Iraqis, activists differ on war

Thursday, October 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:28 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Two groups visiting Columbia on Wednesday presented opposing perspectives on the war in Iraq. While two activists criticized the war, two Iraqi citizens told reporters U.S. involvement improved living conditions in their country.

Michael Birmingham, an Irish peace activist, and Tom Sager, a retired University of Missouri-Rolla professor, gave speeches as part of the Wheels of Justice Bus Tour.

The Iraqis, Hayder Abdul Kareem and Abid Khalid, are on a nationwide tour sponsored by the Iraqi-American Freedom Alliance, a group of Iraqis and Americans who support the war.

Birmingham and Sager both spent time living in Iraq. They spoke at the Islamic Center of Central Missouri and at the Newman Center.

People must oppose all occupations worldwide, Sager said.

“Among the people who live here, the soldiers are the primary victims of U.S. policy,” he said. “They are the ones who get killed, not the people in Washington.”

Birmingham addressed current living conditions in Iraq.

“What people said for the most part was that they had no jobs,” he said. “They had no running water. They were very, very poor.”

Birmingham admitted he was not as qualified to discuss the subject matter as Iraqis. Unaware two Iraqis were present in Columbia, Birmingham said the U.S. government was preventing Iraqis from visiting America to share their stories.

Kareem, a 28-year-old physician, and Khalid, a 46-year-old engineer, both from Samarra, provided a different interpretation, discussing the benefits of the U.S. intervention. The city of Samarra was retaken from insurgents by American and Iraqi troops last week after a three-day fight.They said mainstream news doesn’t reflect the conditions in their country. The escalating violence in Iraq has been prominently covered by national newspapers, such as the New York Times, which reported that about 2,700 attacks were launched against American forces last month alone.

“I can assure you it is just a small minority of these extremists,” said Khalid. “If you follow carefully the news, usually it takes place only in certain parts of Iraq — say three or four cities in all of Iraq.”

The alliance, based in Washington, D.C., is a project of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a bipartisan organization funded by private donations.

The two Iraqis provided a lengthy list of ways conditions have improved since Hussein was overthrown, including increased personal freedoms, purified drinking water, and renovated hospitals.

“We think that the United States did the right decision when they come to free us from the ex-dictatorial government,” Kareem said.

Khalid was equally supportive of the U.S. intervention. He had two brothers killed during Hussein’s regime, a regime people couldn’t criticize.

“If you do not praise, you might as well – I’m sorry to say that – shut up,” Khalid said.

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