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Report of the QPS (Aotearoa/New Zealand) delegate to Iraq in April 2002
25 July 2002
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and not necessarily agreed by Quaker Peace and Service (Aotearoa / New Zealand.)
I describe briefly conditions in Iraq before the 1991 Coalition attacks. Following that is a description of my, and other group members' experiences, visits to hospitals and other health facilities. These experiences include interviews with Iraqis, which are quoted from at length. I have backed up their statements with references to UN and other reliable sources. I thought it important to include quite full transcripts of interviews as a useful means of building up a picture of the situation. Some anecdotal material is included for the same purpose. There is a brief discussion on the subject of the Sanctions Committee (661 Committee). This is followed by a report on the role of the US, and a brief conclusion
For twelve days in April, 2002, I visited Iraq as part of a group of over one hundred doctors, journalists, MPs, writers, documentary makers and photographers. Most came from Belgium, with others from Finland, France, Italy, Britain, Germany, Holland and Algeria.
The visit was arranged by the Iraq-Belgium and Iraq/Holland Friendship Societies. Delegates paid their own way to Baghdad, once there, we were the guests of those Societies. We stayed in hotels in Baghdad and Basra, and were mostly transported in large modern buses, occasionally in taxis.
Delegates were aware throughout of the possibilities for their manipulation. We believed also that at least some of our interpreters, though not government employees - they were mostly retired people - probably had party leanings. The main drawback there was that when they were with us we couldn't ask people we met if they were happy with the government!
However, I for one had enough years of following the situation to know the background and much of what to expect. All of the delegates were able to follow their own inclinations from time to time. My visits to the UNHCR and with Iraqi families are cases in point.
Just over a decade ago, Iraq had one of the most modern infrastructures and highest standards of living in the Middle East. The world's second largest oil producer, it had in recent decades used oil revenues for ambitious projects and development programmes.
Carel de Rooy, Director of UNICEF in Baghdad told me, "Between '75 and '85 there was a period of very heavy social investment. Oil was nationalised in '72 and during those ten years this country made very heavy investments in education, health, water supplies, sanitation. They achieved very high standards. Of course by mid '85 because of the Iran/Iraq war the social investments started to decline. One has to remember that.
"Then you get at the end of the decade the Gulf War. Devastating of course. And on top of that you have 11 years of sanctions. So it's a cumulative process which has led to the situation where we are today (Carel de Rooy, UNICEF, April 2002)."
It had established a modern, free, complex health care system, with giant hospitals built on Western models and using the latest equipment, supported by a first class distribution and roading system. It had constructed sophisticated water-treatment and pumping facilities that covered 90% of the country. It had a free and extensive school and university system.
That scene has now changed: there is the possibility of course, as some would say, that the parts of the hospital we saw had been set up by the GoI specially for overseas visitors. I can't comment on that, except to say that I have good advice that that is not so. That conditions are bad in all the public hospitals. Small private hospitals have been built because of the sanctions situation, and these are better, and the wealthier patients can have access to smuggled medicines.
From the outside the Saddam Hussein Children's Hospital is an attractively designed modern building, probably similar, apart from cultural differences in architecture, to many in NZ. Before 1991 it was probably similarly equipped, and staffed by similarly dedicated and well-trained people. The dedication is still there, though how they maintain it in the face of the conditions they're immersed in I don't know.
The first ward you pass through has perhaps forty beds, is cool and airy and quiet. On each bed sits a woman, continuously tending her child. Sometimes a grandmother is there too. All the faces have the beauty of young motherhood, or the beauty that lies in the lines of life's experiences.
There was no time to make any kind of survey of ailments. But one woman lifted the T-shirt of her small boy, who could have been my grandson in other circumstances, to show me a misshapen little body with a chest infection
Though "run down" doesn't come anywhere near a description of the empty corridors, light fittings cannibalised so that there are no lights in the corridors. Holes in walls where once were lift buttons, chipped and broken concrete walls that haven't seen paint in years. You are surrounded by dereliction.
The children are mostly under ten, round about five perhaps, they mostly suffer from low birth weight and malnutrition leading to gastro-enteritis. Low birth weight is one of the big problems. Sixty or seventy percent of the mothers are anaemic due to poor diet.
We went up to the second floor of that hospital. There's no lift, they don't work. It's a wreck. I was in a room with some incubators, and suddenly the passage outside rang with a woman's screams and this young woman was being escorted to a ward, where she fainted. She'd just lost her child who I think was about four weeks old, and I think the whole ward grieved with her.
I spoke to the doctor about it, and asked him what was the cause. And he said it's gastro-enteritis, it's due to malnutrition and we don't have enough medicine to cover it. And I asked him how many cases he would have in a week. He sort of looked at me a bit blankly and said, I don't know. So I said, "Ten?" He said. "No, more than that". "Twenty?" "No, more than that." "Thirty?" "Put down any figure you like," he said, "It doesn't matter, it's happening all over Iraq." And it occurred to me then that it was an inane question. It shouldn't have been a question. It should have been a statement, and the statement is a very simple one. This should not be happening.
The same doctor, when I asked him about shortages said, "Well yes, there are shortages. We have trouble getting the necessary instruments, but we improvise, we manage." What he was telling me was what I picked up from every Iraqi I met, "We will survive, we will not give in."
From the hospital, we went to the Al Amaria bomb shelter. Inside it still smells of burnt concrete, eleven years after the attack. On Feb. 14, 1991, US-lead Coalition aircraft dropped a bomb into the ventilation shaft of the Al Amiriya Bomb Shelter in Baghdad which opened a great hole in the roof. Four minutes later they dropped a second bomb - napalm or fuel-air - through the same hole, which finished their job. Only four of the 408 people sheltering there escaped. The dead were civilians, nearly all women and children who lived in the neighbouring residential area.
You stand on the edge of the crater in the floor, beneath the bomb hole through a few metres of reinforced concrete roof, with twisted reinforcing steel snaking away in all directions. All around you are the blackened thick pillars that support the roof. Around them blackened walls, hung, like some of the resistance head-quarters in rural Guatemala, with photographs of the dead.
Octagonal, the shelter has an inside diameter of around fifty metres, and is lit here and there with low-powered bulbs so that visitors can pick their way through the rubble and dust and, if so inclined, pay their respects to the victims.
The place is a carefully preserved memorial to the dead. But more than that, an image, a graphic symbol of one of the most deliberate, carefully planned pieces of barbarism of the late twentieth century. Because that attack was but a small part of the destruction of a modern infrastructure that supported twenty two million people. That supported a vibrant, highly educated, cultured people whose roots were in the beginnings of civilisation. People who are proud of their traditions, proud to be Iraqis.
One memorable evening we visited Nouri Al Rawi, internationally famous artist, in his impressive small gallery in Baghdad. Well, he used to be internationally famous, but now, he told me, "Before the embargo we used to visit America, and were very happy and invited them to visit us in Iraq. One of our young artists won a $100,000 award for first place in a competition. But that was the last one.
"Now we are banned from the art exhibitions. They don't explain why, but the reason is well known. Even though art is not political, in Iraq everything has to be kept inside the country.
