Albright lobbies for Iraq human shield at UN

United Nations: Sept 21 ( South News) US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright insisted Monday that any easing of the devastating sanctions against Iraq must not enrich Saddam Hussein "for palaces and poison gas"  on the eve of expected talks about Iraq at the United Nations.

Albright claims: "The Baghdad regime has tried hard to silence the Iraqi people and to hide the evidence of its crimes against them." Her comments seem to come in reply to the senior United Nations official, Hans von Sponek in Baghdad. He called on Sunday for an immediate and unconditional lifting of many sanctions that would open the way to bigger flows of food, medicine and most other Iraqi imports.

In an impassioned call about the dangers of "using the human shield" in hopes of coaxing Iraqi concessions on arms issues Hans von Sponek, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq said on Sunday, "Please remove the humanitarian discussions from the rest in order to really end a silent human tragedy."

On the opening day of the annual U.N. General Assembly session, Albright met in her hotel room with a group of Iraqi opposition leaders, financed by the U.S. to lobby other countries about the Iraq sanctions, as part of President Clinton's $97 million that Congress earmarked for supporting efforts within Iraq to topple the current government.

"This courageous group, visiting New York for the opening of the General Assembly, has shown that Saddam has failed." She said the dissidents "told me of the regime's continuing daily oppression against all those Iraqis still subject to Baghdad's control."

Foreign ministers of the five Security Council permanent members, meanwhile, are to meet on the sidelines of the General Assembly, for talks on a possible suspension of the embargo.

France, Russia and China, three of the five permanent Security Council members, have been sympathetic to Iraq's contention that its Government has essentially carried out its obligations to the weapons inspectors. Those Governments now appear to support a plan that would allow an immediate end to the sanctions in return for Iraq's agreement to a new and less intrusive system of weapons inspection.

The United States and Britain, claim that Iraq may still be concealing an illicit weapons program and have argued for tougher terms. Together with the Netherlands, Britain has called for a plan that would allow only a moderate easing of the sanctions -  and only after a test period of several months that would be intended to gauge Iraq's cooperation with a new inspection regime.

But United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, Hans von Sponek, said a dispute over plans to revive international weapons inspections in Iraq now posed increasing risks to the social fabric in a country that has already suffered more than nine years of United Nations sanctions.

"Don't play the battle on the backs of the civilian population by letting them wait until the more complex issues are resolved," von Sponek, from Germany, who is the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said in an interview.

Von Sponek and his predecessor, Denis Halliday, have long tried to turn international attention toward the suffering of ordinary Iraqis, while the United States and Britain continue to focus on the perceived intransigence of the Iraqi Government, and to blame that Government for the economic plight of its citizens.

Sponek, the United Nations representative, has responsibility only for humanitarian issues, and not the arms inspections. But among those who disagree about further weapons inspections, he noted, there is a consensus that ordinary Iraqis have suffered under the embargo. All nations, he argued, should now move to halt what he called the "continuing deprivation" of the Iraqi people.

Pointing to increases in poverty and crime, including prostitution, and the deteriorating quality of education, von Sponek said he believed that Iraq should be given broad latitude to import any goods that did not also have military use.

Iraq's health authorities said on Sunday that 7,632 children under the age of five died in August as a result of shortages of food and medicines caused by the sanctions, the Iraqi News Agency said.

It said the children died of diarrhoea, pneumonia, breathing problems and malnutrition, compared to 302 in August 1989. Among elderly people, 2555 deaths have been reported because of preventable diseases including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and malignant tumours, much higher than August 1989 figures which reported 480 deaths for this category.

It quoted the Health Ministry as saying that the latest deaths brought to nearly 1.2 million the number of people who have died during the nine years of sanctions. Since the imposition of sanctions on August 6, 1990 and up to late August 1999, nearly 2 million (1,187 486) Iraqis have died of sanctions-related causes.

Meanwhile Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf travelled to New York on Sunday to argue Iraq's case at the UN General Assembly for a lifting of the sanctions. Last week  al-Sahhaf presided over the Arab League meeting, marking the first time Iraq had taken the chair since the Gulf war. Speaking at the close of the league's two-day meeting here, Esmat Abdel-Meguid, the Arab League's secretary general, said Arab states would like to see the lifting of U.N. sanctions.