Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Oil-for-Food Deal Will Not End Iraqi Crisis

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Oil-for-Food Deal Will Not End Iraqi Crisis

Article excerpt

Oil-For-Food Deal Will Not End Iraqi Crisis

In the cancer ward of the Al Mansour hospital in Baghdad, a group of Americans met eight Iraqi children suffering from leukemia. Although this cancer is treatable with the fight medications, the Al Mansour hospital, like many in Iraq, has been suffering from a lack of medicine and basic supplies since the Gulf war six years ago. When the group returned home to Chicago in August of last year, members started a fund-raising campaign with these children in mind. Their goal was to raise enough to bring anti-leukemia drugs back to Iraq. "We thought that putting faces with the names would help get people involved and raise sympathies," said Kathy Kelly, a member of the group Voices in the Wilderness, that has been running humanitarian missions to Iraq since 1991.

Equipped with photos and United Nations studies about the thousands of children dying in Iraq each month, Kelly and others appealed to people in their area for funds. They left for Iraq in March with $2,000 worth of medicine and supplies. When they arrived, however, they found it was too late for the children in their pictures. Three already had died from cancer-related diseases, and another was too sick to be saved.

"We decided that this isn't a plan that can work because we just can't get back fast enough," Kelly said. She added that, with so many needy children, distributing a small amount of medicine posses a dilemma for doctors.

From 1990 to 1996, an estimated half-million children have died in Iraq from disease and malnutrition and the number of children diagnosed with cancers like leukemia has reached alarming proportions. Many Iraqis also suffer from dehydration and typhoid due to a lack of clean drinking water. The pictures coming out of Iraq of starving and diseased children are extraordinary for a nation whose economy rivaled many European countries less than a decade ago. According to a 1995 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, some 4,500 children die every month in Iraq and more than a million people have died since the Gulf war.

The 88 members of Voices in the Wilderness believe the U.N.-imposed sanctions on Iraq are the cause of this suffering, and members have violated a U.S. travel ban to document conditions there. While few people disagree that there is a humanitarian crisis in Iraq, there is heated debate over the best policy solution for the country. The sanctions the U.N. imposed on Iraq six years ago have made it impossible to export petroleum, and shortages have made food and other necessities in Iraq too expensive for the average Iraqi. Though the oil-for-food program initiated in December 1996 will improve conditions, it will have to be increased and extended to have a lasting effect on disease and malnutrition.

Saddam's Role

Many experts blame Saddam Hussain, not U.S. sanctions, for the crisis. They say he could have had the U.N. lift sanctions by opening his weapons program to inspectors, as required by the cease-fire agreement in 1991. Others claim that Saddam does have the capability to care for his people, but he chooses to spend Iraq's money on his military regime.

On March 20, the first food and medical supplies purchased through the oil-for-food program began to arrive in Iraq. U.N. Security Council Resolution 986 allows Iraq to sell $2 billion worth of oil over six months. The money from this sale was used to purchase food staples such as chick-peas, rice and vegetable oil. This has taken some pressure off the United States and the U.N. from the international community -- which has become increasingly critical of the sanctions.

But according to Dr. Peter F. Pellett, professor of nutrition at the University of Massachusetts and co-author of the 1995 FAO report on Iraq, $2 billion worth of food and medicines is not nearly enough. Under the current distribution system, about 25 cents per person will be spent in Iraq, with the rest of the money going to the Kurds in northern Iraq and to pay war reparations. …

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