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ISMAG MEDIA RELEASES


Contacts: Dr. Marten Hutt ph: (04) 496 6565 or a/h (04) 389 1706

or Dr. Ashley Bloomfield ph: (04) 496 2000 or a/h (04) 562 0107

Fax: (04) 496 2341


 

11 March 1999 Media statement for immediate release

Red Tape Delays sending NZ Aid to Iraqi Children

A group of Wellington-based health professionals says its efforts to send humanitarian aid to children in Iraq is being delayed by red tape in New Zealand and the United States.

The Iraq Sanctions Medical Alert Group (ISMAG) - which includes doctors, health policy advisors and epidemiologists - wants to send Ventolin inhalers, Pamol, milk powder, Watties baby food, and baby booties and blankets to the Basra Maternity and Children's Hospital. UNICEF estimates that 6,000 children will die unnecessarily in Iraq every month as a result of the sanctions.

But an ISMAG spokesman, Dr. Marten Hutt, said that its plans are being frustrated by confusion among government agencies. "Our enquiries last month revealed that NZ Post is aware of no restrictions, and were willing to accept our parcel, while Customs believe that the Minister of Foreign Affairs can approve aid exports without UN approval. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), have since advised that approval must be sought from the UN sanctions committee in New York. After that permission is received, then Don McKinnon has to approve it. Having now received the relevant forms from MFAT, we will be monitoring how long this process takes. The completed forms seeking permission were faxed to MFAT today".

Dr Pauline Norris, a member of ISMAG, said that "Under the Geneva Convention - to which Iraq is a signatory - we can send these goods to prisoners of war. But we cannot send the same food, medicine or toys to Iraqi children who are innocent victims of the Gulf War and the ongoing sanctions."

Media Notes: This is the first of a series of press releases highlighting sanctions processes. Each release will feature an update of the complex process involved in sending aid to Iraqi children, and an "interesting fact' about the sanctions process. Spokespeople can supply full details of medicines etc.

Interesting Fact #1. Australia supplies 11% of total Iraqi purchases under the UN oil-for-food programme (UN data as at 22 June 1998), mainly wheat. New Zealand has only supplied NZ$300,000 worth of seed drills in 1997 (MFAT 11 March 1999).

 


 

Media statement for immediate release - 17 December 1998

Wellington Doctors Condemn Iraqi Airstrikes

The Iraq Sanctions Medical Alert Group (ISMAG), a group of Wellington-based doctors, health policy advisors and epidemiologists, condemned today's airstrikes against Iraq.

Public health physician and ISMAG spokesman Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said, "The US Pentagon estimated airstrikes would lead to 10,000 Iraqi civilian deaths. Once the dust settles, Iraq will still be led by an uncooperative Saddam Hussein and common Iraqis will continue to struggle to survive with little hope of an end to the 8 years of suffering they have already endured since the Gulf War".

Public health researcher and ISMAG spokesman Dr. Marten Hutt said that ISMAG acknowledges that Saddam's latest non-cooperation with United Nations weapons inspections is "regrettable and hopeless". However, Dr. Hutt continued, "we are just going around in circles".

The costs of the airstrikes, Dr Hutt went on to say, are significant. "Air strikes against economic targets such as power stations will inflict more hunger and disease on the people of Iraq. Strikes will not stimulate a popular revolt among a people weakened by eight years of draconian economic sanctions. It would also take a very lucky shot to get Saddam himself".

"ISMAG believes that despite all the talk of "smart" weapons, the strikes, just as with the sanctions, will completely miss their real target. The ordinary people of Iraq, who never voted for their renegade leader, will pay the price".

Dr. Hutt concluded that "ISMAG believes that sanctions and airstrikes are useless. Our prayers are with the newly-created grieving parents and orphans of Iraq."


Media statement for immediate release - 9 December 1998

The Most Difficult Decision of my First Year - Jenny Shipley Reflects on Sending NZ Troops to Iraq

The Iraq Sanctions Medical Alert Group (ISMAG), a group of Wellington-based doctors, health policy advisors and epidemiologists, noted the comments made yesterday by Jenny Shipley on Iraq [NZPA; TVNZ News 8 December].

In being asked to reflect on her first year as Prime Minister, she pointed out that the hardest and yet most humbling experience of her first year was watching New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel leaving for Iraq in February, "putting their lives on the line so that we can enjoy our freedom". She personally visited NZDF families, and admitted her decision "dwelt on my mind and shoulders longer and more intensely than anything else I've had to do".

ISMAG appreciates that this was a difficult issue, and the loyalty and bravery of the New Zealanders (SAS and Orion crew) sent over earlier this year, and those again being readied, is unquestioned.

ISMAG spokesman Dr. Marten Hutt said that "despite this sincere expression from the Prime Minister, it is our contention that the rationale for sending the troops then and now remains unclear".

