Iraqis Take Stand Against Sanctions

A group of Coloradans sees the nation firsthand and joins members of Congress in asking that restrictions be lifted

AMARA, Iraq – Iraqi Lt. Khaled Ramady stands proudly in front
of a dilapidated brick fort after a Colorado peace group passes

He and his troops consider themselves “at war” with U.S. and
British warplanes that regularly bomb Iraq. And they won’t let
visitors check their guns, just as their leader Saddam Hussein
won’t let United Nations inspectors look for possible chemical,
biological and nuclear weapons.

Kuwait is “our right,” 24-year-old Ramady adds.

“As long as you want to dominate my country, we will fight

Now much of the world is starting to believe that and
wondering what to do.

For nearly 10 years, a United Nations economic and military
crackdown – the most comprehensive in history – has tried to
control Saddam Hussein. And he’s still having his way, while 24
million working Iraqis struggle. U.N. officials say average
incomes have dropped from around $1,200 to $10 a month.

The United States remains firmly committed to defeating
Hussein. U.S. policy calls for “containment until regime change” –
making sure he doesn’t threaten other countries or amass weapons,
and eventually removing him from power.

But the Colorado peace group, which was in Iraq recently on a
12-day fact-finding mission, is not the only such organization
calling for a new course of action to ease the plight of ordinary

Some 70 members of U.S. Congress this month asked President
Clinton “to turn a new page in our dealings with Iraq” and lift
the economic sanctions.

And the 50-nation coalition marshaled to fight the Gulf War
against Iraq “is certainly deteriorating,” said Diane Rennack,
foreign policy analyst for the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

U.N. Security Council members France, China and Russia for
months have challenged U.S. and British efforts to ensure rigorous
weapons inspections in Iraq. Commercial interests in oil-rich Iraq
are growing.

On Feb. 2, a Russian tanker was caught smuggling Iraqi oil in
violation of the embargo. U.S. Navy SEALs seized that tanker.
Embargo-defying trade is on the rise, U.S. officials warn,
reaching an estimated $25 million worth of illegal oil exports a

Inside Iraq, the nine Coloradans encountered European and
Chinese business groups edging into the once-prosperous country
they expect will bounce back if sanctions are lifted. Taxi drivers
running the road between Amman, Jordan, and Baghdad say they move
more and more French, Russian, Chinese and Canadian businessmen
scoping out opportunities. Private-sector patience with sanctions
is wearing thin.

Hans von Sponeck, the senior U.N. official in Iraq,
questioned the morality of continuing “to keep a nation in the
refrigerator. … We must give each other a chance.” On Sunday,
von Sponeck asked to be relieved of his duties – he’d be the
second U.N. chief in Baghdad to resign.

And senior Iraqi officials, in interviews around Baghdad,
insisted Iraq wants only to live in peace.

So what does this mean for U.S. influence in the 21st century
– especially when it comes to maintaining multilateral economic

Dozens of countries are targets of unilateral U.S. sanctions
– a traditional foreign policy tool, short of war, designed to
further U.S. interests. But in a global economy where commerce is
ever more fluid, experts believe that only by building
international consensus can the United States really bring
pressure to bear. That requires serious diplomacy.

“To the extent the United States pushes too hard, it will
stimulate resistance” from other world powers, warns Richard
Haass, director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings
Institute in Washington, D.C., and a senior adviser to President
Bush during the 1991 Gulf War that repulsed Iraq’s invasion of

Yet Haass said he’s baffled by critics of sanctions against
Iraq. Ordinary Iraqis may be suffering, he said. “It’s just
important that people not blame the sanctions for what is the
cynical result of Iraqi policy.”

Sanctions must continue, he said, lest Hussein do something
outrageous. “It’s only a question of when, not if. Clearly the
best outcome is he’s out of power.”

But he’s not. And some U.S. officials say he may be re-arming.

So, the U.S. government is lobbying hard for a new U.N. plan
that would return weapons inspectors to Iraq in return for
eventually lifting sanctions. Hussein “is still a threat to
Kuwait,” contends Beth Jones, deputy assistant U.S. Secretary of
State focusing on Iraq. “Inspectors would make it better.”

