Tuesday, August 17, 2004

After the War...? People are still dying
an email from a woman in Baghdad - unedited 
Sept. 3, 2004
Hi Bagdad 7 August 2004
Back to Iraq Stuff
Back to home
I am furious. Ali, one of the boys, just came to visit
and have some lunch
with us. He is 18 and had problems in the 'Big Boys'
House in Adhimaya and
left there and ended up back on the streets. When he
was back on the
streets he used to come and see us most days -
sometimes twice a day for
some food, a shower etc. He often leaves his sack of
cans with us which he 

collects from off the streets - he gets 500 dinar (20
pence) a kilo.

leaves them with us so that they do not get stolen
when he is sleeping -
usually up on Karamana roundabout in Kerrada. He is a
really nice boy -
shy, mild mannered and polite and totally honest about
his use of drugs.
We encourage this honesty by telling the boys that we
are not judging them
or that we are not going to think they are bad just
because they sniff
some thinner. In this way we can monitor how much they
are using - if we
do not shout at them or judge, they tell us. Ali was
using thinner about
twice a week (when he become depressed) and arten
tablets about once a
week. When he told us, about, 10 days ago that he
wanted to move back with
his mother and 8 year old little brother to a new home
in Shula, Bagdad ,
we were overjoyed for him. His parents are divorced
and were living
separately in Sadr City -he found getting on with
either side difficult
and this is how he originally ended up on the streets.
He came to see us the morning he left to go to his
mum. He had a shower,
some nice new clothes (we washed his old ones so he
could take them with
him), breakfast and we gave him a package of food
items to take to his mum
- things like tins of beans, fruit, nuts, bread and
crisps for his little
brother. And we made sure that he had no thinner on
him to take to his
Today Ali came to visit us. He is looking fantastic -
clean, happy, off
thinner and said he was pleased to be living with his
mum and young
brother. His brother is going to school, Ali is still
collecting cans, but
now in Shula, to raise some money and his mother sews
for a living. They
are renting a small house with one bedroom, a sitting
room, kitchen and
bathroom. Doesn't this sound like a beautiful success
story - well, it is
- even if it only lasts for a month or two it is
something, a chance for a
better life.
But all is not well. Ali wanted to leave us before 3
pm . Why? Shula is
coming under attack from the Americans. Last night no
one slept in Shula
as the Mahdi Army resisted an onslaught from American
rockets and
helicopter gunships. Ali told us how two minibuses and
one 25 seater bus
(like the ones we have here in Kerrada) were hit
yesterday by American
rockets - luckily none of the buses had passengers,
but all three drivers
died - these were separate incidents. Ali reported
that there were many
casualties - mainly civilian, though there were 5 or 6
definite dead from
the Mahdi Army. He said his mum was okay, but his
little brother was so
scared and cried and cried all night. He knows of
three American soldiers
being killed. The Mahdi Army have set up checkpoints
into Shula and will
close down the area at 4 pm . This is when they expect
to receive
reinforcements and more weapons and it is also the
time when the Americans
do their 'shift change'. Ali is expecting a big
battle, lots of death and
destruction and lots of problems. He wanted to get
home by 4 pm , otherwise
the Mahdi Army won't let him in and he needs to be
with his mum and
brother to look after them. We asked Ali about the
Shula, which is
situated past Khadimaya to the north-west of Bagdad .
He said it was a big
district with a mixture of Shia and Sunni Muslims, but
mainly Shia. At
first it was just the Shia fighting, but now the Sunni
men have joined in.
There is staunch support for Moqtada Al Sadr - his
photos are everywhere.
Have you heard about Shula in the news? No.
And here is our poor Ali trying to make a new life,
while the Americans
terrorise the area - but it is not big enough news for
TV - you just need
to know the big things that go on.

And did you know that the Public Security (secret
service) Centre near New
Bagdad was bombed - No? And did you know that
yesterday, the Ministries of
Oil, Sport and Youth came under attack form the
Resistance - No.