Being a working artist is his life and he wants to be well known again, especially through exhibitions in the US and Europe. Now, when he wants get a visa to the States or Europe he cannot, "because he is an Iraqi. They don't allow any painter to help Iraq. It is impossible to get a visa for any country in Europe.
"This is the great voice of America! And they treat us like servants. Why? This Iraq has a big heart. We tell everybody in the world, "Welcome!" Our country puts no doors between anybody from any country and Iraq.
"This is the great United States! This how they fight our culture.
"What really makes us sad, I was working in the Ministry of Culture and we met always delegations of culture from all over the world, now, under the embargo, no one is interested in our problems.
"We hope that the message will pass among you to take home. How we are under the power of Europe, and to show Europe how the suffering is here in Iraq. As artists, we want you to take this message please to your countries.
"We wish that those old friends would visit us and take an interest again in our problems here and in this manner of living which is not appreciated."
Appropriate to the above, I believe that Iraqi citizens have to pay very large taxes to leave the country.
I joined a smaller group, mostly of doctors, to pay a brief visit to the Baghdad TB and Chest Diseases Institute, and spoke with the Director.
He told us, "The two main problems we are facing today are the shortages of children's medicines. We are using medicines for adults and dividing them to cure the children because of the shortages. We used to have free of charge compulsory vaccination for newly-born infants. Now we have shortages for the bcg project.
"Even the WHO says you must not change the vaccine. If you make changes you make many complications and side effects for the children. We are not supplied with this vaccination.
"The embargo routine of the memorandum of understanding is the problem. The programme of the Oil-for-food is restricting the delivery of such vaccines.
He said that the second part of the treatment is sometimes unavailable, but could not be precise as to why that should be. "We are not informed, we don't know the reasons. At first we were importing such medicines for the second phase. But now if we want to import, our request would go through the international routine, so many stages, the whole affair will be forgotten. It is the complications of the system that cause many problems."
"We were requesting to receive and to import this vaccine, but you have to wait until they approve this and approve that. Also the international system, the people we are dealing with, they restrict the delivery of the medicines." They used a process that took forty-two days. But there is a very modern medical way to do this called the Pectic 2 (?) System to do it in one or two weeks. But they couldn't get it delivered because it is put onto the "dual use" list by the 661 Committee (Sanctions Committee).
I asked him if there was any of it in the country, but held up within Iraq itself?
Dr.: "No, in Iraq we haven't. Pectic 2 we don't have. We make many requests for it but they don't give it to us. Nor even for private hospitals, no, no.
"Our treatment is short course chemo-therapy, four drugs in the intensive phase, and two drugs in the continuation phase. The intensive phase is two months, continuation phase twelve months. During the intensive phase we have the health workers supervising the medicine. And for the continuation phase the patients take their medication weekly and go. Every week we give the medicine for seven days.
A Belgian doctor asked, "What laboratory means do you have for making the diagnosis? If you have no radiography and no culture, how do you decide on a clinical basis which patient you will give the drugs to?"
"We make our decision not only on a clinical base. We make decisions on laboratory tests. We use sputum tests. We do each patient three times. This is for our sputum examination. We have sequential sputum examinations. One when the patient comes in, one before breakfast and one when they come next. We have three sample of sputum.
The same doctor asked the Director, "How can tuberculostatic drugs fall under the embargo? There is no double use possible. The bcg vaccination cannot be double used. So why can they block the importation of the vaccination?"
But all he could say was, "The routine for importing the vaccination is a very difficult routine. The working of the embargo is very difficult. So the direct importing from Japan is very difficult now. This is our problem."
Paragraph 87 of the UN Secretary General's 2001 Report states, "Vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, pneumonia, tetanus and hepatitis are also in short supply; anti-tuberculosis (BCG) are not available countrywide at all levels of health facilities. ........ The shortages are due in part to delays in placing orders for replenishment of health items, irregular deliveries of orders, holds placed on applications and failure of some of the ordered items to pass quality-control tests. ......... At present two applications, one for tetanus and diphtheria anti-toxins and another for hepatitis-B vaccine are on hold (S/2001/186)."
One of the doctors remarked to someone in the group as we were leaving, "Your visit reminds us of the inspectors, and makes us feel sick."
We were taken to Kerbala and its famous Imam Al-Hussein mosque, on a day when it was crowded with Iranian pilgrims. The courtyard, perhaps 150 metres square, was crowded that day with visitors swelling the usual crowds of worshippers. Family groups sat on the clean tiles on the shady side. The niches all around the beautiful gold-and-blue-patterned and tiled outside walls were also filled with groups of people, picnicking, talking, children dressed in their best for the occasion. They were happy to be photographed - smiles all round. The huge golden dome of the main building and the two golden minarets dominated. But non-Muslims were not allowed inside the main building.
That was an important visit, because, apart from the inspiring loveliness of the historic architecture, it was a chance to absorb, in minute measure of course, the history of the country and the religious central theme, both part of the essence of Iraqi life and culture. The latter not so easy to understand for anyone from a largely secular society .
The mosque visit was important also because it is vital, absolutely vital to raise the sanctions debate above the facts and figures and theory that tend to dominate. The essence of the debate, if indeed there should be any debate at all, must be focused on the culture, the people and the injustices presently being imposed upon them.
We flew down to Basra for a three day visit, an hour or so's flight from the magnificent architecture of Baghdad Airport. That airport building is, I suppose, about on a par with Wellington airport's main building, except of course for the distinctive Iraqi- style design. The tiled-floored concourse dwarfed our 120 strong group. There was one small transport jet on the tarmac besides the daily aircraft to Basra, and that was it.
At Basra you are greeted by another superb, almost deserted, modern building, with Basra International Airport written large on its frontage. Inside, in the carousel baggage area, one whole wall is covered by a superb, distinctively Iraqi mural. I asked if I could photograph it, and was told, yes, go ahead. But as soon as I showed a camera, another guy came along and forbade it. I told him that I'd been given permission, but he gave me a cold look and said, " I'm police."
I joined the group going to the main teaching hospital in Basra, the Basra Paediatric Hospital. The hospital has 70 doctors, 8 or 9 in paediatrics and 12 post graduates.
The situation is worse in Basra. The area suffered more damage in the Coalition attacks of 1991. The canals that run through the city are polluted with sewage. Power supply is worse, the potable water situation is worse; UNICEF told me that the water is as much as 40% sewage at times. And the disturbing thing down there is the increase in cancers and leukaemias.
I found my way to a small ward with about six beds in it, and there's a child there with a brain tumour, he might have been seven or eight, a lovely kid. But one eye was as big as a golf ball, it looked gross, and the doctor lifted up his shirt to show also the shoulder, swollen and all out of proportion. It was leukaemia. He said, "He first came in about four years ago, we've known about him for four years, but we didn't have either the diagnostic equipment or any treatment." He went on, "I'm giving him IV fluids as you can see, because he's malnourished and dehydrated, but that's all I can do for him. We just don't have the chemo-therapy drugs. All these children will die within a month, but I don't tell the mothers."
"If he'd been in your country, or if the Coalition attacks had not happened and the embargo lifted as it should have been when Iraq retreated from Kuwait, then this boy would probably have been cured. As it is there are many similar cases."
