Children hunger for peace in Iraq crisis

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The Independent Online
Nearly 1 million Iraqi children suffer from chronic malnutrition, despite a UN programme that allows Iraq to import limited supplies of food and medicine, Unicef said yesterday. It said the health of Iraq's children had dramatically deteriorated since the UN decided in 1991 to use sanctions to force President Saddam Hussein to give up his weapons of mass destruction.

"It is clear children are bearing the brunt of the ... economic hardship," said Philippe Heffinck, Unicef's representative in Baghdad. "They must be protected from the impact of sanctions."

Inspectors continued to search yesterday for President Saddam Hussein's suspected arsenal of biological and chemical weapons. Richard Butler, head of the UN inspection mission in Iraq, said he suspected President Saddam was hiding 200 tonnes of VX gas, which he described as "seven times more potent" than the sarin gas that a Japanese cult used in its 1995 attack on the Tokyo underground, which killed 12 people.

"Why would you subject your whole people to an awful process of sanctions just to have stuff like this?" Mr Butler said in a US television interview. "Why would you forgo $100bn (pounds 62bn) worth of oil revenue - for this?" Amer al-Saadi, an adviser to the Iraqi leader, said the accusations that Iraq had tonnes of VX were "an exposed lie".

The US Defense Secretary, William Cohen, said President Saddam must not be allowed to exempt his palaces from searches.

Iraq claims it has complied fully and that the US is manipulating the inspection programme to keep sanctions in place as long as Saddam Hussein remains president. The government al-Jumhouriya newspaper said "Iraq will not tolerate any more farces by inspection teams."

In Paris, a foreign ministry spokesman said France called "on all sides ... to show restraint and moderation" in the showdown over inspections.

The US military commander in the Gulf region said America's allies there had told him they wanted "no more pinpricks" against President Saddam should the crisis slide into military conflict. "If there is a requirement to respond, we ought to do it in a serious way," General Anthony Zinni said.

Mr Cohen said any attack on Iraq by US planes and ships massed in the Gulf would be reserved "only as a last option" by President Bill Clinton in consultation with Washington's allies.