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Activists oppose sanctions on Iraq

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Two leading activists in the international effort to loosen sanctions against Iraq will join local peace advocates this week in efforts to convince lawmakers that the economic quarantine against Iraq hurts its citizens, not its dictator Saddam Hussein.

After speaking at a forum about the sanctions next week at Colorado College, activists Kathy Kelly and Phyllis Bennis will join local peace activists in a campaign to influence Colorado's national legislators.

Earlier this summer, members of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission visited the local offices of Colorado's Republican Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Wayne Allard, as well as Rep. Joel Hefley, carrying small bags of rice to show congressional aides the average daily diet of a typical Iraqi. This time, they intend to return with the two visiting activists, who've seen the effect of sanctions firsthand.

Kathy Kelly has traveled to Iraq 14 times since 1996 as co-founder of the group Voices in the Wilderness, while Phyllis Bennis, a Mideast expert with the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, has also been to Iraq many times since the Persian Gulf War.

For her part, Bennis will likely talk about her most recent trip, part of the first congressional delegation to visit Iraq since the 1991 war.

Despite objections from the State Department, the group was able to visit undersupplied children's hospitals, torn-up urban landscapes and desolate camps for people displaced by Iraq's war with Iran.

"People are living in horrifying conditions," Bennis said, noting that Iraq's water infrastructure was badly damaged by bombing. "Since there's no money to repair the sewage system, you have children running through raw sewage in the street."

Post-war conditions have resulted in dramatic increases in disease and malnourishment -- particularly among Iraq's children -- while the sanctions have allowed Iraq's government to consolidate power as the main agent of food distribution in the country, she noted.

Bringing those issues to political leaders is an uphill battle, Bennis admits. The crisis in Iraq has faded from mainstream attention -- due to events in Kosovo and East Timor -- but also because the mainstream media has not reported consistently about current conditions in Iraq.

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