Issue 233 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review

Editorial

Conference call

The Labour Party's annual conference takes place this month against a growing clamour of opposition to the policies of New Labour, which in all too many aspects mirror those of the Tory government which wreaked such havoc for 18 years. Privatisation, cuts and attacks on benefits have become the order of the day. But there are signs of resistance across the country. Housing workers from London's Tower Hamlets have struck for several weeks over the summer against the Blairite council's plans to replace local housing offices with a call centre. Council tenants are fighting privatisation of their homes. Pensioners have organised a national demonstration this month for decent pensions.

In the face of such protests, Tony Blair's government has only one answer--we have to obey the dictates of the market. Problems can only be solved by leaving them to the workings of the free market. In a disconcerting echo of the policies of Margaret Thatcher, Labour's Alastair Darling tells us that he can alleviate poverty by making more people go out to work. The familiar Tory scapegoats such as asylum seekers and Gypsies are resurrected by New Labour. Private businesses are left free to make profits for their shareholders with impunity while their workers suffer.

Yet the most glaring lesson of the past two decades in Britain is that the market does not work. It has created greater poverty than at any time since the Second World War, a more decayed and crumbling public sector than ever, and a workforce which works longer hours than anywhere else in western Europe. Despite this, Blair's enthusiasm for Thatcherism is being taken up in Germany, where the Red-Green government of Gerhard Schröder is trying to force through cuts in living standards and welfare, and greater workforce 'flexibility'. The major resistance he is encountering there demonstrates that most workers have no desire to follow Blair's 'third way'. They know that the workings of the market spell more attacks on workers and more profits for the bosses.

If this is true of some of the richest countries in the world, it is even more glaring in areas such as Africa where, as we show elsewhere in this issue, the control of debt and trade by western capital means even greater misery for the mass of people. That is why there is growing protest around the world at the worsening inequality and the brutal way in which the market tramples on people's lives.

Unfortunately, little of this protest will surface inside Labour's conference itself--or at the TUC conference also taking place this month. Instead we are likely to hear platitudes about Labour's achievements, about the importance of welfare to work, and about partnership between capital and labour. There is a widening gulf between the talk and actions of the government and the aspirations of its traditional supporters.

That is why the lobby of Labour's conference in Bournemouth on 26 September is gaining such support inside the working class movement, as tenants' associations, trade union bodies, community groups and pensioners organise transport and collect money to ensure a big turnout on the day. Blair, New Labour and the media which supports them would like to pretend that this discontent does not exist. By building a broad based, large and successful lobby of the conference we can prove them wrong.


Refugees

Soft touch or easy target?

Mouth open, eyes shut...Jack Straw on immigration

Tensions over racism and asylum seekers which have risen over the summer have been exacerbated by the comments by the Home Secretary Jack Straw. In an astonishing attack against travellers and gypsies, a group who have suffered a long history of racism and persecution, Straw said: 'Many of these so called travellers seem to think it is perfectly OK for them to cause mayhem in an area, to go burgling, thieving, breaking into vehicles, causing all kinds of trouble, including defecating in the doorways of firms and so on, and getting away with it... Travellers have traded on the sentiment. They've masqueraded as law abiding gypsies when they are not.' It is no wonder that traveller support groups reported him to the Commission for Racial Equality.

On top of this, Straw's decision to introduce emergency powers to disperse asylum seekers throughout the country only enforces the idea that Britain is being 'swamped' by a 'tide of refugees'. In fact Britain is one of the most difficult countries for asylum seekers to enter and the tiny numbers that come here are only a tiny proportion of the world's refugees.

Over the last 20 years the number of refugees who have been forced to flee the trouble spots of the world has soared. In the early 1970s the UNHCR estimated the number of refugees each year at below 4 million. Now this has increased to between 12 and 18 million. Partly this is due to increased levels of poverty, but one of the main reasons is because of the proliferation of regional wars which has made the world a far more unstable place. When wars erupt, as in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Angola, Liberia or Iraq recently, they force millions of people to seek refuge elsewhere. The UNHCR estimates that the recent war in the Gulf displaced some 5.5 million people.

