- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

CHICAGO (AP) At age 25, Nathan Mauger has seen much of the world and been kicked out of some of it.
He was banned this year from Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for delivering food and medical supplies to Palestinians who'd occupied the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Now the young peace activist from Spokane, Wash., is off to Iraq. Despite strong disapproval from the U.S. government, Mr. Mauger and six other members of an American "peace team" are positioning themselves in Baghdad in case of a U.S. attack there.
Mr. Mauger plans to stay "indefinitely" to report the stories of Iraqi citizens for newspapers and television stations in his home state, using video and audio equipment he's bringing along.
He's not an apologist for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. But Mr. Mauger and others in Voices in the Wilderness, the Chicago-based group organizing the trip, believe the suffering of the Iraqi people has not been highlighted enough. They oppose a U.S. attack and want an end to sanctions.
"The goal is to humanize Iraq because it is a nation of human beings," Mr. Mauger said last week before leaving for Iraq. "There are 25 million people; it's not just Saddam Hussein."
Relief groups say life for the average Iraqi is difficult at best.
Contaminated water has created an epidemic of dysentery and infectious diseases, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths. UNICEF says Iraqi children younger than age 5 are dying at more than twice the rate they were before the sanctions.
At least one U.S. official called the peace team's concerns for the Iraqi people "valid."
"It's just that we don't feel anything's going to change by ending sanctions or making it easier for Saddam," said Gregg Sullivan, a spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. "This is a guy who's not a force for alleviating human suffering in the world. He's a force for exacerbating it."
Neither that argument, nor the $10,000 fines imposed on some activists who've gone to Iraq in recent years without U.S. government permission, sway Mr. Mauger.
He knows many Americans deplore what he's doing. He also concedes that the Iraqi government is "as horrible as people say" and acknowledges he's more than a little frightened.
He says it was his experience studying abroad in the West Bank seeing death and destruction firsthand that turned him from a "mainstream liberal" college student to peace activist.
"When you see a war happening in front of you, with people you care about caught in the middle, you don't forget that," he said. "It changes you. It changed me."
In Bethlehem, Mr. Mauger was among a group of Palestinian supporters, called the International Solidarity Movement, who tried to bring food and supplies to Palestinians holed up inside the Church of the Nativity on May 2. Ten made it inside; Mr. Mauger and a dozen others didn't and were deported.
Mr. Mauger, who's awaiting a journalism degree from Washington State University while credits transfer from his Chinese language studies in the West Bank, made the comments last week at a Chicago apartment that is part office for Voices in the Wilderness, part living quarters for its volunteers. He joined the group two months ago after being released from an Israeli prison and returning to the United States.
As he packed Wednesday, Mr. Mauger listened to music through headphones, while recording two CDs. They are among the only personal possessions he took with him.
Mr. Mauger left Chicago's O'Hare International Airport Thursday for Iraq via Jordan with two large duffel bags in tow most of them filled with medical journals, donated clothing, vitamins, children's pain reliever and cough syrup and a few packages of Magic Markers to give to youngsters.
The team expects to be in Iraq by tomorrow. Eventually, Mr. Mauger plans to settle into a Baghdad hotel and volunteer at a hospital.
Polls show that most Americans support President Bush's plans to attack Iraq. Mr. Mauger hopes reports and film footage he sends back home will change some minds.
"I'm hoping for the best," he said, "But expecting the worst."


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