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Editorial: "Iraq - Suffering Silence"

The following ran yesterday in the "Monitor" of Concord, New Hampshire.
It's encouraging, as it raises sanctions' visibility in a state soon to be
innundated by presidential hopefuls, advisors, pollsters, and consultants
... all shadowed by a press corps that's bored to tears and looking for

As always, note the indispensible contributions of VITW's Kathy Kelly in
promoting this discussion.  Your comments may be sent to .

Editorial: Suffering silence 

We should be talking about the effect of sanctions in Iraq. 
Monday, November 8, 1999

Between the following two views of the American-led sanctions against Iraq
probably lies the truth. What's needed is the debate required to reveal it.

One view was expressed at the Monitor last week by Vice President Al Gore.
Suffering in Iraq is not caused by the economic sanctions, he said, but by
Saddam Hussein's decision to build palaces and strengthen his military
rather than sustain his people.

The other view was expressed at the paper the next day by Kathy Kelly, who
has traveled to Iraq many times in violation of U.S. law to bring medicine
there. Kelly says the sanctions themselves are to blame, leaving thousands
to die for lack of food or drugs while diminishing the lives of millions,
producing untold hardship with no end in sight.

Kelly represents a pacifist group called Voices in the Wilderness, whose
name reflects frustration over the American public's widespread disinterest
in Iraq.

Of her sincerity and courage there seems little doubt. Some of her views are
hard to credit, including the assertion that interlocking ownership of TV
networks, oil companies and arms manufacturers has created a vast web of
conspiracy regarding American policy in the Middle East.

More compelling, though, are her descriptions of life in Iraq eight years
after the Gulf War ended, and the questions her group raises. Given that
Saddam remains in power after eight years of sanctions, what really is the
goal of U.S. policy? By arming Iraq's neighbors and impoverishing its
people, isn't our policy as likely to radicalize Iraq as to tame it? If
Saddam were to fall, won't America's ability to influence what comes next be
limited by ill will generated by sanctions?

The Iraq Kelly describes was pinned to the mat by the aerial bombing during
the Gulf War and has been held down since by more bombing and sanctions.
Water treatment plants, power plants, irrigation systems and food storage
facilities remain in ruins, or operate at vastly reduced levels. Hospitals
lack medicine, even clean water. People lack work. It can take a day to send
a fax. And yet when children open a schoolbook, they still kiss the picture
of Saddam inside the cover.

This is not merely a matter of anecdotes, and you don't have to take Kelly's
word for it. The suffering in Iraq is well-documented. In 1998, a UNICEF
report said that 5,000 Iraqi children were dying each month because of
inadequate food and medicine. 

American leaders have said sanctions must remain in place as long as Saddam
remains in power. And Iraq is allowed to sell $5.2 billion in oil a year for
the purchase of food and medicine. The money is under the control of the
United Nations. But the amount may not be sufficient to address the people's
needs. What's more, everything from chlorine for water purification to spare
parts for refrigerator trucks is banned by the sanctions, because such
materials could be used to make chemical or biological weapons.

A number of United Nations officials have begun to question the efficacy and
morality of the sanctions. The Senate's rejection of the Test Ban Treaty may
weaken international support, too, because it undermines America's moral
authority to insist on Saddam's disarmament.

We suspect there is truth in Gore's suggestion that Saddam is manipulating
the suffering inside Iraq to his advantage. He is a brutal and repressive
leader, and it's hard to imagine that he's going hungry.

But eight years after the Gulf War, it should no longer be enough to justify
a policy by invoking Saddam's dark image. It is time to ask whether we are
joining Saddam in victimizing his people. Is that what our great nation
should stand for, and where will it lead?
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