Global Policy Forum

Will the US Allow its Nationals to Fly to Baghdad?


By Ramzy Baroud

Arabia Online
December 2, 2000

What once began as a daring French and Russian attempt to break the 10-year old siege on Iraq, is now becoming a trend, a new venue for anti-sanctions activism, and most likely a lasting political reality. Airlifts to Iraq are constantly increasing, and Iraq's International airport is busier than it has been in a decade. But most noticeably, American anti-sanctions activists are now planning to take their activism into a new "height" by joining the trend, and flying to Baghdad.

Conscience International, a leading anti-sanctions force based in Atlanta, Georgia, announced on November 9 its intentions to send two humanitarian flights to Iraq, directly from the United States. Although the dates for the two trips have not been finalized, December 2-12, and January 13-23 have been decided as tentative dates, according to a statement released by the group. The group's planned flights to Iraq, if allowed to proceed, will be done through a Jordanian airline, allowing activists to avoid the US State Department's retaliation by stopping briefly in a third country, Jordan.

In its statement, Conscience International revealed details of its airlifts to Baghdad. "Arrangements are 98% complete for the initial US-based flights into Baghdad," said James Jennings, the group's President. "Conscience International's petition to the Jordanian Foreign Minister and meeting with airline officials in Amman in October apparently helped the airline (Royal Jordanian Airlines) gain long-sought permission to begin regular flights"

In the statement, Jennings called on anti-sanctions activists from around the United States to "make the historic journey to Iraq with one of the first Conscience International flights to Baghdad."

The United States however, despite its hesitant recognition of the civilian flights to Iraq, persistently warned air travelers to expect danger. "We caution that the [no-fly] areas are areas of continuous military operation and present significant danger to aircraft and passengers," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher in a statement issued on November 4th. But despite these warnings, increasing numbers of flights to Iraq are deliberately flying through the US-imposed no-fly zone, and intentionally failing to acquire permission from the UN Sanctions Committee as demanded by the United States.

"It is legal to travel to Iraq for humanitarian purposes," said Jennings in an interview while on his way to Iraq from Amman, by car, perhaps for the last time. He added, "Flights from the US will stop in a third country, which Ms. Albright has commented on with an attitude of benign neglect." When asked whether the scheduled flights of December and January are an introduction to more airlifts to Iraq, he firmly replied, "Yes, we intend to continue the flights."

"They (the sanctions) are ineffective and counterproductive, and constitute a violation of the UN charter, the Geneva Convention, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Jennings said. "They are genocidal and racist in their application and have serious potential for classification as war crimes before the world court and theory international bodies."

It remains unclear whether the United States government's response will remain relatively moderate to those Americans who break the sanctions, carrying badly needed medicine and prohibited school supplies. On November 24th, the US government imposed sanctions a Qatari royal for donating a Boeing 747 to Iraq. Such a decision indicates that the US is not taking the defiance of the US led UN siege on Iraq lightly.

US anti-sanctions activists however, appear little intimidated by their government's attitude. Iraq Sanction Challenge, another active group lead by former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, is collecting millions of dollars worth of medicine, generated support and media attention for its January 11 trip to Iraq. The group will be meeting with the airlifted Conscious International delegates in Baghdad.

The sanctions imposed on Iraq are slowly fading, thanks to the courageous steps taken by numerous activists around the World. Economic normalization between Iraq and traditional US allies like Turkey, are further isolating the United States, who insists on keeping the sanctions in place. But now American nationals are intending to violate the American taboo by flying to Iraq themselves.

Will the United States stand aside and allow regular flights from New York to Baghdad, even if through Jordan? The answer remains mere speculation, but the anticipated US reaction, no matter what it contains, is likely to reflect the future US policy toward the Iraqi sanctions and toward those who undermine those sanctions.

More Information on Civilian Flights to Iraq
More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq


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