Tuesday, March 21, 2006


U.S. Companies Profited As Iraqi Children Died

In a dilapidated maternity and pediatric hospital in Diwaniyah, 100 miles south of Baghdad, Zahara and Abbas, premature twins just two days old, lie desperately ill. The hospital has neither the equipment nor the drugs that could save their lives. On the other side of the world, in a federal courthouse in Virginia, US, two men - one a former CIA agent and Republican candidate for Congress, the other a former army ranger - are found guilty of fraudulently obtaining $3m (£1.7m) intended for the reconstruction of Iraq. These two events have no direct link, but they are none the less products of the same thing: a financial scandal that in terms of sheer scale must rank as one of the greatest in history.

In the corridor, an anxious father who has been told his son may have meningitis is berating the staff. "I want a good hospital, not a terrible hospital that makes my child worse," he says. But then he calms down. "I'm not blaming you, we are the same class. I'm talking about important people. Those controlling all those millions and the oil. They didn't come here to save us from Saddam, they came here for the oil, and so now the oil is stolen and we got nothing from it." Beside him another parent, a woman, agrees: "If the people who run the country are stealing the money, what can we do?" For these ordinary Iraqis, it is clear that the country's wealth is being managed in much the same way as it ever was. How did it all go so wrong?

The environment created by the coalition positively encouraged corruption. "American law was suspended, Iraqi law was suspended, and Iraq basically became a free fraud zone," says Alan Grayson, a Florida-based attorney who represents whistleblowers now trying to expose the corruption. "In a free fire zone you can shoot at anybody you want. In a free fraud zone you can steal anything you like. And that was what they did."

Back in Diwaniyah it is a story about failure and incompetence, rather than fraud and corruption. Zahara and Abbas, born one and a half months premature, are suffering from respiratory distress syndrome and are desperately ill. The hospital has just 14 ancient incubators, held together by tape and wire.Zahara is in a particularly bad way. She needs a ventilator and drugs to help her breathe, but the hospital has virtually nothing. Her father has gone into town to buy vitamin K on the black market, which he has been told his children will need. Zahara starts to deteriorate and in desperation the doctor holds a tube pumping unregulated oxygen against the child's nostrils. "This treatment is worse than primitive," he says. "It's not even medicine." Despite his efforts, the little girl dies; the next day her brother also dies. Yet with the right equipment and the right drugs, they could have survived.

How is it possible that after three years of occupation and billions of dollars of spending, hospitals are still short of basic supplies? Part of the cause is ideological tunnel-vision. For months before the war the US state department had been drawing up plans for the postwar reconstruction, but those plans were junked when the Pentagon took over.

The Story

There are lots of stories about the despicable nature of this war. That in itself is a pity. I find this story particularly disturbing. The raw greed and corruption of this administration is unprecedented in my lifetime.

And, I wonder how long it will take for healthcare in the US to deteriorate to the level of care in Iraq. How long before the little girl in the post below may not have survived due to substandard medical care. Let's face it. It's not about democracy in the US; it's not about freedom in Iraq. It's about lining the pockets of corporate America that gets this administration's rocks off.

All rights reserved.
Disclaimer And Comment Policy