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This article forwarded from the San Francisco Examiner. It is a photo-journalist's account of one of the Voices in the Wilderness expeditions to deliver medical supplies to Iraq. THE OFFICIAL STORY ADAM KUFELD, Feb. 21 1999, ©1999 San Francisco Examiner URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/examiner/archive/1999/02 /21/ MAGAZINE8220.dtl Behind the headlines, it is the Iraqi people who are suffering, not Saddam Hussein Checking in at the Air Jordan ticket counter I remembered the words of '60s folk singer Phil Ochs: "But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say, you are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay," about the travel ban to Cuba. Thirty years later, those words still rang true. Under the U.N. Security Council embargo and current U.S. law, not only was it illegal to travel to Iraq, it was illegal to bring in the medicines and medical supplies that we were in the process of hoisting onto the airport scales. Seventy-thousand dollars worth of donated medicine. The five of us: Barbara Lubin, director of the Berkeley-based Middle East Children's Alliance and a four-time veteran of the trip, Jerry Berrigan, son of radical priest Philip Berrigan, Ingrid Kepler-May, a therapist from Berkeley, Lloyd Francis of the San Jose Mercury News and myself. We were part of a Voices in the Wilderness/Middle East Children's Alliance group. We were risking up to 12 years in prison and a million dollars in fines for "engaging in prohibited transactions relating to the embargo against Iraq," according to the U.S. Treasury Department. We joked that the excess baggage charge alone could send a couple of us on one of those bargain trips to Hawaii. But there was no turning back. As a photojournalist I questioned the "official story." I wanted to see, firsthand, the effects of my country's war and embargo on the civilians of Iraq. Kathy Kelly, campaign coordinator for the Chicago-based Voices in the Wilderness writes that the group is willing to "defy US. law by breaking the siege on Iraq imposed by the eight-year-long sanctions." Voices also "conscientiously objects" to laws they believe "violate international law and basic human rights," and they refuse to "participate in the enforcement of an embargo which uses food and medicine as a weapon," Kelly adds. On Dec. 3, 1998, Voices in the Wilderness received a Notice of Prepenalty from the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, threatening to impose fines of $163,000 on their organization, and several individuals, for their "exportation of donated goods, including medical supplies and toys." At this time, the status of their case is still pending. Nevertheless, on Dec. 17, in the midst of the most recent round of U.S. bombings, Voices in the Wilderness left for Baghdad again - with more medicines and toys. There have been 19 such Voices delegations that have traveled to Iraq on similar missions since January 1996. The embargo makes it impossible to fly directly into Iraq, so after 24 hours of travel, with stops in New York and Amsterdam, we arrived in Amman, Jordan, at 11p.m., their time. At that point I wasn't even sure what day it was our time." We had only one day to get our visas, bottled water, supplies and to inventory all the medical supplies we came to deliver. We figured that would leave us three to five hours of sleep before leaving at sunrise for our drive across the desert to Baghdad.... At 3:30 a.m. we crawled downstairs into the still cold night air and met Satar, our Iraqi driver. By the time we finished loading our '70s Suburban, the roof rack was piled high and every square inch inside was taken up, leaving us just enough room to squeeze in. Eighteen hours and lots of sweat later we arrived in Baghdad, a place that had always sounded so mysterious and romantic. Those notions quickly faded. Even though Operation Desert Storm had ended more than seven years ago, ruin was still apparent. We drove over bridges spanning the Tigris River, below which remained massive chunks of their former structures, bombed during the war. Some buildings were bombed in half and never rebuilt. What looked like housing projects had huge puddles of raw sewage surrounding them. During the war all 20 electric generating plants had been bombed, instantly destroying Iraq's ability to pump fresh water or process sewage, leaving more than five million people without drinking water. In 1991, U.S. Air Force Colonel John Warden told the Washington Post such actions "gave us long-term leverage on the Iraqi government" - although in real terms, it is the Iraqi people who have suffered, while Saddam Hussein continues to rule however he wants. The destruction of the generating plants instead created an epidemic of dysentery, cholera, typhoid fever and malaria. One of the first medical studies, covering eight months following the war's end, appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1992. It said that in