In preparation for their January trip, members of the
Colorado peace group wanted to speak with a weapons inspector.
They turned to U.S. Air Force Capt. Eric Jackson, 31, raised in
Buena Vista and now stationed in Wyoming.

An aerospace engineer, Jackson spent four and a half months
in 1996 and 1997 working in Iraq with Richard Butler on the United
Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) weapons inspection team.

He traveled up and down roads – including the one in front of
Lt. Ramady’s fort – stopping everywhere from fertilizer plants to
storage bunkers in search of weapons material.

Iraq “was probably six months away from having the (nuclear)
bomb in 1991,” Jackson told the Coloradans. And Iraqis may well
have learned, from U.S. military advisers in the 1980s, details of
U.S. satellite surveillance, he said.

But “sanctions are not going to work,” he contends. They are
a crude “continuation of the medieval approach of surrounding
castles and trying to starve people out.”

Moreover, current U.S. demands for Iraq to allow more
inspections amount to “an untenable position,” Jackson said,
because chemical and biological weapons in a relatively
industrialized country such as Iraq can be practically impossible
to detect.

In Baghdad, senior Iraqi officials insisted Hussein has no
territorial ambitions – and the top U.N. official backed up their
case for easing economic sanctions.

“We want only to maintain our sovereignty as a nation. We
would like to have peaceful coexistence between Iraq and its
neighbors,” Usama Badraldin, a senior foreign ministry official,
said in a Denver Post interview.

Yet the new U.N. plan to end sanctions after bringing in
inspectors “is unworkable,” he said, because it would prolong a
process already tainted by allegations that some inspectors shared
information with intelligence agencies.

Iraqi officials didn’t express any urgency toward breaking
today’s deadlock. “It’s up to the United States,” Badraldin said,
“to decide how to roll the ball. We are open. We are ready. We
have no precondition other than: Respect our dignity. Respect our

A senior official of Saddam’s ruling Baath Party, Abdul
Hashemi – a Boston University graduate who later served as Iraq’s
ambassador to France and as education minister – spoke for the
government in a meeting with the Colorado group.

“What Iraq wants: Just leave us alone,” he said. “We have
oil. The United States wants oil. The oil we have, we will sell
it. We can’t drink it. We will not prevent you from getting it.
And we will not let Iraqi oil be used against you.”

He denounced U.S. efforts to “liberate” Iraq by toppling
Hussein, and challenged the Coloradans to see today’s conflict
from a broader perspective.

“If you are really for human rights,” he implored, “then
respect those rights for me.”

Meantime, weapons inspections vehicles were lined up and
ready to go outside von Sponeck’s U.N. office.

Von Sponeck warned that today’s standoff between governments
is creating an angry generation of Iraqis whose education and diet
are deteriorating under economic sanctions.

Millions of working Iraqis “have nothing to do with whatever
was done by their leaders,” von Sponeck said in a Denver Post
interview earlier this month.

“So why should they be hooked in the first place? It’s
regrettable that, in the confrontation of Iraq, the population
itself is taken for granted. This is the call that any responsible
person has to make: end the singling out of a population to
continue to suffer.”

Back in the United States, some of the 70 Congress members
who signed a Jan. 31 letter asking President Clinton to lift
economic sanctions planned to introduce Iraq legislation this
week. It aims at easing the humanitarian situation while
continuing an embargo on weapons.

Current policy “is not compassionate, and it’s not consistent
with our moral position in the world,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell
(R-Calif.), a co-author of the letter to Clinton. “And we’re not
accomplishing what we set out to do. … You’re not pressuring
Saddam with these economic sanctions. You’re hurting his people.”

In Iraq, from civil servants to mothers depending on food
rations in slums, people begged the visiting Coloradans for

“I just want to raise my children,” implored Sabeha Taher, a
single mother of five, in a crumbling home in the ancient city of

“It’s my duty,” she said. “What can we do?”

Personal Diplomacy

Nine Coloradans recently visited Iraq to reach out to its people and try to mend hatred wrought by nine years of warfare and sanctions.

QURNA, Iraq – Nine Coloradans walked reverently into what
religious scholars consider the Garden of Eden.

