BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq are missing their target, hurting not President Saddam Hussein but ordinary civilians, a group of U.S. activists said Sunday at the end of a six-week experiment in living among the Iraqi working class.
Five members of the Chicago-based group, Voices in the Wilderness, told a news conference at the Iraqi Trade Ministry that their stay in a low-income district of the southern city of Basra had shown them that sanctions crippled the ability of Iraqis to have safe water and an adequate diet.
''We have been eating the same food they get in the rations and drinking the same water people here drink,'' said Liza Gizzi, 31, referring to the food rations distributed to compensate for the shortages caused by the sanctions.
''The food was not enough and the water made us sick,'' said Gizzi, from St. Paul, Minn.
When the activists began living in al-Jumhouriya in Basra, 345 miles south of Baghdad, there were six of them. But Ken Hannaford-Ricardi of Worcester, Mass., found the conditions unbearable and, sick with diarrhea, left Iraq after two weeks.
Voices and other critics have said the sanctions imposed since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 have prevented the flow of pumps, parts and other means to repair the country's infrastructure. Electricity works only intermittently. Systems for purifying drinking water and processing sewage do not work.
''Children are dying because of the bad sewage and water systems,'' said Tom Jackson, 40, from Dover, N.H., who was part of the group living in Basra.
''My government and Britain are making these children lose the most beautiful years of their life,'' he added.
Bad water has created an epidemic of dysentery and infectious diseases, resulting in thousands of child deaths. UNICEF says the number of infant and child deaths in Iraq has doubled in the decade since the sanctions began.
The United States and Britain are the chief backers of maintaining the embargo until Iraq proves it has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq says it has done so and refuses to cooperate with U.N. disarmament inspectors. The inspectors have accused the government of failing to make a full disclosure of its weapons programs.
Voices and other critics say the U.N. sanctions are the true weapons of mass destruction.
''The American and British administrations are missing the target with their sanctions the way their warplanes are missing their targets when bombing Iraqi civilian properties,'' said Kathy Kelly of Chicago, co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness.
U.S. and British warplanes that patrol no-fly zones over north and south Iraq frequently attack when challenged by Iraqi air defense systems. Allied spokesmen say the planes attack only military targets, but Iraq accuses them of bombing civilian sites.
The activists, who are headed home, intend to start a campaign on the Internet offering fans made of date-palm leaves, Kelly said.
Iraqis use such fans to cool themselves when the power cuts make it impossible to use electric fans and air-conditioners despite stifling temperatures that rise to 120 degrees.
Kelly said they would give fans to members of the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. secretary general, U.S. presidential candidates and the State Department officials on the Iraq desk.
''We want to remind each of these officials of the good they could accomplish by revising these insidious policies,'' Kelly said.
The other members of the group were Lauren Cannon, 30, from Dover, N.H., and Mark McGuire of Winona, Minn.