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Los Angeles: Hundreds rally against Iraq sanctions

By Bob McCubbin
Los Angeles

Some 500 people rallied March 7 to "End the sanctions against Iraq" at the Holman United Methodist Church here.

They gave life to a call made by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark to "build a truly massive coalition dedicated to ending militarism and economic exploitation by the U.S. government."

Like other speakers at the rally, Clark called economic sanctions "the most powerful weapon of mass destruction." He noted that U.S. sanctions imposed on Vietnam after the war ended killed more Vietnamese than the preceding 30 years of war did.

Voices in the Wilderness Executive Director Kathy Kelly returned from her most recent trip to Iraq on Feb. 26. She reported that the Iraqi people were very much heartened by news of the reception Ohio State University students gave Clinton administration officials.

While walking in the streets of Baghdad, Kelly heard people repeating the Ohio State students' chant: "One, two, three, four, we don't want your racist war."

Israeli crimes, punishment for Iraq

Michel Shehadeh-Western director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and leader of the Los Angeles-based Save the Iraqi Children Committee-chaired the rally. Rapid-fire, he asked the following questions from the podium:

"Which country in the Middle East has nuclear weapons?

"Which country in the Middle East refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and bars international inspectors?

"Which country in the Middle East seizes the sovereign territory of other nations by military force and continues to occupy it in open defiance of UN Security Council resolutions?

"Which American ally in the Middle East has sent assassins into other countries to kill its political enemies?

"In which country in the Middle East have high-ranking military officers admitted that unarmed prisoners of war were executed?"

At the end of each question, the audience of 500 responded in shouted unison, "Israel!"

Then came the final question. "What country is the U.S. threatening to bomb because UN Security Council resolutions must be obeyed?"

"Iraq!" was the answer.

Shehadeh directed one last question to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: "When innocent civilians are held as hostage for political demands, this is described as an act of terrorism. Madam Albright, how do you describe holding the whole population of Iraq hostage for political purposes?"

The Rev. James Lawson, who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., greeted the crowd. "We have for too long catered to those voices in our nation who want an American empire," he said-those "who want a plantation for the world with a few Americans as the masters, who want to have all the vast resources of the earth directed and used as they alone deem necessary, largely for their own greed."

Gloria La Riva visited Iraq last November as part of an International Action Center delegation. She said the suffering of Iraqi civilians is no accident.

"Iraqi people are the target of the sanctions, exactly as the Cuban people are the target of the U.S. blockade of Cuba," she said. "The message is, you will die unless you agree to do whatever the U.S. wants you to do, including overthrowing your government."

La Riva argued that nations must have the right to self-determination. "It is wrong," she emphasized, "for people here to get into a debate about what kind of government or what kind of leader Iraq should have."

She also urged that the whole audience become involved in the Medicine for Iraq campaign, which the IAC is launching.

There were solidarity messages from Blase Bonpane, executive director of Office of the Americas, and a representative of the Southern California Council on American Islamic Relations. And IAC West Coast Coordinator Richard Becker led a spirited fundraising interlude.

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