Dinner brings Iraqi poverty to U.S. tables

by Brian Close

Visitors to St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Minneapolis were treated to a meager dinner Sunday to better experience current food shortages in Iraq.
The Iraq Peace Action Coalition served a dinner of lentils, rice and bread, followed by first-hand accounts of the Iraqi situation from four members who spent three days in the impoverished country.
More than 100 people, including University junior and Progressive Student Organization member Jen Udelhofen, recently returned from a trip to Iraq in which they brought $4 million in medical supplies to hospitals. The trip defied a United States travel ban and United Nations sanctions that require approval for shipments to Iraq.
The sanctions were imposed during the Gulf War and remain pending U.N. confidence in Iraq’s compliance with arms restrictions.
The trip was sponsored by the International Action Committee, and led by founder Ramsey Clark, a former attorney general in the President Johnson administration.
While in Iraq, the group demonstrated their support for Iraqi citizens and denounced U.N. sanctions restricting Iraq’s sale of oil as well as inbound shipments to the country.
Several of the members spoke of the shortages of food, medicine and spare parts for the infrastructure of Iraq, such as water purification plants. Local activist Jessica Sundin spoke of children dying, often from dysentery and diarrhea caused by impure water.
“Every single person I talked to had lost a family member due to the Gulf War or the sanctions,” she said. “Everywhere I went, I promised we wouldn’t stop until the sanctions are lifted.”
Marie Braun, from Women Against Military Madness, spoke about going through barren hospitals, where doctors have very little medicine that must be shared among the patients. In a video shown to the group, patients awaited treatment as doctors gave pessimistic prognoses.
Udelhofen and Sundin met with several students from the University of Baghdad and discussed sanctions as well as life in the two very different countries.
Udelhofen said she was moved by the Iraqi students’ motivation to do well even under extreme conditions, such as 90-degree days with no wind. In addition, she said she saw a class of 60 biology students sharing one Bunsen burner.
“That’s where I learned what surviving through struggle is,” she said. “Those students were the strongest people I have ever seen.”
Udelhofen announced Progressive Student Organization’s plans to protest at graduation ceremonies, as the speaker will be Madeleine Albright, who she said the Iraqi people refer to as Madeleine “No-bright.”
Udelhofen will give another speech on her travels later this week at La Raza Student Cultural Center.