Locals ponder war and peace at Iraq forum

Posted: Wednesday, September 25, 2002

A Juneau forum on Tuesday night about Iraq brought up the same concerns being played out around the world as the Bush administration seeks congressional authorization to use force to oust Saddam Hussein.

"We don't have proof that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, and we're not being consistent with our U.S. foreign policy," said Tia Anderson after the forum, which was led by a group of high school students called Dialogos and held at the University of Alaska Southeast.

"If we set a precedent of pre-emptive strikes, the biggest thing that could happen now is India and Pakistan - and they both have nuclear weapons - say 'the United States can do that and we can too,' " said Anderson, who has spent a year in Washington, D.C., studying Iraq with the Quaker group the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

But A.J. Sadighi, a man who said he has lived under a dictatorship in Iran, said Saddam's willingness to use weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological weapons, puts him in a different category than other leaders.

"There is a serious problem in the Middle East, and if something is not done it's (the Sept. 11 attacks) going to happen again," Sadighi said at the gathering of about 60 people.

President Bush has asked the United Nations Security Council to force Iraq to disarm, citing many violations of the council's own resolutions designed to ensure that Iraq wouldn't pose a threat to international peace and security following its invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and its defeat in the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Bush also has asked Congress for a resolution that authorizes him "to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force."

Don Gotschall, a member of a group of Juneau residents who have been meeting periodically to talk about Iraq, said the group is publishing ads in the Empire this week with the names of about 800 residents who oppose a war with Iraq. The first ad appears in today's paper. The petition also will be presented to the offices of the Alaska congressional delegation at the Federal Building at 12:15 p.m. Thursday. The group is scheduled to meet again at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday at Northern Light United Church downtown.

Dixie Hood said residents need to learn more about the issue and let the congressional delegation know they don't want to be stampeded into war.

But Zach Kohan, a Juneau-Douglas High School student, said there's a lot of evidence that the United States would be attacked by Iraq if it doesn't strike first, and the U.S. government would be criticized after the fact.

"I think the government is acting in fear that this attack could happen and is trying to be proactive," Kohan said.

Others, as former Vice President Al Gore said in a recent speech, said they were concerned about the United States going to war without support from the rest of the world.

"Are we going to be happy being citizens of an imperial power, or are we going to be happy being citizens of a country as part of the world without dominating it?" asked John Dunker.

But JDHS student Alex Sadighi said America's experience on Sept. 11 might give it a perspective that other countries don't have. "As victims recently - that kind of changes the way you see it," he said.

War creates more victims, said Rick Bellagh, a UAS professor of Spanish.

"The effect of war is human suffering. I can't get rid of that idea. It's very emotional," he said.

And Bellagh questioned the right of the United States to demand that another country not develop weapons of mass destruction when it does so itself and has used them.

Some at the forum questioned the motives of the Bush administration, saying Cabinet members had ties to corporations that would profit from a war, or that a war would help Republicans in the upcoming congressional elections. They asked whether the United States would care about Iraq if it didn't have oil.

Others said they were concerned an attack on Iraq would unleash an Islamic holy war around the world. And they asked what a war would lead to in Iraq.

"We're talking about throwing bombs on people who put a lot of value on cultural memory," Bellagh said. The Iraqi people would remember that the United States has bombed them before, in the gulf war and since then, he said.

"Do you think that going in there now and bombing a suffering population will do anything to help - that we'll be seen as liberators?" Bellagh asked.

But A.J. Sadighi asked whether peace is defined simply as the absence of war. People in Iraq and surrounding nations are suffering, he said, and would be happy if the United States removed Saddam from power.

"The ultimate goal is to allow these people to take a breath," he said.

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