avatar
A People Betrayed


Dr  Al-Ali  is a cancer specialist at Basra’s hospital and a member of Britain’s  Royal  College of Physicians. He has a neat moustache and a kindly, furrowed face. His starched white coat, like the collar of his shirt, is frayed.


“Before the Gulf War, we had only three or four deaths in a month from cancer,”  he  said. “Now it’s 30 to 35 patients dying every month, and that’s  just  in  my  department. That is a 12-fold increase in cancer mortality.  Our  studies  indicate  that  40  to  48  per  cent of the population  in this area will get cancer: in five years’ time to begin with, then long afterwards. That’s almost half the population.


“Most  of my own family now have cancer, and we have no history of the disease.  We  don’t  know  the  precise  source  of the contamination, because  we  are  not allowed to get the equipment to conduct a proper survey,  or  even test the excess level of radiation in our bodies. We strongly suspect depleted uranium, which was used by the Americans and British  in  the  Gulf  War  right  across  the southern battlefields. Whatever the cause, it is like Chernobyl here; the genetic effects are new to us.


“The  mushrooms  grow  huge, and the fish in what was once a beautiful river  are  inedible.  Even  the  grapes in my garden have mutated and can’t be eaten.”


Along  the corridor, I met Dr Ginan Ghalib Hassen, a paediatrician. At another  time,  she  might  have  been  described  as  an effervescent personality;  now  she, too, has a melancholy expression that does not change; it is the face of Iraq. “This is Ali Raffa Asswadi,” she said, stopping  to  take the hand of a wasted boy I guessed to be about four years old. “He is nine. He has leukaemia. Now we can’t treat him. Only some  of the drugs are available. We get drugs for two or three weeks, and  then  they  stop  when  the shipments stop. Unless you continue a
course,   the   treatment   is  useless.  We  can’t  even  give  blood
transfusions, because there are not enough blood bags.”


Dr  Hassen  keeps  a photo album of the children she is trying to save and  those  she  has  been  unable to save. “This is Talum Saleh,” she said,  turning  to  a  photograph of a boy in a blue pullover and with sparkling  eyes.  “He  is five-and-a-half years old. This is a case of Hodgkin’s  disease.  Normally  a  patient with Hodgkin’s can expect to live  and  the  cure  can  be  95  per  cent. But if the drugs are not available,  complications  set  in,  and death follows. This boy had a beautiful nature. He died.”


I  said,  “As we were walking, I noticed you stop and put your face to the  wall.” “Yes, I was emotional … I am a doctor; I am not supposed to  cry,  but I cry every day, because this is torture. These children could live; they could live and grow up; and when you see your son and daughter  in  front of you, dying, what happens to you?” I said, “What do  you  say  to  those  in  the  West who deny the connection between depleted  uranium and the deformities of these children?” “That is not true.  How  much  proof  do they want? There is every relation between congenital  malformation  and  depleted  uranium.  Before 1991, we saw nothing  like  this  at all. If there is no connection, why have these things  not  happened  before?  Most  of these children have no family history of cancer.


“I  have  studied what happened in Hiroshima. It is almost exactly the same here; we have an increased percentage of congenital malformation, an increase of malignancy, leukaemia, brain tumours: the same.”


Under  the  economic  embargo  imposed  by the United Nations Security Council,  now in its 14th year, Iraq is denied equipment and expertise to decontaminate its battlefields from the 1991 Gulf War.


Professor  Doug  Rokke, the US Army physicist responsible for cleaning up  Kuwait,  told  me: “I am like many people in southern Iraq. I have 5,000  times the recommended level of radiation in my body. Most of my team are now dead.


“We face an issue to be confronted by people in the West, those with a sense of right and wrong: first, the decision by the US and Britain to use a weapon of mass destruction: depeleted uranium. When a tank fired its  shells,  each  round  carried  over 4,500g of solid uranium. What happened in the Gulf was a form of nuclear warfare.”


