From Vietnam to Iraq
The Vietnam War ended.
I was just graduating from Ohio State University, working on raising money for Bach Mai– A hospital the size of the Mao Clinic. It was destroyed by the United States in the 1972 Christmas bombing. Fifty eight thousand American boys were killed in Vietnam, 3.2 million Vietnamese died and, according to a 1979 Senate sub-committee report, more American Vietnam vets committed suicide after returning home than died in the war.
After the war (and out of harm’s way), American activists never challenged the sanctions on Vietnam from 1975 until 1995. This bled the country to death and isolated Vietnam from the world. When the sanctions were lifted, it was obvious that the sanctions had done what the war could not do – whip the country into submission.
After the sanctions the oil companies moved in to draw from one of the largest untapped reserves of oil in S.E. Asia. Nike was welcomed with open arms, paying their new workers twenty-eight dollars a month. A Vietnamese employee of Nike would have to work several months to be able to purchase a pair of Air Jordan’s…
After a year of fundraising, enough money has finally been collected for airfare and to pay Occupation Watch, via Global Exchange, to organize our itinerary, hire driver/translators, hotels and food. Our goal has been reached and we organized our journalists’ delegation so we will make the scene for the anniversary of the beginning of the second Iraq war, March 20th.
Geoff Kelly, of Pittsburgh-based alternative newspaper PULP, and myself, radio journalist for Blast Furnace Radio, are in two beefed-up SUV’s speeding down the highway of death – the only way into Iraq from Amman Jordan – known as the “Highway of Death” because of those murdered by US troops while attempting to escape Iraq at the end of the war in 1991. Now the road is a favorite of the Ali Baba-style roving bands of thieves. Eight hours of unbroken red sand… too tired to be scared, sleep comes in fits.
Occupation Watch ran us hard over the next week. We met doctors at public hospitals, professors and students at a university, a cleric at a religious school, artists, writers, the homeless living in a bombed out building, the unemployed committee, intellectuals, communists, and the site of a rebuilt water treatment
center in Falluja. At each location I pulled out my tape recorder and mic.
The most memorable of all the locations was a public hospital and the exchanges with a doctor who guided us through the stark facility. What follows is a transcript of our tour through the public Baghdad hospital…
Dr. Alaa Yusuf:
Our emergency units still lack essential equipment, but we have the ABC drugs — the fluids, antibiotics. But if we’re talking about the emergency unit, there are special drugs for special cases, which we should be provided. Still now we’re waiting. Nothing came yet. Nothing. We’re trying to do the best in our jobs. We did our best. We’re trying to do our best here. But you know we need support, very big support. Nothing has changed really. Maybe they’ve painted the walls, new furniture, but we’re talking about critical equipment and new drugs. Now you’re going to see our intensive care unit, then we’re going to go to the pediatric unit and the pediatric ward. The doctors themselves are going to tell you what we see here, what we do.
ER chief: We do not have the drugs that are needed in an emergency situation, such drugs that we need in medical cases such as calcium glutamate, sometimes isobutomol solution for those patients with bronchial asthma, unavailable. We may shift to other types of drugs. Sometimes there is a deficiency of certain equipment like canulas and syringe. In surgical cases there is difficulty in checking of and getting some of the drugs as certain antibiotics. In a patient that is allergic to penicillin, we have difficulties in giving antibiotics. Sometimes we have troubles in X-ray department. We have only one machine that works, and
this machine has not worked well. Certain types of X-rays, such as plain abdominal X-ray, we can’t get the benefit from the film, because the film is very shiny. Why, with borders open, are these drugs and equipment unavailable?
Dr. Alaa Yusuf:
You don’t ask us this question. You must go to the ministry and ask why. Other groups came here and asked the same question. Why? The sanctions have been lifted for one year. Why? Not only just the drugs, but why isn’t everything?
Such intensive drugs as cortisone, we have only five vials for 24 hours sometimes.
Dr. Alaa Yusuf:
There is a share for every call. So they say, “These are your drugs. Deal with it, whatever comes beyond this share, send for from outside. And if it’s after midnight, you can’t find a pharmacy, so keep the patient without this medication until the morning.”
