The unreported children's death

Observations on the media and Iraq

On 7 October, I e-mailed the editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, asking why his paper had not in any way commemorated the catastro-phic US bombing of Afghanistan, which had commenced exactly three years earlier. Rusbridger replied: "Why is a third anniversary particularly noteworthy?" In response, I sent a list of articles published in the Guardian on the third anniversary of 9/11. I suggested this was one more example of how his paper, like the rest of the media, focuses on western casualties of terror, while the suffering of our third world victims barely registers. He replied: "You do talk tosh sometimes."

A day later, the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) published a new global report. After 1990, Iraq had experienced a bigger increase in under-five mortality rates than any other country in the world. Though the rates had improved between 1999 and 2002, this trend had reversed under the occupation, Unicef said. Child deaths are once again approaching levels previously described as "genocidal" by senior UN diplomats who resigned in protest at the effects of sanctions on Iraq.

Ahead of last year's invasion, Tony Blair insisted that war would liberate "the thousands of children that die needlessly every year under [Saddam Hussein's] rule". And yet the "coalition" is now presiding over rates of infant mortality that have worsened since "the Butcher of Baghdad" was deposed. This news is all the more damning because, of the $18.5bn allocated for Iraq's reconstruction, the "coalition" has spent just $29m on water, sanitation, health and public safety.

Unicef notes that since the war, "more children in Iraq are malnourished, fewer children are protected from immunisable diseases and there has been an increase in the incidence of diarrhoeal disease". In September the agency reported that acute malnutrition among Iraqi children had almost doubled from 4 per cent to 7.7 per cent since the war began. Iraq's ministry of health also reported last month "a chronic shortage of medicines in the country".

So what kind of response would we expect from our free press? After all, Nick Cohen wrote in the Observer in March 2002: "I look forward to seeing how Noam Chomsky and John Pilger manage to oppose a war which would end the sanctions they claim have slaughtered hundreds of thousands of children . . ."

The Unicef report received brief mentions in two British papers. The Financial Times reported, in a matter-of-fact way, that under-five mortality had risen in 11 countries, including Iraq, since 1990. It did not mention that infant mortality has risen since the invasion. The Independent ignored the report but later noted "a catastrophic deterioration in health services . . . which has accelerated since the war", without exploring the significance.

As for the Guardian, it presented Iraq as just another item on Unicef's list of countries suffering dire infant mortality rates. Of the rising death toll under occupation, and our moral responsibility for it, not a word appeared.

In an interview with Robert Fisk of the Independent, the British kidnap victim Margaret Hassan once said of Britain's attitude towards Iraqis: "I don't think we see them as people."

This is not tosh; it's the ugly truth.