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Filthy Iraqi water raises cholera fears

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    Filthy Iraqi drinking water raises cholera fears By SELCAN HACAOGLU Aug 2, 2008 http://apnews.myway.com/article/20080802/D929UBH82.html (AP) People fish in the
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5, 2008
      Filthy Iraqi drinking water raises cholera fears
      Aug 2, 2008

      (AP) People fish in the polluted Tigris River, next to a sewage
      pipe, in central Baghdad, Iraq,...

      BAGHDAD (AP) - Just months after Americans repaired a sewage
      treatment plant in southern Baghdad, insurgents attacked the
      facility and killed the manager. Looters took care of the rest.

      Nearly three years later, the plant remains an abandoned shell. Raw
      sewage is still flowing freely through giant pipes into the Tigris
      River, ending up in some of the capital's drinking water. And those
      pipes are hardly the only source of contamination.

      Many residents only have to sniff the tap water to know something is
      not right.

      "I fear giving it to my children directly unless I boil it," said
      Enam Mohammed Ali, a 36-year-old mother of four in the New Baghdad
      district in the eastern part of the city.

      The water crisis began as a symptom of the problems that plagued
      reconstruction efforts in the early years of the war. Extremists
      attacked infrastructure projects, including electricity stations and
      sewage plants, to undermine support for the U.S. and its Iraqi
      allies. Law and order broke down, with looters stealing pipes, power
      lines and other equipment.

      But now, the recent decline in violence is raising hopes that the
      government can focus on repairing critical public services crippled
      by war and neglect. Perhaps the most complex: trying to control what
      goes into waterways and what comes out of Baghdad taps.

      Two-thirds of the raw sewage produced in the capital flows untreated
      into rivers and waterways, Stuart Bowen, special inspector general
      for Iraq reconstruction, said in his quarterly report released

      U.S. and Iraqi officials insist that the tap water in most of
      Baghdad is of at least fairly good quality because it comes from
      less polluted areas north of the city. In fact, more Iraqis
      nationwide have access to potable water now than before the war - 20
      million people compared with 12.9 million previously, according to
      Bowen's report.

      But some Baghdad neighborhoods, notably New Baghdad and Baladiyat,
      are not so lucky.

      There, the Tigris is so filthy with sewage and other pollutants that
      the local treatment facility can only do so much. To make matters
      worse, sewage then leaks into the potable water pipes. On Friday,
      the U.S. military announced the opening of a water distribution site
      to prevent the mixing of sewage and drinking water in New Baghdad
      and Baladiyat.

      It comes none too soon.

      A cholera outbreak in northern Iraq last year killed 14 people. A
      similar outbreak of the waterborne disease in Baghdad - home to
      about 6 million people - could be far worse.

      "Iraq is on the cusp of a serious water crisis that requires
      immediate attention and resources," said Thomas Naff, a Middle East
      water expert at the University of Pennsylvania.

      The World Bank has estimated that it would take $14.4 billion to
      rebuild the Iraqi public works and water system.

      A U.S. Embassy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because
      she was not authorized to talk to the media, said the actual need is
      higher. The United States has allocated $2.7 billion for water
      projects in Iraq, but the official said the money is running out.

      Iraq has been slow in spending its billions in oil revenues on
      public works projects - despite insistence from U.S. military
      commanders who recommend quality-of-life improvements to undercut
      militants and win over Sunni districts wary of the Shiite-led

      "Up to now we have seen nothing from the government," Sheik Ayad
      Abdul-Jabbar al-Jubouri complained to a top American commander
      during a July 12 meeting at a combat outpost in Radwaniyah, a Sunni
      community just west of the capital. He said the central government
      is sitting on U.S.-led projects to repair four small water treatment
      plants and improve two irrigation canals in Radwaniyah.

      "We'll fix it," Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond assured the sheik.

      Mustafa Hamid, a spokesman for the Iraqi environment ministry, said
      the water pipe network is more than 50 years old and suffers from
      corrosion "which allows sewage water to infiltrate."

      But Hamid downplayed the risk. "There is contamination but not a
      serious one," he said, saying test results in most parts of the city
      generally met "safe standards."

      Many residents are unconvinced.

      Hassan Khalid, 13, said he took antibiotics for typhoid four months
      ago after drinking tap water. "I had fever, headaches and was
      throwing up all the time," he said.

