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Published on Friday, June 9, 2000 in the Kansas City Star
Punish Hussein, Not Iraqis
by Lewis W. Diuguid
 
Susan Lee remembered seeing a little girl watch her and other protesters carrying coffins on the Plaza.

"What are they doing?" the girl asked her mother.

The mother said, "I think they're trying to tell us something."

Similar cries occur the first Sunday each month as a committed few protest the bombings and nine years of sanctions against Iraq over the Persian Gulf War. The Task Force for Iraq last month demonstrated outside a Shawnee post office because sanctions prevented members from mailing such supplies as blankets and baby food to people in the war-ravaged nation.

They also interrupted last month's Harry S. Truman Good Neighbor Award luncheon honoring retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf. Five members stood among the 600 guests and peacefully recited lines as Schwarzkopf got up to give his acceptance speech.

One person said, "Are not the children of Iraq our neighbors, too?"

Others asked God's forgiveness for the sanctions that kill hundreds of children each month and for Americans being so comfortable with death. Police escorted them out, and the press labeled the five as "hecklers."

But they were polite, reasonable people who were just trying to tell the public of the suffering America is causing. Mary K. Meyer understands now why some Vietnam War protesters set themselves on fire.

"You get desperate to get attention," said Meyer, director of Shalom House in Kansas City, Kan., who went to Iraq last year to help people in need. "We've been unsuccessful in getting people to even look at it.

"Saddam Hussein is a bad guy. But if a country has a bad ruler, do you ignore the populous forever?"

Rep. Ike Skelton, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, told the Editorial Board of The Kansas City Star that Iraq continues to fire on U.S. planes. "We have to keep doing what we're doing -- keep the sanctions on," he said.

"I don't know what else to do," Skelton said. Hussein is a "rogue leader."

"The population is very unhappy, and it's his fault. There'll be an end to what he's doing one day. There will be a payday. But I don't know when."

Meyer said, however, that the continuing bombing and sanctions amounted to genocide.

The continuing protests are unpopular, but I think people like Meyer, Lee and others are players in what I've called this community's jam session for peace. They're trying to end the violence of war and promote global harmony.

Ahmed El-Sherif, who has been on four aid missions to Iraq, gave me one of his cards. It says, If anyone saves a single person, it is as if he or she saves the life of all people.

As Iraq suffers, so does America.

"You know our souls are dying," said Lee, who's with Holy Family Catholic Worker House. "It's the death of who we are as people."

El-Sherif said Iraq had devolved from an emerging nation to a pre-Third World state. He, Meyer and Lee described babies dying of dehydration and disease.

Hospitals have no antibiotics or medication. They said people were suffering tuberculosis and that depleted uranium -- from U.S. weaponry -- was causing an epidemic of leukemia.

"There is no hope in people's faces," El-Sherif said. "You see anger."

Lee witnessed the horror and devastation in Iraq last year. People wanted the suffering to end.

Children also aren't being educated because paper, pens, rulers and other school supplies are on a long list that sanctions keep out of Iraq. Children have no clue of what computers and the Internet can do.

Meyer wrote in an essay: "We were in Iraq when the Columbine tragedy took place, and we heard President Clinton say, `We must teach our children to resolve their differences with words, not weapons.'

"I thought, `Bill Clinton, do you hear what you are saying? Where do you think they get these ideas that violence is the answer?' "

Americans have become so desensitized to the violence and suffering U.S. actions cause, Lee said.

Yet, El-Sherif thinks Clinton is the only hope for an end to the sanctions and bombings. Rebuilding the decimated nation could be the president's legacy.

Lee thinks the answer lies in peace activists taking more risks to alert the public to the atrocities America is causing. "We must do this in the spirit of nonviolence," she said of protesters even putting themselves in the path of bombs.

I hope the sanctions and the bombings end long before people are forced to surrender their own lives to save others.

Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of the Editorial Board.

2000 The Kansas City Star

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