The ER chief describes some patients who have come in with renal pain, but he has no analgesia, so he gives them IV fluid with a sedative so they’ll sleep.
I have no other choice.
Dr. Alaa Yusuf:
You just sedate the patient. Always supportive measures; you can’t treat the cause. You just give him attention. You just go around the disease, just to sedate the patient, support him, until the morning comes, then give him the medication — if it’s available. That’s an if. If it’s available in the pharmacy. Otherwise, please go out to the market, buy us some. We’ve heard back in America that even doctors don’t have money to medication for their own children.
Dr. Alaa Yusuf:
In the old days, every one of used to receive maybe two dollars, three dollars each
month. Now salaries are going up to maybe $200, $250 dollars, which is the lowest of the lowest of
the lowest of the doctors in the United States. A junior doctor, a rotator, who works in a junior hospital
—not a general hospital — maybe gets $1500 or $2000 per month. He’s under training and may go up
if he gets a job. What I’m getting at is the prices in the market didn’t change — maybe went up. If one
of my family — I lost my father to multiple myloma — and if my salary, I got $200, $250 dollars,
would my salary cover my father’s medication until he passed? Everybody here, when he has a problem,
if he doesn’t go and look for support from his family — maybe not his family directly, his father
or mother, but from his tribe — he cannot support himself. Me as a doctor, I’m supposed to be the light
of a community, isn’t that right. So if I can’t support myself, who can?
This is the type of needle we use in the hospital. I cannot use it
in children. I cannot use it in shock patients.
Dr. Alaa Yusuf:
There’s no handle for it, you see. I don’t know how to use it.
I’m the best — sorry, supposed to be the best — in the hospital. But if I insert in a central venous line, subclavial, which is very complicated, believe me, it’s easier for me to insert this camera in a shock patient. I don’t know where… this is a postwar delivery. We didn’t see this before the war. They got millions and millions of dollars of funds. They’ve got the oil money. They got our bank money, which was before 1990. This is a simple thing. It’s not costly. Why are they bringing us the worst types? These people here deserve better. The Iraqi people have suffered. From 1991 they have suffered. We are losing patients, we are losing friends, we are losing relatives, we are losing a lot of people around us. It’s normal, someone dying around you. It’s normal, hearing a bomb or a shot. It’s normal, it’s part of life. Just like going to have a coffee in your coffee shop. It’s normal for you. It’s normal for us that I turn — okay, my neighbor’s dead. That’s normal. I go to the hospital — oh, there’s four patients shot, we’re going to operate. It’s normal. It’s part of our life. It’s the new Iraqi method of living: “Goodbye, family, I may not come back.” We people doing our jobs, these people doing their jobs — we deserve better. Who are bringing these?
Is there a theoretical budget through the ministry for buying drugs? Is it all getting siphoned?
Dr. Alaa Yusuf:
No. You see the system here is the old system. The system didn’t change. The ministry buys the drugs from the companies that are dealing with the ministry. Only private hospitals and private clinics are allowed to deal with their own sources of drugs and their own sources of equipment. They can buy whatever you want. So it’s easier for me and them to go to a private hospital if I want better service — at good pay.
So private hospitals better equipped with drugs?
Dr. Alaa Yusuf:
Supposed to be. Supposed to. But who’s to pay? If you have somebody you love in the family, you’ll pay whatever you have to save them. You can borrow money, you can put up your house for mortgage, if you want to save your beloved one. So you must pay. But the very poor people who are coming to our hospital here; if you go around your hospital, you can see the really low social class — which most of the Iraqi people are, the majority are low social, economically I’m talking. Most people are out of jobs. People who are jobs have very low incomes, maybe the lowest in the Middle East.
How many people do you see a day?
ERD: We see every day about five to 10 cases of bullet injury per day. What’s the source of those injuries?
ERD: Different. [He then starts to list kinds of injuries, and turns and speaks to Yusuf quietly in Arabic, who tells him he can say anything he wants.]