The desperate plight of refugees hit the headlines recently with the case of two young boys who fled the west African state of Guinea. Fodé Tounkara, aged 14, and his 15 year old friend Yaguine Koita were found frozen to death in the undercarriage of a Sabena plane in Belgium. The boys had prepared carefully for the trip from Conakry, the capital of deeply impoverished Guinea, next to civil war torn Sierra Leone. They had put on several pairs of thin trousers, pullovers and jackets in an attempt to survive temperatures of minus 55 degrees during the flight to Brussels via Mali. But their bodies were found clinging to the plane's landing gear, having died of hypothermia and oxygen shortage. The teenagers may have been on board for up to ten days before their bodies were found.

Written on paper from an exercise book, this letter was found on the frozen bodies of two African teenagers who stowed away in the undercarriage of a Belgian plane. It is a plea for help for Africa which only came to light with the horror of their deaths

The case has struck a chord because of a moving note that was found on one of the boys. It is a plea for help from Europe, especially to improve education for the suffering young people of Africa. It is addressed to the 'Excellencies, gentlemen members and responsible citizens of Europe.' The note reads, 'Please help us... We have war, sickness, hunger, etc. In Guinea we have many schools but a great lack of education... only in private schools can you get a good education, but you need a large sum of money. If you see that we have sacrificed ourselves and lost our lives, it is because we suffer too much in Africa and need your help to struggle against poverty and war. We want to study and ask you to help us become like you in Africa... Please excuse us very much for daring to write this letter.'

The letter forced the Belgian government onto the defensive. The development minister had to promise more aid to the Third World. And when the bodies were flown back to Guinea they were given a full ceremonial departure from Brussels airport, and were accompanied by the Guinean ambassador and a representative of the Belgian government.

Had the boys arrived alive in Brussels, however, the response from the government would almost certainly have been different. They would have been hustled straight into a detention centre, pending deportation, and their letter would have been read only by a police official or an immigration officer.

Hand in hand with the increased numbers of refugees over the last 20 years has been a growing reluctance by the western countries to accept new immigrants. During the recent war in Bosnia in the early 1990s about 500,000 people fled to the European Union. The vast majority of these--over 350,000--went to Germany. Since then over two thirds have been sent back to Bosnia, often against their will. Temporary, not permanent, asylum is the latest western preference.

The British government is now one of the most reluctant to accept the world's most desperate people. Successive legislation under both Labour and Tory governments has made Britain one of the most inhospitable countries for those seeking asylum. But just when it seemed that the door was virtually closed for refugees, Tony Blair showed that it could still be shut a little bit further.

Blair went to war in Kosovo preaching the need to help refugees at the same time as pushing through the Asylum Bill, a pernicious and nasty piece of legislation designed to restrict entry to this country and make life an absolute misery for those who are lucky enough to get here. Having fled war, poverty and persecution in their own countries, refugees are often forced to spend months in a detention centre. For those who avoid detention, the option is either an inhospitable housing estate or to be put in bed and breakfast accommodation which they are forced to leave during the day and wander the streets. They face an enormous bureaucracy to receive what meagre benefits are on offer. Instead of using their many talents and abilities, they are viewed as a problem, which the government or local council is keen to remove. And on top of this they are subjected to a stream of abuse and racist slurs from the local press, which whip up scares to turn local people against them.

With Labour also attacking working class people in this country it is no wonder that there are incidents like those in Dover and Oxford over the summer, with confrontations between refugees and local residents. The new Asylum Bill will make things even worse. Life will be more intolerable with the plan to remove welfare benefits from refugees and force them to be dependent only on vouchers. Labour's policies make the conditions fertile for racists, and increase the prospects for such attacks in the future.

