June/July delegation in Iraq, 2003
Following up their Jan/Feb 2003 visit to Iraq as a pre-emptive strike for PEACE, CODEPINK co-Founders Medea Benjamin, Jodie Evans, Patricia Ackerman and Gael Murphy returned to Iraq to report on the Iraqi's struggle for democracy in the face of ongoing US and British occupation. They also set up the newly formed International Occupation Watch Center. They arrived home from their journey with stories and images of this war-torn country and its people. Supporters joined them at events in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Their mission was chronicled in the Journal from Iraq, which showcased their personal journeys and allowed supporters to remain informed of the true state of affairs in this country still at war.
Message from Jodie Evans in Iraq
On Monday, to hear stories I bring home from Baghdad. It is hard here, a war zone yet the war is over, hot with no electricity, dusty with no water, danger everywhere that may never appear, fear in everyone's veins as people are now being shot point blank in the head.Yet the Iraqi people are the same generous, kind, delightful people I met in February. I have just returned from a very difficult neighborhood in Baghdad. I walked up to a women talking with intensity and volume about the horror with the lack of water and electricity, hundreds of homeless children, and the sewage at our feet. She couldn't talk fast enough to explain the problem and demand a solution... she was talking to our interpreter, when she turned to me her face lit up with a warm greeting smile--in the midst of all of it she said to me, "welcome." She continued to plead with all of us, babies are dying, they are all miserable. Why can't the Americans give us our electricity??? I have no answer...
You can catch some of our messages at the website, I look forward to seeing you when I return.
Blessings and please pray that the darkness be lifted here...
Messages from Medea Benjamin in Iraq
June 27th, 2003
Our entry point to Iraq was Jordan, where we arrived after 16 hours of plane rides. Gael Murphy from Code Pink in Washington DC and I are the “advance team”, with a larger group scheduled to join us in Baghdad in early July. We are coming as emissaries of different US peace groups Global Exchange, Code Pink, Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the umbrella coalition United for Peace and Justice.
The purpose of our trip is to lay the groundwork for setting up an International Occupation Watch Center in Baghdad that would get out reliable information to the global peace movement about the actions of the occupying forces and the US companies. The center would also support emerging Iraqi independent groups and serve as a hub for international visitors who want to support Iraqi efforts to end the occupation and truly help Iraqis rebuild their country.
There are two ways to get to Iraq from Jordan option is limited, however, as there are still no commercial flights. There are UN planes that sometimes take staff from humanitarian organizations when there is extra space. But they are often booked or get canceled at the last minute.
The main route to Baghdad is overland. This is the way we had entered Iraq on our last trip in February, just before the war. Then, it was a grueling 16-hour drive across the desert, but the only harrowing aspect of the trip was that cars and oil tankers would fly by at 100 miles an hour and risk smashing into each other or careen off the road. Now there was another factor to worry about fall of Saddam Hussein and the ensuing chaos, the road has become part of the wild, wild west, with gunmen shooting at cars and robbing the passengers. We were told that there had been five robberies on the road in the past week. We were also told that the US military refuses to take responsibility for patrolling the road, so it¹s no man¹s land.
We stopped by the fancy Intercontinental Hotel and ran into an ABC film crew who had a 5-vehicle convoy, including armed ex-New Zealand special forces, leaving for Iraq at dawn. They had plenty of room in their vehicles and wanted to invite us along, but they weren't allowed to because of the liability. They suggested we hire our own car and driver and join their caravan. We figured there was safety in numbers, especially since they had armed guards for protection.
For $300, we hired an Iraqi driver, who picked us up in his big white GMC suburban at 4:30am.
We met up with the ABC crew, and we were positioned as car number 4, just in front of the armed vehicle. We were told that the most dangerous part was the final leg, about 150 miles before Baghdad. At that point, we were to halt for a short pit stop, then race ahead Each of their cars had a walky-talky and flack jackets that the crew was encouraged to put on in the final lap. There were no extras for us, but I couldn¹t imagine wearing one anyway. I figured that the thieves were interested in robbing us, not killing us, and wondered if the danger factor wasn¹t a bit exaggerated to drive up the price of the overland trip.
The convoy started out towards the border, which was about a 3-hour drive, with another 6 hours from the border to Baghdad. An hour into the drive, the last car fuel line. We kept stopping every ten minutes to try to fix it, until the head of logistics decided to call in a replacement vehicle.
Our Iraqi driver spoke just enough English to let us know that he thought it was dangerous to wait because he didn¹t want to enter Baghdad in the dark. He also said that if we wanted to travel with a caravan, we could hook up with other cars at the border. We weighed the pros and cons of staying with the ABC crew. Besides the wait, we wondered if perhaps their souped up vehicles with flashing lights and ABC signs in the windows sent out a message “ Rob me, rob me expensive equipment.” We decided to venture off on our own.
The border crossing leaving Jordon was a chaotic mess. Unlike our pre-war trip in February when there were only a few cars and oil tankers on the road, now there was a sea of vehicles--rickety old cars and modern suburbans, trucks and trailers loaded with plywood, wheat, electronic goods. The US military had declared that with the exception of weapons and drugs, anything could be brought into the country duty-free for a period of three months. Since 13 years of sanctions had starved the country of many goods, the floodgates were now open. The post-war reality, however, is that most Iraqis have no jobs or purchasing power, so the bulk of the supplies coming in was to house and care for the US military.
Our first encounter with US troops came when we crossed the Iraqi border. Two red-faced boys with fuzzy cheeks who couldn't have been over 18 ran up to greet us, happy to find English speakers. At 9am, the day was already promising to be a scorcher and these poor kids, one from Kansas and the other from Arkansas, were dripping with sweat as they stood in the sun in their combat boots, flack jackets and thick helmets, holding AK47s.
As we waited for our passports to be processes, we talked to a dozen more soldiers. They didn¹t speak the language or understand the culture. Their bodies weren¹t conditioned for the oppressive heat that shot up to 120 degrees in the shade. They were sick of eating tasteless military rations (“What I¹d give for a REAL meal,” one of the boys said wistfully as he allowed me to sample his MREs). They were mostly young kids dreaming about their girlfriends and families and air-conditioning and hamburgers. All they wanted was to be sent back home-- “Yesterday wouldn't be soon enough,” said a freckle-faced recruit from Wisconsin.
They had come to fight a war and now found themselves patrolling the border, searching for stolen goods or fake passports. While they were good-natured to us, they were gruff with the Iraqis. They barked orders at them in English, with hand signals. “Stop, pull your car over, get out, get on line.”
The Iraqis waiting in line for their entry stamps looked tired, hungry and exasperated at having their country's border controlled by 18-year-old foreigners strutting around with guns or sitting atop heavily armored humvees and tanks. The whole scene was unnerving, a flashback to the days of British colonialism. The US weaponry might be modern, but the model of occupying someone else's country is definitely an old one. Just from watching the scene at the border, you could smell trouble.
Once we cleared the border, we still had a six-hour drive into Baghdad. We had been told that at the gas station after the border crossing, vehicles waited to hook up with other vehicles to make the trip together. But our driver, Razak, didn¹t want to be slowed downed by a big caravan. He hooked up with only one other car. We worried that we didn¹t have the safety of numbers, but by that time we were pretty much resigned to do whatever our driver told us. He had made the trip many times before and seemed to know the lay of the land.
On his advice, we stopped to hide our money and other valuables in the crooks and crannies of the SUV--the air vents, the side rests, the cracks in the back of the seats.
Our two cars drove through what our driver called “Ali Baba land” at about 120 miles an hour. Whizzing by the road from time to time we could see the debris of war---the carcasses of tanks, overturned buses, bomb craters, abandoned houses. At about 5pm to Baghdad.
Our hotel, the Andaluz Apartments, is the same place we stayed when we were here in February. The owners and staff greeted us with joy and open arms. We had become very close during our last visit, as it was an incredibly tense time just before the US invasion. We were delighted to find them all in one piece, but they told us their terrifying stories of living through the invasion. The manager's home had been bombed by mistake, and he was still in the process of fixing it. Just across the road is the Palestine Hotel, where US troops had been stationed and where several journalists had been killed by US firepower.
When we asked about conditions right now, their biggest complaints were about two things: the lack of security and the lack of electricity. The security problem is mainly the result of the chaos the invasion unleashed. With no government and no authority, there were thieves constantly on the prowl. “Ali Babas” had already looted and gutted just about every government building, and now they were breaking into businesses and homes, even pulling people from their cars to steal the vehicle. Stories of girls being kidnapped and raped made many women afraid to leave their homes. Gunfire could be heard in different parts of the city every night. There was an 11pm curfew, but most people were in their homes by 7pm. In fact, many businesses were now closing at 3pm. Without security, said one of the staff, we have nothing.
The other major complaint was the lack of electricity, The gas pipeline that feeds the power stations in Baghdad had been bombed during the war, and since the war, looters or sabateurs steal the electric wires and topple the pylons. The shortage of electricity is exacerbated by the suffocating heat. Without fans or air-conditioning, people have trouble working and sleeping. Without refrigeration, they can¹t stop food from getting rancid. Without electricity, the water pumps don¹t work. Without electricity, the gas can¹t be pumped from the gas stations. Without electricity, the traffic lights don¹t work and the roads are clogged and utterly chaotic. And without electricity, the streets are dark at night, making it easier for the thieves to roam at will.