      Although bottled of water is sold in Iraq - much of it from Saudi
      Arabia - the majority of Baghdad residents use tap water. U.S.
      troops, however, are warned that the water is only for bathing, not

      The U.S. Embassy official said she has seen black sewage water
      gushing into the Tigris from a giant pipeline during an aerial tour.

      Farmers in Baghdad's northern districts of Azamiyah and Istiqlal,
      just a few miles from the Tigris, are forced to use sewage water to
      irrigate crops, the U.S. military said.

      The Tigris, which cuts through the heart of the capital and provides
      most of its drinking water, runs brownish green in the summer. But
      it still attracts bathers seeking to escape the scorching heat.

      "The water smells like dead fish," Giya Nouri, a 40-year-old
      construction worker, said as he swam with his two young sons. "When
      I was a kid, it was blue and clean."

      But Nouri shrugged his shoulders when asked about the potential
      health risks. "We got used to it," he said.

      So far there has been no outbreak of waterborne diseases in Baghdad.

      Last year in Iraq, the World Health Organization confirmed more than
      3,300 cases of cholera, a gastrointestinal disease typically spread
      by contaminated water, and at least 14 deaths from the acute and
      rapid dehydration it causes. The hardest hit areas were in northern

      Dr. Nagesh Kumar, a water expert in India, said Iraq's current
      drought "will make the water contamination situation worse" by
      drying up wells and lowering river levels.

      In the capital, the Tigris is at its lowest level since 2001. Reeds
      stick up from the water on each bank.


      Bill Presses Iraq To Recognize Israel
      By Nathan Guttman

      Washington - To the many challenges facing the fledgling Iraqi government, Congress may soon add this: Recognize the State of Israel and establish diplomatic ties with Jerusalem, or else risk losing some of the billions in aid that Baghdad receives from the United States.

      A nonbinding resolution demanding Iraqi recognition of Israel was introduced June 5 in the House of Representatives and has already gained the support of more than 60 congressmen, including several leaders of the Foreign Relations Committee.

      The resolution puts Congress far out in front of the Israeli government and the White House, both of which to date have refrained from raising the issue. An Israeli source said that while Jerusalem expects every United Nations member state to recognize Israel’s right to exist and would like to have full diplomatic ties with all Arab states, the issue of Iraq “was not on the agenda” at present.

      Congressional involvement in establishing Iraqi-Israeli ties came about in large part through serendipity. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat and a strong supporter of Israel, joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on a visit last month to mark the country’s 60th anniversary. The congressional group left Israel for a day trip to Iraq, at the end of which it returned to Tel Aviv from Baghdad.

      “As we got on the C-130 taking us back, we were advised we’d need to land in Amman, Jordan, touch down and then take off again to Israel,” Hastings told the Forward after returning to Washington.

      The reason for the brief landing was diplomatic: Iraq, like most other Arab countries, does not allow direct flights to Israel.

      “This offended me deeply,” Hastings said, adding that he had encountered a similar problem in the past, when traveling to Libya from Israel.

      Upon returning to the United States, the Florida congressman drafted a resolution calling on Iraq to change its stance toward Israel, starting with official recognition of the Jewish state.

      “Although the United States has provided Iraq with almost $50 billion in security and economic assistance to date, none of which has been repaid, the government of Iraq refuses to recognize the existence of Israel, the most reliable ally of the United States in the Middle East region,” the introduced resolution states. The resolution also calls on the White House to “use its influence to persuade Iraq and other countries with which the United States has diplomatic relations to recognize the right of Israel to exist and to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.”

      While the current resolution is nonbinding, Hastings said he also would consider “more substantive” measures if Iraq does not change its approach to Israel. Such measures, he said, could include attaching the demand for recognition and diplomatic ties to one of the major funding bills.

      The Bush administration, according to congressional staff members, has not yet provided lawmakers with its view on the proposed resolution. Historically, the State Department and White House have tended to oppose congressional legislation perceived as constraining the administration’s ability to determine foreign policy.

      An Israeli official said that Jerusalem had not requested Hastings’s congressional resolution and had not raised the issue in talks with members of Congress. According to a congressional staff member, pro-Israel lobbyists on Capitol Hill were also not involved in the initiative.

      A spokeswoman for the Iraqi Embassy in Washington did not comment on the congressional resolution.

