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Eyewitness Iraq

4th Iraq Sanctions Challenge returns

By Deirdre Sinnott

When the wheels of Royal Jordanian Flight 6874 touched the ground at Saddam International Airport in Baghdad, Iraq, on Jan 13, a piece of history was written.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and 50 delegates from the Iraq Sanctions Challenge had flown from the United States to Iraq.

This act of solidarity and international civil disobedience comes at a time of increased U.S. saber rattling and bombings against Iraq.

This Iraq Sanctions Challenge--the fourth such delegation--included people from 15 U.S. states and seven countries including Canada, Japan, Lebanon, Greece, Scotland, and Palestine. Among the delegates were students, teachers, longtime activists, social workers and lawyers.

The delegation did not apply for or receive permission from either the U.S. State Department or the United Nations Security Council's Sanctions Committee to fly to Iraq to bring medicine and school supplies.

"We believe that the UN Sanctions Committee, whose job it is to maintain the U.S./UN sanctions, is guilty of genocide and therefore not fit to judge who should and shouldn't travel to Iraq," said Gloria La Riva, co-director of the ISC.

According to reports from the UN's own organizations, the sanctions that were imposed in August 1990 after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait have killed over 1 million people. Most of them were either elderly, chronically ill or under 5 years old.

The ISC delegates learned firsthand about the effects of the sanctions.

They visited the Amariyah bomb shelter in a quiet middle-class neighborhood. This shelter had been filled mostly with women and their children when it was destroyed by two "smart bombs" in the early morning hours of Feb 13, 1991. Many people had sought a safe refuge from the intensive allied bombings.

Hundreds were incinerated instantly in an act the United States still calls "justified."

At the Saddam Hospital for Children, delegates learned that the UN 661 committee--the group that oversees all contracts under the Oil-for-Food Program--had just denied the right to purchase blood bags. Personnel at the hospital, which has 360 full beds, have to hand wash blood bags, disposable syringes and catheters.

Delegates toured a food distribution center. The center is part of Iraq's A-rated rationing system that, begun four days after the sanctions were imposed, has prevented mass starvation.

The rationing system allows each person per month: 3 kg. rice, 3 kg. flour, 2 kg. sugar, 1.25 kg. oil and 150 grams tea, salt, pepper, beans and soap. In addition, infants receive eight cans of milk and two cans of baby food. People supplement this diet with foods from the markets.

Depleted uranium & destruction

An investigating team from part of the delegation found "extremely high levels of radioactivity" in soil samples in the Iraqi desert south of Basra. In that region, during the 1991 war against Iraq, U.S. forces fired hundreds of thousands of shells reinforced with depleted uranium.

Ramsey Clark and New Mexican activist and researcher Damacio Lopez recorded the radioactivity. On Jan. 19, Clark reported his team's findings of high radiation levels at a news conference at the Italian Parliament in Rome.

Clark condemned the Pentagon's use of DU weapons in Iraq and Yugoslavia. He demanded that scientists from these countries be included in the investigation of DU's dangers to humans.

The delegates also traveled to the Al Wathba water treatment plant on the Tigris River. The plant serves 35 percent of Baghdad.

It needs 10 metric tons of chlorine per month to properly clean the water. But only three metric tons per month are allotted.

Most illnesses seen in the hospitals are due to drinking improperly treated water. The plant is deteriorating. Pumps and other equipment are badly in need of replacement.

The Rostamia Sewage Treatment Plant is also on the Tigris. It was built in 1963 and is badly in need of an overhaul.

Only 40 to 50 percent of the machinery and pumps work on any given day. Workers must continuously repair equipment.

The UN 661 Committee denied a contract for safety equipment like masks, gloves, and protective clothing. Workers have been killed and injured attempting to make repairs.

Sometimes, delegates were told, because of these and other problems, untreated sewage gets dumped directly into the Tigris. This causes an environmental hazard and more water problems and illness down river.

Parts to repair the machinery at both the sewage and water treatment plants have been on order for years, frozen by the 661 Committee.

End the sanctions now!

In 1995, when the "Oil-for-Food" deal was originally proposed, the Iraqi government opposed it, saying that it could provide for its own people if it was given control of its economy. "Oil-for-Food" has proven to be a financial bonanza for many--with the notable exception of Iraq and its people.

According to a report by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, from December 1996 to July 2000, $32 billion dollars of oil was sold. Only $8 billion reached Iraq--roughly $7 per person.

Instead, 30 percent of the $32 billion went to "compensate" Kuwait and several major U.S. oil corporations. $1.5 billion went to maintain UN operations like the UN Compensation Commission and the defunct spy operation UNSCOM.

UNSCOM was supposedly investigating "weapons of mass destruction." Instead it was planting powerful listening devices and coordinating targeting for U.S. and British bombing operations.

$12 billion are frozen in the Bank of Paris. $3.5 billion has been allocated for contracts that the 661 Committee has yet to approve--for electrical, health, culture, education, water and other needs.

Delegates also met with Dr. Manal Younis Abdul Razaq, the head of the Iraqi Federation of Women, the ministers of trade and health, and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

There were also visits to elementary schools, the school for the blind and Moustaserya University. Delegates sampled Iraqi culture at the Baghdad Museum. They visited the ancient site of Babylon, a 12th Century mosque, and a minaret built around 800 C.E.

After flying from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan, half the delegation stayed in Amman. There they visited the Wahadat Palestinian Refugee Camp and met with notables from the Palestinian struggle like Leila Khaled of the Palestine National Council and the Palestinian Women's Federation.

Khaled attracted world attention to the plight of the Palestinian people when she led a dramatic hijacking of a plane in 1969.

A high-level member of the Palestinian National Congress, Mr. Caswer Cuba, briefed the delegates on the state of the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations that were in progress.

Deirdre Sinnott was co-director
of the 4th Iraq Sanctions Challenge.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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