In  1991,  a United Kingdom Atomic Eneregy Authority document reported that  if  8 per cent of the depleted uranium fired in the Gulf War was inhaled,  it  could  cause “500,000 potential deaths”. In the promised attack on Iraq, the United States will again use depleted uranium, and so will Britain, regardless of its denials.


Professor  Rokke  says  he  has  watched Iraqi officials pleading with American  and  British officials to ease the embargo, if only to allow decontaminating  and cancer assessment equipment to be imported. “They
described   the   deaths  and  horrific  deformities,  and  they  were
rebuffed,” he said. “It was pathetic.”


The  United  Nations  Sanctions  Committee  in New York, set up by the Security  Council  to  administer  the  embargo,  is  dominated by the Americans,  who  are  backed  by the British. Washington has vetoed or delayed  a  range of vital medical equipment, chemotherapy drugs, even pain-killers.  (In  the jargon of denial, “blocked” equals vetoed, and “on  hold”  means  delayed,  or maybe blocked.) In Baghdad, I sat in a clinic  as  doctors  received parents and their children, many of them grey-skinned and bald, some of them dying. After every second or third examination,  Dr  Lekaa  Fasseh  Ozeer, the young oncologist, wrote in
English:  “No drugs available.” I asked her to jot down in my notebook a list of drugs the hospital had ordered, but had not received, or had received intermittently. She filled a page.


I  had  been  filming  in  Iraq  for  my documentary Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq. Back in London, I showed Dr Ozeer’s list to Professor Karol Sikora who, as chief of the cancer programme of the World Health Organisation (WHO), wrote in the British Medical Journal: “Requested  radiotherapy  equipment, chemotherapy drugs and analgesics are consistently blocked by United States and British advisers [to the Sanctions Committee]. There seems to be a rather ludicrous notion that such agents could be converted into chemical and other weapons.


Nearly  all  these drugs are available in every British hospital. They are  very standard. When I came back from Iraq last year, with a group of  experts  I  drew up a list of 17 drugs deemed essential for cancer treatment.  We  informed  the  UN  that  there  was  no possibility of converting  these drugs into chemical warfare agents. We heard nothing more.


“The  saddest thing I saw in Iraq was children dying because there was no  chemotherapy  and  no  pain control. It seemed crazy they couldn’t have  morphine, because for everybody with cancer pain, it is the best drug.  When  I was there, they had a little bottle of aspirin pills to go  round  200  patients  in  pain.  They  would  receive a particular anti-cancer  drug,  but  then  get  only little bits of drugs here and there, and so you can’t have any planning. It’s bizarre.”


I  told  him that one of the doctors had been especially upset because the  UN  Sanctions Committee had banned nitrous oxide as “weapons dual use”;  yet  this  was used in caesarean sections to stop bleeding, and perhaps save a mother’s life. “I can see no logic to banning that,” he said.  “I am not an armaments expert, but the amounts used would be so small  that,  even if you collected all the drugs supply for the whole nation  and  pooled  it, it is difficult to see how you could make any chemical warfare device out of it.”


Denis  Halliday  is a courtly Irishman who spent 34 years with the UN, latterly  as  Assistant Secretary-General. When he resigned in 1998 as the  UN’s Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq in protest at the effects of  the embargo on the civilian population, it was, he wrote, “because the  policy  of  economic sanctions is totally bankrupt. We are in the process  of  destroying an entire society. It is as simple as that … Five  thousand  children  are  dying  every  month … I don’t want to administer a programme that results in figures like these.”


Since  I  met Halliday, I have been struck by the principle behind his carefully  chosen,  uncompromising  words. “I had been instructed,” he said,  “to  implement  a  policy  that  satisfies  the  definition  of
genocide:  a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million  individuals, children and adults. We all know that the regime
-  Saddam Hussein – is not paying the price for economic sanctions; on the  contrary,  he  has  been  strengthened  by them. It is the little people  who  are  losing  their  children or their parents for lack of untreated water. What is clear is that the Security Council is now out of  control,  for  its actions here undermine its own Charter, and the Declaration  of  Human  Rights and the Geneva Convention. History will slaughter those responsible.”


