About Face: Soldiers Call for Iraq WithdrawalMarc Cooper. The Nation, posted online on 16 December 2006
For the first time since Vietnam, an organized, robust movement of active-duty US military personnel has publicly surfaced to oppose a war in which they are serving. Those involved plan to petition Congress to withdraw American troops from Iraq. (Note: A complete version of this report will appear next week in the print and online editions of The Nation.)
After appearing only seven weeks ago on the Internet, the Appeal for Redress, brainchild of 29-year-old Navy seaman Jonathan Hutto, has already been signed by nearly 1,000 US soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, including dozens of officers--most of whom are on active duty. Not since 1969, when some 1,300 active-duty military personnel signed an open letter in the New York Times opposing the war in Vietnam, has there been such a dramatic barometer of rising military dissent.
Interviews with two dozen signers of the Appeal reveal a mix of motives for opposing the war: ideological, practical, strategic and moral. But all those interviewed agree that it is time to start withdrawing the troops. Coming from an all-volunteer military, the Appeal was called "unprecedented" by Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice.
The Nation spoke with rank-and-file personnel as well as high-ranking officers--some on the Iraqi front lines, others at domestic and offshore US military bases--who have signed the Appeal. All of their names will be made available to Congress when the Appeal is presented in mid-January. Signers have been assured they are sending a communication to Congress protected under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act. The Pentagon is powerless to take official reprisals and has said that as long as active-duty personnel are not in uniform or on duty, they are free to express their views to Congress.
There are of course other, subtler risks involved. The military command exercises enormous power through individual reviews, promotions and assignments. But that hasn't kept a number of signers from going public with their dissent.
Navy Lieut. Cmdr. Mark Dearden of San Diego, for example, enlisted in 1997 and is still pondering the possibility of a lifetime career. "So this was a very difficult decision for me to come to. I don't take this decision lightly," he says. But after two "tough" deployments in Iraq, Dearden says signing the Appeal was not only the right thing to do but also gave him personal "closure."
"I'm expressing a right of people in the military to contact their elected representatives, and I have done nothing illegal or disrespectful," Dearden adds.
Other interviews with active-duty soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who have signed the Appeal for Redress reveal an array of motivations. Here are excerpts:
"Lisa"--20 years old, E-4, USAF, Stationed at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii:
I joined up two weeks after I turned 17 because I wanted to save American lives. I wanted to be a hero like any American child.
I supported the war when I joined because I thought it was justified. Only after my own research and the truth coming out did I learn how wrong I was, how--for lack of a better word--how brainwashed I was.
Now I know the war is illegal, unjustified and that our troops have no reason for being there.
When I saw an article about the Appeal in the Air Force Times I went online right away and signed it and have encouraged others to do the same.
"Sgt. Gary"--21 years old. US Army. Deployed with 20th Infantry Regiment, near Mosul, Iraq:
I joined up in 2001, still a junior in high school. I felt very patriotic at the end of my US History class. My idea of the Army was that you signed up, they gave you a rifle and you ran off into battle like in some 1950s war movie. The whole idea of boot camp never really entered my head.
I supported the war in the beginning. I bought everything Bush said about how Saddam had WMDs, how he was working with Al Qaeda, how he was a threat to America. Of course, this all turned out to be false.
This is my second tour, and as of a few days ago it's half-over. Before I deployed with my unit for the second time I already had feelings of not wanting to go. When in late September a buddy in my platoon died from a bullet in the head, I really took a long hard look at this war, this Administration, and the reasons why.
After months of research on the Internet, I came to the conclusion that this war was based on lies and deception. I started to break free of all the propaganda that the Bush Administration and the Army puts out on a daily basis.
So far in three years we have succeeded in toppling a dictator and replacing him with puppets. Outlawing the old government and its standing army and replacing them with an unreliable and poorly trained crew of paycheck collectors. The well is so poisoned by what we have done here that nothing can fix it.
"Lt. Smith"--24 years old, 1st Lieutenant, US Army. Deployed near Baghdad:
I cannot, from Iraq, attend an antiwar protest. Nor could I attend one in the States and represent myself as a soldier. What I can do is send a protest communication to my Congressional delegate outlining grievances I feel I have suffered. Appeal for Redress gives me that outlet.
I am encouraged by the November elections, but still wary. We rushed into the war on false assumptions, and now we might rush out just as falsely. What troops need now is a light at the end of the tunnel, not just for this deployment but for all deployments. Bringing everyone out this summer is too fast to be supported by our Army's infrastructure. We would hemorrhage lives if we do so. But so would we if we stay the course.
I am encouraged by politicians who call for a withdrawal by the conclusion of President Bush's term in office. That seems a realistic timetable for me.
Mark Mackoviak--24 years old. US Army. Recently returned from Iraq. Stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina:
I joined the Army on September 23, 2001. I had been out of school for a year when September 11 came around, and I was supportive of our action in Afghanistan. I wound up there a year later, and it was pretty eye-opening to see how people live.
I was also in Iraq for about a year, deployed near the International Airport, west of Baghdad. I was never that supportive of the invasion. I thought the media coverage of it was horrendous, really disgusting.
Just about everything I saw in Iraq reinforced my views that it was wrong. The point that really hit me was when the Asmara Mosque got blown up. I said, Wow, this is really a civil war.
I really enjoy being in the Army, enjoy the experience. I just happen to not support this war. I'm very open about that. My buddies either disagree with me or just pay no attention. But I get absolutely no hostility. None.
"Rebecca"--26 years old. 101st Airborne, US Army. Just returned from Iraq. Stationed at Fort Hood, Texas:
I joined in 2004. I was trying to go into the human rights field, but it was very competitive. I was in need of health insurance, and the Army seemed feasible. Now it looks like I will be stop-lossed until 2010.
I had strong feelings about the war, against it, but I'm the type of person that wants to fully understand both sides of the argument.
My experience in Iraq confirmed my views, but it also gave me a more multifaceted view of things. I did see some of the good things being done, but it seemed like a Band-Aid on a gushing wound. Mostly I saw the frivolity of the missions, the lack of direction, the absurdity of the mission. You go out in your Humvee, you drive around, and you wait to be blown up and get killed by an IED.
About 40 percent of my unit were stop-lossed. Their first mission was to take down Saddam and his regime, and they seemed to understand that and agree with the mission to take down a ruthless dictator. Now they can't seem to understand why they are there, caught in the cross hairs of a civil war.
I think it is safe to say that the majority of soldiers are wondering what this grand scheme is that we keep hearing about from those above us but that is never translating down to the ground level.
Some politicians are starting to see that not only a majority of Americans oppose to this war. Now they see this very powerful statement of soldiers who have already been on the front line and who are still in uniform and are also opposed. None of them have been where we have been, none of them have seen what we have seen. It's time they do.
Bechtel Departure Removes More IllusionsInter Press Service: Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily
BAGHDAD, 9 November 2006 (IPS) - The decision of the giant engineering company Bechtel to withdraw from Iraq has left many Iraqis feeling betrayed. In its departure they see the end of remaining hopes for the reconstruction of Iraq.
"It is much worse than in the time of Saddam Hussein," Communist Party member Nayif Jassim told IPS. "Most Iraqis wish Saddam would be back in power now that they lived out the hardships of the occupation. The Americans did nothing but loot our oil and kill our people."
Bechtel, whose board members have close ties to the Bush administration, announced last week that it was done with trying to operate in the war-torn country. The company has received 2.3 billion dollars of Iraqi reconstruction funds and U.S. taxpayer money, but is leaving without completing most of the tasks it set out to.
On every level of infrastructure measurable, the situation in Iraq is worse now than under the rule of Saddam Hussein. That includes the 12 years of economic sanctions since the first Gulf War in 1991, a period that former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq Dennis Halliday described as "genocidal" for Iraqis.
The average household in Iraq now gets two hours of electricity a day. There is 70 percent unemployment, 68 percent of Iraqis have no access to safe drinking water, and only 19 percent have sewage access. Not even oil production has matched pre-invasion levels.
The security situation is hellish, with a recent study published in the prestigious British medical journal Lancet estimating 655,000 excess deaths in Iraq as a result of the invasion and occupation.
The group Medact recently said that easily treatable conditions such as diarrhoea and respiratory illness are causing 70 percent of all child deaths, and that "of the 180 health clinics the U.S. hoped to build by the end of 2005, only four have been completed -- and none opened."
A proposed 200 million dollar project to build 142 primary care centres ran out of cash after building just 20 clinics, a performance that the World Health Organisation described as "shocking."
Iraqis are complaining louder now than under the sanctions. Lack of electricity has led to increasing demand for gasoline to run generators. And gasoline is among the most scarce commodities in this oil-rich country.
"We inherited an exhausted electricity system in generating stations and distributing nets, but we were able to supply 50 percent of consumer demand during heavy load periods, and more than that during ordinary days," an engineer with the Ministry of Electricity told IPS.
"The situation now is much worse and it seems not to be improving despite the huge contracts signed with American companies. It is strange how billions of dollars spent on electricity brought no improvement whatsoever, but in fact worsened the situation."
The engineer said "we in the ministry have not received any real equipment for our senior stations, and the small transformers for the distributing nets were of very low standard."
Bechtel's contract included reconstruction of water treatment systems, electricity plants, sewage systems, airports and roads.
Two former Iraqi ministers of electricity were charged with corruption by the Iraqi Commission of Integrity set up under the occupation. One of them, Ayham al-Samarraii, was sentenced to jail but was taken away by his U.S. security guards. He insisted that it was not he who looted the ministry's money.
Managers at water departments all over Iraq say that the only repairs they managed were through UN offices and humanitarian aid organisations. The ministry provided them with very little chlorine for water treatment. New projects were no more than simple maintenance moves that did little to halt collapsing infrastructure.
Bechtel was among the first companies, along with Halliburton, where U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney once worked, to have received fixed-fee contracts drawn to guarantee profit.
Ahmed al-Ani who works with a major Iraqi construction contracting company says the model Bechtel adopted was certain to fail.
"They charged huge sums of money for the contracts they signed, then they sold them to smaller companies who resold them again to small inexperienced Iraqi contractors," Ani told IPS. "These inexperienced contractors then had to execute the works badly because of the very low prices they get, and the lack of experience."
Some Iraqi political analysts, rather optimistically, look at Bechtel's departure from a different angle.
"I see the beginning of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq," Maki al-Nazzal told IPS. "It started with Bechtel and Haliburton's propaganda, and might end with their escape from the field. They came with Bremer and introduced themselves as heroes and saviours who would bring prosperity to Iraq, but all they did was market U.S. propaganda."
U.S. President George W. Bush told reporters on a visit to Iraq last June: "You can measure progress in megawatts of electricity delivered. You can measure progress in terms of oil sold on the market on behalf of the Iraqi people."
By his standards, the position in Iraq is now much worse.
© 2006 Dahr Jamail
First-Hand Report from the Middle EastThree War Times staff members have just returned from Jordan and Syria where they met with people and groups, mostly Iraqi, to hear their experiences and views of the US occupation of Iraq. They were part of a June 12-20 delegation of peace activists organized by Global Exchange, and they will be sharing what they learned in a series of messages to War Times list members (and others - please forward this to friends!) over the coming months. Below is a link to one of these "Iraq Stories, Realism and Its Limits", from Jan Adams:
After 10 days in Jordan and Syria meeting with residents of those countries, especially Iraqis, it is depressing, if not surprising, to return to a silly debate in the US Congress about the "future" of the US enterprise in the region.
"Democrats insisted that the war had cost too much and that the United States must begin pulling troops out, while Republicans equated any withdrawal with retreat." - New York Times, 22 June 2006.
NO ONE in the region thinks the "future" they are debating has any reality. Not "western observers" who needed to speak off the record; not the advocates of the possible such as the policy wonks of the International Crisis Group (ICG); not Syrians and Jordanians who live amid the backwash of the U.S. military adventure; and certainly not Iraqis, who have long ago concluded that the superpower is either mad or entirely bent on handing their country over to its enemies in Israel or Iran, if not on brutally exterminating them through encouraging criminal gangs while withholding essentials like electric power...
For the full story, go to http://happening-here.blogspot.com/
(War Times encourages you to visit Jan's blog regularly!)
Ramadi: Fallujah ReduxBy Dahr Jamail t r u t h o u t | Perspective. Monday 12 June 2006
Fearful residents are now pouring out of Ramadi after the US military has been assaulting the city for months with tactics like cutting water, electricity and medical aid, imposing curfews, and attacking by means of snipers and random air strikes. This time, Iraqis there are right to fear the worst - an all out attack on the city, similar to what was done to nearby Fallujah.
It has always been just a matter of time before the US military would finally get around to destroying Ramadi, the capital city of al-Anbar province. After all, Ramadi is not far from Fallujah, and so similar to Fallujah both tribally and in their disdain towards the idea of being occupied, that many people in Ramadi even refer to Fallujah as "Ramadi." I know many people from Ramadi who lost relatives and friends during both US assaults on Fallujah, and the level of anti-American sentiment has always been high there.
By now, we all know the scene when the US military in Iraq decides to attack an entire city ... we've seen this standard operating procedure repeated, to one degree or another, in Haditha, Al-Qa'im, Samarra, parts of Baghdad, Balad, Najaf and Fallujah twice ... so far. The city is sealed for weeks if not months, water and electricity are cut, medical aid is cut, curfews imposed, mobility impaired, air strikes utilized, then the real attack begins. Now in Ramadi, the real attack has begun.
Warplanes are streaking the sky as bombings increase, loudspeakers aimed into the city warn civilians of a "fierce impending attack," (even though it has already begun), and thousands of families remain trapped in their homes, just like in Fallujah during both attacks on that city. Again, many who remain in the city cannot afford to leave because they are so poor, or they lack transportation, or they want to guard their home because it is all they have left.
Sheikh Fassal Guood, a former governor of al-Anbar said of the situation, "The situation is catastrophic. No services, no electricity, no water." He also said, "We know for sure now that Americans and Iraqi commanders have decided to launch a broad offensive any time now, but they should have consulted with us."
Today, a man who lives in Fallujah and who recently visited Ramadi told me, "Any new government starts with a massacre. That seems like the price that we Iraqis must pay, especially in the Sunni areas. Ramadi has been deprived of water, electricity, telephones and all services for about two months now. US and government forces frankly told people of Ramadi that they will not get any services unless they hand over 'the terrorists!!' Operations started last week, but it seems that the Marines are facing some problems in a city that is a lot bigger in area than Fallujah. (Ramadi also has at least 50,000 more residents than Fallujah.) Killing civilians is almost a daily process done by snipers and soldiers in US armored vehicles. The problem that makes it even more difficult for the Ramadi people than for those of Fallujah back in 2004 is that they cannot flee to Baghdad, because there they'll face the government militia assassinations. Nevertheless, the US Army is telling them to evacuate the city. On the other hand, the government and the US Army made it clear that they will bring militias to participate in the wide attack against the city. The UN and the whole world are silent as usual, and nobody seems to care what is going to happen in Ramadi."
Thus, the stage was set and now Iraqis brace themselves for yet another staggeringly high civilian body count in Ramadi. This, amidst recent news from the Department of Defense that over $19 million has been paid out in compensation by the US military in Iraq to families who have had loved ones killed by US troops. The average payout is $2,500 per body, and nearly half of the $19 million was paid out in the province of al-Anbar. Reflective of the drastically increased levels of violence in Iraq, the total amount of compensation payouts for 2005 is nearly four times what it was the previous year.
The fact that the 1,500 US troops who were recently brought into Iraq, specifically to Ramadi, went unreported by most, if not all, corporate media outlets didn't come as a surprise to the residents of Ramadi, however, as street battles between troops and resistance fighters have been raging for months now.
The media blackout on Ramadi is already rivaling the blackout on the draconian measures employed by the military during the November 2004 siege of Fallujah, if not surpassing it. Thus far, the military have remained reluctant to allow even embedded reporters to travel with them in Ramadi. With each passing US assault on an Iraqi city, the media blackout grows darker - and with Ramadi, it is the darkest yet.
Most of what we have, aside from sporadic reports from sources inside the besieged city, is propaganda from the US military spokesman in Baghdad, Major Todd Breasseale, who only spoke of moving the newly arrived 1,500 troops in from Kuwait into positions around Ramadi. "Moving this force will allow tribal leaders and government officials to go about the very difficult task of taking back their towns from the criminal elements."
Similar to Fallujah, thousands of frightened residents of Ramadi are fleeing the city, then being turned away from entering Baghdad. With no tents, food, or aid of any kind being provided to them by the military, which is a war crime, they are left with nothing but what they carry and no place to go. These refugees are now adding to the horrific statistic of over 100,000 displaced families within Iraq, the majority of whom are so as the result of massive US military operations which have a tendency to make entire cities unlivable.
Reports from sources within Ramadi for weeks now have been that US soldiers have been inhabiting people's homes in order to use their rooftops as sniper platforms, innocent people are being shot daily, and people are confused - do they risk leaving and having nowhere to go, or risk staying in their homes and possibly being killed?
Hassan Zaidan Lahaibi, a member of the Council of Representatives in the Iraqi parliament, told reporters recently, "If things continue, we will have a humanitarian crisis. People are getting killed or wounded, and the rest are just migrating aimlessly."
He could just as easily be describing much of the rest of Iraq, where the majority of people struggle to survive under the weight of an increasingly brutal occupation, US-backed death squads, sectarian militias, staggering unemployment and a devastated infrastructure.
Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches
Visit the Dahr Jamail Iraq website http://dahrjamailiraq.com
As you all know by now, Wejdy and I have been home from the Middle East for some time. On leaving Iraq we produced a number of reports that were not sent out. Now we have our own computer and we are on-line we are able, at last, to send out these reports. Although they were written over a year ago, they are still extremely relevant to the situation in Iraq and in Jordan so we intend to send them out. The situation described in each report was terrible then, so imagine how much worse things are now - you have all had our most recent reports - particularly 'News From Baghdad' which shows how things are now, but these reports give an insight into the situation then and also why we had to leave. We hope you find them interesting and informative.
TEARS AND FEARS - PART 5: MORE VIOLENCEAmman 18 October 2004
After the two roadside bombs detailed in reports: 'Iraq: Back to bombs and Boys' and 'Media Suppression and another Kerrada Bomb', there was more to come in our neighbourhood during our final weeks there. As detailed in 'Iraq: Back to Bombs and Boys', Hasan, the fish man' had handled the bomb in its box, wondering what it was, half an hour before it detonated. Worse than that, the bomb detailed in 'Media Suppression and Another Kerrada Bomb', had been placed there by a moving car. Guards at the bank, playing cards at their seats on the roadside, had seen a car slow down in the traffic. A car door had been opened; the occupant(s) had leant out and placed the device next to the low concrete central reservation. These security guards, armed with AK47's, had seen this and done NOTHING. When the bomb went off, just two minutes after we had walked past it, just missing the humvees it was intended for, one of the two Iraqis it had killed was one of the guards at the bank.
These two bombs occurred while Kevin was here in September. While he was still with us, a third one happened. We were just sitting down to breakfast at 10 am on morning and about to watch the news on the BBC, when Kerrada became part of the headlines that day. A massive blast rocked our building, followed by the sound of women screaming in the main street. Our neighbours were running in the direction of the main road and crossing to the other side. Wejdy and Kevin ran ahead, leaving me to lock up the apartment. They crossed the main street and hurried down the street opposite ours. I rushed after them. (I didn't realise it at the time, but this was to be my last time out of doors on my own in Iraq - just these 4 or 5 minutes here). As I looked out for and tried to catch up with the two of them, an injured man in a blue dishdasha was carried past me. A small chunk of his head was hanging off by a thin thread of flesh. His face was covered in blood, although he looked conscious. The Iraqis carrying him were absolutely panic-stricken, not knowing which way to turn - eventually he was carried off to a building on my right. Then I found Wejdy and Kevin standing next to the remains of what was once a car. The man in the blue dishdasha had been one of two people in this car when the roadside bomb had gone off. The other man in the car had been killed as the force of the explosion turned the car 180 degrees in the narrow street.
All around me were faces I recognised - tired, angry, frightened, upset and confused. "Why, why?" we kept hearing. Why indeed? This street is a quiet residential street off Kerrada's main shopping street. I had nearly taken an apartment in a building right by the roadside bomb, which now had no glass in its windows. So what was the target? Well, here also is Mother Theresa's orphanage for severely handicapped children. It is a peaceful retreat from noisy Baghdad with a beautiful big green garden and loving carers who tend and nurture the children who live there. One baby, Noor, has no arms and no legs and many of the children here are in wheelchairs. Surely this could not be the target of the bomb? Well, every few days or so, a couple of humvees full of US troops visit the children here bearing gifts and smiles. Why the nuns welcome them is beyond me. It is not a particularly poor orphanage requiring these gifts off smiling soldiers. And the soldiers visiting here personally makes me sick. Happy to maim and kill children in cities like Najaf and Fallujah and all over Iraq, here they show mock concern. Murderers caring about children does not wash. And their visits had put the orphanage and the children and carers there in mortal danger. Our own "Kerrada Bomber' had seen fit to target these humvees during their visit. He did not care that nearby was a home filled with disabled babies and children. The humvees, as usual, had sped from the scene after the attack, undamaged and unhurt, leaving the local community to pick up the injured and dead - as usual Iraqis paying the ultimate price for the ongoing occupation.
About a week after Kevin left, there was a huge bang from the main street - another bomb? It was now considered to dangerous for me to venture outside and I could only watch from my window as, once again, my neighbours set off in haste to see what had happened. It turned out that a rocket had landed about 60 metres away in the main street near St Raphael Hospital. One person had been killed and there was panic and chaos.
Later that day we rang the restaurant/cafe in the next street to order 'takeaway lunch' - several bowls of steaming vegan stews/soups, rice, bread, green salad, pickled vegetables and tomato and cucumber (for 80p for two people) are brought to the door on a huge round metal tray within about 5 minutes. Today though it took some time to arrive. When it did arrive, the man who brought it explained that he was working on his own delivering the lunches at the moment. His friend and fellow 'lunch deliverer' had been walking down the main street with a tray of food earlier when the rocket attack had occurred and he had been caught by flying shrapnel - his shoulder and arm had been badly injured.
Once again our friendly, nice neighbourhood had felt the full effects of the ongoing occupation and hardworking Iraqis had paid the price, not the occupiers.
Two days later, a roadside bomb went off in just about the same spot as the rocket had landed. It was a big one and I went up onto the roof of the apartment building to see - the last time I went outdoors properly until the day I left Iraq.
Thick black dust and dirt hung in the air, people were running around in a panic in the street and the traffic stopped and the street blocked up. The humvees had again disappeared in haste from the scene, leaving locals to deal with the consequences. That is until the Iraqi Police arrive to start pushing people around. Then 'fresh' US troops arrive to add to the chaos and confusion as they shout, push and abuse terrified local Iraqis.
All three of these latest attacks, for some reason, merited a small mention in the long list of violence reported on 'BBC World News'. And we saw our neighbourhood and our streets on world headlines.
Ramy and Ammar, Christians who have a small shop near our old apartment, are convinced that we have our own 'Kerrada Bomber' and this theory has been gaining momentum throughout our area. Whoever is placing these roadside bombs has local knowledge, knows the times the humvees drive past and knows where to put the bombs. It is a horrible thought, but it must be possible. It is horrible to think that it could be a neighbour, but it could be someone who has recently moved into the area.
Two days before we left, Wejdy had to go to Sha'ab in north Baghdad to collect some things. It meant a taxi ride from Kerrada along Saduun Street to Tahrir Square and beyond. He set off. I, of course, remained in the apartment. The television was on in the background and I set about tidying up. Then I heard about the bomb on Saduun Street. Now, Wejdy probably was not going to be there at that precise time, but that did not stop me worrying until the minute he returned.
Yes, the taxi to Sha'ab had gone along Saduun Street, just half of an hour before the blast, but on the way back the taxi had taken the highway. So instead of being on the Saduun Street when the bombers struck, Wejdy was alongside at the same moment on a different road. He heard the boom, saw the smoke and got caught up in the resultant traffic jam that occurs every time there is a bomb in central Baghdad. And he saw the fire engines pass on the highway rushing to yet another scene of death, destruction and devastation.
So it was another 'close shave'. We have been hit by one, possibly two roadside bombs, seen another kill/result in the death of 2 friends, and missed other roadside bombs by 50 minutes, 2 minutes and half an hour. These 'close shaves' take their toll, not just on us but also on all Iraqis. If people hear of a bomb they worry about friends and family who may be nearby - we had many telephone calls to check on us after the church bombings in August.
And if your family member, your husband, your brother is late home from work, for example, you worry - has something happened - has he/she been injured in a bomb, robbed, arrested - so unstable is the situation now. People worry all the time - anxiety levels are so high and the most common thing you hear Iraqis say now is "I might die tomorrow."
All for now
TEARS AND FEARS - PART 4Amman, 16 October 2004
WATER AND ELECTRICITY
We went without water for 2 full weeks when Kevin was visiting us in September (as mentioned in report: Tears and Fears - Part 1). It was Hell - we could not wash up, wash clothes, flush the toilet and we had to use bottled water to wash hands and face and for cooking - and all in 50 degrees heat. No one in the street had water. When the water came to the street water pipes for the odd hour or two everyday or so, it always seemed to happen when the electricity was off so the electric water pump down in the street would not go on (without electricity) to pump the water up to the tanks on the roof. We ran out of everything to eat and cook with. Luckily a cheap restaurant around the corner from the apartment did takeaway breakfasts and lunches. We could have thick delicious lentil soup, bread, green salad, pickles and onions for 1000 dinar (40p) for two people for breakfast and 4 bowls of different sauces (eggplant, potato, courgette, for example) and rice with the same extras for lunch for 2000 dinar (80p) for two people. The food would be brought on a huge round metal tray which would be collected with the empty dishes some time later - no food preparation or washing up required - thank goodness.
During this time I had my second bout of typhoid and typhoid with no clean water supply is no fun at all.
When the water came back, the electricity supply seemed to improve and we were only losing electricity for the odd hour now and then. This good fortune lasted for about 5 days. When we left Iraq the electricity was up to 4 hours on and 2 hours off i.e. 16 hours of electricity a day - the best we had experienced in months.
Before the war, we had not gone without electricity at all in Baghdad. When I spoke to Iraqis about this, they assured me that they had been used to a 3 hour on/3 hour off cycle almost constantly since 1993 -1994 in areas outside of Baghdad. Then the same cycle had started to occur in Baghdad from about 1996 -1997 as sanctions began to bite and power stations and electricity supply infrastructure went without vital repairs, parts and maintenance.
Abu Hani, my landlord explained why we had not seen any break in supply as Human Shields, before the war: It was easy for the regime to keep up supplies where they needed it. We had used the Andalous, Al Safeer and Palestine Hotels for offices and meeting places etc in the weeks leading up to the war. These hotels were near to the Tigris River and Abu Newas Street. Abu Hani's apartment is on Abu Newas Street and he had never gone without electricity either. The reason was that across the Tigris, where the Green Zone is situated now, was one of Saddam's biggest palaces and the area on the opposite bank of the river had to be kept well lit for security reasons, much as it does now, come to think of it!
So the Iraqi people continue to suffer as they did before with sporadic electricity and an unreliable water supply. The occupation, in 18 months, changed none of this. And going without these two vital things in the hateful heat of the summer months is torture. With no electricity to run air conditioning, fans and fridges the level of suffering rises sharply and then, with no constant clean drinking water supply, disease and illness are rife, as I experienced personally.
SHOPS AND SHOPKEEPERS
Lately the alcohol shops in Kerrada, run by Christians, but selling to Christians and Muslims alike, have become frightened of the changing atmosphere in the country. The shopkeepers have begun hiding their wares behind counters and in boxes and now they cover the shop windows or keep the shutters pulled across the shop fronts, just leaving a little opening for the door.
There is also much evidence of the Mahdi Army attacking alcohol retailers in Najaf and other places. When one regards this without too much careful consideration, it is easy to say this is down to 'Islamic Fundamentalism' or that the Mahdi Army is just Muslim Extremists. But when considered more deeply, you will find a deeper and more realistic reason that has little to do with Islam. Of course, Islam plays a large role in anti-alcohol views and many 'good Muslims' would never take a drink, but the real, more practical reason is far simpler and far more important in a way. When the men of NAAFI or some other resisting area, through stress and desperation, turn to alcohol they lose their way. They become useless fighters, no good to the cause of resisting and they become weaker men, less fit and able to perform their duty.
Desperate measures, such as attacking the alcohol shops, are seen as a way of keeping men strong and stopping people yielding to the problems caused by alcohol that we are so familiar with in the West.
Drunken men lying comatose in the streets were never really seen before the war in Iraq. Now, although not a common sight, I have seen it many times. The stress of the occupation, loss of loved ones, loss of job or self-esteem leads some men to drink.
Sometimes when I see such a sight, a broken man lying in the street, nursing his liquor bottle, a bystander will often say something like "Look this is the democracy America brought us, this is our new freedom".
Abu Hamza, Kitchen Wares Shopkeeper
We bought lots of kitchen/household items off this nice, friendly man further up Kerrada. Not happy about the state of Iraq and the way things were going, his main concern affecting him and his family was the spiralling rent costs. He was now paying 100,000 dinar a month (40 pounds) for his small shop and 155,000 dinar a month (62 pounds) for his family's small house and he was finding it hard to make ends meet. He and his 10 year old son, Hamza, go painting and decorating in the mornings and open up the shop in the afternoons and evenings.
Rents are going up as prices rise - this is evident all over Kerrada and Baghdad. Take Settar, an artist, who now has to pay double the rent for his small art gallery on the main street in Kerrada.
As home and business rents go up so do general living costs elsewhere as people charge more for their wares to cover their living costs. Again it is the poor - the property less and jobless in Iraq who suffer most.
Bob Thomas, Furniture Salesman
He has a furniture shop on Andalous Square, near Kerrada. We met him while buying some furniture for the apartment. He was amazed to meet me living as I did in Kerrada and I explained to him how kind and decent my neighbours were. He asked if they were Christians like him and I told him that no, they were of mixed religions. To which he replied, "No difference really between religions, we're all the same, it's what's in your heart that counts".
He was obviously a wealthy man and had fallen prey to kidnappers for ransom some 3 months earlier. His family had paid $15,000 to secure his safe release. It had shaken him badly and he went on about the terrible security situation in Iraq, saying that I should be very careful.
With all the furore over foreign hostages in Iraq, we forget or just don't realise what the Iraqis themselves are going through in this respect. Any wealthier Iraqi such as Bob Thomas, or a doctor, landlord, solicitor etc is a potential target for kidnappers. They are mainly taken for ransoms, the families of victims paying huge sums to get there loved ones back - happily most are released unharmed. But it goes virtually unreported in our media, as does so much of the daily general suffering of the ordinary Iraqi person.
Wejdy and Kevin took a trip to Khadimaya one afternoon to go shopping in the large market there. Khadimaya is a predominantly Shia district to the north west of Baghdad and its important, beautiful mosque was the site of one of the 10 Moharram bombs which killed so many people.
When they went there it was the day before the commemoration of the death of Imam Khadim - after whom the mosque and district is named. Security was tight as the locals prepared for the next day. Drummer boys made ready their costumes and drums as secret police roamed the streets. Wejdy and Kevin were asked for ID - they were outsiders in a concerned neighbourhood.
We all wanted to go back the next day, but just before we left, Shafaq, who lives there, called us about something else and told us that all roads leading into Khadimaya were closed
The Baker Boys next door had left late the night before to walk on pilgrimage across the city to the holy shrine of Imam Khadim, like many others in Baghdad. But, like many others who went to Khadimaya that day, they were filled with fear and anticipation of what might happen. But they still went, determined to on their pilgrimage despite the possible dangers. Thankfully nothing bad happened - people were allowed to commemorate Imam Khadim in peace.
(That was in 2004 - it was during this pilgrimage in 2005 that there was the tragic stampede which resulted in the deaths of over 1000 people after there was a panic in the crowd created by rumours of suicide bombers being present - the ensuing panic killed more than any suicide bomber could have).
All for now
TEARS AND FEARS - PART 3Amman 14 October 2004
MORE ABOUT FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS
You have read about Abu Ali before. He runs a property agency in the next street and helped to find the apartment. Since then he has become a firm friend and we often visit him and he us for chai and a chat. We always exchange neighbourhood news and discuss the 'situation' unfolding in the country. As you will know from previous reports, Abu Ali was a political prisoner in Saddam's time, being held in an underground prison for 5 years for 'damning Saddam'. Even though this happened to him and he suffered horribly, being tortured and abused, he still maintains that Iraqis were better off under Saddam and he detests the occupation.
One day he took us to his family home to meet the folks and have food and watch football. He lives in Zafarania which is another Mahdi Army stronghold and there is often much fighting and curfews in the area - it just is not talked about on the news (- Sadr City is far more 'glamorous'). He is yet another friend we will sorely miss.
On one of the last occasions we visited him, he was sitting at a cranky old typewriter on a little wobbly table busy composing a letter. It looked beautiful to me - Arabic letters neatly typed in blank ink, but I, obviously, I could not understand a word of it. Wejdy translated it.
It was a letter, well, more of a rant really, to the press about exiles returning to Iraq who have not suffered like the Iraqis who remained. In his opinion, these exiles do not understand Iraq and its problems. (This is a commonly held view amongst Iraqis about the exiles. They feel that the people who escaped from Saddam were just the rich people who could afford to get out and live life in another country. They are generally disliked amongst ordinary Iraqis). Abu Ali's letter continued saying that these exiles, already rich enough to leave Iraq, return even wealthier and more powerful than before. They come back and take positions of authority over the millions who had no choice but to stay and suffer. He particularly cited Saddam's trial, asking who were these people to judge Saddam, when they had lived away from Iraq and its dictator and enjoyed the high life elsewhere. His letter went on to say that, even though he had personally suffered under Saddam (political prisoner 5 years), he really did not care about Saddam's trial. Instead he was much more concerned about Iraq's present and future problems.
Abu Ali disappeared for 5 days. Returning home from work one night, He and his friend, who was driving, saw an Iraqi Police car coming towards them on the wrong side of the road i.e. their side of the road. They indicated with their arms for the police car to move over to avoid an accident. Instead the police in the car stopped them and arrested them. Abu Ali became angry with the police and damned Allawi, the puppet prime minister of Iraq. So just like in Saddam's time, for damming Saddam, Abu Ali and his friend were imprisoned for 5 days for damning Allawi. They were also beaten up at the scene of the arrest - Abu Ali showed us dark bruises to his arms and back.
In prison, however, he was not mistreated at all. His family were even allowed to visit him, bringing him food and comfort.
Many Iraqis now say that they were better off under Saddam, mainly from the point of view of security. But Abu Ali goes further than this - he actually says that he wishes that Saddam could come back. And this is a man who in no way whatsoever supported Saddam before. He just hates the Americans and the occupation and wants it over with.