This kid's mother was standing just behind me in her black head- scarf, cut off from her son by this intrusive group of foreigners. I wanted a long-focus lens to capture her expression from a discreet distance, not having one I retreated as quickly as possible.
In New Zealand, 80% of children with standard risk leukaemia will have no trace of the disease after five years' treatment.
The medical staff here blame the Sanctions Committee for using the "dual use" clause to define some medicines as having possible military application, so putting them "on hold". And they well know that 90% of these holds are placed by the US, and the other 10% by the UK.
The Director of this hospital told us how the number of cancers in Iraq has dramatically increased, and new, previously unseen cancer types have appeared. Since 1996 seven cases of "double cancer", i.e. patients who are affected by two different cancer types simultaneously, have appeared in Basra for first time. Fourteen- year-old girls are suffering from breast cancer. "Many of the doctors also, breast cancer in women and lung cancer in men."
We were told of the increasing incidences of birth abnormalities, not seen before a few years ago. So widespread now that the first question mothers ask is not, "Is it a boy or a girl?" But, "Is it normal?" The doctor described some of them to us and we saw the photographs. Abnormality is hardly the word. They call them lumps of flesh, and attribute the cause to the depleted uranium (DU) used by the Coalition forces in 1991.
An Iraqi study on DU of the Basra area says: "As a result 44% of the population of these areas are expected to have lung cancer and about 5% of them with fatal different types of cancers and that the effects will appear 10 years after the exposure."
I have to say here that there is still a good deal of discussion on the causes of these cancers. The Gulf War environment was highly toxic with smoke from burning Kuwaiti oil wells, and there is the possibility that chemical weapons dumps might have been bombed. My own belief is that depleted uranium probably is the main cause. That studies which show that will be accepted, and that the emerging patterns of cancers will support this.
The hospital's Director told us that the mortality rate for cancer is about 80%. Most of the cases of cancer die immediately because there is no chemo-therapy and there are no supportive measures regarding antibiotic drugs, anti-viral, antifungal drugs are not available. So most of the cases die either because of the disease itself, or maybe because of complications of the infection leading to death."
Of the cases in that ward , most were of leukaemia and cancer. Cancers sharply increased especially after 1995. "As you know," he said, "the incubation period of depleted uranium is five years. So the sharp increase after 1995 I tell you is about 70 cases of leukaemia in 2001. Acute leukaemia, not Hodgkin's, leukaemia, acute mylistic leukaemia, chronic mylistic leukaemia. All three types are increasing. Most people here have tumour of the kidney, but most of the children have leukaemia in these years. The child cases are increasing and there is a relationship between depleted uranium and cases of leukaemia. And in addition there is also an increase in brain tumours.
"Also there now has come fear in the families. Most of the families now, even if the child develops even a low grade fever they ask for an investigation to exclude leukaemia. Regarding congenital malformation and all cancers, they all come from areas near Kuwait, near the battlefields."
They don't do autopsies he told us, because most of the families refuse it. They take their babies away immediately. Down's Syndrome? It has not increased since before the war.
"Under the OFF programme, only 20% of our chemo-therapy needs are being met. Because the American, or British governments, I don't know which, say that some of the drugs may be used in weapons, so they are prohibited."
He was asked, "Have you seen any changes in the deliveries of medicines in the last six months, is it getting better or worse?"
"No, very much worse. Very much worse. The Iraq government supplies many drugs, they try to improve the manufacture of some drugs. But some drugs are not available here. Some drugs are omitted from the list of drugs. Only some of the medicines regarding the simple things is available. But some of the drugs like chemo-therapy, the more toxic drugs, are not available. I am responsible for malignant cases, and responsible for this treatment. I can only give one or two drugs to the patients, and there is a special protocol for the treatment of patients, about four or six drugs are used. I give only two drugs to the patients. And so I tell you, most of the cases die or relapse. They don't respond to treatment.
"What happens exactly here, this is a crime. .....Brain tumour or other type of leukaemia, acute ... leukaemia, I have only one drug to treat this patient. In England or America you can't treat patients with leukaemia with only one drug, you give many drugs and supportive measures and treat the patient as a human being. Where's the humanity, because that is not applied in our society. It is very miserable, believe me. The economic sanctions and the contamination by this DU. We don't know what will happen to us in the future. Most of the patients now, regarding cancer, breasts as regarding female, and leukaemia regarding children. And these are some of the terrible things.
"This patient (a child of about 7 yrs.) has cancer on his arm that will spread. The grossly enlarged eye is caused by a tumour. We are giving him I.V. fluids because he's weak and not eating. We first saw this child four years ago, but had no diagnostic or therapeutic equipment.
A member of the group asked, "Do the people lack vitamins in their diet?" And was told, "Other agents do not affect the chromosomes, this is DU (rogation?) not toxicity. The effect is on the structure of the chromosome. "
One of the 'Medicines for the Third World' doctors asked, "You said that some of your colleagues, the doctors are getting cancer also. Do you mean that they go to the battlefields, or is it having contacts with patients or....?
"No, no, some of the cases were because of exposure, of bombing in this situation. Or maybe in some cases the father was shelled in the war and this also affects the baby. Even the child with cancer, with a highly sophisticated lab, if we take the blood from the parents and from the child we see there is also abnormality of the chromosome. Especially in leukaemia.
Question: What do you know about the transfer of depleted uranium from the battlefields to the city, and beyond?
"In these years even the centre is involved. Last week we had five new cases. You can see them in front of you and you can ask the families. There is strong documentation of the relationship of these cases to DU, and there is no family history at all of these malformations or malignancies. It's the economic sanctions that prevent us from treating these patients. And we can't prevent incidences of these cases.
"For the future of other populations, don't use DU. This is very miserable, very destructive. The mortality from these abnormalities is increasing. This is a weapon of mass destruction. We are destroying a generation of the future. We destroy the future. I tell you, this is one of the weapons to make the Iraqi sick, decrease the number of future generations, to make them sick and illiterate, this is one of the aims of the Americans and the British.
"Lifting the sanctions is not a complete solution to improving the situation. All the environment has to be decontaminated. Lifting the sanctions will allow us to help this family and improve the outcome - maybe. I tell you, some of the leukaemia, if we could give the child good treatment the recovery would be 95%.
Another doctor said, "To lift the sanctions and clean up the DU needs international effort. To clean the oil-fields from the effects of depleted uranium. Because the effect of DU you know is not only in regard to our society, because the wind will transfer that radiation even to the surrounding countries and affect them."
Question : "Do you see now here also cases of kwashiorkor and marasmus? What's the reason you have here malnutrition? I ask as the devil's advocate!"
"Even before the sanctions there was not always a good food supply. But since there is the increased percentage of malnutrition."
Question: "Before the sanctions did you see cases of marasmus and kwashiorkor?"
"It was very rare, very rare. We only saw them in books. I am a paediatrician in the Medical college, and we did not see these cases. In these years we see many cases. I am Assistant Professor in the Medical College, and in these years is the first time I've seen these things."
Question: "Do you think some of these chemo-therapy drugs are in the warehouses but not reaching the hospitals?"