In  the  UN,  Mr  Halliday  broke  a  long  collective  silence. On 13
February,   2000,   Hans   Von  Sponeck,  who  had  succeeded  him  as
Humanitarian  Co-ordinator in Baghdad, resigned. Like Halliday, he had been with the UN for more than 30 years. “How long,” he asked, “should the  civilian  population  of  Iraq  be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?” Two days later, Jutta Burghardt, head of  the  World  Food  Programme  in Iraq, another UN agency, resigned, saying  that she, too, could no longer tolerate what was being done to the Iraqi people.


The  resignations  were  unprecedented.  All  three  were  saying  the
unsayable: that the West was responsible for mass deaths, estimated by Halliday  to  be  more  than  a  million. While food and medicines are technically  exempt, the Sanctions Committee has frequently vetoed and delayed  requests  for  baby  food,  agricultural equipment, heart and cancer  drugs,  oxygen  tents,  X-ray machines. Sixteen heart and lung machines  were  put “on hold” because they contained computer chips. A fleet  of  ambulances  was  held  up  because their equipment included vacuum  flasks,  which  keep  medical supplies cold; vacuum flasks are designated  “dual  use” by the Sanctions Committee, meaning they could possibly  be  used in weapons manufacture. Cleaning materials, such as chlorine,  are  “dual use”, as is the graphite used in pencils; as are wheelbarrows,  it seems, considering the frequency of their appearance on the list of “holds”.


As  of  October 2001, 1,010 contracts for humanitarian supplies, worth $3.85bn,  were  “on  hold”  by  the Sanctions Committee. They included items  related  to food, health, water and sanitation, agriculture and education.  This  has now risen to goods worth more than $5bn. This is rarely reported in the West.


When  Denis Halliday was the senior United Nations official in Iraq, a display  cabinet  stood in the foyer of his office. It contained a bag of  wheat,  some  congealed  cooking oil, bars of soap and a few other household  necessities.  “It  was  a  pitiful sight,” he said, “and it represented  the monthly ration that we were allowed to spend. I added cheese  to  lift  the protein content, but there was simply not enough money  left  over from the amount we were allowed to spend, which came from the revenue Iraq was allowed to make from its oil.”


He  describes food shipments as “an exercise in duplicity”. A shipment that  the Americans claim allows for 2,300 calories per person per day may  well allow for only 2,000 calories, or less. “What’s missing,” he said,  “will be animal proteins, minerals and vitamins. As most Iraqis have  no other source of income, food has become a medium of exchange; it  gets  sold  for  other  necessities,  further lowering the calorie intake.  You also have to get clothes and shoes for your kids to go to school.  You’ve  then  got malnourished mothers who cannot breastfeed, and they pick up bad water.


What  is  needed  is  investment  in water treatment and distribution,
electric   power  for  food  processing,  storage  and  refrigeration,
education   and   agriculture.”   His  successor,  Hans  Von  Sponeck,
calculates  that the Oil for Food Programme allows $100 (£63) for each person to live on for a year. This figure also has to help pay for the entire  society’s infrastructure and essential services, such as power and water.


“It  is simply not possible to live on such an amount,” Mr Von Sponeck told  me. “Set that pittance against the lack of clean water, the fact that  electricity  fails for up to 22 hours a day, and the majority of sick people cannot afford treatment, and the sheer trauma of trying to get from day to day, and you have a glimpse of the nightmare. And make no  mistake,  this is deliberate. I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable.”


The  cost  in  lives  is  staggering.  A  study  by the United Nations Children’s  Fund (Unicef) found that between 1991 and 1998, there were 500,000  deaths  above the anticipated rate among Iraqi children under five  years  of age. This, on average, is 5,200 preventable under-five deaths per month.