      On June 10, Hastings began seeking co-sponsors for his proposed resolution. By the end of the day, nearly five dozen lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, had signed on. Many of them, according to Hastings, were surprised to learn that Iraq does not recognize Israel.

      Critics of the resolution, for their part, argue that it would be counterproductive and would only undermine efforts to strengthen the central Iraqi government led by Nouri al-Maliki.

      “From all the Arab countries who do not have ties with Israel, Iraq is the last one we should be asking to do this,” said political scientist Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat chair for peace and development at the University of Maryland. “Iraq is the most vulnerable of all Arab states.”

      But the situation in Baghdad notwithstanding, Hastings believes that the Iraqi government should be called to task.

      “Right is right and wrong is wrong,” the Florida congressman said. “And this is just not right.”


      Iraq toughens stance on U.S. troop withdrawal

      BEIJING (Xinhua) -- Iraq's stance in negotiations with the U.S. over the country's security has been getting tougher, a trend obviously seen when a Iraqi security officer demanded a definite deadline of U.S. troops' withdrawal.

      Iraq will reject any security pact with the United States unless a specific date for withdrawal of U.S.-led troops is set, Iraqi national security advisor Muwafaq al-Rubaie said in Najaf on Tuesday.

      Iraq's President Nuri al-Maliki speaks during a visit to Kerbala, 80 km southwest of Baghdad, June 20, 2008. (Xinhua/Reuters File Photo)

      "Our stance in the negotiations with the Americans will be strong. We will not sign any memorandum of understanding without specifying a date for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq," al-Rubaie told reporters in the Shi'ite holy city.

      As security conditions in Iraq improve, the Iraqi government's stance in negotiations with the U.S. have become tougher. al-Rubaie's remarks were the toughest since the beginning of negotiations on a security pact between the two countries in March, analysts say.

      Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki publicly announced Monday that his country was seeking a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

      "The current trend is to reach either a memorandum of understanding for the departure of the troops, or a memorandum of understanding for setting a timetable for their withdrawal," al-Maliki said during a meeting with a group of Arab ambassadors in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates,

      Baghdad and Washington are currently holding talks aimed at reaching a deal on continued U.S. military presence in Iraq after a UN mandate expires in December.

      A U.S. soldier of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division looks at an Iraqi woman waiting in front of a police station in Baghdad's Sadr City July 9, 2008. Iraq will not accept any security agreement with the United States unless it includes dates for the withdrawal of foreign forces, the government's national security adviser said on Tuesday. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

      The security pact, also known as Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), has to be signed by the end of July according to a declaration of principles agreed upon by U.S. President George W. Bush and al-Maliki last November.

      Some observers point out that the Iraqi government has hardened its position in recent days because it thinks the Bush administration is eager to sign an agreement before the November elections, which could give Iraq a chance to win a better deal.

      The Bush administration has repeatedly rejected calls for any specific withdrawal timetable.

      The White House responded to al-Maliki's comments Monday by saying the talks were aimed at reaching an agreement on a framework for future U.S.-Iraqi relations rather than a "hard date" for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

      U.S. soldiers discuss their mission under the Cross Sabers monument at the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad July 5, 2008. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

      The U.S. State Department also rejected Iraq's demand to set a timetable for a pullout, emphasizing that the withdrawal of its troops will be based on ground conditions.

      "The U.S. government and the government of Iraq are in agreement that we, the U.S. government, we want to withdraw, we will withdraw. However, that decision will be conditions-based," State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said.

      "We're looking at conditions, not calendars here," he said.

      Apart from the difference of opinion on a specific withdrawal timetable, controversy in either country about the contents of a likely agreement has further complicated the ongoing talks.

      Iraq's Deputy Parliament Speaker Khalid al-Attiya said any deal reached by the Iraqi government must be approved by deputies and the document will probably be rejected if American troops are immune from Iraqi law.

      According to the Iraqi constitution, any national agreement needs to be approved by a two-thirds majority in parliament, he pointed out.

      However, it seems unacceptable to the U.S. to let its soldiers be subject to Iraqi law, analysts say.

      Washington has SOFA pacts with many countries, which exempt U.S. troops from trial or prison terms abroad.

      Meanwhile, control of military operations and airspace, as well as detention of prisoners are all bones of contention between the two nations.

      Editor: Mu Xuequan



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