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In honor of the 10th Anniversary of Operation Iraqi Liberation, and in hopes of helping us keep in mind that every war is based on similar lies, even if sometimes the lies are told more competently, I'm making available here the introduction to my book War Is A Lie. If you're near the heart of the empire on March 18th, join us at the 10 Years Later: Still Shocked, Not Awed event.
Not a single thing that we commonly believe about wars that helps keep them around is true. Wars cannot be good or glorious. Nor can they be justified as a means of achieving peace or anything else of value. The reasons given for wars, before, during, and after them (often three very different sets of reasons for the same war) are all false. It is common to imagine that, because we’d never go to war without a good reason, having gone to war, we simply must have a good reason. This needs to be reversed. Because there can be no good reason for war, having gone to war, we are participating in a lie.
A very intelligent friend recently told me that prior to 2003 no American president had ever lied about reasons for war. Another, only slightly better informed, told me that the United States had not had any problems with war lies or undesirable wars between 1975 and 2003. I hope that this book will help set the record straight. "A war based on lies" is just a long-winded way of saying "a war." The lies are part of the standard package.
Lies have preceded and accompanied wars for millennia, but in the past century war has become far more deadly. Its victims are now primarily non-participants, often almost exclusively on one side of the war. Even the participants from the dominant side can be drawn from a population coerced into fighting and isolated from those making the decisions about or benefitting from the war. Participants who survive war are far more likely now to have been trained and conditioned to do things they cannot live with having done. In short, war ever more closely resembles mass murder, a resemblance put into our legal system by the banning of war in the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact in 1928, the United Nations Charter in 1945, and the International Criminal Court's decision to prosecute crimes of aggression in 2010. Arguments that might have sufficed to justify wars in the past might not do so now. War lies are now far more dangerous things. But, as we will see, wars were never justifiable.
Why the Invasion of Iraq Was the Single Worst Foreign Policy Decision in American History
By Peter Van Buren, TomDispatch
I was there. And “there” was nowhere. And nowhere was the place to be if you wanted to see the signs of end times for the American Empire up close. It was the place to be if you wanted to see the madness -- and oh yes, it was madness -- not filtered through a complacent and sleepy media that made Washington’s war policy seem, if not sensible, at least sane and serious enough. I stood at Ground Zero of what was intended to be the new centerpiece for a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East.
Norman Solomon discusses his recent debate with former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson on the lies that took the United States into war 10 years ago, as well as Solomon's cofounding of online activist force RootsAction.org.
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By John Grant
"The experience we have of our lives from within, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing, is thus a lie -- the truth lies rather outside, in what we do."
-- Slavoj Zizek
March 18, 2013
The Langston Room at Busboys and Poets, 14th and V Streets, NW
Free and open to the public.
Sign up here: http://facebook.com/events/601163023231687
Ten years after the latest U.S. assault on Iraq began with a campaign of "Shock and Awe," we stop to consider where we've been and where we should be heading. Join:
Leah Bolger, Board Member and Past President of Veterans For Peace.
Andy Shallal, artist, peace and social justice activist and entrepreneur, is the founder of Busboys and Poets and Eatonville. He sits on the board of several art, business and peace and justice organizations including the Institute for Policy Studies, Anacostia Community Museum and Think Local First D.C.
Robert Shetterly, an award winning painter whose work is in collections all over the U.S. and Europe. For more than 10 years he has been painting the series of portraits Americans Who Tell the Truth. The exhibit has been traveling around the country since 2003. A book of the portraits has won the top award of the International Reading Association for Intermediate non-fiction.
Shetterly will be unveiling his latest portrait, that of David Swanson.
David Swanson, an author whose books include Daybreak (2009), War Is A Lie (2010), When the World Outlawed War (2011), and The Military Industrial Complex at 50 (2012). Swanson hosts Talk Nation Radio, and works for RootsAction.org, as well as blogging at WarIsACrime.org.
