KATHY KELLY was 37 days into a 40-day fast and vigil near the United
Nations when terrorists brought down the World Trade Center towers and
massacred 6,000 people. The co-founder of an organization working to end the U.
N. Security Council's economic sanctions against Iraq, Kelly and her cohorts
continued to fast but quietly finished the final three days of the vigil in a
church parish in Brooklyn. They also began to move about downtown Manhattan.
"People in this country have a terrific capacity for compassion. You saw it
all over New York," said Kelly. "And the closer you were to the (disaster)
site, the more you heard people say things like, 'I never want to see this
happen to other people.' "
In 13 trips that Kelly has made to Iraq in the past 11 years, she has heard
hundreds of Iraqis express similar sentiments. One of the most recent was a
young mother with whom Kelly sat just moments after the woman saw her 6-month-
old son die. A dose of ordinary antibiotics would have saved the baby, but --
since the end of the Persian Gulf War -- there has been no such thing as
ordinary medicine in Iraq. Or food. Or water.
"The woman looked at me and said, 'I pray this will never happen to a
mother in your country,' " said Kelly. "If people here knew as well as they
know about JonBenet Ramsey what has happened in Iraq in the last 11 years, I
don't think the economic sanctions would have survived the light of day."
Since Sept. 11, we Americans have had to go out of our way to remain
ignorant about Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. Many of the answers to
"Why do they hate us so much?" have been the grim realities that Kelly has
decried for years.
Suddenly, the name of her group, Voices in the Wilderness, is a little less
accurate. All sorts of Americans, not just college students and peaceniks,
have begun to understand the pain and death that have been inflicted in our
Perhaps chief among the transgressions are the deaths of a half-million
Iraqi children that UNICEF ties directly to the short Persian Gulf War and the
protracted economic sanctions: They have failed to oust Saddam Hussein but
have eviscerated his nation's infrastructure. Worse, as recently declassified
documents from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency demonstrate, American
officials knew this would be the outcome.
As early as January 1991, the DIA predicted that damage to Iraqi water
treatment plants could "lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of
disease." By March 15 of that year, the DIA documents note that only 5 percent
of Iraq's original water supply remained potable and that "there are no
operational water and sewage treatment plants." Of the mounting cases of
diarrhea and respiratory infections spreading through the country: "Children
particularly have been affected by these diseases."
Despite this and more unspeakable cruelty -- visited upon a besieged
civilian population in the name of harming an entrenched despot -- Kelly says
she has been amazed at the lack of bitterness toward the people of the United
"Over and over, the Iraqis have told me, 'We know you're not your
government. We know your people would never do this to us,' " she said. "Some
of the people who can best understand what is being suffered by New Yorkers
are these people who are themselves targeted civilians."
To those who insist that the Iraqis could simply overthrow Hussein, Kelly
says, get real: "There is not a thing they can do anymore than if they were on
a hijacked plane."
Later this month, Kelly will join the former U.N. humanitarian coordinator
for Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, for a series of talks in the Bay Area. The
schedule and venues can be found at www.peaceandjustice.org or by calling
(650) 321-4464. As a current bumper sticker puts it: "Your ignorance is their
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle