US congress staff examine Iraq sanctions war

BAGHDAD (South News) Aug 30 :- The first US congressional delegation to visit Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War started assessing the humanitarian catastrophe after nine years of crippling UN sanctions on Monday.

Phyllis Bennis talks with Fatima Jawad about her sick son, Wessam who suffers from leukemiaStaff members of five US House of Representatives visited the Al-Mansur hospital, one of Baghdad's largest childrens hospitals were also keen to observe the impact of the Pentagon's war on Iraq.

The group was taken on a tour of the hospital, including a unit for children suffering from leukemia, believed to be caused by the use of depleted uranium used by the US in weaponry in the 1991 Gulf War. They took notes and questioned patients on which areas of Iraq they were from.

They also listened to a presentation by the hospital's director, Mahmud Makki Mahmud, who highlighted the chronic lack of medicine and other medical equipment because of the embargo.

``I hope that things can change in a way that will make possible to cure the children who are facing the results of the war,'' the spokeswoman for the group, Phyllis Bennis, told reporters after touring the al-Mansur hospital. Bennis said that the trip was the first of its kind since the 1990-91 Gulf War. She described it as ``the beginning of a process for Congress to have an independent look of what is happening in the country.'

The official Iraqi News Agency (INA) also said the group met Iraq's Deputy Health Minister Shawqi Murqus. INA said Murqus briefed the delegation on the ``health situation and shortages of medicine and medical needs the health institutions suffer from due to continuation of the unjust sanctions.''The delegates' talks with  Murqus covered "the sanitation situation in Iraq and the lack of medicine and medical equipment that Iraqi medical establishments suffer from," the agency said.

A recent survey conducted by the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) found that child mortality rates have more than doubled in south and central Iraq since the sanctions began in August 1990.

The delegation, which also includes a representative from a Washington think-tank and a member of non-government organisation, arrived in Baghdad on Sunday after travelling by road from Amman, Jordan.

Late on Sunday, the delegation met the coordinator of the UN humanitarian programme in Iraq, Hans von Sponeck. The office oversees the UN oil-for-food programme, which allows Baghdad to sell limited quantities of crude oil for food and medicine, albeit with procedures so complicated that they have made it impossible to address the humanitarian situation fully. But Iraq also blames the US and British representatives on a UN sanctions committee for blocking contracts and delaying supply relief to the Iraqi people.

The congressional delegation also plans to travel to Basra in southern Iraq where US and British warplanes bomb targets almost daily.They  are expected to meet United Nations officials and members of non-government organisations in Iraq, including the Australian group CARE and the Middle East Council of Churches, as part of their trip, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies told journalists.

The group cancelled the trip last week after the State Department refused to validate their passports for Iraq, but group members got around the ban by not technically using their American passports. They carried special papers with their passports for recording their entry and departure.

Still, it was clear the US administration was not pleased about the visit. No US Embassy staff received the group on its arrival Saturday in Amman, Jordan, as is customary, and embassy officials there disavowed anything to do with the five-day mission.

An official Iraqi newspaper on Monday said a visit to the sanctions-struck state by a US congressional delegation showed how isolated the Washington administration was in supporting the UN embargo.

"The American administration is very isolated and is in an embarrasing position even if it says there is a unified position on Iraq," the  Al-Thawra said. "The truth is that the American administration no longer has any justification to oppose Iraq's right to a lifting of the embargo, and its lies can no longer convince anyone," Al-Thawra said.