Live from Iraq

by Bulletins by Barbara Aziz

Revolutionary Worker #1192, March 23 , 2003, posted at

Dr. Barbara Nimri Aziz, Ph.D. has been in Baghdad, Iraq since the end of February. Barbara is an anthropologist, journalist, Arab activist, radio talk-show host, and founder of RAWI (Radius of Arab American Writers), a center of news and information for Arab writers. She broadcasts regularly for Pacifica-WBAI in New York and is the host of the long-running show on WBAI, "TAHIR: Voices of Arabs & Muslims."

Barbara Nimri Aziz has been writing a series of reports from Baghdad that have been made public and are being distributed. The following are excerpts from these reports. The complete (on going) "Bulletins Live from Iraq" by Barbara are available on The AyRab Gazette website:

Baghdad #3
Sunday, March 3, 2003

I watch buses arrive, with new contingents of Human Shields from Europe and the Arab nations. A group of 30, mainly from India and Japan, have just arrived. Perhaps as many as 800 to 1000 young people are assembling in Iraq to offer to stay at various electric, water, hospital sites. Some engage in pranks for media attention, which I fully approve of. Surely it is clear after 12 years that logic and truth do not wake up people. The European resisters and protesters must continue, and step up their actions, their numbers, their voices. Surely the western concept of democracy is at stake here...

Meanwhile, inside all the fear of anticipation, I assure you the sanctions go on. The breast cancer mounts, the malnutrition spreads, the poverty grows with farmers selling their lands to city speculators with tractors and seed and meanwhile become shareholder laborers. City boys leave school to work in the street. Families desperate to take a child outside for treatment stop any foreigner in the street. High schoolers and college students (rich and poor) are failing at a high rate. They cannot concentrate. They cannot afford, they cannot hope. People trying to get out of the battle zone are turned back at the Iraqi-Jordan border. The Baghdad International School Primary section has 35 students left out of a normal enrollment of 250. The children of diplomats and UN staff have all left--fled. Two classes I visited this morning each had one child in attendance--what a privilege to have all the teacher's attention. Their friends have abandoned them--for safety. Try to imagine this healthy child, as sad and uncomprehending as the wasted body in the hospital.

The halls of the primary school are silent. Busses leave the school at 3 with one or two children aboard.

Tomorrow is the first of the month of Maharram, the first of the Muslim New Year. An official holiday in Iraq. For Shia the next 10 days are an especially holy time, and many hundreds of thousands will converge at Kerbala and Najaf, Humza and other places across the country to mark the martyrdom of Imam Ali. It is a traditionally sad time.

No weddings take place in Maharram. So the past few days have seen many wedding parties, a decorated car, followed by 1 to 3 busses of family well-wishers, drumming, dancing, escorting the couple. It is 6 p.m. and I hear the drums in the streets.

Yes, people make great efforts... to live. These are Iraqis. This is Iraq.

Don't listen to the rumors, get out into the streets... and pray for all our people.

Baghdad #4
Tuesday, March 5, 2003

...There is the "news" generated from outside by mass media--western media. I find it unnerving. What do Iraqis feel? How can a shopkeeper, a teacher, an import agent, a clerk, a professor, a truck driver, or a construction engineer, a housekeeper, bear it? The U.S. says it will bomb Monday. Do we believe it, and then what? USA tanks are lined up along the Jordan frontier. How many? When will they begin to move in our direction? A daughter in Emirates phones her mother to leave the Iraqi capital; a father in Jordan arrives to take his son out of Baghdad College. A neighbor in Beirut brings a message to a grandmother in Baghdad begging her to return with him to Lebanon--just for a few days. This has been going on for months. Months...

Each one in our own way prepares, packing one's paintings, glassware, wardrobe, moving one's precious personal documents and heirlooms, composing songs, recalling songs of one's childhood, postponing a marriage, moving a marriage date ahead, planning a child, postponing children, moving exam dates ahead, hoarding, delaying a trip to the countryside, phoning one's father every day...

