South News Iraq updates Dec 5-12

UNSCOM searches Iraqi kindergarten
South News Dec 10

Baghdad :  Iraqi television Tuesday broadcast on a one-minute-long film showing three UNSCOM inspectors walking in the classroom carrying out a search for weapons of mass destruction in a kindergarten in Baghdad as the startled youngsters looked on.  watched by a dozen children and their teacher.

It was not immediately clear why the inspectors wanted to check the building that housed the kindergarten,  but a spokesman for Iraq's information ministry said, "A team of experts in ballistic, chemical and nucler weapons conducted a surprise inspection in a kindergarten to assure themselves about the number of long-range missiles hidden under the desks and the atomic bombs and chemical warheads in the children's bags,"

A team of five groups of experts conducted the inspection, despite a sign saying it was a kindergarten, said  Hussam Mohammad Amin, the director of Iraq's national surveillance organisation, the counterpart to the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) on disarming Iraq. Amin was quoted as saying that "searching such places signals that the Special Commission is affected by American intelligence information against Iraq, which claims Iraq is still keeping ... prohibited weapons."

The news agency said 28 of the inspection visits were made without advance warning, including stops at civil training centers and a printing house. The inspections come ahead of a visit Friday by UNSCOM chairman Richard Butler for talks with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz.

"It seems that UNSCOM has prepared this important inspection to prepare to the upcoming visit of its chief Richard Butler and to confirm its theories that Iraq continues to produce prohibited arms in several sites, including the kindergarten at Qotr al-Nada, in Baghdad," the ministry spokesman said.

Iraq to build super mosque
South News Dec 9

Baghdad: Iraq has approved the design for what it calls the world's largest mosque -- a domed hall capable of holding 30,000 worshipers alongside a huge artificial lake shaped like a map of the Arab world. Iraqi newspapers carried a picture Tuesday of the Iraqi President and his Cabinet examining plans for the Baghdad mosque to be called the "Saddam Grand Mosque."

Plans for the mosque call for building "a large dome for the main area of prayer -- enough for 30,000 worshipers -- decorated with four minarets and an artificial lake," said al-Thawra, newspaper of the ruling Baath party. The mosque will be built on the site of the former al-Muthana Airport, which was bombed heavily by U.S.-allied forces during the 1990-91 Gulf War, al-Thawra and other newspapers said.

Al-Thawra said the mosque was part of a "campaign of faith" initiated three years ago requiring universities, institutes and schools to devote part of their curriculum to teaching the Islamic religion. It said President Hussein had inspected several designs for the mosque before settling on one with a lake shaped like a map of the Arab world. The largest existing mosque is the King Hassan mosque in Morocco, with a capacity for 18,000 people. However, the holiest Muslim shrine, the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, can hold up to 1 million people in open and enclosed areas.

Iraqi newspapers did not say how much the Saddam Grand Mosque would cost or when construction would start. The plan has been slow to take off because of Iraq's huge financial problems because of U.N. trade sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990. But several Moslem leaders at an Islamic summit in Tehran on Tuesday called for the lifting of U.N. sanctions.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said: ``We confirm our sincere and continuous appeals to end the unjust siege imposed on brethren Iraq, and to end unjust sanctions on its children and people.'' Even Iran, Iraq's 1980-88 war foe, added its voice to calls to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people living under crippling sanctions. Iran's supreme leader told the summit ``lives of millions of human beings, especially children, are threatened'' in Iraq.

Earlier Iraq's President Saddam Hussein told a cabinet meeting on Monday that the US had sought to weaken Iraq and turn the Iraqi people against their leaders."Iraq's enemies were ... hoping that Iraq will stay weak so they can separate the leadership and the people. But the great surprise they faced was the Iraqis' ... readiness to sacrifice after seven years of unjust sanctions," he said.

State television said Saddam told his ministers Washington ``is not in the same position as it was two years ago because its credibility has been shaken, while Iraq is more able to break through the veils of deception than two years ago.''

The statement came on the eve of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan arrival in Baghdad Tuesday. Defying the Clinton administration Farrakhan launched a 52-nation tour with a visit to Iraq. At Baghdad's al-Rashid Hotel, Farrakhan was met by Iraqi Information Minister Humam Abdel-Khaliq. Neither man made a statement to reporters, but Farrakhan, asked about the goal of his visit, raised his index finger and said ``peace.''

Red Cross and Iraq in land mine victim deal
South news Dec 7

Baghdad : The Red Cross signed an agreement on Sunday to help Iraq make artificial limbs for victims of war with news of fresh landmines being laid in Kurdish northern provinces

The International Committee of the Red Cross cooperation agreement  is to provide increased aid to a rehabilitation center helping handicapped war veterans. Under the deal the Red Cross would assist the  Ibn Al-Quff orthopedic centre in Baghdad to make prostheses made of polypropylene (a heat-resistant plastic) for war victims. The Red Cross said it will contribute to the currently run-down  and barely operational centre, with technology, materials and provide help for repairing equipment and training staff.

"This technology, which has been developed by the ICRC, will allow the Ibn al-Quff orthopaedic centre to regain its capacity of producing prostheses and finally result in the full resumption of its assistance towards war amputees," the statement said.