While our rulers' system lurches from one crisis to the next, while more and more people are forced into poverty and misery, while millions are forced to flee famine, war and persecution, there is little or no help for the real victims of the system.
Peter Morgan


Turkey

Money for war but not for poor

Authorities knew many buildings were unsafe

The recent earthquake in Turkey may have been a natural disaster, but the death and devastation are not. Up to 50,000 are feared dead, tens of thousands have been injured, and many more are homeless. The devastation was predominantly concentrated in the poorer areas, where blocks of flats were built with substandard materials without many of the most basic measures needed to prevent earthquake damage.

There is now a groundswell of anger against the Turkish government because of its poor response to the earthquake. It spends a quarter of its entire budget--some £4.5 billion--on its army which, with 800,000 troops, is the biggest in Europe. Why is it that one of the most heavily armed states in a known earthquake zone did not have a single earthquake rescue brigade, a single regiment trained to help survivors, nor a single sniffer dog team trained to find people caught in the ruins?

As Robert Fisk said in the Independent. 'Somehow, with Nato training, they were able to sustain a massive and vicious guerrilla war against Kurdish separatists, occupy northern Cyprus, kidnap the PKK leader Abdullah Ôcalan, forge a military alliance with Israel. But when they were tested last week, the Turkish army's performance was pitiful. It turned out that while they could assault the PKK with new US attack helicopters, they could not even set up soup kitchens for Turkish civilians 24 hours after the earthquake. They could 'cleanse' the Kurdish towns around Diyarbakir but they couldn't produce a single earthquake rescue unit around Istanbul.'

Just before the earthquake, this same government was forcing through IMF cuts and attacks on workers, who responded with mass strikes. Discontent will only grow with the scandal round this human disaster.

Meanwhile Turkey hopes to push through the execution of PKK leader Öcalan which will only strengthen the right. Every socialist must oppose it.



Under the Albanian flag: Nato troops have done little to protect Serbs

Balkans

The new ethnic cleansing

The terror that supposedly ended with the victory of Nato over Serbia in Kosovo is continuing and seems to be gathering pace once again. A recent report from Human Rights Watch demonstrates that ethnic Serbs and Roma Gypsies are on the receiving end of violence, including rape and murder, in Kosovo. Deaths of Serbs were numbered at over 200 in early August, and that number grows daily. Despite denials, there are many signs that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) is orchestrating these attacks, not as revenge for earlier attacks by Serbs on Albanians as is often claimed by the western press, but as a means of systematically driving out the whole of the Serb population from Kosovo as well as other minorities.

The campaign is highly successful from this point of view. It is estimated that only 20,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo from a prewar population of 200,000. This means, in fact, that a higher proportion of Serbs have been ethnically cleansed from Kosovo than Albanians were before and during the war. The ones remaining tend to be those too old or poor to move, but they remain highly vulnerable. In recent weeks a campaign of terror has led to old women being found dead, some strangled or with their throats cut. On 23 July, 14 Serb farmers were shot at point blank range while bringing in the harvest, even though they had asked for protection from K-For troops.

Roma Gypsies have also seen a dramatic fall in their population. According to the New York Times on 11 July, around 6,000 to 7,000 Roma remained in Kosovo, compared with 30,000 to 40,000 numbered in the 1991 census. Those numbers are also still falling.

The western powers which assembled the Nato onslaught on Serbia in the name of defence for human rights have at best turned a blind eye to these events; at worst, they have helped collude in them. Madeleine Albright, speaking in Pristina on 29 July, declared that 'never again will people with guns come in the night'. But that is precisely what is now happening under the noses of the Nato 'peacekeepers'. The refugee agency UNHCR is now helping Serbs to leave Kosovo, since it cannot guarantee their safety in the area.

There is little doubt that the KLA is heavily implicated in what is going on. The Human Rights Watch report catalogues many incidents involving men in KLA uniform. It says, 'The most serious incidents of violence... have been carried out by the KLA. Although the KLA leadership issued a statement on 20 July condemning attacks on Serbs and Roma, and KLA political leader Hashim Thaqi denounced the 23 July massacre of 14 Serb farmers, it remains unclear whether these beatings and killings were committed by local KLA units acting without official sanction, or whether they represent a coordinated KLA policy.'

