Iraq Suffers Under Sanctions
Published June-August 1999
In early March, the new Executive Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR-USA) Rev. John Dear led a seven-person delegation to Iraq. Dear traveled with Nobel Peace Laureates Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland and Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina. "What we saw in Iraq," Dear says, was "not just heartbreaking, but horrific."
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Dear says, over one million Iraqi civilians have died since sanctions were first imposed in August 1990; 6,000 Iraqi children continue to die each month from malnutrition and preventable disease.
Remember how horrified and traumatized Americans were when the Oklahoma City bombing took 169 lives, including the deaths of 19 children? Remember the famous photograph of the defeated American firefighter holding the tiny dead baby in his hands? Dear held a dying Iraqi baby in his arms. Is there any less anguish among Iraqis, whose children are dying at the rate of over 35 Oklahoma City bombings a month?
Dear is the first Catholic priest to head FOR, the 85-year-old interfaith peace organization that counts among its members Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, people of other faiths and those with no formal religious affiliation. As he observed the Iraqi mothers keeping vigil over their dying children, Dear said that "As a Christian and priest, it was like seeing Christ on the cross with his weeping mother—hundreds of thousands of Calvaries. We could only weep with them."
The delegation toured the Al Mansour Pediatrics Hospital. "Imagine a hospital like Sloane-Kettering," Dear suggested, "packed with the best and brightest doctors and staff, every bed taken and beside every bed a mother. And no medicine, technical equipment, or electricity. No clean water, even in the hospital." Dear says Iraq needs $22 billion just to make its water clean.
"One of the surprises I had was about medicine getting in," Dear says of his trip to Iraq. "Some of the medicine gets held up because the U.S. has destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure. You may get the medicine, but it might sit in a warehouse because there is no transportation. But even if the medicine makes it to the hospital and cures the child, the next day the child has the drink the water. The water is sewage."
Almost six years ago, Dear was arrested at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina in a Ploughshares protest with peace activist Daniel Berrigan. Dear’s crime of hammering once on an F-15E fighter bomber to symbolize "beating swords into ploughshares" cost him nine months in prison. Dear says that during his stay in Iraq, those very same F-15Es were bombing every day.
"The only way to solve the problem of Iraq—if they really want to solve it—is to begin to dialogue," Dear said. Yet, as Iraq’s Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told the delegation, "Not one U.S. elected official has been to Iraq since 1990."
"The crime of economic sanctions against the Iraqi people is not just a crime," Dear says, "but a moral and spiritual disaster."
The FOR/Nobel Peace Laureate delegation to Iraq is calling for an immediate end to economic sanctions on Iraq as well as an end to the bombardments by the U.S. and U.K. and the beginning of dialogue. Dear makes it clear that when he speaks of sanctions, he means "economic sanctions."
"We should keep the military embargo on the whole region," he believes, "and the U.N. should make regional disarmament a key element of its efforts in Iraq."
Until a grassroots movement in the U.S. succeeds in getting economic sanctions lifted, Dear will remember what an Iraqi he met on his trip said to him: "We wish you have a very happy stay in Iraq, but we are suffering and dying, but you can come suffer with us."
"That may be all we can do for now," Dear thinks, "walk with them, befriend and suffer with the Iraqi people."