Dr Alaa Yusuf:
He was trying to talk about excessive force. Excessive force in the United States is a violation. It’s a violation against even a killer. If a policeman used excessive force even against a killer, he would go to court and be sentenced. He would be out of his job and he won’t find a job on the police force. These guys here [indicating security guards] never use excessive force. They’ve been with us since the first day they were appointed. They search us, they searched you, but they’re doing their duties. So if one guy shoots at them, they shoot back at that guy. They don’t shoot at the whole street.
Why? Why on the day of the Ashura (a religious holiday)? People start to hate against the United States. Not the people, the policy. It was a very religious day for them. For the Shia, it’s a very important day. So an explosion happened. Who’s responsible? The security. The occupation is responsible.The occupation is responsible for our security, for our living. That’s in Geneva —I’m not saying that, people are saying that. Geneva, and the United States signed on that agreement, if I’m not wrong. So why are they using excessive force? Why aren’t they protecting? Why are the borders still open so these people are alert for me? They shouldn’t be alert — they should be happy to receive nice people like you, and nice doctors like him. Maybe we’re good neighbors, maybe we’re friends. Why should they feel alert? Because the borders aren’t safe.
And who is responsible for appointing security force? Aren’t their hands to protect these borders? There are thousands of youth who are strong with good belief to protect the borders. I’m not accusing anybody, but they can do better. They can do a very good job. The Iraqi army was one million. I’m not talking about officers — most of this army was not loyal to the old regime. They are forced to be in the army. They could use these people and put them on the border, so these guys have a good time protecting our hospital, being nice to you and being nice to me.
Isn’t there money? Iraq is full of money. If I put my hand under this hospital, I can assure you I’ll bring back money. I’m sure of it. There is everything here. I should be rich, you should be rich,everybody should be rich. I don’t know why we’re not all rich. I don’t care. There’s money for everybody. Don’t we have money? We have money. We have money from the banks. We have money that was given from Madrid. We have money in international banks. We have the personal money for the old regimes. We have the money in the ground, which is going out by American oil companies. They’re giving us salaries. Oh, thank you. It’s our right to get our good salaries. He’s taking 296,000 dinars doing one of the worst jobs, risking his life, on a duty he may be killed and his sons may be orphans, for $230?
I am risking my life from infections, from HIV, from hepatitis B, from hepatitis C, from many infectious diseases, for $230. In the old days when I used to take $2, I’m not satisfied. I can’t do anything.
If I say, “This is wrong,” I’m dead. You came; give us something. It’s not charity money — it’s our money. I’m not begging anything from you.
[He turns to an old man on a bed who is paralyzed and breathing through a tube in his throat.] This is Hajul Alij, he is a religious man at the mosque. He’s a good prayer, he believes in God and he was shot going out his mosque.
By whom? Does anyone know?
Dr Alaa Yusuf:
No, he was just shot. He’s been six months in our sporadic care unit. His problem is very easy. It’s not a cut in the spinal cord, it’s just immobilization of the bone during compression of the level of CG on the spinal cord. He survived this whole period and now he’s suffering severe depression. One of the causes of the depression is he got help from a German group that they’ll take him and do the operation on their account. The problem is transportation. The problem is he cannot go to Jordan by ambulance because it’s a spinal injury — movement. He must go by a helicopter or airplane. So how can they go to Germany if there’s no transportation for him? So he will not benefit from what’s offered to him. Can the German doctors come to him?
Dr Alaa Yusuf:
They can, but our theaters aren’t equipped, are not qualified, for such operation. It’s easier to bring the patient than to bring in the whole team and bring the drugs.
Do charitable groups abroad send drugs and equipment?
Dr Alaa Yusuf:
Yeah, you see, it’s samples. What you give, what anybody gives, it’s samples. What UNICEF gives, it’s samples. It’s not the real need of the Iraqi medical community. It’s a sales technique: This is our company product. The other day a group came in and they bring in multivitamins. Distributed on the same day. Tomorrow is going to happen. The day after tomorrow is going to happen. One of these days oxygen was not present in our pediatric unit. Look at him. He’s just a number, a statistic, in the United States. Look at yourself. You’re going to go back to the United States and say, “Oh, poor Iraqi people” and then have a good life. I’m sorry if I’m quite blunt with you, but that’s true. Maybe you’re going to talk about it for one, two, three or four weeks. Maybe there’ll be a campaign or two for easing suffering, but then you’ll go back to your life. And we’ll come back to our life.
