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Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Speaks About Iraq

Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Speaks About Iraq

By Sonia Nettnin

Kathy Kelly is a major figure in the peace and anti-war movement. She is a co-coordinator of Voices in the Wilderness, an organization that campaigned to end U.N. and U.S. sanctions. The organization campaigns to nonviolently resist U.S. militarism at home and abroad.

During the U.S.-invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Kelly aided the victims after the shock and awe campaign. She spoke about her experiences before and during the war on Saturday.

Since the 1990s, Kelly visited Iraqis in their homes and in hospitals. She brought medicine and toys for sick Iraqi children. Her work earned her nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.

Kathy Kelly, nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, three times.

For their actions, Kelly and Vitw face a $20,000 fine imposed by the U.S. Government. Recently, Kelly spent three months in Pekin Federal Prison (Pekin, IL) because she violated the sanctions.

“I saw at least 1,000 children under the age of five in hospitals,” she said. She described their wrinkled and emaciated bodies. With fragile bones and hearts thumping, the infants neared the end of their lives.

Their mothers watched their children die tortuous and gruesome deaths.

According to Vitw’s web site, “economic sanctions claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children, through water borne disease and through the denial of medical care and humanitarian infrastructure.”

In the summer of 2003, Kelly lived with an Iraqi family. She described the humidity (rotuba/rotouba in Arabic).

“We slept on the rooftop,” she said. “It was so hot you had to dump water so you wouldn’t pass out.”

However, Kelly is not referring to water from a kitchen sink. Iraqi children splashed sewer water on their heads. Drinking water is bottled water and it is expensive.

“We spent more money in two days on bottled water than the family had for one month,” she added.

Families have water pumps, but they need electricity. If power is not reliable and/or the families cannot afford it, then they have no access to water. Sewerage and sanitation purifies this water with whatever resources available. Since communities of people share this water, water from the pump is not abundant.

According to a Medact report summarized on Vitw’s web site, “Iraq already had high child and adult mortality and there is an alarming recurrence of previously well-controlled communicable diseases including diarrhoeal diseases, acute respiratory infections and typhoid, particularly among children. There is also a greater burden of noncommunicable disease, but a lack of resources, facilities and expertise to reverse the trends. The likely consequence will be an additional burden of preventable death and disability.”

After the shock and awe campaign, an influx of journalists entered the country. Kelly conversed with one journalist, in hopes there would be coverage of humanitarian stories.

When Kelly mentioned a U.N. Report that talked about the cause of economic sanctions, the reporter responded: “Journalists were briefed that the U.N. was in bed with Saddam Hussein.”

In a recent article, Kelly wrote: “In fact, many UN officials tried valiantly to put an end to the economic sanctions. Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday resigned their posts and crisscrossed the globe educating people about the effects of the economic sanctions which Halliday termed ‘genocidal’” (12/01/04,

During the war, who briefed embedded journalists? How many journalists conducted independent research?

The Society of Professional Journalists has a code of ethics. The first tenet is: “test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.”

Journalists reported Hussein’s mass graves and his regime’s prisoner abuses. Yet, interviews with Iraqis had minimal coverage. In U.S. mainstream media, predominant images showed Iraqis from an observational perspective. Overall, insight and analysis was not from Iraqi civilians’ point of view.

Tenet fourteen of the SPJ code of ethic states: “give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.”

Perhaps 45 years of totalitarian regime made it a challenge to interview Iraqis. Did journalists ask people questions in the streets? What about doctors in hospitals?

From her experiences, Kelly summarized that Muslims want the U.S. Government to stop attacking Muslim communities. “People have a terrible grievance against us,” she said. “We should hear what they have to say.”

Recently, Kelly participated in a protest at The School of the Americas, Fort Benning, GA. After her arrest, she described the poking, jabbing and grabbing she experienced from the soldiers. They clipped her hands behind her back in plastic cuffs. At some point, they asked her to balance on one leg. Kelly verbalized her imbalance.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she said.

The soldier knocked her to the ground. They hog-tied her wrists and her ankles behind her back, and then kneed her.

“I can’t breathe,” she said.

After five or six minutes, the soldier released his knee from her back.

At the lecture, Kelly made the point: “Imagine what they (soldiers) do in a foreign country when they’re feeling fear, orders are unclear and there’s no one to watch.”

Kelly is a voice for the voiceless.


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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