Hans  Von Sponeck said, “Some 167 Iraqi children are dying every day.” Denis  Halliday said, “If you include adults, the figure is now almost certainly  well  over a million.” A melancholia shrouds people. I felt it  at Baghdad’s evening auctions, where intimate possessions are sold to  buy  food  and medicines. Television sets are common. A woman with two  infants  watched  their  pushchairs go for pennies. A man who had collected  doves  since  he  was  15 came with his last bird; the cage would go next.


My  film  crew  and  I  had  come to pry, yet we were made welcome; or people  merely  deferred  to  our presence, as the downcast do. During three  weeks  in Iraq, only once was I the brunt of someone’s anguish. “Why  are you killing the children?” shouted a man in the street. “Why are you bombing us? What have we done to you?” Through the glass doors of  the  Baghdad  offices of Unicef you can read the following mission
statement:  “Above all, survival, hope, development, respect, dignity, equality and justice for women and children.”


Fortunately,  the  children  in  the street outside, with their pencil limbs  and  long  thin  faces, cannot read English, and perhaps cannot read  at  all. “The change in such a short time is unparalleled, in my experience,”  Dr  Anupama Rao Singh, Unicef’s senior representative in Iraq, told me.


“In  1989,  the  literacy rate was more than 90 per cent; parents were fined  for failing to send their children to school. The phenomenon of street  children  was  unheard  of. Iraq had reached a stage where the basic  indicators  we  use  to  measure the overall wellbeing of human beings, including children, were some of the best in the world. Now it is among the bottom 20 per cent.”


Dr  Singh,  diminutive,  grey-haired and, with her precision, sounding like  the teacher she once was in India, has spent most of her working life  with  Unicef.  She took me to a typical primary school in Saddam City, where Baghdad’s majority and poorest live. We approached along a flooded  street,  the  city’s  drainage  and water distribution system having  collapsed  since  the  Gulf  War  bombing. The headmaster, Ali Hassoon,  guided us around the puddles of raw sewage in the playground and  pointed  to  the  high-water  mark on the wall. “In the winter it comes up to here. That’s when we evacuate.


We  stay for as long as possible but, without desks, the children have to sit on bricks. I am worried about the buildings coming down.” As we talked, an air-raid siren sounded in the distance.The school is on the edge  of a vast industrial cemetery. The pumps in the sewage treatment plants  and the reservoirs of potable water are silent, save for a few wheezing  at  a fraction of their capacity. Those that were not bombed have  since  disintegrated; spare parts from their British, French and German manufacturers are permanently “on hold”.


Before  1991,  Baghdad”s  water  was  as  safe as any in the developed world.  Today,  drawn  untreated  from  the Tigris, it is lethal. Just before  Christmas 1999, the Department of Trade and Industry in London restricted  the  export  of  vaccines  meant to protect Iraqi children against diphtheria and yellow fever.


Dr  Kim  Howells told Parliament why. His title of Parliamentary Under Secretary  of  State  for  Competition  and Consumer Affairs perfectly suited  his  Orwellian  reply.  The children’s vaccines were, he said, “capable of being used in weapons of mass destruction”.


American  and  British  aircraft  operate  over  Iraq  in  what  their governments have unilaterally declared “no fly zones”. This means that only  they and their allies can fly there. The designated areas are in the  north,  around  Mosul,  to  the border with Turkey, and from just south of Baghdad to the Kuwaiti border. The US and British governments insist  the  no fly zones are “legal”, claiming that they are part of, or supported by, the Security Council’s Resolution 688.


There  is  a  great  deal of fog about this, the kind generated by the Foreign  Office  when  its  statements  are  challenged.  There  is no reference  to  no  fly  zones  in  Security Council resolutions, which suggests they have no basis in international law.


I   went   to   Paris   and   asked   Dr  Boutros  Boutros-Ghali,  the
Secretary-General  of  the UN in 1992, when the resolution was passed. “The  issue  of no fly zones was not raised and therefore not debated: not  a  word,” he said. “They offer no legitimacy to countries sending their  aircraft  to attack Iraq.” “Does that mean they are illegal?” I asked. “They are illegal,” he replied.


