By JASON ECK
Two groups, one supporting American troops in Iraq and another that opposes the war, drew separate crowds in downtown Sonora yesterday.
Just hours after the first group waved flags and honked horns near Courthouse Square, more than 200 people filled the nearby Sonora Opera Hall to learn about the people of Iraq caught in the crossfire of war from a man with first-hand knowledge of Iraqi people.
Tuolumne County Citizens for Peace welcomed David Smith-Ferri who visited Iraq last year with a humanitarian organization. He showed slides and talked of the people he met during his two trips. He is a member of Voices in the Wilderness.
Started in 1996, the goal of the group with members from the United States and United Kingdom is to end economic sanctions and military warfare in Iraq.
Through more than 60 trips to Iraq, the group has been able to observe and witness what the Iraqi people are enduring as a result of an international embargo and share its findings with people back at home.
An author, poet and stay-at-home dad, Smith-Ferri was most recently in Iraq in September and October 2002. He and seven other Americans visited Baghdad and Basra.
He lives in Ukiah and speaks to groups across the U.S.
Last night he shared slides and stories of Iraqis who were frightened, angry and aggrieved. Troops already were being deployed then, leaving citizens unsure what the future held.
"It became clear fairly quickly that the threat of war was causing hardship and pain, especially for families with children to care for," Smith-Ferri said.
He said he was afraid during his first trip in 1999 when Iraqi citizens would ask him where he was from. But he found over and over again that once he said he was from the U.S., Iraqis replied "you are welcome." He said Iraqis are hospitable and respectful. When he visited people in Baghdad marketplaces he said young children would offer him tea.