The complaints about security and electricity that we heard the moment we walked into our hotel were complaints we would hear repeated over and over again during our stay. The other preoccupation was the lack of jobs, with hundreds of thousand of people of work. And for the lucky few who have jobs, the salaries are totally inadequate to compensate for the rising prices.
It¹s true that there are many positive changes since the downfall of Saddam Hussein¹s regime. Iraqis are for the most part delighted that Saddam is gone. We met people who had family members tortured and killed by the prior regime who, for the first time, are able to openly grieve and seek justice. We met Iraqis returning from decades in exile who are overflowing with emotion at being able to come back home. Iraqis are just discovering the newfound freedoms like freedom of speech, assembly and association. We accompanied workers at the Palestine Hotel who went on strike and successfully got rid of the hotel¹s abusive general manager. We walked with women from a newly formed women¹s group demanding their rights and a say in the new government. Young students who had little access to outside information are now saving their money to get on-line at one of the new Internet cafes.
But despite these positive openings, most of the people we meet say their lives were better before least there was order. Before at least they had jobs and salaries, electricity and water. Before, at least women were not afraid to walk the streets.
A common refrain is “How come the Americans were so prepared and competent when it came to making the war but so utterly unprepared and incompetent when it comes to rebuilding?” Every day, the US is loosing ground here in Iraq. There is an average of 13 attacks a day on the occupation forces, and there is less and less sympathy among Iraqis when US soldiers are attacked. To many, the words freedom and liberation now seem like a cruel joke.
One of our visits in Baghdad was to the famous circle where the statute of Saddam Hussein had come tumbling down, the scene that was showed over and over on US television. Now, a new, rather indecipherable three-headed statue by a young Iraqi artist was in its place. But curiously, on the column just beneath the statue, someone had written in bright red paint and imperfect English, “All Odonne¹. Go home.”
Sitting around the circle in the brutal heat were money-changers with thick wads of Saddam Hussein bills, which is ironically still the currency being used. Behind the money changers were mounds of barbed wire and US soldiers sitting atop ferocious-looking tanks, weapons readied. This was now a common scene on the streets of Baghdad. Armored vehicles. US soldiers in camouflage uniform, guns pointing at the locals. Checkpoints where Iraqis get enraged when male US soldiers check Iraqi females.
Two elderly money-changers in long flowing robes and white caps were sitting at their outdoor stand and we started chatting. They asked where we were from. “Oh, America,” one answered, crossing his arms against his chest, “I love America.” “How about the soldiers?” we asked, pointing behind them. The man who “loved America” said how happy they were to be free of Saddam Hussein, but the other man pointed to the column with the graffiti. “So you think the soldiers should go home to America?” I asked. Both men broke out in big grins. “Yes, Saddam gone. That¹s good. Soldiers should go, too. Many Iraqis don¹t like them here.”
They told us that if conditions in Iraq do not improve soon months, six months fundamentalists but ordinary Iraqis who would fight to get rid of the Americans. “We have a 9000 year-old culture, you have a 200 year-old culture,” one of the men said, “I think we can figure out our own future.”
Iraqis are puzzled why the United States, a country that can make bombs so smart they target a particular building from 30,000 miles in the air, can¹t give Iraqis electricity or create a functioning economy. Some are so puzzled that they have concluded that the United States is purposely trying to destroy every aspect of the economy so that they can come in and rebuild it in their own image. Others attribute the mess to incompetence, arrogance or stupidity.
No matter the reason, in this land of 120-degree weather and no rain, the US is sinking deeper and deeper into a quagmire. The Iraqis are a patient, generous people. For lack of an alternative, most are still willing to give the US more time. But the clock is ticking and patience is wearing thin.
Messages from Gael Murphy in Iraq
July 21, 2003
To say the least, it has been a moving experience. Several of us, including Jodie Evans, had gone on a Code Pink:Women for Peace delegation in February to let the Iraqis know that many Americans did not believe that a pre-emptive attack on their country was justified. We spent two weeks talking with Iraqis, demonstrating, marching, and holding vigils. It was also our aim to bring our anti-war message to the international and US press, something we felt we could do best from Iraq. We succeeded in this, obtaining world-wide media coverage of our trip and also considerable mainstream U.S. media coverage upon our return. This contributed to letting the world know that in the U.S. there was strong and committed opposition to the war. Unfortunately, despite the best collective efforts, the world did not succeed in stopping the war and the resulting damage has been devastating on many levels, most especially for the Iraqis.
On this most recent trip we found a situation so surreal it almost defies description. There is "a mountain of problems". We spent many hours interviewing people on the streets, in their homes, offices and stores. We took many pictures and hours of videotape. The occupying forces and their heavy artillery vehicles and tanks are everywhere. The physical, political, cultural damage has been nearly total from both bombing and widespread looting and burning. Based on our observations and reports from others, with the exception of the Ministries of Trade and of Oil, most of the Ministries and their associated public institution have been destroyed or severely damaged, including any records. Many Iraqis believe that the U.S. at best allowed the looting and burning, and at worst facilitated much of it in cooperation with Kuwaitis who accompanied them into Iraq during the war. The majority of public sector employees, including doctors, professors, and technicians have been fired because of their affiliation with the prior regime. Consequently an estimated 1.8 million people are unemployed. Sixty percent of public sector employees were women. The result is that knowledgeable Iraqis are not able to rebuild or repair their own systems and the expatriots now put in charge of rebuilding have no prior knowledge of these systems to be able to work effectively to quickly restore the most basic services.
Iraqis have no reliable electricity or water and are suffering under temperatures of 120 degrees and rising through August. Sabotage of electrical installations is frequent. Very few telephones work. In one of the richest oil producing countries in the world, gasoline, diesel, butane and kerosene are in critically short supply or unavailable. Diesel, machinery, vehicles, and other stolen goods are being smuggled out of the country, as no border is secure. The main markets and government stores have been destroyed. Many people have been thrown out of their homes and are squatting in abandoned buildings. Downtown traffic is at a near standstill because there are neither traffic police nor signals. Most of the goods now available in stores are imported from neighboring countries. Organized crime is rampant and increasing, and some quarters of the city have been taken over by gangs, preventing ordinary citizens from venturing in, fearing for their lives. Every day we heard someone's story about being carjacked at gunpoint. The lucky ones survive these frequent occurrences. Arms are available in the open market for just a few dollars. "Everyone" is armed, including children either to commit crimes or protect themselves from crime. At least two parties have armed militias. Most people return hurriedly to their homes by 4 p.m. Many stores are closed and those remaining open shut down by 2 p.m. There is no effective police force to protect citizens from daily occurrences of robbery, murder, rape, carjacking, reports of kidnapping and continued looting. Only a small percentage of the police force is allowed to carry a weapon. Four hundred thousand soldiers are now unemployed and remain unpaid. It is said that Saddam loyalist are recruiting and paying Iraqis to join their opposition.
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the current U.S.-appointed government, is based in Saddam Hussein's palace. Most of their business is conducted within this heavily guarded compound and the few outings into the community are done with significant military escort. Relations between the CPA and the UN are strained. We heard that many of the UN employees are leaving Iraq as their role is being diminished by the CPA. A kind of censorship on local media has been imposed preventing journalists from publishing any criticisms of the CPA. Meanwhile the Iraqis have no sense of what the future holds for them. A first glimmer of hope since the fall of Saddam is that the CPA recently selected a 25-member Governing Council of Iraqis to lead the process of forming a new government and drafting a constitution. Iraqis pray that this Council will be able to move the country toward some kind of security and stability, and eventual self rule. However, many of the Council members are Iraqi exiles who lack credibility among Iraqis. Some are known criminals. Paul Bremer, the Pentagon-appointed head of the CPA holds veto power over the decisions of the Council, which adds to the skepticism Iraqis feel about the Council. Most of the Iraqis we spoke with want the occupying forces to leave as quickly as possible, but not before their safety is secured. In their minds, some authority is better than a power vacuum that could lead to in-fighting and bloodshed and thoroughly uncontrolled violent crime.
We heard of many instances of human rights abuses by U.S. military forces, such as indiscriminate shooting of civilians, neighborhood searches and illegal seizures of property, detaining citizens without charging them and without giving them access to lawyers or family visits, soldiers stealing cash and jewelry during body and house searches. We often heard from Iraqis of soldiers' rude and inhumane behavior toward them. Damages to homes and accidental deaths of Iraqi civilians occurring during neighborhood raids were also cited. Iraqis believe that many of the reservists are in Iraq to make money and some refer to them as mercenaries, not liberators.
