Friends of Voices in the Wilderness/Portland
***c/o AFSC (April-June 2002)
***2249 E Burnside
***Portland, OR 97214
***503-299-4798 (voicemail)



May 21, 2002

Press Contacts: Martin Gonzalez or
Cecil Prescod 503-230-9427
Dan Handelman 503-299-4798 (message)


Finds Poverty, Disease, Infrastructure Issues Despite Passage of New UN Rules

Portland resident Dan Handelman returned Sunday from a delegation to Iraq which delivered medicine to families and children in violation of an ongoing U.N. embargo. Handelman, two Americans and four British members of Voices in the Wilderness (VitW), traveled to witness conditions in Iraq after 11-1/2 years of the sanctions, which have prevented Iraq from selling anything but limited amounts of oil in exchange for limited goods, including food and medicine. This was Handelman's second trip with VitW, a Chicago-based campaign which has now sent 43 delegations to the country in violation of both US law and the U.N. sanctions. The U.S. Treasury Department has warned delegates that they risk penalties of 12 years in prison and $1 million in fines. Also traveling were members of Veterans for Peace on their Iraq Water Project, which has raised thousands of dollars to help make badly needed repairs to water treatment plants.

Handelman returned safely with numerous hours of videotape, including interviews, images from within Iraqi hospitals, tours of water and sewage treatment plants, and more. On his last visit in 1997, U.S. Customs seized his film and videotape, which were only returned after over two years of legal action. This time, Customs took no interest in the tapes.

"While conditions have improved since 1997, water-borne diseases caused by America's 1991 destruction of the Iraqi civilian infrastructure and cancers most probably caused by Depleted Uranium are still widespread," noted Handelman. "Although on its surface, Iraq seems to be functioning better than many developing nations, we need to remember that this nation was fully developed before the so-called 'Gulf War.'"

The most conservative estimates are that 350,000 children under the age of 5 have died since the sanctions were imposed in August, 1990. While the numbers have been debated (some say over 1.5 million Iraqis of all ages have died due to the sanctions), the death of even one person due to political and economic constraints is unaccaptable to VitW.

The delegation flew Iraqi Airlines through the Southern no-fly zone to visit a hospital, water plants, and a date farm in Basra. With Sunday's U.S. bombing of that area, Handelman noted that the U.N. has never approved of the zones, and that over 300 people have reportedly died in such raids, with over a thousand injuries.

The U.N. voted to modify the sanctions on Iraq as so-called "smart sanctions" on May 14, during the delegation's visit. UN Humanitarian Coordinator Tun Myat told the delegates that tinkering with the sanctions would never bring Iraq back to economic health, noting that he would resign immediately if he believed that his resignation would end the sanctions. (Myat's interview is on one of the video tapes Handelman brought back.)

Handelman expects to have a rough edit of the videos together by the middle of this week. For more information or to set up interviews call 503-299-4798.

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