Baghdad #5
Sunday, March 9, 2003

What is more vulnerable, I ask, as I scan the streets of Mosul city? A truckload of black soldier's boots, whose cartons have split open, three soldiers perched on top, holding the load steady as the truck turns a corner?

A stack of 20 new plastic chairs set out for sale?

A 9-year-old girl with eyeglasses wearing a yellow sweatsuit, walking at dusk? The workmen's scaffolding around the main gate of Nimrod where restoration continues?

Which will break before the other?

The glass windows of the university campus?

Maher Feisel who defended his MA thesis in French Literature yesterday? (At the age of 11, in the 1991 war, he dreamed in French stories.)

What will be crushed first?

The man polishing his new, orange Nissan taxi?

Or those soldiers digging pits in the open fields of wheat?

Palestine or Iraq?

At dusk families return home from their picnics to listen to the news. All fall silent. The UN Security Council is in session on the "question" of Iraq. We hear what Hans Blix and Mohammed Al- Baradie report. It does not quell the terror we feel in our hearts every moment under our spring Iraqi sky.

Baghdad #6
Monday, March 10, 2003

Another bad omen. The Iraqi dinar has fallen 600 in value--20% since my arrival.

Another day closer!

And as we move towards the edge of this abyss, do we really see any more clearly what kind of war this will be, by whose bullet we will perish? Or do we know how any one of us can respond?

Doubtless fuelled by Pentagon leaks (?) and western press reports, it looks really scary from here. I don't know about you, but I feel like running. We are moving from a state of quiet terror to panic.

One doesn't have to sneak up to a military site to see that primitive preparations are underway to withstand, or stand against. Whatever. Pits being dug by soldiers even on the sidewalks of the city. Recruits lining up at army centers, parading in motley attire on TV. There's no shopping, except for food and bottled water. Yet shopkeepers sit idle, behind wide glass windows, their stock gathering dust, waiting.

Mercifully, somewhere in all this, Iraqis have time for art. Sunday night Baghdad's Alwiya club hosted readings of poetry by an assemblage of Arab poets in the country: Algerian, Palestinian, Moroccan, Syrian, Lebanese, Egyptian. An audience of 70; in the old days it would have been 200.

Next day, Beit Al Hikmet (House of Wisdom) sponsored a forum on globalization theory and practice. Seminars and lectures go on at tearful universities.

The superb National Museum has closed its doors. Some university students from outside the city have gone home. Iran has closed its border to Iranian pilgrims who for all these years have been welcomed to their holy religious places in Iraq.

We traveled to and from Mosul and Baghdad by car, four hours along a fine four-lane highway, bypassing Tikrit and Kirkuk cities, through the valley of Mesopotamia. Along the route, villages and towns populated by Iraqi children, women and men, a radio and TV set in every home, a large refinery, sheep farms. Every street light, every lorry, every car, bus, pickup truck, every path across a field, every TV antenna represents an Iraqi family terrorized by the U.S. threat, by the inability to defend. Every waiter who serves U.S. coffee, every guard at the checkpoints, every boy and his horse pulling a tank of oil, every vegetable vendor, every soul here is quietly asking: "Why does America want to destroy our land? Why? Why? Why us?

"We know it is not our leader, our human rights record, our claims on Kuwait, our measly arsenal bought from American, British and German companies in the '80s. Not even American greed for our oil is an explanation we can comprehend."

Mosul is in the north, declared a no-fly area (for Iraqis) by the U.S. bully. Yet, it's a free target range for British and U.S. planes. So the marauders enter and overfly the green spring fields and the city of 2.4 million. They storm over the five universities, over the now abandoned National Agricultural Institute, over the fat flocks of sheep, over primary schools and olive groves, over the military training camp, the presidential palace, the kindergartens, over three hospitals, over marketplaces, granaries, and chicken farms. They bomb at liberty, unchallenged. Last Tuesday, the American bombers continued pounding for two hours in the evening. Yes, they killed. But more than that, they terrorized. Increasingly Iraqis realize that a psychological terror war is being waged against them to destabilize in advance of a military assault.

