Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Members of Congress Call for Lifting Economic Sanctions against Iraq

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Members of Congress Call for Lifting Economic Sanctions against Iraq

Article excerpt


Democratic and Republican members of the U.S. Congress joined more than 10 Arab-American and American-Muslim groups at a Capitol Hill press conference on Feb. 16 to urge the United Nations and the Clinton administration to lift economic sanctions on Iraq. Sanctions were imposed against Iraq after the Gulf war more than nine years ago. In 1996 the U.N. set up an oil-for-food program to ensure that all Iraqi oil revenue is spent on humanitarian needs, but that program has failed and Iraqis are dying.

On Feb. 13 U.N. humanitarian coordinator in charge of the oil-for-food program in Iraq, Hans yon Sponeck, resigned after criticizing the sanctions for unjustly punishing the Iraqi people for the actions of a regime over which they have no control. He called the sanctions "a human tragedy." Two days later Julia Burghardt, who headed the World Food Program in Iraq, did the same. Denis Halliday, von Sponeck's predecessor, resigned in September 1998 to protest the economic sanctions and has become a leading campaigner to lift them.

Executive director of American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice Iman Farajallah welcomed the Congress members and the representatives of 11 co-sponsoring organizations as well as 34 endorsing organizations. Farajallah said support for the lifting of the devastating sanctions is growing as members of Congress add their names to a letter initiated by Reps. Tom Campbell (RCA), John Conyers (D-MI), and David Bonior (D-MI) calling on the president to end the sanctions against Iraq. At the time of the press conference the letter to President Clinton, dated Jan. 31, had been signed by 71 members of Congress.

American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice vice president Yousef Al-Yousef said the weak and vulnerable are suffering as a result of sanctions which have killed more than a million civilians, according to reports from the United Nation's Children's Fund and other U.N. agencies operating in Iraq. He described the U.N. oil-for food program as insufficient, under-funded and a complete failure.

House Democratic Whip Bonior, a strong congressional supporter of Muslims and Arabs, called the sanctions a weapon of mass destruction. "The children are the real victims of our economic sanctions against Iraq," said Bonior. Sanctions are "not just a moral outrage but a strategic blunder. It's high time we recognize that this embargo hasn't hurt Saddam Hussain or the pampered elite that supports him but has been devastating for millions of Iraqi people. It's infanticide masquerading as policy."

UNICEF reports that despite the U.N.'s oil-for-food program, several thousand children under the age of five die every month from disease and malnutrition, Bonior said. "Our message is simple. We're saying: millions of children are suffering and we refuse to close our eyes to the slaughter of innocents."

Senator Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) said that the sanctions are "not just counterproductive, but immoral. It could be argued that the sanctions have in fact strengthened the regime and weakened the people who would be needed to overthrow the regime. Our country is famous for standing up to dictators, but we're hurting ordinary citizens of Iraq, not their dictator," Kucinich said. …

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