[He pulls the old man's tube so he can speak and translates for him.]
“A man, when he cries, he cries for a cause. I don’t cry for myself. I’m crying for my country, which has been destroyed, which has been lost. The people paying the most for this are people being killed.
“The United Nations, united on us, wants to kill every Arabic person. Just like in Vietnam. We are a very highly qualified and historical country. We learned the people, history and education. They destroyed our country with their airplanes and guns. We are not ignorant people. We knew, and we know. The Sunni one who’s killing the Shia one is the same that are killing the other side.”
He means they want to make a civil war between the Sunni and the Shia. This is why he was shot. He’s a Sunni religious man, so who shot him. Oh, it’s the Shia. Nobody in this room believes that a Shia may shoot a Sunni, and that a Sunni may shoot a Shia. This man who’s been shot, and they tried to leak the message to him that a Shia shot him, has said, “I don’t believe you.” We are not ignorant people, he’s trying to say. We are highly intelligent, we’ll not believe in any story.
“We want occupation to go out. We want our people to be united. I’m paralyzed, but I have hope. Those fighting now are good people, which will help us in our crisis. We have been hurt be the ex regime, but this regime is far worse.”
This one has been arrested and been abused by the ex-regime because he tore up pictures of the ex president.
Our community is one. He has a grocery on which have been thrown grenades. He’ll never sell his country.
He’s getting better, thanks to God, not to us. We’re able to do less than five percent of what American doctors can do to help their patients.
The Psychiatrist Interview
with Iraq Psychiatrist on 3-25-04
by Vince Eirene in Baghdad, Iraq.
Transcribed by Sandra L. Momper, Social Worker and Adjunct Professor of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh.
Kind of traumatization and destruction we need probably decades to start the program for the children and to start the process of what’s called the psychology called normalization. Other societies and with or that the first important cornerstone in this approach is to start with a PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) program. And we did in fact, and we managed to work for a while, just a while, because we lost an important hinge of our program the UNICEF, because the UNICEF was obliged to leave because we had a collaborative word for the UNICEF to establish what’s called “back to play” and “step to play” program which helped the children to establish a better rapport with their schools. But, at the first day of the first workshop there was a bombing of the UN and we couldn’t go all on this workshop because the UNICEF was obliged to leave. Then, an important part of our program was lost because UNICEF couldn’t implement the program and (illegible) just our way. Then we started our program by having training courses and educational programs for the teachers, for the counselors, for the pediatrician and for the psychiatrists. We thought that we need to create a mental health awareness. We talked to the parents and to the teachers and the counselors that they should behave in a different way this year, for the children. They should play an important role to early diagnose the children who were traumatized who exhibit a kind of abnormal behavior in the school and they are definitely those to be reluctant to join the school, reluctant to study, reluctant to play, etc. etc., all these things.
Could you once again state the accumulative noticeable effects on children in terms of play?
Dr: Uh, I remember under study of questionable, part of the program was “back to play”, “step to play” program, because a true play, play, will have so many roles. First of all it helps to build the rapport between the children and the school, the second, through play we can diagnose, we can watch the children during the play and that will help to early detect the children who are reluctant to play or who play in an aggressive manner, or who present a kind of aggressive behavior during things so that will be an important part of early detection of the children and of course it will it will tell us the kind of early habilitation technique of playing means rehabilitation. So, playing they will exhibit their aggression and they or they vent their aggression and they can enjoy the space and build this kind of rapports with the teachers and with the school. But actually as I have just told you that we had a lot of to work with UNICEF, we had manuals, we had packages, packages, and these manuals, manuals and packages were prepared by the UNICEF, and we supposed to, to give each a school that package of toys and manuals for the teachers to use them during the scholastic year so that will help to implement the program. Our progress was just uhh history, we lost that, I’m sorry.
