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Tuesday, 16 January, 2001, 13:59 GMT
Eyewitness: Iraq stuck in timewarp
Iraqi girl, with a tumour in her eye, in hospital in Basra
Iraq's hospitals are overcrowded and out-dated
By Barbara Plett in Basra

The University of Basra offers studies in survival.

There is no classroom instruction on the subject and no certificate. Attendance is all you need.

The campus in southern Iraq is a small collection of faded, peeling buildings on a flat, treeless plain, flooded now with water and muck from recent rains.

You cannot stop people eating but you can stop the same people from being modernised

Dr Ghaleb Baqer
Students squeeze together on wooden benches, distracted by conversations from passers-by that float easily through broken window-panes.

But they are determined to learn. They have to be, considering their dangerous neighbourhood.

Missiles regularly struck the university during Iraq's eight-year war with Iran, which is just across the Shat al Arab waterway from Basra. That conflict was followed almost immediately by Desert Storm - the attack by the US-led coalition that drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Again the battlefield was only dozens of kilometres away in the southern desert.

But 10 years later, people here say that was nothing compared to the damage done by UN sanctions that have deprived them of learning tools.

Iraqi man, southern town of Karbala
Many Iraqis are proud to have survived 10 difficult years
"I am a full professor who graduated from a well known university in the UK," says Dr Ghaleb Baqer, dean of the college of arts.

"Up to now I don't know how the internet works, can you believe this?"

He acknowledges that the UN's humanitarian programme is now bringing in a steady supply of food and medicine to counter the worst effects of the embargo. But he says that is all the West is prepared to do.

"You cannot stop people from eating, stopping people from eating means dying," he declares. "But you can stop the same people from being modernised, from stepping forward to the latest inventions of the world."

Fighting back

On the 10th anniversary of the Gulf War many people in Iraq speak of their resilience, of their ability to adapt to a grim decade of deprivation, and of hope that recent cracks in the embargo are a sign of the end to sanctions.

But behind the strident nationalism or determined optimism voiced more and more on the streets, there is the frustration of being left behind, and the deep sadness of irreparable loss.

"Medical colleges are using the same texts that I did when I was a student in 1982," said a doctor who works with a programme to rescue Iraq's collapsing health system. "There's a huge gap in technical knowledge, they're still using old methods."

He shows me a crowded clinic that was recently repaired and equipped. It is located in a Baghdad suburb where streams of open sewage flow between banks of rubbish, and nearly 2,00 children are seriously underweight.

I ask him if he thinks he is making a difference and he shakes his head.

"Before the war we had a health system that served 95% of the population," he said. "Now look at us, chronic malnutrition and no way to compensate for all the good doctors who've left the country."

Iraqis don't need a 10th anniversary to remind them of the Gulf War.

"I think the war against Iraq is still going on," says Dr Baqer. "We talk about the war that started 10 years ago, but it has not finished yet."

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