Wadah Kasimi

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Wadah Kasimi

2002 trip to Iraq

In 2002 Virginia Democratic Party Congressman Nick Rahall (also of Lebanese descent), asked James Abourezk to accompany him on an humanitarian mission to Iraq. Abourezk then invited Institute for Policy Studies Fellow Saul Landau to accompany them.

Harold Samhat, a retired Arab American businessman also joined the delegation as did Knight Ridder correspondent Warren Strobel.

Saul Landau wrote an extensive report[1]on the trip for The Progessive, November 2002.

What lessons has Saddam learned from the Gulf War? Landau asked Abourezk.

We'll see, but I'm not optimistic, Abourezk replied. We have to talk Iraqi officials into doing something they don't want to do: Readmit the U.N. weapons inspectors Clinton ordered to leave in 1998. Otherwise, Bush'll bomb the shit out of the Iraqis..]

Rahall told Wadah Kasimi, the Iraqi official in charge of their visit, to cancel the visit to alleged sites of weapons of mass destruction because, said Abourezk, we wouldn't know a Vaseline-making plant from an anthrax factory, so why bother?

On the first day, the delegation visited the offices of Dr. Omed Mubarak, Iraqi minister of health. He explained how the U.S. and British delegates that sit on the UN committee overseeing the sanctions destroy the integrity of our health system by vetoing our access to crucial parts of chemotherapy cocktails and surgical equipment because they might have military use.

To illustrate Mubarak's argument, Landau wrote he sends us to a nearby pediatric hospital where we observe a Kurdish girl clinging to her desperate-looking mother. The little girl has blood oozing from her mouth. The doctors explain that they have no medicines to treat her leukemia.

I have a daughter about her age," Abourezk says, trying to hide his tears. Dr. Mubarak describes how children have developed leukemia after playing with shrapnel from depleted uranium bombs dropped by U.S. planes. Bush rightly condemns Iraq for using chemical weapons, but he fails to own up to the extensive use by the United States of shells tipped with depleted uranium. There has been a plethora of deformed births in southern Iraq, where most of the depleted uranium ordnance was dropped--children born with no heads, with enlarged heads, with other killing birth defects.

The delegation also visits Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

Landau re-counts, Abourezk knew Aziz back in the 1980s, and while he and Rahall meet with Aziz privately, the rest of us contemplate several Saddam portraits adorning the waiting room walls. These icons of Saddam, in prayer, in derby with rifle, in uniform saluting, are ubiquitous...The Congressman and former Senator reemerge from Aziz's office with the owlish-looking Iraqi official behind them, dressed in his canned spinach green uniform, belt drawn tightly around his belly. Now in his seventies, Aziz belongs to the dwindling fraternity of original Ba'ath Party members who made the revolution in 1979 and survived Saddam Hussein's ruthless whim.

Jim, the Iraqi people need peace, Aziz asserts. But the Bush Administration wants no talk, no dialogue about any matter. It threatens to attack and then invade and our regime should be changed. What are the pretexts? If, for instance, W.M.D. [weapons of mass destruction] are a genuine concern, I have said repeatedly that it could be resolved. I don't understand why the American Congress didn't respond positively to our fact-finding mission. We allowed them to bring any experts, any equipment they needed. It's not that difficult a job to trace such activities. In UNSCOM they have the instruments to detect any biological or chemical weapon or nuclear activity. It's not going to take years for the Congress to be assured that there is no activity--maybe only days.

Landau says that Abourezk presses Aziz. Is there a reason for not allowing the weapons inspectors to come back?

Azziz replies, there is no guarantee it will prevent war. They could be used to create a crisis with the Iraqi government and then be used as a pretext to attack.

Abourezk insisted that some Bush Administration people had serious reservations about making war unilaterally and according to Landau, told Azziz that your acceptance of inspectors might help this coalition of Bush opponents make a stronger case against U.S. military action.

Aziz replied, Bush has said the U.S. will attack with or without the inspectors... So we're doomed if we do, doomed if we don't. If we can't prevent war, why expose ourselves to inspectors who will visit military barracks and then expose facts on how many tanks, anti-aircraft, etc. we have? If you're doomed if you do and doomed if you don't, you better don't.

When Abourezk and Rahall come out of the session, Laudau reports that they seem dejected.

I understand their arguments, Abourezk says, but they just don't get American politics.

Rahall agrees. If the American people knew what our weapons had done to innocent people here. At a bomb shelter--now museum--that took two smart bomb hits in the 1991 Gulf War, we see how our intelligent weapons transformed 408 women and children from flesh into ashes.

The day before we leave Iraq announces it will readmit the UN inspectors without conditions. The Iraqi foreign ministry official tells the delegation that their trip has been successful.

Abourezk smiles and says, Yes, with a little help from Nelson Mandela, the Arab League, and Kofi Annan.

Abourezk is delighted that the Iraqis have agreed to the inspectors. Now he thinks, perhaps erroneously, Congress can show some backbone.

Once home, Abourezk hits the talk show circuit and Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle (who once worked for Abourezk as a Senate legislative aide), angered by Bush's insinuation that the Democrats are traitors, makes an irate denunciation of the President on the Senate floor. Even Al Gore in his San Francisco speech manages to muster a challenge to Bush's unilateralism. Edward Kennedy also decries the President's rush to war.

For his part, Abourezk remains realistic, unsure if the war against Iraq can be stopped.

We'll do what we can," he says between radio and TV talk shows, because we owe it to the civilians who will die in the bombing and to the American soldiers who will die in the ground-fighting. Hell, that's what you have to do if democracy and citizenship are going to mean anything.