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Saddam and Iraq's Hungry Children

(Winter 1995-96) An entire generation of Itaqi children is threatened because a selfish tyrant will not open his country to humanitarian aid. A recent United Nations task force reported "alarming food shortages" in Iraq, affecting the health of millions of children, and hundreds of thousands of pregnant or nursing women and elderly citizens. In all, says Dieter Hannusch of the World Food Program (WFP), more than four million people, a fifth of Iraq's population, are at severe nutritional risk. Meanwhile, claiming that the plans violate the "sovereignty" of his country, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein continues to turn down U.N. proposals that would allow his country to obtain food and medical aid. At the same time, he and his immediate associates live very well, with plenty to eat and newly built palaces for their personal comfort.

Hannusch said that conditions in Iraq are as bad as any he has ever seen in his 24 years of working in areas where there are food shortages. "We are at the point of no return in Iraq," he exclaimed. "More and more people spend their whole day struggling to find food for survival." Pediatric wards in Iraq are filled with some of the worse cases ever seen in countries with chronic food shortages. According to the WFP report, almost 30 percent of Iraqi children under the age of five suffer from severe malnutrition.

This situation is a direct result of Saddam Hussein's decision to invade Kuwait in 1990 and the disaster he created for his country when U.N. forces threw the Iraqi army back with huge losses. Since then, Iraq has been isolated politically, and its economy has been crippled by U.N. trade sanctions, particularly an embargo on all oil exports, that allowed only for limited oil exports to pay for food and medicine.

Following Saddam's defeat, the U.N. Security Council set out a series of tasks Iraq must carry out before the sanctions can be lifted. Perhaps the most significant of these is the requirement for the removal or "rendering harmless" of all Iraqi nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, along with the missiles that deliver them.

Over the last four and a half years, however, instead of complying with the U.N. resolution, Saddam has defied and lied to the United Nations about Iraq's compliance. Only when Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamil Hasan Majid, defected to Jordan last August did the world discover the full extent of Iraq's treachery. Husseinn Kamil, before his defection minister of industry and minerals and director of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program, revealed that Iraq has been continuing its research and has been stockpiled anthrax, and botulism bacteria for use in biological weapons. The Iraqi government subsequently had to admit its ongoing efforts and turned over to the the U.N. extensive documents that are currently being examined. Meanwhile, the Security Council extended its sanctions for another 60-day period last September.

However, over the past several years the United Nations has made periodic proposals to allow Iraq to sell limited amounts of oil to relieve its shortages of food and medicine. Saddam rejected any such proposal on the basis of "national sovereignty." Then, last April, the U.N. Security Council offered to allow Iraq to export more than $4 million in oil a year, provided the money is used only to buy food and humanitarian goods for its desperate people. Saddam refused again. Apparently, he is willing to sacrifice the lives and welfare of his own people in order to satisfy what he calls "national honor." Ironically, Saddam has asked for "humanitarian" exemptions to import such items as liquor, brass beds, fur coats, marble tiling, TVs and VCRs.

Saddam can continue this position because, while the sanctions may have a crippling effect on the Iraqi people, they have hardly affected the lifestyle of the elite. Food has been plentiful for those wealthy enough to afford it. According to the WFP, the market price for subsistence foods for a family of five is about $26 a month, but the average worker makes only between $3 and $5 a month. Satellite photographs shown to the Security Council give evidence of dozens of large new palaces under construction. One diplomat told the Security Council that Saddam has spent almost half a billion dollars on palaces for the exclusive use of his family alone. These photos do show "a pretty extraordinary level of spending," said British Ambassador Sir David Hannay.

It is high time for Saddam to end the suffering of his people. Saddam would do well to listen to such concerned diplomats as French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette, who has been urging Iraq to accept the U.N. resolution and export oil to bring in food and medicine. It is indeed high time for Saddam to stop putting his own welfare ahead of millions of starving children.
Khadim Anwar

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