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Iraqi sanctions:  567,000 of the dead children under the age of five

 A trawl through some of the online responses to the coverage of Bilal Abdulla's words on Iraq at his ongoing trial reveals a predictable variety of replies from some who find his views totally unacceptable, to those who are willing to listen to this UK doctor whose family came from Iraq and think that, whatever he has or has not done, he has already said some things worth listening to.

I watched the coverage of Abdulla's trial for conspiring to cause murder and on Channel 4 News yesterday. Had Channel 4 consciously edited last night's edition to juxtapose the Armistice Day footage (the rows of decorated soldiers – the glory of war) with the footage covering Abdulla's trial (his words indicting the UN sanctions leading up to the destruction of his country – the horror of war)? Any poppy pinned to my jacket yesterday would have been white, as, for me, any notion of remembrance is grotesquely tainted by a glorification of, and a pride in, war, and I was glad that Abdulla's words on the Iraqi sanctions and war had received an airing on this day of all days.

Channel 4 covered Abdulla's statement about the effect of the UN sanctions on Iraq which were enforced from 1990 until 2003. The BBC also reported:

“Fighting back tears in the witness box, he described seeing more and more children diagnosed with leukaemia. This had been caused, he said, by depleted uranium shells fired by US forces during the first Gulf War.

“What I have seen is children aged three, four, five and six with leukaemia, but without treatment,” he said.

“Why were they not treatable?” asked James Sturman QC, for the defence.

“No medication”

“Why was there no medication?”

“Sanctions,” said Dr Abdulla.”

Imagine being a parent in that situation, or, imagine being a doctor: the sheer frustration, the hopelessness, the anger.

My work with Iraqi refugees often involves learning more about where they have come from. In so-doing, I have read and re-read a precis of a valuable talk given by scholar and colleague, Dr S Al-Mukhtar, about the sanctions and their effect in Cambridge in 1997. It can be read here, and this is an extract:

“Al-Mukhtar lists items banned by the UN sanctions, a list encompassing almost every imaginable amenity, from shoe-laces to pencils, books, badminton rackets, soap, toilet paper, gauze, cotton, etc. While food and medicine are officially excluded from the sanctions, Iraq is only allowed to sell $4 billion worth of oil a year, of which it keeps about a third of the revenue, leaving it with an annual figure of $70 per capita. From this it must buy all food and medicine. And to be allowed into Iraq, the latter must be the right sort of medicine: chemicals that cure. This rules out anaesthetics (which do not directly cure) and cotton, syringes and gauze, which are not chemicals. Certainly ventalin, for asthma treatment, which does not cure, stops at the border. Even some chemicals that cure are still prevented from entering as they are potentially ``dual-use'': pills for the treatment of angina apparently contain a small quantity of an ingredient used in nuclear weapons manufacturing; never mind that the annual global production of these pills will only supply some 3-4 micrograms of the active ingredient. Chlorine, without which sewage treatment cannot take place, has been denied on these grounds, creating further public health problems.”

Bilal Abdulla has done his best to remind of the horrors perpetrated against the people in Iraq – the deaths and horrors as a result of governments' strategic planning, before the barbarities of the all-out war even began. He is, as yet an innocent man who may still be proved to be guilty of conspiracy to murder and to cause explosions. His testimony in court raises again bigger questions that are all too easily swept aside in the celebrations of a Democrat victory in the US, the all-consuming focus on recession here:

What about the guilt of all of those behind the sanctions and the war machine?

One thing's certain:  Bilal Abdulla should not be left bearing the solitary burden of speaking out on what went wrong in his country, the burden of remembrance for all the children who died of leukaemia and the deadly human cost – unforgiveable in its calculated certainty - of sanctions and war, about which there is now largely a short-term memory loss and silence in our media. 

I am left wondering why there has not been more intelligent and reflective reporting of this trial in the press.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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