BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- More than 70,000 Iraqis, nearly half of them children under 5, died in the first half of 1996 because six years of U.N. sanctions have made medicine scarce, a government newspaper said Thursday.
Al-Thawra, citing a health ministry source, said 70,274 Iraqis died because of a lack of medicine. The report could not be confirmed, but relief organizations have consistently reported higher rates of disease, malnutrition and infant mortality.
The sanctions were imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
In Geneva, meanwhile, Iraq demanded that it be allowed to use some of the proceeds from its oil sales -- intended to compensate victims of the invasion and the subsequent Persian Gulf War -- to pay its legal costs stemming from those victims' claims.
Deputy Foreign Minister Riyadh al-Qaysi said Wednesday that Iraq told a U.N. panel it needed the money to present an adequate defense, but was told to appeal to the U.N. Compensation Commission.
Iraq forwarded the request last week to the commission's governing council, which will not meet again until October.
The Iraqi request could have the effect of slowing the commission's consideration of some 214 billion in claims against Iraq.
At issue is about $100 million a month that the commission is to receive under an "oil-for-food'' agreement reached in May. The agreement lets Iraq sell $2 billion worth of oil over a six-month period, despite the U.N. sanctions.
Under the agreement, 30 percent of that money would go to the commission, which would use it to pay claims against Iraq. The rest of the money goes back to Iraq to buy food and medicine.
The United States delayed the start of the deal by blocking U.N. approval of procedures for Baghdad's limited oil sales on Wednesday.
U.S. officials have said they want to make sure that there are enough U.N. monitors to inspect the oil exports and the food and medicine imports to guarantee that Saddam Hussein's government doesn't divert them.
The United States was the only member of the 15-nation Iraq sanctions committee that opposed the procedures, according to Antonius Eitel, head of the committee. Committee decisions must be unanimous.
Before the Gulf War, Iraq was one of the most affluent countries in the Middle East, with the government taking in an average of $10 billion a year from oil sales.
The health crisis illustrates how much damage the sanctions have done.
In 1989, the year before the embargo came into force, only 2,278 people died in Iraq because of a lack of medicine, Al-Thawra said. Of the 70,274 it said died in the first half of this year, 26,436 of them children under 5.
According to UNICEF, about 4,500 Iraqi children have been dying each month from a variety of illnesses, compared with 600 a month before the Gulf War.
The United Nations has demanded that Iraq dismantle its mass-destruction arsenal, pay war reparations and account for some 600 people Kuwait says disappeared during Iraq's occupation of the emirate. Until then, it says, the sanctions will remain.
=A9 Copyright 1996 The Associated Press