"No, not available at all. Even in Baghdad. Some of the rich families can afford these drugs from Jordan, and their children are cured. With five years of this treatment they are okay. But if the drugs are available to some patients, maybe others could get benefit from them.
"When the newspapers say that Iraq is in a good situation most of them do not speak the truth. But you go to the wards and see the patients.
"Some of the gastro-enteritis cases need (potassium ?), and the US government says that is a chemical weapon so it is forbidden us. And most of the cases die because we don't have very simple drugs. Some of the electrolytes also."
Question: "Do you have problems with anaesthetics as well?"
"We have a great shortage of anaesthetics."
Question: "Are some of the shortages due to the complications of the ordering system?"
"The government orders all that we require. From A to Z. They order all drugs that we need. But the problem is that the 661 Committee accepts this, does not accept this. This is related to chemical weapons. This is related to a biological weapon. (2nd Dr. "They treat us like animals, not like human beings.") They explain this potassium, a simple part of body fluid, might have a role in chemical weapons. Why do we need potassium for example? We need potassium solutions, we need anti-biotics, we need culture media.
"Some of the malignant cases occur also in Kuwait. But in Kuwait they have good treatment and most of them are cured. Also in Kuwait is an increase in congenital malformation and cancer but the drugs are available and they can treat their patients thoroughly.
Question: Is it true that they cannot perform an operation because there is no anaesthetic?
"Yes, three or four years ago even tooth extractions were done without anaesthesia. But now it is better. Some of the anaesthetics are manufactured locally and that helps us.
Question: How many different drugs do you have available in this hospital?
"For example, out of ten items once available, five would be now. For the next period (OFF phase) out of the five three or four might be available, and we miss from the first list also three or four. And we are suffering from that cycle. If the drug is not available today, it might be in the next three months, and the other drugs will be missed from other hospitals and so on. Therefore we do not have good choices of the ideal drugs for patient treatment. Sometimes we are forced to substitute one drug for another in order to try to help people.
Question: For pain killers like Aspirin and paracetamol, do you have them?
"Some of these are manufactured in Iraq and the government supplies us and they are very good and cheap.
Question: The pharmaceutical factories were destroyed in the bombing weren't they. Have you managed to rebuild them?
"Yes, the government rebuilt some of them and they supply some of the medicines now.
Question: Is all your water purified?
"It is all purified. It must be purified because of the sanctions. The sanctions affect every part of our lives. We need a special station for the purification of water. Special substance also for purification. But since the economic blockade ten years ago there has been a shortage of machines and materials. So water has become the main transmitter of diseases, especially gastro- enteritis.
"This child is aged three months and suffers from gastro-enteritis. Always, they suffer from the simplest things. And the water contamination is a main problem. A very important thing is education. We need an education programme for all the people, but we need more facilities to reach vast areas in Iraq. But education is still only a small solution. We are suffering from two wars. One war in 1980 and another in 1991, the last of which made significant difficulties in Iraq. So we have psychological conditions also. We pay special attention to psychological problems.
Question: We saw the Saddam Hussein Children's Hospital in Baghdad, and it was in terrible condition. It was awful and you have a beautiful hospital here. Why is there a difference?
"As you know, this building is a newly formed building. Some of the hospitals were exposed to bombing, direct bombing during the war. And one of them was our hospital. During the Iran war major parts of this hospital were destroyed. And after rehabilitation it has become like this. That's this hospital, we have other hospitals expose directly to American force bombing during the Gulf War and destroyed completely. We have the Saddam Teaching Hospital, in Basra, you see it near the Shatt Al Arab river, which was exposed directly to American bombing. All the windows and doors and even the ceilings and some of the floors were destroyed completely.
"Now we have a lack of potassium, so this patient might die because of dehydration. Before, we had adequate supplies of all kinds of drugs, but now we are always short of medication.
"This woman has ten children. Nine girls and one boy. That will be enough for her! They love the boys more than the girls.
Interjection: Yes, funny idea!
"In [each of] these two rooms we have four patients with malnutrition and gastro-enteritis. There are ten to twenty children in here now like this. From forty four patients, we have ten to twenty patients like this. Here in this general wing we have fifty beds. And in the other wing the same. There is a special ward upstairs that is costly for the patients.
Question: So you have a VIP wing!?
"Not only VIP, some patients want to be in special conditions. But all the facilities are the same and we hope that all the patients get the same treatment. The care is the same. We are doctors and nurses and the difference is only in the rooms.
Question: You say you have 40 patients here. What do you call this ward?
"This a general ward. You can see that it is not ideal for the isolation of the patients. You can compare conditions here with European hospitals. We have special wards for leukaemia where patients require special care. But the sanctions make us limited in our jobs.
Question: What is the difference in the equipment you have before and now after the sanctions?
"The differences are great, although in the last two years some of the equipment we wanted was allowed through the 661 Committee. In this hospital we need many things that have been refused by the 661 Committee. Before 1990, we had a blood-count analyser, but now we don't have one. This is a simple example of the equipment and machines that we require. We also require sophisticated laboratory equipment for investigations. We always work with primitive investigations. We have to depend on our knowledge and our clinical judgement.
"We have a chromosomal analysis machine in Baghdad, but we need to have them distributed to all Iraqi hospitals.
Question: I see that you have very little oxygen equipment, is the distribution a problem?
"We used to have oxygen distribution here before the bombing. The equipment was destroyed because of the pressure that was put on it. Now we cannot give as much as is needed."
While in Basra, I and a Belgian doctor from Medicines for the Third World organisation went to see the Primary Health Care centre that has been renovated, and is now supported and supplied by the Rome-based NGO, Bridge to Baghdad. It is now supported also by NZ NGO Quaker Peace and Service.
It's named the Sinbad Project after the famous Arabian story, Sinbad the Sailor, which invited children all over the world to dream. His home town was Basra. And the Sinbad Clinic in Basra restores life to at least some of the children there, so that they also may dream.
It's set in a shady garden in Basra, over the road from the Shatt Al Arab waterway. It's staffed by an Iraqi Director, two Iraqi nurses, one of them from the Red Crescent Society, one lab. technician and a gardener. They confine their attentions to gastro- enteritis in children under five years of age and treat nine thousand of these children a year. Many of them return more than once, an indication both of the great need for such services and the appalling state of public health in the area, which is due mainly to malnutrition and contaminated water.
Anna Riatti, Bridge to Baghdad's person in Baghdad told me, "In 1996 we decided to create a special place specially for children from nought to five years to take care of malnutrition and diarrhoea. Because at that time (and still now) the other Primary Health Care Centres in the governorate weren't able to take care of these things."
"We give the medicines free of charge, to every child, and we are obliged of course to import into Iraq these medicines from outside. You cannot find these medicines in Iraq because of the embargo."
"The Oil-For-Food programme should cover them, but in reality it's not possible to import all the medicines that they need."
I asked Anna, "Why is that? Because these medicines are essential medicines and essential medicines are supposed to be allowed freely into the country? Are they being held up by the Sanctions Committee?"
She told me, "Well yes, but I think there are two components in this problem. Some get held up, but there are also difficulties in ordering because of the embargo. Whatever it is, they control the importation of medicines. And it's impossible to import all the medicines they need for all the children's diseases in Iraq."