Over the past few days, since the church bombings,
there have been many
many more bombs in Bagdad . Many of them have been
closer and louder than
before. We had one a few nights ago at around
midnight , followed by a gun
battle (we could hear reply fire). Then five mortars
were heard, probably
towards the Green Zone. Then two mornings running
there were huge
explosions at around 6.45 am - the 'morning bombs'
don't usually go off
that early, they are usually between 7.45 am and 9.30
am .
Then last night, at about 11 pm , there was a big bomb
not far away and
this was followed by the definite sound of a rocket
attack, also close by
- we didn't know what was being hit though. At
midnight there were 3 more
explosions. One was huge and extremely close. I have
told you before how
Iraqis don't even look around if there are bombs going
off, unless they
are close. Well, all of these, initiated a response -
people looking and
stopping what they were doing. The last one in
particular got our whole
street up and about. People were on their roofs and
balconies looking out.
The Baker Boys went to see, one of them went off on
his push bike. Wassim,
opposite us, went on the roof and told us it was in
the next street. And
indeed it was. We don't know why, but a bomb hit an
air-conditioning unit
shop in that street. Maybe it went off there by
mistake. Maybe it was just
to drive more terror into the mainly Christian
community in that street.
As so often is the case - we just don't know. The
felafel shop in that
street lost its glass front in the blast. The brothers
who run it are
really nice men, Christians, who used to do all the
felafel sandwiches for
us when we first started to feed the boys when they
were on the street,
back in November 2003.
These bombs were not reported on TV - not on BBC, Al
Jazeera or Al Arabia
- although Al Jazeera did report that the rocket we
heard had hit the
Sheraton Hotel - about 800 metres away.
Al Jazeera were also the only station to report that
the recent upsurge in
resistance has also been occurring in Kut (the
Ukranian army base was hit
by 28 rockets!), Amara, Nasyriah and Samawa.
But you have been told about an Irish woman winning
$32 million on lottery
and the Russian film industry taking off.
There seems to be a concerted effort to take Iraq off
the news. Indeed, I
heard an American Republican Party woman on the radio
the other day saying
that Iraq was old news, that is it not headlines
anymore. Well, while
Moqtada and his men make that virtually impossible and
churches coming
under attack have to be reported, there is still a
huge swathe of goings
on, deaths, bombs and so on that are not being
reported. I know that, to
me, Iraq is the centre of the world, but can you
imagine a bomb or a gun
going off not being reported on if it happened in
America or Britain . No -
well that's what's going on here.

You have all heard that it has been 'kicking off' in
Basra , Nagaf and Sadr
City . I went to Sadr City on Monday with 3 of my
translator's friends -
all guards at the Sheraton/ Palestine Hotel complex and
all supporters, in
name at least, of Moqtada Al Sadr. In the taxi on the
way, the driver was
playing a music tape of a woman singing for Saddam. In
the song she was
asking Saddam why he left 'us' and who did he leave
'us' to? She was
imploring Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, to
help Iraq . And she was
detailing the mess that Bagdad and Iraq has beome in
the melancholic
lyrics. I donned my chadoor for the outing, just to be
on the safe side -
little wonder, but Westerners are not entirely trusted
in Sadr City . I
felt safe enough though, after all, I was with 4 young
men, 3 of whom
lived there. Only one car bothered me a bit as it
slowed down and stopped
for a better look. Moqtada Al Sadr picures adorned
EVERY home. Children
played in the streets in a scene of peace and
tranquility - in safety and
in great numbers. Sadr City is a place of children and
little ones at
that. There are far far more children than adults
living in this poor
neighbourhood - I am sure that they beat the Iraqi
average of 46% of the
population being aged 15 years and younger. Here it
seemed as though at
least 50% were under 10 years. And it is this scene of
peace, tranquility
and little children playing in the streets that
America is now
pulverising. These are the people that welcomed the
'liberation' brought
to them by America - these were the people most glad
to see the back of
Saddam Hussein. And now these are the people that
resist the most fiercely
- they want an end to the occupation and they want
America out of their
neighbourhood. There is no question of who is to blame
for the recent
fighting in these areas - let's face it, if the
Americans were not around,
who would the Mahdi Army attack and fire their RPGs
Anyway, in Sadr City , we visited the family home of
one of Wejdy's
friends, Ali. This home also had plenty of snaps of
Moqtada. I met two of
Ali's tiny little neices and then I met his new, two
month old, nephew -
his name was Moqtada. We discussed many things over
our meal of rice and
beans - from music to the current situation in Iraq .
We were talking about
how children are being effected by the occupation and
we mentioned the 11
year old Mujahdeen fighter we had met in Fallujah. Ali
said "That's
nothing, a few streets away from here is an 8 year old
boy. During the
last attack from the Americans, he got an RPG and
fired it at a humvee and
blew it up, then he was shot at and injured, but he is
still alive".
Then we left Ali's home and once again walked through
the peaceful dusty
streets full of children playing to get our taxi home.