As a doctor, how, we, we know the statistics from the factions about how many children and sick people are dying up to 5,000 a month throughout the country, and we know that the ministry now is not allowed by the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) to really collect statistics on, on mortality and other things that would make it look bad. What is your sense about whether the situation for children both in terms of just numbers, mortality, malnutrition, that kind of thing, have improved or gotten worse, and then more generally would you say children today, a year later, are they better off, or are they worse then under Saddam?
If you have the chance to visit the general hospitals, of the central hospitals of in Baghdad and, having in mind that this is the capital city of Baghdad where most of the senior, the pediatricians, the, Ministry of Health is very proximal to them, and you have witnessed the situation there,it’s a very, very, bad situation, then just imagine what about the condition of such hospitals which are just far away in the south or in the north. By the way there are so many, so many places in Iraq that there that there isn’t any even a primary health care center to offer the primary health care to the children or to their families. I believe that the condition if it is not the same it has, it has deteriorated during the last year. Of course you know the security issue, and of course, there are so many difficulties a lot of doctors I feel and I know some of my colleagues were obliged to leave because they feel insecure. So many doctors during that the last year, I can enumerate so many doctors of my friends were assassinated, or killed.
And this is a big question because they are doctors, they are they are offering help to the humanity and they are, health care providers why should they be assassinated, because they used to be from other party, or this party? This is unacceptable of course. But that made others who had inside and who built fractions (?) in their lives, to leave the country. So during the last year we lost a lot of professors, doctors, scientists who just take a way out of the country because they feel they are, they are very much a frightened and no one on earth can protect them or can help to protect them. I myself has a friend of mine, because we were working in the Ministry of Health from the start, and we worked also with the CPA with the, with the U.S. Army we have what’s called Civil Affairs, and there is a special commission for the street children. I myself I have been threatened more than three or four times because I am, we are working with tcans. And the other (illegible) does not know that your kind of work of is a humanistic work and you should work as a doctor whether you work with the enemy, or work with the Americans, or work with whatever else, you should work because you are a doctor. But, others who are unlucky because they, they haven’t the chance to have, their fate has been, they were assassinated, assassinated, because, not only because they were working with Americans just because they are what they are. And the risk is a still there.
Is it a political issue?
Political issues, religious issues so many kinds of issues because of those who investigate they didn’t declare why that man was assassinated. So many professors, the head of the, our University of Baghdad, Dr. Mohamed, he’s a cardiologist, he was assassinated in his clinic, and so many other doctors were assassinated either in their clinics or in their homes. And I couldn’t give you the exact number but you should ask those who are responsible. Yes, and this is an ongoing process. So how come interested in children and their mental welfare, but as a matter of fact the traumatization is a still ongoing. The bombing is a still there. We have met a, a critical situation a few miles before. Probably because a week of bombings, when so many bombings of the police stations which are very proximal to the primary school. That there is one when very, very reluctant to send their kids back to the schools because they feel they are threatened and they are going to sacrifice the life of their children by sending them back to school. So they would prefer to keep them out from rather than to send them to school. And this is a pity, because I have asked so many of my colleagues elsewhere and you can assist, I told them we haven’t on a crisis, we haven’t a crisis intervention team in Iraq. When we have casualties we are going to evacuate them to the hospitals, but we need ourselves to go to the sight where the bombing was left and we should start counseling and talking to the people and offering a kind of help that’s called crisis intervention, but we haven’t, in Iraq we haven’t any child psychiatrists. We haven’t a crisis intervention team; we haven’t so many important things in the which constitute the infrastructure of a mental health program or system. And uhh, and as a holistic view of the situation we are in a very desperate situation. We can help the patient individually when he came to the hospital, or to the clinic, but we cannot offer anything to the community as a community mental health program, or as a community wellness program, or whatever. So, so many of my colleagues feel paralyzed, they can’t offer anything so they prefer to leave. And this is a pity because, because this is uhhh the kind of I’m giving you a cross section of what’s going on.