those first eight months 47,000 children under the age of 5 had died of war-related causes. Since the start of the embargo, 750,000 children below age 5 have died because of the scarcity of food and medicine. And according to UNICEF, if the blockade continues, 1.5 million more children will eventually suffer malnutrition or a variety of unchecked illnesses because sanctions make antibiotics and other standard medicines impossible to get. Prior to the Gulf War, revenue generated by exporting oil enabled Iraqis to enjoy a fairly good standard of living. Despite the repressive rule of Saddam Hussein, in 1996** [[**HG: I think this should be 1986]] the World Health Organization presented this picture of the country: 93 percent of the population had health care, 90 percent had safe drinking water, the infant mortality rate was 52 per 1,000, life expectancy was 66 years and the female literacy rate was 85 percent. Iraq also produced about a third of the basic food requirements of its population and spent more than two billion U.S. dollars annually to import the balance. Since the war, most irrigation programs in Iraq have suffered due to the bombing, and because of the embargo spare parts for agricultural machinery are virtually nonexistent. As a result, food production has dropped steeply, leading to chronic and severe malnutrition among a large percentage of the population. This all came into distinct focus on our second day in Iraq, when we visited Baghdad's Al-Monsour Hospital for Children. Children, more like skeletons with skin, lay on sheetless beds, while their mothers fanned away flies. Their families spoke of their hopelessness - without medicines, what could be done? Others had sold everything they had to purchase black-market medicines. The cries of children reverberated through the halls. We tried to explain why we were there, why I was taking photographs. Some of the children's parents wept as they told us their stories, others berated us, saying: "We don't need photographs, we need medicine." Little medicine or equipment were in evidence. A visit to the pharmacy revealed very limited stock. Few incubators were working for lack of spare parts. In between hospital visits we went to the Amiriyah shelter, which, according to the Pentagon, was mistakenly bombed during the war. More than 1,000 people were burned or boiled to death as huge water tanks burst. Gruesome evidence of the bombing still exists, in outlines of bodies thrown against the wall. The roof, of 5-foot-thick reinforced concrete, shows an 8-foot-hole and crater below. The shelter's curator never leaves, having lost nine members of her family at the site, which has become a monument of war and a shrine to the dead. The next day, after discussions with the Red Crescent Society (the Middle Eastern Red Cross) we decided to take the medicines we had brought to Basra, where the need was even greater. (And where another raid has taken place since filing this story.) Closer to the Kuwaiti border, the bombing in Basra had been more intense. During the six-hour drive we passed what seemed like miles of destroyed car lots, brick factories and military posts of crumbling mud walls and barbed wire. We arrived in Basra at dusk. Stuck in traffic, a bus full of teenagers pulled alongside, playing instruments, singing and dancing in the isles. Noticing that we were bouncing along to the beat, they hung out the window and sang to us. Teenagers. Our hotel looked out over the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, a brown mixture of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, which flow into the Persian Gulf. The next morning we hired a small launch to cruise its many small islands. Whole families would come out to wave as we glided past the rusting hulks of sunken freighters. Eerier still were the groves of date palms, about half of which had been decapitated, strafed by fighter planes, destroying the date harvest for years to come. Finally we delivered our cargo of contraband to the Ali Baba Children's Clinic, run by an Italian Non-Governmental Organization called Bridges to Baghdad. It would be a drop in the bucket. We had heard about Iraq's abnormal rise in childhood leukemia and cancer. But again statistics didn't prepare us for the grim reality. At the Basra Pediatric and Maternity Hospital, a mother stood in the darkened corner of a room while her 5-year-old son, his face swollen, blood caked at the sides of his mouth, clung to his father. He was only one of many children in the ward who were dying of leukemia. It should be no wonder the hospitals were full of children with various forms of cancers and leukemia, or that spontaneous abortions and birth defects have been rising rapidly, considering the amount of Depleted Uranium (DU) (a by-product from the production of enriched fuel for nuclear reactors and weapons) that was left behind as war waste in the Persian Gulf. A secret British Atomic Energy Authority report to the London Independent in November 1991 warned