They found muddy trash, a skeletal tree and a swarm of unruly

The Adam Ice Cream stand and a tourist hotel were long closed.

A U.S. warplane had just bombed Iraqi positions nearby.

Nasser Adnan, 10, eyed the visiting peace group.

“I don’t like Americans,” he declared.

Hatred seems to be the only thing growing in the cradle of

Move 500 miles up the Tigris River to the Al-Zanabiq primary
school. There, teacher Mashall Abrahim’s classroom windows
shattered last November when an errant U.S. bomb fell next door.
Shrapnel shrieked across a playground that one minute later would
have been full of children. Now, student drawings show Iraqi
soldiers shooting blindfolded enemies hanging from trees.

And students ask: “”Why do the Americans hate us?'” said
Abrahim, a devout Christian woman with a fiery gaze.

“I tell them: “I have the same question. I have no answer.'”

“What is the crime that these children should bear all this
tension in their lives? I have no way or God or justification to
teach these children not to hate. They are learning it by their
own eyes and ears. It’s a daily event. I can’t turn it around
unless the bombing stops and they lift the sanctions. Then I could
try to tell the children there’s another way.”

That’s what the Coloradans are trying to do – find another way.

For nearly a decade, a U.S.-led military and economic crackdown
has effectively held Iraq’s 24 million people in a box.

The goal is containing their president, Saddam Hussein, who
set off the six-week Persian Gulf War when his forces invaded
Kuwait in 1990, and who amassed fearsome chemical, biological and
possibly nuclear weapons.

A United Nations-enforced embargo shuts off Iraq’s oil-rich
economy – blocking at least $6 billion of goods and services since
the war. This is meant to deny Iraq all but essential resources
until the United Nations certifies the weapons are gone.

About every three days, U.S. and British pilots bomb Iraq, in
response to Iraqi gunfire, while patrolling no-fly zones covering
most of the country.

Without this crackdown, U.S. officials maintain, Hussein
could re-arm and threaten other countries. U.S. policy includes
the goal of removing the president from power.

Hussein “only responds to negative pressure,” said Beth
Jones, the deputy assistant U.S. secretary of state focusing on

But the longer this goes on, the longer Iraq’s people are

Consequently, Iraqi parents say, children waking up in Denver
this morning can be virtually assured of someday facing grownup
Nassers trained never to forget or forgive. And Colorado
agribusiness, oil exploration and high-tech companies can only
watch as European and Asian competitors edge into a lucrative
Persian Gulf market.

The crackdown wasn’t supposed to do this.

The Coloradans who met teacher Abrahim and young Nasser want
to change course. They are a diverse group of professionals who’ve
been following the U.S.-Iraq standoff for years, demonstrating on
Denver streets, warning of an endless entanglement abroad that
they believe is morally wrong.

Their recent 12-day mission in Iraq was designed to challenge
U.S. policy, which increasingly pits the United States against
Russia, China, France and other world powers.

They paid their own expenses – about $1,800 each. Journeying
under official supervision throughout Iraq, they tried their best
to bypass governments and forge peaceful relations with ordinary
people – even if that meant getting caught in the crossfire.

Accompanying this group offered a rare opportunity to get
inside Iraq. That led to a series of interviews with government
and United Nations officials, and dozens of Iraqis from many walks
of life, as well as U.S. officials back home.

The Denver Post found evidence that, after nearly 10 years,
the crackdown is incurring humanitarian costs that could fuel
future conflicts – and that it also may be working against the
stated U.S. goal of defeating Iraq’s president:

The embargo and bombing have led to a rallying, not
weakening, of power behind 62-year-old Hussein, U.N. and Iraqi
officials say.

The Coloradans saw no sign of serious dissent in the nation
he rules by fear and control over distribution of food and
medicine. United Nations officials in Baghdad confirmed nobody’s
challenging Hussein. The Coloradans saw that Iraq’s elite has a
stake in today’s standoff: They drive new BMW and Mercedes cars.
They dine at the likes of the Iraqi Hunting Club in Baghdad, where
the sound of clinking teacups is drowned out by bulldozers at work
on a massive new university nearby.

