Civilian impact of a second war with Iraq discussed at seminar

Naz Jafferi

Staff Writer

The Gulf War ended seven years ago, but the U.S. is still at war with Iraq. Economic sanctions have replaced military force in the region.

More than one million Iraqis, including more than 600,000 children, have died as a direct result of economic sanctions, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization 1995 report. There has been a sixfold increase in the mortality rate of children under five since the war began. The World Health Organization 1996 report said the majority of the Iraqi population lived on a semi-starvation diet.

"There's food in the stores, but no one is buying the food," said Mike Bremer, who spoke Tuesday at a seminar entitled "The Children of Iraq are dying" at the University of Houston Religion Center.

Bremer is a member of Voices in the Wilderness, a private organization which has been carrying food and medicine into Iraq since 1996. Washington officials warned Voices members that they could be imprisoned for 12 years and fined $1 million for openly violating the sanctions, Bremer said.

"We don't see what the sanctions mean, and the media's not going to bring it to us," said Bremer, who grew up during the Vietnam War. In contrast to Vietnam, where shocking images of dying civilians were seen on TV, the media coverage of Gulf War did not show the human destruction of the bombs, said Bremer.

According to G.H. Razi, professor of political science at UH, the original purpose of the sanctions was to dismantle Saddam Hussein's regime. However, Hussein has only grown in his popularity.

Bremer, who visited Iraq recently, agrees.

At present, Iraq has no sanitation system and no drinkable water as a result of the Allied bombings in 1991.

"You see a lot of sadness in Iraq, a lot of hopelessness," Bremer said.

According to Bremer, hospitals show the real effects of the economic warfare. Before the war, Iraq had one of the best medical systems in the Middle East. Now, Iraq has no nursing staff and doctors make a measly 4 dinars (equivalent to roughly $4 U.S.) a month.

The United Nations International Children's Education Fund estimates that one Iraqi child dies every 10 minutes from problems related to malnutrition and a shortage of medical supplies.

"(In) Iraq people are suffering," said Razi, "yet our policy-makers refer to it as a policy against Saddam. The people of Iraq, especially women and children, can't do anything about Saddam."

Jamal Kussad, senior biology major, said, "The U.S. government is overlooking the lives of millions of Iraqis because they have a grudge against one man."

The United Nations' inspections team does not only want to destroy Iraq's weapons but its ability to construct weapons, Bremer said. He refuted the notion that the U.N. team is being denied open access to the weapon sites in Iraq.

If the U.N. team had evidence of biological or chemical weapons in Iraq, it would present it to the International community, said George Reiter, professor of physics and member of the Houston Coalition to Stop War on Iraq. Reiter said the U.N. has no evidence against Iraq.

Recently, President Clinton said military strikes against Iraq are a possibility if Hussein refuses to cooperate. So far, Great Britain is the only U.S. ally that has given its support for such a measure.

"(A military strike) would be a big mistake," Razi said. "It would kill a lot of innocent people. It would destroy a lot of Iraq's resources and capabilities. And in the end, it will not achieve the purposes the U.S. seeks (to topple Hussein)."

Reiter said, "Popular opinion in the Middle East is overwhelmingly opposed to anymore bombings."

The Coalition is demonstrating against the sanctions 4:30 p.m. Friday in front of the McKhilley Federal Building.

For more information, contact Reiter at 743-3527.

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