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Sanctions Kill

by Anh Pham |
June 1, 2002
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Trish Kanous
Trish Kanous, stepping on a tile doormat of George Bush Sr. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Minneapolis, MN - In May, Trish Kanous, of the Minneapolis-St. Paul based Anti-War Committee, joined other passengers and got on an Iraqi airplane. For most of us, flying is no act of courage. This was different. The United States and British governments have decided that vast areas of Iraqi airspace, about half the country, are 'no fly zones,' where it's open season on Iraqi airplanes. The jetliner flew through the zone and landed safely.

Americans like Kanous have been ignoring laws that make travel to Iraq a crime. They are willing to take a chance and fly through areas where the U.S. has shot down planes before. They are responding to the humanitarian disaster caused by U.S.-led war on Iraq and the subsequent sanctions. They will not remain silent in the face of injustice.

As part of the Veterans for Peace delegation of the Iraq Water Project, Kanous was able to get insight into Iraqi daily life. Many families have lost someone to the sanctions. They want peace.

When the U.S. bombed Iraq in 1991, it blew out the electrical grid, which fried equipment in water and sewage plants. A team from the Harvard School of Public Health visited most of Iraq's 20 electric generating plants a few months after the war ended. It found that 17 of the plants had been damaged in bombing, with 11 deemed a total loss. Systemic power failures wrecked machinery and led to the breakdown of sewage, water treatment and hospital services.

"People need clean water to live. Diseases in dirty water are a leading cause of death for Iraqi children," said Kanous. Water contamination diseases, such as diarrhea and dysentery, are the biggest killer of children under the age of 5. Half a million children have been killed because of the sanctions, many of treatable diseases.

Health care has been hit hard by the sanctions. A sanctions committee run by they U.S. and the UN - called the 661 Committee - makes the decision on what medicines are allowed in. Patient care is not their priority. "Speaking with medical professionals, we heard there are no consistent supplies of medications. One kind of antibiotic is allowed for a while and patients are treated with it. Then the supply of that antibiotic stops and perhaps another is available. Then again, maybe not. Chemotherapy supplies, along with some vaccines, are prevented from entering the country," said Kanous.

U.S. officials on the 661 Committee have been quick to cite a so-called "dual-use" military potential in many civilian goods. So they hold up medical supplies and chemicals that are needed to treat water.

Iraq is hurting from the ongoing U.S. bombing campaign. In the longest air war since Vietnam, U.S. or British planes strike targets in Iraq every two or three days. Cluster bombs - like those that have been killing Afghan families - regularly fall on Iraqi towns and villages.

Members of the Vets for Peace delegation met a man with the dangerous job of clearing the unexploded ordinance. He used a stick. Though he had many friends who had been killed doing the same job, he kept it up. He felt it important that neighborhood kids didn't get killed picking up the brightly colored bomblets.

Because of the efforts of the Iraqi people and government, the situation is improving. However, Kanous points out, "The economy is still hurting because of the sanctions." The sanctions prevent Iraq from rebuilding its infrastructure to meet people's needs. The spirit of the people is strong, but their well-being depends on an end to the sanctions, ending the bombing campaign, and beating back the plans of the Bush administration for a wider war.

Kanous encourages people here to look at Iraqis not as a people to be sorry for but as a people to stand in solidarity with. "They don't want sympathy, they want justice."