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Banning Child Sacrifice: A Difficult Choice?
by Kathy Kelly March 9, 1998
Just one month ago, US/ UK bombardment of Iraq seemed almost inevitable.
Even though the most comprehensive economic sanctions ever inflicted in
modern history have already crippled Iraq, slaughtering over 1/2 million
children under age 5, the US and the UK were poised for further assault.
Today, the US still threatens air attacks upon Iraq, massive strikes that
would heap more agony on civilians who've endured a seven year state of
On February 9, our small delegation of eight, two from the United Kingdom
and six from the US, representing thousands of supporters, traveled to
Iraq carrying 110,000 dollars of medicines. We were the 11th Voices in
the Wilderness delegation to deliberately violate the sanctions as part of
a nonviolent campaign to end the US led economic warfare against Iraq.
From previous trips, we knew exactly where to find overwhelming evidence of
a weapon of mass destruction. Inspectors have only to enter the wards of
any hospital in Iraq to see that the sanctions themselves are a lethal
weapon, destroying the lives of Iraq's most vulnerable people. In
children's wards, tiny victims writhe in pain, on blood-stained mats,
bereft of anesthetics and antibiotics. Thousands of children, poisoned
by contaminated water, die from dysentery, cholera, and diahhreah. Others
succumb to respiratory infections that become fatal full body infections.
Five thousand children, under age five, perish each month. 960,000
children who are severely malnourished will bear lifelong consequences
of stunted growth, brain deficiencies, disablement. At the hands of
UN/US policy makers, childhood in Iraq has, for thousands, become a living
Repeatedly, the US media describes Iraq's plight as "hardship." Video
footage and still photographs show professors selling their valuable books.
Teenage students hawking jewelry in the market are interviewed about why
they aren't in school. These are sad stories, but they distract us from
the major crisis in Iraq today, the story still shrouded in secrecy. This
is the story of extreme cruelty, a story of medicines being withheld from
dying children. It is a story of child abuse, of child sacrifice, and it
merits day to day coverage
A Reuters TV crew accompanied our delegation to Al Mansour children's
hospital. On the general ward, the day before, I had met a mother
crouching over an infant , named Zayna. The child was so emaciated by
nutritional marasmus that, at 7 months of age, her frail body seemed
comparable to that of a 7 month premature fetus. We felt awkward about
returning with a TV crew, but the camera person, a kindly man, was
clearly moved by all that he'd seen in the previous wards. He made eye
contact with the mother. No words were spoken, yet she gestured to me to
sit on a chair next to the bed, then wrapped Zayna in a worn, damp and
stained covering. Gently, she raised the dying child and put her in my
arms. Was the mother trying to say, as she nodded to me, that if the
world could witness what had been done to tiny Zayna, she might
not die in vain? Inwardly crumpling, I turned to the camera, stammering,
"This child, denied food and denied medicine, is the embargo's victim."
I felt ashamed of my own health and well-being, ashamed to be so
comfortably adjusted to the privileged life of a culture that, however
unwittingly, practices child sacrifice. Many of us westerners can live
well, continue "having it all," if we only agree to avert our gaze, to
look the other way, to politely not notice that in order to maintain our
overconsumptive lifestyles, our political leaders tolerate child
sacrifice. "It's a difficult choice to make," said Madeleine Albright when
she was asked about the fact that more children had died in Iraq than in
Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, "but," she continued, "we think the price
is worth it." Iraqi oil must be kept off the markets, at all costs, even
if sanctions cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. The
camera man had moved on. "I'm sorry, Zayna, " I whispered helplessly to
the mother and child. "I'm so sorry."
Camera crews accompanied us to hospitals in Baghdad, Basra and Fallujah
. They filmed the horrid conditions inside grim wards. They filmed a cardiac
surgeon near tears telling how it feels to decide which of three patients
will get the one available ampule of heart medicine . "Yesterday," said
Dr. Faisal, a cardiac surgeon at the Fallujah General Hospital, "I
shouted at my nurse.
I said, 'I told you to give that ampule to this patient. The other two will
have to die.'" A camera crew followed us into the general ward of a
children's hospital when a mother began to sob convulsively because her
baby had just suffered a cardiac arrest. Dr. Qusay, the chief of staff,
rushed to resuscitate the child, then whispered to the mother that they
had no oxygen , that the baby was gasping her dying breaths. All of the
mothers, cradling their desperately ill infants, began to weep. The ward
was a death row for infants.
Associated Press, Reuters and other news companies' footage from hospital
visits was broadcast in the Netherlands, in Britain, in Spain and in France.
But people in the US never glimpsed those hospital wards.
I asked a cameraman from a major US news network why he came to the
entrance of a hospital to film us, but opted not to enter the hospital.
"Please," I begged, "we didn't ask you to film us as talking heads. The
story is inside the hospital." He shrugged. "Both sides use the children
suffering," he explained, "and we've already done hospitals." I might
have added that they'd already "done" F 16's lifting off of runways, they'd
"done" white UN vehicles driving off to inspect possible weapon sites,
they'd "done" innumerable commercials for US weapon displays.
While political games are played, the children are dying and we have seen
them die. If people across the US could see what we've seen, if they
witnessed, daily, the crisis of child sacrifice and child slaughter, we
believe hearts would be touched. Sanctions would not withstand the light
I felt sad and shattered as we left Iraq. A peaceful resolution to the
weapons inspection crisis was reached, at least temporarily, but Iraqi
friends were intensely skeptical. "They are going to hit us. This is
sure," said Samir, a young computer engineer. "Anyway, look what happens
to us every day." Feeling helpless to notify anyone, we had left the
scene of an ongoing crime.
