IRAQ: Weapons fear keeps old computers in class

Despite a report from the United Nations' education arm urging the UN to release the contract, Britain and America said they considered the numbers of computers to be excessive and were concerned about their possible "dual-use" for weapons development.

The block has now been released on condition that the computers, originally Pentium PCs exported by an Indian company, are downgraded to out-of-date models. The shipment is only enough to be distributed to students in 200 selected state schools in central and southern Iraq.

There are two other requests for computers still awaiting approval by the UN sanctions committee that vets all contracts.

Last month Dennis Halliday, the then UN humanitarian Co-ordinator, said:

"The devastation of the Iraqi education system requires much more than the current programme allows."

Certainly, such a slow, piecemeal introduction of out-of-date computer equipment will not bring Iraq and its children into the modern computer age. Before the embargo imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait the Iraqi government planned to introduce computers into all of its schools. Since 1990 they have fallen well behind in the computer revolution, unable to establish even one Internet connection.

"We've dropped out of history," said Ahmed Al-Mukhtar, a computer programmer and lecturer. His daughter, Rusul, attends Mutamizat, a private school for gifted girls. She studies computing there using computers bought before the sanctions. They would hardly be recognisable as such by students in Britain today. They won't even run a word-processing package. In class she and her friends share these "Flintstone" computers, as she calls them, one between three.

Rusul, however, is privileged. Most Iraqi schools, starved of equipment after eight years of sanctions, do not have enough desks let alone computers.

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