Do you think the uhh, (illegible—background noise) how would you, compare the stress and trauma of life under occupation for a child compare to life under Saddam Hussein?
What else? In fact we had that comparison in our program and then in our original proposal. Yes, there the Iraq children where very very unlucky because they have been, they get exposed to a lot of trauma they were deprived, they haven’t the best of school, or schools on earth, they have the teachers who are underpaid, so the, result of that the children haven’t, haven’t the chance to have the best kind of learning in while they are in schools. And also so many kinds of traumatization because the TV, the media, had played an important role in that process, and that was in Saddam era. But, not only their children, but also their parents thought that the darker cloud will when it will leave away after the collapse then we thought a lot of Iraqis thought that the great expectations are now just very, very proximal and we will go to paradise and they Iraq will Iraq will be just like any American state, prosperous— (Tape ends).
Reflection on March 20, 2004
The first anniversary of the beginning US war with Iraq
Hello from Baghdad from Blast Furnace Radio.I have been here with a delegation of journalists from across the US and Canada for the past week.With the help of the Global exchange and Occupation Watch, I have visited hospitals with no medicine, in dire need of staff to care for the sick. I have interviewed doctors, and have seen countless patients afflicted with cancer or birth defects caused by depleted uranium residue from weaponry used by American and British forces in Gulf Wars 1 and 2.I have seen a town filled with soldiers and commissioned police who have plunged the city into a state of fear.I have met scores of unemployed people. Over half the population of Baghdad are unemployed.I have walked around this bombed-out city, its theaters, schools, Mosques that are looted and burned. I have experienced the constant blackouts the people must endure all day long.I have seen the prisons holding 10,000 detainees, with no way for families or lawyers to assist them.For the last four nights I have felt the bombs shake our hotel. One explosion smashed out several of our windows BUT…I have also met determined students plotting how to rebuild their culture.I have met disabled people who have built their own center without funding from the provisional government.I have met with squatters, writers, intellectuals and homeless people, all determined to rebuild what has been destroyed by two wars, 12 years of sanctions, and now the occupation.I am bringing their testimonies home with me.Today, the first anniversary of the beginning of the war, we must raise our voices for peace. Today is the beginning of the work of peace that will allow Iraq to live…I have experienced for just a moment what the people of Iraq have had to live with for over a decade. I join with others in Pittsburgh today protesting this injustice and the war contracting of Carnegie Mellon University. And I thank Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG) for their organizational genius in pulling together people of compassion from all over our region.
It is a sort of unwritten principal by radical Catholic Workers that we need not go to war zones to document the suffering, we can see plenty of suffering in US towns with the abandoned, those locked away in hospitals, with those given just enough by the government to starve. As the logic goes visiting is not only a misled act but wasteful.
Perhaps that is how we lost the wars in Latin America and South America.
Everyone came back with his or her obligatory little slide shows… I dare say that this was a form of radical voyeurism, a poor substitute for resistance. What was needed was to disrupt and dismantle the war machine. Still, to this day, people suffer in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, but the Left has moved on to other issues, more fresh and relevant crusades.
After being to Iraq I feel that this principle – that we should not venture forth from our communities – is wrong. No photo, article, video clip or audio interview could capture what I perceived in Iraq. What I perceived can not be electronically rendered. What I brought home, what I witnessed was this: the utter humiliation of the Iraqi people, that they could not stop their country from being destroyed, they could not stop the lives of those around them from being ruined.
We met a psychologist at the Artist Cafe in Baghdad. As he talked, and talked, and talked, I zoned out and allowed others to hold the microphone. Upon reviewing his interview I heard what he said but I was still too distracted by the necessary insane pace we kept.
Weeks after arriving home I was watching my children play in a playground. Suddenly, I went into convulsive weeping. I remembered the words of the shrink at the Artist Café, that he was seeking funds to counter the “delayed stress syndrome” of the Iraqi children.
When Iraqi children were placed in a room with toys they did not play with each other. Fear of the future bombings have left children terrified of the openness and vulnerability of going to a playground.
My children are safe, but the children of Iraq have been robbed of a future and of the simple joys of childhood.