The  scale  of the bombing in the no fly zones is astonishing. Between July 1998 and January 2000, American air force and naval aircraft flew 36,000  sorties  over  Iraq, including 24,000 combat missions. In 1999 alone, American and British aircraft dropped more than 1,800 bombs and hit 450 targets. The cost to British taxpayers is more than £800m.


There  is  bombing  almost every day: it is the longest Anglo-American aerial  campaign  since the Second World War; yet it is mostly ignored by  the British and American media. In a rare acknowledgement, The New York  Times  reported,  “American warplanes have methodically and with virtually  no  public  discussion  been attacking Iraq … pilots have flown  about  two-thirds  as  many  missions  as Nato pilots flew over Yugoslavia in 78 days of around-the-clock war there.”


The purpose of the no fly zones, according to the British and American governments, is to protect the Kurds in the north and the Shi’a in the south  against  Saddam Hussein’s forces. The aircraft are performing a “vital  humanitarian  task”, says Tony Blair, that will give “minority peoples  the  hope  of  freedom  and  the right to determine their own destinies”.


Like  much of Blair’s rhetoric on Iraq, it is simply false. In nothern Kurdish  Iraq,  I  interviewed  members of a family who had lost their grandfather,  their  father  and  four  brothers  and  sisters  when a “coalition” aircraft dive-bombed them and the sheep they were tending. The attack was investigated and verified by Hans Von Sponeck who drove there  especially  from  Baghdad.  Dozens  of  similar  attacks  -  on shepherds,  farmers,  fishermen – are described in a document prepared by the UN Security Section.


The  US  faced  a  “genuine dilemma” in Iraq, reported The Wall Street Journal.  “After  eight  years of enforcing a no fly zone in … Iraq, few military targets remain. ‘We’re down to the last outhouse,’ one US official protested. ‘There are still some things left, but not many.’”


There  are  still  children  left.  Six children died when an American missile  hit  Al  Jumohria, a community in Basra’s poorest residential
area:  63  people  were  injured,  a  number  of  them  badly  burned. “Collateral damage,” said the Pentagon. I walked down the street where the missile had struck in the early hours; it had followed the line of houses,  destroying  one  after  the  other.  I  met the father of two sisters,  aged  eight and 10, who were photographed by a local wedding photographer shortly after the attack. They are in their nightdresses, one  with  a  bow  in her hair, their bodies entombed in the rubble of their  homes, where they had been bombed to death in their beds. These images haunt me.


I  flew  on  to  New  York  for  an  interview  with  Kofi  Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. He appears an oddly diffident man, so softly spoken as to be almost inaudible.


“As the Secretary-General of the United Nations which is imposing this blockade  on  Iraq,”  I  said,  “what do you say to the parents of the children  who  are dying?” His reply was that the Security Council was considering “smart sanctions”, which would “target the leaders” rather than  act as “a blunt instrument that impacts on children”. I said the UN  was  set up to help people, not harm them, and he replied, “Please do not judge us by what has happened in Iraq.”


I  walked  to  the  office  of  Peter  van  Walsum,  the  Netherlands’ ambassador to the UN and the chairman of the Sanctions Committee. What impressed  me  about  this diplomat with life-and-death powers over 22 million people half a world away was that,  like  liberal  politicians  in  the West, he seemed to hold two diametrically  opposed thoughts in his mind. On the one hand, he spoke of  Iraq  as if everybody were Saddam Hussein; on the other, he seemed to  believe  that  most  Iraqis  were  victims,  held  hostage  to the intransigence of a dictator.


I  asked him why the civilian population should be punished for Saddam Hussein’s  crimes. “It’s a difficult problem,” he replied. “You should realise  that  sanctions  are  one  of  the curative measures that the Security Council has at its disposal … and obviously they hurt. They are  like  a  military  measure.”  “Who do they hurt?” “Well, this, of course, is the problem … but with military action, too, you have the eternal  problem  of  collateral  damage.”  “So  an  entire  nation is collateral  damage.  Is that correct?” “No, I am saying that sanctions have [similar] effects. We have to study this further.”


