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Activist travels into heart of turbulence

Here are some Iraqi children, all refugees and children of college educated parents who are not allowed to work in their host country of Syria. - Courtesy of Gerri Haynes
Here are some Iraqi children, all refugees and children of college educated parents who are not allowed to work in their host country of Syria.
— image credit: Courtesy of Gerri Haynes

Change requires action — and more of both are needed to stop the Iraq War and free millions of Iraqi refugees, said nurse and political activist Gerri Haynes.

Haynes shared her experiences in Iraq and Syria on April 27 with a group of 20 Federal Way area citizens concerned about the effects that war and past economic sanctions are having on Iraqis. Haynes spoke at the Federal Way Regional Library and left people of all ages thinking about the possibility of peace in a turbulent country.

Haynes has traveled to the Middle East yearly since 1993, she said. In fall 2007, she visited Iraq and Syria as part of the United Nations Association of Seattle, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that educates people about the roles and responsibilities of the United Nations.

Haynes said she travels to Iraq because “I find it to be the crucible of the opportunity for peace.”

While in Iraq and Syria, where between 1 million and 3 million Iraqis now live as refugees, Haynes saw the hardships faced by the displaced population. She saw how more than a decade of economic sanctions, imposed by the United Nations after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 over oil production, has affected the Iraqi population.

“They were brutal and comprehensive sanctions,” she said.

Iraqis are still feeling the impact. A quarter of the roughly 27 million population became malnourished, and many died from lack of clean water, food and medications, Haynes said.

“The level of deprivation we’ve caused in that country is beyond describing,” she said.

The Iraq War has further threatened the lives of Iraqis, many of whom have chosen to flee to Syria. They escape the country because it is too dangerous to remain there, Haynes said. In addition to the millions living as refugees in Syria, more than 2 million Iraqis have been displaced, but cannot afford to or choose not to leave the country, Haynes said.

Here in America:

In America, the focus of the Iraq War is on the number of U.S. soldiers dying overseas, said Federal Way High School student Caroline Njoroge, 17. People forget that Iraqis are human beings too, and they are suffering as well, she said.

“People need to know about the war and that there is no point to it,” she said.

Njoroge attended the presentation to learn more about what was happening in Iraq and to see how the Iraq War has affected the country. She was unaware that the violence was so widespread, and was under the notion that bombings only took place in a few remote locations in Iraq — and that life outside those cities was undisturbed, she said.

Americans have become desensitized to the violence in Iraq, which was broadcast frequently over public television when the war began five years ago, said Jean Matthew, an unincorporated King County resident.

The loss of American lives to the war is a tragedy, but so is the loss of Iraqi lives and the refugee conditions, Haynes said.

Most Americans have a hard time fathoming more than 3 million displaced people, Haynes added.

“That number is beyond our conception,” she said.

During Haynes’ trip to Iraq and Syria, Iraqis expressed a desire to settle their country’s political issues without the aid of the United States, she said. The majority of Iraqis want a unified Iraq, Haynes said.

Matthew said she left the presentation with the hope that dialogue between the Iraqi and United States governments, as well as militia groups, can be established and will lead to peace.

“I believe there is a chance for peace,” she said. “We all believe peace is possible.”

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Check it out:

To learn more about the Iraq War and its impact, visit www.transnational.org. To express your view on the war, contact state Sens. Patty Murray or Maria Cantwell, or Rep. Adam Smith, D- 9th District. To get involved in humanitarian efforts, contact Mercy Corps at www.mercycorps.org or call (888) 256-1900.

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