that there was enough left to account for 500,000 potential deaths through increased cancer rates - though it noted that such a figure was an unlikely worst-case scenario. That figure, however, was based on an estimate that 40 tons of depleted uranium were left behind, when the actual figure is closer to 315, according to Pentagon reports on Gulf War Syndrome. Depleted uranium ammunition, which was fired by U.S. tanks and aircraft, was used for the first time in combat in the Gulf. It ignites on impact and easily blasts holes through tanks. Prior to the Gulf War, the Pentagon knew of depleted uranium's dangers. A July 1990 report, Kinetic Energy Penetrates, Environment and Health Consequences, prepared for the U.S. Army by the Science Application International Corporation, predicted that DU shells would generate large quantities of radioactive dust and that if that dust was ingested or inhaled, "short-term effects of high doses can result in deaths, while long-term effects of low doses have been implicated in cancers, kidney problems, and birth defects." "The long-term health effects to native and combat veterans may become issues in the acceptability of depleted uranium weapons," the report continued. The use of depleted uranium, which has a half life of 4.5 billion years, may be the most tragic and enduring legacy of the first Gulf War. It is also the most underreported aspect. In fact, there are more than 100,000 veterans with Gulf War Syndrome so far. Ironically, the U.S. administration has used Iraq's creation of chemical weapons to justify its use of what could be seen as an even more toxic weapon of war. In the aftermath of another U.S.-led attack on Iraq it's time to ask what, if anything, was gained? It gave Baghdad just the excuse it needed to end any cooperation with UN arms inspectors. It also angered many in the Arab world, who will now probably go out of their way to ignore the embargo. And, it angered many nations in Europe as well. No UN resolution calls for, or allows, unilateral acts by any member state in response to real or alleged Iraqi violations. It is unclear what impact, if any, the latest rounds of bombings had on the "weapons of mass destruction," repeatedly cited by President Clinton, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Defense and State Department and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. No one seems to know - and we have no way of evaluating the damage anymore, because our inspection capacity has been eliminated. Moreover, the recent revelations that the UNSCOM team secretly planted wiretapping devices inside some of the facilities they were inspecting - against the advice of some of their own staff - raises further questions about our credibility. Our current position seems to be that, as the world's last remaining superpower, we can do whatever we want - whether or not it achieves the goals we have stated. According to an article in the Boston Globe on Jan. 7 quoting a recent UNICEF report, "....bombs also hit a UN World Food Program warehouse, destroying 2,600 tons of rice destined for Iraqi civilians. One of the main water systems in Karrada, a Baghdad suburb, was hit by a cruise missile, cutting off water to about 300,000. In Basra, UNICEF reported that 10 schools suffered damage. And in Kirkuk, in the Kurdish north, a secondary school sustained a direct hit. In Baghdad, UNICEF said there were broken glass doors, and other damage at a maternity hospital, a teaching hospital, and an outpatients' clinic." And the U.S. strategy for the future? On Dec. 23, 1998, Defense Secretary William Cohen, on a two-day visit to U.S. troops in the Gulf, said Washington would keep enough troops and equipment in the region to be able to renew military attacks on Baghdad if needed. Standing on the 4.5-acre flight deck of the USS Enterprise, Cohen thanked the troops, saying "without you we wouldn't be the superpower we are." He added that any setback for Iraq's military, even if temporary, was worth the cost of the operation. One might wonder if he was referring to the one billion dollar cost to American taxpayers or the cost to the people and children of Iraq. Our last day in Iraq was as sad as our first. We loaded ourselves into our now almost empty Suburban and headed out of town. Before getting very far, however, we came across what we later learned was a bimonthly combination funeral procession and protest march. Below us, snaking through the streets, were 50 white and orange taxi cabs, each one with a small casket on its roof. Taped to the casket was a photograph of the child being carried inside, and leading the procession were the children's mothers. It may be rhetorical to ask what these people have done to deserve the wrath of the most powerful nation on earth. It seems it is up to the policy makers in Washington to answer the question. -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email firstname.lastname@example.org, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html