"Was it to support the United Nations Security Council, or was it to support the United States-led military build-ups, which defied the Security Council? We cannot be in a holding pattern or have a bet each way on this issue. If we are to put NZDF lives at risk, politicians need to be very clear about the rationale."

"In the last week, we have seen a subtle shift in the Government's position on Iraq. The NZ Government is realising it cannot support both camps simultaneously, and has nailed its colours to the Security Council mast - effectively distancing ourselves from the US/UK military build-up in the Gulf. This calls into question the NZDF deployment earlier this year and also the present NZDF troops on standby. ISMAG calls on Jenny Shipley to state precisely why NZDF personnel are having their Christmas leave with their familes cancelled".


Media statement for immediate release - 8 December 1998

A Shift in NZ Government Foreign Affairs Policy on Iraq?

The Iraq Sanctions Medical Alert Group (ISMAG), a group of Wellington-based doctors, health policy advisors and epidemiologists, welcomed the policy clarification last week [Newsroom. 27 November] of the NZ Government's position on Iraq.

A spokeswoman from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Don McKinnon, said on 26 November that the NZ Government "supported sanctions till UNSCOM is satisfied that Iraq no longer has weapons of mass destruction...and will take our lead on this from the Security Council".

ISMAG spokesman Dr. Marten Hutt said that "this, in our opinion, represents a subtle shift in NZ's policy on Iraq. While the Minister has often said they would support sanctions while the Security Council did, up to now, it could also be said that NZ wanted a bet each way: supporting the Security Council, but also sending troops to periodic US-led military buildups, without UN approval."

"In the view of ISMAG, this policy clarification now distances NZ from the US/UK military buildup, and also from recent US and UK statements [Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Georgetown University, 26 March 1997; US UN Ambassador Peter Burleigh - see Newsroom 20 November 1998] which indicated that sanctions removal would be dependent on removal of Saddam Hussein from office - not merely removal of weapons of mass destruction."

"However", continued Dr. Hutt, "this clarification still does not answer some remaining questions. Firstly, if we are distancing ourselves from the US/UK military buildups, and are aligning ourselves more explicitly with the Security Council, then in whose name are we currently amassing New Zealand Defence Force troops? And in whose name did Mr. McKinnon send six navy personnel to the Gulf last week?"

"Secondly, as recent interviews with senior UNSCOM officials Richard Butler and Scott Ritter [Sunday Star-Times, 22 November, p. C5] have confirmed, the sanctions have actually not helped UNSCOM's programme of weapons destruction. Ritter said that sanctions were "horrible", with their resulting "pain" felt "by 22 million innocent Iraqi people, not by the leadership, not by Saddam Hussein, not by his cronies". Butler said that sanctions are also just hurting ordinary Iraqis, while the leadership is "awash with money".

"In other words", said Dr. Hutt, "the sanctions are not touching the Iraqi leadership - the very people who are supposed to cooperate with UNSCOM because the sanctions are hurting them. When even UNSCOM admit the sanctions are not working, it is clear that the NZ Government needs to think through its support of sanctions some more".


ISMAG November 1998 Media Releases:

Release 1

Wellington doctors condemn possible airstrikes on Iraq

The Iraq Sanctions Medical Alert Group (ISMAG), a group of Wellington-based doctors, health policy advisors and epidemiologists, condemned the seemingly imminent airstrikes against Iraq.

Nina Russell, research fellow at the Department of Public Health at the Wellington School of Medicine said that "when will it stop? How much more suffering are the people of Iraq going to have to deal with, before the rest of the world says no more to economic sanctions and military force, which to date have been ineffective against Saddam?".

The UN itself estimates 750,000 children have died (and 1.2 million Iraqis as a whole since 1991), and UNICEF estimate 4,500 children pre month are added to this toll, as a direct result of sanctions.

"This represents the utter failure of the eight-year sanctions policy", said Dr. Marten Hutt, ISMAG spokesman.

Sanctions have been described by former NZ Director-General of Health, Professor George Salmond, as a "public health disaster". Children have been hit the hardest, especially through huge rises in rates of leukaemia, malnutrition, cholera and typhoid. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that mortality rates of children less than five years of age have increased six times since 1990.

ISMAG acknowledges that Saddam's non-cooperation with United Nations weapons inspections is regrettable and hopeless. However, Dr. Hutt continued, "the way forward from this circle of despair is to go back to the negotiating table, and bargain moderation of economic sanctions in return for continued arms control".

 

Release 2

Wellington doctors note contradictions in NZ Government statements on Iraqi airstrikes.

The Iraq Sanctions Medical Alert Group (ISMAG), a group of Wellington-based doctors, health policy advisors and epidemiologists, are concerned that the foreign policy statements of the New Zealand Government to date regarding possible military strikes against Iraq are contradictory.

