Iraqi Dates Sales Make a Symbolic Breach in Sanctions

by Daniel Nelson
[published on Friday, February 1, 2002 by One World/UK]

    The audience at a forthcoming London talk by the brother of a victim of the September 11 attack on Washington D.C. will be offered the chance to buy Iraqi dates as a symbolic way of breaking sanctions against a country President George W. Bush this week identified, alongside Iran and North Korea, as part of an "axis of evil."

Anti-sanctions group Voices in the Wilderness plans to auction packs of an 11-ton consignment of dates from Iraq at a public meeting later this month, when Ryan Amundsen will talk about the death of his brother, Craig Scott, in the Pentagon. He will emphasize the need for "Justice Not Vengeance", the central theme of the meeting.

The dates, which sell at around US$7 dollars per pack, were brought out of Iraq last year by the Italian group "Un Ponte per" (A Bridge To), a non-profit organization set up in 1991 to help Iraqi children and innocent people badly affected by the Gulf War.

Selling or consuming the dates is illegal in Britain and could carry a jail sentence.

Last week two members of the European Parliament, Eurig Wyn of the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru, and Caroline Lucas of Britain's Green Party, sold some of the dates from a stall at the parliament building in Brussels.

"We oppose sanctions," Wyn said Thursday. "They were imposed to force Saddam Hussein to allow United Nations inspectors to check on potential weapons-making plants. They have not worked and have hit the ordinary people of Iraq hard."

Wyn said the sale had aroused a lot of interest among other parliamentarians, many of whom had been concerned about the issue since the United Nations Children's Fund estimated that sanctions had been a factor in the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children.

Under the sanctions regime, in place since the Gulf war of 1990-91, only oil can be imported from Iraq, and that is under the strict supervision of the UN. The oil is supposed to be used to buy food and other goods for Iraq.

One of the organizers of the forthcoming London event, Mil Rai, who recently returned from a visit to Iraq, said sanctions should be scrapped to allow the economy to be revived. People could then get jobs and money in their pockets.

Dates were a symbol of economic revival, said Rai, because they were the second largest export before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

Kathy Kelly of "Voices in the Wilderness" in the United States, who also visited Iraq recently, said Thursday that she found a sense of resignation in the country. "Virtually everyone I met expects a massive attack," she said.

There was little awareness of the continuing impact of sanctions on ordinary people's lives, she said. "The U.S. public has been exposed primarily to a cartoon version of good guys and bad guys and a quick fix solution."

A relative of the main speaker at the anti-sanctions meeting February 21 --Craig Scott's widow, Amber --led the "Walk for Healing and Peace" from Washington to New York last November.

In an article in the Chicago Tribune, Amber told political leaders, "If you choose to respond to this incomprehensible brutality by perpetuating violence against other innocent human beings, you may not do so in the name of justice for my husband."

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