When we told him that we were going to have to leave Iraq, he agreed that it was time for us to go, but was very sorry that this had to happen.
Abu Ali had also shouted at the police that the police were better under Saddam. And, surprising, as it may seem, this is something I have heard from many Iraqis. Under Saddam the police were well trained and almost caring. Of course, they arrested people and treated some people badly, but, in the main, it seems that they used to help people like the police are supposed to. The torturers under Saddam were not the police, but the Secret Police and Fedayeen. In Saddam's time the police would not have driven down the road the wrong way, would not have beaten people up for nothing and if they took you to the cells you would be fed and treated humanely.
I even hear this off the boys - they tell me how before it was almost impossible to be on the street as the police would find you and either takes you home or to a children's home/orphanage. Now the boys are always treated badly by the police. Either they are beaten up by them on the street or they are taken to the police station for a beating.
As for me, in the end I avoided the Iraqi Police more than anything else on the streets. I should have been able to rely on them to keep me at least fairly safe. But no, every time I went near them I was hassled, asked to show id, asked to search my bag and even grabbed on one occasion - for nothing. I even saw them beating up two men in the main street in Kerrada once and tried to intervene - this is covered in a previous report. I don't want to dwell on my problems with them here, as they were everyone's problems - I was just picked on because I was different - and this never happened before the war when I was in Iraq as a Human Shield.
But this is how it is now - the Iraqi Police are known to have been recruited carelessly with little or no checks being made on their previous character. Criminals, looters and former prisoners are known to be amongst their ranks. Another problem is that their training is poor and inadequate and while there is some good policeman (and we were fortunate to know a couple), the vast majority are bad and trouble.
One day, while visiting Abu Ali, a young girl and her father came into the office. Noor, 11 years old, is a bright, chatty, confident girl joining in and interrupting the conversation in a room mainly filled with males. She seemed a happy and intelligent child. Her father had a kind, gentle, smiley face and spoke some English. He appeared to have an open attitude towards his daughter's outgoing behaviour and she was a pleasure to be with as she made clever contributions to the points being raised in the conversation in the room.
We asked her about school and where she lived. She told us how she was top in every subject, not just in her class, but in her whole year in school and her father was rightfully proud of her.
They live in Saidya, near Jaderya, further south of central Baghdad than Kerrada.
When the conversation turned to looters she told us how the neighbourhood around her home was full of people who had looted after the war. She even named people individually and what they had actually looted. Some of these ex-looters were now in the new Iraqi Police force (just like I have mentioned above).
And Noor did not like the Americans one little bit. The apartment she lived in was high up in the apartment building and she said that the American helicopters were now flying so low that they were actually level with the apartment’s balcony - and she hated it. The noise from the helicopters annoyed and frightened her and she wished they would stop - they fly this low night and day.
We, too, had found that the helicopters were flying lower and lower. During our last weeks in Baghdad, while sleeping on the roof, the helicopters had been flying barely 20 metres above our heads. The noise really was deafening and we could see the facial features of the men holding guns pointing out of the side doors - unnecessary and unpleasant.
We asked Noor how many brothers and sisters she had and if they were as clever as her. She told us how all that remained of her immediate family was one sister and her father. There were two older brothers but both of them had been killed during the war at different times. Both of them had been in the Iraqi Army - one had been killed in Mussayib, near Hilla and the other at Kut.
Her mother, devastated and unable to bear the loss of her two sons, died from stress during Ramadan 2003 (Oct - Nov 2003).
And here was Noor, beautiful and intelligent, just telling us of these sad, tragic events as if she was talking about a shopping trip. But this is how the Iraqi people, particularly the children, are. Very seldom do they show emotion when they recount awful events that have befallen themselves or loved ones. The outpouring of emotions that I had seen at Abdul Azziz's house was rare.
Whether it is suffering under Saddam - imprisonment and torture, or being bombed or gunned down by coalition forces during the war or occupation, Iraqis will tell you about it with a steely reserve as they recount the facts and details. Then, like Noor, or Ammar in the National Theatre, they will change the subject or get on with something else - even singing or dancing, as in Ammar's case.
(We have recently sent you up to date news about Mohammed in report: Baghdad News, since then Mohammed has been in touch. Militiamen came to his family's home ten days ago and threatened the family with death if they did not leave. They had to leave straight away and is now living in a University campus building in another part of Baghdad. There is nothing suspect or under-hand about Mohammed's family - his father is simply a head master of a primary school - the family have become another statistic in the rapidly growing number of internally displaced people in Iraq - last estimates were reaching 65,000, but obviously the number is now much bigger than that).
Mohammed is one of Wejdy's best friends. He is the head of the Students' Union in Mustansyria University in Baghdad and has always been so helpful to me when I have been looking into things for reports. Highly intelligent, a poet and artist, Mohammed has had his fair share of tragedy, heart break and suffering throughout his life, much of which can be read about in previous reports.
We hadn't seen Mohammed for some weeks and were getting worried about him. Then one day he turned up and told us why.
Mohammed and some friends from the university had gone to Mosul to take part in a karate tournament. (Mohammed is really good at karate and free fighting). While there they were arrested, on suspicion of being in the Mahdi Army, by the Iraqi Police and members of the National Co-operation Party (Allawi's Party). They were held in the Party Headquarter building in Mosul for 11 days. Apart from the fact that they were held without charge for so long, they were treated well and were not abused at all. That is except for the food - they only received the guards' leftovers from the night before - usually just cold rice and some sauce to go over it. When it became clear to the National Co-operation Party that they were not part of the Mahdi Army, the group of young men were released. Mohammed returned home immediately, but did not tell his family what had happened. They had no reason to suspect anything was wrong as he was meant to have been away for two weeks anyway taking part in the karate tournament.
After this, Mohammed travelled to Syria to try to find work. Finding none, he came back to Baghdad after a week. Unfortunately he then left his passport at a friend's house that turned out to actually be in the Mahdi army. This friend left for Najaf to fight the next day, for some reason taking Mohammed's passport with him. But he did not make it very far - he was arrested in Baghdad. So now Mohammed could find himself in lots more trouble and he has no passport either.
With all this happening to him and in fear of being suspected of being in the Mahdi Army again, Mohammed took a dangerous security job in Kut protecting a company that was training the Iraqi Army. He was working 12 hours a day, 4 days on, 4 days off. He thought that the company he was working for might be Israeli, judging by some of the tattoos he saw on some of the trainers there.
How we feared for Mohammed's safety working there. We were really so worried about him. We wanted him to go back to university and complete his final year.
We were so relieved when we saw him again about 10 days later. He had given up the nasty job and had decided to return to University after all. But returning to University worries him, because as head of the Students' Union he is constantly troubled by Allawi's men who seem to have taken over where the Ba'athists left off - and Mohammed had many troubles under the Ba'athists. (See report: A bit about Ba'athists).
Allawi's men are watching over the students, looking for signs of dissent. Mohammed discovered that these men were offering the students free foreign exchanges to study that just did not exist. All the students had to do was to join Alawi's party - the National Co-operation Party (the same ones that had arrested him and his friends in Mosul). Lots of students were coming to Mohammed and telling him what was going on, so Mohammed took it upon himself to phone the university principal. The university principal was once a Ba'athist of the fairly bad variety, but now he is firmly with Allawi and is high up in the Ministry of Education. Mohammed asked the principal to stop the scam and expel the students involved in it. It was a brave thing to do, but then Mohammed is a brave person and highly principled. Since then he has received several death threats.
It seems that Mohammed faces a turbulent and troubled year in university as head of the Students' Union, possibly facing as many dangers now with this government as he did during Saddam's regime.
We are lucky to be able to keep in touch with Mohammed here in Amman - he has email and actually uses it - and we have heard off him several times already.
(In report: Baghdad News we talked about Christian families, friends of ours, that we were trying to contact, but who were not answering their phones. Then we heard that many Christians had fled Iraq and were now staying in Jordan or Syria. Wassim's family is one of these families - happily living in Kerrada, Baghdad before, but now sadly forced to leave their beloved Iraq).
Those of you who have had my reports for some time know all about Wassim. Wassim, 22, lived opposite us when we were in Kerrada. He, and his lovely family, have been so helpful to us on many occasions and were sad to see us leave their street.
Wassim had been full of excitement several weeks before we left. He had made a passport and was off to Amman, Jordan in search of work. He always seemed to be going the next day, having relatives coming to visit him to say goodbye, until suddenly he was gone. He left on a Friday morning and his mum told us how he had spent the night before crying, as he did not want to go. We missed him that Friday and Saturday, but on Sunday he was back! In just one whole day in Amman he discovered that there was no work for him and that he did not like it there. He said that, even though the Jordanians were friendly and helpful, it was an expensive place. And he found the large numbers of jobless Iraqi men there wandering the streets a depressing sight, the Iraqi women who had travelled there to sell themselves even more so.
He couldn't wait to return to his beloved family and his beloved Baghdad. So he came back - back to work, back playing dominos in the teashop and back to where he felt at home.
Ahmed is an English speaking Iraqi we bump into from time to time. We first met him back in April after the first wave of kidnappings when we were about to enter Babelchargy market, me dressed in chadoor. He had stopped us and warned us off going in there, as it is known to be quite an unsafe place. We had never had any trouble there so carried on with our shopping undeterred anyway and as usual we had no problems there.
Ahmed has good English and often works as a translator for foreign diplomats and companies - not a very safe line of work lately in Iraq.
The last time we saw Ahmed was in Zayuna on one of our monthly or so 'pizza and park' outings. He was in his car and stopped for a chat. He told us how he had been attacked, not for being a translator or anything like that. No, he was just filling his car at a petrol station when some urban bandits had shot at him, motive most probably theft. He had somehow managed to get away unhurt, although the would-be thieves had given chase. He had even fired his pistol at them as he escaped. He proudly showed us a bullet hole next to the petrol cap on his car - fortunately for him and all the others in the filling station, the bullet had not penetrated the petrol tank.
He was still working as a translator - well, it's good money and he obviously considered the risk to his life a risk worth taking.
All for now
TEARS AND FEARS - PART 2 FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURSI lived in Baghdad for almost a year and during that time I was lucky enough to have made some really good friendships - special friends and special neighbours who would always be there to help us out with whatever we needed. I got to know some of them through my translator, Wejdy. These people would often discuss the 'situation' in Iraq with me and offer me insights into the struggles they faced in their own and their families' lives. Their opinions have often featured in my reports to you - because they knew and trusted me, they gave me their honest opinions about various matters, something 'real' journalists can never capture.
The neighbours who lived and worked around my apartment were amazing. The day I moved in they greeted me with calls like "Welcome neighbour" and have been wonderful to me ever since, assuring me of my safety as the security situation declined. In the end it became clear that, if the worst happened and armed men came to kidnap me, they could not protect me. Nor would I want them to - the last thing I ever wanted to do was put any Iraqi, let alone my neighbours, in any danger because I was living amongst them, and this is one of the main reasons I had to leave in the end. I was treated so well, with warmth, kindness and hospitality. Can you imagine being invaded by Iraq and an Iraqi coming to live in your neighbourhood being treated so well? No - it just wouldn't happen. I consider myself to be very lucky.
We have left these wonderful friends and neighbours in Iraq to face an increasingly violent, unstable and uncertain future. It breaks my heart.
You have heard from all of these people in previous reports. Here I up date you with the last opinions, feelings and stories that I heard from them before I had to leave my friendly community and wonderful friends.
'ALI' AND 'MAHDI'These two young men are friends of Wejdy's and work as security guards around the Palestine/Sheraton Hotel complex. In recent months they have become increasingly frustrated with the occupation and detest the Americans. They are both actually in the Mahdi Army and both live in Sadr City - this is why their names have been changed. We visited Ali's home in Sadr City just days before the insurgency kicked off in August - as I wrote before, the neighbourhood was peaceful, calm and full of children playing in the streets. Children make up over half the population in Sadr City. It is this area that America is bombarding nightly killing scores of residents.
A friend of theirs recently moved from working around the Palestine Hotel to the Green Zone. They are very concerned about him, as the Green Zone is attacked many times on a daily basis.
Many of the guards who protect these 'Coalition fortresses' are Shia, from Sadr City, and if not in the Mahdi Army, they certainly support it and Moqtada Al Sadr.
When the Americans attack Sadr City, setting up checkpoints and closing roads, it is often their own security guards they are holding up and preventing from getting to work, or at least making late for duty. I think it is quite ironic that the very people who guard these places are people who hate America and the occupation - these are the people that America thought they could trust, the oppressed, impoverished Shia - but the American forces have achieved something incredible in turning all these once grateful people against them wholesale.
When we last spoke to Ali and Mahdi, we told them of our trip to Najaf and Kufa, about Ghareeb and Enzo, and about my holding the RPG (rocket propelled grenade) outside Muslim Mosque in Kufa. Well, that was that! Ali wanted a photo of me on his new mobile-phone-camera holding his own AK47. So now I have a wonderful photo of me standing in my 'Shut Huntingdon Life Sciences - Animal Killers' t-shirt holding an AK47 and I look mean, well sort of!!!
They told us how difficult life has become in Sadr City, how hard it is for them just to get cars in and out of the area as the US military have closed so many roads there.
More troubling than that are the huge numbers of roadside bombs that are laid by the Mahdi Army to explode under any humvee or tank that enters the area. Ali and Mahdi and others from Sadr City state that there are 2 roadside bombs every 10 metres. The residents of Sadr City who have cars have to drive very carefully along their own roads zig-zagging slowly to avoid being blown up by their own people. Unlike the roadside bombs that we have suffered with in Kerrada which are placed under stones, rubbish or in cardboard boxes, the ones in Sadr City are more sophisticated and are better hidden. In Sadr City the roadside bombs are actually hidden under the asphalt or gravel that forms the road. Then they are detonated, but I will not go into how this is done here.
Ali was feeling particularly angry with the Americans today. Just a couple of days before, American soldiers had entered his uncles house, also in Sadr City, and were using it as a sniper position to kill and maim his own neighbours. It is things like this that are turning more and more people against the occupation and the Americans.
Ali was particularly glad to hear of our intention to get out of Iraq - he had been concerned about our safety for weeks and did not want anything to happen to us.
And daily we hear of attacks on security guards like Ali and Mahdi, our friends, and we worry so much for their safety and well-being.
SAFA'AI have written about Safa'a before on several occasions. He is the 'Ice Man' - that is he sells blocks of ice on the corner of our street in Kerrada - a vital service to the community when the temperature in Baghdad soars over 50 degrees and we have no electricity to run fridges. We then buy a block of ice for 250 dinar (10 p) and put it in a 'thermos' (insulated container) and pour water inside over the ice - that way we have cold water all day - essential. All over Iraq you see tables on roadsides with large bars of ice for sale ready to be cut up to the size you require and throughout the day you see these bars drip drip drip as they melt in the unrelenting sunshine.
Throughout August we would go without seeing Safa'a for days on end. Not always able to leave his home in Sadr City, he would spend days trapped there unable to come to work to earn money to support his family. When we did get to see him, it was because he had found a driver that knew a particular way out - a route avoiding American checkpoints and road closures. But this could not always happen, as the areas shut off would change constantly.
One day we saw him after a long absence and he was clearly upset and angry. The Americans had been air striking and bombarding his neighbourhood with cluster bombs in an unceasing attack that lasted for 5 days and nights. He was worn out, visibly tired and had not slept in nights.
When Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani arrived back in Najaf, Safa'a was very happy and answered the Ayatollah's call to march to the city in peace. (By the way Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani is not a 'Grand Ayatollah' as the Western media like to portray him, he is simply 'Ayatollah'). So off he went to Najaf, but found that he and other peace marchers were not allowed to enter the Holy Shrine of Imam Ali until Sistani himself arrived there. On the way he actually witnessed the Iraqi Police firing on fellow marchers - he found this disgusting stating that none of the marchers were armed in any way, shape or form. The badly trained and over-excited Iraqi Police had fired for nothing.
Unable to enter Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, he travelled the 10 km or so to Kufa and went to Muslim Mosque where we had been just one week earlier. (See report: Iraq: Aid Work in Najaf). Safa'a was there when the two rockets landed in the mosque. One landed in the gateway to the courtyard of the mosque and the other landed in the courtyard itself. This is the same gateway that we had driven through and the same courtyard where we had parked our vehicles and set up the makeshift clinic exactly one week before. Safa'a told us how there were so many dead, cut up, bloodied bodies and said that there were well over 100 injured. He spent the day rushing back and fro to hospital carrying the dead and injured victims. He said it was horrible, sickening and indeed he looked like a shattered man on his return. What had been meant to be a pilgrimage for peace had turned into a day of bloodshed and carnage.
As he told us of the horrific events there and as we had watched them unfold on TV, we felt desperately worried for the wonderful people we had met during our time in Kufa. How many of the fine, brave men of the Mahdi Army in Kufa now lay dead or injured? And what about little 9-year-old Narjy, already orphaned and living in the mosque, ready at his young, innocent age to fight the Americans? We will never know.
The night before we left Baghdad, Safa'a was just one of a few people we informed of our imminent departure. He was so sad to see us go and wondered what had happened in his country when it had become so unsafe for one of his neighbours to remain living there.
HASANHasan has also appeared in many previous reports. He is the 'Fish Man' - he sells fish from big tanks on the corner of our street. As I have said before, for a fish-killer he is a really nice man.
An ardent supporter of Sistani, but not of the Mahdi Army, he often tells us how he would be the first man to answer Sistani's call to Jihad, but not Moqtada's.
