Students from five D.C.-area universities listened to a Persian Gulf War veteran, sat in silence together and quietly launched a post-card campaign against U.S. sanctions in Iraq during an hour of silence Saturday in Kogan Plaza.
Ten organizations, including GW’s Arab Student Association and Muslim Students Associations from Georgetown, American, Howard and George Mason universities, sponsored the event designed to raise awareness about the medical and nutritional conditions caused by U.S. and U.N. sanctions. The day-long event drew about 75 participants.
Erik Gustafson, director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, said U.S. sanctions unfairly punish Iraqi citizens for the actions of Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq. Gustafson spoke about the burden children bear from the imposed embargoes and the failures of the oil-for-food program initiated under President Bill Clinton’s administration.
Gustafson, a Gulf War veteran, discussed his experience in a delegation with other Desert Storm veterans that went on an 11-day tour to assess the condition of Iraqi children.
I thought that it was interesting to hear someone who fought in the Gulf War and is not just a social activist, senior Raehan Ali said. It made me feel like I need to be more involved.
Students grew quiet when Gustafson spoke about an Iraqi woman who completed a program in higher education but later died from kidney failure because doctors did not have proper medical equipment to treat her.
Organizers said they believe the embargo prevents medical and nutritional imports from reaching low-income people in Iraq.
Thousands of children die in Iraq as a result of malnutrition and waterborne disease, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund Web site. UNICEF officials estimate that less than half the population in rural areas can access safe water sources in Iraq, and a quarter of the children are severely underweight.
I was inspired by the education campaign going on about the Iraqi children, junior Shireen Khan said. I wish there would be more of these events to educate people.
After the speech, students observed an hour of silence for prayer and reflection.
University MSA chapters set up tables to educate students about conditions in Iraq. Students joined efforts to fight U.S. sanctions by signing postcards addressed to the White House and to representatives from their congressional districts.
GW coordinators Rubina Siddiqui and Younus Mirza said they hope Saturday’s rally will bring together a sense of unity in raising awareness about Iraqi conditions.
It makes you realize the opportunity in the United States to utilize an education, senior Cyrus Cama said. The sanctions are not accomplishing its goals. (The Iraqi people) haven’t had access to technology and they are kept behind because of the actions of one man – Saddam Hussein.
Students said the event was successful.
I hope the event was a significant part of a greater effort to ease the pain and suffering of the Iraqi children, senior Faisal Matadar said.
-Nafeesa Syeed contributed to this report.