Representatives of K-For try to play down the connections, with one military policeman quoted in the Observer (15 August 1999) saying that the attacks were the work of gangsters from Albania rather than the KLA. But the same report quoted other sources which said that of 15 Albanians arrested for intimidation in the previous week, 11 carried identification cards of the KLA military police force, the PU. Human Rights Watch also makes the point that 'the response of K-For and the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (Unmik) to abuses against minority populations has been belated and uneven.' This too has led some supporters of Nato's war to now fear that everything is going badly wrong, and that the west has to act to make sure that it does not 'lose the peace'.

Yet the events of the past two months were predictable, and predicted. They stem from the nature of the postwar settlement in Kosovo and from the nature of the war itself. The present situation shows how little it had to do with preserving human rights, and how much it had to do with the west dominating the region. The disarming of the KLA has never been seriously attempted. In the early days after the war, western troops were much more zealous about disarming Kosovan Serbs than the KLA. The KLA remains heavily armed and, rather than surrender its weapons, is able to profit from selling surplus arms in Britain and elsewhere. The vacuum created by Serb military withdrawal has been filled by the KLA, which has established its military 'police force' and 'ministers' in Kosovo, and is effectively running much of the province.

Nato troops and the western powers have done little to challenge this or to protect the Serbs and Roma. Here is the Human Rights Watch report again: 'In many cases K-For officers from all contingents expressed the view that the commission of such crimes was inevitable. Efforts by a Human Rights Watch researcher to report an incident of harassment in Ljubizda village on June 30 to the German K-For contingent required multiple visits to local posts and then to the contingent headquarters in Prizren, where a[n]...officer appeared uninterested in the details of the case.'

There have also been reports of KLA attacks on Russian troops in Kosovo, because they are perceived as pro-Serb. Again the west's refusal to allow them a separate sector has made the Serbs feel less secure.

The western powers are clearly worried about what is happening in Kosovo, but they are unlikely to do anything about it. They see the KLA as allies at present--they have no alternative when it comes to running the area--and they also want to put pressure on Milosevic. They believe Serb refugees will increasingly be blamed on the Serbian government and not on Nato, and that this will add to the government's problems. Certainly the Krajina Serbs, ethnically cleansed from Croatia in 1995, had a cold welcome in Belgrade. Indeed, many were forced to move to Kosovo, where their hostels have been subject to some of the worst recent attacks. There are reports of refugees from Kosovo being refused entry into Belgrade or even being returned to Kosovo.

But nor can these people expect anything from the west. The lack of protection for them on the ground has been matched by callousness when they try to flee. On 20 July the Italian government announced that everyone entering Italy from the former Yugoslavia without a visa would be treated as an illegal immigrant and would be returned to their country of origin. This was the same week in which 1,200 Kosovo Roma had reportedly entered Italy.

The ethnic cleansing of Kosovo will only create further problems, with pressure on other countries in the region with large Albanian minorities. It also underlines that the west has no solution in the region other than partition to create 'ethnically pure' states heavily policed by outside forces--as we already see in Bosnia. The area's instability has not been eased but exacerbated by the war.

The disaster that is Serbia itself continues. The west refuses to give aid to rebuild the battered country while Milosevic is there, and places all its hopes in fostering an opposition, which in August held a rally of 100,000 in Belgrade. But the opposition is divided, and contains within it a number of opportunists and many who would accept much of the politics that Milosevic puts forward. There is little sign so far of any independent left wing or working class alternative to the regime and therefore, whoever is in power, little will be done to ease the plight of ordinary Serbs.

Their energy to oppose Milosevic will be further sapped by the terrible day to day problems of living with inadequate water and electricity supplies, which will hit very hard in the winter.

