Carbondale peace protester finds Iraq adventure rewarding and depressing
Sue Gray went to Iraq recently hoping to convince people there that not all Americans hate them. She was pleasantly surprised to find the message well-received.
Gray, 45, of Carbondale, said last week that her trip to the Middle East was “probably the best experience of my life.” She visited Iraq with a peace delegation of 15 Americans and Canadians at the turn of the new year.
“I’d say the biggest eye-opener was the disposition of the Iraqi people,” said Gray. “There was no anger directed at me for being an American.”
Iraqis were friendly to her even before they discovered she was a member of a peace delegation, she said. During visits to hospitals, schools and people’s homes and during free time spent exploring the streets of Baghdad, Gray never felt threatened and was never the target of ill will.
She went to Iraq on a trip organized by the American Friends Service. The Chicago-based organization sends groups of 15-people or so, Christian Peacemaker Teams, to the country to promote understanding between people of the nations and to try to prevent war.
@ATD Sub heds:Resigned to war
@ATD body copy: While many Americans feel that war is inevitable, many Iraqis are resigned to facing another attack from America, Gray discovered.
“They seemed to have a fatalistic view of things,” she said.
Iraqis explained that they felt they have been targets of the United States since the first Persian Gulf War, she said.
But Gray said she didn’t see any obvious preparations for war while traveling in Baghdad and Basra. Soldiers were visible in only a few places.
Gray said representatives of the Iraqi government accompanied her group only at certain times, like when an appointment was made with some quasi-official organization or when interpreters were needed. She referred to those government representatives as “minders.”
But members of her group had plenty of time to visit historic sites and shop on their own, mixing with common people. She said a surprising number of Iraqis spoke English.
The Iraqi people are well aware of the searches being undertaken by the United Nations weapons inspectors. The people pride themselves on being educated and informed about world affairs, she said.
Gray also sensed that the people there held a clear distinction between actions of the U.S. government and the American people. But they were also “relieved” to see Americans visiting their country on a mission of peace.
@ATD Sub heds:’I felt guilty’
@ATD body copy: Gray said she was amazed to learn how modern Baghdad is. “It looked like Long Beach, California, to me,” said Gray, who moved from California to Carbondale a few years ago.
But she also said it was evident that U.N. sanctions in place since the last Persian Gulf war have taken their toll. The electricity faded out, the plumbing left something to be desired and conditions were generally “run down,” according to Gray.
She visited hospitals that are “falling down” because there are no funds for maintenance. Limited money is spent trying to keep people alive.
Gray previously has spoken out against the U.S.-backed sanctions. They haven’t succeeded in driving Saddam Hussein from power and they are just victimizing innocent Iraqi civilians, she said.
“I felt a lot of guilt for what my country has done to their country,” said Gray.
So after returning to Carbondale earlier this month, she viewed her mission as only half completed. She plans to make several public appearances throughout the Roaring Fork Valley to share what she discovered in Iraq and to try to show that Arabs aren’t all that different from Americans. Nothing specific is scheduled yet.
Meanwhile, Gray suspects that the FBI is keeping tabs on her because of the unsanctioned visit to Iraq. She is convinced that her e-mail has been tapped by the U.S. government because of the way her computer has functioned lately.
“I don’t mind that they’re monitoring my peace efforts, not at all,” Gray said.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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