While Hussein and his elite live high, the sanctions weaken
an educated middle class that otherwise could be the backbone of
an open society. Hyperinflation has cut salaries that averaged
around $1,200 a month in the early 1980s to less than $10. Mothers
lament they can rarely afford meat. Still, with few other options,
working Iraqis toil tenaciously for small gains – farmers harvest
more and more wheat that few can afford to buy.

“We hear the American government say they are against the
government, not the people,” said an architect-turned-shopkeeper
in central Baghdad, whose brothers fled all over the world because
they can’t make a decent living here. “But the embargo isn’t
hurting the government. It’s hurting the people.”

Though working Iraqis suffer, Iraq’s overall economy is
moving ahead despite sanctions – due in part to rapidly increasing
U.S. consumption of Iraqi oil. U.S. purchases fall within
UN-supervised sales, with proceeds earmarked for food, medicine
and Gulf War reparations. Iraqi sales to the U.S. doubled last
year, averaging 712,000 barrels a day, making Iraq our
fifth-largest supplier, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

The Coloradans saw an aluminum smelter and brick factories in
operation, rebuilt bridges, bustling markets, shops stocked with
fresh fruit and vegetables, honking traffic jamming streets on
nickel-a-gallon gas, new construction of mosques and government

A recent survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a
London-based think tank, predicts double-digit economic growth in
Iraq over the next two years.

UNICEF’s director in Iraq, Anupama Rao Singh, confirmed the
economy has “stabilized” over this past year.

“There’s been no further decline,” Singh told the Coloradans
at her office in Baghdad. But an emerging class of “profiteers and
operators” benefits, thriving on back-channel trade, rather than
middle-class Iraqis, she said.

Meanwhile, more and more people in Iraq’s secular society
seek solace in mosques. Some Muslim leaders are bold enough to
speak independently of the government. Yet they may be even more
opposed than Hussein to the U.S. government.

Moving a finger across his bearded throat – a gesture showing
what authorities could do – Shiite Imam Sayed Kysei, in long black
robes, shrugged off warnings from his assistants. “It’s the duty
of an imam to speak the truth,” Kysei said in a Denver Post

“What you see, officials clapping for officials, it’s nothing
more than a setup,” he declared. But that doesn’t make U.S. policy
less criminal in his view. He blamed Israeli influence in
Washington. “The undeclared part of the war is to kill the science
and Islamic knowledge here,” he said. “Iraq is a source of
knowledge for the world. We are objecting to the new (weapons)
inspectors because they represent the American policy.”

A U.S. taxpayer-supported insurgency led by Iraqi exiles is
going nowhere.

Most of the money Congress has released so far under the
Iraqi Liberation Act appears to have gone for consultants, rented
offices, and the like, U.N. officials in Baghdad say. Shiite
leaders failed to show for a recent expenses-paid Iraqi opposition
conference in Washington. People in Iraq are unaware of exiled

Instead, working Iraqis are preoccupied with making ends
meet. Some seem genuinely to support Hussein. Many more rally
around his belief – widespread in Arab world – that U.S. leaders
motivated by oil, and Israeli influence, want unfairly to control
a rising Arab power.

Intellectuals who once might have questioned Iraqi leadership
now question U.S. motives instead, said Professor Zuhair
Al-Sharook, education dean at the University of Mosul. “Now I
wouldn’t think of doing anything against my country,” he said,
“because I know my real enemy is the American government.”

Friends, relatives worry as group heads for Iraq

The Coloradans set out for Iraq Jan. 17.

The United States was pushing a U.N. compromise plan that
would bring back inspectors and then lift sanctions if no weapons
are found. Iraq was calling the plan “unworkable.”

“What’s morally right here?” said Byron Plumley, 52, a
lecturer in religious studies at Regis University.

Down a Denver International Airport walkway he and the others
went: Elaine Schmidt, 66, a University of Northern Colorado
librarian; Andrea Fuller, 28, a University of Denver graduate
student; Karen Norder, 27, Metro State political science graduate;
Stephanie Phibbs, 28, a University of Colorado Health Sciences
Center research project manager; Gretchen Hawley, 67, grandmother
and former missionary in Africa; Mohamad Jodeh, 58, delicatessen
owner and Muslim community leader; Mark Schneider, 28, thrift
store worker; Jeri Kharas, 39, adoption agency case manager.

