Chaldean Bishop reflects on "Hopeless Situation" under Sanctions
Courtesy of St. Louis "The Post Dispatch"; article by Deborah L. Shelton; 5 February 2001
(ZNDA: St. Louis) Archbishop Mar Jabrail Kassab of Iraq, in his first visit to the St. Louis area, painted a bleak picture Sunday of life in his country after a decade of economic sanctions.
Kassab is the archbishop of Basra for the Chaldean Catholic Church, which is associated with the Roman Catholic Church. In an interview at St. Francis Xavier College Church, Kassab described a country beset with economic hardship, social breakdown and general hopelessness.
Three-quarters of Iraqi adults are unemployed, and as many as 5,000 children under age 5 die every month from malnutrition and diseases that go untreated because of chronic shortages of basic medicines, he said.
"There is minimal access to food and minimal access to medicine," Kassab said, speaking through an interpreter. "Young people are living in a hopeless situation."
The Iraqi archbishop was in town to participate in a six-day conference on the 10th anniversary of the Gulf War and the beginning of the United Nations' economic sanctions against Iraq. Although it was the archbishop's first trip to St. Louis, it was his 29th visit to the United States, where he has been campaigning to lift economic sanctions against his country.
The U.N. embargo prohibits the sale of a range of products, including pharmaceutical equipment, insecticides, education supplies and chlorine to disinfect water. The sanctions were imposed in 1990 to force Iraq to admit international weapons inspectors.
Some people at the conference asserted that the embargo has remained in place in an attempt to heighten political tensions that could lead to the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein.
But "economic pressure has not translated into revolution," said Hans-Christof von Sponeck, former U.N. assistant secretary-general, who also attended the conference. "Saddam Hussein's life is fairly normal."
For 17 months, von Sponeck headed the U.N.'s oil-for-food program, which allows for the sale of up to $5.6 billion of Iraqi oil every six months in exchange for food and medicine. But he quit last year because, he said, the program was a total failure.
"Wherever you look socially, sanctions have brought about a very destructive reality," he said.
"We must see the Iraqis disarm, but economic sanctions should not be linked to disarmament."
Kassab's message was taken to heart by some of the approximately 1,000 people who heard him speak at Sunday Mass at St. Francis Xavier, 3628 Lindell Boulevard.
"He asked us to be a voice for suffering people," said Jim Fears, a retired teacher from Kirkwood. "And I'm very sympathetic. The American government is trying to force the Iraqi people to revolt, but it's poor people who are paying the price."
Jane Mix of suburban Glendale said: "This was the first time I've heard the (Iraqi) situation described in human terms."
Kassab was ordained a priest in 1961 and named archbishop of southern Iraq by Pope John Paul II in 1995. About 1 million of the country's 21 million people are Christian, most of them Chaldean-Catholic.
The St. Louis University Mission and Ministry is sponsoring the conference, which continues
through today at the university.
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