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Thursday, August 12, 1999 Published at 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK

World: Middle East

Iraqis blame sanctions for child deaths

Hospitals battle with inadequate equipment

By Middle East Correspondent Jeremy Bowen

In Iraq's hospitals and slums, and in the homes of many impoverished, once prosperous, families, it is easy to see the human suffering behind child mortality figures released by the United Nations Children's Fund.

Unicef says that children under five in Iraq are dying at more than twice the rate they were 10 years ago.

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In Baghdad I saw three month old Elaf Kadhim lying close to death in the Saddam Children's Hospital, suffering from pneumonia, malnutrition and blood poisoning.

The nurses had propped an oxygen mask, designed for somebody much bigger, over his face and were trying to keep the flies off him.

His doctor, Ra'd Al-Janabi, said many more children would die if sanctions were not lifted.

I suggested that it was more complicated than that - that sanctions were a highly political issue, based especially on the United States and Britain's opposition to Iraq's President Saddam Hussein. The doctor shrugged and said that was not his business, but the children were.

Food scarce

In his garden, Karim Kadhum sat with his surviving son, Mustafa, and a photo of Hussein, his youngest, who died after he developed a chest infection.

Mr Kadhum said the first and last reason for his son's death was sanctions. He said Iraqis do not have enough medicine or food.

In the house of the Mohammed family in Baghdad, I saw the month's official food ration - in a tin and a few sacks.

This is paid for by allowing Iraq to export a strictly controlled amount of oil.

The ration is made up of rice, pulses, cooking oil, sugar, salt, tea and dried milk. It is enough to stop it all getting much worse, but not enough to make it better.

In the next room sat Naba Mohammed, 3, a pretty, tiny girl. Like 20% of Iraqi under-fives, her growth has been stunted by malnutrition.

At least she is surviving. Unicef estimates that at least 500,000 children have died, who ordinarily would have lived.

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