Iraqi President Saddam Hussein levels a sneer at the thought of combat with the United States, the specter of which looms more vivid with the seasons. His derision may visit him out of habit these days—military conflict, one area peace advocate contends, is only one more phase in a de facto war waged on the country for the better part of the last 12 years.

“Sanctions are a form of war,” the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Leah Wells said. “Essentially, what they amount to is one in eight children not reaching their first birthday and 5,000 children a month under the age of 5 dying as a result of malnutrition and water-borne diseases.”

The United Nations imposed numerous embargoes on fundamental goods to Iraq following its 1990 attack on Kuwait and amid speculation that Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction.

Wells, who will leave for Baghdad Sept. 19 on a fact-finding mission for her Santa Barbara-based nonprofit peace group, has experienced such degradation firsthand. Her trip to Iraq last August yielded the sight of raw sewage mixed with water supplies as children played around them.

Iraq’s educational infrastructure founders under the sanctions, Wells added—an irony given the nation’s stature among world cultures.

“That’s the area where the art of writing was invented—it’s the cradle of civilization,”Wells said. “The love of learning has always been very rich there. I’m really curious to see what the effects of this war preparation have on teachers and students.”

Wells, 26, will return from Baghdad Sept. 29.