RAF video shows Marsh Arabs' fate

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AERIAL video footage released yesterday by the Ministry of Defence gave support to Iraqi dissident claims that Saddam Hussein was bent on the systematic destruction of the habitat of the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq. It was shown by Emma Nicholson, Conservative MP for Devon West and Torridge, who also produced witness accounts of the Iraqis using chemical weapons.

The release of the MoD video comes as meetings are about to begin at the United Nations to discuss continuing sanctions against Iraq. Iraq's desire to gain a favourable hearing may have been behind its decision, announced yesterday, to free an American oilman, Kenneth Beaty, after 205 days in jail. He had been sentenced to eight years for entering Iraq illegally.

The MoD video in black and white showed six villages which had been abandoned. It was taken by RAF Tornado aircraft on 25 and 26 September. Coalition aircraft have been flying over the region to monitor Iraq's compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 688, which bans it from persecuting its population.

The accompanying MoD report concluded: 'On the basis of the limited imagery available, there is evidence that some villages in the marsh area of southern Iraq have been destroyed, probably by burning.' It added that 'Iraqi ground forces are judged to be the likely culprits'.

The Tornados did not overfly the villages where Mrs Nicholson said it was believed a chemical assault had occurred. A doctor working with the Marsh Arabs for the Amar appeal, which she founded in 1991, showed a video at the House of Commons yesterday of villagers who said that they had seen a chemical attack. Saham Mawwat, interviewed on 8 November, said he 'saw birds falling down; the grass changed colour and wilted'.

Dr Suhail Mussawi, who shot the video, told of seeing patients with blisters, sinusitis and breathing difficulties, symptoms he said that were consistent with the use of phosgene gas.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, made a plea yesterday for help for the Marsh Arabs. 'We must continue to demand of governments and the UN that the search for an effective response to these outrages should continue remorselessly.' The UN has dispatched a team to investigate reports that Iraq used chemical weapons.

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