Friends and relatives worried. “As long as there’s no
bombing,” Schneider’s mother said, wiping a tear from her cheek
with her wrist as he left.

The U.S. government forbids most civilian travel to Iraq,
though officials haven’t prosecuted the growing number of peace
groups purposefully violating the rules. Telephone links are
limited. Modems, satellite dishes and Internet communication are
forbidden. No airline flies in or out of Baghdad. No U.S.
officials work in Iraq.

The Iraqi government wasn’t entirely welcoming. Officials
warned the Coloradans they’d have to submit to $50 AIDS blood
tests, using Iraqi needles, at the border.

The Coloradans flew to Jordan.

For 11 hours they rode in rented orange-and-white Suburbans
across the Syrian desert. They passed hundreds of trucks moving
Iraqi oil into Jordan. Here and there a dead sheep or camel was
lying. They patiently waited through a three-hour border stop.

“Can you help me find a job in America?” one guard asked
adoption caseworker Kharas.

Border officials waived the blood tests, thanks to letters
and lobbying from Michigan-based Life For Relief and Development,
an Iraqi-American agency that helped coordinate this mission.

A midnight sandstorm blocked out the moon. Inside one
vehicle, Phibbs practiced Iraqi greetings such as “Sabah Noor!”
(“Morning Light On You!”) and Arabic words describing sand. The
sandstorm delayed arrival in Baghdad (population: 5 million) until
2 a.m.

The city bombed in 1991 and 1998 looked good. Well-lit. Clean
streets. Fountains full of water. Statues and murals at traffic

Everywhere they went, each Coloradan carried a note written
in Arabic. The message: “Hello. We are part of a peace delegation
from the United States and we work to end U.N. sanctions and U.S.
bombing. We are here to meet Iraqi people and take their stories
back to the United States. We are sorry for any harm U.S. policy
has caused you and your family.”

The group planned to distribute $572,000 worth of medical
supplies – from IV packs to pacemakers – donated by Denver-based
Project Cure. But the shipment never arrived; it’s unclear what

Iraqi officials informed the group that Iraq refuses charity
and they’d rather the Coloradans lobbied Congress against
sanctions. The president of Iraq’s Red Crescent Society, similar
to the Red Cross, brusquely told the group that if the suppplies
ever did arrive, Iraqis would distribute them to hospitals.

Meeting among themselves later, the Coloradans weighed
staying on in Iraq to make sure the supplies reached people, or
sending someone back later. “I mean, we came here to do this,”
Schmidt said.

Foreign ministry staffers monitored the Coloradans, escorting
them around in three white government Oldsmobiles and a Chevy. The
ministry handlers arranged visits with officials who voiced Iraqi

But the group managed also to converse casually with dozens
of ordinary Iraqis from the southern oilfields near Kuwait to
northern Iraq, where U.S. warplanes scream down from Turkey. They
visited truck stops, schools, markets, hospitals, and ruins of the
earliest civilizations where agriculture, writing and the wheel
first appeared. They stayed in Iraq’s three main cities – Baghdad,
Basra and Mosul. Officials nixed an excursion into the Kurdish
region that is largely self-governed.

The system here is ruthlessly authoritarian. Agents of
Hussein’s ruling Baath Party operate in every neighborhood, as
ward bosses once controlled U.S. communities.

The president’s picture hangs everywhere: behind counters, in
offices, on either side of the podium in university auditoriums
and again at the back looking over students. Civil servants wear
wrist watches displaying his face. His initials adorn bricks in
restored ruins of Babylon and Hatra.

Soldiers are everywhere. Anti-aircraft guns perch on roofs
and alongside bridges. Military compounds line main roads. Tanks
lurk in trenches. Slogans on forts declare “Down USA” in English.
A gunner protected by sandbags flashes two fingers – signaling
victory, not peace – at the passing Americans.

Civilians being killed in low-intensity war

Shortly before the Coloradans traveled the 350 miles south from
Baghdad to Basra, Iraq’s Catholic archbishop, Gabriel Kassab,
traveled the same route, returning from the capital to his parish.

