Iraq Says 1.4 Million Now
Dead Because Of US-Led Sanctions
Jane Arraf
Iraq (CNN) -- As Iraq's Christian minority celebrated a subdued Christmas after last week's air raids, Iraqi officials reiterated their vow to forbid U.N. weapons inspectors from returning to the country.
An Information Ministry spokesman told the official Iraqi News Agency that four days of U.S. and British airstrikes had signaled the end of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), which was responsible for verifying whether Iraq had dismantled its weapons of mass destruction.
"The United States, by its demand (to resume inspections), is trying in vain to turn the clock back," the spokesman said. "The Special Commission and its inspectors are part of the past because of the American-British aggression."
An official Iraqi newspaper reported Iraq would consider allowing weapons inspectors to return only if the United Nations lifted strict sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The daily Al-Thawra, a mouthpiece for the ruling Ba'ath party, said the resignation or dismissal of chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler would not be enough.
"The embargo on Iraq must be lifted," the newspaper stated. "After that, Iraq might look into agreeing to the continuation of the work of permanent monitoring cameras and others."
Butler has refused calls for his resignation. The U.N. Security Council has yet to reorganize UNSCOM and its mission after the air assaults.
Many Iraqis spent Christmas repairing buildings damaged during the attacks. Workers were fixing up a girls' school that was rattled by the shock wave of a missile blast. "Of course it will be repaired," said principal Janet Gerges Francis. "They always destroy, and we rebuild our country. We are very strong people."
Iraq's 500,000-strong Christian community marked the holiday quietly. Two 10-foot Christmas trees were lit, one outside United Nations Development Program offices and the other outside the Polish Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Iraq.
Each tree had a star of Bethlehem on top and was decorated by scores of paper stars. Each star had the name and age of an infant who Iraq says died because of the U.N. sanctions.
"This is a Christmas tree ... carrying the names of Iraqi children who had been martyred by the imposition of the sanctions ... soaked with the tears of their families," placards in English and Arabic under the trees said.
Iraq claims about 1.4 million people have died from shortages caused by the sanctions.