Upon return to the US, customs agents turned my passport over to the state
department, perhaps as evidence that according to US law I've committed a
criminal act by traveling to Iraq. I know that our efforts to be voices
in the wilderness aren't criminal. We're governed by compassion, not by
laws that pitilessly murder innocent children. What's more, Iraqi
children might benefit if we could bring their story into a courtroom,
before a jury of our peers.
We may be tempted to feel pessimistic, but Iraq's children can ill afford
our despair. They need us to build on last month's resistance to military
strikes. During the Gulf War, I wasn't in the US (I was with the Gulf
Peace Team, camped on the border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq and later
evacuated to Baghdad). I didn't witness, firsthand, the war fever and war
hysteria. But people told me, when I returned to the US, that the war had
often seemed like a sporting event. Some people went to bars, raised mugs
of beer and cheered when "smart bombs" exploded on their targets. "Rock
Iraq! Slam Saddam! Say Hello to Allah!" they shouted.
I think of Umm Reyda when I hear those accounts, a mother who lost nine of
her family members when, on February 12, 1991, two astonishingly smart
bombs blasted the Ameriyah community center. Families in the Ameriyah
neighborhood had gathered to commemorate the end of Ramadan. They had
invited many refugees to join them and had made extra room in the overnight
basement shelter so that all could huddle together for a relatively safe
night's sleep. The smart bombs penetrated the "achilles heel" of the
building, the spot where ventilation shafts had been installed. The first
bomb exploded and forced 17 bodies out of the building. The second bomb
followed immediately after the first, and when it exploded the exits were
sealed off. The temperature inside rose to 500 degrees centigrade and the
pipes overhead burst with boiling water which cascaded down on the innocents
who slept. Hundreds of people were melted.
Umm Reyda greets each of our delegations, just as she greeted me when I
first met her in March, 1991. "We know that you are not your government,"
she says, "and that your people would never choose to do this to us."
I've always felt relief that she never saw television coverage of US
people in bars, cheering her children's death.
Last month, on February 18, 1998, a vastly different cry was shouted by
college students. They didn't cheer the bombers, and in Columbus, OH they
may well have prevented them from deadly missions. "One two three four,
we don't want your racist war." The lines confronted Ms. Albright,
crackled across Baghdad. People on the streets smiled at me, an obvious
westerner, and counted, "one, two three four..."
A week later, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, at the conclusion of hi
s remarks introducing a peaceful resolution to the weapon inspection crisis,
urged young people around the world to recognize that we are all part of
one another, to see the world not from the narrow perspective of their
own locale but rather from a clear awareness of our fundamental
interdependence. What a contrast between his vision of a new generation
that wants to share this planet's resources and serve one another's best
interests, globally, and the vision that Ms. Albright offers:
"If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the
indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future."
Ms. Albright's reference to "use of force" is the stuff of nightmares ,
given the ominous comments some US military officials have made about
preparedness to use even nuclear force.
I doubt that other nations will accept that the US "stands tall." It's
more likely that international consensus will conclude that the US lacks
the moral standing to be prosecutor, judge, and jury in the dispute over
Iraq's policies. Most people in the Arab world believe that the US favors
Israel and is unwilling to criticize its actions, even when they violate
international agreements or United Nations resolutions. People throughout
the world point to the hypocrisy of the government of the US in other
aspects of international relations. The US is over $1 billion in arrears
in payments to the United Nations; it has ignored judgments by the World
Court and overwhelming votes in the UN General Assembly whenever they
conflict with its desires; and despite its rhetoric about human rights,
the US record of support for ruthless regimes is shameful.
Is it outlandish to think that courage, wisdom and love could inform the
formation of foreign and domestic policies? Is it overly optimistic to
think that we could choose to ban the sale of weapons of mass destruction?
Is it too much to ask that economic sanctions against Iraq be lifted and
never again used as a form of child sacrifice? For the sake of all
children, everywhere, lets continue sounding a wake up call to US
officials. They must stop punishing and murdering Iraqi children. The
agreement negotiated by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan offers a basis for
continued weapon inspections and the earliest possible end to the deadly
embargo of trade with Iraq. The deeds of one leader, or even of an entire
government, cannot be used to justify an unprecedented violation of human
rights. Umm Reyda, through seven years of mourning, still forgives US
people. It's time that we respond with remorse and regret for the
suffering we've caused and a commitment to end this racist war.
Voices in the Wilderness
1460 West Carmen
Chicago, IL 60640
Kathy Kelly helps co-ordinate Voices in the Wilderness, a campaign to end
the UN/US sanctions against Iraq. The campaign, which began in January,
1996, has sent 11 delegations to Iraq and is planning two more delegations
for early spring, 1998. Members have been warned that they face 12 years
in prison, one million dollars in fines and a $250,000 administrative
penalty if they persist in their efforts to publicly violate the UN/US
sanctions against Iraq. Members of the campaign are committed to
non-violent resistance to injustice and oppose the development, storage,
sale and use of all weapons of mass destruction, including economic
sanctions imposed on innocent civilians.
The generosity of many concerned people enabled this campaign to develop.
We appreciate ongoing support. Financial contributions can be sent to
Voices in the Wildernss
A Campaign to End the US/UN Economic Sanctions Against the People of Iraq
1460 West Carmen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60640
ph:773-784-8065; f: 773-784-8837