“Do  you  believe  that  people have human rights no matter where they live  and  under what system?” I asked. “Yes.” “Doesn’t that mean that the  sanctions  you  are  imposing  are  violating the human rights of millions  of  people?”  “It’s  also  documented  the  Iraqi regime has committed very serious human rights breaches …”


“There  is no doubt about that,” I said. “But what’s the difference in principle  between human rights violations committed by the regime and those  caused  by  your  committee?”  “It’s  a  very complex issue, Mr Pilger.”


“What  do  you say to those who describe sanctions that have caused so many  deaths  as  ‘weapons  of mass destruction’ as lethal as chemical weapons?” “I don’t think that’s a fair comparison.” “Aren’t the deaths of  half a million children mass destruction?” “I don’t think that’s a very  fair  question.  We  are  talking  about a situation caused by a government  that  overran  its  neighbour,  and  has  weapons  of mass destruction.”


“Then  why  aren’t  there sanctions on Israel [which] occupies much of Palestine and attacks Lebanon almost every day of the week? Why aren’t there sanctions on Turkey, which has displaced three million Kurds and caused  the  deaths  of 30,000 Kurds?” “Well, there are many countries that  do  things that we are not happy with. We can’t be everywhere. I repeat, it’s complex.” “How much power does the United States exercise over  your  committee?”  “We  operate  by consensus.” “And what if the Americans object?” “We don”t operate.”


There  is  little doubt that if Saddam Hussein saw political advantage in  starving  and  otherwise denying his people, he would do so. It is hardly  surprising  that he has looked after himself, his inner circle and, above all, his military and security apparatus.


His  palaces  and  spooks,  like the cartoon portraits of himself, are everywhere.  Unlike  other tyrants, however, he not only survived, but before  the Gulf War enjoyed a measure of popularity by buying off his people  with  the  benefits  from Iraq’s oil revenue. Having exiled or murdered  his  opponents, more than any Arab leader he used the riches of  oil  to modernise the civilian infrastructure, building first-rate hospitals, schools and universities.


In  this  way  he  fostered  a  relatively  large,  healthy, well-fed, well-educated  middle  class.  Before  sanctions, Iraqis consumed more than 3,000 calories each per day; 92 per cent of people had safe water and  93  per  cent enjoyed free health care. Adult literacy was one of the  highest  in  the  world,  at around 95 per cent. According to the Economist’s  Intelligence  Unit,  “the  Iraqi welfare state was, until recently,  among  the  most  comprehensive  and  generous  in the Arab world.”


It  is  said the only true beneficiary of sanctions is Saddam Hussein. He  has  used  the embargo to centralise state power, and so reinforce his direct control over people’s lives. With most Iraqis now dependent on the state food rationing system, organised political dissent is all but  unthinkable. In any case, for most Iraqis, it is cancelled by the sense  of  grievance  and  anger they feel towards the external enemy, western governments.


In  the  relatively  open and pro-Western society that existed in Iraq before  1991,  there  was  always  the prospect of an uprising, as the Kurdish  and  Shia  rebellions  that  year showed. In today’s state of
siege,   there  is  none.  That  is  the  unsung  achievement  of  the
Anglo-American blockade.


The  economic blockade on Iraq must be lifted for no other reason than that  it is immoral, its consequences inhuman. When that happens, says the  former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, “the weapons inspectors must  go  back  into  Iraq and complete their mandate, which should be reconfigured. It was originally drawn up for quantitative disarmament, to  account  for every nut, screw, bolt, document that exists in Iraq. As  long as Iraq didn’t account for that, it was not in compliance and there was no progress.


