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Iraqi women raise concerns about U.S. occupation

11/11/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

By Shanta Bryant Gyan*

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Duncan P. McCallum (holding sign) joined anti-war marchers in New York during a series of worldwide peace protests Feb. 15. He and others called on the United States not to launch a military strike against Iraq. McCallum, of Newfoundland, Pa., is a member of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin. Photo number 03-441, Accompanies UMNS #543, 11/11/03

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The prospect of a U.S.-led war with Iraq drew protesters into the streets of New York Feb. 15. The demonstrations were part of a series of worldwide peace protests that day. A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin. Photo number 03-440, Accompanies UMNS #543, 11/11/03

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Scott Kerr views the wreckage of a civilian home in Baghdad, Iraq, in this spring 2003 file photo. He was in Iraq as part of Christian Peacemakers Teams, an ecumenical ministry started by Mennonite and Church of the Brethren congregations and Friends Meetings to support "violence reduction" efforts around the world. Kerr is a member of First United Methodist Church in Downers Grove, Ill. A UMNS photo courtesy of Christian Peacemakers Teams. Photo number 03-438, Accompanies UMNS #543, 11/11/03

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An Iraqi mother holds her child while waiting for treatment at the Al Baladi Children's Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, in this January 2003 file photo. A UMNS photo by Ray Buchanan / Stop Hunger Now. Photo number 03-437, Accompanies UMNS #543, 11/11/03

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The Republic of Iraq, in what was once known as the Fertile Crescent, has a population of 26 million and covers 168,869 square miles. Arabic is the official language, and Islam is the main religion. A UMNS graphic by Laura J. Latham. Photo number 03-442, Accompanies UMNS #543, 11/11/03

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Iraqi schoolchildren greet visitors to their elementary school in Baghdad, Iraq, in this file photo. A delegation of religious leaders visited Iraq Dec. 29-Jan. 3 to assess the effects of more than a decade of sanctions against Iraq and to connect with Christians in that country. A UMNS photo by Ray Buchanan / Stop Hunger Now. Photo number 03-439, Accompanies UMNS #543, 11/11/03
WASHINGTON (UMNS) - Two prominent Iraqi women are speaking out against the U.S.-led occupation of their nation and raising concerns about deteriorating security, the lack of democracy and a potential food crisis there.

Nermin Al-Mufti, an internationally recognized journalist, and Amal Al-Khedairy, director of an Iraqi arts and cultural center, spoke Nov. 4 to representatives of religious organizations at the United Methodist Building, across the street from the Capitol. The discussion was co-sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and moderated by retired Bishop Judith Craig of Powell, Ohio.

The "Women of Iraq Tour of the United States" is organized by the New York-based Fellowship of Reconciliation. Through the speaking tour, the Iraqi women are trying to talk directly to Americans about the war and current political and social conditions.

The women lamented the fact that their country, once technically advanced, is mired in poverty. They cited dwindling food supplies, high unemployment, lack of adequate health-care facilities, disruption of schools and unreliable electricity as major issues.

Noting the congressional debate over whether the United States should use grants or loans to rebuild Iraq, Al-Mufti asserted that the United States "should build it at their own expense."

The journalist said "just and nonbiased" nongovernmental organizations are needed to deliver humanitarian assistance in Iraq. She cited a study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program that found nearly half of the 26.3 million Iraqis are living in poverty and need food assistance.

The United Nations plans to terminate Iraq's oil-for-food program in late November and hand the program over to the ruling Coalition Provisional Authority. Millions of Iraqis depend on the public food assistance and have no other means of getting food.

The rise in armed robberies, carjackings and rapes has left Iraqis, especially women and children, confined to their homes. And the Iraqi women say many people fear the American soldiers that were once viewed as protectors.

"They are killing us by friendly fire," Al-Mufti said. She acknowledged that U.S. soldiers fear for their own security and keep their "fingers on the trigger."

Al-Khedairy said the sense of insecurity in Iraq did not exist before the U.S. bombing campaign. "What's the point of being freed, if we don't have security?" she asked.

The women said Iraqis are questioning the Coalition Provisional Authority's claims of bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq and have lost confidence in the authority and the U.S.-appointed Iraqi governing council. Al-Khedairy contended that there is "no neutral authority."

The pair called on the United States to restore security immediately throughout the country and for the United Nations to deploy a peacekeeping force. "We need peacekeeping forces first," said Al-Mufti. "We need them urgently."

"Our hope is to give back credibility to the U.N.," Al-Khedairy stated. "This is very important."

In addition to speaking with church leaders during their visit to Washington, the Iraqi women testified before congressional leaders about conditions in Iraq.

Craig said the Iraqi women's stories make it clear the United States urgently needs to find a way to make the troops become peacekeepers and to focus on the rebuilding effort. She also said United Methodists need to find a voice with legislators to help bring peace and stability to Iraq.

"To hear them gives focus to prayer life and political lobbying to know the appropriate next steps," the bishop said about the Iraqi women.

Linda Bales, program director at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, agreed. "When we hear the stories it clears the perception and understanding of what we need to ask the (Bush) administration. We need to be informed as faith-based advocates."

The women are traveling to other major U.S. cities. Details are available at the Fellowship of Reconciliation Web site,

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* Gyan is a freelance writer based in Washington.

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