Mar 29, 1999
Death of A Nation
  by Rick McDowell

Rick McDowell co-coordinates Voices in the Wilderness, a Chicago based campaign to end the UN/US
economic sanctions against Iraq. Since August of 1996, he has traveled to Iraq seven times.

I am reminded of my first journey to Iraq, when a Catholic priest told me that Baghdad is over and Christianity in Iraq is dead. As we drove through the streets of Baghdad that day, not so long ago, he said that the greatest tragedy of his long life was to see the proud people of Iraq reduced to beggary.

In late May of 1998, word arrived that our friend Frial and her family had escaped desperate conditions in Iraq, only to become economic refugees in Istanbul, Turkey.  Frial, a Chaldean Catholic, managed the day shift of a small hotel in Baghdad, where delegations from Voices in the Wilderness often lodged.  Her family’s struggle to survive had become so grave that Frial and her 82 year old mother, along with her brother, sister-in-law and their four young children, embarked on a risky journey to Turkey, chancing that the uncertainties facing them in Istanbul ultimately held more promise than the hopelessness they endured in Iraq.

Nasra, a mother of seven small children, lived in Baghdad with her husband, who sold packs of gum on the streets in a frustrating attempt to feed and house his family. Formerly homeless, they had recently moved, with help from their church, to a tiny two room apartment in a poor area of Baghdad. In January, I learned that Nasra had escaped her children’s relentless cries of hunger and the bleak uncertainties that plagued her.  She had doused herself with kerosene and set herself on fire.

Walid and Rami are brothers who support their mother and three younger brothers by shining shoes on the streets of Baghdad.  Kind, gentle and bright, the brothers’ future is destined to be one of struggle and destitution. Economic sanctions have forced the boys to forego education, in order to feed their family. Their father, in a desperate move for survival, recently fled Iraq, leaving the youngsters as sole breadwinners for a family of six.

In March 1999, I visited one of a growing number of Iraqi orphanages. Increasingly, children are abandoned by anguished parents who can no longer care for their most basic needs. Mesmerized by the beauty and grace of the children, I was suddenly jolted out of complacency by a little girl's question: "Why does the US bomb us?"

Implementation and enforcement of economic sanctions, coupled with daily bombardments constitutes low intensity warfare -- as one Iraqi journalist stated, "a war of attrition" -- which has led to a culture of desperation and hopelessness for Iraq’s twenty-two million people.  US support of sanctions represents more than complicity in crimes against humanity, which has led to the death of over one million people and continues to take the lives of 5-6,000 Iraqis each month.  It is no longer about the abrogation of international treaties and conventions.  It is about the killing of a nation.

VOICES FOR PEACE notes today that the U.S. has been risking another world war by bombing the Serbian forces in Kosovo for nearly a week now.  The Serbians are accused of killing 2,000 or more ethnic Albanians.  But what about 5-6,000 Iraqis dead at our hands each month?  Don’t they count?