A Letter From Baghdad
Letter From Baghdad
From 3rd- 8th January 2003 a group of NGO representatives and former UN officials was able to meet with cabinet ministers in Baghdad including Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, Foreign Minister Nagi Sabri and Oil Minister Amer Mohammed Rashid, as well as to talk with doctors, teachers and scientists. We had the opportunity to meet ordinary Iraqis and visit sites recently inspected for weapons of mass destruction. The aim was to contribute to efforts to prevent war and to gather information not available in the western press, particularly with regard to the human situation.
Attached is a brief summary of a very intense series of visits, as well as suggestions responding to the frequent question asked by citizens of western countries "What can we do to help prevent war?"
Please circulate these documents as widely
as possible, asking NGOs and individuals to act quickly on
the practical suggestions offered. Your help will be very
With warm wishes,
Margarita Papandreou, former First Lady of Greece
Scilla Elworthy, Director, Oxford Research Group, UK
Denis Halliday, former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN and UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq
Christian Harleman, the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, Sweden
Jan Oberg, Director, the Transnational Foundation, Sweden
Zeynep Oral, Winpeace and Peace Initiative, Turkey
Omaima Rawas, peace activist and Vice President of the Syrian Arabic League, Syria
Fotini Sianou, President, Women’s Committee, European Trade Union Confederation
NEWS FROM BAGHDAD - a visit to Iraq 3rd – 8th January 2003
including meetings with Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, Foreign Minister Nagi Sabri and Oil Minister Amer Mohammed Rashid, as well as conversations with ordinary Iraqis in the street and visits to sites.
1. Attitudes of Iraqis today. We experienced an extraordinary mixture of fatalism, faith and defiance in the El-zahrawi tearoom. Watching Saddam Hussein’s Army Day speech on television, we talked with people at random, many of whom spoke English. They said that twice now world opinion has predicted that Iraq would collapse – after the Gulf War in 1991, and in 1998 when 350 cruise missiles hit the country – and once again they will survive. Yes, their children are afraid. Yes, the teenagers do not know if it is worth studying seriously or not. No, they will not go to the shelters. They do not talk so much of US or UK aggression but rather of Bush and Blair: until now, they have not resented the people of the countries about to bomb them, nor the civilizations, but the leaders. However that trend seems to be changing with the Iraqis increasingly holding the people of the UK and the US responsible for their countries’ policies. In the words of Dr. Hoda Ammash “ People here bear every respect for western people and western civilization. We respect your technological advancement, and your values. We know that westerners are being given the opportunity to learn about Arabic civilizations. Yet hatred is being manufactured, by some, to engineer a clash of civilizations.”
2. Food reserves. Iraqi households have been given three months’ (and now a further two months') food rations in order to get it out of the main storage sites to prevent warehouses being bombed. The food distribution programme, according to Denis Halliday (former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq (1997-98), is one of the most efficient in history, involving 49,000 food distribution agents and minimizing corruption through a system whereby if 100 people complain about an agent, he or she is removed. Iraqis are also stock-piling water but have no suitable large containers. People with gardens are being asked to dig wells.
Under the UN Oil-for-Food Programme only about half the oil revenues can be used for buying food and other necessities for the population of the centre and South of the country; the rest being used for compensation to Kuwait, food for the Iraqi Kurds in the North, and the costs of the UN programme including the UNMOVIC weapons inspections.
Halliday concludes: “ The twelve year sanctions regime has become a weapon of mass destruction, built on the massive damage to civilian infrastructure by US bombing and resulting in the deaths of over one million people since 1991, over half of whom are children.”
According to UNICEF 25% of Iraqi babies are born weighing 2kgs or less, a key indicator of famine. One million children under 5 suffer acute or chronic malnutrition.
3. Shelters. Everyone we spoke to said they would not use the 34 shelters provided for civilians in Baghdad because of the 1991 bombing of Al-Amarya shelter when 408 out of 422 women and children in the shelter were burned to death.