-Vincent Scotti Eirene
The center of the storm
I have visited a ruined city with destroyed lives. It would have been easier if they were angry with me and my complicity.
Instead they have treated me as an honoured guest. It will take a lifetime to return this gesture of unmerited kindness.
At the center of the storm we find our calm.
Rebecca please read this to our children before they turn in. I will call you often, I have been told we will have access to a satellite phone.
Hi Caitlin and Chenoa,
I now am in Amsterdam, Holland… far over the ocean, all the roads are made out of cobble stones and everyone wears wooden shoes… I miss you ALOT and the cats and Webster the guard dog. Remember to say your prayers. I will soon be in Amman, Jordan soon, lotz of sand: Then tomorrow I take a car ride to Baghdad, here is a neat picture of the city of Baghdad:
I will talk to everyone about the war and tell the American soldiers how we need peace and tape all of it on my tape recorder with my new microphone.
I will be home in ten days… be good for mom and eat lots of fruit and tofu and juice and tomatoes.
- your daddy
Many people asked me why I was going to Baghdad. My response was this: to give a jumpstart to my heart, to shock me out of my complacency. I needed to meet and befriend “the enemy” so I could put a human face on my years of education and direct action against the war on the people of Iraq. I saw the trip as an impetus to continue fighting for peace.
I also wanted to see the rebuilding of the water treatment center in Iraq. In 1991 Students For Peace, through the band “Rusted Root”, raised over two thousand dollars to rebuild bombed water treatment centers in Iraq. I went to witness an injustice that no one could deny. Originally I was to visit Oxfam’s water project, but because of security problems, that was not to be. In the fall of 2003 Oxfam UK left this project. It was to my surprise, upon arriving in Baghdad, that our journalist delegation’s host, Global Exchange/Occupation Watch, had arranged for us to see such a completed and ongoing project in Fallujah.
As the delegation made its way to Fallujah, a city north of Baghdad, the landscape seemed to change. I was informed that we were in Sunni country, an anti-American stronghold. As we made our way to this complex of big, thick colorful pipes I was amazed. I was amazed at how such a small water purifying station could supply water to over 60,000 people. The fact that the “Vietnam Veterans Against the War” financed the reconstruction at the price of $22,000 US dollars made the trip to Iraq worth it.
Whether the water treatment station was a former target of the US military’s last two wars or whether it fell into disarray because of the US/UN sanctions does not matter. No matter the cause, the end result was the same. No clean water was available to this town. This is a violation of the Stockholm Convention – a treaty signed by the United States – which states that to destroy facilities like this amounts to destroying a nation’s infrastructure and is a violation of International law. This atrocity is unimaginable to those of us in North America: a city without clean, drinkable water, and the disease and social upheaval that comes from such an unthinkable shortage.
But my moment of Zen at Fallujah was interrupted… one driver excitedly suggested we were in danger and that some Sunnis were gathering across the street. I told him that in fact was not true, that I saw one Sunni winking at him!He actually jumped backwards at the suggestion that another man was flirting with him. As we rode up and down the highway with Falluhjah to our back, the other driver/translator, Mahr, mockingly winked at our friend and we all laughed hysterically
I sat there in the Occupation Watch Office in Central Baghdad, drifting away as people explained the week’s activities…
I was enveloped in a city crushed by the stupidity of war; there was no relief from this assault on one’s senses. The power going off and on all day, being trapped in elevators, diesel fuel generators that caused my asthma to flare up, the disbelief in the eyes of people as we passed them in the car… The piercing look was not one of anger but curiosity at seeing unveiled, beardless foreigners and non-embedded journalists. There was no garbage pick up, so trash was burned in vacant lots. Everywhere armed police, in the hotel, on street corners, everywhere long rifles, most with the safety off.
