A most unusual protest took place in downtown Baghdad Monday. Two men dressed up as famous cartoon characters to call for a less violent future for Iraqi children.
Leaving the heavily fortified coalition press center around midday, a VOA reporter overhears an American soldier uttering a rather strange sentence into his two-way radio. He says, Yeah, and Sylvester and Tweetie are with them.
The reporter assumes he is speaking in code, and maybe Sylverster and Tweetie are code-names for some high-ranking coalition officials.
But then she reaches the main street, and standing in the middle of a major intersection are none other than the famous cartoon characters, Sylvester the Cat and Tweetie Bird.
It is not an illusion, and it is not a joke. Behind the two men in costume, a small group of protesters have unfurled a banner calling for new toys for Iraqi children. They have just finished burning a small pile of some of Iraq's most popular toys - plastic guns.
The surreal protest is the work of a group known as the National Association for the Protection of the Environment and the Child.
One group member, Saffa'a Eidi, says they want exactly what their banner says - new, non-violent toys for Iraqi children. "We are protesting here for the sake of the children and for humanity.," said Mr. Eidi. "We want new toys, new things for them to play with."
The issue is not just about toys. It is about violence and society. For decades, if not centuries, the Iraqi people have lived through wave after wave of war. The ruinous eight-year war with neighboring Iran began in 1980. Just a few years after that war ended, Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait, touching off the first Gulf War and 10 years of sanctions. And this year, of course, brought another conflict, the collapse of Saddam's regime, and the often-violent occupation that has followed.
"It is time to break the cycle of violence" that has been part of Iraqi society for so long," said Mr. Eidi. He said that before the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, there were hundreds of toy guns in the hands of Iraqi children. Now, he says, there are even more.
The protesters say Iraq's legacy of war is reflected in the toys that children play with. Mr. Eidi says they want to cleanse the children's minds of the ideology of violence.
Tweetie, Sylvester and the rest of the protesters also want the world to pay attention to their plight by helping Iraqi children find a new way to play.