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Aid worker finds Iraqis calm as war looms

Humanitarian aid is unloaded at Saddam international aiport in Baghdad Keystone

Despite the threat of a United States-led attack on Iraq, it is business as usual in Baghdad, according to a Swiss aid worker stationed in the country.

Daniel Beyeler, who has been in Iraq since December 2002, says the shops are well stocked and there are no signs of panic buying.

“It’s still quite calm,” Beyeler told swissinfo. “Daily business is ongoing – there’s no problem at all.”

And although there is some anger at the thought of war, in his experience most Iraqis are not hostile towards westerners, he says.

“They are really kindly, they are open-minded, they are really friendly, there is no aggression concerning America.”

Ready for war

They tell me they are prepared for war,” said Beyeler, who works for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), which has been providing aid to Iraq since 1993 and has a budget of SFr5 million for its work there this year.

The former businessman said most Iraqis were used to wartime living conditions, having experienced the war with Iran in the 1980s and the Gulf War in the 90s.

People were simply trying to live normal lives, and the fact that almost everything was available in Baghdad’s shops was helping them to do so.

Television sets, kitchenware, Italian spaghetti and foodstuffs manufactured by Swiss food concern Nestlé were all readily available thanks to the “many holes” in the United Nations’ embargo, Beyeler said.

And, as a major oil-producing nation, there was no shortage of petrol in Iraq either.

“Cars are not luxury items in Iraq. Petrol is cheaper than mineral water, so Baghdad is on the move,” the aid worker said.

Supplies for six weeks

Despite the appearance of plenty in Baghdad, two thirds of the Iraqi population are estimated to be dependent on supplies obtained under the UN oil-for-food agreement.

Normally rations are enough for four weeks, but January’s delivery was enough for six weeks, to cover for the event of war breaking out.

“If the system collapses, the people have enough to eat at least for six weeks, but afterwards there’s nothing,” Beyeler warned.

He said that in the event of war the SDC would do all it could to help humanitarian work continue.

“For us it’s important to help our partners here on the spot as long as we can. We support the ICRC, the UN organization and smaller NGOs.”

But Beyeler said he still hoped war could be avoided and ended all his emails with the words “salâmu aleêkum” – peace be with you.

swissinfo, Billi Bierling

Daniel Beyeler of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation has been in Baghdad since December.
He says the Iraqis are calm at the prospect of war and are prepared for it. Shops in Baghdad are well stocked and there is no panic buying.
But reserves of food will only last for six weeks.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR