Cathy -- Letters to friends or ... -- 04.18.03
The entries which follow, were recently published online as a part of a series called Iraq diaries (http://electroniciraq.net/news/iraqdiaries.shtml) on the website set up by Voices in the Wilderness and Electronic Intifada.
The last Journalisms we sent out were letters from Rachel Corrie, so it is difficult to send a subsequent text that matches the intensity, courage, and sadness that was contained in those correspondences.
The following letters were selected because they are journals, letters, of a first hand nature, a "micro" perspective on the situation in Iraq. Little bits of the everyday, a television broadcast of George Bush during the military's full scale incusions into Baghdad, a cab driver noting his former bank, ... . If you are interested in reading more accounts like this, please visit the link provided above.
Also we should note that less than 24 hours after issuing a press release (http://electroniciraq.net/news/674.shtml) highlighting the failures of the U.S. military's attempts to oversee humanitarian intervention in Iraq, Voices in the Wilderness was banned from meeting with the U.S. Civil Military Operations Center, or with international journalists working out of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad.
If the freedom to critique U.S. policies in Iraq regarding humanitarian issues is being curtailed already, then exactly what does this mean for building "democracy" there?
------------------------- Letter 1
There will be No Victors in this War
Cathy Breen, Iraq Peace Team
10 April 2003
What to tell you, I feel so anguished. It seems as though a corner has been turned. This morning as someone from our group was on their balcony listening to BBC, others of us were positioned on the other side of the hotel looking at the Jumhurriya bridge about 1 or 1 1/2 miles away. The streets in this area were pretty much deserted with the exception of an occasional car.
As we watched we were hearing on BBC that US led coalition tanks were crossing the bridge. We could see and hear explosions around us, but also there was smoke from explosions and artillery fire near the bridge; planes overhead and bombs dropping all around. Suddenly there was a great explosion and we were able to see smoke from a corner of the Palestine hotel across the way. It had been hit. This is where all of the press people in Baghdad are staying. I later heard that someone from Reuters had been hit.
There is a deep sadness overshadowing all of this. When I asked an Iraqi friend about his family, if they were well, he answered me in a voice filled with a deep sadness and resignation. "It is my country, it is my country!" He went on to say that he hopes there will not be civil war. This is something everyone here fears now.
After our conversation I began to separate a large and weighty package of dense dates into smaller plastic bags, thinking folks here would be glad to have them. Even the few vegetable stores will be closed after today I heard, and there will be no possibility to get fresh vegetables. It was a task that I welcomed, slow and methodical, allowing my thoughts to settle.
I realized more clearly than ever before, there are no victors in this war. There are no victors. Just senseless death and killing on both sides. Grieving families left to pick up the pieces. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by two great explosions, and I left the dates to run downstairs to see what had happened.
To my surprise, Mr. Bush was on the TV giving an address from the Oval office I believe. It was very difficult to follow his words as it was being translated into Arabic. There is no electricity presently as the hotel's large generator broke down yesterday. However there is a small generator downstairs that permitted this television transmission. I sat down to listen surrounded by Iraqi friends. No one spoke. After struggling for a time to understand what was being said, I finally stood to leave when I heard Mr. Bush speak about having a "vision for peace."
I was sitting in view of a soft-spoken elderly Iraqi gentleman with whom I've had an occasional conversation. As I watched the dignity with which he held himself, my heart broke. I can only imagine what it must be like for countless Iraqis to be subjected now to an occupation of their proud country by a foreign power, especially one that has so ruthlessly bombed and continues to bomb and destroy their proud country. Now they will be faced with watching their country's oil and resources be divided up, and with possible civil war.
Last night I heard that the U.S. military is bringing not only embedded press with them when they enter, but also 3,000 Iraqis who very well might become "embedded dancers" frolicking in the streets to demonstrate how jubilant Iraqis are to be "liberated." Should this happen, we only hope that there will be a few journalist who will document the truth. The feeling here is anything but joyous and jubilant.
Last night in my journal I wrote, "How could either of our countries allow so much power to be given to one person?" I was thinking of the respective leaders of each country. I place the greater burden on the U.S. because we claim to have a democracy. Again I will say with such a heaviness of heart, there will be no victors in this war. Tragically we in the states have forced this war on the Iraqi people, a people who only want peace. Dear God, I don't know how I'll bear it if we in the States now take on a triumphal attitude and declare ourselves victors and liberators of the Iraqi people.
I hope you are all well, as well as can be expected. I think we are all in the same boat.
Much love to you all. Please God this will get off to you.
------------------------- letter 2
"Why, why, why?"
Cathy Breen, Iraq Peace Team
17 April 2003
I awoke to the penetrating smell of human sewage. Later downstairs the smell of rotting food from the hotel waste assaulted me. Yesterday as Cynthia and I walked over to the Al Dar hotel to visit with folks there we had to walk through the sludge of human waste at one point. A short time later I was down in the lobby with two friends from NGOs who are in relief work. They expressed some of their concerns to me. On the bright side some of the local clinics are up and running they said, but medications for conditions such as hypertension and diabetes are no longer available. Under the previous government, people would come on a monthly basis to receive these drugs. Additionally Iraq had an excellent system for control of serum and other products before distribution. This system is no longer in effect, and our friends are very worried about contaminated goods being distributed and used. They are in desperate need for equipment to test these products.
We have heard that cholera has erupted in Hilla, which needs to be confirmed. We spoke about the emergency situation here in Baghdad of electricity, waste, sewage and potable water. They told us of an area called Abu Ghraib, a large dairy farming area with the government's milk factories nearby. During the conflict the farmers and their livestock were caught in the middle of Iraqi and US army fighting. Many civilians together with their livestock were reportedly killed, and now the stench of rotting flesh is unbearable. They had heard that the area is being bulldozed.
We decided to meet later in the day as these friends had meetings to get to. After consulting with Kathy, it seemed a good idea to walk over to the Military Operational Services, which are based in the Palestine hotel only a stones throw away. We had to pass through the Coalition Force's control right in front of our hotel, showing ID and being frisked. At the control center we spoke first with a Staff Sgt. who told us that Lt. Cnl. Van Nordiem was out and unavailable. As we sat down to wait, Major Frank Simone came over to speak with us. He explained that the priorities they are working on are: Medical, Electrical, Sewage and Water, Law Enforcement, Oil and Telecommunications. They are trying to identify local leaders within each functional area, form communities in each area and get people back to work.
Upon questioning, he seemed to be aware that the electricity grid in Baghdad is intact and that it is the high velocity lines which were hit and need to be attended to. No, he didn't know if or when these will be repaired. I asked him what was being done about the sewage and garbage disposal in the meantime, an emergency situation that could explode into a health crisis of epidemic proportions at any moment. He didn't know, moreover he was unable to advise us as to how we could get this information. A nice guy, he said that they were working 20 hours a day. For him this seemed to be a satisfactory answer. As we left the hotel, we ran into journalists from the U.S. that we know and challenged them to follow up on and confirm the cholera and the bulldozing stories.
After returning from the Military Operations Center I was overjoyed to find our friend Prof. Saad Al Hassani in the lobby with Cynthia. We had been able to sit in on his modern drama class on more than one occasion in the past. We were able to sit together unrushed and catch up on the last few weeks. His family is safe and living with relatives, as their own house is unlivable due to a missile, which hit next to their house. His son Ali who stopped talking during the Gulf war and whose subsequent stuttering required years of treatment, seems to be doing alright, as is their younger son Yassar, 13 years old. Lamia, his wife and also a university teacher have not fared as well. The bombing and now the occupation have taken their toll on her. She cannot bear the presence of foreign troops in her beloved country. She wants to leave the country, and it seems that for her own emotional and psychological well being she should. Saad on the other hand is determined to stay on with his students. He broke down more than once as he told us about the "total destruction of the university." He told us that his books, all his memories, and his students' theses have gone up in smoke. "They burned the national library too." Like many others, he is struggling deep within himself to understand how this destruction can be happening. He too is asking the question "why, why, why?" He said, "The people who are doing this are not Iraqis, at least not the Iraqi people that we know." He said that it was all "too big for him," that he has no words to express his rage, his "absolute anger." Saad has found work with MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Co.) and NBC as a translator. He told us yesterday that he and others from NBC had barely escaped with their lives when they visited the Mustanceria University to see the destruction there. After they had viewed the burning and trashing of the University, masked "hooligans" approached them with knives and machine guns. They retreated hastily to their car just in time to avoid being jumped.
The anguished stories of his recent experiences poured out. He and a friend witnessed dead soldiers lying on the ground. One had a grenade in his hand, another a machine gun. Stepping over the dead bodies were men coming out of a building, their arms laden with looted goods. "Picture it," he said, "men defending their country while others were pillaging it." He also related having watched a U.S. medical officer operate in open air on an Iraqi man with a shotgun wound to his leg. After packing up his surgical equipment, the doctor and Saad spoke together at length. The doctor told him that he was going to leave as soon as possible. He couldn't reconcile the idea of being the cause of injury and destruction and then trying to repair the wounds.
Later in the afternoon Kathy and I were able to drive out to visit Amal. As we drove through the city we saw crowds of people standing around banks that had been recently ravaged. Torn money was strewn in the streets. Mohammed, our taxi driver and friend said almost matter-of-factly as we passed one bank "That is my bank."
At the home of Amal's two woman friends where she is currently staying - first her home was damaged by the bombing and remains uninhabitable, and then her craft shop was completely stripped bare by looters - we found her inconsolable. She said that it is only her writing now that keeps her from taking her life. We were grateful that our presence seemed to give all of these dear friends the opportunity to vent their anger, tears and despair.