In the midst of all the turmoil in August, Hasan found things to celebrate and be joyful about.
First of all he celebrated Sistani's return to Najaf, handing out cake and sherbet (fruity squash) to neighbours and, with others, he also stopped cars on the main street to give the vehicle occupants the same.
Then the next day our street commemorated the anniversary of the death of Imam Ali (who's shrine is in Najaf). Hasan tied up a huge banner across the street celebrating Imam Ali and played music at the end of the road from a tape machine on a little table. And again Hasan handed out sherbet and candies (sweets) to neighbours and passing cars. It was lovely - something nice happened in the middle of all the misery and sadness we were feeling after the deaths of Ghareeb and Enzo and in the midst of all the turmoil and violence going on in the country.
When we left, Hasan was another neighbour we told the night before. He was desperately sad about it saying "You do no harm, just good" and he wished us well.
After we had been in Amman about a week, we rang Hasan. He was so excited and overjoyed to hear from us, shouting down the telephone and to people around him. He said he would tell everyone that we had called and that we had arrived in Amman safely and he promised to watch over our apartment.
YAHYAYahya, one of our best friends, also lives in Sadr City. Again his thoughts and opinions have featured in many reports. He is 28 years old, a drama student who lives for the theatre and his love of acting.
For many months he had remained optimistic about the future of Iraq, wanting to give the Americans a chance to put things right. But we watched this optimism dwindle as he was treated badly by American soldiers on more than one occasion (see previous reports) and we have seen sadness and depression take over Yahya.
No fan of the Mahdi Army, Yahya just wished peace would return to his neighbourhood and that things would settle down.
He told us how one day a stray Mahdi Army rocket had hit a friend's house by mistake. Yahya rushed to the scene and pulled his friend and his friend's mother from the ruins of their home. They were both alive but badly injured, especially the mother whose chest was crushed. Even Yahya injured himself in the panic to pull them free. He fell hurting his knee and arm.
He also has problems at the Mahdi Army checkpoints in the area because he has no beard. The men guarding the checkpoint often ask him why and Yahya just tells them he doesn't want to have a beard and can't anyway because of the parts he is playing in the theatre. It is okay then and he is allowed to pass, but this just shows how tense the Mahdi Army men are in Sadr City and how they suspect all.
One day a US soldier saw him in the doorway of his house. The soldier called Yahya over and gave him food, MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat - soldier food rations) and toys and sweets for children. Yahya said that is what the soldiers should be doing, not bombing his neighbourhood. He felt sorry for the soldiers saying that they should not be in Iraq at all, that they could be killed anytime and that they were so scared. But this is how kind Yahya is - he sees and tries to understand the sadness in everyone.
Now Yahya cannot even rehearse. One day we went with him to a small theatre on Haifa Street across the River Tigris. It was a nice little theatre in the middle of some blocks of flats. The area is impossible for him to go to now because of the resistance fighting there - it is far too dangerous and often impassable.
Even his friend and fellow student, Shaima'a, a bright, intelligence Kurdish girl who speaks excellent English with an American accent is having difficulty rehearsing for her play. When we last spoke to her she was still struggling as best she could to get to Rashid Theatre situated in another part of Haifa Street. Despite the difficulties and dangers, she is still determined to get there as often as she can to attend rehearsals. She realises her life is in mortal danger every time she goes there, but in this area there is not so much fighting so she still goes when she can.
Without rehearsing and acting, Yahya says that his life has become empty and worthless. He feels miserable, down and empty. He describes a sadness and tiredness inside him that he cannot shake off and he has been feeling ill lately. He would love to see elections take place in his country and desires a return to some sort of stability. But right now he wants to leave Iraq, he wants out and he would go anywhere.
He was determined in the end that we should leave Iraq and was absolutely terrified for us. One day he came to the apartment and said we should go the next day, insisting that he would come to the border with us to make sure we reached there safe and sound. He was so glad when we finally left, but upset that it had come to this.
OM MOHAMMED AND NEIGHBOURSOm Mohammed is a single mother who lives in our street and cannot afford to pay the rent on her bare two-room dwelling. In order to prevent her from becoming homeless with her son, Mustafa, we pay her rent, which is 20,000 dinar a month (8 pounds). (See report: Poverty and Park Life).
Before leaving Iraq, we visited Om Mohammed several times. We gave her a few months rent in advance and some bits of food from our kitchen that we could not take with us. She was grateful, but sad and concerned about our departure.
Om Hadil, who lives next door to Om Mohammed, and the new baby are doing well. The baby had grown lots, but did not like my hair. Hadil, 13 years, and Abir, 8 years, the second oldest daughter in the family, have beautiful thick black curly hair. Abir and Om Mohammed's Mustafa have a 'special friendship', but get very shy when we tease them about it.
Abu Hadil, the father, supports his large family, wife and newborn baby by selling chickpeas. He pushes a large heavy trolley cart around the streets in which are two tubs of cooked chickpeas in their juice. People buy the chickpeas, adding vinegar, lemon or chilli to taste, or they ask for a cup of hot chickpea juice to drink. We often see Abu Hadil late at night returning home pushing his heavy trolley cart down our bumpy road, back to his family.
All for now
12 October 2004
TEARS AND FEARS - PART 1 - FAMILIESAmman, 10 October 2004
As most of you now know, I have left Iraq. The reasons for my departure from the country I love and called home for almost one year are obvious enough and I do not wish to dwell on them here - they will be covered in a future report.
There were many difficult things for me to leave in Iraq - my neighbourhood and community, full of kind welcoming people; my friends, dear to me; ordinary Iraqis, decent and helpful, whether they knew me or not; the boys and young men who remain on the streets throughout these terrible times; the poor families we tried to help, left in Iraq to cope as best they can as things get worse; everything - the food, the streets, the way of life, just everything.
But one of the singularly hardest things that I had to leave were two families in particular, two families of friends who not only befriended me, but treated me as their own. They are probably two of the most lovely, decent, beautiful families not only in all Iraq, but in the world and I was lucky enough to spend so much time with them, during my months in Iraq. Leaving them and saying goodbye to them was one of the most difficult things to do before I left, I still get sad about it now.
And it is these two families I want to write about here. They need no introduction, I have written about both extensively before, but what I write hear is about my last visit to each of their homes.
Here I update you on their lives and how they are coping in Iraq as things get so so much worse.
MOHANNED AND HIS FAMILYFor two whole weeks in September we went without water in our apartment and street as I suffered with typhoid and the daytime temperature hit the high 40 degrees. (This will be covered in a future report: Tears and Fears - Part 3).
During these two weeks without water we had our dear friend, Mohanned, to stay. The next day we went to Al Nahrwan to stay with him and his family for a few days. It was a welcome respite. As I have said before, Mohanned's home is one of my favourite places in all Iraq and his family is one of my favourites ever. At Mohanned's they only ever loose electricity for the odd hour each day and they had water, so we could finally get ourselves clean - fantastic! Al Nahrwan (30 km from Baghdad) has no telephone lines or mobile phone coverage, but it is surprising how you can do without these things when you have the essentials like water and electricity.
This time we took a taxi all the way there - due to the threat of kidnapping. We did not want to be messing about in New Baghdad changing vehicles from a taxi to a minibus - better and safer to pay the little extra it cost and take one vehicle all the way there. Mohanned told us how he had not been able to go home for days as the Americans had closed the bridge at 9th (previously 7th) April.
The bridge was destroyed in the war by American air strikes and had been replaced by a temporary metal one which was not up to the job. A few days earlier it had given way under the weight of a big lorry and now the bridge was no longer there. The road was still closed at this time, the bridge had still not been repaired/replaced - adding more inconvenience, suffering and hardship to already difficult Iraqi lives. Now there was a diversion through an outlying Baghdad suburb called Al Ameen. It looked a peaceful enough place, children playing in the streets, a few little shops and women going about their daily routine. A few days later we heard that there had been a devastating roadside bomb in Al Ameen killing several local people. After Al Ameen, we took dusty, bumpy back roads to Al Nahrwan, barely travelling faster than a crawl - luckily for us our driver was a good-humoured sort and he persevered, unlike a taxi driver who had taken us part of the way on an earlier occasion.
As usual, at Mohanned's we had a lovely time and fabulous food. Azhar, his older sister, was on duty in the hospital in Baghdad where she was a nurse. We were shown her wonderful new pharmacy/clinic in what was once the kitchen - it had still been incomplete the last time we had visited. (See report: Trip to Al Nahrwan). Mohanned had split the big guest room into two rooms to accommodate the kitchen and had then made the kitchen into the pharmacy/clinic - a vital service for the local community. Shelf upon shelf of neatly stacked medicines, tablets and toiletries lined the walls on two sides of the room and long wooden seats lined the other two walls. Mohannned showed us around the well-stocked clinic - it had everything from anti-biotics and vitamins to syringes and bandages, baby items, shampoos, creams and soaps - just everything. And there were all sorts of things to play with including a stethoscope and blood pressure monitor. Of course, we all had to listen to each other's hearts and Mohanned had to try and take all our blood pressures. My blood pressure came out terrifyingly and surprisingly high, but I tried not to worry until the next day until it could be checked properly by Azhar.
By the next day I had become very ill. During the night, while sleeping in the roof, my typhoid had returned with a vengeance. By the morning I was so weak that I could barely stand, let alone walk and the whole family were really worried about me. I fell back asleep downstairs, and when Azhar returned from work she could not wake me at first. When she eventually did wake me, she set to work on me straight away and I became a patient in her clinic under the watchful eyes of the whole family as I even had photos taken! I was given antibiotics intravenously and other medicines, including vitamins to 'pick me up'. My temperature, pulse and blood pressure were checked and thankfully my blood pressure was normal - Mohanned is no nurse! I started recovering immediately and after more antibiotics in the evening I felt fine and have done ever since - my typhoid has not returned.
That evening we sat outside with Mohanned's brothers and sisters watching the toads in the garden, eating sunflower seeds and joking about a visitor inside who none of us liked! We exchanged words in Arabic and English through Wejdy.
Donia, one of Mohanned's younger sisters, was trying to study her maths for an exam the next day. She was convinced that she had failed her English exam taken earlier today. The problem was that these exams were 're-sits'. In Iraq, for some absurd reason, if you fail in just one subject you have to go back a year in school and do the whole year again, the same lessons, the same topics in each subject, everything the same and you have to redo ALL the subjects in this way, not just the one you fail. All over Iraq thousands of students are wasting years of their lives redoing school years instead of just moving down a class in the subject they failed in.
That afternoon and evening and the next day, the garden was full as local people attended Azhar's clinic. All the local people get to know when she is off duty from the hospital and at home.
After they had all left, Azhar asked if I would like to go out and visit a baby she had delivered two nights ago. Of course I did! The father of the newborn had brought a neighbour with a car to take us to his wife and baby. The car would not start and had to be bump started along the dusty, uneven track outside Mohanned's house. Then we left and drove out into the darkness of Al Nahrwan along more dusty, unpaved tracks. The baby's father was clearly excited about the safe delivery of his new born son, his first child and was obviously grateful to Azhar - his wife and child had almost died during the birth, and it was because of Azhar that they had not. We arrived near the house and had to walk part of the way in our chadors to get there. It was a big house swarming with family members in every room. After lots of 'Assalamas' we reached the mother and baby's room. Zeinab, the mother, was resting on a mattress on the floor, obviously more comfortable there in the stifling heat than on the bed in the room. Azhar checked her over and checked the baby - both were doing fine. He (still nameless) was a fabulous little fellow. Two days old and I swear he was smiling at me and laughing. Although both were in good health, Zeinab was clearly still in some pain. I wondered how she was finding the peace and comfort she needed to recover in this busy house. Even in her room there were at least six female family members sitting around - her mother with an assortment of sisters, cousins and nieces, but at least she would not wait for anything she wanted - it would be fetched straightaway.
Zeinab's pleasant, gentle-looking husband was nowhere to be seen in the room. As I have explained before, Arab men are kept away from the whole business of giving birth and immediate after care.
Later Azhar explained to me that the complications during the birth had been due to Zeinab being overweight, it being her first child and Zeinab not knowing her correct due date. These, amongst other factors, had made the delivery an emergency. Azhar said that this was common amongst Al Nahrwan women - many of them are Bedouin women, have not been to school and are not prepared for life and pregnancy in a way that we would expect - this results in many of them not even knowing their due dates and so therefore more emergency deliveries. A lack of doctors and also no antenatal clinics in the town also adds to the dangers. Azhar hopes to change this.
The next day we left Mohanned's. We had discussed the possibility of my leaving Iraq due to the rise in kidnappings and it made us all sad. Mohanned's sisters gave me a present with a letter saying such lovely things, it made me cry. It finished with "even though some people are bad in Iraq, please remember that 75% of Iraqis are decent people". (I knew this anyway and in fact I consider it to be 99% of Iraqis that are decent.)
There were long tearful goodbyes with his Mohanned's mother and sisters who had become closer to me in the end than Mohannned, our dear friend.
SHAFAQ AND ABDUL AZZIZ AND HIS FAMILYMy friend, Shafaq (see report: Murder of a Father) was sad that I had to leave Iraq, but wanted me to go so that I could return one day in safety. On leaving she presented me with a wonderful gift. It was the beautiful dress she had made with her own hands for her sister, Ishraq's henna party, which is the girls' party that took place the night before Ishraq's wedding last November. I had been lucky enough to go to both. The dress was an amazing creation, parts of it so intricate and detailed that I wonder how she did it. And it fits me so well.
A little while before seeing Shafaq for the last time we made the journey across Baghdad to Adhimaya to visit her cousin Abdul Azziz and his family.
The taxi driver who took us was a chatty but worried man. He was very concerned about us being in Iraq and thought that we should leave immediately, saying if Iraqis son’s feel secure, how could we possibly feel safe here as foreigners. He lived in Kerrada and had four children who he intended to keep out of school this year due to the deteriorating security situation.
We were stuck in traffic most of the way and it took us an hour to reach Abdul Azziz's home. During the journey we crossed a junction under the highway. Two humvees passed us holding up the traffic with their hands and they went by. Our taxi driver made a sharp turn to get out of their way. We asked him if he usually tired to avoid them. He said he always tried to get as far away as possible from humvees, in case they are hit by a roadside bomb or similar, or in case they shoot at him. (This is a common occurrence in Iraq - get too close to a humvee and the Americans take no chances, they shoot to kill.)
We arrived to find Abdul Azziz waiting for us on the main street. He led us to his house without using crutches (as he had on our last visit) and seemed to be walking well.
Abdul Azziz's family, like Mohanned's, are very special to us. They are another family we could not bear to leave. They went through so much during the war and subsequent occupation culminating in the loss of Abdul Azziz's leg after he was shot at for no reason by American soldiers. (See report: The Occupation in Adhimaya). His leg (the top part, which remains) is still infected and causes him much pain - pieces of bullet remain embedded in the stump where his leg ends.
Abdul Azziz sought the advice of the local sheikh (religious leader in the mosque) about the rights and wrongs, from an Islamic point of view, of attempting to claim compensation from the Coalition. The sheikh said he should claim if he could stating that the occupation had stolen everything off Iraq and that Abdul Azziz should take back whatever he could.
So Abdul Azziz had spent the last few months travelling back and fro with his mother to Taji, a 5000 dinar (2 pounds) taxi rides each way away. At the end of the taxi ride there was a long painful walk for Abdul Azziz up and down a hill to where the office is situated that deals with compensation claims. Every time he went there he was humiliated, put down and turned away. He was always told to come back in a few weeks/next months for some small reason or another. He had filled in all the right forms correctly. But then the last straw came when the office asked for the impossible. Abdul Azziz was told to bring the US soldiers who had shot him to testify that they had done so. As if that was going to happen! As if Abdul Azziz had any hope of recognising the soldiers who maimed him, or of finding them and even if he did, the chances of them coming clean and admitting their crime? Absolutely nil.
In the end his mother put an end to her son's ongoing torture - they were not getting anywhere - there was to be no justice and they gave up their fight for compensation.
Incidentally, Shafaq is also seeking justice for the murder of her father by American soldier louts and hopes to find a sympathetic lawyer to take the case. She has been busy printing photos and preparing papers, but realises that justice for Iraqi people is a very rare occurrence.
Abdul Azziz himself has bravely set up a little computer shop just off one of the main streets in Adhimaya in the last few months. Here he repairs computers and sells VCDs, computer programmes and computer games. He is enjoying his work and spends much time in his shop where he earns money to support his family just like he did before he was shot. Many friends visit him there everyday. (This is the shop that Abdul Azziz has since had to close - see recent report: News From Baghdad).
Wejdy went out with Abdul Azziz to see his shop and really liked it. While they were there, one of Abdul Azziz's friends, Ivan, dropped by to visit. Wejdy discussed the occupation and problems in Iraq with him and was surprised to find Ivan quite supportive of the Americans, even though he lived in Adhimaya and had seen the suffering of the people there during the war and subsequent occupation and even though he had witnessed his friend, Abdul Azziz's, plight first hand. Ivan was glad Saddam was gone for good, but he acknowledged that the Americans had messed up big time, especially in Adhimaya. He said that the soldiers themselves had caused their own problems and had made the people hate them. He thought that things could have been so different if the soldiers had behaved better and got on with reconstruction rather than continued unwarranted violence.