The west's refusal to take these problems seriously--having been the cause of them through its bombing--shows its irresponsibility in the area. Recent events demonstrate that the history of this most recent Balkan War is still being written.
Lindsey German


Balkans

Toxic shock

Toxic shock

The quantity of bombs that Nato dropped on Yugoslavia was the equivalent of several Hiroshima type A-bombs. These bombs wrecked the environment of Yugoslavia. Nato hit oil refineries, petrochemical plants, chemical fertiliser plants, fuel storage tanks and power plants. The environmental results of Nato's 78 day 'moral war' are only now coming to light.

Some 1,000 tonnes of ethylene dichloride, 100 tonnes of vinyl chloride almost 1,000 tonnes of a solution containing 33 percent hydrogen chloride, 50 tonnes of oil, 100 tonnes of liquid ammonia and 3,000 tonnes of a solution containing natrium hydroxide were all released into the River Danube as the result of a single Nato attack. It happened on 18 April in Pancevo just north east of Belgrade and on 19 April the sun didn't shine. The sun was blocked by a thick greyish fog containing numerous chemicals that the UN said could cause 'cancer, miscarriages and birth defects', 10,600 times above the limit considered safe for humans.

The Danube has been blocked by debris from three bridges that were completely destroyed and five that suffered serious damage. This has halted the 100 million tonnes of goods that flow by barge through this continental artery. This has angered the European business community, not the fact that over 10 million people depend on the Danube for drinking water and it is awash with chemicals.

The use of depleted uranium (DU) will undoubtedly contribute to many deaths in the future. 'One single particle of depleted uranium lodged in the lymph node can devastate the entire immune system,' Roger Coghill, an experimental biologist, told a conference investigating the links between DU and cancers in Iraq. Nato has confirmed that anti-tank shells fired by the US airforce during the conflict contained 275 grams of DU each.

Depleted uranium, also known as uranium-238, is a dense extremely hard metal that burns when it explodes. This allows the shells to pierce and destroy their targets. The UN's preliminary report on the environmental damage caused by the air campaign describes DU as 'perhaps the most dangerous' of the 'carcinogenic and toxic substances' released into the environment. Now, as the ruling classes of the Nato countries pat themselves on the back for a job well done, the impoverished working class of the entire Balkan region has only begun to realise the extent of imperialism's barbarity.
Dave Steele


Arms fair

Murder market

Lining up for arms sales

Displays of the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium tipped missiles during the recent Balkan War will be used to sell arms to repressive regimes at the Defence Systems Equipment international (DSEi) arms fair this month. It will be the biggest ever of its kind in Britain, with over 25,000 square metres devoted to demonstrating weapons of war in Chertsey, Surrey, and at London Docklands.

The New Labour government is wholeheartedly behind the fair, with Defence Secretary Lord Robertson welcoming the arms dealers, and the Ministry of Defence sponsoring the event to the tune of £250,000 of public money. At a similar exhibition in 1997 Robertson met foreign delegates from Turkey, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Chile.

Turkey has spent a staggering $7 billion annually on its 15 year war against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). After the arms fair in 1997, Turkey bought 500,000 rifles from British Aerospace Royal Ordnance who, along with 600 other companies, will be exhibiting at the DSEi.

Under the Tories, export licences were granted to send Hawk aircraft and armoured vehicles to Indonesian occupied East Timor. The government claims to have received assurances from the Indonesian authorities that military equipment, will not be used for internal repression. Despite its 'ethical' foreign policy New Labour has refused to revoke the licences and recently Tony Blair claimed that Hawk aircraft were not being used in East Timor. Yet less than a week later a Hawk aircraft was spotted flying menacingly low over Dili, the capital of East Timor. Britain is still supplying two Hawk jets a month to Indonesia.

The obscenity of the arms trade is not only the fact that it is based solely on producing more efficient ways of killing people, but also the staggering amount spent on arms production worldwide--some £130 billion.