Sponsoring organizations that have helped spread the word about this event:
World Can't Wait
Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Veterans For Peace
Peace Action Montgomery
OccupyWashingtonDC.org / October2011
Americans Who Tell the Truth
Busboys and Poets
Teaching for Change
C.H.O.I.C.E.S. (Committee for High-School Options and Information on Careers, Education and Self-Improvement)
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space
Eyes Wide Shut on the Iraq War
Edior Note: As the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War approaches, it’s worth recalling one moment when the curtain was prematurely lifted on the lies justifying the invasion – and how quickly government officials and the complicit mainstream press pulled it back down.
By Ray McGovern
Ten years ago, as President George W. Bush and his administration were putting the finishing touches on their unprovoked invasion of Iraq, the mainstream U.S. news media had long since capitulated, accepting the conventional wisdom that nothing could – or should – stop the march to war.
When I wrote about MSNBC's documentary on Iraq war lies this week, I linked to an earlier blog post of mine that drew heavily on a House Judiciary Committee report on the same topic, as well as to Lawrence Wilkerson's recent debate with Norman Solomon on Democracy Now!
When Brad Friedman reposted my Hubris review, he suggested I ask Wilkerson for a response. I did and here it is:
David,Several misleading and even spurious bullets and headlines that make strong claims that are not supported in the surrounding narrative. For example, no one ever DID warn Powell about Curveball, in fact quite the opposite. This particular source--billed as an Iraqi engineer who had defected--was George Tenet's--the DCI's--strongest weapon. And incidentally, the title "Curveball" was never heard until well after the 5 Feb presentation.Your use of INR's assessment of "weak" repeatedly, is weak itself. INR was at the time one of 15 intelligence entities in the US intelligence architecture at the federal level. (Add Israel France, the UK, Jordan, Germany, et al, and of course you get even more). INR's assessments were often viewed--indeed still are--as maverick within that group (and were particularly so viewed by George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin. Indeed, INR's insistence on putting a footnote in the October 2002 NIE with regard to its doubts about Saddam's having an active nuclear weapons program was only grudgingly acknowledged and allowed by Tenet. And in truth, INR itself concurred in the overall NIE's finding that chems and bios existed (and the NIE was the root document of Powell's 5 Feb presentation).I have admitted what a hoax we perpetrated. But it actually spoils or desecrates a fair condemnation of what is already a bad enough set of misstatements, very poor intelligence analysis, and--I am increasingly convinced, outright lies--to take the matter to absurdity with one man, in this case Powell.To see my point dramatically, one must realize that whether Powell had given his presentation or not, the President would have gone to war with Iraq. That doesn't relieve Powell or me or any of us who participated in preparing Powell of responsibility; it simply places the bulk of that responsibility squarely where it should rest.You, Ray McGovern, and I will never reach accord on this I'm certain; but I must say that just as I may have biases from my long association with Powell, I believe both of you should examine your biases with regard to the man. Just as it was very difficult for me to face the fact I had participated in a hoax, it probably is just as difficult that you two admit you may be too aggressively critical of Powell. Both our conditions are recognizably human and yours more forgiveable than mine to be sure. lw
Thanks for this response.
I'm CCing Brad Blog which posted my commentary and might want to post your reply.
Here's my reply to your reply (also available to publish) :-)
Whether or not anyone told Powell of Curveball's reputation, Powell's own staff, the INR, told him the claims were weak, the claims that came from Curveball and from numerous other sources. The INR told him the claims were weak and questionable and even implausible.
An open letter to the international oil companies operating in Iraq, a decade after the U.S. invasion of Iraq
Ten years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which was undertaken ostensibly to overthrow the former dictator and to promote human rights and democracy, we see that a more essential, long-term goal was for international oil companies to acquire control over Iraq's newly privatized oil resources, creating a "liberated" Iraq that would serve as an economic model for a "New Middle East" and spread neo-liberalism throughout the region.
