the bloody war, which left hundreds of thousands dead on both sides, and diplomatic relations between the two remain at the level of charge d`affaires.

The POW question remains one of the most sensitive issues and Najafi said that during the talks Baghdad presented a list of 2,952 Iraqis it said were still being held by Iran. He said he had given the Iraqi delegation the names of 2,922 Iranian POWs allegedly still in prison, although Baghdad has said it released all Iranian prisoners except 64 "criminals" it says took part in a 1991 uprising.

Iranian officials and the press lambasted Saddam after the speech, calling him a "pest" who has terrorized the Iraqi people and the Middle East. "He has wielded the sword with all the finesse of a blind drunkard," the Iran Daily said Monday, noting Saddam`s 1990 invasion of Kuwait which led to the Gulf War and 10 years of harsh UN sanctions that have crippled the nation. "What he has done to the Iraqi people themselves is a still unfolding story of some of the most brutal human behavior in the annals of history," it said. Foreign ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi said the speech was "inspired by a feeling of failure and humiliation." In the speech Saddam said: "Despite all the appeals for peace by Iraq ... the slogans, drums and guns of aggression and war have persisted (from Iran)."


Containing Saddam
The Economist 30-Jan-99

The outside world needs to distinguish, and ideally drive a wedge, between the Iraqi dictator and his people

IS IT time to lift sanctions on Iraq? On the face of it, the answer must be no. Eight years have passed since the Gulf war, yet Saddam Hussein is still in power in Iraq, still oppressing his people, still shooting at the American and British warplanes that try to contain him, still hiding some of the arms, or the wherewithal for making them, that the UN Security Council said he should give up before the trade embargo would be lifted. Simply to abandon sanctions now would be to hand victory to Mr Hussein and to give him a free hand to rebuild his arsenal of chemical, nuclear and biological weaponry. Yet a change in policy is required, and at least some sanctions should indeed be lifted.

A change is needed for two reasons. One is that over the past year the impediments placed by Iraq before the UN inspectors monitoring the weapons made their job virtually impossible, and now they have been thrown out. The most useful check on Mr Hussein is thus ended. The other reason is that the old policy has come to be seen as inflicting appalling suffering on 20m or more innocent Iraqis and not much on their guilty, and unelected, masters. True, Iraq is allowed to sell some oil and spend the proceeds, under UN supervision, on food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies, once deductions have been made to compensate Iraq's victims and pay the UN 's expenses. But the procedures are cumbersome, Iraq's dilapidated equipment is unable to pump even as much oil as it is allowed to sell, and Mr Hussein is too often able to present his people's plight as the fault of sanctions, rather than of himself. Four days of air strikes last month served to strengthen the feeling, by no means confined to the Arab world, that the Iraqi people have suffered enough.

It is an iron law that the longer any sanctions regime is in place, the harder it is to enforce it. Already the trade embargo is widely breached-even, where Turkey is involved, with a nod and wink from the United States, supposedly its fiercest upholder. But the breaches bring no benefits to most Iraqis. Their misery, coupled with the other manifest failures of the present policy, make it likely that the existing sanctions will be increasingly disregarded if the policy is not changed.

True, the UN 's arms monitors want no lifting of sanctions, and, perhaps less predictably, the Arab League, meeting on January 24th, likewise gave Mr Hussein no encouragement. But Arabs feel much more sympathy for Iraqis than for their leader, and even Saudi Arabia has recently floated ideas about a
change in sanctions policy. France, too, has made some new suggestions. Russia and China have long been critical, and the sceptics' corner of the Security Council has just been strengthened by the arrival of Malaysia and Namibia as temporary members. To add to the pressure for change, the new prime minister of Turkey, which has in the past allowed its territory to be used for strikes against Iraq, has warned America not necessarily to count on its continued support.

The mixture refined

In so far as a new consensus is emerging, it is a sensible one: that the pressure should be relaxed on Iraqis at large but maintained, or if possible intensified, on the regime. The question is how. The French proposals seem to offer a possible way. If, regrettably, the UN 's weapons inspectors cannot resume their work, forget about them and the blanket trade embargo; instead set up a new outfit to monitor all sites that have already been inspected and enforce an embargo only on weapons, on imports that could be used to make weapons, and on related financial transactions.

This is not free from objections. One is that Mr Hussein might veto it. Yet the fact that the plan would have the support of many, if not most, of his traditional friends would make his opposition less likely. More probable is that he would grudgingly accept it, but then try to frustrate it. In that event, the customary response-air strikes against military objectives-would always be available; they might even win wider support than in the past, given that he would be even more unambiguously seen as the reason for them. Perhaps the main objection is the difficulty and expense of operating a system that would involve monitors at the borders of Iraq, who would have to check everything going in and out. Some forbidden imports would inevitably get through.

If the oil price stays low, such a plan might put little more money in Iraq's coffers, and make only a small difference to ordinary Iraqis. But it would deny their true oppressor a propaganda weapon, and it would preserve the essential ingredient of current policy, which is the containment of Saddam.

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