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Tens of Thousands of Children Suffer in Iraq Under UN

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U.N. Sanctions Hurting Iraq Children

Tens of Thousands of Children Suffer in Iraq Under U.N. Sanctions, Arab Economy

The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq Nov. 4 — Emira was a day old when she was abandoned by her parents, who couldn't afford to keep her. She is one of tens of thousands of Iraqi children suffering under U.N. sanctions and the Arab country's general downslide amid fears of a new war.

Emira was taken from the hospital where she was born Saturday and placed in a drab Baghdad orphanage, one of Iraqi capital's four which house thousands of children. Many were abandoned by their families while others lost both their parents, some during the Gulf War.

"We have a dramatic increase in orphans here," said Aneeba Jabar, the director of the Al-Najat orphanage on the garbage-strewn banks of the Tigris River on the outskirts of Baghdad.

She blamed it on United Nations sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990, speaking as a government minder monitored an interview.

"We had two orphanages in Baghdad before the sanctions and the (Gulf) war. Now, we have four because the old ones became too crowded," Jabar said, as Emira sucked formula from a bottle. She shared her small bed with another, pale-looking infant.

"Emira's mother simply fled the hospital because the family has no money to feed her," Jabar said. She would not provide the exact number of orphans in Baghdad "because their number is soaring daily."

U.S. and United Nations officials have repeatedly rejected complaints about the humanitarian impact of the sanctions, saying the sanctions could be eliminated if Iraq complies with demands that it prove it has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction.

The United Nations has also criticized Iraq for spending only a tiny fraction of its U.N.-approved oil proceeds on improving nutrition for children. However, there was never free and unrestricted purchase of any goods under the oil-for-food program, and the sanctions committee has at times denied or delayed delivery on some foods and medicines sought by Iraq.

Many people in Iraq live below the poverty line, and as a result, families who cannot afford to feed and clothe their children are forced to give them up.

Since 1990, when Iraq was one of the most prosperous Arab nations because of huge oil reserves, living standards have plummeted, and average monthly salaries dropped from the equivalent of $500 to $10.

Washington has renewed accusations that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. orders and of sponsoring terrorists. President Bush is pushing the United Nations for a tough resolution that would allow an attack on Iraq, but has threatened to act alone if the Security Council doesn't go along.

That is why the basement at Baghdad's Al-Mansour Teaching Hospital for Children is being prepared to shelter 200 young cancer patients, their families and medical staff in case of a new war.

The hospital took similar precautions during the 1991 Gulf War that was launched by a U.S.-led coalition to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The hospital was not hit during that war and is not near any military installations, but is preparing for a hit by a stray missile.

But fears of American strikes are not the only problems the Iraqi health system faces.

The hospital's director, Dr. Luay Kasha, said that since the sanctions were introduced, 1.6 million Iraqi children have died, up to seven times more than in the same period before the sanctions. This corresponds with U.N. figures, which also mention that more than a million Iraqi children are malnourished.

Kasha said the American use of depleted uranium in its munitions during the Gulf War was probably to blame. "After that there was shortage in supply of proper food and medicines ... after that, epidemics flared up, cholera, virus infections, tuberculosis, chest infections, skin infections, water-born diseases."

"We are now reporting five to seven times increase of cancer cases among children than before 1990," Kasha said, an Iraqi government minder also present as she spoke. "Most of the cases were caused by radiation ... like leukemia."

The Americans have challenged such claims and insist that there is no proven link between use of depleted uranium munitions and the diseases.

Emin Fellah, a 5-year-boy pale boy of bare bones and skin, is dying of leukemia, and his mother Fatima watches him with teary eyes.

"If we had proper medicines, he might have had a chance," said Dr. Lana Ahmed. "But with the situation like this, we had to abandon his therapy."

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