It’s time to end the torture in Iraq

November 12, 1999

WHEN I was a few months old, a British sniper bullet shattered the window of my parents’ apartment in Tel Aviv, showering my crib with glass.

MY memory, of the cold shards on my face, of my mother’s screams and my own, may be images reconstructed from subconscious echoes – but I remember clearly how my father showed me, years later, the hole in the wall where the bullet struck.

I have always felt that brush with death made me forever an Israeli. Though I was sent to school in Cyprus, and made famous in America, and feted in Mexico, and though I found peace in Japan and raised my family in England, I am an Israeli.

Like Israel, I was birthed in war. In 1991, when Saddam Hussein fired salvoes of Soviet-made surface-to-air Scud missiles at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I feared Israel would retaliate, and our state – and probably the whole world – would find its death in war.

It rapidly became plain that Saddam was not arming the Scuds with chemical or biological weaponry – much later we learned that the US-made Patriot missiles, credited with intercepting all but two Scuds, in fact missed their mark every time. . A US Army spokesman said President George Bush had not been lying, because “intercept does not mean destroyed; it means a Patriot and a Scud passed in the sky”.

I do not think Israel’s courage in the Gulf War has been fully acknowledged. We are a nation inured to war – but when Saddam bombed our cities to provoke us, we defied him. Now it is time for us to summon the same kind of bravery to defuse a different kind of Iraq crisis.

Since January, Allied jets have been bombing Iraq. The West does not seem to care that we will still be bombing in January 2000. Sanctions have been slowly squeezing the life out of the country since 1990. There is no sign they will be lifted by 2000.

We will enter the new millennium waging a one-sided war against Iraq, because its mad despotic leader once threatened us with a conflict too awful to contemplate. I do not underestimate the Arab threat to Israel. I believe that terrorist groups, including Osama bin Laden’s massively-wealthy organisation, have acquired portable nuclear “suitcase” devices.

Washington sources say Bin Laden paid $30 million in cash and $700 million worth of Afghan heroin to Chechens In return for several of the 43 atomic suitcases missing from the ex-Soviet arsenal.

Alexander Lebed, former Russian head of security, has told the US House of Representatives that a single suitcase detonated in a city could kill 100,000 people.

But it is not probable that any of these cases are in Saddam’s hands, or that he dictates Bin Laden’s strategy.

And it, is certain that no nuclear weiapons are held by babies or young children in Iraq. Yet it is the children who are dying.


The bombs are killing some. When an American AGM-130 missile ploughed into a Basra housing complex in February, 17 people died and 100 were wounded.

These are United Nations figures. Ten of the dead were children. Six more were women.

The figures are negligible compared to the human cost of sanctions.

The UN children’s fund, UNICEF, estimated that ,between 5,000 and 6,000 Iraqi children die of disease and starvation every month.

The mortality rate for under-fives has more than tripled since sanctions were imposed, and a quarter of infants are malnourished.

Nasra al Sa’adoun, the Sorbonne educated grand-daughter of an Iraqi prime minister, told Western journalists In Baghdad: ‘We have no electricity, no clean water, no trains, no safe cars, and you are bombing us every day.

I tell you, we would rather have a real war than this slow death. This is genocide.”

Genocide is not too strong a word. The 10-year total for child deaths caused by sanctions is put at 500,000. Unicef the World Health Organisation (WHO) and ex-officials of the U14 such as Denis Halliday, who was humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq, all testify to these estimates.

Health-care has dwindled to nothing. The UN reported: “Public health services are near total collapse – basic medicines, life-saving drugs and essential medical, supplies are lacking throughout the country.”

Useless components for vital equipment gather dust In Iraq’s warehouses because sanctions make it impossible to import even life-saving products in practical ways. Syringe Plungers arrive one year – medics are still waiting for the needles 12 months on.

The, UN, struggling to render such a humanitarian blunder in bureaucratic jargon, says this is a problem of uncomplimentarity.

Most horrific of all is the tenfold increase in cancers. Within 10 years 44 per cent of Iraqis will develop cancer, according to John Hopkins University and Baghdad’s Professor Mikdeni M Saleh.

Radiation levels in Basra are 84 times above WHO safety limits, and the city hospital sees grotesquely deformed foetuses and babies every day.

This horror has been caused by the radioactive DU (depleted uranium) which is used to coat Allied warheads. DU is increasingly used instead of titanium as a low-cost, armour-piercing outer shell on missiles.

Some estimates suggest 900 tonnes of radioactive waste, which will cease to be hazardous only after 4.5 billion years litters Iraq. Resisting Saddam’s mocking call to arms was the toughest decision Israel ever took. Now we must take another, even tougher – and demand an end to the devastation in Iraq.

*Uri’s novels Dead COld and Ella are published by Headline at £5.99. Mind Medicine is Published by Element at £20.
Visit him at and e-mail him at [email protected]


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