Published on
The Kansas City Star (Missouri)

Building Peace While Picking Up the Pieces

Lewis Diuguid

Cries for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq have gained a lot of political traction. But world and Iraqi leaders must develop earnest plans to rebuild the war-torn nation.

That concern is the fizz in SODaPOP, which stands for Seasons of Discontent: A Presidential Occupation Project.

Longtime peace activist Kathy Kelly said Voices for Creative Nonviolence is leading a fall and winter campaign on Republican and Democratic headquarters in Iowa. She said Tuesday that about 50 volunteers will be at the offices of presidential hopefuls in Des Moines today.

The group is focusing on candidates who have not pledged to take steps to end the Iraq war, rebuild that country, oppose military attacks on other nations, such as Iran and Pakistan, and fund domestic and social service projects that the group calls "the Common Good in the U.S."

Kelly, who has been to Iraq before, during and after the start of the war, has seen how the violence has devastated that nation and hurt its people. She said there are 750,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan, 1.2 million in Syria, 100,000 in Egypt and 2 million displaced in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Iraqi children are dying of malnutrition, and families are succumbing to cholera, typhus, dysentery and diarrhea because of sewage and unclean drinking water. Inadequate electricity supplies have been a major problem since the war and the U.S. occupation. "It's a nightmare," Kelly said.

Yet, $10 billion a month is funding the war in Iraq while $2 billion a month is fueling the war in Afghanistan. The United States has spent about a half-trillion dollars fighting the war in Iraq, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Less than a pittance goes to relief services, Kelly said.

The documentary "No End in Sight" shows how the United States has bungled the war. It's why U.S. troop withdrawal is needed, so Iraq, the region and the world can begin to heal.

But the United States must be intimately involved in funding efforts to correct the devastation. Other nations and the United Nations have to help as well. Weapons going to Iraq must stop; relief must be distributed equitably; schools, hospitals, sewers, water lines, oil pipelines, bridges and roads must be rebuilt; a truth and reconciliation effort must start to heal the emotional trauma; and diplomacy must provide leadership.

The Iraqis have seen too much bloodshed, Kelly said. The Iowa campaign can help force candidates to address issues to end the fighting.

Voices for Creative Nonviolence is part of an 11-year-old, grass-roots effort to end economic and military warfare against Iraq. The group gets financial and community support in response to e-mails and newsletters sent to more than 15,000 people.

In addition to a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan within 100 days of taking office, Voices for Creative Nonviolence wants the new president to fully fund the reconstruction of Iraq. At home, the group wants the new president to rebuild the U.S. education system, create employment training programs for jobs that pay a living wage, provide universal health care and rebuild our urban cores and rural communities.

The group also wants the new president to launch a New Deal-like campaign to create affordable, safe and sustainable alternative forms of energy, energy conservation and social programs. It wants veterans' benefits to include the highest quality health care, education and job training.

These steps would put America on a path to a lasting era of peace.

Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of The Star's Editorial Board.

© Copyright 2007 The Kansas City Star

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