Global Policy Forum

Americans Fly to Iraq

Associated Press
January 13, 2001

The first group of American civilians to fly to Iraq in more than a decade landed Saturday in Baghdad to deliver books, medicine and a call for lifting the steadily eroding embargo on the Arab nation.

The 27 Americans arrived on a Royal Jordanian plane, from Amman, Jordan, the latest of dozens of ostensibly civilian flights to reach Iraq in recent months following 10 years of U.N. sanctions that effectively ban air travel.

``We're probably the first Americans who have flown over Iraq for a long time who haven't brought bombs,'' said James Jennings, organizer of the trip, which includes religious and humanitarian groups from 10 American cities.

``All these people have come together to show that there are many thousands of Americans who are concerned about the devastating effects of these sanctions,'' Jennings said.

The Americans did not request U.S. or U.N. authorization for their trip. However, they did not technically violate the sanctions placed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Jordan, which owns the airline, sent a passenger and cargo list to the U.N. sanctions committee for approval before the flight to Iraq, officials said. Another group of 50 American activists was expected to reach Baghdad on Saturday night, headed by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

``Down USA'' is painted in large black letters on the sidewalk at the entrance to the Saddam International Airport and similar handwritten signs are posted throughout the massive terminal building. However, a delegation of more than 100 Iraqis led by Health Minister Omed Medhat Mubarak warmly greeted the Americans on the tarmac on a cold, foggy day. ``We think this is a very important event, because it has been the Americans who have imposed the embargo for more than 10 years,'' said Mubarak.

The U.S. group brought $150,000 worth of medicine, eyeglasses, school supplies and medical books for the Iraqis. U.S. activists have brought humanitarian aid before, but they have always traveled overland from Jordan.

The air embargo against Iraq began crumbling in September, when French and Russian planes flew to Baghdad. Since then dozens of flights from European and Middle Eastern countries have arrived in the Iraqi capital carrying aid, activists and businesspeople.

Most of the flights manage to skirt the sanctions issue by including humanitarian aid, which is permitted. The Americans and others have portrayed their flights as a challenge to the sanctions, but U.N. officials have not taken that view.

At the United Nations, a U.S. official said Friday that the United States allowed the flight to be approved, though it was viewed as a ``propaganda tool for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.'' ``It's well documented that there is plenty of food and medicine to go around in Iraq. But Hussein chooses not to distribute it,'' said Mary Ellen Glynn, spokeswoman at the U.S. mission. ``He is happy to send food and aid to the Palestinian people when it serves his purposes but he doesn't distribute it to his own people.''

The sanctions have never blocked humanitarian aid, and the U.N.'s oil-for-food program allows Iraq to import basic goods. However, Iraq blames the sanctions for more than 1 million deaths over the past decade.

The U.S. groups taking part in the trip included Jennings' Atlanta-based Conscience International, the Child Welfare Committee of the American Pediatric Association, social workers and child disability rehabilitation specialists. More than 100 Jordanian doctors, nurses and representatives of pharmaceutical companies were also on the flight.

More Information on Civilian Flights
More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq
More Information on the Iraq Crisis


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