Determined to bear witness to the Iraq war

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 13, 2008 - 2:39 PM

A Duluth peace activist is headed to war front for fourth time.

  The drivers in Baghdad unnerve her. The prospect of triggering a 
roadside bomb or crossing paths with a suicide bomber worries her
even more.

Yet what Michele Naar-Obed fears most as she works in Iraq,
unarmed and vulnerable, is that nobody back home will listen to her
plea to end the bloodshed.

"What I'm afraid of is that nobody's going to care," said the
49-year-old peace activist who calls a Catholic Worker house in
Duluth her home. "That as a nation, we're just going to continue on
this downward spiral of violence and reach this point of no return."

Hoping to prevent that, Naar-Obed and her colleagues at Christian
Peacemaker Teams keep praying. And protesting. And returning to
Iraq to document the atrocities of war.

The Chicago-based peace group is funded by the Brethren, Quaker
and Mennonite churches.

This month, Naar-Obed will again leave her husband, their
11-year-old daughter and their home on the hill overlooking Lake
Superior to go back to Iraq to talk with civilians and push for the
withdrawal of U.S. troops.

It'll be her fourth trip, her third since the war began and the
first since four co-workers - two of whom she knows personally -
were kidnapped last month by insurgents who have threatened their

"We feel part of the faith is putting God first," said her
husband, Greg Boertje-Obed, a fellow peace activist. "There is
sometimes a mission you are given that will take priority over your
family relationships. ... It's not easy. But we do know many
military families who are separated by business and risk, and they
do adjust."


Getting involved

Sitting on the floor of the cramped but cozy house in east Duluth
that she has shared for the past 3 1/2 years with her family, other
Catholic workers and homeless families in transition, Naar-Obed
said her kidnapped colleagues "are very much on my mind."

But when she leaves Minnesota Dec. 30 for more than five weeks in
Iraq, she said, it won't change her feelings about her work, which
includes meeting with Iraqi-based human rights groups, helping
families "lost in the maze" of U.S. detention centers and listening
to the stories of soldiers and civilians in an effort to "keep
these bonds that bind us together from totally unraveling."

A native of Ossining, N.Y., and the daughter of a Korean War
veteran, Naar-Obed grew up Catholic and wanting to become a
veterinarian. But the troubling scenes and images from an unpopular
war in Vietnam moved her deeply. So, too, did the words of
returning soldiers, whose version of what was happening in the
jungles ran counter to what the nation was being told by its leaders.

She was discouraged again in the 1980s, when friends working in
Central America brought home disturbing accounts of U.S.

She said she wanted to speak out, but didn't.

"I didn't really understand the politics of it," she said.

By the early 1990s, with war in Iraq imminent, Naar-Obed, then 34
and working as a hospital pathologist's assistant in Baltimore,
"was in despair," she said.

Two days before the Gulf War began, she attended a candlelight
vigil to protest the U.S. buildup. The night the bombing started,
she and colleagues climbed atop an armory and threw down blood,
sand and oil.

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