The agreement covers the supply of components and raw materials, restoration of the premises of the Ibn al-Quff orthopaedic centre, equipment repair and staff training. The statement said that during 1997 more than 2,000 limbs had already been produced in five centres supported by the ICRC around Iraq.The ICRC has been providing technical assistance to Iraq since 1994 for several orthopedic centres.

The ICRC provides assistance to health facilities, such as first-aid posts, hospitals and prosthetic workshops, treating patients injured by mines in Afghanistan, Angola, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Iraq, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.Between January and September the ICRC's prosthetic/orthotic centres manufactured over 8,200 prostheses and fitted more than 10,500 patients with orthopaedic appliances. Approximately 65% of the production of artificial limbs is destined for mine victims.

However Eric Falt, U.N. spokesman for humanitarian affairs in Iraq said their work had been obstructed by fresh landmines laid along the front-line between two warring Iraqi Kurdish groups."Among the difficulties we have encountered in the last few days is that some areas near the dividing line between the two sides have been newly mined. This restricts our access," Falt said.

Landmines were extensively laid in Iraq during an eight-year war with neighbouring Iran in the 1980s and in the  U.S.-led coalition assault in  1991. Landmines are still being used in the ongoing conflict between Kurdish factions in the north of the country.

Both Turkish and Iraqi officials reported a major incursion by Turkish troops into northern Iraq on Thursday night. Turkey says its troops are flushing out guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), fighting for autonomy in southern Turkey.

Last week  the "Ottawa Treaty" has set a precedent in the history of international humanitarian law. It bore  witness to the determination of more than 1,000 non- governmental organizations, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and dozens of governments to deliver countless men, women and children from the scourge of landmines when 121 nations signed the treaty.

Iraq says current UN plan is "oil -for-nothing"
South News Dec 6

Baghdad : Iraq dismissed Thursday's U.N. resolution to extend the current oil-for-food plan saying it  would not pump oil until a new plan for distributing food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies was approved by the international body.

A foreign ministry statement carried by  Iraqi News Agency (INA) said Thursday's council decision had ignored  protests at the slow delivery of goods bought in the first and second phases of the accord, which expired on Friday. The foreign ministry said the decision to stop pumping oil was the result of faulty implementation of the oil-for-food program during the first two rounds, saying the United States had impeded the approval of contracts to purchase goods.

``The foreign ministry spokesman expressed deep regret, because the new resolution issued by the Security Council yesterday to renew the contract for oil in return for food and medicine does not take into consideration that exports of oil and supply of food, medicine and other humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people must be simultaneous,'' INA said.

"Iraq has already exported all the amounts (of oil) due under the first two phases of the accord, but the purchase contracts (of food and medicine) have not been honored in a complete way," said the foreign ministry official. "Numerous contracts from the first phase remain suspended, while few of the contracts from the second phase" have been fulfilled, he said.

Iraqi newspapers said on Saturday not a drop of Iraq's oil would be sold on world markets until the United Nations addressed the problem of slow food and medicine deliveries.

The government daily Al-Jumhuriya, defending Iraq's decision on Friday to suspend all oil exports, said its U.N.-brokered ``oil-for-food'' deal had become ``oil-for-nothing'' because of the lengthy delays in humanitarian purchases.

``We hope that Russia, China, France and the non-permanent members of the Security Council will continue their efforts to achieve the simple, legitimate Iraqi requests and dismiss America's evil aims,'' Jumhuriya editor Salah al-Mukhtar wrote in a front-page editorial. ``Until this happens Iraq's oil pipelines will remain closed and not a single drop of oil will emerge from them.''

``As a result of the deliberate delays, many international agencies have said that instead of 'oil for medicine and food' it has become 'oil for nothing','' Mukhtar wrote. ``Everybody benefited except the Iraqi people even though it was reached with the aim of easing the Iraqi people's suffering... The deliberate delays have allowed America to turn a temporary step into a step which lasts for years,'' he added.

The U.N. Security Council voted on Thursday to continue the oil-for-food deal but put off any changes until Secretary-General Kofi Annan submits a report at the end of January.The British/US sponsored motion came despite admissions by U.N. officials that the program suffers from complex United Nations' bureaucracy and is in any case too modest to meet all of Iraq's humanitarian needs.

Iraq's influential Babel newspaper, said Iraq would not be told what to do with its own resources. ``The U.N. Security Council is behaving like a prince who hands out what does not belong to him,'' Babel said. ``Iraq's decision to stop oil exports is a just and legitimate decision and is a response to changing of the (oil for food) memorandum into a political weapon against the Iraqi people,'' it said in a front-page editorial.

At the United Nations, Iraq's ambassador Nizar Hamdoon contended that 80 percent of the goods ordered had not yet reached Iraq so there was no need to pump oil immediately. ``We need the distribution plan to be approved by the secretary-general and we also have to see some action on both sides, the supplies on the one hand and the oil on the other hand,'' he said.

He said the Security Council should have stopped the clock when it voted on Thursday to renew the oil-for-food plan until Iraq's plan on how it would distribute the supplies was approved by Secretary-General Kofi Annan's office. ``We told the (Security) Council that we want the distribution plan approved before we start pumping the oil,'' he said.