The project has been a failure on all fronts.
Those who suffer the consequences are Iraq's citizens. Their country is wracked by violence and mounting sectarian conflict. Their rights are violated. Vital services – water and electricity – are unavailable, while international oil companies receive priority access to these scarce resources, and operate under long-term contracts to develop Iraqi oil fields, that were signed while Iraq was still occupied.
As our government was making a fraudulent case to attack Iraq in 2002-2003, the MSNBC television network was doing everything it could to help, including booting Phil Donahue and Jeff Cohen off the air. The Donahue Show was deemed likely to be insufficiently war-boosting and was thus removed 10 years ago next week, and 10 days after the largest antiwar (or anything else) demonstrations in the history of the world, as a preemptive strike against the voices of honest peaceful people.
From there, MSNBC proceeded to support the war with mild critiques around the edges, and to white-out the idea of impeachment or accountability.
But now MSNBC has seen its way clear to airing a documentary about the fraudulent case it assisted in, a documentary titled Hubris. This short film (which aired between 9 and 10 p.m. ET Monday night, but with roughly half of those minutes occupied by commercials) pointed out the role of the New York Times in defrauding the public, but not MSNBC's role.
Yet, my primary response to that is joy rather than disgust. It is now cool to acknowledge war lies. Truth-tellers, including truth-tellers rarely presented with a corporate microphone, made that happen.
MSNBC host and Obama promoter Rachel Maddow even introduced Hubris by pointing to another war lie -- the Gulf of Tonkin incident that wasn't -- and a war lie by a Democrat in that case. Similar lies can be found surrounding every war that has ever been, which is why I wrote War Is A Lie. We have to stop imagining that "bad wars" are a subset of wars.
But, of course, using Maddow as the presenter and narrator of a film about Republican war lies during a period of unacknowledged Democratic war lies unavoidably gives the thing a partisan slant. Watching Hubris, I was reminded of something that Michael Moore tweeted last Friday: "Senate Repubs: U started 2 illegal wars that broke the treasury & sacrificed the lives of thousands of our troops & countless civilians."
Of course, the Senate that gave us the two wars in question was in reality controlled by Democrats, and the war lies were pushed hard by Senators Kerry, Clinton, and their comrades. Hubris touches on this reality but not with sufficient clarity for most viewers -- I suspect -- to pick up on it.
The film presents a great deal of good evidence that the war on Iraq was based on lies. Unavoidably, endless terrific bits of such evidence were not included. Less excusably, also left out was an analysis of the evidence that only dishonesty -- not incompetence -- explains the propaganda that was produced.
Hubris is the wrong word for what took the United States into war with Iraq. The forces at work were greed, lust for power, and sadistic vengeance. The word "hubris" suggests the tragic downfall of the guilty party. But the war on Iraq did not destroy the United States; it destroyed Iraq. It damaged the United States, to be sure, but in a manner hardly worthy of mention in comparison to the sociocide committed against Iraq.
Hubris, the film, provides a reprehensibly ludicrous underestimation of Iraqi deaths, and only after listing U.S. casualties.
It was not pride but a disregard for human life that generated mass murder. Congressman Walter Jones, who voted for the war, is shown in Hubris saying that he would have voted No if he had bothered to read the National Intelligence Estimate that very few of his colleagues bothered to read.
Another talking head in the film is Lawrence Wilkerson. He is, of course, the former chief of staff of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson is shown explaining that the reason not to attack Iraq was that doing so would take a focus away from attacking Afghanistan. Clearly this was not a reason that led to Wilkerson or Powell taking any kind of stand.
Wilkerson says in this film that he and Powell knew the war was based on lies, that the claims were junk, that no WMDs were likely to be found, etc. Yet, when confronted last week by Norman Solomon on Democracy Now! with the question of why he hadn't resigned in protest, Wilkerson claimed that at the time he'd had no idea whatsoever that there were good arguments against the war. In fact, he blamed opponents of the war for not having contacted him to educate him on the matter.
