American protesters in Iraq mark sanctions anniversary

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Four American demonstrators camped outside Baghdad's U.N. compound on Sunday, saying they won't eat for three days to protest the effects of 10 years of crippling international sanctions on Iraq.

Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness, an anti-sanctions group she helped found in her Chicago living room four years ago, said other demonstrations were taking place around the world Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the sanctions.

The protests, she said, were to draw attention to the plight of Iraqis under the sanctions, which bar the country from trading with the rest of the world except through a limited United Nations-sanctioned loophole.

Across a highway from the U.N. compound in Iraq, the four Americans set up a tent under a few trees - scant protection from a fierce sun that has pushed temperatures up to 122 degrees this summer. They vowed to consume only water for the next three days.

''What we are doing is nothing compared to the suffering of Iraqis,'' Kelly said. ''We hope that our government will wake up to the fact that thousands of innocent people are dying because of their political ambitions.''

The United Nations imposed the sanctions four days after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which led to the Persian Gulf War. The U.S. government has been the chief backer, saying the sanctions must remain in place until Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has proven to U.N. inspectors that he has given up his weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. officials say Saddam's refusal to comply is to blame for an economic collapse that has degraded health and education in Iraq and left many of his citizens dependent on U.N. food rations.

Kelly was joined in the anti-sanctions fast by three other Voices in the Wilderness activists: Lauren Cannon of Dover, N.H.; Lisa Gizzi of St. Paul, Minn., and Mark McGuire of Winona, Minn.

They and two others - Ken Hannaford-Ricardi of Worcester, Mass., and Tom Jackson of Dover - arrived last month to spend two months in Iraq, mostly in the southern city of Basra, where the six have been living on the same food rations as Iraqis and coping with power cuts, bad water and a damaged sewer system.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Voices in the Wilderness activists said Dave Rolstone of Wales climbed part way up the Millennium Wheel - London's 450-foot-tall Ferris wheel - to protest the sanctions.

In Washington, more than 300 people, including Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader and folk singer Pete Seeger ended a day of marches and rallies with a protest in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House.

''This policy represents a massive injustice against Iraqi civilians,'' said Nader. ''And it must be ended - not after Mr. Clinton leaves office, but now.''

Charles Sheehan-Miles, who said he served with the Army's 24th Infantry Division during the Gulf War, said the policy of sanctions was not working and should be ended immediately.

''We're causing people to die; it's time to end this,'' he said.

In Amman, Jordan, more than 200 activists called for the sanctions to be lifted during a rally outside U.N. offices. They handed over a letter at the office addressed to Kofi Annan that urged the U.N. Secretary-General ''side with justice and humanity'' and get the sanctions lifted.

Iraq held no official commemoration of the anniversary, but a government newspaper, al-Thawra, on Sunday called on the international community to ''participate in destroying the sanctions wall.''

Aqeel Sadoun, a 32-year-old Iraqi civil servant, said that in the first few months of the sanctions, he feared ''we would all die from starvation.

''Now we, sometimes, even forget that there are sanctions imposed ... we have learned how to live and deal with it.''

Sadiq Bachai, 45, said he supplements his monthly civil service pension of $3.50 with work as a teacher by day and the school's security guard at night, adding $27.50 a month.

Bachai, who can also buy food at a government discount for his family of eight, believes he is doing better than most Iraqis.

''Working long hours is tiring, it makes it hard for me to see my children,'' he said. ''But I feel good too see them in good health under the tough circumstances we are going through.''

A UNICEF report last year said that in many areas of Iraq, the mortality rate among children under 5 had more than doubled in 10 years. In addition to the sanctions, UNICEF blamed Saddam's government for spending too much on wars against its neighbors and internal opponents and not enough on children's health.

Concerned by the deteriorating situation, the U.N. Security Council opened a loophole to its embargo in 1996. The so-called oil-for-food program has allowed Iraq to sell oil as long as about half the proceeds buy essentials for its people. Most of the rest goes to pay war reparations and U.N. administrative costs.


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