On the evening of Thursday 12 November, the Rt. Hon. Don McKinnon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, issued a statement that "New Zealand unreservedly supported the actions taken by the Security Council".

ISMAG spokesman Dr. Marten Hutt said that "Minister McKinnon is being consistent in his support for the Security Council. But the Security Council, while calling for Iraq to back down and cooperate, has not approved military action, and is unlikely to, given the deep divisions within the Council ".

In a Radio New Zealand "Morning Report" interview the next morning (Friday 13 November), the Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, trumped her own Minister by arguing that New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel were being put on standby "if at this time Iraq made it clear that they were not prepared to comply with the UN".

There is an obvous contradiction here. How can New Zealand support the actions of the UN Security Council, which has ruled out airstrikes, and yet also place NZDF on standby for a unilateral action by the United States? ISMAG fails to see how both policy positions can be held concurrently.

ISMAG spokesman Dr. Marten Hutt said that "It is important that the Government state in plain language what their policy is on airstrikes: yes or no; with Security Council approval or not. This is needed for:

* the media who need unambiguous statements to report

* the public to make informed decisions

* interest groups such as ISMAG, and also the US Ambassador to New Zealand, Josiah Beeman, who must have a difficult job discerning just what the NZ Government's position is on the US-led possible airstrikes

* and finally, the brave NZDF staff who may be asked to put their lives on the line, and certainly have had leave cancelled. They need to know if their possible involvement has both Security Council sanction and the unambiguous backing of the NZ Government".

Dr. Hutt called on "Don McKinnon and Jenny Shipley to sing from the same hymn sheet and state their views on possible US-led airstrikes: are they for or against?

If New Zealand Defence Force personnel are called upon to put their lives on the line in this crisis, the rationale needs to be absolutely clear - in whose name are we preparing troops?".

 

Release 3

Will Airstrikes against Iraq work? Wellington doctors say No

The Iraq Sanctions Medical Alert Group (ISMAG), a group of Wellington-based doctors, health policy advisors and epidemiologists, questioned whether air strikes against Iraq will work.

ISMAG spokesman Dr. Marten Hutt said that "We in no way condone Saddam's actions, but airstrikes are not the way forward. Even if airstrikes are averted, we feel it important to state why we feel they will not work".

Dr. Hutt said that "air strikes cannot remove the low-tech chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. To destroy every last petri dish would require carpet bombing on a scale too horrific to comprehend. It is time to get real".

The costs of the airstrikes, Dr Hutt went on to say, are significant. "Air strikes against economic targets such as power stations will inflict more hunger and disease on the people of Iraq. Strikes will not stimulate a popular revolt among a people weakened by eight years of draconian economic sanctions. It would also take a very lucky shot to get Saddam himself".

"ISMAG believes that despite all the talk of "smart" weapons, the strikes, just as with the sanctions, will completely miss their real target. The ordinary people of Iraq, who never voted for their renegade leader, will pay the price".

"ISMAG has analysed the hundreds of pages of technical data on the health and infrastructure effects of the 1991 Gulf War. As doctors, we are appalled at the death toll and diseases caused. We have already bombed Iraq into the pre-industrial age, and the health effects will take a generation to repair. Why add to that?".

Release 4

Airstrikes called off - 300 innocent Iraqi children die: Wellington doctors appalled

The Iraq Sanctions Medical Alert Group (ISMAG), a group of Wellington-based doctors, health policy advisors and epidemiologists, welcomed the calling-off of US-led airstrikes against Iraq over the weekend.

However, the crippling effects of the sanctions continues, regardkless of the military buildup. The UN itself estimates 750,000 children have died (and 1.2 million Iraqis as a whole since 1991), and UNICEF estimate 4,500 children pre month are added to this toll, as a direct result of sanctions.

That means that over the weekend 300 innocent Iraqi children have died. Public health medicine registrar Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said, "death and misery are the lot of ordinary Iraqi people...not only are they lumbered with a miscreant for a leader, the rest of the world, led by the US, seems intent on punishing ordinary Iraqis for their misfortune".

ISMAG spokesman Dr. Marten Hutt said that "The airstrikes will not work. It is like shooting down an airliner full of innocent people in order to take out the hijacker".

"ISMAG calls on all doctors, nurses and health promotion/public health workers to write to their MPs expressing concern that the airstrikes will do nothing to relieve the devastating mortality and morbidity data among 97% of the people of Iraq."

"It is time for a reality check on the sanctions. Eight years of sanctions have strengthened, not weakened, Saddam's rule. Eight years of sanctions have weakened, not strengthened, the people of Iraq".

"ISMAG believes that sanctions are useless. Our prayers are with the newly-created grieving parents of Iraq. They did not vote for their leader, nor could they control the impact of the sanctions. Once again, they pay the price".

 


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