The Hubris version of Colin Powell's lies at the United Nations is misleadingly undertold. Powell was not a victim. He "knowingly lied."
The same goes for Bush, Cheney, and gang. According to Hubris it may have just been incompetence or hubris. It wasn't. Not only does overwhelming evidence show us that Bush knew his claims about WMDs to be false, but the former president has shown us that he considers the question of truth or falsehood to be laughably irrelevant. When Diane Sawyer asked Bush why he had claimed with such certainty that there were so many weapons in Iraq, he replied: "What’s the difference? The possibility that [Saddam] could acquire weapons, If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger."
What's the difference? In a society based on the rule of law, the difference would be a criminal prosecution. MSNBC and Hubris steer us away from any ideas of accountability. And no connection is drawn to current war lies about Iran or other nations.
But the production of programs like this one that prolong Americans' awareness of the lies that destroyed Iraq are the best hope Iran has right now. MSNBC should be contacted and applauded for airing this and urged to follow up on it.
Ten years ago yesterday, Colin Powell made the Bush administration's case for going to war against Iraq. Much of what he said about Iraq's threats to the United States was false. But the media coverage gave the opposite impression, and most of the pundits and journalists who promoted the justifications for the war paid no price for their failures.
As FAIR reported at the time, even before the Powell address there were reasons to be skeptical of the administration's claims. On February 4, 2003, FAIR published "Iraq's Hidden Weapons: From Allegation to Fact," which made the point that "it has not been demonstrated that Iraq continues to hold unconventional weapons." FAIR criticized coverage like that of the New York Times (2/2/03), which asserted that "nobody seriously expected Mr. Hussein to lead inspectors to his stash of illegal poisons or rockets, or to let his scientists tell all."
As the FAIR release concluded:
The media convey to the public the impression that the alleged banned weapons on which the Bush administration rests its case for war are known to exist, and that the question is simply whether inspectors are skillful enough to find them.
Powell's address was instrumental in pushing a faulty media line on Iraq's WMDs further. That much was clear in the coverage right after his appearance at the United Nations, as FAIR documented on February 10 in "A Failure of Skepticism in Powell Coverage."
In Andrea Mitchell's report on NBC Nightly News (2/5/03), Powell's allegations became actual capabilities of the Iraqi military: "Powell played a tape of a Mirage jet retrofitted to spray simulated anthrax, and a model of Iraq's unmanned drones, capable of spraying chemical or germ weapons within a radius of at least 550 miles."
Colin Powell: Conned or Con-Man?
Editor Note: A decade ago, President George W. Bush was hurtling toward an aggressive war against a country not threatening the United States. Only a few people had a chance to stop the rush to war with Iraq, but one – Colin Powell – instead joined the stampede.
By Ray McGovern
Ten years ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations in a speech which routed what was left of American resistance to the Bush/Cheney push for invading Iraq. The next day, the Washington Post’s editorial pages spoke for the conventional wisdom, filled with glowing reviews of Powell’s convincing arguments.
Today, of course, we know that much of what Powell said on Feb. 5, 2003, was wrong. He himself has acknowledged that the speech was a “blot” on his record.
By Dave Lindorff
For a masterpiece in cognitive dissonance, just look to the foreign editors and the managing editor of the New York Times, who ran two stories in Saturday’s paper without referencing each other at all.
When Truth Tried to Stop War
Editor Note: The year 2013 is the one-decade anniversary of the U.S. political/media system’s failure to stop a criminal President from launching a war of aggression on Iraq. It was a shameful time when only a few brave individuals, like the U.K.’s Katharine Gun, did the right thing.
By Ray McGovern
Ten years ago, Katharine Gun, then a 28-year-old British intelligence officer, saw an e-mailed memo from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) that confirmed for her in black and white the already widespread suspicion that the U.S. and U.K. were about to launch war against Iraq on false pretenses.