When they went out, Abdul Azziz and Wejdy took Ibrahim, Abdul Azziz's 5 year old little brother, with them. He is a beautiful child and has changed from greeting soldiers when he sees them to throwing stones at them. His mother told us how one day some humvees drove down the street. Little Ibrahim had run after them shouting in English "sh*t b**tards" and throwing stones. She, terrified, ran after him and grabbed him. "What if the Americans thought he was throwing something else like grenades?" she said, "It doesn't bear thinking about the consequences."
And Ekbal, 15 years old, one of Abdul Azziz's younger sisters, now always shouts to US soldiers "Don't shoot" when she passes them. She is so scared of them after what happened to her brother.
We had a lovely lunch with the family and talked at length with Abdul Azziz's sisters about school and future hopes. All of them have good English. Even Raghad, 8 years old, can write her name in English. Noor, 18 years old, wants to study computer science and is an excellent artist, showing us amazing pencil sketches of women that she had completed - each one in just a few minutes.
But Ekbal, who has sad, tired eyes, could not say what she wanted to do. She answered, "Who knows, I might die tomorrow." This is now a frequently heard phrase amongst Iraqis - the doom and gloom all around them is breaking the last grasps of hope for a better future that any of them ever held. And Ekbal seemed to encapsulate this feeling of desperation as she stated this phrase so matter of factly.
We asked if the girls had nightmares and how they were coping now. Little Raghad cannot sleep without her mother's hand holding hers and all have regular bad dreams.
Abdul Azziz's mum is a strong, beautiful woman. She has brought up a wonderful family of kind, loving children. But now she is a bitter woman and discussed the war and ongoing occupation and how it was wrecking Iraq in the strongest terms. She asked what right America had to come to her country and take her innocent, hardworking son's leg, saying "We didn't invade America and kill and maim their children". Then she broke down in tears when she described how she would wake up in the night to hear Abdul Azziz awake in the other room in agony with his leg. She would hear him put on his false leg and then hear it banging on the floorboards as he walked around unable to sleep. Night after night she would hear her son's suffering and she could not cope with it anymore - her heart was broken. The girls started to cry with their mother and as Shafaq translated she also began to cry and I cried too with these girls, these innocent children whose lives had been shattered by conflict. As I cried my tears fell onto Farah's hand, aged 12 years, which I had been holding throughout. She is a dear girl who always likes to sit next to me when we visit the family.
We talked more and more about the 'situation' (as Iraqis now refer to Iraq's escalating problems) and about how dangerous it had become for me to be they’re now as a Westerner.
The family and Shafaq wanted me to get out of Iraq. Shafaq said she loved me so much, that I had done so much for Iraq (not sure about that) and that she wanted me to go and one day in the future return safely to my favourite place. They all said that, when I came back, my first visit should be to this home where I had felt so much love and friendship. This started my tears again. Why should I have to leave when this family, who had suffered so terribly, could tell the difference between a good and bad Westerner, when others couldn't or wouldn't?
After presents and letters being exchanged between us and the girls as memories, wishing each other well and happy lives, it was time to leave - it was becoming dark. It was long and tearful goodbyes, just like at Mohanned's and my heart felt heavy and sad.
And here we are now in Amman and safety, away from bombs and kidnappers, insha'allah. All we can do is remember these wonderful families and hope they make it through the even more turbulent and troubled times ahead. We will not know what happens to them until, and if, we can return. This is very upsetting, but what can we do?
All for now
The Aftermath Of A MassacreHave American troops been killing unarmed civilians in Iraq?
Must watch BBC Reports
This is the account of a nine year old survivor. "I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest then in the head, then they killed my granny."
NEWS FROM BAGHDADLatest reports from Helen Williams
06 March 2006
I made friends with Abdullah when I was a Human Shield in Baghdad. When I returned to Iraq during the occupation, I used to visit Abdullah regularly. He works as a gardener in the Palestine Hotel and takes great pride in his work. We would sit in the tranquil safe garden of the heavily fortified Palestine Hotel drinking sodas and discussing the latest situation developing in Iraq, his family and our hope and dreams for the future. I have often included news and opinions from Abdullah in my reports from Baghdad. What follows are some of his email messages I have received since I left. In them he conveys his beliefs and opinions and his hope for a peaceful Iraq. Particularly emotional are his messages following the bombings of this hotel and the Sheraton Hotel nearby last November. Abdullah was present when this attack occurred - thankfully he was unhurt.
All for now
What happened if US if any one from US army feels hungry? Sure you all now saying the US government will do all they can to do even they will send in fast and hurry many airplanes in sky hold it all the best types of good energy foods and best supplements to make them stronger to kill the life in poor people .
BUT, what about if any one from Iraqi people feels hungry, simply the answer is no one will care about us and him because all here whom called them selves "Government", "Responsible", "President" or "Rulers" they all are busy in their bags and how much they want to put in them bags dollars and money and also help US and be the hand of it to kill the people here, if they said that the terrorists make problems and they cut the way for trailers to carry foods to all Iraqi cities they all are lying and never saying the truth because we know if US government as they are the real ruler and leading Iraq they must and they can simply by sending any ships with many aeroplanes holding the types of foods and we have about seven airports in main cities but again who is care about the poor people here in Iraq??
In every month when Iraqi families try to go to the shops to get their food according the food program and drugs in front the oil but we just get something:-
2. Milk of adults.
5. Sugar (every other month).
And other important types are not found in pills like:-
1. Milk of babies.
So, why we are still suffering from hunger and may be some families are rich or they have the ability of shopping but what about others sleeping without dinner and what about the crying of the baby who wants milk and his mother dying to give him, trying with her tears, who gives her the mercy and to her baby? Who is the hero in our government if they real in their meaning saying now will do something to stop the suffering and why all the world organizations still silent and where is the steps of UN, where is Bush and his flag he carried to put the democracy and freedom, and yes, he is never lying because he gave the freedom to all thieves and criminals like the leaders now in Iraq and they came from outside Iraq to kill the humanity in Iraq - before they were killing people in Iraq most of them came from Iran and Bush encourages them all.
Some times I'm thinking to myself to try and write really meaningful words to anyone responsible in the US, if any one is there, because may be they are all still showing the broken in our country and never trying to stop the suffering we had, but I know as we all know well that they all are criminals and they are busy to continue their crime in killing people and believe it not difficult for " Great US " if they use the aeroplanes to hold Big generators and parts of it, Foods, Drugs, and Good stuff for repairing the life and building some houses for people and we heard about all this lying from 3 years of occupation and we are still waiting for their promises and in front all I said now we believe that no one from US government with Iraqi bad leaders will say or is saying the truth and they are kidding and laughing at us!!
It is a big shame for US government and for those calling themselves Leaders of Iraqi future, and a great hit in face of terrorists that they must feed the people and care with Iraq as we heard they come to change our life for the best but really they came to destroy our life and they are trying to delete the smile from our children and no one can make this, because in Iraq there are still many brave people feeling with their country, one day coming soon Bush will down with his crimes because God is beside the right and poor human, and we are all waiting for this day, yes soon as we all wish just for the peace to come!!
The pain inside my heart is more than to say and write and it is not enough to record but may be one day they will change their mind and looking on poor people!!
Hello to dear friends,
It is so late to send you all a few photos about the last accident that had been done with bad terror attack on our hotel and I want to send many photos but may be the capacity of your mail not enough - any way you can see on one of them a small stony garden that I made one year ago but they broke it and I insist on repairing it again with nice new plants . . . they will never stop the life and it will impossible for them to try to kill plants and stuff, we will keep going on our way and we hold the peace and they must know that and the terror will end one day soon and we will feel safe again, may God keep you all in peace. Love and Peace,
Hello again my dear friends,
I'm sorry to be in late in my sending of some photos about what happened in our Hotel Palestine and we are now in trying to repair all things in our work especially the glass - it was all broken about 58%, but it also depends on the contracts - they make things so slowly and I also checked all of the plants - most of internal plants were effected and injured in that accident and some died - they also have spirit like us. But I'm so happy today because we bought some of new sorts of plants and I will make again new nice samples of inside garden with stones or without, but all that terror is trying to stop the life it will not succeed and we will face that, trying with great stand in strong and brave and it will not affect our soul. But something also made me look in deep and refresh my mind - why any accident if it happened in any where else in this great world has the care and is put in the headlines of the news, like the last attack that happened in the Amman hotels, but all the car bombs and the continuous killing of people in our country in Iraq nobody cares about us and we lose every day more than 150 of our people? And why is it that the international mind never tries to say any kind or caring word for us? Is it that in Amman people are killed and in Iraq insects are killed, not people?!! WHY?? And who will try to stop this killing with us? And all the promises from the government and from another future government that says now in the next elections it is same to us and it is all rubbish and no one will do or say right, all of them are lying and now we are like in a field of daily bombs and waiting for the death !! Sure, I must hold in my mind the hope of life to keep going and to build again and repair my country, but how could it be and we are suffering from the war and daily attacks?? I hope also someone still in this world is watching the tears of our children and cares about them and they are really deserve looking and thinking . . . I hope the mind still in this world and look for Iraqis like the same look of the dearest we lost in Amman Hotels because we are belong to the same world and we dream for the peace and safe life like others and it is hard to think about the loss of even one drop of blood from any person in this world and let us believe that we are all brothers and sisters belonging to one mother and father . . . . Peace with you all.
Hello dear friends,
The elections for a new Iraq started now but the street is never clear with their choice, you can see how some of groups are trying to delete or cut or remove the posters from walls and some are angry with nervous words beside Shia groups like Hakim and the rest with Allawi, most of the Shia are worried about their future, they are all thinking that they may be can't be in free or that Ba'athists will come back again - they would like to rule and be like Iran politics. But all Iraqis are thinking that the real number in the elections will come true, but we believe that the US will change the number for whom the US would like to rule Iraq and doing the plans as the US likes. I never believe in anyone, even I will never try to go to the elections and vote and for which person I give my voice, no one even deserves the walk to the election centre . . . . It is rubbish!! And soon we will see all things and the person that the US wants to rule Iraq and doing her policies with plans under the sign of democracy!!
The real victim is the Iraqi people and all they like and want is to live in peace and have the enough food and sleep nights in safety and they want things done not just promises!! May God keep you all in safety and happy times my dear friends, please remember me and remember our friends in CPT to get freedom and to be safe and come back to us soon inshallah. Peace,
Best regards to you all and all of you can see now the streets of Iraq after the rubbish of the historical election and people here happy that day to colour their fingers and thinking that their wishes and dreams may be will be true - and now much objections with demonstrations and some of my friends meet me near home or work to ask me my ideas, but no one will listen to any one shouting or explaining his anger even with all the media because the list of winners was completed many days before this election and now we are all seeing on TV how some responsible persons from the US and Britain comes to give them plans. Believe me one day will come soon and a brave real Iraqi person will come to save and hold this, our great country in his mind not as another policies want. Iraq is great more than the US or others think and we are people who want to live in peace, nothing more.
IRAQ: What you haven't heardby Michele Naar-Obed
Since the bombing of the Al-Askari Shrine in Samarra on 22 February 2006, local media and friends have deluged the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in Iraq with information. Iraqi Islamic television reported that the U.S. military and Iraqi police were seen at the shrine the night before it wasbombed. The next morning, two shrine guards were found alive but handcuffed inside. Baghdadiya television aired the same report. The Minister of Housing and Reconstruction said the job would have taken ten men about twelve hours to set up enough explosives to do this kind of damage. We have not heard this information reported outside Iraq. The U.S. made offers to rebuild the shrine, but the Iraqi Islamic Party asked that repair be delayed until an independent investigation was completed. Samarra citizens have locked down the shrine to preserve evidence.
While Baghdad and surrounding provinces were under strict curfew, CPT received calls from friends who described mosques under attack and gun battles in the streets. Iraqi Islamic TV reported that men dressed in black burned down a village near Dialla. The next day the Iraqi military, the Mehdi army and U.S. Apache helicopters attacked the same village. A day later, we heard that Iraqi Islamic TV, which aired footage of the attack, was bombed.
One night, we counted the thuds of mortars dropping on a neighborhood across the river. We've listened to gun battles, watched the smoke rise from a car bombing in our neighborhood and sat with our neighbors as they wept in despair. We've received reports of sectarian cleansing and mass deportations. The team has searched the prisons for friends taken in raids and gone to the morgue to identify the dead.
But the news isn't all bad. While the New York Times and other media focus on ethnic hatred, sectarian violence, and civil war, we receive other reports that most of the western media ignore. A team friend calls us daily with stories of Sunni/Shi'a unity, cries for peace, and the deep passion of all Iraqis to live as one family. In neighborhoods that have been hotbeds of violence, we hear of Sunni and Shi'a working together to repair and rebuild damaged mosques. Shi'a Iraqis have protected Sunni mosques in their neighborhoods. In a Basrah shrine, Sunni and Shi'a have gathered to pray together.
While people in power seem to manipulate events, pitting groups against each other, and military advisors trained in counterinsurgency plot terror campaigns behind closed doors (See "The Way of the Commandos," NY Times Magazine, May 2005), heroic acts of love and kindness among the people in this tattered country go on unnoticed. We continue in our efforts to work with a Sunni, Shi'a and Christian coalition to develop a human rights campaign for all people in Iraq. Human Rights groups continue to form, teenagers continue attend nonviolent conflict resolution classes and hope for the future still remains.
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) seeks to enlist the whole church in organized, nonviolent alternatives to war and places teams of trained, peacemakers in regions of lethal conflict. Originally a violence-reduction initiative of the historic peace churches (Mennonite, Church of the Brethren and Quaker), CPT now enjoys support and membership from a wide range of Christian denominations.
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Jill Carroll: 'Letter from Baghdad: What a Way to Make a Living'A poignant article by Jill Carroll, a freelance journalist in the Middle East, written before she was recently kidnapped. http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=3829
Without a steady pay check or an expense account, freelancers in Iraq spend their savings, stay in bring-your-own-sheets hotels and face increasingly dangerous working conditions--all for love of the story.
The cubicle walls are closing in. You'd rather jump off a cliff than cover one more zoning board meeting and just when one of the biggest stories in years is developing in Iraq, those foreign correspondent aspirations seem ever further out of reach.
There's only one way out: pull up stakes, clean out that savings account and get on a plane to Baghdad. It may sound like lunacy, but that's precisely what dozens of journalists have done. The result is a motley group of freelance reporters taking up residence in Baghdad's seediest hotels--including a former brothel--and churning out stories on shoestring budgets in a country the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked the most dangerous in the world for journalists.
Equal parts reporter, salesman and entrepreneur, the freelancer is a different breed of journalist than a staffer at a major media outlet. Freelancers pay for their own accommodations, translators, food and health insurance, and most do it for under $100 a day.
There are more lucrative ways to work and faster ways to advance a career. But just as athletes do it for love of the game, freelancers in Iraq seem to do it for love of the story.
Colin Freeman epitomizes the type. After four years with the London Evening Standard, he realized the only way he was going to cover one of the most important stories of his lifetime was to hire himself. "Only the very top rung of reporters ever got sent to cover wars or conflicts, not least because of the astronomical insurance costs involved," says Freeman, 34. "When the war in Iraq came up, I decided it was a good way of having a change of scene and that the only way to do it was as a freelancer."
So on April 1, 2003, with the war reaching its crescendo, he quit his job and set off to report from Baghdad. Arriving just after U.S. forces took the Iraqi capital, he moved into a $5-a-night hotel and later relocated to a cheap apartment while other reporters were paying more than $100 a night at high-end hotels. Before long his acumen with a pitch and eye for a good story landed him in publications from the San Francisco Chronicle to London's Sunday Telegraph. But he had to peck out many stories in his darkened apartment during Baghdad's hours-long power outages. Freeman couldn't afford a generator.
Only a story of this enormity, with nothing less than America's global credibility, the stability of the Middle East and countless lives at stake, could be worth risking personal safety and financial solvency to cover it as a freelancer.
"This war is shaping up to be the decisive issue of our generation, and I want to witness it and as a journalist to help shape the future," says James Brandon, 24, a British freelancer who worked for 10 months in Iraq before being kidnapped and then released in Basra last summer. "In Iraq you can actually stand on a street corner in Najaf or Sadr City watching the mujahedeen preparing to fight the Americans and be able to say, 'This is it. This is the front line in this huge global war of ideas and religions.'" Brandon came to Iraq in July 2003 to work for the Baghdad Bulletin, an English-language newspaper that launched after major combat operations ended but lasted only a few months. Fresh from finishing a master's degree in Middle Eastern studies, he stayed and picked up various strings from Bloomberg News to the Scotsman in Scotland. Covering the war gives journalists an opportunity to recall the noblest tenets of their profession and fulfill the public service role of journalism.
The sense that I could do more good in the Middle East than in the U.S. drove me to move to Jordan six months before the war to learn as much about the region as possible before the fighting began. All I ever wanted to be was a foreign correspondent, so when I was laid off from my reporting assistant job at the Wall Street Journal in August 2002, it seemed the right time to try to make it happen. There was bound to be plenty of parachute journalism once the war started, and I didn't want to be a part of that.
Idealistic, for sure, but I am not the only one. Ashraf Khalil had the same motivation. The 33-year-old Chicago native had been living in Cairo for six years as a freelancer when he decided his years of experience in the region could add depth to the torrent of coverage coming out of Iraq.
"I feel I have a responsibility to try to bring something to these stories," says Khalil, who freelanced in Iraq in January and February 2004 and is now a reporter in the Los Angeles Times' Baghdad bureau. "I spent a lot of time waiting for someone to sponsor me, and finally I realized it just wasn't going to happen unless I did it myself."
It isn't easy to fulfill such a lofty mandate when people are out looking for foreigners to behead. The days are long gone when car bombs and attacks on military convoys were so infrequent we could keep track of the date and place of each one.
