Home > 1999-2002 from Middle East, Iraq > UN DEAL LEAVES IRAQ KURDS AT BAGHDAD’S MERCY

UN DEAL LEAVES IRAQ KURDS AT BAGHDAD’S MERCY

July 6, 2002

BY GUY DINMORE IN NORTHERN IRAQ AND CAROLA HOYOS, UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT, FINANCIAL TIMES

PUBLISHED: JULY 6 2002

In theory, the Kurds of northern Iraq have never had it so good, effectively independent from Baghdad and guaranteed a substantial slice of the country’s oil income under the United Nations oil-for-food programme. The reality is rather different.

Zhiyan Ahmad Abdullah fights a daily battle with shortages of basic supplies as director of the main maternity hospital in Sulaimani, one of the two regional capitals controlled by rival Kurdish factions. ”We have many, many problems,” she says in despair, having to cope with nearly 30 deliveries a day. ”Each month we get 1,000 pairs of gloves, at best 2,000. But we need 10,000, so we have to re-use them.”

The same shortages apply to drugs for delivery, blood-bags and blood-testing equipment. Prostaglandin, used for abortions, has never been supplied, forcing doctors to use more dangerous methods for terminating pregnancies.

”Really, the WHO is to blame,” says Dr Abdullah, referring to the World Health Organisation, which is responsible for delivering medical aid under the oil-for-food programme. ”This programme serves the rest of Iraq more than Kurdistan. A lot of money goes to serving those who work in the UN. For example, a local UN employee earns about $600 [390] a month. My salary is $80 and my nurses get only $10.”.

The Baghdad government led by President Saddam Hussein is allowed to purchase supplies and implement distribution directly, but because the Kurdish north has no international recognition it has to acquire aid through Kimadia, the official Baghdad procurement agency, and rely on the UN for distribution. This, as regional Kurdish officials argue, leaves the north at the mercy of Baghdad and what they call the inefficiency and even corruption within the dozen or so UN agencies involved in Iraq.

A commonly voiced complaint is that the WHO programme is dominated by Arabs who have little sympathy for the Kurds and rely on Baghdad. One official in the Kurdish region, which effectively broke away from Baghdad in 1991 and is partly protected by a US-imposed no-fly zone, estimated that only 37 per cent of the oil income allocated for the north had been spent on humanitarian goods and services. Infrastructure projects, such as water, electricity and a $400m hospital, have been blocked by Baghdad.

”Baghdad vetoes many projects, and the UN does not defend us,” says Sami Abdul-Rahman, deputy prime minister in the Kurdish regional government based in Arbil, calling the UN agencies ”bureaucratic, biased and cumbersome” . . . WHO blames the sanctions regime for some of the problems. ”The process is known to be laborious because of the lengthy procurement procedures imposed by the sanctions regime,” it says.

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