Conversing with the Coloradans in his office, he said he
witnessed a bombing. American fighter jets were patrolling.

An explosion seemed to lift the archbishop’s car off the
road, Kassab said. “I was afraid.” Similar bombings were a factor
in Pope John Paul II’s December decision to delay a visit to Iraq,
Kassab said.

Nobody’s sure how many civilians are dying in this
low-intensity war. Authorities in Mosul reported 51 civilian
deaths last year.

U.S. officials say Iraqis exaggerate post-war deaths. But
U.S. and British pilots bombed Iraqi targets 186 times since
January 1999, Pentagon spokesman Pat Sivigny said. “Pilots take
every effort to avoid collateral damage,” Sivigny said. “As long
as Hussein targets coalition aircraft, the Iraqi people will
continue to be at risk.”

Walking down dusty Al-Jamhorai street in Basra to get a feel
for middle-class life, the Coloradans heard about a stray missile
that landed amid row houses on Jan. 25, 1999, killing four
civilians and injuring 67. Residents insisted there were no
anti-aircraft guns or other weapons in the neighborhood.

Five-year-old Mustafa Saleh held up his left hand for the
visiting Coloradans. Two fingers are missing. His back is riddled
with scars from shrapnel. He and his brother, Haydar, were playing
in the dirt street when the missile fell, said their mother Iqubal.

“The missile came in. Then I go out into the street. I saw
both of them lying on the ground. The blood covered their legs and
their heads. All over was debris from the missile. When I called
them, Mustafa looked up. He called “Mama.’ But there was no word
from Haydar.”

He was dead.

“People here don’t need war and missiles,” the mother said.
“What can we do?”

Then there’s the economic hardship caused by the shutout from
the world economy.

Iraqi authorities wanted to emphasize this and encouraged
group visits to several hospitals. Inside the Basra children’s
hospital, where the group once hoped to deliver supplies, Dr. Ali
Jawad spoke of widespread malnutrition and falling birth weights.

Jawad led the group to a ward where four tiny newborns
struggled for breath inside incubators. One blue tank supplied
oxygen to all the incubators. It was the last tank, the doctor
said. “If that oxygen stops, all of them die,” he said. “We have
enough for half a day.”

Gazing at one of those babies, Karen Norder wept. Plumley
cried out: “It’s so, so sad!”

Suddenly perturbed, Jawad snapped: “We don’t need people to
cry here. Let him go and cry to his president and senators.” He
asked the Coloradans to leave.

Some medical supplies are allowed into Iraq under the
economic embargo. Jawad blamed shortages at his hospital on
embargo restrictions and a generally weakened economy. U.S.
officials accuse Hussein of keeping supplies away from his people.

The truth is, Iraq’s humanitarian troubles are due both to
sanctions and government spending priorities, UNICEF director
Singh said. “A bit of both.’

U.N. officials estimate sanctions have cost Iraq’s economy
about $6 billion. Rich with oil, Iraq once could spend heavily on
almost everything including public health and schools. Now U.N.
officials review all purchases and block anything deemed “dual
use” – materials ranging from graphite pencils to chlorine that
while needed for water purification could also fuel chemical
weapons. Meantime, Hussein’s government is spending millions of
dollars on new government facilities, a lakeside resort west of
Baghdad for ministers and their families, a new Islamic
university, massive mosques.

Impoverished families like Sabha Neimeth’s struggle to
survive on food rations that don’t include meat. Neimeth said
she’s hard-pressed to keep track of her 10 kids as she scrambles
to make ends meet. Garbage infests her once-tidy neighborhood in
central Basra.

A pile of trash captivated Neimeth’s youngest son, Husein
Salem, 5, a determined preschooler she dotes on. He was playing
with three friends the day before Neimeth met Colorado Muslim
leader Jodeh in a hospital.

Fluent in Arabic, Jodeh bowed his head listening, frowning,
as Neimeth spoke angrily from behind her black robes. Something, a
land mine or bomb, exploded, she said. It blew off Husein’s tiny
hands. It ripped and burned his face beyond recognition.

On a bed, his soft chest still rose and fell. Through swollen
bloody flesh, two eyes looked out at this world in terror. And
Neimeth couldn’t bear to touch him.

