Iraq Seizes Attack To Rip Sanctions
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ U.N. workers paid condolences Thursday to relatives of an Iraqi colleague killed in a shootout at a U.N. office in Baghdad, an incident the government of Saddam Hussein quickly seized on to highlight the impact of international sanctions.
Relatives of Marewan Mohammed Hassan, who handled computer databases at the Food and Agriculture Organization office in Baghdad, cried as a taxi pulled up to the family home carrying his body. Hassan’s sisters collapsed.
On Wednesday Fowad Hussein Haydar forced his way into the FAO offices armed with two machine guns and began firing randomly, provoking a shootout that left two people dead and six wounded.
Iraqi authorities gave the gunman the unusual opportunity of a press conference at a Baghdad police station. Haydar’s expressed motive for the shooting spree _ frustration with harsh U.N. economic sanctions _ is one the government can relate to.
Relatives and visitors, who said Hassan had married less than a month ago, stood near the taxi to pay respects before it drove off with the casket on top, taking the body for burial in the northern city of Kirkuk. Hassan was born in Kirkuk, 170 miles north of Baghdad.
``It was a painful and criminal act,″ Tariq Hassan Abdeen, a U.N. consultant with the Rome-based FAO, said at the Hassan family home. ``The deceased was an example among his U.N. colleagues of hard work and high morals. We are all so sorry for his loss.″
Hassan’s father, Mohammed, was in tears. He said another son had died 10 months ago of cancer: ``He was the only remaining son I had.″
No government officials appeared to be at the family home, crowded with relatives and about 50 U.N. workers from the FAO and other offices.
Haydar’s remarks were aired on state-run television and carried almost in full in the front pages of all state-controlled newspapers.
``The reason is the embargo, the death and murder of thousands of Iraqi children and elderly. I wanted to relay a message,″ he said. The 38-year-old said he had intended to kidnap FAO director Amir A. Khalil and then negotiate his demands, but that guards opened fire.
Baghdad diplomats contacted by The Associated Press said Thursday the shootout was an isolated incident.
Still, a European diplomat said on condition of anonymity that the government could consider such an attack useful as a reminder to the world community of the plight of Iraqis.
Privately, government officials said they deplored the loss of life. But, like Haydar, they repeated claims that sanctions have killed more than a million Iraqis and have devastated a once-prosperous society.
Iraq has been trying to refocus world attention on U.N. economic sanctions, which have crippled the economy and driven millions of Iraqis below the poverty line. The sanctions were imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and cannot be removed until U.N. inspectors verify Iraq is rid of all weapons of mass destruction and the capability to rebuild its arsenal.
Iraq and the United Nations are locked in a standoff over how to restart weapons inspections, stalled since late 1998. Iraq has vowed not to let the inspectors into the country again until after the world body lifts the sanctions.
A memorial service was planned for Friday in Baghdad for the other U.N. staffer killed, Yusuf Abdilleh, a Somali administrative officer.