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Veterans Wage Peace in Iraq
2 June 2002
On May 7, a team from Veterans for Peace descended on Iraq. Operating with great diligence, they efficiently completed their task and quietly withdrew later in the month. Building on the work of two earlier teams, their objective was to begin repairing two water treatment facilities in central Iraq and to raise funds for the equipment, parts and labor necessary to complete them.
The plants - in Baaqooba and Falooja - serve over 20,000 people, and bring to a total of 100,000 the number of civilians aided by the organization's efforts since 2000. The recent mission's goal was both humanitarian and educational: to deliver aid while drawing attention in this country to the slow death of the Iraqi people.
Had their operation been part of the military assault recently threatened by the Bush administration, it would almost certainly have been reported on the front page of every major newspaper in the United States. But if, like most Americans, you read and heard nothing about it, the reason is probably that their actions were designed not to wage war but to wage peace.
Shunning guns and bombs for pumps and tools, the efforts of the team, including Trish Kanous of St. Paul, were designed to let Iraqis know that the American people and the American government are two very distinct entities with often very different agendas. Ironically, the plants the group rebuilt are part of the same civilian infrastructure that the United States military targeted during the Persian Gulf war in 1991. That the facilities remain in disrepair over 11 years later stems from Iraq's inability to import the equipment necessary to rebuild them.
These import prohibitions are rooted in a sanctions regime imposed in 1990 by the United Nations but largely maintained by officials in Washington and London. In the years since the war, the sanctions have killed upwards of a million Iraqi civilians, including hundreds of thousands of children under the age of five, according to U.N. estimates.
Those dying are not high-ranking officials in Baghdad. Instead, they are those individuals largely powerless to rid their country of its dictator - dissent in Iraq brings torture, imprisonment, or worse - yet punished for the continued existence of this formerly US-backed regime.
Washington's ability to maintain its assault on the Iraqi civilian population has depended on its successful effort to identify the country almost exclusively with Saddam Hussein. For many Americans, there are no Iraqi people, only a dangerous Iraqi tyrant. But Iraq is no more just Saddam Hussein than the United States is just George W. Bush. Iraq is a country of children and their parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Like people everywhere, Iraqis are students and intellectuals, workers and farmers, Muslims and Christians, atheists and agnostics.
While receiving relatively little media coverage in the United States, the movement of which Veterans for Peace is a part has caused considerable concern in Washington. In fact, facing substantial international pressure, the United States agreed in May to a revised sanctions regime that allows for the import of a greater number of items.
At first glance this might appear to be a victory for basic human decency, but such a modification is, in fact, only cosmetic. Tom Sager, a retired professor from Rolla, Mo., went to Iraq with the group. "The new so-called 'smart sanctions' are an attempt to put a kind face on a murderous policy," he said. "This policy will not rebuild Iraq's health sector or provide clean water for its people. It does nothing to provide the foreign investment needed to revitalize Iraq's oil industry or the cash necessary to pay its teachers and health care workers. At best, it may provide a slight improvement in living conditions. It is equivalent to providing a Band-Aaid where major surgery is needed. We remain unequivocally opposed to sanctions."
The Iraqi people, not Saddam or his officials, suffer most from U.S. policy. Until the sanctions are lifted, civilians will tragically continue to die. The morally bankrupt policies that the United States insists must continue killed hundreds of Iraqi children last week. The sanctions are killing hundreds of children this week, and they will kill hundreds more next week.
For months the Bush administration has been preparing this country for another war with Iraq. Americans must demand that the carnage finally end.
Scott Laderman and Barry Riesch