The staff members -- representing Democrats and Congress' Independent representative -- were scheduled to visit a hospital and a school and receive a briefing from officials of the southern city before starting the 345-mile drive north to Baghdad.
The Americans are in Iraq to examine the impact of the trade embargo imposed following Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Their tour has been arranged with the help of the Chicago-based activist group Voices in the Wilderness, which has defied U.S. restrictions to bring thousands of dollars worth of medicines to Iraq.
Basra, a city of nearly 1.5 million people, has seen disturbances since the Feb. 19 assassination of the supreme leader of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority. Iraq has blamed the killing on rival Iran. Shiites are in the majority in Iraq, but power is held by Sunni Muslims. A Shiite uprising in Basra was crushed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
On Wednesday, the congressional staffers visited a hospital and a school in Amara, a city 240 miles south of Baghdad.
A Voices in the Wilderness executive, Kathy Kelly, said one staffer was reduced to tears by the sight of the malnourished children in the Saddam Hospital.
Staff members have generally declined to speak to reporters, saying they will report to their congressmen.
The congressional staffers are: Amos Hochstein, who works for Rep. Sam Gejdenson, a Connecticut Democrat; Peter Hickey, with the office of Rep. Cynthia McKinney, a Democrat from Georgia; Jack Zylman, from the staff of Rep. Earl Hilliard, an Alabama Democrat; Brian Sims, who works for Rep. Danny K. Davis, an Illinois Democrat; and Danielle LeClair, from the office of Rep. Bernard Sanders, an independent from Vermont.
Written by Waiel Faleh
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