Peace activists say only citizen action can stop a war on Iraq

Andrew Pritchard

The United States is at a crucial point in carrying out its foreign policy toward Iraq, and only citizen action can prevent war, speakers at a University forum told several hundred listeners Saturday.

“The only thing that can save us from pursuing the course (President George W. Bush) would have us pursue is us,” said the Rev. Lucius Walker, executive director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization.

Phyllis Bennis, a journalist, author and fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, said the Twin Cities has historically been a “center of resistance,” and such action prompted more votes than predicted against the Iraq resolution Congress passed in early October.

“Sen. (Robert) Byrd (D-W.Va.) said that his office got 60,000 calls, and they told us they were running 1,000 to one against the war,” she said, adding that Minnesota’s late DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone played an “extraordinary role.”

Outside the Willey Hall auditorium, anti-war organizations sold books, newspapers, T-shirts and buttons opposing the war, including buttons reading “Iraq!” in the green and white style used by the Wellstone campaign.

Bennis said war with Iraq is not inevitable but remains a dangerous possibility.

“If it happens, this war will have little or nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction,” she said. “It will have little or nothing to do with what U.N. resolutions say or do not say. It will have everything to do with oil and empire.”

Bennis also said Americans would sacrifice more rights if the nation goes to war with Iraq.

“The Romans learned this at the time of the Roman Empire,” she said. “The price of empire at home is the loss of freedoms.”

Bennis disputed the so-called “Prague connection” in which Mohamed Atta, one of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers, allegedly met with an Iraqi intelligence official.

The New York Times reported in late October that former Czech President Vaclav Havel told the Bush administration there is no evidence such a meeting took place.

Havel’s spokesman later denied any such conversation, but news agencies worldwide continue citing conflicting – and anonymous – government sources disputing whether the “Prague connection” exists.

Bennis said the price of war with Iraq extends beyond the United States to consequences facing its Middle East allies.

“They will do what they’re told, but the price might be their overthrow,” she said. “Are we prepared to ask that of our friends?”

Many Middle East experts have predicted a large-scale U.S. deployment for war with Iraq would prompt rebellions in Islamic countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Rybak pledges veto

although he has participated in public anti-war protests, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said Wednesday he would veto any Minneapolis City Council resolution criticizing the war.

“We were not elected to run the country’s foreign policy,” Rybak said in an e-mail posted on the Twin Cities Independent Media Center’s Web site. “We were elected to run the city of Minneapolis, where we have huge issues on our plate. We need to keep focused on them.”

Council members Robert Lilligren, Paul Zerby – who represents the University area – Dean Zimmerman, and former member Joe Biernat proposed a resolution Sept. 27 urging “peaceful alternatives” to a first strike in Iraq.

Council President Paul Ostrow ruled the resolution out of order and was sustained by a one-vote majority of the council.

At least 23 cities nationwide have passed such anti-war resolutions.

Andrew Pritchard covers state politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]