When it comes to the U.N. trade sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the official line of President Saddam Hussein's government is that the continued embargo has been responsible for a steady deterioration in living conditions.
So it was something of a surprise Thursday when the government permitted UNICEF, the U.N. Children's Fund, to release a report saying the malnutrition rate among Iraqi children actually has fallen significantly since 1996. UNICEF attributed the drop primarily to an exemption in the sanctions that allows the Iraqi government to sell its oil to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies.
"It is undeniable that the oil-for-food program has had a positive impact on the well-being of children in Iraq," said Carel de Rooy, the director of UNICEF operations in Iraq.
According to a survey UNICEF conducted with Iraq's Ministry of Health, the number of children suffering from chronic malnutrition fell from 32 percent in 1996 to 23 percent this year. The number of children who are underweight dropped from 23 percent to 9 percent in the same period.
Although the survey was finished during the summer, U.N. officials said they did not receive permission from the Iraqi government to release the results. U.N. officials said they were told the report needed to be approved by several people in different ministries, but they believed Iraqi officials were worried about releasing a report that would run contrary to official pronouncements.
A few days ago, U.N. officials were told they could issue the report. But when UNICEF held a news conference at a Baghdad hotel to release the findings, cameras from Iraq's government-run television stations were absent. At the news conference, de Rooy went to pains to mention that more needs to be done for children's nutrition. Nearly 1-million Iraqi children still suffer from chronic malnutrition, he said.
The Iraqi government says 1.7-million children have died from disease, malnutrition and other causes as a result of the sanctions. U.N. officials and Western health specialists who have studied the conditions in Iraq said they believe that figure to be inflated.
Warplanes destroy radar in no-fly zone
WASHINGTON _ U.S. warplanes bombed air defense radar in southern Iraq twice on Thursday in an escalating conflict over U.S. and British aerial patrolling of no-fly zones in the north and the south.
The first attack targeted a radar site near Ash Shuaybah, about 245 miles southeast of Baghdad, at 4:20 a.m. EST. About two hours later, U.S. planes bombed a radar near the city of Tallil, about 170 miles southeast of Baghdad.
In both cases, the attacks were launched because Iraq had moved the radar sites south of the 33rd parallel, in the no-fly zone that the United States and British established to support a U.N. Security Council resolution following the 1991 Gulf War. A northern zone is enforced north of the 36th parallel.
_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.