To Iraq, on a mission of peace | AspenTimes.com

To Iraq, on a mission of peace

Photo courtesy of Sue Gray.Carbondale resident Sue Gray makes her feelings known during a recent protest march against a war in Iraq that was held in Denver.

Sue Gray believes so strongly in working for peace that she plans to leave the safety of Carbondale for the danger of Iraq before the end of the year.

Gray knows that she risks prosecution by the U.S. government or getting killed in a war. But at this point, staying home and shutting up is what she fears most.

“I don’t like sitting around and doing nothing,” she said. “The people in Iraq are suffering because of the actions of the American government. I want to show the people of Iraq that Americans don’t hate them.”

So Gray applied recently to join one of the American delegations organized by a group called the American Friends Service. The Chicago-based organization sends groups of 10 to 12 civilians to Iraq in what it calls Christian Peacemaker Teams.

The teams stay for two weeks to visit schools and hospitals, observe the results of U.S. sanctions on the Iraqi people and extend a message of peace from the American people.

For Gray, a 45-year-old grandmother, this mission is her first humanitarian effort. Before Sept. 11, 2001, she “totally ignored the whole world” around her, she said. But the national tragedy spurred her to research the roots of the United State’s involvement in the Middle East and its conflict with Iraq.

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“I am appalled at the policies of our government and want so much to do something good for the Iraqi people, to make up, in some small part, for all of the terrible things the United States has done and is planning to do to them,” Gray said.

In a spiritual sense, she has arrived at a place where she doesn’t see national borders, she explained. She sees only humanity. And she feels a need to promote peace.

Most of the Iraqi victims of the U.S. sanctions have nothing to do with terrorism; they are simply innocent bystanders in a conflict they have done nothing to create, said Gray. Her research shows that U.S. sanctions have been responsible for 1.5 million civilian deaths in Iraq since 1991.

American Friends Service teams with an organization called Voices in the Wilderness to send the peace teams to Iraq. Gray hopes to get accepted for a trip in December.

“Things are kind of up in the air right now because of the war plans,” she said. But if war hasn’t broken out by December, the delegation will be sent. If waging war is hindered by a group of U.S. civilians visiting Iraq, so much the better, said Gray.

If selected, Gray and her peace team would fly to Jordan, then take a bus into Iraq. The peace organizations have a network of contacts in the foreign land. The teams include one or two people who have previously traveled to Iraq and know how to respond to conditions there.

The peace groups, and other international relief organizations, are welcomed into Iraq by the government there. Gray said it is her understanding that they are even assigned security guards to help assure their safety.

“There are some inherent dangers from going over there ? not so much from the Iraqis, but from the American government,” she said. If convicted of visiting Iraq, the crime is punishable with a term of up to 12 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

So far, the U.S. hasn’t prosecuted any citizen for going to Iraq on a mission of peace.

Gray said her friends and family admire her goals and principles but fear for her life. “My husband, in particular, is worried,” she said. She also has a 25-year-old son and a 6-year-old granddaughter. She hopes her actions can help create a better world for that granddaughter.

To be considered for a peace team, Gray has to demonstrate that she can raise the funds herself for the trip. She is seeking at least $2,500 in pledges and so far has raised $1,700. She isn’t asking for money yet, just pledges in case she is selected.

In addition to funds for travel expenses, Gray is trying to raise funds to buy basic medical supplies for use in Iraq.

If war breaks out before she can go or if she isn’t selected, Gray hopes to persuade those who pledged funds to contribute the money to an international relief effort that targets Iraq.

And if she makes the trip, Gray wants to return to the Roaring Fork Valley to share the information she has learned. After the Sept. 11 tragedy, her interest in peace efforts linked her with the Roaring Fork Peace Coalition, a local group promoting a peaceful resolution to ending hostilities with Iraq.

Gray said she would work with the coalition to share information about Iraq and speak at church groups throughout the valley.

People who want to help with her efforts can pledge funds by writing her at thegrays@rof.net, or sending a note with a pledge amount and contact information to Stepstone Center, P.O. Box 2044, Carbondale, CO 81623.

More information about the Christian Peacemaker Teams is available at http://www.prairienet.org/cpt/history.php.

[Editor’s note: Faces of the Roaring Fork is a new feature of The Aspen Times that will appear each Thursday. The goal of these stories is to put the spotlight on people in the Roaring Fork Valley who don’t usually make the pages of our daily newspapers.

Stories will focus on “regular folks” who have interesting stories to tell. We hope they will run the gamut: people with unique hobbies, people who have overcome some obstacle in life to pursue a dream, people who quietly help others in need, etc.

And that is why we are turning to our readers. Though we have plenty of stories in mind, we are sure there are many, many people out there worth writing about who will never cross our radar screen. So we are asking our readers to tell us about folks they know who deserve a little recognition, who have interesting tales to tell.

Anyone with ideas should call Editor Mike Hagan at 925-3414, or send e-mails to hagan@aspentimes.com. Thanks, in advance, for your help.]

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