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Iraq expert favors peace, not war

December 11, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - An expert on Iraq who spoke to about 60 people Tuesday night at Shepherd College said the United States is heading down the wrong road if it wages war against the Middle Eastern nation.

Ramzi Kysia is worried that war with Iraq will wreak havoc in a country that is already dealing with massive unemployment and wage losses since the U.S. and other countries have imposed sanctions on the country.

Iraqis have witnessed up to a 90 percent reduction in their income since 1990, said Kysia, a peace activist who has had articles published in the Houston Chronicle, the San Diego Tribune and the Jordan Times.

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Iraqis receive regular food rations from the government, and many recipients sell portions of the food to obtain goods they need, Kysia said.

Kysia said UNICEF has predicted pockets of famine will crop up quickly in Iraq if the U.S. wages war there.

"If there is a war, how are we going to distribute food to 24 million people?" Kysia asked.

"We cannot collectively punish anyone for the failure of their government. It's immoral. It's unjust," said Kysia, a Lebanese-American Muslim who lives in Northern Virginia.

Kysia made his remarks to the crowd in the ballroom at Shepherd College. He was invited to talk to the group by West Virginia Peace, a coalition of Shepherdstown residents and Shepherd College students formed recently over concerns of possible war with Iraq.

Rather than waging war with Iraq, Kysia said the U.S. government needs to work harder to establish democracy in the region. Democracy will allow countries in the region to start changes on their own and establish a better course for their countries, Kysia said.

About the only groups the U.S. supports in the region are "despots," Kysia said.

The U.S. also needs to stop selling arms in the region, Kysia said. Trying to force Iraq to disarm is fruitless because it has many neighbors who are heavily armed, Kysia said.

Regional disarmament would be a far better solution, he said.

Using a slide show, Kysia sought to familiarize the audience with the people and the country that he feels would suffer under a war.

Kysia opened his talk with slides of Iraqi artwork displayed in a museum there. Many of the paintings contained dark images and distraught-looking people.

He showed a photograph of a smiling boy who had part of his leg blown off during a military attack and showed another picture of a large family that had electricity for only half of the day and no running water.

"I can honestly tell you I have never seen so much suffering in all my life," said Kysia, who just returned from a five-month visit to Iraq in October.

Kysia said his organization, Chicago-based Voices in the Wilderness, will continue to relay stories of common people in Iraq, even if there is a war.

The organization plans to rotate groups of Americans into Iraq for up to three months at a time to witness what is happening in the country, Kysia said.

The groups will only be able to stay up to three months because that is the longest running visa they can obtain to visit Iraq.

"We're going to share the risks of the Iraqi people and tell their stories to the world," Kysia said.

Many members of West Virginia Peace participated in an anti-war demonstration in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 26. The group has a mailing list of about 200 people, said Margaret Bryant-Gainer, co-coordinator of West Virginia Peace.

The group is planning to head to another anti-war protest in Washington on Jan. 18.

"I think it's real important for us to get the message out ... stuff we don't hear about in the mainstream press," Bryant-Gainer said.

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