In the early '90s, four years before the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding over UN resolution 986, which allowed Iraq to sell oil, and its revenue to be used to purchase food from outside, food was scarce. Fertilizer plants had been bombed, and seed was precious. Although far below capacity and insufficient to feed the starving, without pesticides and herbicides farmers still produced some desperately needed wheat. Just as it ripened, days before harvest, the marauders ripped through the northern skies and dropped firebombs as they passed over the ripe wheat. (You may not have heard, but this was reported at the time by the FAO of the UN and by some journalists.)

I had thought it ended after the food for oil resolution was implemented. Now, I learn from inhabitants of Mosul that the arson of these fields continues. But only during the harvest time, once the crop is ripe. These kinds of terrorist acts have become so routine that they are not newsworthy, like contaminated and expired medicines now being shipped in under the UN agreement. Iraq has no right to any contract terms that would protect itself against contractors who supply faulty, expired, or useless equipment and food.

The fragmented nature of this report is part of the atmosphere I am embedded in. Should one go back to 1991 injustices? Shall I list the rumors--about long-term network journalists shifting to another hotel because the al-Rasheed is targeted by the Americans, about freelancers calculating whether to find a small hotel near the networks' satellite positions? About the entire civilian population being prohibited from moving in the streets once the war begins, about families furnishing themselves with light arms? About evacuations?

There must be a degree of chaos at higher government levels, all part of the cocktail being prepared when the spark ignites. Mighty Allah, these people are strong. I admire them, all the strength they have to fight on, to stand tall...

Baghdad #7
Tuesday, March 12, 2003

Well some things are not rumors. Mohassen and her children are back in Baghdad. We will have a party for her.

They returned, by force ( i.e., involuntarily) from the Jordan border yesterday morning.

Just imagine.

Imagine years of determination to stay in your country, despite everything. Imagine your loving husband working in The Arab Emirates, phoning you regularly to join him, to send the girls to him, just to visit.

Imagine declaring to all friends, "as an Iraqi, I will not leave my homeland. This is my country. I love my country. I will not allow the Americans to take it from us, from my father, from my president, from any Iraqi."

Imagine being well off, having all the facilities and comforts (well never all, but we won't go into that now), even during the hard, hard sanctions.

Imagine years of helplessness, watching your friends die before you, give up before you, depart before you, suffer from cancers, from heart failure.

Imagine now--calling your dearest friends with whom you stood for 12 years, saying goodbye.

Imagine leaving your brothers, leaving your friends to this terror of war.

Imagine packing up the house, hiding jewelry, packing paintings and wardrobe, taking valuables to your sister's house.

Imagine deciding with the children what to pack in the car.

Imagine arrangements with your employer to hold your job, with your gardener to guard the house.

Imagine ordering the taxi to the border, leaving your own car at your brother's, locking the gate. Imagine arguing with your weeping children about what they can and cannot take, about one more goodbye phone call to their school friend, "please Mama."

Imagine the heaped car arriving at the Iraqi border after the six hour drive across the desert, the procedures, the questions.

Imagine finally, after two hours, the children either groggy with sleep or cranky, clearing the Iraqi border, turning your back to the great arch above the gate at Trebil, with the portrait of your president, crossing towards the next gate, with the portrait of its American king.

Imagine then the Jordanian customs officers saying "No. You can't come in."

Imagine another three hours, arguing, phoning your husband in Emirates, weeping, phoning friends inside Jordan, find someone in some office to give U.S. clearance.

Imagine the six hour drive back to Baghdad.

Actually, next day Mohaseen is relieved. She had been telling her husband for years that she would stay, whatever. Tomorrow she will phone him to ask him to join her in Iraq.

Just imagine our lives.

(c Barbara Nimri Aziz)

These excerpts were taken from The AyRab Gazette website: The views in these bulletins are those of the author, and she is not responsible for the views expressed elsewhere in this newspaper.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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