Anna also told me that severe shortages of power were a big problem, specially in the villages when summer temperatures are a steady 50 degrees and people need a lot of water, all of which has to be boiled. It is very difficult to keep the children healthy under these circumstances.
The UN Secretary General's (SG's) Report, March, 2001 paragraph 112, states, "Holds placed on key electricity items continue to have a negative impact on the sector. As at 31 January 2001, the total value of applications placed on hold in the electricity sector amounted to $765.8 million ............. the consequences of these holds are greater than the above-stated percentage would suggest."
UNICEF told me that of Iraq's 1,800 Primary Health Care clinics (PHCs), because of the embargo, only 600 are now functioning. The Sinbad Clinic is small jewel in a very rough paddock.
Two fuller accounts of this project are appended to this report.
From Basra also we were proudly shown over a newly renovated water-treatment plant. These plants are the keys to people's lives. Various NGOs, volunteer groups and the International Committees of the Red Cross (ICRC) have put a lot of money and effort into restoring many of these water treatment plants. But this one had been done by the GoI with oil-for-food (OFF) money and the people there were obviously pleased with the job they'd done. It was running continuously and smoothly. A success story. Though, since the Shatt Al Arab became too salty because of reduced flow in the Tigris due to three bad drought years and the building of a dam by Turkey, they now have to pipe the water from a distance of 200 kms..
Whether power supply was a problem here I can't say. I forgot to ask. Throughout much of the system it is. Paragraph 97 of the March 2001 SG's report says that "The lack of continuous power supply has further aggravated the situation. Of the 43 boosting stations observed, 37% have a continuous power supply, while others, on average, have power supply for only 15 hours a day."
Interview with the editor of an English language newspaper.
The whole group had a question and answer evening with the editor of one of the five English language newspapers in Baghdad. I will take a few quotes from her replies because she did paint a picture of several aspects of Iraqi life under the sanctions.
She told us, "Regarding the GoI's spending money on "useless" buildings, like mosques for example: Usually when there is a war, or a natural disaster, the natural reaction of people is that only God can help. It is a general feeling everywhere in the world. Most of you do not remember World War II, but during World War II people used to go to churches all over the world. Moslem churches and religious places are there to comfort. In many churches and mosques, donations are distributed to people. The preaching helps them to be on the right side. We've been living in a state of war for too long. The sanctions have killed one and a half million people. Most of these were children less than five years old. So when a mother loses her kid of less than five years old, nothing can comfort her than her belief in God. Whatever is your point concerning this matter, I think that whatever is good for the people and comforts them is a good deed.
"These mosques are mostly built by people who donate the money and the material, so it's not the government, as the American administration says, are building the mosques instead of feeding the people. It gives a lot of people a way to live, to work, in the state of unemployment created by the sanctions. These are places of meditation, of exchanging help and solidarity among the people.
"When the war ended, all estimations given by the UN, by the Harvard team, said that Iraq would need at least fifteen years to be reconstructed with foreign aid. Remember again, after World War II, the US created the Marshall Plan to reconstruct Europe and inject dollars so that the European economy would be re- invigorated so that communism would not enter Europe by that door. Iraq did not wait for a Marshall Plan, because it entails re- colonisation of the country and foreign control. So that the first re-construction happened exactly two days after the cease-fire of 1991.
"The same thing applies to the reconstruction. We are doing our best so that we can continue our resistance and we have survived and it's almost twelve years now. And we will continue this way. How this is financed, it is mostly by the government and the people, but we have done it and we will continue to do it.
[While one does have to recognise that there is a political agenda, the government is putting a lot of resources into policies that contribute to the people's pride in the rebuilding of their country.]
"Sometimes if you go for vaccinations or to take a medicine, it's almost free of charge because it's supported by the government, but sometimes you have to go at seven o'clock in the morning because at nine o'clock you'll find none. It's been distributed. Because the store is not enough. And it goes on for other sectors in life. So you can see the buildings are reconstructed, but the human beings are targeted.
"It's not a list of components. It's a political question, How long is this genocide going to continue? If we accept the concept of sanctions, then we accept the concept of the new colonisation of countries in the name of the world population.
"You cannot decide for me what I eat, what I work, and what I do with my life. It's up to me. So it's not for the Western countries to decide what should happen in Iraq because they know better than us, the natives. We are equal to them, and we believe that we are entitled to decide for ourselves. It's not for a UN official to say that this is good for you, off you go and eat it.
"The concept of sanctions, and it's equal to colonisation. Why do they keep them? Until America can put its hand on Iraqi oil so that it can monopolise the region's oil and control the world from there. Was it a question of Bin Laden in Afghanistan, or the pipelines passing through Afghanistan? Who organised the 11th. of September events? Who made them possible? Let's discuss the basics. And I believe the question of sanctions is a political question. Not an economic one, not a social one. It's a political question. It's a new colonial design made for third world countries. And mostly with those rich in natural resources.
"I believe in my people. They've been living in hard conditions for thousands of years. We suffered lots of occupation forces, the last of which was the British. And we survived, and we built our country. I believe we can do it again.
"Let me remind you again that sanctions were imposed because Iraq had entered into Kuwait. That was in 1990. And the sanctions were supposed to be lifted once Iraq left Kuwait. If you read the 661 Resolution you can easily see that. When Iraq was out of Kuwait, sanctions were revised in 1991 with more conditions on Iraq. Whenever Iraq complied with UN Resolutions, new conditions were imposed. So there is no way out unless America stops its interference in the Security Council. We have survived and we believe we can survive again. If we are going to wait for an American, or Western decision, we'll wait for a long time. Because the only thing that the West wants from us, and mainly America, is our oil and resources. And as our people, 23 million persons, have the right to their own oil, and resources, we will not permit America to colonise us. And this is why we are paying the high price.
"Now they threaten to bomb Iraq or invade Iraq from the North or from the South, I don't know what other pipe dreams they have. The United States want their own way. But whatever they do, Iraq would not be on its knees. They have to understand this. Palestinians have been under Israeli occupation since at least the fifties. They did not stop their resistance."
We visited a primary school in Baghdad, crowded, dingy, tiny cramped classrooms which would have been okay with fewer children in them. Except there were no teaching aids apart from the blackboard, no pictures brightened the walls as would be the case in NZ schools. But the kids were delighted with their visitors. I found myself in a class of 54 boys. One of them, called to the front by the teacher was reciting the lesson for the day, confidently and probably extra loudly for my benefit.
I won't quote it here to save space, but for a reliable picture of the primary school conditions, please refer to the SG's Report, S/2001/186, paragraph 116 onwards.
The spirit of the people is absolutely wonderful. I went to Iraq with the express purpose of trying to discover why there were drug shortages. Because some people say, "The medical supplies are getting through, there's plenty in the warehouses, it's the fault of the government." That's a simplistic argument that doesn't stand up to analysis. Pre 1990, it wasn't like this. I will go into the issue of "holds" placed on the GoI's orders later in this report.
I soon found that there is a bigger issue, into which that of the hospitals had to be fitted. An issue greater even than the vast task of reconstruction, which under on-going sanctions is, and would continue to be devastatingly tough on the people. It is the whole issue of this culture which is being destroyed along with the infrastructure. You get the feeling very quickly that the people are tremendously proud of their history, but that some of the links are being broken through the breakdown of education and the disruption, caused by poverty of old societal values.