The arms trade does not benefit the ordinary people of Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan or the Balkans, but what about workers in the major arms producing countries such as the US and Britain? Vast amounts of public money, mainly in the form of subsidies, are wasted in propping up arms exports and the defence industry. The most important subsidies come from the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD), who underwrite contracts, particularly in the arms trade. When a buyer defaults on a payment then the bill is paid with public money. The most spectacular example was the case of Iraq, where we were left to foot the bill of £970 million worth of loans and credit arrangements underwritten by the ECGD.

The massive amount of resources wasted in the arms industry could be invested more usefully and productively elsewhere in the economy. The only people who gain from the arms trade are the bosses of those companies who will be proudly displaying their deadly produce at the DSEi. As soon as Nato started its bombing campaign during the recent Balkan War, companies like Raytheon, which is heavily involved in the arms industry, saw its shares rise dramatically. The whole of the exhibition centres around one thing--their business of making profit out of war.
Beccy Reese

PROTESTS AGAINST THE ARMS FAIR
Tuesday 14 September
  • Assemble 8.30am, Virginia Water rail, for details phone 0171 281 0297
    Wednesday 15 September
  • Assemble 8am, Mile End Park, London El. For details phone 0171 281 0297
  • 6pm-9pm Protest & vigil, Marsh Wall (South Quays DLR). For details phone 0181 980 7146

    TUC

    Pulling both ways

    In past times, the TUC conference in September used to be a focus of activity on the left. It's a measure of the political shift that has taken place that we now lobby the Labour Party conference and that the TUC can seem comparatively irrelevant. But the TUC 1999 conference is likely to be more significant than for many years.

    The key issues are the new Employment Relations Act and its impact on the campaign for union recognition; the wave of so called partnership deals and what they represent; and the transformation of unions from servicing to organising.

    All three issues are addressed in a pre-conference consultative document from the TUC, British Trade Unionism-The Millennial Challenge. It is a contradictory document. On the one hand there is the argument for partnership with the employers. On the other hand, the TUC argues that there is a crisis of workplace organisation that needs to be addressed, and pushes strongly for building an 'organising culture'. 'All employers will be looking for help from their unions, not hindrance, in meeting the challenges of change and competition,' says the TUC, in a paragraph which could have been lifted from a CBI publication. 'This will include help with increasing skills and with boosting productivity.' However, unions must also 'be a force for radical change in society, pressing the causes of equality, social justice and solidarity'; the new laws on recognition present 'a unique window of opportunity to boost worker confidence'; and more resources should be devoted to organising.

    At the heart of the contradiction is the concept of partnership. Partnership deals are now being signed right, left and centre. They cover all sorts of issues, but a common theme is that in return for unions being on the 'inside', employers are securing acceptance or support for rationalisation.

    The most damaging form of partnership is being pursued by the AEEU which is busily courting employers with the offer of no-strike deals. At Trinity Newspapers in Cardiff the union has concluded a sweetheart deal, cutting out the print union, the GPMU, and the National Union of Journalists. The AEEU deal does not even involve full union recognition, and staff are being offered free membership to try and persuade them to join. Meanwhile the NUJ has doubled its membership. Under pressure, the AEEU has now reluctantly agreed not to try the same trick elsewhere in the provincial newspaper sector. But the two media unions are trying to make a big issue of the Trinity case at this year's conference.

    This will be one significant test of the new mood among TUC delegates, because many of the trade union recognition deals currently being signed include some form of 'no-strike' or compulsory arbitration clause. This is clearly something employers are trying to push, as they reluctantly accept that they will have to agree to collective bargaining--especially where unions have suffered derecognition in the past.

    The other test will be around the question of the priority to be given to organising and the TUC's New Unionism project. This is now in its second year and involves the training of new officials, with the special role of organising non-union workplaces and winning recognition. In the first year 11,000 members were recruited, but the impact was uneven. The paradox is that the TUC organising agenda is quite radical and strongly oriented on independent rank and file organisation, at least on paper. Some union bureaucrats are evidently suspicious of this, fearing, quite rightly, that it might undermine their position. Meanwhile, John Monks is also arguing that partnership is 'itself a recruiting vehicle', and pushing the idea that unions should follow the example of PCS, the civil service union, and give union leaders the right to overturn conference decisions through membership referendums.