US Soldiers reported working 12-hour shifts in unbearably hot weather in helmets, full uniform and gear, including forty-pound flack jackets. Many soldiers wear gloves to be able to handle their blazing hot machine guns under the sun. Sleeping quarters are often on top of tanks outside to mitigate the sweltering indoor heat at night. One company is based in a stadium and soldiers are expected to sleep on mite-ridden cots. Many told us they had worked more than two weeks without a break. They are limited to eating ration meals in plastic bags. Most of them have little, if any, normal contact with civilians. They are scared and very short-tempered with Iraqis. They patrol the streets on foot, stand at checkpoints and travel the city, all the while exposed to gunfire and rocket attacks. When we were there at least one soldier was killed each day. It is estimated that the US military is being attacked on average of 25 times per day. There is widespread frustration at being forced to extend their tours of duty in Iraq. The expectation that they work under these harsh physical and psychological conditions puts them and Iraqi civilians at greater risk. This is further complicated by the fact that they have received minimal training in handling civilian affairs in a radically foreign culture from their own.
I don't want to end this without saying some of the positives that are occurring. Saddam Hussein is out of power and Iraqis are free to speak out. Numerous newspapers are being published. Marches and protests organized by veterans, unemployed workers, women's groups, soldiers and workers among others can be seen daily. Some Families have been able to close the chapter on missing loved ones who disappeared during the prior regime. There is considerable political organizing as evidenced by the emergence of between 67 and 120 political parties. Some communities have been able to decrease the chaos in their communities somewhat through local organizing. We received an amazing response to the idea of the Center both from the Iraqi and international NGO communities in Iraq, as well as the UN. Even individuals working on the humanitarian assistance side of the CPA were encouraged at the launching of the Center. We have found outstanding Iraqis to run the Center and to participate in our collective actions.
I will stop now as there is so much more to tell: I'll wait to share further with our more formal report. Suffice it to say that this war was a tragic undertaking, and it will take generations to undo the damage that it has brought in its wake. I continue to have hope that we can change the course of things in Iraq and hold our government accountable, but we have to keep the faith and fight for what is right and just.
Messages from Jodie Evans and the CODEPINK Team
July 2, 2003
We are finally in Amman, a beautiful city in the desert with elegant stone buildings and lots of trees, even evergreens. The air is sweet and soft to the touch. What a glorious feeling it was to walk into the dark night and look up at the sliver of the moon, a planet not far away and the delicate breeze on my skin. There is a different air here and a different pace. Everywhere we stop is a conversation and always with a political tone. The hotel is old and small and for activists, $20 a night for two. We just walked about 15 minutes uphill to an internet cafe open until 4am, downstairs in a dark hallway. We are the only women, only whites and Hotel California is playing while the others gathered sing to it. Quite bizarre. The plane ride was wonderful, I sat next to a Palestinian, born in Kuwait, Canadian citizen, educated at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, lived in New York for 12 years as a marketing rep and now lives in Amman working for the same company, preferring the quiet days and the beauty of her surroundings. She is a student of Barbara Brennens healing work and hopes to be a social worker one day. We didn't stop talking for 11 hours, starting with my question, "What do you call home?" She understands the global community better than I, the world is her country.
We cross our fingers about the flight in the morning, Patricia is hungry so we are off. More from Baghdad later, just wanted you to know I am safe so far, but the stories of it heating up in Baghdad fill the streets.
Messages from Patricia Ackerman and the CODEPINK team
July 4, 2003
We arrived safely in Baghdad, although with a machine gun in the front seat beside the lead driver of the two-GMC convoy. Around Fallujah, there was a large army convoy with armored vehicles with gunners on top - one pointed our way, many bridges bombed along the route, burned out vehicles and detours from the wrecked highway. All the statues and portraits of Saddam are torn down. Bedoins still somehow tend their flocks in the midst of the 120 degree heat. There is gas, but long lines, many check points. Young, exhausted, strung out soldiers at the borders.
Once in Baghdad, gaping holes left in charred buildings, government facilities decimated, children playing in huge mounds of garbage, army everywhere. Soldiers at border extremely fraught, jumpy. On 110 degree day - 130 degree inside uniform. Another Hummer was blown up yesterday or the day before, and Saddam was on the news today telling the Iraqi people to resist or protect the resisters. Rumor has it he is in Baghdad.
Children run throughout the burned out facilities. Went to Baghdad Central (old convention center) to get cell phones and press releases. Talked extensively to many soldiers about how worn out and demoralized they are. Really human rights abuse to these boys and girls who sleep in extreme heat, some on wooden cots with mites/lice. Eat food from ration packs. Meanwhile free drycleaning/laundry for all NGOs sent to Kuwait, free internet, free cell phones courtesy of MCI.
Big July 4th party at the Palace where CPA and troops in tents reside. Have appointment tomorrow with one of Bremer's top women to talk about UN 1325. They are planning Iraqi women's conference here on 7/9, which only Iraqi women in country, no NGOs can attend. One later in summer, more open. Bremer is in a Saddam Palace suite, VIP section closed off behind flashing green light metal detector and green marble columns - just like OZ. Was said to be in bad mood today because of Saddam tape but did not deter him from attending the Fourth of July Party at the Palace Pool where soldiers were doing cannonballs in groups off the high dive. Hundreds of soldiers lounged, some in bathing suits, others in fatigues with AK47s slung over their backs. All-you-can-drink beer and BBQ for soldiers who were like little boys and girls frolicking in Master's treasure chest drinking down the spoils. Cannot describe it better than this for now, except to say that when the DJ started playing the Rolling Stones' "You can't always get what you want," we left before Bremer might have spoken (being in a bad mood and all), our having to be home before dark when the shooting is said to start. The last thing we saw was a half dozen Iraqi men in little waiter uniforms and funny blue boyscout hats standing at the perimeter waiting to clean up.
Happy Independence Day, Iraq - Welcome to American Democracy!
Messages from Jodie Evans and the CODEPINK Team
July 5, 2003
Iraq is in the middle of a mess, we should have given the control of their security to them immediately, it is months and the anarchy increases. There is no one in charge, which is worse, many are dying everyday and the crimes are enormous. Rape, kidnapping, looting, carjacking etc, the Iraqi are frustrated and angry. After the first Gulf War it was all back and working in a month and the damage was worse then. Why can't the Americans deliver on their promises??? Because they are in a compound distant from the problems, having not a clue how to solve even the smallest problem, throwing money at everything but not offering solutions. The Iraqi's have never had it so bad, "Is this what liberation looks like??? We don't want it, we never wanted it." They are beginning to understand that it wasn't really about freeing Iraqi's but about OIL, because that is all getting any attention. Solutions are offered to the lawlessness and turned down. They want the lawlessness because they say it will clean out the Baath party, yet it is not. Anything but I heard a story tonight that people are turning in claims only to be laughed at. The losses by the Iraqi people are enormous. They prefer life with Saddam to life with America. And at the same time they are the same generous, kind, authentic, heartful people we met in February.
The resistance gets more organized by the day, I hear that in churches money is being contributed to it-and it isn't Saddam loyalists, it is angry Iraqi's, humiliated Iraqi's.
Guns are for sale for $12.00, the streets are dangerous, there is nowhere that is safe, everyone is in by 8pm-which in February was when everyone was in the streets-the sounds filled the air of joy and music and weddings and... It is now filled with American music from the hotels with the starving, glue sniffing street children at the ankles of the too young GI's, hot and wanting only to be home, in as much terror as the Iraqi's as they sit like ducks at checking ID's.
Oh and the streets, an amazing study in traffic control, since there is no electricity there are no traffic lights. So you can only imagine the traffic situation, at lunch the jams are comical, and no one moves the stack is like pickup sticks, such a jumbled it is hard to untangle.
To reach anyone you must drive to them, as phones are still not working. Few have internet and only those with Government relationships have working cell phones. The American government released a report this week of their accomplishments after three months, it listed only that they had installed four doors on a schoolhouse and saved two from drowning. We have Government issue cell phones however, paid for by American $$, we were even told we can call home for just one half hour or we should have home call us.
Even with this disrespect, a level of disrespect that is profound, the Iraqi's show up at their work, continue to teach, to care for the sick, to take care of the basic needs, not even knowing if they will be paid.
I met the person in charge of creating the new government today, he is part of an American Corporation of Generals, not even part of the American Government, and he said he was replacing one dictatorship with another and that Iraq would experience four governments in the next two years. Given that none of the promises made have come to pass, I wonder what that means.
The violence increases, someone just ran in to tell of a shooting around the corner at the museum and a Turk spoke of a battle between the Turks and the American soldiers, who are getting more and more worn from their tasks.
The solution is not clear, but America's part in this mess is a tragedy.
love to all
Messages from Patricia Ackerman and the CODEPINK team
July 6, 2003
Today we spent the day at the CPA talking to the woman in charge of Bremer's gender taskforce. They are planning a meeting with 140 Iraqi women on the 9th of July that we will be able to attend. I gave her UN1325 in Arabic which she was very grateful to have. I am unsure why she did not already have it. We then spent a long time talking with an Iraqi woman who works as a translator. She said how describing the invasion was beyond her words. She kept talking about the noise, the inability to breathe. That she was locked out of Baghdad for weeks afterward. She is going to give us an interview. She showed us the enormous banquet rooms of the Palace out of which the CPA works, and said the Iraq people in her community had no idea Saddam was creating such opulence at the people's expense. Although, a proverb during the regime went, "If you keep a dog hungry, it will follow you forever." This was a way of explaining Saddam's hold on the people. It took her a week of standing in line and five interviews to get her translator job at the CPA for which she gets paid $10US a day. She cried often during our conversation and we were able to cry with her.
I then talked with a soldier from Tennessee who said he had no idea of how hard it would be here. He didn't even like to hunt. Another soldier, an African American woman, was reading Sister Souljah in the shuttle bus which runs from Information center to Palace. She said that there is racism and sexism as in any corporate environment. She is a psychologist and AA studies scholar and went into the service to afford to go to college. We talked to the Lt. Col. in charge of medical relief who is a veterinarian.
All around Baghdad there is chaos. The lights go off regularly although our hotel has two emergency generators. Last night snipers shot at the North gate of the military compound but no one was hurt. Police are unarmed against a civilian population with guns, drinking, drugs (especially heroin and Cocaine) are everywhere.) They have a yellow badge in English that says who they are. Children sniff glue on the road outside our hotel. Prostitutes gather at the North gate of the compound to wait for soldiers. The going rate is US$100. Women are kidnapped and trafficked throughout Iraq and beyond. One story our friend told us involved a 13yo being kidnapped, raped repeatedly and thrown in the streets after ten days barely alive. Tomorrow we meet with AID to talk about setting up programs to work with ptsd and trauma related to women of the grassroots population.
We then ran into the Coordinator for the four geographic sectors that works for Bremer/CPA. He said he expects several governments to take place in Iraq, starting with the appointed one in 2 weeks, then changing until finally elections. He like all the coordinators we have met is white, appearing in his sixties and from Texas. When asked about the role women will play in the reconstruction, he said we should not expect it to be better than in the USA. His company is made up of retired generals from the US military.
We then met with NGOs and UNDP about setting up our Occupation Watch Center. UNDP said that aid is not being distributed because of security issues. There is so much desperation in the community. Tomorrow we will go out and see for ourselves. There are conflicting stories. The news and WFP say they are delivering massive quantities but the women I have spoken to say everyone is starving, the hospitals have no supplies. There is shooting between Iraqis. The women say the looting has been so extensive and horrible. The rumors abound about who is responsible for the destruction.
Keeping the Iraqi People in the Dark, By Patricia Ackerman
July 9, 2003
Today was especially difficult. We have had three killings in the last three days of westerners. Others we know have happened to Iraqis but do not have the data on these. Two US troops were shot at pointblank range in the head, and a British journalist standing in front of the museum was killed by sharpshooter. There is a heightened military presence in the street although the word from the NGO coordinating organization is that both UN and CPA are in compounds. Five UN trucks have been attacked this week - 2 in the rural areas and 3 in Baghdad. No one was hurt but grenades exploded one UN vehicle, quite obvious with its bright blue body and red signage. The aid workers want to get out of here and are trying to get a budget for convoy security.
Our day began with an appointment with an amazing young Iraqi woman, publisher of the the first Iraqi women's newspaper who is opening an organization for the protection of women under the occupation. With the insanity and chaos caused by the CPA's destroying life in Iraq, enforced Sharia law is re-emerging and women are under siege. In some of the Shia areas women must fully veil or their children are not allowed to go to school. We also heard a story of a man who went to speak to an Imam after it was decreed that girls were no longer allowed to go to school further than the sixth grade. Since women are the only doctors allowed to treat women patients, he then asked how there would be women doctors if they are not to allowed to receive advanced education. The Imam did not know what to say. When the man left, he was beaten severely for embarrassing the Imam. Anyway, this woman we interviewed takes many cases and advocates or shelters women who are victimized by revenge rape or honor killings. She told a story of a family in the north where 9 children were raped as young as 11 yrs old and then immediately killed by family members in an honor killing. She says these acts of revenge are being committed against former Baathists. Today she was planning to go to the Iraqi police station where 5 women were being held after being raped. Her organization is part sanctuary, training program, shelter and activist center. She gave us an amazing 35 minute soundbite which we think should go to Democracy Now.
Afterwards we went to the UNDP for a gender task force meeting. UNIFEM regional coordinator from Amman was there and many UN and NGO reps, Iraqi and international. The subject was the Iraqi women's meeting called "The Voice of Women in Iraq." This meeting called by the CPA (according to them called by the UN. According to UN called by the CPA) to develop, behind closed doors, at the exclusion of the grassroots women's community of diaspora and in country women, the constitution in regard to the women of Iraq. The process of "including" women in the reconstruction "process", according to UN 1325, has been to speak to 7 Iraqi women by invitation, who have invited 73 others to engage in workshops at CPA on July 9. No other Iraqi women or NGO observers allowed. The meeting is closed even to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights which is an outrage.
However, that said, there will be another meeting of 300 Iraqi women, exile and local, as well as INGOs happening at the end of August also by invitation only. This was further discussed in the gender task force meeting which was excellent. The women are amazing, many Iraqi at the table. They are beyond offended by CPA at being left out. The process was initiated by Bremer's office, out of gender advisor, Margaret Badhi's office. She is from the UK and has two associates, one UK and the other state department.
We then went to Amal's riverside North Baghdad house, more beautiful than the center. Her windows were blown out during the bombing. We talked in her garden where she shared complete anguish about the lack of food, the bombing, the looting, the mafias, gangs, drug abuse, prostitution, lack of Iraqi products -there are now only Turkish, Syrian or Jordanian to be found. She mentioned the fate of the large natural park reserve across the river from her house, where the zoo once was before the invasion when the South African rights workers, according to her, took all the animals away to South Africa. She said that for a while a lion was living with her next door neighbor.
We are getting so many terrible reports about the troops and the overall lawlessness which the people say Saddam was able to control so well. They say it is worse under occupation than it ever was under Saddam.
Iraqis we have talked to feel certain that Americans are purposely keeping them in the dark literally without electricity in order to maintain the chaos which will ultimately allow CPA to crack down like they did the last time during the Gulf War, but worse. There are no services and the aid groups are about to pack up for lack of security.
What in the world will happen then?
Message from Medea Benjamin, following her trip to Iraq
Dear family and friends,
I'm on my way back to the US (in the Amsterdam airport) after an incredible trip to Iraq with the delegation of military families and veterans. We spent a week meeting with everyone from Ambassador Paul Bremer, the highest-ranking civilian in Iraq, to generals, US soldiers and all kinds of Iraqis. The delegates were wonderful and by the end of the week had formed a powerful bond with the Iraqi people. We did a lot of crying together, as well as dancing, eating and laughing. Fernando Suarez, a delegate who had lost his son in Iraq in March, met with parents who lost their sons at the hands of US troops. Fernando also brought thousands of letters of friendship from US schoolchildren that we distributed to Iraqi children in beautiful gatherings with hundreds of children shouting "No war, yes to peace; no war, yes to peace." He also had an intense experience going to the site of his son's death in the town of Diwaniya and gathering dirt from there to take home for his wife. Military mother Anabelle Valencia, who hadn't seen her daughter in 3 years (she had been previously deployed in Germany) traveled to the most dangerous part of the country--Tikrit--to see her daughter. On her first attempt, she discovered that her daughter had been sent on a mission outside the base. Determined, Anabelle returned on the same dangerous road the next day, and was able to have a teary reunion with her daughter. Mike Lopercio, whose son is serving in another dangerous part of Iraq, Fallujah, also managed to get to the US base and have an emotional reunion with his son.
All the delegates had a life-altering experience this week. They witnessed the terrible mistakes related to security and the economy that the US is making in Iraq. They talked to Iraqis who had been detained for months without charges, and tortured in prison by US forces. They talked to families whose loved one had been killed by US forces at check points or simply from random shootings. They saw that the Iraqis are getting angrier and angrier at the US. And they understood that the anger against the US, and the growing resistance against occupation, is putting their loved ones in great danger. We will be writing up the findings and recommendations of the group, and will spend the week in Washington and New York taking those findings to Congress and the Bush administration, as well as to the United Nations. So stay tuned....
Finally, I feel such gratitude towards this amazing group of Americans who took such risks to seek the truth and play a positive role in reshaping US policy in Iraq. History will prove that they, the peacemakers, are the true patriots.
Much love and peace, Medea
November/December 2003 delegation
CODEPINK went on a delegation to Iraq in 2003. The delegation consisted of ten extraordinary people who have loved ones serving in Iraq or loved ones who have died in the course of their service in Iraq. The group went Iraq to meet with and listen to Iraqis, the troops and US officials. They then traveled to currently to Washington DC for meetings with Congress, the administration, and the press. They also traveled to New York to meet with UN officials and be present at the United Nations on December 15, which was when the US government wass scheduled to propose its transition plan to the world community.
Women's Delegation to Iraq
January 24 - February 4, 2004
CODEPINK co-founder Jodie Evans headed an all women's delegation to Iraq. They met with representatives of a variety of Iraqi women's organizations that were working on issues ranging from creating income-generating projects for women to organizing shelters for victims of domestic violence to raising women's concerns in the writing of the new constitution. They researched how women fared under US occupation, met with US authorities and Iraqi officials to learn how their plans affected Iraqi women. In addition to the formal meetings, the met with women in their homes, at the university and in the markets. They returned to report on the Status of Woman under the US Occupation.
Archived articles from AlterNet:
Baghdad Journal: The Clock Is Ticking, July 9, 2003
10 Good Things About a Bad Year, December 31, 2003