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Activists in 40-Day Fast to Protest Iraq Attack

BTL Q&A: Activists in 40-Day Fast to Protest Iraq Attack

From the radio newsmagazine Between The Lines

Between the Lines Q&A A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in mainstream media for release Aug. 26, 2002

Activists Conduct Fast at United Nations to Protest U.S. Plan to Attack Iraq

Interview with Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator with Voices in the Wilderness, conducted by Scott Harris

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The Bush administration's plan to wage war against Iraq has run into opposition from some unexpected quarters in recent weeks. While Democrats have largely muted their criticism of the Bush march to war, several prominent officials of past Republican administrations and GOP legislators have publicly cautioned that a unilateral attack on Iraq by the U.S. could create greater instability in the Middle East and harm long-term American interests.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft the national security advisor to the former President Bush, U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and House Majority leader Dick Armey have warned that the White House has not yet made a convincing case to the American people that an attack on Iraq now is justified and has not prepared adequately for the consequences of such a war.

Adding to renewed debate on U.S. policy toward Iraq are news reports that officials of the Reagan administration provided critical battle planning assistance to Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran during the 1980s, even as Baghdad's use of chemical weapons during that conflict was universally condemned. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator Voices in the Wilderness, a group which has long opposed United Nations/U.S. sanctions against Iraq. Kelly, who has visited Iraq 15 times, explains why she and seven other activists undertook a symbolic 40-day fast beginning Aug. 3rd in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

Kathy Kelly: We feel that fasting is a way to remind ourselves that its very difficult for people in other parts of the world, particularly we're focused on Iraq, not to have choices, about what they eat -- and to be relegated to eating an inadequate diet and giving that inadequate diet and poison water to their children in many, many cases all across Iraq. So it’s a good discipline just for us to break away from what's normal in our lives, to be filled daily with comforts and convenience and try to bring to mind and bring into our own lives a situation that's pretty abnormal really. But given the readiness of our country to wage constant and relentless warfare, economic and military, against Iraqi civilians we think we should break with what seems to be normal. It's not normal to be using the United Nations as an instrument of warfare against children. It's not normal to have child slaughter and child sacrifice on our hands to the point of over half a million children under age five having died because of t

Between The Lines: You mentioned your hope that average citizens, elected officials and policy makers would break ranks with the current United States/United Nations policy of sanctions against Iraq and certainly the talk of war that's in the air. Surprisingly, we've heard from Dick Armey, Brent Scowcroft, Henry Kissinger, all questioning the current policy. But what you can tell us about this apparent split among particularly Republicans at this point? Democrats seem to remain silent.

Kathy Kelly: I hope that when people, for instance, hear Sen. Chuck Hagel saying containment is working just fine, that they won't accept that as an alternative to warfare. That's what certainly happened in 1990, people said sanctions will work just fine. Containment, is, I think a code word for sanctions.

It does seem that President Bush may have gone so far out on a limb -- kind of pushed out there, I think by the most right-wing, hawkish members of his administration -- that some other voices, including voices that were quite close to his father, like Mr. Scowcroft, needed to go public in order to give a chance to pull things back. And I would guess that some of the people very concerned about the U.S. ability to recycle petro dollars from the Middle East back into U.S. banks, back into U.S. defense companies, don't like it one bit, that an attack against Iraq could possibly create so much chaos and upheaval in the event of a civil war or in the event of an invasion of Iraq from the south, or in the event that a new government would be (installed) and then would be toppled. In the event that the Saudis would be so angry that they might tell the U.S. to go take a hike. It's quite possible that the people who keep their eye on the ball -- the ball being oil and oil prices and oil stability and oil revenue ge

Between The Lines: How do you respond to people who say that Saddam Hussein represents a threat to its neighbors and the United States, that weapons of mass destruction certainly could be unleashed on innocents around the region or even the United States. Maybe you could weave into your response some of the latest revelations in the New York Times about how the United States continued to aid Iraq in its war against Iran, at a time when Iraq was using these chemical weapons.

Kathy Kelly: Well, it certainly is clear that there's a terrific hypocrisy going on, that people who worked for the Reaga n administration, including Mr. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Powell, knew and were not at all speaking out against the advice of Defense Intelligence Agency experts given to Iraq about when and where to use nerve gas against Iranians.

On the very day when chemical weapons are alleged to have been used against the Kurds in Halabja by the Iraqi government, Donald Rumsfeld was in Iraq. He was carrying a handwritten letter from President Reagan. He was seeking to shore up the Iraqi government because they didn't want Iraq to lose to Iran at that point. What then did Mr. Rumsfeld have to say about weapons of mass destruction, about chemical weaponry in Iraq? Not one word.

I want to say that I don't believe that Iraqi is a threat to its immediate neighbors. How is Iraq a threat to Turkey when Turkey invades northern Iraq quite regularly to go in and attack Kurds? Is Iraq a threat to Kuwait or a threat to Saudi Arabia when both of those countries are backed up by the U.S. military?

Is Iraq a threat to Iran, when Iran in fact, can deliver ballistic missiles as far as Tel Aviv? I doubt it. Is Iraq a threat right now to Egypt when Egypt is one of the top recipients of (U.S.) military aid, and the Egyptian people are in the streets begging that sanctions be lifted and that there be no new warfare against Iraq?

Is Iraq a threat to Israel? I think in its belligerent rhetoric, the answer is yes. That Iraq has made statements about the desirability of seeing Israel ruined, harmed. I myself will never approve of any country or any leader wishing harm on a civilian population elsewhere or wanting to eliminate another country. That's unacceptable. But I believe it's mainly rhetoric. Israel has 200-400 thermonuclear weapons.

Is Iraq a threat to the United States? I think the most honest answer to that question is that Iraq poses a threat to the U.S. ability to control Iraq's oil. Full stop. Now is that a reason for us to go to war, or would we not in this country be much better off if we had an energy policy and we didn't consume and guzzle so much of the world's resources? Wouldn't we be better off if we learned to live without the expectation that we can automatically take as much as we want and automatically be people who already have so much and are somehow entitled to get more?

Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator with Voices in the Wilderness, can be contacted by calling (773) 784-8065; or visit their Web site at (

Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending Aug. 30, 2002

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