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Voices for the Voiceless
2 November 2001
What if honesty was the policy of the U.S. mainstream news media? Then, the Iraqi people would be sources of news. They would tell their stories about life under the U.N. economic sanctions to the American people. However, this is not the case. So Kathy Kelly and Hans von Sponek have toured the West Coast to give a voice to the voiceless people of Iraq.
Kelly, co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness, an anti-sanctions group based in Chicago, has led 39 delegations of American and British citizens to Iraq. There, they have seen the horrific effects on the civilian population of Iraq since the sanctions began August 6, 1990, disrupting that nation’s economic relations with the outside world.
“Passionate commitment is needed now more than ever to get the sanctions story out in light of Sept. 11,” Kelly said.
“Iraqi society has been destroyed,” von Sponek said. He is a former U.N. Assistant Secretary General who resigned his position last February as head of the U.N. Oil for Food Program in Iraq to protest the sanctions. “There is no money for teachers, civil servants and civilian infrastructure in Iraq.”
The people of Iraq’s middle class are now paupers, he continued. College professors sleep on the floor on mattresses, having sold all of their furniture to survive.
Meanwhile in the U.S., Congress debates how to fund Medicare. Drug manufacturers lobby politicians, who, in turn, decide in part how much to spend on prescription medications.
In Iraq, the elderly should be so lucky. “Imagine older people without medications,” Kelly said. Before Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and the U.N. economically sequestered Iraq, people there had easy access to health care. What health care does exist there now is inadequate to meet their needs under the sanctions.
Case in point is Iraqis who survive regular U.S.-British bombings—there is no morphine to take for their pain. Under the sanctions, morphine is a “dual use” item that can be used by the military, so it is barred from entering Iraq, according to von Sponek.
“I used to visit hospitals in Baghdad after these bombings and see burn victims without pain-killing medications,” he said.
Newsworthy? Kelly and von Sponek said they get blank stares conveying to mainstream editorial boards in America such examples of the degradation and humiliation experienced by the Iraqi people.
Kelly said that the effects of the Iraq sanctions are the best-kept secret in America. A recent New York Times article reprinted in the Oct. 28 Sacramento Bee perhaps unknowingly reveals the actual barbarity of U.S. Iraq policy in the context of possible attacks in America.
A professor at Iowa State University, Neil E. Harl, was quoted as saying, "The terrorists know the surest way to bring a country to its knees is to attack the food and water systems."
Thomas J. Nagy wrote in the Sept. 2001 issue of the Progressive, "I've discovered documents of the Defense Intelligence Agency proving beyond a doubt that, contrary to the Geneva Convention, the U.S. government intentionally used sanctions against Iraq to degrade the country's water supply after the Gulf War. The United States knew the cost that civilian Iraqis, mostly children, would pay, and it went ahead anyway." That price includes the deaths of a half-million Iraqi kids from preventable diseases. How many Americans know about these innocent victims of the Iraq sanctions? Dialogue inside and outside of the U.N. is the way forward, von Sponek said. He also advocates military sanctions against buyers and sellers in the Middle East as a way to demilitarize the region.
According to Kelly, peacemakers have to be as committed to making peace as warmakers are to making war. Americans can look for examples to the people she has visited in Iraq, a nation of 23 million.
“The Iraqi people have shown nothing but relentless hospitality during our delegations,” Kelly said. “They never made us feel how contemptible U.S. policy is toward them.”