#5: How We Spend Our Days
Almost every day there are new rumours that a U.S. attack is coming soon. Once again a large group of the press was asked to leave. The hotel manager has bought a generator and we are starting to store dry foods and water. We even bought a bicycle! Yesterday the Iraqi dinar dropped another 20% in value. The eyes of our Iraqi friend, Sitar, teared up when he told us this. He simply cannot support his family under these conditions, despite his three jobs. There has been a slowdown on trips out of Baghdad because of military movement around the country. The international press sounds like there won’t be an attack for at least one or two months and two people I talked with hope there is still a way to avert war or delay it until next winter. No way to know from where we sit. Does anyone know?
Some times I feel like we are literally voices crying in the wilderness. And I am just a Cassandra, staffing a far outpost of the anti-war movement. (You will remember that Cassandra was given the blessing of seeing the future and the curse that no one would believe her – an impotent doomsayer.)
With the growing sound of the war drums it is easy to forget that we actually do some good here. We have developed relations with the media folks in Iraq. We bring them human-interest stories, introduce them to families and hold our own press conferences at water treatment plants, electrical facilities and cancer hospitals. It is important to mention that we get much better coverage from the European press than from our brethren from the U.S.
Our numbers are growing now with more short-term delegations coming through every 10 days or so. The holidays have given Americans some free time. There are also short-term delegations from Canada, Italy and Japan who work with us on setting up special interfaith religious services, candle-light vigils, demonstrations, and other creative actions to emphasize the cost of war on human life.
Our long-term presence here makes these short-term visits more effective. Hopefully we also give a boost to the anti-war efforts back home. We send our articles, stories and emails. But again are we just voices in the wilderness?
We pray ever day that more and more people are beginning to realize how dangerous an attack on Iraq will be to the whole world: more terrorism, more violence in Israel/Palestine, a weakening of the United Nations, the growth of fundamentalists of all persuasions, higher risk of biological or nuclear war, a global depression, growing hubris and imperialistic notions in the U.S. and of course the unforeseen blowback this will all cause and the time we will spend trying to end what we didn’t prevent. And what about the cost to our souls? Well, you all have heard “Rabia’s rant” before, think of it as a reminder of the talking points you can use to persuade your politicians and corporate heavy-weights to “say no to war”.
Our days at this outpost are busy visiting families, schools and small shops. We have more meetings than any of us like. But as we grow more numerous they seem necessary to support each other and ourselves and avoid mistakes that could threaten the mission or our lives.
We have interviews almost every other day. The most recent one was with Dr. Said Al Mousawi, former Iraq Ambassador to the United |Nations. He acknowledged that Iraq “has not been perfect, we have made mistakes, but we are coming out of 700 years of occupation. We have to learn about human rights and civil society. You could have helped us, instead of arming first our enemy and then us” – he is referring here to the U.S. arms sales first to Iran and than to Iraq as we tried to pit each country against the other to keep both weak. He claimed that until 1990 no country in the Gulf was as good on education, health and women’s rights as Iraq. Of course he avoided the facts of the 1980 attack on Iran, the gassing of the Kurds in northern Iraq and the attack on Kuwait in 1990. For him the “real human rights violation is the Iraqi sanctions”. Yes, the sanctions are a human rights violation, but does this make Iraqi violations any less real? In truth nobody has clean hands.
None of this is excusable. There is no higher moral ground for anyone to claim. Only the common sense of avoiding more war. What I am certain of at my core is that more violence will only beget more violence. It is not possible as some neo-liberals are arguing for the U.S. to use violence “benignly” to clean up the world.
One of our delegates asked Dr. Al Mousawi about the utility of our presence here. He has lived in the West and was genuinely positive. “You send the message to Iraqis and the world that all Americans do not submit to war mongering and that many of you are seeking peace. What more can you do?” What more indeed?
As I write this the latest rumour comes: the U.S. is about to declare Iraq in “material breach” of the U.N. resolution 1441. The horizon darkens and I am speechless. This is not the world we dreamed about.
With faith and humility,
Rabia Elizabeth Roberts