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Wednesday, August 18, 1999 Published at 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK

World: Middle East

Iraq 'exporting baby food'

Iraq is accused of disregarding the welfare of its children

The United States has accused Iraq of not caring about the welfare of its children, after the seizure of a boat-load of baby food suggested that Iraq was exporting food badly needed by its own infants.

There is however no independent proof that Iraq was indeed exporting the food.

The boat was impounded by Kuwait on Sunday after it strayed into Kuwaiti territorial waters.

US State Department spokesman James Rubin said Baghdad must have approved the export cargo, proving that the government did not care about its ailing children.

The captain of the boat said that the ship was heading for Dubai.

Kuwaiti authorities found 75 cartons of baby powder, 25 cartons of baby bottles and 25 tonnes of cotton seed, said Mr Rubin.

Propaganda war

Baby food has been an emotional issue in the propaganda war between Iraq and the US for years.

It began at the end of the Gulf war in 1991 with a US attack on a factory which Iraq said produced baby milk powder.

Washington said the factory was also used as a centre for biological weapons.

Baghdad says that since the United Nations imposed sanctions in 1990, it cannot afford to feed its own children.

But this latest incident, for Washington at least, is proof of Iraqi cynicism.

Mr Rubin said: "The fact that Iraq is exporting nursing supplies for hard currency in violation of sanctions while Iraqi babies and children are suffering from malnutrition is yet another indication of the Iraqi regime's cynical disregard for the welfare of its own citizens."

Sub-standard supplies

The BBC's Washington correspondent Rob Watson says that the facts surrounding the seizure are few and far between.

The captain of the boat says that the cargo was destined for a trader in Dubai.

Some in Baghdad maintain that the boat was simply returning goods that were not up to standard; others say that the boat had nothing to do with the Iraqi government.

Soaring death rate

The latest row comes a week after a report by the United Nations Children's Fund revealed that Iraqi children under five are dying at more than twice the rate they were 10 years ago.

Unicef emphasised that Baghdad's delay in distributing the aid supplies it is allowed to import under a food-for-oil deal has contributed to child mortality.

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