“My heart is shredding,” she told Jodeh. “I don’t know where
it came from. It was just in the trash. This is what is left from
the war. Can you help treat my boy?”

The Coloradans heard dozens of stories. Some surprised them.
Walking through a library in Mosul, Gretchen Hawley, whose husband
taught at the University of Denver for years, met Mahmood
Mohammed, a 1984 DU graduate. Turns out he lived a few blocks from
the Hawleys.

“I stopped receiving letters five years ago,” Mohammed said
sadly. “Many friends.”

Some of the questions Iraqis asked challenged the Coloradans.
“Are we part of this world?” one Iraqi professor wanted to know.
“Or are we to be excluded?”

DU graduate student Andrea Fuller, raised on a Western farm
and not wanting to sound like she hated her country, worried as
she rode south from Mosul that, “We are becoming imperialists.”
Visiting Iraq prompted a constant, mentally exhausting sifting of
facts. “I’ve played devil’s advocate with myself while I’m here. I
want to know the truth. I’m really trying to get my mind around it.”

Sitting beside her as the car passed military fortifications,
Kharas concurred. “I’m feeling so many conflicting thoughts,” she
said. “I’d heard Iraq is being strangled. Now that I’m here, I
don’t see that.”

But the idea of continuing a policy that holds 24 million
people back to get at their president – whom many of them support
– began to feel more and more wrong.

“Who are we,” Kharas said, “to think we can starve these
people into submission?”

Shopkeepers befriend peace group with offers of free treats

To foreign policy experts, Iraq remains one of the most
vexing challenges the United States has faced since the Cold War.

Yet ordinary Coloradans and Iraqis mingling on the streets
said simply talking might be a first step to resolving the

The visiting Americans brought genuine friendship, said
Layla Ismail, headmistress at State Girls Orphanage No. 22 in
Basra, where the Coloradans handed out toys.

“I hope the friendship will grow,” she said. “And that might
bring peace between the governments.”

One night in Mosul, a musty northern city that once was a
stop along the ancient Silk Road trading route, the Coloradans
took an unplanned walk down Dawasa Street. Hundreds of heads
turned. Men looked up from domino games.

“As long as you are a peace group, you are welcome,” one man

A classic Ford Galaxy parked on the street. On a movie
marquee, Stallone gazed down, armed with a big gun. Music blared
from a shop.

The owner of a juice bar thrust crushed mint into the hands
of the Americans. “From the north of Iraq,” he said. He poured
them a clear purplish drink called zabeb, made from half-dried
grapes and the mint. They loved it. He said it relieves pain and

Shopkeepers shared other morsels, and wouldn’t accept money.
As Phibbs nibbled candied almonds, an Iraqi man abruptly collapsed
on the sidewalk, writhing in an eplieptic seizure. Vicki Robb, the
group coordinator and a nurse, jammed a wad of Kleenex between the
man’s gnashing teeth. When his seizure subsided, she helped him
sit up against a wall. Then he went on his way.

The dean of a major university told the Coloradans relations
must improve lest Iraqi children become forever embittered.

“We don’t want our children to have hate inside them,” said
Ryad Al-Dabbagh, dean of Al-Mustinsariya University in Baghdad and
a father of three.

He and the Coloradans agreed to petition universities that
once hosted Iraqi students – including Colorado State University,
the University of Colorado and the University of Denver _ to begin
exchange programs again.

Now, back in Colorado, some in the group plan to press a
political case against sanctions. They talk about blizzarding
congressional offices with phone calls, shadowing presidential

But working Iraqis, while desperate for economic breathing
room, were equally interested in developing contacts with the
outside world.

Individual people mixing “might make a difference” in
forestalling conflict, Iraqi actress Azadouhi Samual suggested.

Sitting at a table, she leaned over an imaginary small cup of
tea. She pressed her forefinger and thumb tips together. She
pretended to spoon out bad blood.

“If everybody take out one spoonful of bad things,” she said,
“then maybe we can make it clear.”

Reporter Bruce Finley will discuss his trip to Iraq on 9News
This Morning between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. today. The Colorado
peace group will be featured in a Channel 9 report at 10 tonight.