Iraq became terrifyingly dangerous almost overnight last spring. Everything changed during the U.S. Marines' siege of Fallujah the first week of April 2004 and the simultaneous Shiite uprising led by firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. It wasn't safe for foreigners to walk the streets, and car bombs became an almost daily occurrence.
The anger and violence have only gotten worse since then, and a new terror has been added: kidnapping. Some 200 foreigners, several freelance journalists among them, have been kidnapped in Iraq since insurgents adopted the tactic last April.
British freelancer Brandon was snatched from his hotel room in Basra in August in an elaborate operation involving at least a dozen gunmen. A week later documentary filmmaker Micah Garen was taken at gunpoint from the streets of Nasiriyah. Both were later freed unharmed. The old dangers of Iraq also continued to plague reporters. In June a ricocheting bullet hit Freeman in the rear end in Basra when someone at the Muqtada al-Sadr rally he was covering shot at the ground directly behind him. He fully recovered.
Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches: US Propaganda vs. Iraqi RealityIt appears as though the Cheney administration will soon "redeploy" thousands of US troops out of Iraq. While several permanent US military bases are under construction there as I type this, the Capital Hill Cabal, desperate to paint the Iraq disaster in a glorious hue, are working their pundits and spokespeople overtime to convince the ill-informed they have not failed dismally in every aspect of their illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.
In his weekly radio address on Saturday, Mr. Bush did not mention Iraq once. Instead, he spoke of the bright and shining US economy and the need to maintain current tax cuts.
"Unfortunately, just as we're seeing new evidence of how our tax cuts have created jobs and opportunity, some people in Washington are saying we need to raise your taxes," he said, "They want the tax cuts to expire in a few years, or even repeal the tax cuts now."
What better time to maintain tax cuts in the US, particularly when a new study by Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard budget expert Linda Bilmes estimates the cost of the Iraq war to be between $1-2 trillion, and the national debt already over $8 trillion?
Meanwhile, the reality in Iraq is the opposite of that generated by the Cheney administration as the carnage and chaos in Iraq worsens each day.
A quick look at foreign media outlets yields the following developments that were either not reported or under-reported in the US:
04 January 2006:
Unidentified gunmen assassinated Rahim Ali al-Sudani, director-general of the Iraqi Oil Ministry, and his son early on the morning of 4 January in Al-Amiriyah area in northern Baghdad.
Clashes broke out between civilians protesting against unemployment and Iraqi police in Al-Nasiriyah city in Dhi Qar Governorate, wounding scores of civilians and police officers. The TV added within the same news summary that two civilians were "martyred" and two others were injured when an explosive charge missed a US patrol unit in Kirkuk.
Al Sharqiyah television reported that a US plane had crashed in Mosul. Quoting its correspondent in the city, the TV said that US forces had rushed to the area and sealed off the scene where the crash occurred.
05 January 2006:
At least 130 Iraqis and 11 US soldiers die (highest number of US soldiers killed in one day since August) in one of the bloodiest days in Iraq since the invasion.
06 January 2006:
A medical source at Al-Ramadi State Hospital [speaking on condition of anonymity] reports that 14 civilians, including three children, "were martyred at the hands of US snipers today." The source added that "the snipers stationed on roof tops of high buildings in Al-Ramadi, killed those victims in the Al-Ma'arid district in the city center this morning". Al Sharqiyah correspondent adds that "Al-Ramadi has witnessed massive protests against the presence of US snipers who have been deployed throughout the city, spreading fear among residents." Al-Sharqiyah says that the US armed forces have yet to comment on this incident.
For security purposes, Iraq has suspended its daily pumping of 200,000 barrels of crude oil to major oil refineries in Bayji, north of Baghdad.
A US convoy came under attack in Samarra when an explosive device planted near a petrol station was detonated. Four children were injured in the attack and were rushed to Samarra State Hospital.
A doctor at Nasiriyah Hospital reported that two Iraqis were killed and 23 were injured today as clashes between demonstrators, who were protesting against unemployment, and Iraqi police continued in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.
07 January 2006:
Fierce clashes broke out between resistance fighters and US forces in Fallujah when armed men battled with the US troops in al-Tharthar Street in the eastern part of the city as the latter tightened security measures, blocking all main entrances to the city. Local residents also reported fierce clashes between US soldiers and resistance fighters on Arba'ien Street in central Fallujah.
Earlier in the day, a roadside bomb went off at about 7:30 a.m. (0430 GMT) in eastern Fallujah as a US military patrol was passing by, destroying a US Humvee, killing or wounding the soldiers aboard, the source said. An Iraqi doctor from Fallujah General Hospital was killed by a US sniper, according to residents.
A recent email from a good friend in Baghdad sums up life for Iraqis in their new "democracy":
"We are living in a very critical situation now, for the ING [Iraqi National Guard] are covering every corner around us wherever you go inside Baghdad. The killings are ongoing everywhere inside and outside the city."
"Everybody in my family is safe for now only because no one is interested in putting themselves in danger. Demonstrations are going on all over Iraq for different reasons; price of fuel, lack of security, jobless people are having demonstrations as well as those who do not accept the presence of the Badr Brigades or the American forces. [Meanwhile others are demonstrating in support of the Badr Brigades but against the Americans.]"
"This is some kind of situation around us. The last four nights without electricity…only half an hour every six hours. Fuel prices prevent people from running their generators at home. Fuel on the black market is fifty times the price what it used to be, and nobody can stand waiting at the pumps for days anymore. The minister of oil resigned for this, and Ahmed Chalabi is now the minister…everybody is frustrated yet life is still going on as if the people are hypnotized."
"Nothing has changed except that we see US Humvees and pick-up trucks full of Iraqi National Guard everywhere [in Baghdad,]" he concluded.
More writing, commentary, photography, pictures and images at http://dahrjamailiraq.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
"I'm forwarding the message, below, from Doctors For Iraq, a group which I trust - this is the same kind of attack as that on Fallujah and it's desperately important that people take some kind of action, whatever you can, be it contacting UK and US politicians and demanding a stop to it or getting out on the streets and letting people know it's happening and demonstrating against it or getting stuff into the media, because so far this isn't even news". Jo Wilding
US/ IRAQI MILITARY LAUNCH NEW ATTACK ON Al-QAIM CITY07.11.2005
US/ IRAQI forces have launched a new military operation in Al Qaim city, near the border of Iraq and Syria.People inside the city is under military curfew. The Army has warned civilians against leaving their homes and have announced that they will enter and search houses.
The army has announced that all shops must remain closed and no ambulances are allowed inside the city. Checkpoints have been established inside and outside the city.
US military aircraft are reported to be firing missiles in Al Qaim. Many explosions have been heard in different districts of the city.
There are reports of civilians being killed and many others wounded but at this stage numbers of fatalities and casualties are unknown. Doctors For Iraq is concerned about the detention of unspecified civilians by US/ Iraqi forces during this military operation. Similar detentions have been reported in previous military attacks in the city and surrounding areas.
The only hospital in the city is desperately lacking medicines and has requested for basic medicines and surgical equipment to be delivered to the hospital immediately so that doctors can treat the injured and sick.
Doctors For Iraq is calling for all parties to conflict to respect the Geneva Convention and ensure that civilians have a safe passage to areas outside of the conflict zone and civilians are provided with shelter, medicine and food.
Doctors For Iraq is calling for humanitarian workers and ambulances to be given free access to the areas under attack. Doctors For Iraq is calling on humanitarian organisations to provide basic medicines and surgical kits for the hospital that is urgently in need of medical supplies.
Three Shattered MythsFrom British Political Prisoner Babar Ahmad MX5383
HMP Woodhill, MK4 4DA
During the last twelve months, there were three beliefs (or should I say myths) that I had about Britain, which have been shattered. I will attempt to elaborate on each of the three myths in turn and describe how they were shattered for me.
(i) Torture does not exist in Britain
Prior to December 2003, I admit that I had a positive opinion about British Police. Since I had never been arrested before, my only experiences with the police were limited to asking directions from a polite 'bobby' or watching eloquent Police spokespersons on the TV. I knew that white Police officers in the US, South Africa, etc. regularly assault coloured people, including Muslims. However, I was under the impression that Britain has a whole different ethos based on human rights, etc. and these things just do not happen here. How stupid and naïve I was.
When, on that early morning on 02 December 2003, I heard my front door smashed open and saw several huge Police officers, wearing enough pads to put a cricketer to shame, coming upstairs, I was unsettled but had a good idea of what was to follow. I thought that a senior officer would ask to search my house, showing me a warrant, or in the worst case arrest me. Suddenly, I heard the first F-word, directed at me and I was shocked, thinking, "Police officers don't swear on duty?" I had obviously not lived in Britain long enough. Then two of these beasts grabbed me and smashed my head into the bedroom window, shattering the glass and along with it, the myth that torture does not exist in Britain. Even then, I thought that some over-zealous racist Police officers just wanted to rough me up until the senior officer arrived. Little did I know that he was already there.
Then I was thrown face-down onto the floor and punched repeatedly by several policemen. One of the perverts reached down and tugged at my genitals. By then, I was paralysed; more with shock and disbelief than with pain. I was thinking to myself, "What is happening? These are Police officers? These are Anti-Terrorist Branch detectives? They are not supposed to be hitting me like this?" I really was a naïve, ignorant idiot. A naïve, ignorant, so-called 'British Muslim'.
The next half-an-hour is history, which I have already recounted many times so I will not repeat it here. I can try to be macho and say that I handled the torture and pain. Or I can be a human being and say that they were the worst 30 minutes of my life, every minute of which was like a lifetime. The colour photographs of my injuries speak louder than any expert medical report or waffle from some articulate Home Office spokeswoman.
Torture does exist in Britain. The only difference between the torture in Britain and that, in say the US, is that 'human rights' groups are not brave enough to admit it.
(ii) Britain does not lock people up without good reason
Whilst I have always been sceptical of the actions of the US law enforcement authorities, I used to respect the professionalism of the British law enforcement authorities. I have to admit, that when I saw dozens of Muslims (mainly North-Africans) being rounded up in Britain post 9/11, I would always think that there must have been good reasons to lock these people up. I would say to myself, "The British authorities don't lock people up for nothing. There is no smoke without fire. Maybe these people did have explosives, terrorist plans and maps in their possession?" Unlike countries such as France and the US, notorious for locking up anything with a beard and two legs, I used to think that the British are more professional: they pick the needle from the haystack rather than the whole haystack itself. How ignorant I was.
And then my own door was kicked down in December 2003, my houses ransacked and I saw for myself what seemed to be the basis of my arrest. For seven days, I was not questioned about any terrorist attacks, suicide bombers and explosives, but about my political views and opinions. My fingerprints, DNA and hair samples were sent to several countries around the world, including the US. Then I was released without charge. With a gift for my inconvenience: 50 injuries including blood in my ears and urine. How thoughtful of the Anti-Terrorist Branch.
I was re-arrested in August 2004 because I had to be silenced once and for all. After all, it doesn't help the Government's scaremongering 'Anti-Terror' agenda to have some little Paki going round whinging and whining to everyone about how he was tortured by the Anti-Terrorist Branch: one of the 'elite' Police departments in the country. I mean, talk of British detectives making fun of the Muslim prayer and throwing the Quran onto the floor doesn't really go down too well in the conservative Arab world, especially when there are hearts and minds (and lucrative business contracts) to be won.
Having seen the 'evidence' upon which my re-arrest is based, I sometimes wonder whether it is a dream or reality. Am I in prison because of my father's 1973 tourist brochure of the Empire State Building?
Britain does lock people up without good reason. I didn't use to believe that myself until it happened to me. And during these last few months, I have met several others who have been locked up without good reason.
(iii) Formal written complaints achieve results in Britain
I had always been an admirer of Britain's formal written complaints system: customer service, statutory rights, Ombudsmans, etc. Formal written complaints had always achieved results for me, whether Sainsbury's reimbursing me for bitter-tasting Spanish strawberries or the Council cancelling an unjust parking ticket.
However, when it came to something a little more significant than strawberries and parking tickets, namely beating and torturing an unarmed man almost to death, I thought that this formal written complaints system would finally bear fruits when I needed it most. We made complaints to the Police, the 'Independent' (or should I say dependent?) Police Complaints Commission, the General Medical Council and the Home Office, to name but a few.
A year down the line, I am sitting in a 5m x 2m prison cell whilst Police have determined that their officers are innocent (surprise, surprise), the Crown Prosecution Service has said that there is 'insufficient evidence' to prosecute any Police officers, the 'Independent' Police Complaints Commission has sided with the police, the General Medical Council has not even started an investigation into the misconduct of the Police doctors who examined me, and the Home Office 'refuses to comment', as always.
Tomorrow it will be your turn and the turn of your children. If you decide to protest against unjust extradition and internment laws, then do it for the sake of your children, not for the sake of Babar Ahmad. When that time comes, Babar Ahmad could be having his face smeared by the menstrual blood of an American prostitute in Guantanamo Bay. Babar Ahmad could be dead. But at least you can't say that he didn't warn you. Next time you kiss or hug your child, look at his or her face and imagine that face being punched and kicked by a 7 foot Anti-Terrorist Branch Police officer. Next time you tell your MP that you won't vote for them until they oppose these unjust extradition and internment laws, think about that face. That face is what you should campaign for. And that face is what is at stake if you choose to remain silent.
I read with interest the Guardian's Special Report on British Muslims (Young, British and Muslim, 30th November 2004) and felt pity at these young, naïve, second-generation British Muslim professionals, going on about how they feel they are an equal part of today's Britain. Poor souls, I thought. I used to be like you once upon a time.
You may not agree with what I have written. You may think that I have made far-fetched assumptions. You may believe that I am living in 'cloud cuckoo land'. But at least you have to admit that I have seen from my clouds what you have not seen.
Regaining My HumanityBy Camilo Mejia. Published by CommonDreams.org
Thursday 24 February 2005
I was deployed to Iraq in April 2003 and returned home for a two-week leave in October. Going home gave me the opportunity to put my thoughts in order and to listen to what my conscience had to say. People would ask me about my war experiences and answering them took me back to all the horrors - the firefights, the ambushes, the time I saw a young Iraqi dragged by his shoulders through a pool of his own blood or an innocent man who was decapitated by our machine gun fire. The time I saw a soldier broken down inside because he killed a child, or an old man on his knees, crying with his arms raised to the sky, perhaps asking God why we had taken the lifeless body of his son.
I thought of the suffering of a people whose country was in ruins and who were further humiliated by the raids, patrols and curfews of an occupying army.
And I realized that none of the reasons we were told about why we were in Iraq turned out to be true. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. We weren’t helping the Iraqi people and the Iraqi people didn’t want us there. We weren’t preventing terrorism or making Americans safer. I couldn’t find a single good reason for having been there, for having shot at people and been shot at.
Coming home gave me the clarity to see the line between military duty and moral obligation. I realized that I was part of a war that I believed was immoral and criminal, a war of aggression, a war of imperial domination. I realized that acting upon my principles became incompatible with my role in the military, and I decided that I could not return to Iraq.
By putting my weapon down, I chose to reassert myself as a human being. I have not deserted the military or been disloyal to the men and women of the military. I have not been disloyal to a country. I have only been loyal to my principles.
When I turned myself in, with all my fears and doubts, it did it not only for myself. I did it for the people of Iraq, even for those who fired upon me - they were just on the other side of a battleground where war itself was the only enemy. I did it for the Iraqi children, who are victims of mines and depleted uranium. I did it for the thousands of unknown civilians killed in war. My time in prison is a small price compared to the price Iraqis and Americans have paid with their lives. Mine is a small price compared to the price Humanity has paid for war.
Many have called me a coward, others have called me a hero. I believe I can be found somewhere in the middle. To those who have called me a hero, I say that I don’t believe in heroes, but I believe that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
To those who have called me a coward I say that they are wrong, and that without knowing it, they are also right. They are wrong when they think that I left the war for fear of being killed. I admit that fear was there, but there was also the fear of killing innocent people, the fear of putting myself in a position where to survive means to kill, there was the fear of losing my soul in the process of saving my body, the fear of losing myself to my daughter, to the people who love me, to the man I used to be, the man I wanted to be. I was afraid of waking up one morning to realize my humanity had abandoned me.
I say without any pride that I did my job as a soldier. I commanded an infantry squad in combat and we never failed to accomplish our mission. But those who called me a coward, without knowing it, are also right. I was a coward not for leaving the war, but for having been a part of it in the first place. Refusing and resisting this war was my moral duty, a moral duty that called me to take a principled action. I failed to fulfill my moral duty as a human being and instead I chose to fulfill my duty as a soldier. All because I was afraid. I was terrified, I did not want to stand up to the government and the army, I was afraid of punishment and humiliation. I went to war because at the moment I was a coward, and for that I apologize to my soldiers for not being the type of leader I should have been.
I also apologize to the Iraqi people. To them I say I am sorry for the curfews, for the raids, for the killings. May they find it in their hearts to forgive me.
One of the reasons I did not refuse the war from the beginning was that I was afraid of losing my freedom. Today, as I sit behind bars I realize that there are many types of freedom, and that in spite of my confinement I remain free in many important ways. What good is freedom if we are afraid to follow our conscience? What good is freedom if we are not able to live with our own actions? I am confined to a prison but I feel, today more than ever, connected to all humanity. Behind these bars I sit a free man because I listened to a higher power, the voice of my conscience.