Incidentally, I heard a report about the 11 year old
Mujahdeen fighter in
Fallujah from a man who actually witnessed the boy's
bravery and skill.
there were two American snipers placed one each end of
the road on which
the hospital/clinic we visited was situated. In the
darkness, this child
rolled his body across the road from one kerb to the
other. He called out
to a man on the side of the road, under the cover of a
building, to throw
something white out into the middle of the road. This
was done and the
American sniper shot at it revealing his position to
the boy who then shot
at him and in the same movement he rolled back across
the street to the
other side, just in case the sniper fired at him. No
return fire came and
our 11 year old then took night vision binoculars into
the middle of the
street and could see the American's snipers body
slumped over a wall -
dead. My friend told me that the boy then left and
went down the road - he
heard that he used the same procedure there and
attacked and shot at
another American sniper.
What future is there for these poor children, whether
fighting or not? I
hear, time and time again, how children are frightened
now, were
frightened in the war and how some are not going to
school and how others
now have temper tantrums, suffer from nightmares or
how they have become
withdrawn and silent. This is a country where almost
half the popluation
are under 16 years of age. I attended a lecture about
this at around
Christmas time. The lecturer estimated that half of
the children in this
country are suffering from PTSD, and there are no
trained child
psychiatrists or counsellors to deal with this
enormous problem. Add to
this the high levels of unemployment, the continuing
security problems,
the ongoing violence and the lack of electricity,
clean water and petrol
and you have a country that is not years, but decades
from recovery.

And all this goes unreported in the news. What is
actually happening here
is simply not as important as what MIGHT happen in
Britain . Heathrow MIGHT
come under attack, but it has not happened yet and no
one has been killed
by a 'terrorist' there. But people are being killed
and people are
suffering daily here. But do you need to know about
things that are
actually happening? No.

In the days following the bomb attacks on the
churches, I have spoken with
many Christians in the neighbourhood. At least 3
families we know, who
usually attend church on a Sunday, had had something
else to do on this
day and, thankfully, they had not gone to church. One
shopkeeper told me
that the Christians will be too afraid to worship now
and that many will
want to leave Iraq .
We heard how one vicar, on hearing about the attacks,
got his congregation
out of the church and to safety in great haste -
although his church did
not then come under attack. And another vicar in
another church which was
bombed, tried to keep the panicking worshippers inside
in relative safety,
but away from the glass windows.
The day after the bombs, rumours were rife in Kerrada
- 5 more bombs had
been discovered and diffused in churches in the area,
and also a roadside
bomb had been found and diffused in Kerrada.
And we consider this a safe area!!

I can give you two first hand accounts of why the
occupation is detested
and why the Coalition Forces and the Western Companies
are despised.

One day last week, we were returning from Allawi bus
station in a taxi
when we passed the Ministry of Interior next to
Assassins Gate. We ended
up behind two white Land Cruisers as we crossed over
the Republic Bridge
over the beautiful Tigris River . The second Land
Cruiser, that is the one
in front of us, had its hatchback door open. A pivate
security mercenary
was sitting in the back pointing his gun out ready for
attack. Likewise a
mercenary sitting in the passenger seat - pointing his
gun sideways. On
Saduun Street we came a little too close to them and
the gun man in the
back indicated to our taxi dirver to slow down and
back off. This our taxi
driver did and the gun man stuck his thumb up in
thanks. I commented on
how these people behaved towards the local population
when it was not even
their country. The taxi dirver said "What can we do,
we have no
authority?" Mind you,when the Land Cruisers turned off
to go down to Abu
Newas Street and the Palestine Hotel, he hooted
cheekily at them and we
made signs to them. The mercenary looked stunned!!

