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Bert Sacks op-ed piece

Date: Sun, 3 May 1998 08:40:17 -0700 (PDT)
From: Kathy Kelly <>

Dear Friends,  

Below is an article that Bert Sacks, of Seattle, WA, recently wrote.  Bert
traveled with the November '96 delegation and returned to Iraq again in
November '97.  Please feel free to use any or all of it for education,
outreach and publication.

The International Action Center has managed to pull together visas, flights,
press packets and 80 very determined people to travel, May 6, as the Iraq
Sanctions Challenge.  Lets hope this concerted effort, led by Bishop Tom
Gumbleton and former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark,  can dent US public
awareness - bringing home to cities and towns across the US reports and
images of what's happened to Iraqis under 7 1/2 years of  siege.  

It may be that the US state department was very keen to swiftly organize the
Americares humanitarian shipment which flew into Iraq last week with 32 tons
of medicines--a shipment like that helps offset reports of civilian
suffering with an impression that the US is doing its best to alleviate

The message of Americares -- nonpolitical concern for the suffering in Iraq
coupled with support for continued sanctions -- misses the boat.  We feel
sure the answer continues to be, "End the sanctions," yet who would deny the
overwhelming need for every oz. of the medicine Americares took in.   

I'll leave today for Amman, along with three of International Action
Center's workers, to assist with advance work for the Iraq Sanctions
Challenge delegation.  Brad Simpson, Soyun Kim and Mike Bremer will 'hold
the fort' here in Chicago--please do let them know if you have any ideas,
questions or suggestions for us.  And please forgive me if you've written
lately and haven't gotten a response.  Hope to catch up in late May.


Kathy Kelly
for Voices in the Wilderness  

500,000 Iraqi Children Have Died: "Oh My God!"

by Bert Sacks  Seattle, WA  206-548-9566  (Bert is a civil engineer who has
traveled to Iraq two times, with Voices in the Wilderness, most recently in
November, 1997).  

I recently returned from several weeks traveling on the East Coast,
speaking to people about what I had seen in Iraq in 1996 and 1997.  I would
call up the State Department or Thomas Friedman's office in Washington, DC,
or PBS's Frontline office in Boston, and start trying, with a secretary, to
"talk my way in."  Fairly soon on I would ask that secretary the question:
By the way, do you know how many children have died in Iraq since the start
of sanctions?  None of the secretaries knew the answer.  I would tell them
500,000 Iraqi children have died from sanctions.  The spontaneous reaction I
got several times, and the one I most hoped for, was "Oh, my God!"
If I heard "Oh, my God," or something similar, then I knew the person would
be sympathetic.  Most people are startled to hear that 500,000 pre-school
children --- and a million civilians --- have died in Iraq.  People aren't
surprised that in Cambodia or Rwanda a million civilians have died.  But in
Iraq mostly we've been told that civilians are "suffering hardships."  When
people hear the number of Iraqi deaths for the first time, no one has every
said to me: It can't be, because I follow the news and would know of it.
People recognize immediately that what has been going on is a major news
The New York Times of March 22, 1991, a few weeks after the end of the Gulf
War, presents this misrepresentation just as it was about to start.  The
lead story, "U.N. Survey Calls Iraq's War Damage Near-Apocalyptic," covers
the first report on Iraq after the war.  That UN report concludes: "It is
unmistakable that the Iraqi people may soon face a famine [and epidemics] if
massive aid life-supporting needs are not rapidly met.  Time is short."  The
same story presents the U.S. administration view that "by making life
uncomfortable for the Iraqi people it [sanctions] would eventually encourage
them to remove President Saddam Hussein from power."
In the years since then, the U.S. view (using famine and epidemic while
calling it "making life uncomfortable") has deeply biased Western opinion
and reporting.  Initially, there was important news coverage of the famine
and epidemics that were predicted.  PBS' Frontline did an hour-long program,
"The War We Left Behind," in which Pentagon war strategist Colonel John
Warden explains that we bombed the electrical plants (and water works) of
Iraq to create "long-term leverage."  The program then showed the results:
no clean water, sewage in the streets, and many, many children dying from
epidemics of water borne diseases.  But by the time the first scientific
study appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine (9/24/92), despite a
reported "excess" of 46,900 Iraqi children's deaths in the first eight
months of 1991, the story was no longer "news."  By 1996, Frontline's
four-hour program on the fifth anniversary of the war made no mention of
deaths from sanctions at all.
After 1991, the misrepresentation hinted at in the New York Times story had
pretty much taken hold.  Sanctions, which UN data indicate cause 50,000 to
100,000 Iraqi children's deaths every year, are regularly described in our
media as causing "suffering" or "hardships."  The reason behind this
misrepresentation is clear.  For years we said we've been using sanctions to
try to overthrow Saddam Hussein or to force him to reveal his weapons
programs.  In both cases, we openly admit we are using sanctions to coerce
the Iraqi people or the Iraqi government.  If we initiated and now maintain
sanctions (with our UN veto), how can anyone believe we don't have
responsibility for their consequences?
Yet some influential people say just this.  A. M. Rosenthal's opinion piece
in The Seattle P-I (12/9/97) begins: "For seven years Saddam Hussein has
murdered Iraqi children, thousands."  Can Mr. Rosenthal not know that
100,000's of Iraqi children have died?  He wrote there have never been
sanctions on medicines.  I have a letter from Mr. David Harmon of the U.S.
Treasury Department warning the group I travel with of 12-year jail
penalties and a $1 million fine for bringing the most basic medicines to
Iraq.  Mr. Rosenthal implies (and President Bush repeatedly said) that we
don't intend harm to the Iraqi people.  I have asked State Department
spokesperson Andrew Steinfeld why --- if we intend no harm --- we support
ANY limit on the sale of oil in the "oil for food" deal.  All purchases are
completely controlled by the UN.  Current limits have left 960,000 Iraqi
children chronically malnourished (UNICEF, 11/26/97).  He had no answer!
It is sad to conclude that we withhold food, medicine, and safe water from
civilians to coerce Iraq.  Whatever we say about the morality of the Iraqi
government, how does that make OUR policy moral?  Or practical?
What can be done?  UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's trip to Iraq and the
world's wonderful response to his diplomatic success gives us a direction.
The Chicago Tribune ran a front-page story (3/16/98) which contains the
advice "lift the sanctions because the punishment cannot go on" and "deal
with Hussein as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has done."  When the world
so supported Kofi Annan's success, everyone knew that forcing our will with
military strikes would be unacceptable.
The world's opposition to our "tough" policy towards Iraq should give us
cause to rethink.  But if we don't rethink with honesty, we'll be lost.
This means not calling a million deaths in Cambodia or Rwanda "murder," but
in Iraq "hardships."  This means not falsifying our own intentions.  This
means remembering that 20 million people live in Iraq, not just one.  This
means not demonizing our "enemy" when it suits us, and ignoring the same
behavior when that suits us.  Without honesty we are lost.  We are very lost
in our foreign policy towards the people of Iraq.

Voices in the Wildernss
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; f: 773-784-8837

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