Counting the cost....

Author:Shahin, Marian
Position:Health and environmental issues affect Iraq aside from economic sanctions

Iraq's staunchest foe, the United States, now supports the idea Iraq should export as much oil as it can, providing the proceeds are used to buy "humanitarian" goods, such as food and medicine.

The approval of deals worth over $80 million in spare parts contracts in January indicate that the Security Council, including Britain and the US, are now prepared to allow Iraq to upgrade and repair its ailing oil pumping installations.

With Iraqis saying they will not allow UN weapons inspectors back in, the contested issue now is whether the US and the UK will try to get the inspectors reinstated either by maintaining sanctions or attempting to bomb Iraq into submission.

The French, the Russians and the Chinese, all of whom have major economic interests in the country, are all for easing or lifting sanctions altogether. They are also supporting the suggestion that a monitoring force rather than disarmament team is sufficient to keep Iraq's weapons capabilities in check.

The disagreement among the Security Council members is likely to continue into the spring and even the summer, before any major changes take place. But the inclination of both the US and the UK governments to begin easing sanctions and allow increasing imports of spare parts are already a welcome sign in Baghdad. However, the Iraqi oil industry is under pressure to yield an output it can no longer produce. It will need a major overhaul of its equipment in order to do so, which is made almost impossible by the embargo.

The Iraqis use the word zeina to mean fine or beautiful when asked how they are, but there is very little fineness or beauty to be seen in a country held hostage by the international community on one side and a relentless and tough regime on the other.

Every month Um Samir, 52, stands in line to receive the food rations her nine-member family is entitled to under the Iraqi governments food-rationing programme. In theory the government provides such basics as rice, sugar, flour, cooking oil, powdered milk, soap, lentils and some seasonal goods such as dates, corn, and occasionally ghee, to every Iraqi national living under it's jurisdiction. With the exception of Iraqi Kurds, who live in semi-autonomous areas in northern Iraq, almost all Iraqis appear to be taking advantage of the food ration system, which was introduced shortly after the UN backed economic embargo was placed on Iraq in August 1990.

The basic food staples, which make up much of the monthly ration...

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