Last night my translator and I were walking down
Kerrada main street when
a humvee passed us going the other way. My translator
made his usual
cheeky, rude gesture at them and we carried on our
way. A minute or so
later he was roughly grabbed on his shoulder and
pulled around by a mad
little jumped-up American soldier who obviously could
not control his
temper. I intervened and shouted at the soldier to
stop and get away right
now. He released his grip, but carried on shouting. I
explained to him
that since America had 'freed' this country, Iraqis
were entiltled to make
their feelings known towards their occupiers in a
peaceful manner. After
all, isn't that what democracy and free speech are all
about? Well, not
according to this idiot. Free speech is only allowed
if you are saying
nice things! His friend turned up then - the first
soldier had literally
got the humvee driver to stop and had jumped out in
temper and had run
over to us. Then along came his sergeant. Now, he was
nice. A huge
towering, 6'6'' black guy with a very pleasant way
about him. He was
furious with the crazy soldier, who still could not
control himself, and
he was also angry with their Iraqi translator. Their
translator was busy
lip servicing the Americans saying that they got rid
of Saddam and Iraqis
owe them - no wonder so many translators working with
Americans are
Anyway, the nice sergeant explained that they couldn't
have Iraqis making
cheeky signs at them - if they let one do it, next
time there will be
ten!! I said that it was better to have rude gestures
than bullets and he
agreed. He really started on the idiot soldier then,
who had still not
calmed down and we had a nice chat in all them
mayhem!! I said that the
actions of this soldier did nothing to win the 'hearts
and minds' of the
Iraqis and I explained that he had put all of them in
great danger by
jumping out of the humvee in this way and coming down
onto the street
where they were now surrounded by Iraqis. I mentioned
Abu Gharib and the
sergeant tutted and said "Look Americans put up with
this shit in our
prisons in America all the time". I pointed out that
America was supposed
to be the shining example of democracy, freedom and
fairness - and things
like this just showed the USA Army's true colours. He
agreed. In fact, he
agreed with most of what I said and I with him - in
the end I actually
took a big risk and shook his hand in front of the
assembled onlookers. I
wished him safety and I wished the idiot soldier a
long stay in Iraq . I
think I shook his hand because he admitted to me tht
he had not agreed
with the war and certainly did not agree with the way
things were going in
Iraq right now. He had such a kind face and dealt with
the situation so
well, that I really felt for him. But in the idiot
soldier, I could see
all the reasons why the American Army are hated here.
His was the face of
the abusive soldiers in Abu Gharib, his was the face
of the lost temper
which fires at a car load of civilains and his was the
face of the soldier
that murdered Shafaq's dad and blew away Abdul Azziz's
leg, and his was
the face of the murdering snipers that kill 10 year
old boys in Fallujah.
I saw the hatred and temper in his eyes - the hatred
and temper that
exists in so many soldiers here.
During this exchange a big crowd of onllookers had
gathered. AbuWalid (a
man I was going to rent an appartment off, but didn't
in the end) joined
in with us and was shouting at the soldiers'
translator. After it was all
over, we turned and walked away through the crowd to
grins and 'thumbs up'
signs - coy and secret signs of appreciation - many
Iraqis are as
frightened of American soldiers as they were of
Saddam's secret police.

We all know the reasons why America doesn't pull out
of the disaster that
is Iraq . But if they did, there would be no roadside
bombs, no Mahdi Army
Resistance in Nagaf, Sadr City , Basra etc and probably
no kidnappings. I
wish they would go and give it a try - after all
things can't get much
worse than they are now. Or can they?

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Gush Etzion

Gush Etzion
Susan Brannon
August 2004

"The revised route of the West Bank separation fence in the Gush Etzion region will penetrate deeply into the West Bank in order to encompass 10 Israeli settlements with some 50,000 residents, and four Palestinian villages with some 18,000 residents. A sizable amount of Palestinian land in the Bethlehem area will also end up on the Israeli side of the fence."
New fence route grabs in 50,000 Gush Etzion settlers and 18,000 Palestinian villagers 30.12.2004 | 10:48 Aluf Benn The revised route of the West Bank separation fence in the Gush Etzion region will penetrate deeply into the West Bank in order to encompass 10 Israeli settlements with some 50,000 residents, and four Palestinian villages with some 18,000 residents. A sizable amount of Palestinian land in the Bethlehem area will also end up on the Israeli side of the fence. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will bring the revised route of the separation fence around Gush Etzion and the South Hebron Hills to the cabinet for approval next month, following the January 9 election for a new Palestinian Authority chairman.
The route's approval could spark conflict between Israel and the new Palestinian leadership.The route was revised following a June 30 High Court of Justice ruling that invalidated a different section of the fence, on the grounds that it caused too much harm to local Palestinians. The revisions are designed to reduce the hardship that the fence will cause to Palestinian villagers in the Gush Etzion area, in the hope of enabling it to survive the High Court's scrutiny.
For the same reason, the revised plan also includes more crossing points in the fence and longer opening hours for these crossings. In the South Hebron Hills region, the new route will run along the Green Line, whereas the old route had curved into the West Bank to encompass five Israeli settlements, thereby also swallowing a sizable amount of Palestinian land. It was approved by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz in October, but Sharon did not want to bring it to the cabinet until he could also bring the new Gush Etzion route.
Government sources said that this "package deal" has two purposes: To soften international criticism of the Gush Etzion section by linking it with the concessions in the South Hebron Hills region, and to mute rightist criticism of these concessions by linking it to the enclosure of the Gush Etzion settlements.Work on the Gush Etzion section is slated to start this spring. The new route, the product of intensive discussions between the Defense and Justice ministries, will be presented to Sharon next week.