The schools and universities continue to function, despite being physically run down and short of books and educational equipment. This country which once had one of the highest numbers of PhDs per capita continues to amaze in its dedication to culture and learning. Sitting with an elderly mathematics professor in a tea house in central Baghdad, one of the group was assured that although educational standards were not as high in the universities as they had been, they were still the highest in the Middle East. The students are completely dedicated and dream of one day being able to complete their post graduate studies in the West.
What also happened was, that in order to keep some kind of economy going, the government printed dinars. Which resulted in inflation, something like 6,000 percent inflation, but at least it kept a little money circulating in the private sector. And it meant that some people - engineers for example, could be getting as much as $30 a month. At the very most. Before the embargo, 70% of Iraqis were middle class on reasonable incomes, now around four million of the most educated are living abroad but the rest, for the most part, have been driven to grinding poverty.
People are selling their most valued possessions in order to survive. One man in the market where people go to do this told us that his passion was English poetry. He had come to the point where the last of his collection was now on the pavement. "Except for one," he said. "There was one book which I promised myself that I'd never sell. Yet finally I brought even that one here. Today, somebody picked it up to look at it, and I took it from him and took it home. I'd sooner go hungry for three days than part with that one!"
People have sold the last of their furniture, washing machines and other household goods, either to meet some emergency, or just to survive.
Yet you look around, and they're rebuilding and rebuilding everywhere because Iraq is rich in building materials, apart from the reinforcing iron. I was talking to one of our interpreters on the river bank, he said to me, "Look at those bridges. They were destroyed by the bombing. Each end was deliberately bombed. And we've rebuilt them." There's this tremendous pride in being part of this rebuilding, and in being part of an ancient, and immensely valuable and educated culture, in being Iraqi.
I've mentioned my felt need to be wary of information given us by our interpreters, but I've checked the account below with an Iraqi friend who is certainly not biased towards the GoI, and he's reassured me that it's basically unbiased.
One of our most helpful interpreters, whom I liked a lot, told me that, "The first two or three phases of the OFF program were used mainly to provide people with the absolute basic necessity of food and medicines. It was thought that the programme was a temporary one and for limited time. Once the revenue was sufficient (phase 4 --) the program had another goal, which was importing the necessary foreign components for rebuilding of the infrastructure. By phase 7 or 8 the program allocated money for the housing and construction sector as well as the other important sectors.
"It was thought that encouraging the construction and housing sector - labour intensive with minimal import requirement - would lead to revitalisation of the economy. To achieve that goal the government imported huge quantity of steel rods, bathroom set, electrical fittings, wood, glass, pipes and fittings etc..
"As a further encouragement the government subsidised these imports. Steel rods for example were reduced from nearly US$ 300 to less than US$ 100 per ton. This subsidy was achieved by actually adopting a very low (artificial) exchange rate when pricing the goods.
"The government "gave" land "free" for the people to build houses. Any one with a valid building permit can buy these subsidised building materials based on the "covered" area of the house. Further more the government entered into contracts with international companies to build housing complexes.
"All these government measures and subsidies have snowballing effects on other sectors like transport, buildings raw material and others. It generated a lot of work opportunities which intern resulted in a lot of cash flow which revitalised the whole economy.
"To overcome problems with the transport sector the government relaxed its privet sector import restrictions. They allowed the privet sector to import used cars and trucks with very little taxes. This resulted in a very substantial inflow of used cars and trucks from all over Europe and Southeast Asia. These "New" cars were used to generate income to the drivers and owners. By the way all those BMW's and the Mercedes cars that the reports are talking about are privately imported that way.
"Furthermore the government imported thousands of brand new cars and again subsidised the pricing of them and is selling them at almost half price. A brand new Nissan taxi for about US$6000. A brand new Peugeot 406 for less than US$ 9000."
You see a scattering of these yellow taxis in the Baghdad streets, amongst the hundreds of beat-up old VWs that form the bulk of the traffic. And even for me at the time, they came across as a surprisingly powerful sign of hope.
"Public transport buses (nearly 1000 British Leyland buses) were scrapped a few years ago They are now replaced by new fleet of Chinese double-decker buses, with a German engine!! British Leyland lost its lucrative and captive market. I hope to God that they will not be permitted to enter the market again!!
" Since I believe that the continuation of the sanctions are illegal and are imposed on us by US/UK belligerency then I refuse to call Iraq's export of oil outside the MOU as smuggling. It is just selling oil outside the MOU.
"Iraq exports other commodities. These exports, whether government export or private sector export, go to the bordering nations like Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia or through them to other countries. These exports generate back flow of foreign currency.
"Religious tourism from Iran, 200,000-300,000 people yearly and from other countries is another source of foreign currency.
"Iraqis living abroad are sending money to family members and friends either to pay old debts or as help to family members or send money to purchase property for them.
"Speculative currency traders living abroad are buying the "worthless" Iraqi Dinars hoping that at some time in the future they will be able to double their money many times over. This is long term investment which was proved valid in Lebanon a few years ago. I might add that the Iraqi Dinars are kept in the country so the net result is that foreign currency is flowing in.
"Iraqis as well as some Arabs are taking advantage of the depressed property values to buy properties in Iraq as an investment. They are sending foreign currency in to buy these properties. I know that it is difficult for most people in the West to understand that Arabs are buying properties and register them in the name of Iraqi friends - since the non Iraqi can not own property - with a simple IOU document based on personal trust.
"The free trade agreement with Arab countries meant freer flow of goods and capital between them. Iraq being a relatively large market companies started to establish small local assembly plants for their goods inside Iraq. The company outside Iraq will supply the necessary parts, and that is foreign capital, to be assembled in Iraq and sold as an Iraqi product.
"I think that taking all those factors into consideration one can understand the comments in the media that "thing are getting a lot better in Iraq". It is a combination of government decisions, the MOU, the adventurism and most importantly the will of the people to make a better life.
"I want to end by quoting the Minister of Oil "We know it is difficult for those without thousands of years of history to understand, but oil is not the only resource of the Iraqi people."
Small, really small businesses are a feature of the place. You see rows of vehicle repair shops, each the size of a single-car garage. I don't know how lucrative they are. You see some new cars in the streets, because some people, for example those who have access to dollars from outside Iraq can make a lot of money under the sanctions, but most by far are early eighties models. The inability to import spares for these results in some awful wrecks being on the road and constant cannibalising for parts.
There are power cuts over most of the country of 2 - 3 hrs. morning and night. Some areas have power only for a couple of hours morning and night.
I was told that some govt. departments run on an incentives system. For example, customs; the more they catch the more they're paid. A kind of private/public partnership. There's a lot of bureaucracy and this seems to be a way round paying for it, because the government gets no cash from the oil-for-food arrangements.
No one lives on their salaries alone. They drive taxis, use their own 20-year-old vehicles for hire, work at three jobs.
A teacher might get around ID 20,000 a month, so they could buy one egg a week. An engineer a little more. A skilled labourer working in the private sector earns around ID 20,000 a day when work can be found. There is little incentive for young people to keep up the high standard of education that was so valued in days past.