4. Weapons Inspectors. Dr. Sami Al-Araji, a nuclear engineer and Director General of Planning at the Ministry of Industry, is facilitating the work of the UNMOVIC inspectors. Everywhere we went there was a remarkable willingness to co-operate with the inspections, but patience is being tested. During our visit there was a routine inspection near the University of Baghdad where there are 6 science centres. The inspectors wanted to investigate one of these, but froze the entire complex meaning that nearly 3,000 people could not move for six hours, even though their place of work was not under inspection. This meant that toddlers were left uncollected at nursery schools. Not even the Iraqi Ambassador to the UN, there for a visit, was allowed to leave.
A professor of microbiology at the University of Baghdad told us that during 1991-98 inspectors re-examined the university every three weeks, searching minutely. “They enter exam halls where students are doing their finals and search under their chairs.” Iraqi people thought the inspections would last 2-3 years, and then they could go back to normal life. It is now 12 years since the inspections started, they are more intense than ever, and there is no end in sight.
We visited the al-Dawrah Foot and Mouth Vaccine Institute which was high on the list in the UK Government dossier (published September 2002) of biological weapons sites. Since 1994 the site has been inspected 60 times, it has been closed since 1995, when all the equipment was destroyed or removed and there were cameras everywhere connected to the former UNSCOM Monitoring Centre in Baghdad. The place was wrecked.
5. Civil and
political rights. Since Oct 2002, laws and regulations
have been or are being revised as follows:
1. Amendments to the constitution to allow for a multi-party system.
2. Abolition of special ‘security violations’ courts which had no rights of appeal
3. Abolition of laws requiring cutting off hands of thieves
4. Amnesty for political prisoners
5. Exiles not linked to intelligence services may now return to Iraq with the right to criticise the government
6. Reduction of fee for exit visa from Iraq from $200 to $10.
6. Oil. Current Iraqi production is approx 3 million barrels per day (current world production approx 77 million) but it has the second largest reserves in the world. If controls were lifted, and with infrastructure investment, with its immense reserves of easily extractable oil Iraq has the potential to supply 10% of the world’s oil needs, and to continue to do so for at least a century (since less than 1% of reserves are being used up each year). Iraqis are very conscious of the energy needs of the western economies - the US has to import 60% of its oil needs - and know that the main reason for military invasion is to gain control of its vast reserves of oil. Iraqi ministers fear that if the US were to control Iraq's oil production, it would manipulate the economies not only of the Far East, but also of Europe. Iraq takes a long-term view, wants a stable oil price, and would like to adopt normal trading relations rather than be subject to crises, threats and manipulation.
7. Depleted Uranium (DU). Water-borne and air-borne dust from DU shells, used by the US and the UK in the 1991 Gulf war, is spreading over vast areas of Iraq but the government has no way of detecting the direction of the spread because airborne radiation sensing equipment is prohibited. People are developing cancers by consuming meat and milk from animals grazing in polluted areas. Cancers of all kinds are increasing dramatically in Iraq particularly amongst women with breast cancer and leukaemia. Members of our delegation have visited hospitals in Iraq since 1991 and observed that current conditions in the hospitals have worsened. Equipment needed for treatment lies idle because the computerized controls have been removed due to sanctions. There is one nurse for every 16 beds where previously there was one for every two beds. Every child has a mother or grandmother giving full time care. Omar, three years old has a plastino plastoma*, which attacks kidneys and then destroys the brain and nervous system: his head is enlarged to twice normal size, his face swollen unrecognizably out of shape and his eyes blind. His mother sits with him like a madonna, waiting for her child to die. Tiny Aia (‘Miracle’) was born with a second head, a brain sack attached to the back of her own head, a condition known as meningoceal* and not seen in Iraq before the mid-1990s. Dr. Ahmed Fadeh of the Baghdad Children’s Hospital told me there are unlimited cases he simply can’t treat because his equipment is worn out or lacks spares, and he has not got the drugs or even the suture thread that he needs because of sanctions.