By John Grant
By Dave Lindorff
I personally found the president’s inaugural speech not just insipid, but disgusting. It reached its gut-churning nadir near the end where he said:
By Michael Uhl
Jonathan Schell‘s probing review of Nick Turse’s new book Kill Anything That Moves originated on Tom Dispatch and migrated to Salon, where it appeared under the head “Vietnam was even more horrific than we thought.”
By Dave Lindorff
There were no memorable lines in President Obama’s second inaugural address. Certainly nothing like Franklin Roosevelt’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” which was in his first inaugural, or like John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country.”
But there was plenty he said that was troubling.
The problem mostly wasn’t what he said. It was how he said it, and what he left unsaid.
Communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy, Sam Husseini said today: "With the Hagel nomination, former 'anti-war' candidate Barack Obama continues to appoint individuals to top foreign policy positions who voted for or otherwise backed the invasion of Iraq. This includes Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Robert Gates as well as John Kerry. Those who actually opposed the war from the start have been iced out. In establishment Washington, you get points for being wrong on the most important foreign policy question of your career.
"Particularly noteworthy are the contortions 'reasonable' individuals like Hagel have gone through. For example, when I questioned him in 2007, he said he did regret his Iraq war vote, but argued that it wasn't actually a war vote, couldn't bring himself to say the Bush administration had rigged the intelligence about Iraqi WMDs and gave as reasons for opposing the war things that were known before the war." [Video at WashingtonStakeout]
None of this is reason not to oppose the prowar opposition to Hagel's nomination. But it is worth keeping in mind who Hagel is, including the bit of information that nobody wants mentioned: he owned the company that counted his votes.
Iraq: General Prosecutor Confirms Torture and Rape of Detained Women. European Court of Human Rights Labels CIA Interrogation Procedures as “Torture”
By Dirk Adriaensens, BRussells Tribunal
Kitabat reports on 18 December. The chairman of the Iraqi List, Hamid al-Mutlaq, said in a press conference in Baghdad on 18 December: " Iraqi prosecutors have submitted today a report to the Chairman of the Iraqi judiciary Medhat al-Mahmoud that confirms the occurrence of torture and violations and rape of women detained in Iraqi prisons. The report is based on confidential testimonies of female prisoners in Iraqi jails."
Mutlaq said that "the report confirms what has been recently stated by some parliamentary committees and human rights organizations, that there is a systematic violation, torture and rape of female prisoners in Iraqi prisons,"
By Dave Lindorff
Most Americans, their minds focused at the moment on the tragic slaughter of 20 young children aged 5-10, along with five teachers and a school principal in Connecticut by a heavily-armed psychotic 21-year-old, are blissfully unaware that their last president, George W. Bush, along with five key members of his administration, were convicted in absentia of war crimes earlier this month at a tribunal in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
By Dirk Adriaensens, BRussells Tribunal
On 10 December, International Human Rights day, the representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Martin Kobler, said in a speech during a ceremony hosted by the Ministry of Human Rights in Baghdad, that the word of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on human rights fully reflects the agenda of the United Nations.
This opinion however is not shared by the majority of Iraqis and neither by the minorities in Iraq.
The national Chaldean movement issued a statement on 14 December asking the United Nations to change Martin Kobler, accusing him of condoning human rights abuses and diminishing the rights of religious minorities, and described him as the "Minister" of the United Nations in the Iraqi government.
By Dave Lindorff
The US is on the way out as a hegemonic power.
That is the primary conclusion of a new report out of the National Intelligence Council -- a government organization that produces mid-term and long-range thinking for the US intelligence community.
You could have knocked me over with a feather that the major media was talking about the Bradley Manning trial at all, after years of being confined to the progressive Internet, but although it is important for Manning's treatment in virtual isolation be a focus, the real story is being ignored. One of the reasons Bradley Manning is where he is in the first place, is because he was reporting a war crime.