There is widespread understanding that the government is trying to help, but that each person has their own responsibility in the rebuilding of a strong Iraq.
Because the Muslim religion does not allow sex outside marriage, it used to be the custom for parents to get their children married at around sixteen. Then they had their babies and went on to university. That can no longer happen because under the embargo few parents can afford to set up their children in a house. The result is much very real frustration.
Police are paid 10,000 Iraqi dinars a month ((1 $US sanctions ID 2,000) and are open to "gifts". My informant hastened to add that this is not a police state.
Meat, which is not part of the OFF food basket, costs ID3,000 a kilo.
The Iraqi government printed a lot of dinars in the early stages of the embargo in order to keep some sort of internal economy functioning and pay people, though a pittance, to work at the huge task of reconstructing the country.
The local economy, especially in Baghdad is thriving, though at a low level. There are no fruit or vegetables in the food basket, and some people are forced to sell some of the food basket food to buy other items. If it were not for strict govt. control there would have been a famine. The Ba'ath regime might be a repressive one in many respects, but on the other hand there is much to their credit.
The embargo is not hurting the rich in Baghdad. But many in Basra for example are selling if they can, their electrical goods - fridges etc.. (in summer temperatures of over 50 degrees).
There is a widespread thinking that if you want a commodity under the OFF deal, then you apply for a US-made one and you stand a better chance of getting it - could be apocryphal!
There is also a widespread understanding that the control of Iraq's oil is not the number one priority for the US, but the defence of Israel. That the cold war provided an ugly balance, but that now the US is trying to run the world with a six-gun mentality.
Arab houses have a main entrance which leads both to their own living quarters and to the guest rooms. The guest room and guest dining-room are always by far the best in the house and reserved for entertaining guests. The one I was shown into was beautiful. A tiled floor, and small carpets, patterned blue-tiled cool walls with good furniture of simple design, where they served me sweet dark coffee in tiny cups on low tables. The few windows looked out onto the small central courtyard cool with shade trees. A design feature, I believe, of nearly all Iraqi houses, which provides shade to the internal walls.
The ethics of hospitality require that guests are not only given more than the family's best, but are cared for in ways that a Westerner could find embarrassing. The hosts' responsibilities, I'm told, extend even to taking responsibility for the actions of their guests, even outside the house, sometimes in situations that would lead to a visitor being thrown out in our society!
In Basra, there is now an attitude of resignation. The people have lived under war conditions for 20 years. The reconstruction isn't as advanced there as in Baghdad.
Before the embargo Iraq had a large middle class, made up largely of government servants. They mostly rented their houses and bought their cars, so that there were few huge private houses pre 1990. Now, some, with contacts outside Iraq make fortunes on the exchange rate or through smuggling in goods for trade, so that in the street my friends' house is in now has two obviously opulent houses - amongst the rubble and dirt of what was once a very beautiful street. "And", said my friend, "like newly rich anywhere, they tend to be a little brash in showing off their wealth!" The gap between rich and poor is growing under these conditions.
Undoubtedly, the Ba'ath government has an appalling human rights record, we know this, and in no way do I make any apologies for them in that area. On the other hand, as UNICEF told me, they have done a remarkable job of managing under the sanctions regime, and we do them and ourselves a disservice if we don't acknowledge that.
I asked many people how they felt about the possibility of another US attack. Their overwhelming responses were. "The US bombed us, but we have re-built. And if they bomb us again, we will re-build again." I was photographing an old - still in use - car and the rubble of a not yet repaired building, and a passing man said to me, "Do you photograph only rubble?" The doctor who'd just told us of the lives lost through shortages of medicines and equipment saying, "But we manage, we improvise." The newspaper editor, "We are not a nation of refugees. We are not a nation of beggars. We are as good as you are and in some ways better."
You will have noticed that wherever we went in Iraq, medical staff complained about shortages of medical supplies, often referring to hold-ups in the embargo system. A major aspect of that problem has been the so-called 'dual use" clause, which allowed for items considered to have possible military uses to be put on "hold". Many of these items were pharmaceuticals, often life-saving - analgesics, anaesthetics, chemo-therapy drugs, vaccines. The fact that many of these "dangerous" items are now being released points up the duplicity and misuse of the sanctions system.
To illustrate the above point, below are excerpts from UN reports and correspondence. Made clear in these reports is the manipulation engaged in by the US.
"The UN's humanitarian programme in Iraq has been hampered by a record $5.3bn (£3.7bn) worth of blocked supplies, mainly by the US. The contracts include some $4.6bn worth of humanitarian supplies and $703m for oil industry equipment, the UN office of the Iraq programme said in its weekly report.
"Many of the contracts are approved individually by a Security Council Sanctions Committee, any one of whose 15 members can block them. The US has put "on hold" nearly all of the blocked contracts while Britain shares objections on some $500,000 worth of contracts under the UN oil-for-food programme, committee members say (Reuters in New York Thursday February 21, 2002. The Guardian)."
And from the Financial Times: "The US lifted blocks on more than $200m (£140.8m) worth of Russian contracts last week in an attempt to win Moscow's agreement to refocus United Nations' sanctions against Iraq, diplomats said.
"The US had blocked many of the humanitarian contracts on the grounds that they could be misused by Iraq for military purposes. Others were delayed by a lack of information submitted by the seller.
"Last June, the US released more than $80m of Chinese contracts it had blocked in order to gain Beijing's support for an earlier resolution retooling UN sanctions.
"Last week, the US released a contract it had blocked last August. The contract was for $105m worth of electricity equipment for a thermal power station, to be sold to Iraq by Technopromexport of Russia.
"The second largest contract was for $58m of vehicles for the food-handling sector, to be sold by JSC Hydromash Service, also a Russian company. Other Russian contracts released in the past week included, $34m for the agricultural sector, $13.2m for telecommunications equipment, $7.1m for bulldozers, $3m for water sanitation equipment and $2m in the oil sector (by Carola Hoyos, United Nations correspondent Financial Times, 3rd April, 2002)."
Both the Secretary General of the UN and the Executive Director of the Office of the Iraq Programme have constantly complained about the US' and Britain's roles here.
Both have also criticised the Iraqi government for tardiness in placing contracts, but at the same time acknowledging some of the constraints on it. Degraded communication and transport systems, lack of technology, shortage of expert staff, shortage of money (no cash component for the Centre/South in the OFF agreement) and the difficulties both of assessing current needs and complying with the detailed contracting processes. UN officials have never accused the Iraq government of deliberate obstruction.
"UN observers also found that all the warehouses and health facilities lacked computers of the appropriate capacity for the effective management of the increasing number of programme inputs. (Computers over 286 capacity were banned under the older sanctions regime.) The provision of computers would also facilitate tracking of the arrival, distribution the expiration of drugs. The Ministry of Health is currently preparing a detailed plan for the allocation of computers and the training of sufficient staff. The plan will be shared with the UN upon its completion in order to facilitate the release of items on hold, which will contribute greatly towards the effective provision and monitoring of health care services in Iraq. (UN SG's Report, March 2, 2001)."
