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Sunday, August 29, 1999 Published at 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK

World: Middle East

US team probes Iraq sanctions

The delegation defied the US State Department

A delegation of six American congressional officials have arrived in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad on what they say is a humanitarian mission.

The five-day trip is focused on examining the impact of nine years of UN sanctions on Iraq's civilian population.

The US State Department has opposed the visit on the grounds that it was "unsafe" for American citizens to go to Iraq.

[ image: Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness]
Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness
The group Voices in the Wilderness - which campaigns to end economic sanctions - said it had been "appalled and deeply disturbed" at the Clinton administration's policy.

"What is the State Department afraid of ?" asked Kathy Kelly, who met the delegation on arrival at Baghdad's Palestine hotel.

"Those of us who have travelled to Iraq already know with passion that US warplanes that bomb Iraqi civilians are fearsome and economic sanctions that slaughter innocents are fearsome."

The group was later told that it could enter Iraq as long as members didn't use their American passports.

The delegation's spokeswoman, Phyllis Bennis, said no meeting was planned with President Saddam Hussein - but the group was planning to meet officials from relief agencies and the UN.

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