Traffic, traffic, traffic, traffic… roads had been blown up and not repaired, two of the main bridges in disrepair, gas lines that made the gas crisis in the US during the 70′s look like a dress rehearsal. Bumper car madness, hours and hours and hours just to travel to another part of Baghdad. Burning tires sent up a solid wall of thick, sticky black smoke to throw off laser-guided missiles. Little girls jumping on the side of the car begging for a few dinars, eyes intense, smiling, refusing to let go…
This was the fish bowl our delegation was trapped in, not even a satellite phone call home would offer a bit of relief as we were made to sit on the roof, for fear of being seen and shot by snipers if we stood up. For a brief moment I experienced what others must endure for a lifetime, a culture and city destroyed and rebuilt and destroyed, a determination no gringo will ever realize… for now this was home.
As I came out of my daydream, the orientation was almost over.
In mocking fashion I shot up my hand and asked where could we get a falafel.
The two serious, serious young women draped in traditional garb broke their silence and giggled,
the room burst into laughter…
Apparently falafels are not an Iraqi fare but a Jordanian dish. So in honor of the ridiculous request, we headed to a Jordanian restaurant for lunch. Our first day in Baghdad had begun.
My fingerprints are all over the battle plans, on the trigger, on the button that launches the
No court has yet indicted me, but I know…
I watched on as the Baghdad museums and libraries were being looted and set fire, articles and writings dating back to the Mesopotamian civilization and Ottoman period. Here civilization began at the Tigris and Euphrates and I watched as its memory ended. We were “robbing the cradle (of civilization),”
as the song goes.
Outside of Baghdad rice is raised for the city since no imports are permitted by the United States’ commissioned provisional authority. This short grain rice has a nutty taste, somewhat amber in color.
I went with a platoon out to the rice paddies and bulldozed the new crop. The farmers came out screaming and yelling. I turned to our translator and told him to tell the farmers that this had to be done in case snipers were hiding in the fields. These are not the first rice paddies I have seen destroyed.
Our translator stood there in disbelief and couldn’t bring himself to translate my explanation.
I am a war criminal and no court will ever bring me to trial, no court will convict me. I will never see the inside of a prison cell or face execution.
Winking at Fallujah.
Since the “Journalist Delegation to Iraq” and our visit to Fallujah in mid-March the war has escalated. This escalation was triggered when an old US military warrant was pulled out of the moth balls for a staff member of Moqutada al-Sadr’s newpaper. This is not a very good publication at that, with a whopping circulation of over 10,000 readers. Why chief honcho Bremmer would do such a thing we will never know… so as to demonstrate to the world America’s intent to bring about democracy to Iraq, the US of A was to close a newspaper. This periodical had suggested rising up against the occupying forces. After this failed attempt to close the young Ayatollah’s obscure rag an uprising ensued and the US military would end up killing over three hundred Iraqis. The empire has once again set an example of military intelligence: that is, loose talk of rebellion would not be tolerated.
On this day, April 8 2004, battles rage from north to south in Iraq. Baghdad: Sard city, clashes kill four Iraqis and wound seven others.
Fallujah: Fierce fighting. At least twenty-five killed in US bomb and rocket fire on a Mosque.
Ramadai: Twelve Marines killed on Tuesday.
Kirkuk: Fighting leaves eight Iraqis dead and ten wounded.
Kufa: Mahdi Army is in virtual control.
Kerbala: Clashes with Polish patrol, at least seven people killed. A senior official in Sard’s army among the dead, as well as two Iranian pilgrims. Mosul and Rashad: Peaceful protests in support of Sadr.
Najaf: Militiamen battle Spanish soldiers. Taxi driver dies in the crossfire. Sard’s aide says a number of coalition soldiers were captured.
Youssifiya: Two policemen killed.
Donald Rumsfeld has assured the world that this is not an uprising but the work of a few “isolated thugs.” Soldiers were informed the end of their hitch would be delayed.
By April 12th over six hundred Iraqi “soldiers” and about seventy of the US military were killed. “In the al-Thawa hospital reporter Naomi Klein Met Raad Daier, a 36-year old-ambulance driver with a bullet in his abdomen, one of twelve shots fired at the ambulance from a US Humvee. According to the hospital officials, at the time of the attack, he was carrying six people injured by US forces, including a pregnant woman who had been shoot in the stomach and lost her child.
(source: The Guardian (UK), April 8/12, 2004)