For general comments and questions, write to:
The Free Camilo Committee
c/o Maritza Castillo 201 178 Drive # 323 Miami, FL 33160
or email: email@example.com
The rapidly deteriorating situation in IraqHelen Williams reports from Amman, Jordan. 12 January 2005
Some friends have recently arrived in Amman from Baghdad with news of the rapidly deteriorating situation there.
I have talked of 'Wissam' before. Wissam, 32, is from Adhimaya, Baghdad, a predominantly Sunni area, which has seen more unwarranted American attacks than many other area of the city. He is married with 2 small children. I first met Wissam during Ramadan, November 2003. He was not well as he was not sleeping. The Americans had been flying low-level helicopters over the neighbourhood night after night until 4 am keeping him awake. Then it was time for him to get up for food and prayers before the daily fast began. He has had his house raided and been imprisoned and beaten by the Americans. Wissam is an exceptionally brave man dedicated to freeing Iraq of the hated occupation. He takes films of anything he can to help tell the truth about what is going on, to show what is really happening. He is also a guard at Abu Hanifa Mosque, a huge and important mosque in Adhimaya, which was damaged in the war.
He told us about the current situation in Baghdad. Electricity is down to half - one hour in the morning in his area. Sometimes there is no electricity for two days at a time. Wissam hates the noise from the generator and does not want to disturb his neighbour, so hardly ever puts it on, preferring peace and quiet, but this is hard to come by in Baghdad, a city full of generators. He says hardly anyone he has spoken to intends to vote - they do not see the point (they do not know anything about the candidates) or they are too scared.
Wissam is angry about all the talk of civil war, saying that, on the whole, there are no problems at all between Sunni and Shia - just the problems Allawi and the Americans want to create and told us of an incident that took place a few months ago: Some Shia people were walking through Adhimaya to Khadimaya to the Shrine of Imam Khadim to commemorate his death. It is traditional for people to walk to shrines/mosques on certain holy days in an act of pilgrimage. Some of our neighbours had taken part on this particular night. When the Shia people passed through Adhimaya they saw Iraqi National Guardsmen (ING) who they, like the majority of the population, hate. They began hitting them with shoes (one of the highest insults an Arab can pay another) to send them away. As a result of this non-deadly action the ING opened fire, murdering 7 of the Shia. The Sunni men in the neighbourhood came to assistance of the Shia, telling them to move aside. They then unleashed an attack on the ING, killing around 20.
When the annihilation of Fallujah began, Friday prayers in Abu Hanifa Mosque were full of encouragement to join the Resistance and fight. One day the American base nearby was attacked during roll call by a mortar/rocket fired from near, but not from, the mosque. Many US soldiers were killed or injured. An Iraqi Policeman (IP) approached the mosque while Wissam was on guard duty. The IP said it was believed that the Mujahadeen were attacking the police and American soldiers from inside the mosque. The police wanted to check the mosque and use it as a position for themselves to fight from. Obviously Wissam did not let him enter the mosque, informing the policeman truthfully that the mosque was not being used to launch attacks and that weapons are NEVER allowed in the mosque. The policeman then threatened to tell the Americans that the mosque was full of Mujahadeen and weapons. Following this, an ING came along with US soldiers asking to go in and check the mosque, after the policeman had made his report. Wissam again refused them entry for the same reason. The ING seemed to be understanding, explained the situation to the Americans and they all went away. Then the following Friday, the Americans and ING unleashed a lethal attack on the mosque during Friday prayers.
In an attempt to arrest the sheikh who was leading Friday prayers and telling people to fight, the Americans murdered 5 people. (Because of this the attack made world news.) Many more were injured or arrested. The sheikh changed his robe and imama for a dishdasha and yeshmack and was hurried away form the mosque amid the turmoil. The soldiers were throwing sound bombs, there was smoke everywhere and the women started panicking. Wissam tried to keep them calm and away from danger. Then he went to his car to fetch his camera to video what was happening. An American soldier took his camera, although later an ING returned it - minus film. Wissam hid it under a carpet in the mosque. (Later he found 4 videotapes missing from the boot of his car, where he hides them for safe keeping in case his house is raided again. The boot had been shot open and his precious, vital, eyewitness work had been taken.) At the end of the raid and onslaught the Americans lined all the men up, deciding whom to arrest. When they came to Wissam they could not decide what to do. They were saying "Yes/No" as if they were playing a game. Then a soldier recognised him as having been arrested before, so Wissam was arrested and detained for several days. Wissam told us that when someone is arrested they are asked is they are Sunni or Shia. He says, quite rightly, that everyone should say "Iraqi and Muslim". This is what he always does and did so on this occasion 3 times, in spite of an ING burning his hand with a cigarette. In the end, Wissam said, if someone does not say, they write down "Sunni - bad" next to your name.
I asked him about foreign kidnappings. Wissam said that he had heard that the Americans were preventing the media from reporting kidnappings of foreigners. Of course, the up to 7 kidnappings a week of wealthier Iraqis in Baghdad alone for ransom money is not even newsworthy.
Another thing he had heard was that all communications within Iraq and between Iraq and the outside world would be cut in the run up to and during the election. This includes all telephone and internet communication. This is in an attempt to stop the Resistance co-ordinating and organising at this time.
On a much happier note, Wissam had news of Junis and his brothers, imprisoned after their home was raided and they were beaten up on 23 September 2003. The story of this long-suffering family has been told in previous reports. Held on a trumped up and ridiculous charge of 'planning the assassination of Tony Blair', these men were finally released 4 months ago from the notorious Abu Gharib Prison. Junis has since married and is working. During the raid on the house, the American soldiers had stolen all his wedding money.
Our friend, Raid, has recently spent about two months in Baghdad and has now returned safely to Amman. He said things are so much worse in Baghdad now. The city, the people are more worried and tense and he feels that over 70% of the population will not vote, although more in the south might. There are more bombings and shootings now and one day he heard gunshots very close to his house near Palestine Street. Later he saw a man lying in the street, dead, about 3 doors away from his own house. In his area they are getting about one hour of electricity in the morning and evening. (We were used to 3 hrs on/3 hrs off, sometimes dipping to 2 hrs on/4 hrs off and when we left it was up to 4 hrs on/2 hrs off.) Petrol queues have gone up from 7 - 10 hours to two days long. Men actually have to sleep in their cars for one or two nights to fill up, so they do not lose their place in the queue. (I guess the Americans figure if men are queuing they cannot be resisting, not realising that in these queues men have plenty of time to talk, plan and become more angry and resentful.) And even more alarming is the price of gas bottles. When we last bought on 3 months ago the cost was 2000 dinar (80p). Now the price is 10000 dinar (4 pounds) a bottle - still cheap by UK standards - but imagine what this price hike does to the average poor Iraqi family struggling to get by in ever worsening conditions.
Raid also visited Fallujah refugees in great need living in a school building on Haifa Street, a Mujahadeen stronghold. Many of these refugees are saying that they will not return to their home while the Americans are still in their town. Indeed all homes there, if not completely flattened, are uninhabitable due to damage caused by the American bombardment. Raid believes that the kidnappings are not the work of the likes of the Mujahadeen or the Mahdi Army - true Resistance against the occupation. These real Muslim men would never harm or touch a woman and most speak out against such deeds. He feels that it is criminal gangs or other elements at work that murder their hostages and claim it in the name of Resistance. So it really depends on whom one is kidnapped by as to their fate. I also asked Raid about the American presence in Baghdad now. He said the soldiers are scared, jumpy and nervous. And also that not so many humvees are seen out and about now. Will this mean less roadside bombs in the city centre now? He also said that the highway from Baghdad to the border was closed near Fallujah and they had needed to detour around back roads to leave Iraq.
Some Internationals who have recently returned from Baghdad kept a very low profile while there. Covering up/dressing appropriately was essential at all times and going out on the streets was not an option. Going out at all had to be meticulously planned, only going with a trusted driver (not taxis), and knowing where you were going and at what time, and only being out for a few hours was vital to keep safe. Indeed going out could only be undertaken with extreme risk and caution and then only every 2 or 3 days and at different times from the last trip out. A man I spoke to, recently returned from Baghdad, reported always being careful and on the lookout when outdoors. And always going by car and feeling very tense and paranoid if another car pulled up alongside, slowed down, seemed to be following etc.
It has been greeted with surprise the news that Eyad Allawi is to stand for election in the upcoming Iraqi poll. Many Iraqis here cannot imagine who would vote for him, seeing him as no better than Saddam himself. But then we must consider all the so-called Iraqi exiles, those living abroad. They are being strongly encouraged to vote and many will possibly vote for Allawi - the West leaning man of big business - like many of the rich exiles. He is America's man and choice. Posters are up everywhere in Amman, indeed all over Jordan. Our favourite Iraqi restaurant has one (and smaller versions as leaflets on the counter), so does every other Iraqi and Iraqi run establishment - the Iraqi Airlines Offices, Barber shops run by Iraqis and hotels. There are even billboard signs showing an Iraqi man going to vote, a backdrop of Amman behind him and another showing 5 Iraqis from all different sections of the community wearing from traditional clothing (dishdasha and yeshmack) to 'modern' Western attire. These posters and leaflets tell Iraqis living abroad that they have a voice in Iraq's future. But the people they are reaching out to may have been away from Iraq for years and have no idea of the true current situation on the ground there. How then are these people in a real position to make any decision about the future of Iraq when they do not know what is really going on there?
As I have mentioned before, there are many Iraqis living here in Amman. Many young Iraqi men live in our neighbourhood sharing spartan digs and cooking food communally on one gas burner. They work hard and live cheaply in order to send as much money home to their families as possible. Often they are overstayers on their 3 month visas here and end up needing to cross the border to get a new 3 month stamp in their passport (a risky business as they can always be refused re-entry) or they are faced with a one and a half JD (1.20 pounds) fine per day of overstay and imprisonment if they do not pay, until they pay. They can try to get up to a 3-month extension on their visa but unlike me, being British, they have to go to the Ministry of Interior. Here they fill in forms and hand them in with a copy of their passport and are then given a two week appointment to return - and that is only the ones with a 'good enough reason to stay'. In these two weeks the Jordanian intelligence services scrutinise the passport and look into the person before allowing them to stay - so, you see, the 3-month extension is virtually impossible to come by.
I, however, almost automatically received a 3-month extension to my visa, no questions asked. To this end we often see big cars of GMCs loaded up with groups of men returning to Iraq. We saw one yesterday. A battered old GMC was piled about one and a half metres high on the roof with fridge, cupboards, mattresses etc and looked like it was all about to tumble off. 5 men were preparing to return home and the rest of the neighbourhood had come out to see them off. As I watched them leave, I wonder what they will face on their return home, what the future holds and whether they are excited or scared. Hasan, our friend, cannot return and he longs to. I have you about him before. One night we were in his apartment watching the news. The Governor of Baghdad had been assassinated. Hasan suddenly got up and started pointing at the TV shouting, "Look, look at this street. I used to walk along there to school for 6 years." he sat down sadly - here was a street he had walked along safely as a child day after day in a city and country he cannot now return to.
All for now
Amman, Jordan. 12/01/05
The Children of IraqHelen William. Amman. 10 - 12 December 2004.
When the 'coalition of the willing' waged their dirty, illegal war on the long-suffering people of Iraq, they attacked a country where around half the population are aged under 18 years - it was, in effect, as if they were bombing a giant schoolyard. The children of Iraq, most of them only knowing a life under sanctions, are now used to the sights and sounds of war - bombs, gunfire, soldiers, tanks, humvees, checkpoints, helicopters, concrete blast blocks and razor wire are all seen everywhere everyday. The same helicopters, humvees and more bombs and gunfire interrupt their sleep nightly. This is the norm for these children. Would you want this to be the norm for your children? To most Iraqi children the sight of a dead body, blood, bombed buildings or maimed people is nothing special. The effect this has on them differs from child to child. I have returned home 6 hours after a roadside bomb went off outside the apartment to find my neighbours' children - Hamsa and Ayar, amongst others - playing happily and giggling. They, just hours before, saw two dead bodies lying bloodied and mutilated in their own street. But play continues. Would this happen with the children if a bomb went off in your neighbourhood?
Most Iraqi children don't have any toys. Those that do will almost certainly have a toy version of some sort of weapon - usually a toy AK47, but perhaps a toy pistol, or a toy tank, or maybe even a toy military helicopter. I cannot count how many times a toy gun has been pointed at me in playful delight by the children of Iraqi friends. Of course, when the trigger is pulled I have to feign a slow, tortured death to the squeals of laughter of the gun wielding child. I hate doing this, especially if I am then handed the gun to do the same back. It upsets my very soul to play such a horrible game. But I only protest a little - this is Iraq, not Wales and taking the moral high ground on such issues is not only difficult, it is nigh impossible. Anyway, I think it is more important to make the children laugh. But it is so difficult for me to do. I know too many vegan and peace activist friends who would never let their children play with anything more representatively deadly than a water pistol and I know, if I had children, I would certainly take the same stand as them on the issue. The market toy stands up on Saduun Street are littered with such items and they are very cheap. Military helicopters which light up and whirr, tanks which race across the floor like toy cars - they are all there in a macabre toy collection representing war and death - the norm.
Seeing guns in the family home is also the norm. Most homes have an AK47 or maybe a pistol for home protection. Thankfully these guns are usually only brought out for celebratory events such as weddings or victorious football matches, but it all adds to the acceptance of guns as part of life and children see and learn this young in Iraq.
A year ago I attended a lecture in Iraq which estimated the amount of Iraqi children suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) to be a staggering 50% and it is sure to be more than that now. The same lecturer told how the number of child psychiatrists in Iraq was woefully low - virtually zero in a heavily traumatised country. In a mentally worn out society, few Iraqis discuss their personal suffering with each other. 'Abu Ali' just does not bother telling 'Abu Mohammed' about the death or injury of loved ones in the war, about his house windows or car being damaged in a roadside bomb, or what the electricity cuts are doing to his business. What's the point? 'Abu Mohammed' has probably been through the same, maybe even worse. (Although it has to be said that many Iraqis will tell outsiders of their experiences/opinions/troubles). But often this silent suffering is seen in the children, who sometimes seem barely effected by horrors they have endured.
I have told you about Noor and Ammar before. I met Noor in a friend's office with her father. She is an effervescent, chatty, confident 12 year old girl. Clearly very intelligent - when I asked her about school she was proud to inform me that she was top of her year. When asked if she had any brothers or sisters, she replied "Just one sister". She went on to say that her two brothers had been killed in the war while defending their country -one at Kut, the other at Mussayib, near Hilla. She continued that later in the year, during Ramadan, her mother had died of a broken heart. It is hard to imagine how anyone, let alone a 12 year old girl, could cope with such personal, devastating tragedy. But here was Noor recounting events as if she were detailing a school outing.
Ammar, in the National Theatre, was the same. Dancing joyfully to music, wearing a 'Gap' t-shirt and waving a red Communist Party flag, I could not resist taking a photo of this happy youngster. Photo taken, he came and sat by us - he had made new friends. When he discovered that I was not American, he apologised profusely to my translator. He hates Americans. During the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, his 5 year old brother had been shot and murdered by American soldiers as the Iraqi Army had retreated across Oqaba Square, near the family home. The family, unable to leave the house that day due to the heavy bombardment, had found the body of their poor little son and brother lying dead in the street the next day. Ammar told us how his mother was still grief-stricken. She had been so happy to give birth to son as a brother for Ammar 5 years earlier. He told us of this horror with unflinching reserve. When he finished, he was up out of his seat and dancing again - you would never know his sadness to see him dancing like this.
One of 'our' boys, Ahmed, 12, never told me how much aeroplanes and helicopters bothered him. One night I was leaving the boys' home in Al Wazerya and saying goodbye to him - he had come out to the road to see me off. A plane was flying quite high up overhead as I turned around to Ahmed. He quickly removed his hands from his ears and looked embarrassed. I crouched down before him and asked why he did this. With his broken English he shyly explained that all the planes frighten him, he doesn't like the noise. All I could do was cuddle him. Noor does not like the helicopters, well, neither do the adults. But I have seen too many children, including teenagers; cover their ears at the sounds of any planes or helicopters, remembering what terror and death they brought to their homes during the war. Hasan, our good friend, Abu Ali's, 13 year old son, seems to hide his trauma well. Living in Zafarania, Baghdad, and this child had seen and heard a fair amount of bombing during the war.
Hasan has always been sickly and was about the size of an 8 year old. Abu Ali suspected that Hasan's sickness was due to exposure to chemical weapons that he himself had been subject to during the Iran/Iraq War. He had returned contaminated by the chemical warfare and his wife had become pregnant. Hasan had been born requiring constant medical treatment and blood donations. The doctors now say Hasan's physical health is improving day by day. His mental health, however, is worrying. Although always ill, he was a happy, chatty, outgoing child before the war. Now he is very different. When I visited the family home of Abu Ali, I was at first regarded with suspicion by Hasan, although he soon relaxed with me in the room with the family. But he is a quiet, withdrawn boy, clearly troubled, sullen, almost sulky, though obedient. He was just starting to do well physically when the war came along, which now certainly seems to have caused him a different set of problems.
Abul Azziz's brother, Ibrahim, 5, used to go up to American soldiers to say hello. After Abdul Azziz's leg was lost after an American soldier shot at him for no reason whatsoever, Ibrahim's attitude to soldiers changed drastically. Now, if he sees soldiers, he shouts swear words in English at them. (Many Iraqi children who know no English at all know the rude words - care of the fowl mouthed US troops.) Once his mum caught and stopped him trying to throw stones at the soldiers - she was terrified they would shoot him and claim they thought he was throwing a grenade. One day Ibrahim was found pulling some old car tyres around the front yard. When asked what he was doing, he replied that he was collecting bombs to throw at the American Army.
