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Iraq sanctions in protesters’ spotlight

By NCR Staff

Sixteen people were arrested Jan.16 on the steps of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. They were part of a larger group of activists from across the nation who marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the Gulf War by protesting the economic sanctions and bombing that have devastated the Iraqi people.

Those arrested included Jesuit Frs. Daniel Berrigan, Simon Harak and John Dear along with Kathy Kelly, who was nominated for the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize, according to a news release from Voices in the Wilderness.

Voices in the Wilderness, a group Kelly helped found, began its campaign to stop the sanctions against Iraq in January 1996 when the group declared its intent to openly carry medicines and medical relief supplies to Iraq in public violation of the sanctions.

Although the Gulf War lasted only 42 days, sanctions and bombings in the U.S.- and British-imposed No Fly Zones have killed between 1.5 and 2 million people over the past 10 years. The United Nations Children’s Fund has stated that one in 10 children under the age of 1 will die before their first birthday as a direct result of the sanctions.

The protesters shared a simple meal of lentils, rice and pita bread, based on the daily food ration of ordinary Iraqi families under the U.N. and U.S. economic sanctions. Unpurified water from the East River was brought to the meal to symbolize the contaminated water that many Iraqis have to drink.

Sixteen activists from the group attempted to enter the U.S. Mission to invite the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrook, and other workers at the mission to share the meal and reflect on the deadly effect of the sanctions on Iraqi children and other civilians. They were arrested on the steps of the mission.

The incoming presidential administration has said it would toughen the U.S. position on sanctions, even though 10 years of that policy has not phased Iraq’s military regime.

The Associated Press reported that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, ignoring the effects of sanctions on the Iraqi people, marked the Gulf War’s 10th anniversary by saying that the conflict was a glorious moment in his country’s history.

According to Reuters, analysts say Hussein’s government appears more secure than it has been in years as support for economic sanctions erodes and the international community grows more sympathetic toward the Iraqi people.

In response to President Clinton’s approval of $99 million to support Iraqi opposition activities aimed at overthrowing Hussein’s government, an Iraqi official said Jan. 15 that Hussein wanted to donate 100 million euros ($94 million) to poor Americans.

According to Reuters, a senior Iraqi official said that Iraq would reciprocate any positive move made toward it by the new U.S. president.

National Catholic Reporter, January 26, 2001