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The Voices Opposing The War Against The Iraqi People Are Growing Louder by Sylvia Shihadeh
Published on Monday, February 28, 2000 in the Austin American-Statesman
The Voices Opposing The War Against The Iraqi People Are Growing Louder
by Sylvia Shihadeh

The voices opposing the war against the Iraqi people are growing louder.

It began with a few brave citizens traveling to Iraq to learn about conditions precipitated by a brutal and inhumane economic embargo and challenging the notion that systematic killing of the most vulnerable -- the children, the sick, the aged -- was necessary.

Then 54 U.S. Catholic bishops voiced their concern. The pope and religious leaders around the world joined in.

Now, 70 members of the House of Representatives have pleaded with President Clinton to lift the sanctions, with one of them calling it "infanticide raised to the level of policy."

And for the second time, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator, the person in charge of saving lives in Iraq, has resigned in protest, saying he could not be silent in the face of such suffering. The World Food Program official in Iraq also turned in her resignation.

"The tragedy must end," said Hans von Sponeck, the U.N. official. The cause of the tragedy is well known. After Iraq's civilian infrastructure was destroyed by bombing during the 1991 Gulf War, the harshest regime of economic sanctions in history has remained in place. The lack of adequate nutrition, health care and clean water has turned Iraq from a prosperous society with extensive social services into a devastated wasteland.

As a direct result of the sanctions, at least 1 million -- more than half of them children -- have died, according to U.N. statistics. Today, about 5,000 children under the age of 5 to die every month.

Why are the sanctions in place? Because the United States rejects the international consensus and demands that the embargo remain. The cover story is fear of the Hussein regime rebuilding weapons of mass destruction and threatening neighbors. Throughout the 1980s, such concerns didn't bother policy-makers, for Hussein was a U.S. ally.

The real story of U.S. policy is about control of the resources of the Middle East and the profits that flow from those resources. It is about the imposition of unilateral control and a rejection of international diplomacy.

The anti-sanctions movement is gaining strength, as people begin to understand that systematically starving children is not an acceptable policy. Sanctions are not an alternative to war; they are a different kind of war, every bit as brutal.

In the past year in Austin, we have been lucky to hear from many experts who have been traveling to raise their voices to tell the truth. Denis Halliday, the first humanitarian coordinator to resign in protest, last year pleaded with people to pressure the U.S. government to change course. And Kathy Kelly, one of the courageous dissenters who has organized countless trips to Iraq to deliver supplies and hope, asked us to think about what we would say to an Iraqi parent cradling a baby who would die from lack of simple medicine.

What would we say to that parent? And what will we say to the leaders of this country who have said that the deaths of more than half a million children are "worth the price"?

Will we raise our voices? Will we keep speaking the truth until the administration hears, and this tragedy is ended?

Shihadeh is president of the Austin chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.


Copyright 2000 Austin American-Statesman

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