parents of American soldiers brave hostility at home to see the real
story in Iraq
By Phil Reeves in Baghdad, The
Independent (UK), 8 December 2003
must be strange to be Anthony Lopercio of the US Army's 82nd Airborne
Division.The 23-year-old private has been dispatched to Fallujah to
stand in the front line on what is, for any American, one of the most
hostile places in the world. Yet, as he gazes across the dreary Iraqi
landscape, feeling the sullen resentment of its population towards
foreign occupation, he will not only be wondering about the guerrillas
out there. He will also be watching for the portly frame of his father.
long ago, Michael Lopercio, a 51-year-old restaurateur from Tempe,
Arizona, decided that he was not happy with the quality of the news he
was receiving about the war into which his son had been drawn. He also
realised that if the conflict dragged on, so would the amount of time
that his boy would have to remain in Iraq, where hundreds of young
Americans have already died. So he packed his bags and set off to
Baghdad to find out for himself what was happening, and to see if there
was anything he could do about it.
haven't been getting the full story in the US," he said. "The
media is covering events - shootings and bombings - but not the issues.
They are not covering what is really happening to Iraqi people and to
the Iraqi infrastructure and how this affects our chances of success
here. It's very important to understand the frustration of the average
Iraqi and how unhappy they are with their progress over the last eight
news that his father was coming to join him in the conflict zone was a
surprise for Private Lopercio. "He was utterly shocked when I
called him," said Mr Lopercio. He has yet to gain permission to see
his son but hopes it will come before he returns to the United States
took five minutes to convince him I wasn't playing a practical joke. But
he was pretty excited for me. I thought he might be disapproving, but he
said he thought it would be an incredible experience for me." His
son was right. Mr Lopercio has found it incredible. Incredible that,
eight months after the invasion and occupation began, children are still
dying in Iraqi hospitals through a lack of antibiotics. Incredible that
schools have no lights, no heating, no books.
incredible that, while he has been in Iraq this week, the occupation
authorities have staged an expensive public relations stunt by removing
the monolithic stone busts of Saddam Hussein that stood on the top of
the palace in which Paul Bremer, the chief US administrator, has his
the hell are they wasting money taking down those heads of Saddam from
the coalition authority's palace when they could be spending it on
something more meaningful, like bringing heat and light and medicine to
Iraqi hospitals?" asks Mr Lopercio. His mission required courage,
not only because of the dangers of being an American in Iraq: his
willingness to challenge his country's reasons for going to war, and its
disastrous handling of the aftermath of the invasion, has not gone down
particularly well in Arizona.
says conservative radio talk shows have begun attacking his wife, a
social worker, after she gave interviews to the newspapers about his
trip. "They have been reading out the interviews on the air, and
giving her a hard time. She's a little scared, and out of her element,
to be sure." He is one of a delegation of nine family members of US
soldiers and army veterans who have come to Iraq, led by the San
Francisco-based human rights group Global Exchange. Most of the group
oppose the occupation, while others say they simply want to see the
situation for themselves.
the group is Billy Kelly, a 60-year-old retired New York barman who
fought in Vietnam in 1967. He said: "There is not a day that goes
by when I don't think about what happened there 35 years ago." He
had, he said, come to check out a suspicion that what is playing out in
Iraq has similarities to his own grim experience in uniform. He, too,
has had a hard time for his stance, not least because he is from the
city that was the principal target of the 9/11 atrocities. "Some of
my friends say that I'm a traitor. But I feel that people can accept me,
or not. My hope is just that there will be a dialogue about what's going
on. It hasn't happened yet. At the moment, we have a diatribe from one
side or the other."
Valencia, from Tucson, Arizona, had tried to visit her daughter, Giselle
Valencia, who is an army truck driver stationed in Tikrit. But she was
on a mission, and not at the base.
delegation represents an increasingly organised minority that is willing
to challenge the unremitting spin from the Bush administration and from
Downing Street as both governments seek to justify their operations in
member of the group is Fernando Suarez del Solar. His son Jesus Alberto,
a US Marine, was one of the first Americans to be killed in Iraq - the
victim of an American cluster bomb. He has become a vocal opponent of
George Bush's policy in Iraq, denouncing the invasion as illegal and
demanding the immediate withdrawal of troops. "Our mission is
talking to ordinary Iraqis and US troops, figuring out why things have
gone so terribly wrong and what we can do to stop the violence and bring
the troops home," he said.
delegation has been met with a resounding lack of enthusiasm from the US
military and "coalition" officials. They have been warning the
media of the dangers of the visit, at the same time as trying to
persuade it that most of the country is free of violence.
of that has deterred Mr Suarez del Solar. He has a mission: to visit the
spot where his son died and bring home a jar of the soil into which he
bled. It will be placed in a park that the boy used to visit and marked
with a white rose.