No matter what Manning's treatment, many Americans, not always the most big-hearted people, will believe Manning deserved every bit of it unless context is provided. The CNN reports on the trial which have run so far delve no deeper than his complaints about being forced to stand naked, not being allowed to sleep, and being harassed under a bogus "suicide watch" by being asked every five minutes "are you okay?"
By John Grant
Using one of those overarching dramatic titles we have come to expect in mainstream media news coverage, John Stewart summed up the Petraeus story as “Band of Boners.” It's the sort of thing that may be inevitable when so much power is given so much free reign by so much secrecy.
By Dave Lindorff
There is a delicious irony to the story of the crash-and-burn career of Four-Star General and later (at least briefly) CIA Director David Petraeus.
By Cathy Breen
Baghdad—Yesterday was a beautiful autumn day in Baghdad. As I was visiting two families in widely different neighborhoods, I was able to traverse a large part of the city. I looked with eyes that have not seen Baghdad for nine years. Today, it is a city of stark contrasts. Bright new autos wherever one looks. I saw them up close as we waited endlessly in gridlocks due to checkpoints. Although I was not conspicuous with my gown and head covering, I was careful not to gaze around and gawk when we were stuck in traffic jams.
Above this gridlock you can also see the web of electrical wires. Despite the warm welcome I have received everywhere I have traveled on this trip to Iraq, I am conscious that I am from the U.S. In Baghdad especially where the violence has been continuous over the last nine years, I am equally aware that the barricades and checkpoints exist because of my country’s war of choice. And the concrete walls are everywhere.
If anyone thinks that the war is over in Iraq, I have only to open my “At a Glance” calendar where I have tried to note the number of Iraqi casualties each day over the last nine plus years: deaths due to explosions, bombs, assassinations. Just a few randomly selected numbers from 2012 (these are the number of dead, the number of wounded is of course much greater). 63, 54, 78, 97, 28, 36, 105, 24, 41, 115… the list goes on and on.
One of my hopes on this trip is to visit Iraqi families who have had to return from Syria. Having fled the violence in Iraq, they came to Syria where I met them as refugees. Now they are threatened once again, and there are no countries willing to take them. Many have returned to Iraq, and we are anxious to know how they are doing. The parents of one family met us at Bab El Morat in Al Kadimiya, on the crowded street leading to the beautiful shrine of the Imam El Kadem Musa bin Jaffa.
The golden domes glistened in the sun. My senses came alive as the couple led us through a labyrinth of souqs, passed the multi-colored array of goods and the throngs of people to their humble, two–room apartment above the stalls.
What a joy to see this extended family again, the children now another year older. But the joy was tainted with sorrow as our friends related the details of their leaving Syria, and their disappointment in what they have found back in Iraq.
One mother returned to Iraq in Jan. 2012 with her three children. In Syria, the family had received threats that their daughter would be kidnapped if they didn’t leave. Her husband followed in March when he realized there was no hope to be resettled to the United States, at least from Syria where there was no longer a US embassy.
Just a few days ago there was an explosion nearby which has deeply shaken the family. I asked the oldest girl, a beautiful child now in sixth grade, how school was going. Not good, she answered. She described quite dramatically that last week there was a great explosion in her school. The teacher fled leaving the frightened students in the classroom. The door was locked and at first the kids hid under the desks. Later, when banging on the door proved futile, they managed to climb out through an opening above the door. She somewhat proudly showed me the bruises on her arm! They asked “Do you think we can be resettled to the U.S.?” I try to explain gently but realistically what the economic situation in the United States looks like with people out of work and losing homes and benefits. Not to mention the cultural differences. The father was adamant saying, “But there are explosions here and people are being killed! We are afraid for the children… People have changed here, even our families. It is not like it was in the past, when people looked after one another.”