    So the 'Millennial Challenge' starts with the TUC facing both ways. They recognise that the only way unions can start to grow again is through rank and file activity and 'do it yourself trade unionism'. But at the same time they fear the consequences of activity and want to damp it down. They hope for a peaceful resolution of the recognition issue. But that is unlikely. The new rules will only come fully into effect next summer, but the fact that the Employment Relations Act is now law means that some unions are stepping up recruitment drives and pressing for recognition now.
    Dave Beecham


    Iraq

    The forgotten war

    Empty: no medicines available

    More bombs have been dropped on Iraq since the end of the Desert Fox operation at the close of last year than during the operation itself. In addition, UN sanctions against Iraq which were brought in after the Gulf War in 1991 are having disastrous consequences for the population. A recent Unicef survey reported that in the centre and south of the country, where the vast majority of the population live, under-five mortality has more than doubled from 56 deaths per 1,000 in 1984-89 to 131 deaths per 1,000 in 1994-98. Infant mortality rates in the same period have been similarly affected.

    Throughout the 1980s child mortality in Iraq had been declining. Without the war and the imposition of sanctions the lives of half a million children would have been saved.

    Unicef officials say that the humanitarian crisis is caused by factors which include sanctions and air strikes by the US and Britain against Iraq. The British government places the blame with Saddam Hussein, claiming that 'sanctions could be lifted tomorrow' if Iraq was disarmed. Britain argues that the existing oil for food programme is sufficient to buy all the food and medicine the country needs. Iraq is now able to sell up to $5.3 billion of oil to buy food and medical goods. This is the amount that the UN estimates is needed to meet its minimum emergency needs only. The price of food such as fresh meat, fruit and vegetables is way out of the reach of most Iraqis, and even basics such as flour have risen drastically since sanctions were imposed. A quarter of under fives suffer serious malnutrition. Basic supplies for hospitals such as gloves and cleaning materials are unobtainable.

    The real problem, however, stems from the $232 billion of damage to the country's infrastructure caused by the 1991 Gulf War--particularly to the water, sanitation and electricity systems. Even with an abundance of medicines a hospital cannot run effectively without water and electricity. No amount of food will prevent children getting sick and dying after drinking water contaminated with sewage.

    The country is unable to rebuild its infrastructure. No cash aid is available to the area of the country under Iraqi control, so the government may receive sanitation equipment, for example, but does not have the resources to pay for contractors to install it. The Unicef report shows that the only effect of the sanctions is to increase the suffering of the ordinary civilian population.

    It is not only the sanctions that are killing Iraqis, but also the bombs which continue to be dropped by US and British fighter planes. This is the hidden war against Iraq in which 500 air strikes have been launched this year and over 100 people have been killed. One of the worst single incidents was when a missile landed in a housing estate in Basra killing 17 people and wounding 100.

    Tony Blair claimed during the Desert Fox operation that the aim was to 'keep Saddam in his cage'. However, as Robert Fisk pointed out in a recent article in the Independent, 'Two prominent defence magazines... concluded that even the Desert Fox bombardment of last December had no effect on President Saddam's hold on power... 25 percent of the attacks missed their targets and "all but one of the weapons of mass destruction (the supposed target of coalition jets) escaped severe damage" in an operation which "achieved little more than face saving".'

    The aftermath of the Gulf War, which took place over eight years ago, indicates what might be in store for the populations of Kosovo and Serbia, who, again, the British government had 'no quarrel with'. The price was worth it in Iraq. Clinton claimed that 'the safety of the world's children' depended on stopping Iraq. Now the safety of the world's children depends on stopping Milosevic.

    Of course, children in Iraq and the Balkans don't count.
    Beccy Reese


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