Iraq: Buried Beneath the Headlines

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While launching its witch-hunt against anti-war Labour MP George Galloway the 'Daily Telegraph' used the opportunity to 'bury' or ignore other news stories of considerably more significance.

The most important of these was the statement by the head of the UN weapons inspectorate Hans Blix that the US and Britain had used 'shaky' evidence, including forged documents, as a pretext for making war on Iraq.

Prior to the war the government claimed that Iraq attempted to procure uranium from Niger in West Africa for its nuclear weapons programme. The infamous 'dossier' released by Blair last September stated, 'There is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa' (p25). In fact this 'intelligence' amounts to nothing but a series of forged documents. Even the Blair government has now admitted that the documents submitted to the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) last year to substantiate the dossier are not authentic.

Just before the war started the IAEA came close to saying that Iraq has no nuclear weapons. Many of the plants named in the dossier as potential sites of chemical and biological warfare manufacture were inspected by UN weapons teams and found not to be incriminating. None of the 12 to 20 Scud missiles Iraq was accused of having retained have been found. Nor have the so called mobile biological warfare laboratories which Colin Powell showed drawings of to the UN Security Council. There have also been numerous rumours and false leads. There was the case extensively reported during the war of US soldiers who were overcome by the 'effects of a nerve agent'. In fact they were suffering from dehydration and recovered quickly after being given food and drink.

More important for the people of Iraq is the humanitarian disaster caused by the war. Water and power has yet to be restored to many cities including the capital Baghdad. In Nasiriya local people have been forced to break into underground pipes to access water, resulting in raw sewage seeping into the system. There is now a high risk of a cholera outbreak. Since the third day of the war the city's electricity supply has been out of action. This has brought the sewerage pumps to a halt, so that much of this city of half a million people is sitting on a bed of stale human waste. In places it has started to seep up to ground level. In some of its medical practices 80 percent of patients are suffering from some sort of water infection. Dr Abdul Al-Shadood says his Al-Meelad clinic is seeing an average of 22 gastroenteritis cases a day, compared to one or two before the war. 'If this is not diagnosed and treated quickly in children they will die,' says the doctor.

The problems confronting aid agencies have been made worse by the prewar actions of the US and Britain. The UN launched an emergency preparedness appeal last December and January for $125 million. In the absence of a UN resolution authorising war less than half of this sum was pledged. On the eve of the conflict on 19 March the UN had still only received $34 million. NGOs have been hampered by diplomatic secrecy and an apparently deliberate decision to withhold information about the humanitarian dimensions of the war plans. The US refused to take part in the Swiss government's humanitarian planning meeting in Geneva in February. As of 15 April only $387 million has been pledged in response to the UN's flash appeal for over $2.2 billion to cover food and non-food aid for Iraq over the next six months. It is worth noting that $2.2 billion (at $11.9 million per day) barely surpasses the starvation ration of the Oil for Food Programme ($11.7 million per day) available to Iraq prior to the additional infrastructure damage caused by the war.