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Thursday, April 17, 2003

Lifeline for Iraq's children

Queen Rania delivers a passionate appeal to Tony Blair and President Bush to make Iraq safe enough for aid organisations to enter

(The Times, By Philip Webster, Political Editor - London)

A lifeline for Iraq’s children

Jordan’s Queen calls on Blair for action now Queen Rania of Jordan today delivers a passionate appeal to Tony Blair and President Bush to make Iraq safe enough for aid organisations to enter and for casualties to be immediately evacuated.

Her rare foray into international politics comes in a letter to The Times , in which she calls on coalition forces to establish humanitarian air and land corridors to take badly injured people for treatment in Jordan and elsewhere.

She says “every minute counts” and that immediate security must be provided to allow humanitarian workers to do their job of saving Iraq’s infrastructure and to prevent further casualties.

Queen Rania’s intervention came as the US military evacuated one Iraqi boy - 12-year-old Ali Ismail Abbas who lost both his arms when a bomb fell on his home - to Kuwait for life-saving treatment.

The director of the Baghdad hospital that has been treating Ali told The Times that there were a thousand more like him. Some Iraqi hospitals were ransacked by looters, and left without medical supplies as they were engulfed by war casualties.

Other parts of the country lack food, water and other basic commodities. Britain and America face mounting criticism of their failure to prepare for the collapse of Iraqi society after the war.

Queen Rania’s letter says: “I feel an immense sense of urgency. It is no exaggeration to say that every minute does count.”

The Queen, who is involved with many international aid agencies and is an active supporter of Unicef’s work for children, writes in her letter that, as a mother, she was touched to hear Tony Blair promise in the Commons on Tuesday to do all that he could to help Ali, who had become “the face of Iraq’s human suffering.”

She says that many aid agencies working from Jordan are clamoring to find speedy and effective ways of treating the wounded. “The more concerted our efforts are, the more lives we can save and the more suffering we can spare. No population deserves such suffering, especially knowing that something can be done if we move fast,” she says, adding that humanitarian workers in Jordan are ready to start work “the moment conditions are appropriate”.

It is understood that Queen Rania has become increasingly concerned after talks in the past few days with representatives of international bodies such as the World Health Organisation.

Aid agencies with bases in Jordan have become deeply frustrated because, having prepared as they did in the 1991 Gulf War to help with humanitarian relief once hostilities had ended, they have been unable to get in and do their work.

A senior Jordanian official close to the Queen said: “They are unable to contact the right people. They are afraid for their lives. There is so much energy and momentum there and they are wringing their hands because they just cannot get to do the work.”

The official added that looting of the basic infrastructure, including telephone lines and water pipes, had made the aid workers’ job even harder, as well as creating new health risks.

The Queen wants an air corridor established between Baghdad and Jordan. Several flights a day could save thousands of lives. King Abdullah and Queen Rania have close relations with the Prime Minister and Cherie Blair.

Mrs Blair was with Queen Rania at a Palestinian medical charity event last year when the Prime Minister’s wife made comments apparently sympathetic to Palestinian suicide bombers, for which she latIn a direct appeal to the coalition forces, Queen Rania says: “I urge them to make it their top priority to create the conditions for us to commence our urgently needed work of saving lives.”

Downing Street said that it welcomed Queen Rania’s role in promoting the humanitarian needs of the people of the Middle East as a whole, and her recognition of Mr Blair’s .efforts to address the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people as quickly as possible.

But an official added: “We have to balance the still very real security threats our forces face with the challenge of meeting the immediate needs of the people and then addressing the poverty and degradation resulting from Saddam’s rule. That will not happen overnight but we are determined to do all we can to help the aid agencies work with us.”

The Pentagon said that medical supplies were arriving in Baghdad, and that the US was running two hospitals in the city. Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defense Secretary, said a “massive effort” was being made to bring in medical help.

After talks in Hanover last night Mr Blair and Gerhard Schroeder, the German Chancellor, said they would be treating wounded Iraqi children in British and German hospitals. “Obviously we are more than ready to help these children,” the German leader said. The German tabloid press has been urging the Chancellor to take on some of this responsibility.