Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

American Gulf War Veteran and Iraqi Refugee Speak out against Iraqi Sanctions

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

American Gulf War Veteran and Iraqi Refugee Speak out against Iraqi Sanctions

Article excerpt

American Gulf War Veteran and Iraqi Refugee Speak Out Against Iraqi Sanctions

Elaine Pasquini is a free-lance writer based in Ignacio, California.

Wafaa Bilaal, an Iraqi refugee from Najaf, and Erik Gustafson, an American Gulf war veteran and executive director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), toured the U.S. in March and April speaking on the need to lift the U.N.-imposed economic sanctions against Iraq.

Addressing a small group at the San Francisco office of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee April 21, Gustafson discussed his humanitarian visit back to Iraq in 1997. He stressed the importance of rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and economy, as the country, which at one time had the best hospitals and universities in the region, now lacks basic life-sustaining items, including power generating stations, water purification systems, sufficient food, medicine, and properly functioning hospitals. After 10 years of economic sanctions which prevent even the importation of spare parts to repair the civilian infrastructure, raw sewage is still dumped daily into the waterways, contaminating the residents' water supply, Gustafson said. Water-borne disease, chronic malnutrition, and other preventable illnesses have caused the deaths, according to recent UNICEF estimates, of 500,000 children under age five.

Gustafson formed EPIC in 1998 in order to work to change U.S. policy toward Iraq, and the organization lobbies Congress toward this end. He believes "the [American] people are against this silent war which has gone on for 10 years. Americans are upset with the U.S. acting as a rogue nation."

Wafaa Bilaal escaped Iraq shortly after the end of the Gulf war, when the uprising against Saddam Hussain in Kerbala and Najaf failed and many residents fled in fear of reprisals by the Iraqi army. "The war is not over when so many children die each week," he said. "We are all responsible for saving this generation." Bilaal believes that, because of the use by coalition forces of depleted uranium, "the battlefield remains a killing field," citing the rise in child leukemia and a four-to five-fold increase in cancer, particularly in the southern part of Iraq. Prior to the Gulf war, Bilaal studied art at Baghdad University and is presently an artist and writer living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is active with Peace With Iraq, a grassroots solidarity organization.

The speakers discussed the importance of Americans pressuring the U.S. government to change its position on Iraq and urged the audience to press their congressional representatives to support House Resolution 3825, which would, among other things, change domestic law to expedite the U.S. sale of food and medicine to Iraq under the U.N.'s oil-for-food program which was instituted in 1996.

The speakers' program was cosponsored by Global Exchange, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, California Peace Action, Alliance of Medical Professionals in the Middle East, American Friends Service Committee, and Arab Roman Catholic Community. American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice hosted the speakers, with co-sponsors San Jose Peace Center and Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, at DeAnza College in Cupertino, CA, April 22nd.

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