Sanctions harm ordinary Iraqis

November 23, 1997|By GEORGE CAPACCIO

When you picture Iraq, what do you see? Visions of Saddam Hussein? Hidden containers of anthrax and nerve gas? Scud missiles on alert?

Having visited Iraq last spring, this is what I see: dignified Muslim women begging on Baghdad street corners; young boys hawking cigarettes and kerosene to help support their families; a father running with his child into a hospital emergency room because there are so few functioning ambulances; a middle-aged man with diabetes standing by a hospital entrance and pleading with me for insulin.

Inside the hospitals, I see blood and urine-stained mattresses; broken air conditioners and light fixtures; dimly lighted pediatric wards; mothers tending their children day and night; and hundreds of children waiting for medicine that never comes. This is what seven years of sanctions has done to this once-prosperous country. This is the picture you won't see on the 6 o'clock news.

When I went to Iraq, I broke the law. The United States doesn't want American citizens going there. And for good reason. Our government doesn't want us to see the devastation our policy has caused.

Our policy of sanctions against Iraq already has claimed the lives of more than 1 million Iraqis -mostly children.

I visited hospitals in Baghdad and Basra. I met Iraqi women and children. They are sick and they are dying. They do not have enough food or medicine. They do not have hope. They are without these things because the United States has decreed they can be sacrificed in the name of a U.S. vendetta against Saddam Hussein.

In Iraq, I saw numerous little boys and girls with signs of severe malnutrition - distended bellies, glossy eyes, discolored hair and profound weakness. Thanks to sanctions, the doctors, in too many cases, can do nothing but provide supportive care while these children wither away in hospitals that are falling apart.

What could I have said to these dying children? Should I have said what the American media are now telling us that the suffering of the Iraqi people is due to one man and his intransigence in the face of international opposition? That, whatever the price, the United States must stop this person from manufacturing weapons of mass destruction?

The United States and the United Nations are the ones wielding weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons are the sanctions against Iraq.

I tried to tell an American official in the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, what it was like to cradle an Iraqi child in my arms, to caress his hair and brow, and to know this child's quiet pain and suffering are the fruits of official U.S. policy. The official responded he had a job to do to clarify U.S. policy, not justify it, he said.

Over and over, the people I met asked me, "Why is your government doing this to us? When will it end?"

It will end when our government stops punishing the people of a country for the policies of its leader. It will end when we reach out to ordinary Iraqi people with fellowship and compassion. It will end when we help them rebuild their country, rather than sending them aircraft carriers and cruise missiles.

George Capaccio is a free-lance writer and an artist and educator based in Arlington, Mass. Last March he traveled to Iraq to distribute medical supplies and to witness for himself the effects of seven years of sanctions. Distributed by Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Pub Date: 11/23/97

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