Rebuilding plans not awesome, just flimsy

A six-year-old boy cries bereft. His mother has stopped him
watching his latest form of entertainment – the war in Iraq, live,
on television. The “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad has added a
new and truly terrible twist to reality television.

No matter the claims of precision attacks, by the time you read
this, we will will undoubtedly have evidence of a shameful body
count. In a country in which 40 per cent of the population is under
15, many of them will be children if not physically damaged or
killed, then hugely traumatised by living under a nightly sky of

Six years ago, when Robin Cook became foreign secretary, he talked
optimistically about “international politics coming of age”.

Now, the US claims that the back of the United Nations is broken,
and it has a “right” to strike pre-emptively at any country it
regards as a threat: Goliath squashing a dozen Davids before the
caterpult has even been raised.

As if to distract attention from Britain’s shameful role in
aggression that passes for diplomacy, the talk now is of

President George Bush has promised contracts to his cronies, not
least to Halliburton, the company which still pays one of its
former employees, Dick Cheney, vice-president of the US, a million
dollars a year. Twenty-one new city hospitals are promised. They
will be needed. But what would be infinitely preferable to a
US-supervised rebuilding, given that Afghanistan remains a
wasteland, is for the United Nations to take the lead role.

Before sanctions were imposed, the Iraqis had a low infant
mortality rate; a free health service and, unusually for an Arab
country, 85 per cent literacy among the female population. All that
was shattered long before the US attacked.

We know Britain has an acute shortage of social care staff but
perhaps some of those who have slipped away, burned out,
disillusioned and frustrated, might seriously consider whether the
valuable understanding they have in rebuilding fractured lives,
might now find a short-term purpose in helping the aid agencies,
the UN and charities, in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Such contributions matter not only for practical reasons –
professionals are in desperately short supply – but also as a
demonstration that no matter how bellicose and imperialist the Bush
rhetoric, international links are alive and well and continuing to
work in collaboration – not least to help to heal.

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