MARK Thomas


Does the US really believe that the future of the planet is threatened if it allows Thermos flasks into Iraq?

There are certain words and phrases that gloriously defy reality. "Tory moderate" or "British tennis champion", for example, are expressions that should only ever be used in jest. It is almost guaranteed that I will start to giggle when I hear "Channel 5" and "news" said in the same breath.

On reading "United Nations" and "peacekeepers" in the same sentence. a contemptuous smirk will often appear. And the prize for the vilest piece of logic-mongering" must go to the US on the UN sanctions committee, which describes the Iraq oil-for-food programme as "humanitarian"

All exports to Iraq must be scrutinised by the UN, which either allows the items through, "blocks" them, or puts them on "hold". So, in the face of the continuing and genuine humanitarian crisis in Iraq, where more than a million people have died (UN sanctions being the major cause), the fate of many is decided by the Kafkaesque logic of the United States. Of the "holds", 90 per cent are imposed by the US, with the UK contributing the remaining 10 percent.

The effect of these "holds" has been criticised by senior UN officials. Benon Sevan, the executive director of the UN Office of the Iraq Programme, said: "The improvement of the nutritional and health status of the Iraqi people... is being seriously affected as a result of [the] excessive number of holds placed on supplies and equipment for water, sanitation and electricity."

His point is illustrated by a contract for ambulances worth $5m. In December 1999, the Iraqis duly submitted a request to the UN to import the ambulances (com number 601201).

Eighteen months later, the vehicles have still not arrived. The US mission on the committee put the ambulances on "hold" because they contain vacuum flasks, used for keeping plasma or medicines at the correct temperature. These are, in essence, glorified Thermos flasks, but without the tartan pattern. The US objects to them because, it says, they could be used to manufacture weapons.

If the US is prepared to block ambulances, and seriously wants the world to believe that the only thing standing between life and the total annihilation of the planet is a Thermos flask, then let the air strikes on the camping equipment retailers begin! Round up the ramblers and anglers! Get UN teams to enforce random inspections of their Thermos flasks to ensure that the Cup-a-Soup hasn't been converted into anthrax. It would take only a rise in the price of Gore-Tex waterproofs for ramblers to get angry enough to unleash a chemical weapon nightmare. Ban all picnics! Ban family outings! Extend the "no-fly zone" to cover any geographical areas where there is a potential to consume warm beverages!

"But this is absurd. …

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