"Significant supplies of medicine and medical supplies and equipment have reached the country under SCR 986. Their utilisation remains, however, not optimal. The installation and transportation to locations where they are needed has been and is still often prevented by logistic or financial constraints (WHO Health situation in Iraq 2001)."
As Tun Myat, the director of the UN's humanitarian programme in Iraq, put it last November in New York: "The biggest killer of children is not lack of food or medicine but of water and sanitation - clean water and sanitation are absolutely necessary for the children of the country. Humanitarian staff that I speak to in Iraq consistently stress the complexity of public health."
Relevant to this area is paragraph 78 of the 2001 SG's Report concerning the port of Umm Qasr " (south of Basra) .............preliminary observation findings indicate that the lack of essential equipment, spare parts and marine generators for the existing dredges and tugboats, as well as the equipment needed to free the port from sunken wrecks, is limiting the availability of cargo-handling berths. New equipment would contribute to reducing current port congestion. Contracts for all the aforementioned items are on hold during the reporting period. .............. The congestion at Umm Qasr continues to impede the effective implementation of the humanitarian programme. (UN S/2001/186.)"
Comment on current situation
I have described some of the conditions that prevail in Iraq now. Before 1991 it was not like this. Now, more than 4,000 mothers are losing their children each month. That did not happen before the Coalition bombardments of 1991 which took away their life support systems and the subsequently imposed sanctions which prevented the repair of those systems..
A huge injustice has been deliberately engineered by the United States.
The following is taken from a paper by Michael Rattner, an attorney former director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, and past president of the National Lawyer's Guild.
"As early as October 1989 the CIA representatives in Kuwait had agreed to take advantage of Iraq's bankrupt economy to put pressure on Iraq to accede to Kuwait's demands with regard to the border dispute. Then they encouraged Kuwait to refuse to negotiate its differences with Iraq as required by the United Nations Charter, including Kuwait's failure to abide by OPEC quotas, thus threatening Iraq's economy further; its pumping of Iraqi oil from the Rumaila oil field by slant drilling and its refusal to negotiate these and other matters with Iraq, such as the repayment by Iraq of Kuwait's Iran war loan.
"Months prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the United States administration prepared a plan and practised elaborate computer war games pitting United States forces against Iraqi armoured divisions.
"In testimony before Congress prior to the invasion, Assistant Secretary Kelly misleadingly assured Congress that the United States had no commitment to come to Kuwait's assistance in the event of war.
"April Glaspie, US Ambassador reassured Iraq that the dispute was an 'Arab' matter and the U.S. would not interfere. According to the New York Times, the U.S. wanted to "block the diplomatic track because it might defuse the crisis at the cost of a few token gains for Iraq.''
"UN Resolutions embargoing Iraq and supposedly authorising the use of force were all suspect because of the bribing, intimidating and threatening of others, including members of the UN Security Council by the US.
"Immediately after the November 29, 1990 vote in the UN authorising force, the US administration unblocked a $140 million loan from the World Bank to China and agreed to meet with Chinese government officials. The Soviet Union was promised $7 billion in aid from various countries and shipments of food from the United States. Zaire was promised forgiveness of part of its debt as well as military assistance. A $7 billion loan to Egypt was forgiven, a loan the President had no authority to forgive under U.S. law. Syria was promised that there would be no interference in its Lebanon actions. Saudi Arabia was promised $12 billion in arms sales. The U.S., which owes the most money to the U.N., paid off $187 million of its debt immediately after the vote authorising the use of force. The US administration attempted to coerce Yemen by threatening the cut-off of U.S. funds. (Michael Ratner).
Professor Thomas J. Nagy, who teaches at the School of Business and Public Management at George Washington University, obtained a minutely detailed seven- page document prepared by the US Defence Intelligence Agency, issued the day after the war started, entitled Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities, and circulated to all major allied Commands.
"In spite of this document's detailed warnings of the effects of the destruction of Iraq's water reticulation system, during allied bombing campaigns on Iraq the country's eight multi-purpose dams had been repeatedly hit, simultaneously wrecking flood control, municipal and industrial water storage, irrigation and hydroelectric power. Four of seven major pumping stations were destroyed, as were 31 municipal water and sewerage facilities - 20 in Baghdad, resulting in sewage pouring into the Tigris. Water purification plants were incapacitated throughout Iraq. (A copy of this document is available if needed. My file ID, iac3/water.txt or directly at http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/declassdocs/dia/19950901/950901_51 1rept_91.htm).
"Article 54 of the Geneva Convention states: "It is prohibited to attack, destroy or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population" and includes foodstuffs, livestock and "drinking water supplies and irrigation works". The results of the allied bombing campaign were obvious when Dr David Levenson visited Iraq immediately after the Gulf War, on behalf of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. He said: "For many weeks people in Baghdad - without television, radio, or newspapers to warn them - brought their drinking water from the Tigris, in buckets. "Dehydrated from nausea and diarrhoea, craving liquids, they drank more of the water that made them sick in the first place."
Water-borne diseases in Iraq today are both endemic and epidemic. They include typhoid, dysentery, hepatitis, cholera and polio (which had previously been eradicated), along with a litany of others. A child with dysentery in 1990 had a one in 600 chance of dying - in 1999 it was one in 50.
In 1999, the country's health ministry said that more than 10,000 people died in July of that year of embargo-related causes - 7,457 were children, with diarrhoea diseases one of the prime conditions. In July 1989, the figure was 378. UNICEF does not dispute the figures.
The Coalition attacks were engineered by the US with bribery and threats in the Security Council. They were a war crime and a crime against humanity and any sanctions, "smart" or otherwise build on that.
For that reason the emphasis must be taken away from the red herring of sanctions tinkering. UNSCR 1409 does not address the issue of US control of the situation, does not give even temporary relief for Iraq of the 25% of its oil income it is forced to pay in reparations - without any defence being allowed. Still leaves Iraq having to spend part of its oil income to pay for UN administration. Does not address the issue of the almost totally widespread poverty in Iraq or the enormous task of rebuilding an infrastructure that once supported 22 million people. Which still leaves a 300 page list of goods still to be under the control of the Sanctions Committee.
The fact that billions of dollars worth of contracts now on hold will be released, points up the specious nature of some of the arguments that put them on hold. Costing how many hundreds of Iraqi lives?
Emphasis must be taken away from the issue of weapons inspectors. People who are concerned for that issue must think more widely round the subject. On this point, please see the attached Monbiot article. I repeat, the essence of the debate, if indeed there should be any debate at all, must be focused on the culture, the people and the injustices presently being imposed upon them.
It is important to point out the immorality of using the sanctions for political purposes and of holding the Iraqi people to ransom for a situation beyond their control.
The sanctions should be lifted as soon as possible and other means found to address the question of weapons inspections.
It is of utmost importance to recognise the links between the situation in Iraq now and the US administration's felt need to control the second largest oil reserves in the world, and to defend Israel.
I maintain that a basic sense of fair play says that it is important to call for reparation to be made to Iraq by the members of the Coalition forces in proportion to their parts in the destruction of 1991.
It's important to call for an adequate international response to this rogue terrorist state which the US has become.
A.C.Maturin, Quaker Peace and Service (Aotearoa / New Zealand) delegate to Iraq, April 2002.