- The following is from Scilla Elworthy, one of a group
of interesting people who went
- to Iraq...
- Letter From Baghdad
- Dear Friends,
- 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
- 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 valuable.
- With warm wishes, from
- 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,
- 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
- 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 3000 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:
- * Amendments to the constitution to allow for a multi-party
- * Abolition of special 'security violations' courts
which had no rights of appeal
- * Abolition of laws requiring cutting off hands of thieves
- * Amnesty for political prisoners
- * Exiles not linked to intelligence services may now
return to Iraq with the right to criticise the government
- * Reduction of fee for exit visa from Iraq from $200
- 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.
- For more information see websites: <http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk>www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk
- 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
- 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, <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>email@example.com
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 www nonviolence.org or <http://www.iraqpeaceteam.org>www.iraqpeaceteam.org
or Dr. Al-Hashimi, President of the Iraqi Organisation for Friendship,
Peace and Solidarity in Baghdad,
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.
- Robert S. Rodvik
- Author/media analyst