Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Canadian Parliamentarian Speaks out for Iraqi Children

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Canadian Parliamentarian Speaks out for Iraqi Children

Article excerpt

Canadian Parliamentarian Speaks Out for Iraqi Children

By Faisal Kutty

More than four years have passed since the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. Saddam Hussain has been able to stay in power. Unfortunately, many of his country's children have not been able to stay alive. According to a report released late last year by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 560,000 children have died as a direct result of the United Nations embargo imposed in August 1990.

In the wake of the U.N. study, in order to see the situation for himself and to report to the Canadian Parliament, the member of parliament for Markham-Whitchurch-Stouff-ville, Jag Bhaduria, visited Iraq in December. Prior to his departure, the Indian-born legislator made a passionate plea in Parliament. "The bottom line is that literally thousands of innocent children are dying every day," he said. "In the true spirit of the upcoming holiday season, I call upon the government to support the elimination of the U.N. embargo and support the giving of humanitarian aid and medical supplies to the people of Iraq."

The West's obsession with removing Saddam, who has survived more than 15 years of virtually continuous warfare, internal dissension, assassination attempts and internationally imposed sanctions, has blinded many to the suffering of the civilians under his rule. The average Iraqi, who has no say in the policies pursued by Baghdad, faces hyperinflation, extensive food and medical shortages and massive unemployment. Government food rations reportedly provide only a fraction of the required caloric and nutritional requirements, but those who seek to supplement their diets by turning to the black market find exorbitant prices beyond the reach of most Iraqis.

Bhaduria's trip attracted criticism from some who feel that he was playing into the hands of Saddam Hussain, who has U.N. permission to export petroleum and use the proceeds to purchase food and medicine for the Iraqi people on condition that a percentage of the proceeds be turned over to a fund to compensate non-Iraqi victims of the Gulf war. Saddam has rejected those conditions as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

Bhaduria, an associate member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, counters that the objective of his trip is strictly humanitarian. He says he paid for the travel out of his own pocket and that the only assistance he received from the Iraqi government was the use of a modest hotel room during his stay in Baghdad.

The mainstream media did not attribute much importance to his visit. But not all Canadians are criticizing it. In fact, some hope that others in positions of power will do the same so that they, too, can see at first-hand the suffering of innocent children. "It is about time that we spoke out against the American-sponsored sanctions which are only hurting the weak and young," says Abdul-Qaidir Ahmed, a Canadian of Iraqi descent. Indeed, after his trip, Bhaduria is even more convinced that Canada should be at the forefront in extending humanitarian aid to the Iraqis.

"Innocent children in Iraq are no different than children in Haiti or Somalia."

Bhaduria says that when he visited medical facilities he was overwhelmed by what he witnessed, including watching a three-year-old die right in front of him due to lack of proper medical supplies. In fact, a number of independent studies confirm that the sanctions have no effect on Saddam Hussain's entourage, but have a devastating effect on Iraq's children and the underpriviledged. (See, for example, "Sanctions, Saddam and Silence: Child Malnutrition and Mortality in Iraq," Washington Report, January 1996).

"These innocent children in Iraq are no different than children in Chad, Haiti or Somalia," said Bhaduria, who is known for his social and human rights activism. "They have done nothing to deserve this plight and we must help them. …

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