Anti-war groups set up trip to Iraq for military families
ARLINGTON, Va. — A 10-member delegation, made up mostly of U.S. military families, leaves the United States on Saturday for a eight-day tour of Baghdad organized by two anti-war groups to see first-hand what their loved ones face daily.
Their mission is to arm themselves with first-hand knowledge in hopes of enacting change when they come home, said Medea Benjamin, founding director of Global Exchange, an international human rights organization.
“God Bless the troops, but bring them home,” Benjamin said. “The delegation is behind their loved ones, but we feel the best thing we can do is get them out of Iraq as quickly as possible.
Benjamin has been to Iraq three times in the past six months, and made a similar trip Afghanistan with relatives of those killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This is the first time she is bringing families of servicemembers.
“We’ve talked to troops on the ground who are confused about why they’re there, who feel it’s not the right role for the U.S. … and the occupation has turned into something of a potential for a real quagmire,” Benjamin said.
The group hopes to meet with chief U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top military commander, and with Iraqi governing council members, other human rights organizations, women’s organizations, and to visit hospitals and schools.
The delegation needs no U.S. military permission to travel into Iraq, though officials have recommended against it.
“We don’t recommend that any private group of individuals, no matter how well-intentioned, travels into Iraq until the country is more stable and secure,” said Central Command spokesman Marine Maj. Pete Mitchell.
It’s a risk worth taking, Benjamin said.
“Our feeling is that 130,000 U.S. troops are risking their lives every single day, and we want to be supportive of them and voice the concerns we’ve heard them raise about wanting to see a quick time line for their withdrawal,” she said. “If that means taking risks to do that, we’re willing to take those risks.”
The delegation also has support of lawmakers and a policy action group called Code Pink, which since its inception a year ago this month, has staged several hundred anti-war demonstrations across the nation and logged more than 300,000 interested people in their e-mail database, said Victoria Cunningham.
Each of the travelers will pay their own way, paying roughly $1,500 to fly to Amman, Jordan, and hop a rented bus for the roughly 12-hour ride to Baghdad.
A few families will try to find their sons, daughters and spouses, Benjamin said, “but everyone has been told the purpose of trip to look at the larger political issue. If they are able to see family, that’s an extra bonus.”