Representative Tony Hall on Sunday left Jordan for a trek across the desert to Baghdad on the first trip by a US official to assess the "suffering" of the Iraqi people under a decade of UN sanctions.
"A lot of people in Iraq are suffering, I understand, and I want to go to try to understand why is that. My purpose in going is not political but purely humanitarian," Hall told AFP before leaving his Amman hotel.
"I will be visiting Basra (in southern Iraq), Baghdad and everything in between, hospitals, looking at water supplies, looking at orphanages and people who are hurting," Hall said.
He said he did not expect his trip to conflict with US support for the international embargo slapped on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait but hoped it would help ease the effect of the sanctions.
"I don't think it conflicts at all. I am a member of the Congress but at the same time a human being and I care a lot about innocent people, children," Hall said.
Upon his return home he will report his findings to Congress and lobby members "who have something to say about this."
"I don't go anyplace unless it can have an impact and because this is a humanitarian trip and not political, I expect it to have an impact" in easing the sanctions, Hall said.
Hall will tour Iraq with representatives of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent as well as the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Hall, 58, said he had not put in request to see Iraqi President Saddam Hussein or any other official but he did not rule out meeting members of the Baghdad regime.
The Democrat from Ohio, twice nominated for a Nobel Peace prize for his work to improve human rights conditions around the world, is due back in Jordan on Thursday evening.
On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that the Iraqi government had agreed to let US Rep. Tony Hall enter Iraq to see how his people are living, the congressman said Thursday.
Hall, who has made hunger-fighting the primary focus of his public life, said he wanted to investigate reports from relief agencies that a quarter of Iraqi children may be suffering from chronic malnutrition.
He said in an interview he would be paying particular attention to what happens to the food and medicine entering the country under the oil-for-food program started in 1996 to provide for Iraqis suffering under economic sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
If food and medicine are not reaching the people who need them, Hall said, he wanted to find out whether the United Nations needed to handle things differently, whether the relief agencies needed to do more or whether "maybe Iraq needs to get out of the way and let us do the job."
"These are questions I have," he said. "Right now I don't have any answers."
"The last two United Nations officials charged with running the oil-for-food program resigned in protest of sanctions' effect on Iraq's people," Hall said. "There is ample evidence that the suffering is real, although the causes are less clear to me." – (Agencies)- Photos AFP Archive.
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