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SUNDAY DIET (May 17, 1998)

Says Mike Uyi, General President of Global Peace Movement

Series of stories have been told about the condition of living of the Iraqi people since the UN sanctions against thatcountry. What exactly did you see when you got there?
They are living very well. The standard of living is still high. What one would say is deplorable is the state of medical care. But they have adjusted to the level of living for today and believing God for tomorrow. They have not let the effects of the sanctions to weigh them down, even though they are suffering. They still believe in themselves and in their country. Between 200-300 children die daily in Iraq.

What effect, if any, would you say this pitiable state of living of the people of Iraq has on Saddam Hussein?
Saddam is growing stronger by the day. If the aim of the sanctions is to make the people of Iraq revolt against Saddam, then the whole aim of the sanctions has been defeated since four years ago. What I saw of the people informed me of this. He is still in power not because of the military might under his control, but because he remains the people's president. The Iraqi people themselves spoke glowingly about Saddam and stated again and again that he is still their president.

Did you meet face-to-face with him?
Yes, I did, and I conversed with him. We spoke for two hours. We discussed religion. He asked me to go to any street in Baghdad and I would find a church. I went to Basal, for instance, and I saw a church there. 1 went to Monsul and I found churches there. I went to many other places. I found he was not lying to me. He said he himself has contributed manual labour in the construction of some of these churches. He said the issue of religion in Iraq was very personal to the Iraqi people. We also talked about the belief that he is a stubborn leader, that he does not show concern over the daily increasing death tolls of his people. Saddam told me he had at no point in time been stubborn to the UN. He said his position was just a matter of integrity. He said his 80,000 special commandos all have families that are affected by the sanctions. He said if he were a bad man they would have woken up one night to overthrow him.

You visited the disputed areas where arms and weapons of mass destruction as alleged by the US and Britain are kept?
Yes, I visited all the places. In fact, there are eight of such places.

What is your genuine and unbiased assessment of the claims by US and Britain?
There were no weapons of mass destruction any where in Iraq. Those that were available were brought out by the Iraqi people themselves and were destroyed by UNSCOM.

In the palaces, the UNSCOM members were allowed to use every available instrument they had to search the wliole place including cooking pots and underneath the carpets and rugs. Nothing was found. There was security though, in die palaces. This is in terms of manpower; things of luxury and other petty gadgets. We visited eight disputed areas located all over Iraq. Some of such places are in the village where Saiddam was born. It is about 120 kilometres off Baghdad. We were also in Nineveh.

Did you meet with members of UNSCOM?
We met with them and we discussed issues. We also had useful discussions with UNDP there. We addressed the Iraqi-Parliament. We addressed the Baath Arab Socialist Party. "We also addressed the Iraqi National Students' Union; Iraqi Chambers of Commerce and mourning women in Baghdad. The major thrust of the discussion was on lasting peace and lifting of sanctions by the UN Security Council.

We told them it was within their power to ensure that UN lifted the sanctions imposed on them. They told us that they had done 80 per cent of all that was required by the UN Security Council before we got there, especially in accordance with Resolution 687 of the UN Security Council. The last condition they said they had fulfilled was the opening up of the presidential palaces. This is true because I witnessed it.

How relevant are your findings and recommendations to governments across the globe?
Very relevant. Saddam accepted our advice by being accessible to the UNSCOM team. He al-Iraq. Depending on their conclusions from our report, they can make or mar the effect of the sanctions. However, we believe the sanctions should be lifted. We are a peaceful movement. Sanctions can only affect the people, not the few in government who are in control of the resources of the nation.

How significant to Nigeria is the trip to Iraq?
We led Nigeria to Iraq as an NGO and as ambassadors. We lifted the image of the country in Iraq. We were highly respected there on that basis. The government knew when we were going there. It also knew when we arrived. We do not need violence to settle scores. We need dialogue. If we as a people can speak to Saddam, we should also be able to speak to ourselves. Every Nigerian should blame himself in order to correct ourselves. We alone can move the nation forward. There is no alternative to peace.

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