Certain moments stand out in Kathy Kelly's mind from her eight trips to Iraq over the past three years. "Last year on one hospital visit I walked into a very crowded children's ward and a mother was sobbing and calling for help," says Kelly, cofounder of the Chicago-based group Voices in the Wilderness, which has deliberately violated UN sanctions against Iraq by taking medical supplies into the country. "The doctor who was our guide raced over to her side and gave resuscitation to her seven-month-old baby. It worked. The baby had had a cardiac arrest and was suffering from a full-body infection, and they had no antibiotics. So this baby had come back to life, but the doctor just had this look of very somber despair on his face and he said to the mother, 'I'm sorry, your child can be with you for minutes, maybe an hour, but this child cannot live--we don't have the oxygen, we don't have the tubes.'"
The mother pulled Kelly onto the bed and sobbed. "I sat with the mother while the baby gasped, and eventually after maybe 15 minutes the baby died. And all the other mothers were completely keyed into this. Tears were streaming down their faces; they all held their babies in their arms."
The UN estimates that one million Iraqis have died from disease or malnutrition as a direct result of its eight-year embargo against the country; it says roughly 7,000 children are dying every month. "The doctors are essentially psychologists now," says Kelly. "They help the kids get ready for the deaths of the other kids in the ward, and then eventually for their own deaths."
As related in a Reader story last December, Kelly and other Voices members rushed to Iraq to witness U.S. bombing raids----the group was already facing a $160,000 fine from the Treasury Department. While in Baghdad, Kelly met a woman whose intestines had been pierced by a piece of shrapnel from a U.S. bomb. "They had one colostomy bag for the entire hospital," she says. She visited another clinic where "ten women had spontaneously aborted their babies, they were just so terrified. We were introduced to a little boy--he hadn't slept for three days because he was afraid that if he lay down flat it would bring more bombs."
Kelly says that only once did she feel she might become a scapegoat for the Iraqi people's anger--on a visit to a small town outside Baghdad where in 1991 an American missile missed its target and hit a busy marketplace. She was told it killed 150 people. "We went there to kind of show our respect but also to say to any news crews that would come with us, 'Look, these bombs don't always hit their intended targets.'" Kelly got separated from the others in her delegation and found herself surrounded by about a dozen angry, shouting people. "I don't speak any Arabic and I'm not that tall, and this one man was really enraged," she says. "It turned out his child had been killed at that marketplace, and he was telling me that. 'My boy lost his life here,' he said. 'And look at us now--eight years later. I'll show you water you wouldn't even give your animals to drink!' And then he just sort of looked at me more intently and he said, 'Oh, madam, you look tired. You come with me. I'll give you lunch.'"
Kelly will speak about her latest visit to Iraq, and she'll discuss the continuing legacy of the UN sanctions at 7 this Friday at the Autonomous Zone, 2012 W. Chicago (773-252-6019). Also at 7, Denis Halliday, former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, will speak at Garrett Theological Seminary, 2121 Sheridan in Evanston. Halliday quit his post because, he says, he could no longer cooperate in conscience with the sanctions. Call 312-427-2533 for more information on that event. Both talks are free. --Linda Lutton