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report from VitW delegation in Iraq

This includes some interesting comments from the Director of the WHO in

From: Kathy Kelly <>

Dear Friends,  

Members of our most recent delegation to Iraq returned to the US
yesterday.  While in Baghdad, we wrote the following statement as a
summary of our activities during the trip.  It's lengthy, but we hope you
might find it useful in ongoing efforts to help people see that the crisis
in Iraq has not ended.  In 1991, the US government spoke of the ground war
against Iraq as the "100 hour war."  It seems to us that the 100 hour war
has lengthened now to a 100 month state of sige.  December 6, 1998 will
mark the end of the 100th month of economic sanctions imposed on Iraq.  We
hope you can consider ways to use that date for outreach and education in
your community.  Please let us know if there is any way that we could be
of assistance in raising nonviolent resistance to this cruel war.


Kathy Kelly
for Voices in the Wilderness

Press Statement
Voices in the Wilderness
November 24, 1998 Baghdad, Iraq

Contact: Voices in the Wilderness: Al Fanaar Hotel 7188007

The 18th Voices in the Wilderness (VITW) delegation arrived in Baghdad on 15
November, 1998.  Since March 1996 VITW has campaigned to end the US/UN economic
sanctions against Iraq.  In the past ten days, members have visited schools
and hospitals in Baghdad and Basra and met with three top UN officials in
Iraq, the head of the World Health Organization, the Deputy Director of
UNSCOM,and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq.  Mr. Tarik Aziz, Iraq's
Prime Minister, spoke with the delegation for over an hour on 24 November.
Below is a summary of our encounters.

The six US delegation members are from Chicago, New York, Seattle, St. Louis and
Worcester, MA.  Julia Guest, of London, Joined the team in Baghdad,
representing the UK campaign which began in January, 1998.  We came to stand
witness in case of a US attack on Iraq.  Instead of finding fear, we found
resignation.  One man was asked if he had participated in any air raid
drills, "Why practice going to a shelter?" he asked, "Even the shelters get
hit."  He was referring to the US attack on the Ameriyah shelter in
February, 1991.  The people we've met are vulnerable not only to bombardment
but also to the brutal effects of economic warfare, from which it's nearly
impossible to seek shelter.

Doctors at Basra's main hospital, where twenty to thirty children are born
each day, reported that last month alone, they delivered 80 infants who were
born with
congenital deformities.  This is  more than three times the rate of children
born with birth defects in the United States, according to the American
Academy of Pediatrics.  Chief Resident Dr. Abdul Firas Abbas introduced team
members to a 34 year old woman, Suat Jabar, who was eight months pregnant
and had just learned that her baby would be born without a brain.  There was
no previous family history of congenital birth defects.  Dr. Firas said that
normally three children were born, each day, with congenital deformities.
When he was a medical student, he would read about such cases and examine
pictures from foreign textbooks, but rarely encountered patients wit birth

When we asked about what improvements had come as a result of money made
available for medicines through Resolution 986, the "oil for food" deal, Dr.
insisted that he could observe no quantitative or qualitative improvement.
He then told the story of a woman who was infertile for ten years and then
finally gave birth to a child who was born with hypoglycemia, which, if
untreated, can lead to fatal brain damage.  The child needed a simple
hypertonic solution of glucose. salt and water, but none was available.
"Because of this unavailability of this simple, cheapest solution, the baby
died.  After 10 years of wait, the baby died because of the cheapest of
drugs.  It is very painful to us and to the family."

Another doctor estimated that the survival rate of children with leukemia is
less than 10% in Basra, whereas in the US and UK, the survival rate is
generally higher than 75%
(Leukemia Trust, Britain; Nelson's  Textbook of Pediatrics).

In Baghdad, a woman the team met at the Saddam Teaching hospital brought her
five month-old child, Fouad, to the hospital for the third time.  Fouad
suffered from severe gastroenternitis.  The woman's four other children had
already died.  Her grief and anxiety vividly represent our team's view that
economic sanctions are a form of warfare.  In an eight year state of siege
imposed on civilians, hospitals are the battlegrounds, children the casualties.

Dr. Habib Rejab, M.D., M.P.H., Director of the World Health Organization in
Iraq, met
with team members on 24 November.  Asked about distribution of medicines
under Resolution 986, he first noted that 1/3 of the available money goes
for compensation
expenses and UN supervision costs.  This leaves $210 million dollars to
spend on medicines and small amounts allocated for water treatment, and
improvements of
electrical, sanitation and education infrastructure.  The WHO mandate in
central and
southern Iraq is to report whether the Iraqi government distribution is
equitable and
occurring in accord with criteria set out by the UN.  "We check whether the
distribution criteria are respected.  We make sure the drugs have arrived in
the country...We go to warehouses and check by computer what has been
distributed and then we check physically at the distribution points.  There
are also independent geographical observers which check...all sorts of
observers...WHO and other independent observers have concurred to say that
the distribution is done in the most equitable way and according to the
criteria set forth."

