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Oxfam says the humanitarian consequences of war against Iraq would be unacceptable.

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LINDA MOTTRAM: Despite the months of hard sell about the need for war by its proponents, community opposition remains strong. A group of Australian non-government aid agencies has this morning argued in a national newspaper advertisement that the humanitarian consequences of conflict would be unacceptable. I spoke to one of the signatories, Andrew Hewett, who heads Oxfam Community Aid Abroad.


ANDREW HEWETT: The Iraqi population are in a highly vulnerable, highly fragile state. They are heavily dependent upon food aid and live in conditions which are unimaginable, even from that of a decade ago. A war, particularly a war which involves heavy bombing, heavy fighting in the urban areas, could push them into the abyss.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Let’s look at why the Iraqi people are in such a dire state in the first place. It is argued by many that Saddam Hussein himself has used his own people, kept them in a very difficult situation post the 1991 war, as part of a propaganda campaign. Should the West bear responsibility for that, given the dangers that are being posited about Iraq at this stage?


ANDREW HEWETT: There are a number of reasons why the Iraqi population is in such a fragile state. Undoubtedly the policies of the Iraqi government are one of the key contributing factors and we would argue that President Hussein and his government have the prime responsibility for looking after their welfare. But the impact of the sanctions regime has been severe and the possibility of war would only push them into an even more fragile state. We have something like 16 million people dependent upon food aid, most essential infrastructure such as water supply and sanitation is in a parlous state, and that is translated into high levels of child mortality, high levels of malnutrition. If we have a war those people are going to be placed in an even more precarious situation.


LINDA MOTTRAM: But given that there are arguments that, for example, the water supply system has not been properly reconstructed because the government of Iraq has chosen not to do that post war, surely it is now incumbent upon the world to take some decisive action which may have serious consequences but which nonetheless may lead to a situation of a better government and a better life for Iraqis in the longer term.


ANDREW HEWETT: We’d argue that the risks associated with the sort of decisive action, as you describe it, are too severe, are too great. It’s very clear that there’s a need for a change of way of doing things in Iraq. It’s also clear that there’s a need for getting rid of all weapons of mass destruction from the region, but we think that the consequences of a war of the sort that is being talked about, the sorts of numbers of people who are involved in terms of military forces, the sorts of bombings that would eventuate, will be so great that we have to find another way.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Okay. You say certain things are clear, but surely after this many years and given what we know about Saddam Hussein’s regime and its behaviours, surely it is also clear that Saddam Hussein is not a man to be convinced. He is determined to stay in power and hang on to weapons of mass destruction—if you take the Bush administration view and the Australian government view—and that there is now no longer another choice, there isn’t a diplomatic option.


ANDREW HEWETT: One just has to look back at the consequences of the 1991 war to see what has happened to the citizens of Iraq. Iraq historically was a relatively rich country where the oil revenues were being used relatively effectively to improve the living standards of the mass of the population. The impact of the last war and of the sanctions over the last 10 or 12 years has turned that clock back. We don’t want the clock to keep on turning backwards.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Andrew Hewett from Oxfam Community Aid Abroad.