Baghdad – If President George W. Bush believes that ordinary Iraqis will welcome U.S. troops with open arms he may be in for a rude surprise.
However much they fear to say what they think under the ruthless rule of President Saddam Hussein, their feelings of deep-seated hatred towards Bush are only too clear.
They see the United States as primarily responsible for the sanctions that have destroyed their economy and the social fabric of their once-prosperous lives, as well as leaving an estimated 1.6 million children dead and many more stunted.
As much as the deprivation, they resent the humiliation of having been driven back into an almost pre-industrial age.
Nowhere are these sentiments more in evidence than at the Mansour Hospital for Children, where youngsters with cancer lie dying from what doctors believe are the effects of the 1991 Gulf War.
“Look! These are the children of Iraq,” said Nouhad Abdel-Amir pointing at the cancer ward packed with frail children with no hair, many lying unconscious with drips strapped to their bodies.
She herself was holding her one-year-old baby who had his arm amputated to stop the progress of cancer in the absence of injections doctors say are banned by the sanctions committee which claims they have dual use.
“This is what the Americans did to us. This is the effect of all the bombs they fired at us. It is showing now. It is all America’s fault that our children are dying,” said Najate Salem, whose son Mohammed, five, has stomach cancer.
International medical surveys have reported a dramatic jump in cancer cases, genetic deformities and abnormalities in children born after 1991, especially in the south where depleted uranium munitions were fired by U.S. and British troops as they drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
“The Gulf War is the only indicator for the increase of cancer in Iraq. The rate of cancer has risen five to seven fold more than before 1991,” said Loua’i Latif Kasha, a pathologist and director of the 300-bed Mansour hospital.
He said U.S. bombings of water treatment plants, the collapse of the health and sanitation systems as well as a stringent embargo that made it difficult to import medicine has led to the sharp increase in cancer among Iraqis, mainly children.
“Apart from these factors, radiation pollution from depleted uranium bombs by itself causes cancer like leukaemia and thyroid,” Kasha, who trained at the Whitechapel Hospital in London, told Reuters.
At Mansour hospital, desperate and broken parents sit by their children’s bedside praying for a miracle. Without a miracle, many will die because the appropriate medicines are not all available and are beyond the parents’ means.
Humanitarian supplies under the U.N. oil-for-food programme are intended to alleviate the impact of 12 years of sanctions but cannot meet the massive need.
Many parents, originally from poor southern provinces, have sold household goods and furniture to buy expensive medicine.
“We’ve sold everything we own to get him medicine. We have nothing left except our mattresses and he’s dying,” said Camila Mohammed, whose son Ali, six, has kidney cancer.
Sleeping on soiled and bare mattresses in stomach-churning smelly rooms, the children with no hair, yellow faces and sad eyes listen to their parents venting their rage at America.
“I pray to God to hit America with a massive strike because a strike from God is much stronger than from a human being…I want them to suffer like we’re suffering. They are the reason for our misery,” said Kazema Tshaloub, 30.
Whether they like or loathe Saddam, their rage and hatred are mainly directed at the U.S. administration.
Most, who come from areas that witnessed an anti-Saddam uprising after the Gulf War, distrust the declared intentions of Bush to end Saddam’s 23-year-old rule.
Bush’s father, then President George Bush, encouraged Shi’ites in the south and Kurds in the north to rise up against Saddam after the Gulf War but did little to help them.
“Bush still wants to hurt us more. What more does he want? Is there anything he hasn’t done…All the destruction, sanctions and diseases aren’t enough? What have we done to him, we haven’t hurt him or attacked him,” said another mother Ghaziya Rasheed.
Even if Iraq is about to change for the better, for many people this change will come too late. Nothing will bring back their loved ones.
“They fought us with all their means. Our children are stunted, malnourished and illiterate,” said Sahera Khalil whose son Ahmed, four, has leukaemia.
“In six weeks at the hospital I’ve seen eight children die,” she said. “The Americans have no mercy in their hearts. This is what they have done to the future generation of Iraq.”