- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

Life for Relief and Development (LIFE), the Michigan-based charity that funded the trip three Democratic congressmen took to Iraq last week to try to prevent a war, was founded in 1993 by a group of Iraqi-American men who decided they wanted to do something to help their homeland after the Gulf war.

Since then, the organization has donated more than $35 million worth of food, clothing, medical supplies and construction materials to people in Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Lebanon, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, India, Pakistan and to Palestinian refugees in Syria and Jordan, according to LIFE officials.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Vicki Robb, development director of LIFE, said the group wants to open an office in Israel or Palestinian-controlled territories to help victims of the conflict there. She said LIFE sees a real need to give humanitarian assistance to Palestinian women and children.

"We're not biased. We want to help anyone in need, whether Muslim, Hindu, Christian or Jewish," she said, noting that the group has recently aided earthquake victims in India.

The new LIFE office would be in addition to its headquarters in Southfield, Mich., near Detroit, and existing satellite offices in California, Canada, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Sierra Leone.

LIFE has gained new attention after the group co-sponsored and financed a trip to Baghdad by three House Democrats Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington, David E. Bonior of Michigan and Mike Thompson of California, who oppose the Bush administration's plan for a potential military attack against Iraq.

Mr. McDermott and Mr. Bonior were harshly criticized by Republicans who said the congressmen expressed a pro-Iraqi, anti-American position in television interviews from Baghdad.

LIFE opposes war with Iraq, Ms. Robb said. "We're humanitarian, so war is not an option for us. We believe you should try dialogue, before killing and injuring people and displacing them from their homes."

Ms. Robb declined to state an opinion on Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein: "I'm not political. We're not political."

Mohammed Alomari, spokesman for LIFE, said, "We don't have any say-so over Congress' political views. But we definitely want a peaceful solution" to the crisis with Iraq.

Like Ms. Robb, Mr. Alomari said LIFE is nonpolitical. But another group represented on the trip to Baghdad Focus and American and Arab Interests and Relations (FAAIR) does have political involvement.

"FAAIR is an advocacy group. We do some lobbying. The two groups are independent entities, but we work together with LIFE" and share opposition to a war with Iraq, said Muthanna Al-Hanooti, FAAIR's president, who traveled to Iraq with the congressmen and six other delegates.

In a statement in August, Mr. Al-Hanooti said "some extremists in Washington" are pushing for military action against Iraq. He said another war with Iraq would be both "illegal" and "immoral," given that "there is no proof whatsoever Iraq is a threat to the United States."

In an interview yesterday, the FAAIR leader declined to describe President Bush as an "extremist." But he said there are a number of "fanatics" seeking regime change in Baghdad. "Regime change [by an outside country] is against international law. We think the U.N. should take care of this. But we're still against a war, regardless," said Mr. Al-Hanooti.

Mr. Al-Hanooti said LIFE paid for the entire Baghdad trip.

LIFE has paid for "four or five" overseas trips like the one to Iraq since Ms. Robb came to work there in 1996, she said. But she believes this was the first time members of Congress were part of the delegations.

Past delegations, she said, included members of the American Friends Service Committee and Veterans for Peace.

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