*this was told to us phonetically in a hurry, we are not sure of the correct spelling
8. Implications for the future. This visit was a shock treatment in learning what it feels like to be an Iraqi. This is an ancient people with a civilization 7000 years old (Iraqis point out that the United States is barely 300 years old), an economy that until the 1980s was a model for the entire Middle East, and with a free health service that was ahead of the National Health Service in the UK. The streets are now rubble-strewn, most of the middle class have left, and people are selling their household goods on street corners in order to survive. The currency has devalued 6000 (six thousand) % in 20 years; in 1981 one dinar bought three US dollars, today one US dollar buys about 2000 dinars. To pay a modest hotel bill for 6 days, you need a pile of dinar notes two meters high. Twelve years of sanctions, which were intended to make the Iraqi people revolt against their leadership, have had the opposite effect giving Saddam Hussein total control over his people through food rationing. Sanctions have simply disabled Iraqi people through hunger and the wholesale disintegration of their infrastructure. Rather than rebel against Saddam Hussein, they feel defiance towards Bush and Blair which their leader can constantly reinforce, since their sense of honour is continuously provoked. The humiliation is very deep and very dangerous. In these circumstances a war and subsequent occupation of Iraq will no doubt fuel the fires of hatred and terror, and consequently the risk of attacks on the West.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Time is short. The UNMOVIC
inspectors are due to report on 27th January 2003. Military
preparations indicate that an attack may begin in early
February. A pre-emptive attack will be a clear-cut violation
of the UN Charter and international law. Medical and public
health experts in the UK estimate that between 48,000 and
260,000 civilians could be killed in the first 3 months of
conflict, and that if WMD are
used, there could be up to 4 million dead.
What can be done to move towards a genuine solution of this conflict other than war and occupation?
1.The free press and NGOs must speedily step up their analysis and reporting to challenge disinformation about the realities in Iraq. Please distribute this report to all your media contacts.
2. Whenever you hear a news broadcast on Iraq which does not mention something about ordinary people, call them to ask for some human interest stories. Iraq is not one man, it is 26 million fellow citizens. They have points of views, hopes, fears and dreams like all of us.
3. The European Union has a substantial potential role to play. A consistent well-structured mediation process could be offered, either through key Arab states, or in the form of a meeting between the most senior representatives of the United States and of Iraq to ‘explore whether all avenues short of war have been exhausted’. This meeting would need to be announced before 27th January, perhaps to take place mid-February. It would need to take place in a very safe environment and employ state-of-the-art conflict resolution techniques. These moves could be supported by France and by Germany in their chairmanship of the UN Security Council in January and February 2003 respectively. Urge your EU government to support such an initiative, and copy your letter to Prime Minister Costas Simitis of Greece, 15 Vassilissis Sofias Avenue, 10674 Athens, firstname.lastname@example.org which has the current presidency of the European Union.
4. If you are yourself willing, go to Baghdad to become part of the Civilian Protection that has already begun with contingents from Spain, the US and Austria. 5000 people are needed to stay at civilian sites such as electricity, water and telecommunications facilities to try to prevent them being bombed. Individuals taking this course of action should be aware of the serious risks involved. Contact either Voices in the Wilderness http://www.nonviolence.org or http://www.iraqpeaceteam.org or Dr. Al-Hashimi, President of the Iraqi Organisation for Friendship, Peace and Solidarity in Baghdad, Silm@uruklink.net Fax: + 964 1 537 2933 or + 964 1 8853298.
5. Call your foreign office to ask it you have an embassy in Baghdad. Many governments do not have any representation and thus cannot collect first hand facts and impressions on which to base an independent analysis. Neither Britain nor the US has an embassy in Baghdad, and communications have to go through the Polish embassy.
6. Ask your parliamentary committee for foreign affairs whether they have visited Iraq to see for themselves and if not, why not. Ask them to talk to Iraqi people at all levels.
7. Make it known that the 12-year sanctions regime has had the opposite effect to that intended; it has put Saddam Hussein in total control of the Iraqi people, through the rationing programme.
8. Prime ministers and presidents worldwide need to understand the strength and urgency of public opposition to this proposed attack, so that they will actively support mediation rather than allowing themselves to be bribed or bullied into supporting an attack. See George Monbiot’s article ‘Act now against war’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,869807,00.html for ideas on how to get the message across, through non-violent civil disobedience. He suggests disrupting the speeches of ministers, blocking the roads down which they must travel, blockading important public buildings, or airports from which troops take off.
9. Urge your
government to support the development of a new security
regime for the whole region, honouring UN SC Resolution 687
requiring that the Middle East shall become a zone free
of weapons of mass destruction.