Parents of three U.S. soldiers killed in the war
in Iraq are on their way to that country as part of a humanitarian mission aimed
at showing a different face of the United States to Iraqis displaced by fierce
fighting in Fallujah.
Along with representatives of several antiwar groups, including San Francisco-based
Exchange, CodePink, and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), the
parents will be distributing some $600,000 worth of aid for the estimated 250,000
people who fled the city in advance of U.S. offensive last month in which some
2,000 Iraqis and at least 71 U.S. soldiers were killed.
The parents include Fernando and Rosa Suarez of Escondido, Calif., whose son
Jesus was killed in Iraq during the early days of the invasion March 27, 2003;
Amalia Avila, whose son, Lance Cpl. Victor Gonzalez of Watsonville, Calif.,
died in Fallujah's al-Anbar province on Oct. 13 this year; and Nadia McCaffrey,
whose son, Patrick of Petaluma, Calif., was killed last June 22.
"This delegation is a way for me to express my sympathy and support for
the Iraqi people," said Rosa Suarez. "The Iraq war took away my son's
life, and it's taken away the lives of so many innocent Iraqis. It's time to
stop the killing and to help the children of Iraq," she added.
Also traveling with the group is Adele Welty, whose son, New York City firefighter
Tim Welty, died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I am trying to leave a legacy in my son's name," she said to Long
Island's Newsday this weekend. Welty is one of the founders of the antiwar
Sept. 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows; she was arrested and jailed briefly
last March during a protest rally in Washington, D.C.
"It wasn't a hard decision to make," she said about traveling to Iraq.
"I am appalled at the growing list of casualties of both American soldiers
and Iraqi civilians."
The main sponsors of the delegation, which also include Women for Peace, United
for Peace and Justice, Voices in the Wilderness, and Project Guerrero Azteca
for Peace, launched an Internet appeal for funds at the beginning of December
after U.S. Marines announced that they had taken control of Fallujah, a stronghold
for the Iraqi insurgency.
One organizer, Global Exchange's Medea Benjamin, said they had hoped to raise
about $20,000 but quickly received some $100,000 in contributions through the
Internet. Another $500,000 in medical and humanitarian supplies was donated
by the Middle East Children's Alliance and Operation USA.
They expect to arrive in Amman, Jordan, on Monday, where they will meet with
humanitarian and healthcare workers to hand over the supplies. They plan to
travel to the Iraq-Jordan border for a peaceful vigil on New Year's Day and
visit camps of Fallujah residents who left the city in anticipation of the U.S.
To date, around 1,000 residents have been permitted to return to the city
which had a population of 250,000. According to the most recent media reports,
about one-third of the buildings in the city were leveled in the fighting. On
Thursday, three Marines reportedly were killed in clashes there that indicated
to observers that the city was still not entirely secure.
In addition, most services, including water and electricity, have been cut
off as a result of the destruction, suggesting that the city will not be able
to support its original population until major repairs can be completed on basic
infrastructure. The only humanitarian agency that is active there at the moment
is the Red Crescent Society.
"The goal really is to locate one of the refugee camps where children and
mainly women are kept," McCaffrey told KCBS in San Francisco Sunday. "I
know that they have nothing, no supply, nothing right now."
McCaffrey's son Patrick, a member of the 579th Engineer Battalion based in Petaluma,
was killed when his patrol squad was ambushed. She came to national attention
earlier this year when she protested the Pentagon 's policy
banning the photographing or filming of the flag-draped coffins of soldiers
killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by inviting the press to view
her son's coffin when it arrived in Sacramento via commercial aircraft.
Fernando Suarez, who visited Baghdad last December, has also gained national
attention by publicly challenging the Bush administration to explain why it
was necessary to go to war in Iraq shortly after his son's death. He told the
North County Times, a suburban San Diego newspaper that that the trip's
intent "is to provide humanitarian aid to the children of Iraq that the
U.S. government has not been able to provide."
"I have contact with an Iraqi doctor in Jordan, and he told me that five
to 10 children die every single day only from diarrhea and respiratory problems
because the doctors don't have any medicines," added Suarez, who founded
Project Guerrero Azteca last year. "This war is killing children and women
who are not our enemies. By bringing medicine to children in Iraq, we are not
helping terrorism, we are combating it."
Avila, a travel agent and mother of three, said the decision to travel to
Iraq to meet with the refugees was easy despite the risks. "It's a peace
mission," she told the Register-Pajaronian, a newspaper of the Pajaro
Valley north of San Francisco.
"We have the same pain, we lose our sons, and they are losing their husbands
and children not in the military services. We don't want them to think we are
going there to kill people," she said.
Benjamin, who also co-founded CodePink and is best known for interrupting Congressional
testimony by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld earlier this year, said she felt
the timing of the trip was particularly compelling.
"The holiday season is a time when many people want to express the values
of compassion, love, and sharing for our fellow human beings," she said.
"This humanitarian aid delegation is our show of compassion for the Iraqi
"At the same time," she added, "we will be showing our support
for U.S. troops by calling on the U.S. government to bring them home now."