The Nando Times - Opponents of US policy toward Baghdad visit Iraq

By WAIEL FALEH

BAGHDAD (December 28, 1999) - Americans who oppose the U.S. government's policy on Iraq ended a Christmas visit Tuesday meant to focus attention on the suffering of Iraqi children.

During their weeklong visit, the group spent Christmas among the Iraqi Christian community in Basra, a city some 335 miles south of Baghdad.

"We spent Christmas morning in one of the hospitals where we saw for ourselves infants dying because there is never enough medicine," said Chuck Quilty of Rock Island, Ill., one of eight American Catholics in the Voices in the Wilderness delegation.

Voices in the Wilderness is a U.S. group that has been among the most vocal organizations calling for an end to U.N. trade and travel sanctions against Iraq. The U.S. government has insisted that sanctions remain until Iraq convinces the United Nations it has surrendered its weapons of mass destruction and its capability to produce them.

Critics argue the sanctions hurt ordinary Iraqis, denying them basics such as food and medicine.

Earlier this year, U.N. Children's Fund chief Carol Bellamy said the trade sanctions weren't the only reason for the plight of Iraqi children. She also cited Iraq's wars with its neighbors and its government's lack of investment in children's health care.

A UNICEF report in August concluded that in state-controlled areas of Iraq, the mortality rate among children under 5 had more than doubled in 10 years.

Another sympathetic visitor, British Member of Parliament George Galloway, was hailed by the official Iraqi media on Monday for his "spirit of knighthood."

Galloway, a member of the ruling Labor Party, had announced plans to fly in a planeload of medicine early next year. Galloway also said he was collecting donations to build a cancer hospital in Baghdad.

In November, Galloway wound up a two-month journey across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East on a double-decker London bus in a campaign to drum up support for lifting the U.N. sanctions.

The maverick left-wing Scottish politician met Monday with Iraqi Vice-Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council Izzat Ibrahim.

The United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Iraq says the sanctions have caused well over 1 million deaths.

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