We asked what problems exist for distribution in the south and central parts
of Iraq. "The storage network is so poor that perishable drugs are at risk
of losing efficiency," said Dr. Rejeb, pointing out that UN funds allowed
renovation of storage areas in the north, but not in central and southern
Iraq.  "Secondly, the supply of electricity is unreliable.  Vaccines are
rarely kept according to requirements.  There is no handling equipment, so
storage space is reduced.  There are no forklifts, no refrigeration trucks
to distribute to the governorates, and the governorates don't have cash to
pick up the medicines.  The governorates are informed to come and pick up
medicines on a certain date of the month and they don't come because they
don't have transport.  And this filters down:  The health centers can't come
to the centers in the governorates to pick up the medicines.  They have to
distribute a large quantity of drugs and they don't have computers."
Detailing other frustrations, Dr. Rejeb continued, " Medical records aren't
being kept properly because of lack of paper--notes are written on scraps of
paper.  The WCs in the hospital are insulting, the kitchens are in
lamentable situations, patients are without sheets.  I don't know if they
are buying chlorine or detergent to clean the floors now.  The equipment is
mostly obsolete now.  Okay, even if you get more medicines, if nothing else
has changed..."  Bert Sacks quoted WFP Director Holdbrook Arthur's
assessment that Resolution 986 will not solve the humanitarian problem in
Iraq.  "This we have said very clearly," replied Dr. rejeb, "The country -
everything - has collapsed.  If they are permitted to sell all they want it
will take them many, many years to rebuild the
country."  An estimated 3 billion dollars is needed to rehabilitate the
health sector and this will be impossible without cash.  Repairs are needed
for buildings, water and sewage systems, kitchens, beds and sanitation
systems.  "In the US," said Dr. Rejeb, "they figure that operating costs of
a hospital are 25% annually of what it costs to build the hospital.  Here
there were quite a few sophisticated hospitals built."

On 17 November, Deputy Director of UNSCOM Mr. Jakko Ylitalo, along with the
relations spokesperson Ms. Caroline Cross, met with our delegation.  Both
agreed that the consequences of sanctions are terrible and sad they are
eager for the sanctions to be lifted.  However, they felt they are
responsible only for the work of disarmament as described in their UN
mandate.  Ms. Cross agreed that when approached by members of the press for
statements she will encourage them instead to seek out her colleagues who
are working to alleviate human suffering in Iraq.  VITW wrote an open letter
to UNSCOM workers, which stated in part:

        "Iraqi Civilians are trapped in a situation over which they have no
        control. It seems to us that a conflict between UNSCOM and the
        Iraqi government could still trigger a massive attack that would
        compound the suffering of Iraqi people.

        The work of disarmament is important, yet we believe UNSCOM's
        efforts are being used to justify continuation of crippling
sanctions and
        possible military strikes.  In our view, as long as sanctions
        continue their devastation on the Iraqi people, there are
        bound to be other crises over weapons inspections.

        There are deep divisions within the Clinton administration over the use of
        force in Iraq.  The resignation of one or more UNSCOM members would
        strengthen the hand of those who advocate a diplomatic solution to this
        conflict. Such a public act would reduce the risk that UNSCOM
becomes the
        trigger for renewed military violence.  This protest would also
focus world
        attention on the weapon of mass destruction that sanctions have become.

        Last month Mr. Dennis Halliday resigned, as an act of conscience,
        over sanctions. Similar resignation by an UMSCOM official
        could avert an apparently inevitable military attack and
        serve as the cause of peace.  We know that the courageous act of one
        person can positively influence the course of world events.  We ask
        each of you to consider taking such a step."

Later that day, in a meeting with United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator
for Iraq,  Mr. Hans von Sponek, delegation members inquired as to what he
thinks of using economic sanctions to coerce a government's compliance with
UN rulings.  he asked with great intensity, "How could anyone in the United
nations approve of sanctions?"

Iraq's Prime Minister, Mr. Tarik Aziz, received the VITW delegation for an
hour-long visit on November 24.  He outlined a concise summary of the
breakdown in relations between the United States and the United Nations.  He
then described effects of economic sanctions as a warfare that kills
civilians.  Mr. Aziz asserted that there are no benefits for US people when
the US government meddles in the internal affairs of Iraq.  Instead of
spending 97 million dollars for killing, destruction, and the removal of the
current government of Iraq, he suggested allocating such money to find,
within the US, homes for the homeless, jobs for the jobless and to provide
food for people who can't eat. Delegation members told Prime minister Aziz
that determined groups of people, across the United States, want to live in
friendly, fair relations
with Iraqi people.  These individuals and groups actively seek an end to the
UN/US sanctions against Iraq.  Yet delegation members clarified several
times that these same individuals and groups are dedicated to protect human
rights in every place at all times, throughout the world and within Iraq.

The Voices in the Wilderness campaign advocates nonviolent resistance to
injustice and
opposes the development, storage, sale and use of any weapons in any area,
whether they are biological, chemical, nuclear, conventional or, in the case
of sanctions imposed on innocent civilians, economic.

The 18th Delegation of Voices in the Wilderness

Ken Hannaford-Ricardi, Worchester, MA
Kathy Kelley, Chicago, IL
Sr. Anne Montgomery, New York, NY
Bert Sacks, Seattle, WA
Mira Tanna, St. Louis, MO
Julia Guest, London, UK

Accompanying this delegation is Jeremy Scahill, a reporter for Pacifica Radio

Voices in the Wilderness
        A Campaign to End the US/UN Economic Sanctions Against the People of Iraq
1460 West Carmen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60640
ph:773-784-8065; fax: 773-784-8837

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