The second family we visited had arrived only two weeks ago to their newly rented apartment, a two-room dwelling reached by rather treacherous metal stairs. They are paying $500 a month (includes electricity and generator costs), using money borrowed from both sides of the family. I was appalled by the amount. The family fled Syria in Aug. of 2012. The mother and their four children went to live with her family in an area of Iraq that has been quite violent. “There you can rent a big house for $100 a month, because it is so dangerous with militias. Here it costs $500 to live in a safe area.” The father went to Erbil, in northern Iraq, to look for work. He returned to Syria three weeks later to find their apartment burned and their belongings gone. He stayed only three days in Syria before returning again to Iraq.
They mother and children looked exhausted, especially the mother. She cries each day. She and her husband have been going from house to house until now.
Except for the little toddler who doesn’t know me, the children greet me warmly. The oldest son was traumatized by the war in Iraq. His friend and classmate was killed before his eyes, and he has always had a haunted look about him. A handsome boy, he has grown a foot since I last saw him and is very thin. As we visit I look at the youngest son whom I have known for at least four years now. No, I am not mistaken. He has a visible facial twitch. He has always been the family clown and I have pictures of him over the years making funny faces. He is about 7 or 8 years old now and painfully thin. Their baby girl is now fifteen months old. She too is pale and thin. The government has promised each returnee a sum of money, 4 million Iraqi Dinars, the equivalent of $3,200. This family hasn’t received a penny. They owe money. The father is looking for work. They too asked me if they could be resettled in the United States. Once again I spoke of the obstacles they would face in the United States. “People have changed,” the father said sadly. “The war has destroyed the inside of humanity.”
Afterward in the taxi, driving past the ubiquitous concrete blast walls, I ponder the legacies of war and wonder how a city heals and how we can begin to break down the barriers.
Cathy Breen is member of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org). She is traveling for six weeks in Iraq.
By Cathy Breen
Najaf, Iraq -- For the past three days I have been trying to get news of the situation in our houses on the lower East side of Manhattan, where the flooding from hurricane Sandy was especially heavy. I pictured the worst. As a good portion of Maryhouse is subterranean—the whole dining area and kitchen for example-- I imagined the cellar and ground floor underwater! We have folks who are elderly and infirm, even an older frail resident who speaks no English. I pictured them frightened and in darkness! On internet news I read “Don’t think if you boil the water it is safe to drink it.”
This morning, Wednesday, I am getting the first news from home. The electricity is down, but there was no flooding! Moreover, they were even able to serve a meal, albeit in a somewhat darkened house, to a handful of women who came to us. I can’t tell you how grateful and relieved I am for this news!
By Cathy Breen
Najaf, Iraq -- “Come to eat” the man cries out. “Come!” he calls invitingly. And they do. In the thousands, in the millions. They come streaming into Karbala from all directions to the sacred shrine of their holy martyrs, Imam Hussein and Abbas.
I have just returned to Najaf after spending some days in Karbala visiting a good friend of ours there and getting to know his dear family. In both my going from and my retuning to Najaf, I was moved by the sight of pilgrims walking on the side of the road to Karbala.
These holy commemorations and pilgrimages were not allowed under Saddam. The regime collapsed on April 9, 2003. Less than two weeks later, on the 20th of April was the 40th commemoration of the death of Imam Hussein. Approximately four million pilgrims travelled to Karbala that year. I was in Baghdad at that time and remember young Shia friends telling us with deep emotion and excitement about taking part in a similar pilgrimage, a treasured tradition so long denied them. One can imagine how disconcerting and foreign such a phenomena was to the U.S. troops who were occupying Karbala and the surrounding country. “How can we control such numbers?” they asked. My host was one of the persons who told them, “Just stay on your bases.” Fortunately they listened , and only patrolled overhead with helicopters. Now Karbala receives between 12 and 14 million during the feast that remembers the death of Imam Hussein.