Why on earth would an American go to Iraq now?
By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
"Because I'm a Christian, a peacenik, a Quaker and an American," says a Town 'N Country man, who is among a group staying for two weeks.
TOWN 'N COUNTRY -- As Bill Rose sees it, the coming impasse with Iraq is not the black and white canvas President Bush has painted.
The reality is murky. And when Rose travels to Saddam Hussein's turf next week to promote peace and build relationships with the Iraqi people, he hopes to become "a shade of gray."
His trip, and those of his fellow travelers, is sponsored by the human rights organizations Christian Peacemaker Teams and Voices in the Wilderness. About 15 visitors will stay briefly in Baghdad before breaking into smaller teams to visit schools and hospitals in the countryside.
"I'm doing it because I'm a Christian, a peacenik, a Quaker and an American," said Rose, of Sweetwater Creek in Town 'N Country. "I think it's a patriotic act. I think our country is making a big mistake by declaring to the world that we're going to do this (go to war with Iraq) one way or the other."
The group, which leaves Wednesday, will stay for two weeks, and, according to Voices in the Wilderness, intends to live among the civilian population, protect facilities such as water purification plants, and share observations about the country upon its return. The group does not plan to take medicine, food or gifts to the Iraqi people.
Rose found out about the trip through e-mails this fall. Members paid $2,000 each to take part and signed waivers indicating that if they are taken hostage, the government should not make special efforts to secure their release.
"We're sticking our necks out, and we pretty much know what we're doing," said Rose, 69.
Having read a great deal of Hemingway and existentialist authors in college, Rose considers himself a romantic. After graduating from Amherst College in 1955 he spent 20 years traveling the world working odd jobs as a dishwasher, a road builder and a grape harvester.
He met his wife, Le Nuong, in Vietnam and they returned to the United States in 1974. He took a job as a clerk with the U.S. Postal service and retired in 1995.
He said he puts Hussein "somewhere between Hitler and Mussolini," but that the United States should pursue all diplomatic avenues before resorting to war, and build an international coalition if it does decide to take on the Iraqi president.
"If the United Nations is satisfied that there is no worldwide threat of biological warfare from Iraq, we shouldn't be in the business of deposing dictators just because their governments are ugly," he said.
He does, however, leave open the possibility of armed conflict if the United Nations is not satisfied with Iraq's weapons program.
Voices in the Wilderness, which opposes economic sanctions, has sent about four dozen teams to Iraq since 1996 after its founder, Kathy Kelly, visited.
Rose has taken other excursions with Christian Peacemaker Teams, to the state of Chiapas in Mexico and Israel's West Bank.
To those who would criticize the timing of his trip, Rose said he must listen to his conscience -- and his body, which he says is still fit to make such a trip.
During his stay he plans to pass a message of friendship and good will to the Iraqis he meets.
"(They) have to know that there is a substantial minority that are for peace, that are tolerant, that are sympathetic for Arabs," he said.
-- John Balz can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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