A mothers peace mission

Anabelle Valencia has a daughter stationed in Iraq. She left Tucson on Dec. 1 with two wishes. She wanted to look for her daughter and bring a message of peace to the children of Iraq.

She accomplished both. She found her daughter in Tikrit. She told the World, “That is my Christmas gift for now.”

But, she says, “It’s Christmas time and everyone is going to be with their families. I want to tell Mr. Bush, ‘We are going to be very sad.’”

Valencia, along with three other family members of soldiers in Iraq and two war veterans, met with a cross-section of Iraqis and U.S. military personnel on a fact-finding peace mission to Iraq, Dec. 1-8, organized by Global Exchange.

Valencia’s “Christmas gift” was spending two hours with her 22-year-old daughter Giselle in Tikrit. Valencia saw a burning tank en route from Baghdad and was overwhelmed with fear for her daughter’s life. She was turned away from her first meeting attempt. On the second attempt, she was successful.

Valencia told the World, “When I saw my daughter, she was carrying a big gun. I said, ‘She’s supposed to have a book and be going to college.’ I started crying.”

Valencia continued, “I wanted to put her in my purse and take her home. It was two beautiful hours and I appreciated that the military people allowed that.”

The delegation went to Iraq as evidence continues to mount that the Bush administration lied about the war and continued occupation. U.S. corporations are profiteering from the war, while nearly 500 U.S. troops have died with thousands wounded and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead and wounded.

The delegation spoke with Iraqi people, including the Iraqi Governing Council. The theme that was often repeated, Valencia said, was they were glad that Saddam Hussein was gone, but the time for the U.S. troops to leave was now.

Valencia, a high school teaching assistant, said, “They told us it’s time for the Army to go back [to the U.S.] because they want to take the power by themselves.”

The delegation included other members of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), and Veterans for Peace, and was hosted in Baghdad by the International Occupation Watch Center.

Seeing the U.S. soldiers in Baghdad, Valencia was struck by how young they were. “I saw the American soldiers in convoys and tanks. They looked so scared. I looked at their faces and they were 18, 19, 20 years old … Those are babies,” she said. “The Iraqi people were scared, too. They are in the most dangerous place in the whole world.”

The delegation saw the continuing hardships the Iraqi people face under the U.S. occupation with millions unemployed, unsafe drinking water and intermittent electricity.

Valencia said that what she saw moved her to tears. “I know I have to be strong” she said but, “I am a human and a mother, like the hundreds and hundreds of mothers of children in Iraq. It’s a big pain, like a nightmare.

She said, “I want to tell President Bush that he lied to us. They said our kids would be in Iraq for six months. My daughter and son will probably stay a year. [Bush] said there was weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and they don’t see any yet.”

Valencia said, “[The Iraqi people] need a lot of support from the American people …It broke my heart.” She said that schools and hospitals they visited had no basic medicines and supplies available. “In the schools they don’t have pencils, paper, books. It’s time that everyone knows about this. The government of Bush hasn’t sent anything. They are still waiting for the money,” she said.

At the school where Valencia works there are nine teachers whose children are also in Iraq. They have been a comfort to one another. When Valencia began to speak out against the war one of the teachers said, “‘Anabelle, congratulations! You said something a lot of people won’t say. Thank you!’”

Though Valencia said others disagreed, saying that it’s wrong to oppose the government, she explained that she was against the war not the government.

“And I said, I’m not against Mr. Bush. But he is lying to us … The Iraqi people are saying ‘where’s our jobs?’ People are dying and he is still lying to us.”

When Valencia returns home this week, she said, “I’m going to call the media to tell everything that I saw. I’m going to tell the truth.”

She said that she would work with other parents in MFSO “and work for the little kids in Iraq…I want to [collect] medicines, clothing, and materials for schools. They need a lot of help from us.”

The author can be reached at jleblanc@pww.org.

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