Iraq Delegation Report
-from the Fellowship of Reconciliation
On March 4, 1999, a seven-person delegation traveled to Iraq for a six-day tour of one of the most volatile, tragic, and war-stricken regions of the globe.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR-USA)-sponsored delegation of Nobel Peace Laureates, led by FOR Executive Director Rev. John Dear, included Nobel Laureates Mairead Corrigan Maguire, co-founder of the Peace People movement of Northern Ireland, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Latin America Coordinator of Service for Peace and Justice (SERPAJ) of Argentina, and International FOR President Akadim Chikandamina of Harare, Zimbabwe.
Departing Iraq on March 9, the delegation was ultimately shocked, and forever haunted, by their experiences in a nation on the brink of death.
Overall, the 23-million citizens of Iraq have been devastated on all fronts by the Gulf war, the US/UN economic sanctions, and the ongoing US/UK bombing raids over southern and northern "no-fly" zones. The national economy, infrastructure, morale, medical and educational capacities, hospitals, military defense, and telecommunications are in utter disrepair. According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), over one million Iraqi civilians have died since sanctions were first imposed in August 1990, and 6000 children continue to die each month from malnutrition and preventable disease. Infant mortality rates continue to rise; over one million children under the age of five are malnourished. Water is so contaminated that the disease cycle is relentless; …[Iraq’s] citizens are trapped within an infinite labyrinth of despair and death -- water aquifers are polluted and sanitation and purification plants are destroyed.
On Monday March 8, the team was greeted by school children of the Dijla Primary School in downtown Baghdad, with an Arabic rendition of the song "We Shall Overcome." The school girls described the experiences with war and economic sanctions. "Why is your government doing this to us? Why are you killing us?" they asked. "We want to live in love and friendship and peace with Americans."
The delegation witnessed abject suffering and death, most of which
results from diseases and ailments easily remedied in both
the West and the Iraq of a decade ago. Doctors repeatedly spoke of the increase in cancer rates and debilitating birth defects throughout Iraq, especially in southern zones, due to contamination from US bombs. Holding dying children, embracing weeping mothers, and listening to the pleas of overworked and underpaid doctors, the delegation then spoke to media representatives, who were standing by, of the carnage they had seen.
The delegation next met with the staff of the Umm 'Amarik Research Center,
which studies and documents the Gulf War violence and its aftermath, the
ongoing US and UK bombing raids, and the consequences of economic sanctions.
They reported to the delegation some of their findings: depleted uranium
coating US bombs has led to a dramatic increase in cancer and physiological
abnormalities throughout the land; diarrhea and dehydration are killing
thousands of children each month due to a dearth of clean water; and US
bombs have destroyed most of Iraq's capacity to clean and purify water.
"We would like to wish you a pleasant
visit to Baghdad," one researcher concluded, "but we are a suffering and dying community, and if you visit Baghdad you will
suffer with us. Tell the world that Iraqis are being suffocated in silence. “
…[In conclusion,] the delegation stressed the urgent need for serious dialogue to resolve the conflict between Iraq and the United States. "This is genocide," explained Esquivel. "Children are dying slowly and painfully. If we want democracy and human rights in Iraq, we have to stop the economic sanctions, which kill people and destroy all educational and social services." Maguire added, “In fifty years, we will wonder, where was the world when Iraqi children were dying?"