Iraq and the U.N. duke it out over pencils

Officials decide the recently donated writing implements don't violate sanctions.


J.A. Getzlaff
February 25, 2000 10:00PM (UTC)

If you invade another country, you've gotta pay the price, says the United
Nations, which has been sticking it to Iraq since Saddam Hussein
invaded Kuwait in 1990.

The price has been a series of stiff and controversial sanctions against Iraq, leaving Iraqi citizens with a shortage of food and medical supplies. But who knew they were doing without pencils?

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According to an Associated Press report, the first major pencil shipment in
years floated onto Iraqi shores recently, compliments of the Jordanian group
the National Mobilization Committee for the Defense of Iraq. The 3.5
million writing implements eventually made it into the hands of the Iraqi Students
Union. Iraqi students are given approximately 12 pencils a year by their
government.

But before the pencils had been handed off, the United Nations rushed to the scene to inspect the shipment. Officials finally decided to OK the transaction,
stating that it had never banned pencil imports in the first place. George
Somerwill, the U.N. spokesman in Baghdad, said, "To my knowledge there is no ban on pencils and they have been coming in plentiful quantities."

The Iraqi Embassy in Jordan disagreed; officials claim pencils were on a U.N.
list of banned imports to Iraq, because the world body feared Saddam would use the graphite for military purposes.

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Somerwill responded that military use of pencils is "extremely unlikely."

Tell that to the fallen heroes of the Great Pencil War.


J.A. Getzlaff

J.A. Getzlaff's Daily Planet appears every weekday. Do you have a tip or tale for J.A.? Send it to DailyPlanet@salon.com.

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Iraq Middle East

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