I have visited Abdul Azziz's family several times and they are just lovely. Ibrahim is always concerned about my white face for a while in case I am American. Indeed, the first time I was there, it took him around 2 hours to smile at me. But he is a beautiful little thing and when he calms down he is really funny and loving. Now he cuddles up to me, usually after a clothes-changing extravaganza, when he spends around an hour putting on different sets of clothes to show off. This little fashion show features all styles, from dishdasha to shorts and t-shirt. But his mind is well and truly disturbed. And even though he is lucky enough to have a strong and loving family around him, I fear he will grow up so angry and resentful. Abdul Azziz's sisters, aged from 8 to 18 years, are also mentally anguished. Raghad, just 8 years, cannot fall asleep without holding her mother's hand, all have regular bad dreams and Ekbal, 15, with dark sad eyes, won't imagine what the future may hold in case she dies tomorrow. Whenever Ekbal sees American soldiers, she shouts "Don't shoot."
Then there is Ali, also 5, the youngest son of a family I visited in Hilla. As coalition forces approached their neighbourhood in Hilla at the end of March 2003, the sounds of bombing and aircraft and tank fire became louder and louder as it got nearer and nearer to their house in a residential suburb of the city. On 1st April they were awoken in the early hours, the fighting was so close now, and their house was shaking all over with each terrifying blast. The Iraqi Army were attempting to defend Hilla from the main road near the houses. The family got up and decided to leave to the countryside just hours before the whole residential neighbourhood was cluster bombed killing and mutilating hundreds. They hurried to a friend's farmhouse some 10 kilometres away, but having so narrowly escaped being cluster bombed in their home, they were to be cluster bombed here out in the countryside as a battle took place nearby. The family, all physically unharmed, returned to their neighbourhood later that day to find their house badly damaged, all the windows shattered.
About 330 people in the area were killed. They felt grateful to be alive and unharmed. Not long after this they started to see a change in Ali. He would loose his temper in terrible rages and tantrums and hit out at his mother, 4 sisters and 3 brothers. He would bully the little daughter of his older brother and often try to beat his mother. He would scream, shout and sulk and throw food around at meal times in fits of rage. When he awoke from sleeping he would start shouting and this included swearing and damning God. His mum and dad say he is naughty all the time he is awake, with more than 10 incidents daily. They do not know what to do with their desperately and heavily traumatised son. The whole family may have survived the cluster bombs without even an injury, but how their lives have changed and what does the future hold for Ali and his terrible tantrums?
Then there are the child soldiers. These are not coerced, bullied, unwilling combatants such as those we hear of in Uganda or Sudan, for example, but youngsters who want to fight and defend their homes and do so proudly and courageously. I saw one boy, 11, in Fallujah, wrapped in a red yeshmack with his AK47, almost as big as him. I have detailed his astounding fighting skills in an earlier report. Although he is most definitely skilful and brave, I wonder what mental scars he will have to endure as he grows up. Indeed, I wonder if he is alive at all now after the recent annihilation of Fallujah. I also met a small 15 year old boy driving his father's minibus as an ambulance, risking his young life to collect the dead and dying in the besieged sniper-ridden city. What horrors has he witnessed to take with him through life? What horrors have all the children in Fallujah witnessed or had happen to them or loved ones?
There are many accounts of children fighting alongside older family members in Sadr City. Sadr City, the impoverished, mainly Shia area of Baghdad, has much more that the national average of around 50% under 18 years of age. These boy soldiers are eager to defend their neighbourhood against the unnecessary presence of the US Army in their area. A friend from Sadr City told me of one 8 year old whose favoured weapon was an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) - how on Earth does an 8 year old fire an RPG - well, apparently quite well, by all accounts.
Nargy, 9, lives in Kufa Mosque. I met this little fellow on our tragic humanitarian mission there in August. He is an orphan, no one quite knows what happened to his parents, but he was a delight and everybody made a huge fuss of him. He absolutely loves the Mahdi Army guys and, of course, hated the Americans. Although not actually a child soldier, he used to hand bullets to the fighters and told us that he wanted to fight for Moqtada to drive the Americans out of Iraq. He also told us that he wanted to die as a martyr. It is just so sad. Nargy is surrounded by love, kindness and attention, but look what the war and occupation have done to his mind. I don't even know if the child still lives - one week after our visit there the mosque was attacked by 2 US rockets and many were killed and injured.
All these child soldiers are sure to suffer from some sort of PTSD in the future - that is if they survive the ongoing brutal occupation. We hear a lot, but not enough, in my opinion, of the physical injuries inflicted on civilians and children in war and its aftermath. The injured children that did not die are left to cope with life changing debilitating injuries, lost limbs or disfiguring scars or burns with no counselling or compensation to help them. Contrast this with children in our country who can receive counselling after the death of a grandparent or a car accident when they were not even injured.
In report 'the Evil of Cluster Bombs', I told you about 9 year old Mustafa who had lost 6 fingers and the sight in one eye after handling a cluster bomb on a CLEARED Iraqi, then subsequently US Army base. I told you how a once cheerful, outgoing child has become an almost silent shadow of his former self, withdrawn, sad and depressed.
However, I have not told you about Sa'ad before. Sa'ad is 16 and lived on the streets of Baghdad during the summer of 2003. He used to sleep near the Sheraton/Palestine Hotel complex, making a little money to survive by carrying stuff for hotel guests and selling bits and bobs. He is a quiet, reserved, calm boy and his story mirrors so many of those of the other boys living on the streets who we befriended and tried to help, except for one thing - Sa'ad is just about completely blind. Messed up, poverty-stricken and unhappy before this horrific injury befell him, it is his blindness that tipped him over the edge into a life on the streets. He'd had problems at home in Sadr City after his mother had died and his father had remarried an Egyptian woman. Eventually the father and his new wife had moved to Basra, leaving Sa'ad in Sadr City to live with his older brothers. They were so poor and Sa'ad used to collect scrap aluminium from rubbish tips for recycling to make a little money to help make ends meet for him and his brothers.
One day in 2000 he was doing this when he came across unexploded munitions from the 1991 Gulf War. He had not touched it with his hand (or he would have lost these too), but he had just disturbed it and it exploded in his face. His face was covered in little burns which have scarred him for life, but so much more serious that these, is the loss of his sight. Completely blind in one eye - the eyeball is just totally white - and with a tiny amount of vision in the other eye, Sa'ad could no longer cope. He ran away from home and ended up living in the House of Mercy Children's Home in Sadr City. Then the war came, which messed up and affected Sa'ad even more (if that was possible) and he ran away from the children's home to the streets where he started sniffing thinner, glue and taking arten tablets. In about August 2003 he disappeared from the streets and in the chaos of post war occupied Baghdad, no one knows where poor Sa'ad went and where he is now. One thing is certain, if he is still alive; his future is very bleak and sure to be troubled. In a country where 75% are unemployed who would give a blind, uneducated boy a job? His mind is sure to be so traumatised and psychologically scarred; it is hard to see how Sa'ad will ever cope in future years.
Another troubled teenager was one of our young men, Hayder 'with the knee'. Having run away from his home in Amara due to family problems, his problems became so much worse on the streets of Baghdad. Having picked up a nasty thinner habit which he has until now found extremely difficult to kick, life suddenly became dreadfully difficult for Hayder one afternoon in May 2003. The occupation was in full swing and chaos ruled on Baghdad's streets. Everyone had guns and law and order were non-existent. Hayder, walking up Saduun Street, was shot. He ended up with a bullet through the knee - side to side. Other street boys carried him to hospital where he spent 2 weeks before leaving with a limp for life. (Luckily for Hayder the hospital treated him for free, but they had to push him out early due to the amount of casualties they were receiving daily - his treatment was no where near complete.) He returned to life on the streets and his thinner habit which he had still not entirely got rid of (despite living in the boys' home) when I left Iraq. So here we have another messed up young man who found himself on the streets, where life and mind became so much worse. I ask myself once again, what can the future hold for this young man?
Another thing common to Hayder, Sa'ad and little Ahmed, mentioned above, is the horror of self-harming or self-mutilation. Indeed, this is something that most of the boys we tried to help had either done at some time in the past, or did now.
Little Ahmed had taken a utensil from one of the boy's shoe cleaning boxes and scratched his forearm with it in front of me in January. Luckily the cuts were not that deep and they barely bled. It was really more of an attention grabbing action and an "I want a bandage trophy" thing, but it showed he is disturbed in some way. All the boys liked to go to the doctors - it made them feel special and important and as if someone cared. The day Ahmed did this, he cheered up considerably when I took him to the doctors for a little bandage.
Other boys' self-harming was too horrific for words:
Once Omar, 19, took a razor to his arm in a rage of self-abuse and self-pity. He really meant to harm himself and the cuts were deep and serious. Finding a taxi that would take us to hospital proved near impossible, more than 5 refused, and persuading the staff at the hospital to keep Omar in overnight was impossible, as I have detailed in an earlier report. Omar is still a shockingly disturbed young man. Whenever I see the high ridges of the red slash scars on his forearms, I shudder - they look horrid and they bring back vivid memories of that dreadful night in December 2003.
As I said many of 'our' boys had histories and scars of self-harm. Perhaps one of the saddest and most upsetting cases was that of Ahmed Omara, 16. A handsome boy with long dark hair when we first met him in the basement, he soon kicked his thinner habit and showed us hidden talents. He was a natural sportsman and showed skill in karate, football and judo - anything physical. He also became good at art, drawing and metal work. And he developed self confidence and became quite grown up and sensible, almost leading and guiding the other smaller boys in some ways. One day we visited the boys' home at Al Wazerya, just as Ahmed was returning from hospital, his arm heavily dressed. It turned out that earlier he had wrongly accused Hayder 'with the knee' of taking 'drugs'. On discovering that he was wrong about Hayder he had taken a knife to his arm to transfer the mental anguish of guilt to the physical pain of the cuts and blood. On his return from hospital he was still sobbing loudly. It was harrowing to see this potentially fantastic youngster descend back to something he had depended on before to take the mental pain away. He is scarred all over - his chest is particularly bad - a battleground of scars from self-inflicted deep cuts and wounds.
Two young men who I do not even consider as 'big boys', but who lived on the streets all the same had some of the worst scars I had ever seen. Ali and Ahmed, both in their early-mid twenties, was not the sort of young men who I could ever try to help. They are victims in their own way, I guess, but unlike the other big boys who used to use the littler boys for begging and stealing, these two were beyond approach. These two were rough, I mean nasty rough. I would only go near them with other men around me and only when I had to.
To show you how bad they were I can tell you that Ali is actually now in prison for life for a murder he committed in summer 2003. And all the boys, both big and small, were terrified of them - they used to do terrible things. One day I had to go near them. I had heard that Hussein, one of my favourites of the older boys, was around again and swimming in the Tigris with some of the other boys. I went to the river bank to see him. I stood high up on the bank above the water and could see him out in the middle of the river far away. Hussein saw me too. I don't know how he did it, but he was out of the water, climbing through the reeds and running up the bank to embrace me in a soaking wet hug within seconds - he was so happy. This joyful reunion brought all the other boys up the bank behind him and with them Ali and Ahmed bare cheated.
Of course, the older men, however 'bad', being Muslims, covered themselves up immediately, a woman being present. But not before I saw Ali's chest. I had never seen anything like it. Huge pink/red scars crisscrossed the brown skin. They had not been stitched and so had healed 1 - 2 inches thick in places. What could ever have happened to him to make him do this to himself? What could ever have happened to him to make him shoot someone in public toilets for money? Both Ali and Ahmed were scarred and both were the worst I had ever come across in Baghdad. Neither of them ever hurt or threatened me, but the terror they inflicted on the other boys was really too much.
So many of the boys had or continued (albeit in some cases occasionally) to self-harm. Those boys and the ones who did not do this would also become upset more easily than most other children. I have watched play fights between Laith and Ahmed turn serious and nasty, requiring adult arms to pull them and hold them apart. Other boys have terrible tempers - one boy stabbed another in the face with a spoon, because he had brought 'drugs' and disrepute into their shared bedroom in the house. But the boy that did the stabbing was one of the worst we knew for thinner and bringing it into the house anyway. And through all this violence and loss of temper we always see lots of tears - usually because they are sorry, but often for other reasons that we don't always get to the bottom of.
One day in April we went to see the few boys still hanging out by the basement near the Palestine Hotel. I had not seen them for an almost a week due to a spate of kidnappings - we'd had to stay in and even on this day to go out meant that I had to wear my all covering chadoor. There were just three boys there on this day. Omar, 19, was sleeping under an overhang of a building behind some razor wire and didn't want to wake up. Mohmmed, around 18, was fussing about Omar and Bashir, 15, who he was trying to look after. Mohammed and Bashir were hungry so we took them to a cheap restaurant on Saduun Street for beans, tepsi (eggplant soup) and rice. Mohammed would not eat and suddenly descended into floods of tears. There was nothing I could do with the poor boy - he would not eat a morsel, so Wejdy sat close to him and talked to him gently for over an hour. Mohammed said the reason for his tears and refusal of food was because of his older brother of whom he was terrified - he had tried to shoot Mohammed before.
Several days later, Mohammed admitted that the tears was nothing to do with his brother, they were just because Omar had not woken up and come to eat with him and he missed him. Now, Mohammed is not a bad boy. He tries to help and guide the smaller boys well. Once he even tried to stop Bashir being kidnapped by a gang. He tries so hard. But he still does the full range of 'drugs' - thinner, glue and tablets. But he is kindly and sweet.
Omar too, although 19, likes a good cry. He often feels sorry about something naughty he has done and will look for someone to hug, tears rolling down his face, making his long dark eyelashes look even longer when they are wet. He knows very little English but always manages "I'm sorry, I'm sorry'.
There are always tears, upset and drama with the boys. But there have always been plenty of moments of sheer happiness and joy which make it all worthwhile - I treasure them all.
There were only ever a few girls on the street, thankfully - you have heard of three of them - Zeinab, Zimin and Doa. All 3 of them are prostitutes. Zimin, 12, used to hang around with Doa, also 12. In the deeply troubled country of Iraq, predominantly Muslim, we find two 12 year old girls selling themselves.
Zimin had run away from home and had cut her hair short to look like a boy in case her father came looking for her. She would live in one of the children's' homes - either Child House or House of Mercy for a spell and then come back to the streets and then go back to one of the children's' homes and so on. She also used to sleep in the Americans' tank by the Palestine Hotel a lot. None of the boys ever slept in there - just Zimin and it was known that soldier(s) were having sex regularly with both her and Doa. The last news we had about her was that she was back in the House of Mercy in Sadr City.
Doa is hard, nasty and rough. She will regularly beat up the other boys and girls. And she is tiny. Throughout the summer she was hanging out with Zeinab on Saduun Street and by Karamana Roundabout in Kerrada - her 'boyfriend', Ruda, 12, had come out of the boys' home in Al Wazerya to visit her for a week or so - he was having a time of it too - high on glue every time I saw him and refusing to go back. In the end he'd had enough and agreed to return. I had spent the week refusing to buy him food, saying that there was plenty of food in Al Wazerya and it worked. Doa went home for a bit too, but not for long. She reappeared on the streets, and then went home again. I did not see her for over a month before I left Iraq - hopefully she was still living at home.
Zeinab, 22, hardened by a life on the streets, is nothing like as bad or as mean as Doa, 10 years her junior. I have always found Zeinab to be polite, smiley and pleasant and she does not have the nasty reputation that Doa carries, about whom I could tell story after story. Poor Zeinab, her face is a badly scarred from a knife attack. Throughout the summer I saw her a few times here and there, usually up on Saduun Street, and then she disappeared. Apparently, around a month earlier, she had been sitting on Saduun Street with Mohammed Saduun others when a car had pulled up and some men jumped out and grabbed her. Mohammed Saduun and others tried to wrestle her from their grip to no avail and Zeinab was dragged off to the car. Further up the street she somehow managed to jump out of the car, but her attackers/kidnappers shot her in the leg as she ran away.
Luckily, Mohammed Saduun and Co was not far behind and they whisked her off to hospital for treatment. Then we heard nothing for a time - Zeinab was not around central Baghdad - until we bumped into her younger sister, Fatin, in Kerrada. She told us that Zeinab had married and moved back to Kirkuk. I just hope it's true and I hope she is happier and has a better life now.
The people of Iraq have suffered long enough. Here I have just tried to highlight, with some examples, the tragedies that have occurred and that continue to happen. The children suffer most, even with the 'simple' things like the cuts in electricity. They wake up crying in the summer months when there is no electricity to run air-conditioning or fans. I have seen parents trying to comfort their restless babies on balconies in the middle of the night and walking their infants to the main road just to get some air from the breeze there in the blackout. The psychological scars and PTSD experienced by the whole population will only add to Iraq's problems. And the psychological difficulties faced by the children cannot bode well for the future.
The hard life the children faced from sanctions, war and ongoing occupation are building up in the form of the problems I have discussed here. Add to this the resentment they feel towards the West who they, although young, see as the bringer of all their suffering. America and Britain, through their ongoing bullying and criminal behaviour towards the nation of Iraq, have created a psychological catastrophe. This is manifesting itself in the children in violence, silence, tears and self-harm. What Iraq needs is an army, not of soldiers, but of psychologists and psychiatrists, armed not with guns, but with love and concern for this battered, suffering population.
All for now
Helen Williams in Amman, Jordan.