“We  should  change that mandate to qualitative disarmament. Does Iraq have  a  chemical  weapons  programme  today?  No.  Does  Iraq  have a long-range  missile  programme today? No. Nuclear? No. Biological? No. Is  Iraq  qualitatively  disarmed?  Yes.  So  we  should  get  on with monitoring  Iraq  to  ensure  they  do  not  reconstitute  any of this capability.”


Even before the machinations in the UN Security Council in October and November  2002,  Iraq  had  already  accepted  back  inspectors of the International  Atomic  Energy  Agency.  At  the time of writing, a new
resolution,   forced   through   the   Security   Council  by  a  Bush
administration campaign of bribery and coercion, has seen a contingent of  weapons  inspectors  at  work in Iraq. Led by the Swedish diplomat Hans  Blix,  the  inspectors  have  extraordinary  powers,  which, for example,  require  Iraq  to  “confess”  to  possessing equipment never banned by previous resolutions. In spite of a torrent of disnformation from  Washington  and Whitehall, they have found, as one inspector put it, “zilch”.


An attack is next; we have no right to call it a “war”. The “enemy” is a nation of whom almost half the population are children, a nation who offer  us  no  threat  and  with  whom we have no quarrel. The fate of countless innocent lives now depends on vestiges of self-respect among the  so-called  international  (non-American)  community,  and on free journalists  to  tell  the  truth  and not merely channel and echo the propaganda of great power.


It  is  seldom  reported that UN Security Resolution 687 that enforces the embargo on Iraq also says that Iraq’s disarmament should be a step “towards  the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons  of mass destruction …” In other words, if Iraq gives up, or has  given  up,  its  doomsday  weapons,  so  should  Israel. After 11 September  2001, making relentless demands on Iraq, then attacking it, while turning a blind eye to Israel will endanger us all.


“The  longer the sanctions go on,” said Denis Halliday, “[the more] we are likely to see the emergence of a generation who will regard Saddam Hussein as too moderate and too willing to listen to the West.”


On  my  last  night in Iraq, I went to the Rabat Hall in the centre of Baghdad  to  watch the Iraqi National Orchestra rehearse. I had wanted to  meet  Mohammed  Amin  Ezzat, the conductor, whose personal tragedy epitomises  the  punishment of his people. Because the power supply is so  intermittent,  Iraqis have been forced to use cheap kerosene lamps for  lighting, heating and cooking; and these frequently explode. This is  what  happened  to  Mohammed  Amin  Ezzat’s  wife,  Jenan, who was engulfed in flames.


“I  saw  my  wife  burn completely before my eyes,” he said. ” I threw myself  on  her  in order to extinguish the flames, but it was no use. She  died.  I  sometimes  wish  I  had died with her.” He stood on his conductor’s  podium,  his  badly  burnt left arm unmoving, the fingers fused together.


The orchestra was rehearsing Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, and there was  a  strange discord. Reeds were missing from clarinets and strings from  violins.  “We can’t get them from abroad,” he said. “Someone has decreed  they  are  not  allowed.” The musical scores are ragged, like ancient parchment. The musicians cannot get paper.


Only two members of the original orchestra are left; the rest have set out  on  the  long,  dangerous  road to Jordan and beyond. “You cannot blame  them,” he said. “The suffering in our country is too great. But why has it not been stopped?”


It  was a question I put to Denis Halliday one evening in New York. We were standing, just the two of us, in the great modernist theatre that is  the  General  Assembly at the UN. “This is where the real world is represented,” he said.


“One  state,  one  vote.  By  contrast,  the Security Council has five permanent members which have veto rights. There is no democracy there. Had  the  issue  of sanctions on Iraq gone to the General Assembly, it would have been overturned by a very large majority.


“We  have  to  change the United Nations, to reclaim what is ours. The genocide  in Iraq is the test of our will. All of us have to break the
silence:  to  make  those responsible, in Washington and London, aware that history will slaughter them.”


This  is  an  edited  extract from John Pilger’s latest book, ‘The New Rulers  of  the  World’,  published  next  month  by Verso, as a fully updated paperback at GBP 8.

Leave a comment