West focuses attention on plight of Iraqi Marsh Arabs

IN THE opening moves of what may develop into another highly charged confrontation between Iraq and the United States, the UN's special humanitarian envoy, Jan Eliasson, will demand full access to Iraq's Marsh Arabs in talks in Baghdad on Monday.

After months of inaction, the US and its allies are focusing international attention on the humanitarian situation in southern Iraq and the government's oppression of the area's Shia population. Some diplomatic sources contend this is to put President Saddam Hussein on the defensive and, if possible, humiliate him before the US presidential election.

Mr Eliasson's visit is aimed at renegotiating a memorandum of understanding with Baghdad that would allow UN guards back into the country in strength to protect food, medicines and UN property. Mr Eliasson is also demanding freedom of access to all parts of Iraq where he believes there to be a humanitarian problem.

If, as many expect, Iraq rebuffs Mr Eliasson in the negotiations next week, he will report to the Security Council that it is not possible to mount a humanitarian operation, leaving it to the US and its allies to make the next move.

Although Mr Eliasson's office is raising some dollars 100m ( pounds 52m) to bring aid to Iraqi Kurds and Shia groups, aid deliveries have been hampered by Iraqi grenade and bomb attacks on the UN guards, and by the government's refusal to renew visas for guards and aid agencies. The relief effort in the south, which has always been weak, has been reduced to a tiny office on the fringe of the marshes in the town of Nasiriyah.

The US, Britain and France have suggested they will intervene directly to halt the repression of the Marsh Arabs, which was described to the Security Council on Tuesday by Max van der Stoel, the special human rights envoy for Iraq. By holding out the prospect of creating a protected zone for the Shia, just as was done for the Kurds last year, the West hopes to intimidate Baghdad into giving the UN humanitarian workers the access they need.

Mr Eliasson's efforts are aimed at providing Iraq with a middle way that will save the lives of thousands of Shia and provide continued protection for the Kurds in the north, without risking the creation of 'safe havens' for the Shia. Any success in getting humanitarian aid flowing again will then be credited to President Bush; his new UN ambassador, Edward Perkins, delivered the most ringing denunciation of President Saddam at the Council meeting on Tuesday.

Mr Perkins said that the repression of Kurdish civilians in 1991 had prompted allied military intervention. The warning to Iraq was implicit - renew the UN humanitarian programme or face possible allied intervention to protect the Marsh Arabs.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has won the award ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

SThree: Trainee Recuitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn