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Americans open their wallets for Iraqis

From adopting pets to sending soap, US public pitches in.

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Frustrated by images of chaos and violence unfolding on the other side of the globe, Leigh Evans decided to do something concrete to help. The result: free yoga classes and fundraising help for a humanitarian-aid group.

Ms. Evans enlisted 40 San Francisco Bay area studios to offer classes and invite students to donate money to Oxfam America's Iraqi aid program last Sunday. So far, "Yogis for Peace" has raised $3,163.

"My students don't have money," says Ms. Evans. "The fact we raised $500 [at her Temescal Arts Center] is amazing."

The yoga event was one of the more unusual efforts by Americans in recent weeks to direct money to Iraqi civilians. Some people, like Evans, are channeling their opposition to the war in a practical way. And even those who support military intervention have been moved to act by images of suffering or by direct pleas from nonprofits.

Critical role of the media

But while Americans are famous for their generosity in the face of natural or human disasters, some international aid groups say it's been more difficult to raise money for Iraq than for other high-profile war-torn areas, such as Afghanistan or Kosovo.

There's been no direct plea from President Bush like there was for Afghanistan, and some people may believe the US government will take care of the humanitarian needs. Until this week, the media - usually the single biggest trigger for giving - has focused more on US troops than on Iraqi suffering. It's also been difficult to raise awareness about famine, lack of water, and medical needs, when those problems are just beginning to be identified.

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