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Monday, 14 February, 2000, 18:22 GMT
'Lost generation' faces bleak future
Baghdad University
Students at Baghdad University want sanctions lifted
By Barbara Plett in Baghdad

Much has been said about the physical effects of United Nations sanctions on Iraq, which were imposed 10 years ago to punish Baghdad for invading Kuwait.

But there is also concern about the development of children and young people growing up under the embargo.

Food queue in Baghdad in 1990
Aid workers say young people suffer most
Amir works at a car repair shop in Baghdad - a relatively large business, employing a team of mechanics as well as six children.

Amir was aged three at the time of the Gulf War, and his childhood has been shortened by the economic crisis that followed. He quit school and started working to support his family when his father died.

His boyish dreams for the future have been replaced by adult concerns.

He said he would like to become a blacksmith, so he could continue supporting his brothers and sisters and make sure everyone had enough money to get married.

Rising crime

Child labour has only recently become an issue in Iraq. The economy was already suffering before the UN embargo because of war and decades of mismanagement.

But sanctions have pushed many low-income families over the edge. Children like Amir drop out of school to work. There are more street children, and juvenile crime is rising.

Sanctions took many things from us - our dreams and hopes.

Samara Tahir, student
In many schools, classrooms are overcrowded and broken windows are patched up with cardboard. Aid workers say the entire education system is under siege.

Hans Van Sponeck, who resigned as the UN's senior humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq on 14 February, has called for an end to sanctions against Iraq.

He said: "Teacher training colleges are more or less defunct. Nothing works, whether it's at the university level or in the primary school levels. Particularly primary and secondary schools are in a lamentable circumstance.

"So the outlook in the short-term future, with or without sanctions, is certainly not a good one."

Hopes for the future

The UN's oil for food programme has brought some relief but aid workers say it can only patch up the system, not fix it.

A decade of sanctions has started to unravel the social fabric of the country, and it is the young people who pay the highest price.

At Baghdad University, the young people remember the time before sanctions. They pursue their studies hoping that normal life will return. But it is not clear if they will find jobs or make enough money to set up their own homes.

Baghdad street scene
The people of Baghdad have lived with sanctions for 10 years
Samara Tahir, who wants to be a physical education teacher said: "Sanctions took many things from us - our dreams and hopes.

"Since childhood we've been hoping for many things. But in spite of sanctions we are struggling to do our best and God willing we will achieve our hopes."

Across campus nearly 2,000 students have signed up to study in the English department. There is a hunger here for contact with the outside world.

One student, Mina Mortulla said she and her friends were deeply frustrated by their isolation and outdated books.

"We feel that it's so unfair to us because we have the abilities. It's not fair that we can't develop these abilities, just because of this unjust embargo, just because of the whims of the USA and Britain and their effect on the Security Council in the United Nations in imposing this embargo," she said. "We deserve a better chance."

Fault on both sides?

But whose fault is it really? The authorities in Iraq blame the embargo. Critics, especially in the US and Britain, blame the Iraqi government.

They say it is corrupt, inefficient and uses the suffering of its people as a propaganda weapon.

Mr Van Sponeck said sanctions were not the only reason for Iraq's misery, but he said they have caused fundamental damage.

"We have to begin to find quick ways to end this drama for the population here," he said. "Otherwise the disintegration of the social fabric will accelerate at speed and we will ultimately have a price to pay that is much higher than the price we want to see the Iraqis pay at this point."

Back at the car repair shop, Amir is preparing to take his day's earnings home to his mother. His generation will come of age in 10 or 15 years' time. Perhaps only then will the full impact of the embargo be felt.

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