Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

NORTHWEST NEWS: AFSC National Coordinator Visits Portland to Promote Month of Solidarity with Iraqi People

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

NORTHWEST NEWS: AFSC National Coordinator Visits Portland to Promote Month of Solidarity with Iraqi People

Article excerpt

NORTHWEST NEWS: AFSC National Coordinator Visits Portland to Promote Month of Solidarity With Iraqi People

"To see the systematic destruction of a country -- its infrastructure, its economy, and the spirit of the people -- was devastating for me," remarked Kathy Bergen, speaking of her visit to Iraq in September as part of a delegation of seven organized by Voices in the Wilderness, a Chicago-based organization working to end U.N./U.S. sanctions against Iraq. Bergen, the national coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee's Peace Education Division, who was working in Jerusalem for the Palestine Human Rights Information Center at the time of the Gulf war, spoke Nov. 26 at Portland Community College to share her experience in Iraq and describe AFSC's nationwide campaign to educate Americans on the situation there.

The AFSC's "Month of Solidarity With the Iraqi People," from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15, included seminars, video screenings, vigils, letter-writing to U.S. policymakers and fund-raising to purchase medical supplies and other basic needs for human service organizations distributing humanitarian aid in Iraq. The September Voices in the Wilderness delegation included Bergen, U.S. Catholic Bishop Tom Gumbleton and members of Christian Peacemaker Teams who had also worked in Hebron.

Bergen said that while some food and medical supplies have entered Iraq as a result of the "oil-for-food" agreement, and though starvation is not as extensive as it was a year ago, the amounts of food and medical supplies reaching the Iraqi people are scarcely adequate to address widespread malnutrition and disease. All NGOs in Iraq combined, she said, are able to address only 5 percent of the urgent needs of the people.

According to United Nations reports, more than 300,000 Iraqis were killed in the 43-day bombing in 1991. Since then, more than 1 million Iraqis have died as a result of U.S.-led sanctions. More than half of the victims have been children, and an estimated 4,500 children under the age of five continue to die each month from hunger and disease.

The problem, Bergen explained, is largely due to red tape encountered by the Iraqi government when applying to the U.N. Sanctions Committee for contracts to purchase supplies. She said that on numerous occasions contract approval has been refused by the Sanctions Committee on the grounds that some of the planned purchases have "dual usage." These have included items such as ambulances, syringes and lead pencils which, according to the Committee, could be used for military purposes. Primarily, it is U.S. or U.K. Sanctions Committee members who are responsible for stopping contracts from being approved.

Voices in the Wilderness has sponsored 10 delegations to Iraq in open defiance of the sanctions, which prohibit U.S. citizens from traveling to Iraq unless permission is given by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to organizations involved in humanitarian work. The law requires humanitarian groups to apply to the Sanctions Committee for permission to deliver materials in Iraq, but Bergen explained that the National Council of Churches has sometimes experienced delays of more than a year to obtain permission.

The most recent VW group departed from New York on Dec. 31 to participate in a three-day fast and vigil in Baghdad to mark the seventh year since the U.S./U.N. bombing of Iraq in January 1991. Delegation members risk arrest and sentences of up to 12 years in prison and $1 million in fines for making the journey to Iraq, where they visit hospitals, children's wards and shelters and meet with representatives of the Iraqi Red Crescent, the U.N. Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, the Middle East Council of Churches and other humanitarian programs. Additional civil penalties of up to $250,000 per violation also may be imposed.

Bergen said that Voices in the Wilderness has been notified in writing by the U.S. Department of Treasury that its campaign is in violation of Iraqi sanctions regulations, and also the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the United Nations Participation Act and U. …

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