August 6, 1999
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- On the ninth anniversary of the start of a crippling U.N. embargo against Iraq, members of a U.S. activist group joined the Iraqi government in condemning the sanctions, calling them "criminal" punishment of the Iraqi people.
"I can find no moral justification for starving these children to death and I must make a stand against this criminal policy," said Voices in the Wilderness member David Rolstone, a boat builder from Narbeth, Wales. "I am fasting in solidarity with the people of Iraq."
Rolstone and two other activists from the Chicago-based group began a three-day fast Friday evening in a tent set up in front of Baghdad's Al-Canal Hotel, which houses six U.N. offices.
An official Iraqi newspaper denounced the sanctions on Friday, blaming the United States for leading the international community in a "conspiracy against Iraq."
"Today, brutal sanctions complete their ninth year and the anniversary of issuing the notorious resolution 661 indicates the sick and aggressive tendencies established by the United States and the international community in the 1990s," wrote Al-Thawra, the mouthpiece of Iraq's ruling Baath party.
U.N. resolution 661, which went into effect on August 6, 1990 -- days after Iraq invaded Kuwait -- imposed a full trade embargo barring all imports from and exports to Iraq, excepting only medical supplies, foodstuff and other humanitarian needs as determined by the Security Council sanctions committee.
The United Nations estimates 1 million Iraqis, mostly children, have died under the sanctions. The Al-Thawra newspaper gave a higher death toll, claiming 1.5 million people have died as a result of the embargo.
An oil-for-food program allows Iraq to sell $5.25 billion worth of oil for six months to buy food and medicine. Many Iraqis survive on basic food rations providing about 2,100 calories a day -- just enough to live on, U.N. officials say.
"I can only quote what I like to quote often recently because I hear it increasingly in Baghdad by normal Iraqis: 'Everything is tired. Everything is tired.' People, material, the city lives on its core, the people live on what little substance they have left," said Hans von Sponeck, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq.
According to U.N. reports, the trade embargo has left Iraq a beleaguered country deteriorating in health, sanitation, agriculture, electricity and education.
Those who knew Iraq in the 1980s say it shows little resemblance to the nation that existed before the 1991 Gulf War.
"The lifestyle I saw at the time, when I used to go to Iraq for work, was completely different from the one that I see now," said U.N. special envoy Prakash Shah. "People were clearly much more prosperous, their lifestyle was much better, their health was clearly much more healthy. You didn't see beggars, for example, on the streets, or either women or children begging on the streets or near the mosque as you do now."
The United Nations Children's Fund now oversees 1,700 clinics in central and southern Iraq for mothers and children. But the statistics remain dismal. U.N. studies show that the mortality rate for Iraqi children has more than doubled since 1989. More than one in 10 Iraqi children dies before the age of 5, a figure that is expected to get worse, U.N. officials said.
While Baghdad blames the United States for the sanctions, Washington accuses Iraq leader Saddam Hussein and his policies of leading his country to ruin. The United States has said it will not support an end to the sanctions until Iraq complies with U.N. resolutions on weapons inspections -- something U.S. officials say is unlikely without a change in Iraqi leadership.
U.N. diplomats debate Iraqi sanctions, no-fly zones
United Nations Home Page
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