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[casi] CESR peace initiative

January 25, 2003 Saturday Final Edition
SECTION: News; Linda Slobodian in Iraq; Pg. A8

LENGTH: 975 words

HEADLINE: Activists search for signs of hope

SOURCE: Calgary Herald

BYLINE: Linda Slobodian


Peace activists are flocking here from across the globe to find ways of preventing what the former 
United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq says will be a "war of cowards" destined to add a 
catastrophic human toll to the woes afflicting an already crippled nation.

"How much higher can you go on a scale of suffering? Many households have lost members, through 
sanctions or through war. This war will mean more civilian casualties. It's not going to be a 
desert warfare. This will be an urban warfare -- very different technologies from the Gulf War," 
said Hans Sponeck on Friday. "I call it the war of cowards. You fly high, you push a button, you 
don't see a victim. When you detect that movement has come to a standstill on the ground, then you 
move in with ground troops.

"You will still find resistance, then you will have U.S. casualties, more than you have in 
open-desert warfare."

Germany's Sponeck, now a special representative for the Centre of Economic and Social Rights in New 
York, is in Iraq to meet with high-level government officials as part of a multinational peace 
group comprising representatives from Australia, South Africa, the United States and Germany.

"We are trying to negotiate with the Iraqi government what they have to offer to show that Iraq is 
ready to open a new chapter," he said.

"There are all kinds of answers that the international community wants to have with regards to Iraq 
having friendly relations with its neighbours, the disarmament process going beyond (UN) Resolution 
1441, and the status of minorities -- for example, the Kurds in tomorrow's Iraq."

There are no ready answers from the Iraqi government.

Then there is the whole question of Iraq's participation or otherwise in international terrorism, 
he said.

"In the Middle East the word terrorism is not a word they readily accept. What may in the West be 
accepted as a sign of terrorism, may in the Middle East be more appropriately referred to as a 
fight for freedom. We don't know where Iraq stands," he said.

"At the same time it is very clear the Iraqi government has stated they are not associating 
themselves in any form with the kind of terrorism that was used against U.S. installations and 
internal U.S. facilities like the World Trade Center. They want to disassociate themselves from 
that," said Sponeck.

Considering the massive buildup of U.S. and British troops in the Gulf region, he acknowledged the 
pressure is intense to work quickly to convince the Iraqi government to clearly demonstrate it is 
willing to co-operate.

"The military vehicle is driving at a speed that is difficult to stop. There isn't a lot of time 
but there is still an opportunity to halt this fast-moving vehicle and find an exit from war.

"With the mounting resistance to this madness I think the Americans are becoming increasingly aware 
that they are catapulting themselves into a tremendous isolation," he said.

A number of politicians are already in Iraq, or are on their way, on similar missions to that of 
Sponeck, including MP Colleen Beaumier, Brampton West-Mississauga.

"Right now in town there is a Canadian MP, an Irish MP, and there are 37 members of the European 
Parliament. There have been many members from several countries. But I think it's high time some of 
our leading figures pack their bags and travel here," said Sponeck.

Beaumier, a Liberal backbencher, has briefly met with Transportation Minister Ahmad H. Ahmad and 
Basil Dalaly, first under-secretary to the minister of agriculture.

She is scheduled to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and and Foreign Minister Naji Sabri.

"I've come to Iraq to assure the Iraqi people that the majority of Canadians don't want a war," 
said Beaumier, who personally financed her trip to Iraq.

"I'm also hoping to be the conduit for the messages from Canada to the Iraqis and from the Iraqi 
government back to our prime minister and foreign affairs minister," she said.

Beaumier, however, has no meeting slated with Prime Minister Jean Chretien upon her arrival back in 
Canada next Monday.

"In a perfect world I would go home and the prime minister would call me. However, it's not a 
perfect world or a perfect system so I will be knocking on his door four or five times a week," 
said the MP.

"Did the prime minister ask me to say anything on his behalf? No. However, I think I can speak on 
behalf of my constituents who do not want to participate in an unprovoked war against children. 
About half the population of 23 million -- 46 per cent -- are under 16. Which baby do you want to 
get first?" asked Beaumier.

"To think we could even think about attacking the Iraqis, who look at you with no hatred in their 
eyes, is beyond my comprehension."

Life goes on as best it can on the streets of Baghdad -- but the mood of the people is sombre. Most 
shops were closed this holiday Friday but street vendors as usual peddled pop, cigarettes and 
assorted goods.

Between transactions, newspaper peddler Abdullah Habtoma simply shrugged when asked what he thinks 
about a pending U.S. attack.

Are people afraid? "I don't know," he said without conviction. Sponeck said the Iraqis are a 
resilient people trying to put a brave face on things.

"You ask people and very often get a quick answer, 'We are not worried.' (But) my friends, people 
with whom I've worked here, are deeply worried. They are fearful. There is mental agony in 
families," he said.

Sponeck attacked what he called the "scandalous misinformation" campaign launched in the U.S. "For 
example, the documentation the U.S. just put out about the implementation of the Oil For Food 
program . . .

"The Americans are getting desperate. One cannot defend a dictatorship. But when there is a 
dishonest portrayal of what insiders like me know better (about), then we must speak out against 

GRAPHIC: Photo: Hilary Mackenzie, Calgary Herald; Dr. Samantha Nutt, visiting from Toronto, talks 
to a patient in a pediatrics hospital in the Iraqi town of Karbala.

LOAD-DATE: January 26, 2003

Jacob Park
Center for Economic and Social Rights
Emergency Campaign on Iraq
162 Montague St., 2nd Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11210

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