Saturday, May 31, 2003

This is the best letter I've read on the anarchy that is Iraq, a country which has come to resemble a painting by Hieronymus Bosch. One excerpt:

"Sheik Ali Ala leads me through a slum bordering on Sadr City (formerly
Saddam City). He has installed a makeshift first aid station in a school.
Children with burned faces are being treated here; there is a paraplegic
boy whose spinal cord has been severed by a projectile. Doubled up, he
lies in a corner. Innumerable patients are waiting in the courtyard.
The first aid station is set up in the empty rooms of a school - a school
where there is no water, no electricity, no glass in the windows and where
some of the children are being taught while sitting on the floor. The
public teachers who teach here have recently called on the sheik - for
almost three months there has been no pay and they do not know how they
can survive. Approximately 50,000 people live in this slum which has
neither sewers nor functioning running water. The sheik tells of many
civilian victims in this residential quarter. The Iraqi army had
positioned its tanks near the residential buildings and the Americans
bombarded these buildings and killed the inhabitants. Cluster bombs were
also used here. In a ruined apartment building the sheik shows me an
unexploded bomb. Someone asked the Americans to remove it because it is
hard to keep the children away from it. The response was that clearance
work was not their responsibility."

More on Iraq:
  • In Baghdad:

    1. The complete lack of security, and the absence of any real policing, continues to be the main problem.

    2. The total incompetence of the American occupiers means that garbage is still not collected, people are still not being paid (and therefore have insufficient money for food), the water system still doesn't work, and people have to stay cooped up in their increasingly hot houses as it is too dangerous to go out (they can no longer sleep on their roofs at night because of the danger of gunfire). The lawlessness has led to a combination of vigilanteism and strict fundamentalist control.

    3. American troops raided the Palestinian Authority's mission in Baghdad, ransacked the building, and arrested a number of people, including its charge d'affairs. It's nice to know that the Israeli dirty-work squad, formerly known as the American Army, is on the job.

    4. Orphanages have been looted, thus throwing children who lived there out on the streets.

  • In Basra:

    1. The United Nations says that the number of confirmed cases of cholera is already higher than in the whole of last year (64 cases already, with many more cases probably as yet undetected, as compared to 39 for all of last year). Of course, the number of cases last year would have been elevated because of the application of the punitively-applied Anglo-American sanctions.

    2. Garbage:

      "The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported an agreement to resume the cleanup of garbage that has been accumulating on the streets of Basra, Iraq's second largest city, for more than two months, posing a potential health hazard.

      The accord was signed by UN agencies, coalition forces, the United States Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance and municipal authorities."

      If this kind of multilateral agreement is required to pick up the last two months of garbage, it is little wonder that nothing is getting done.

    3. Generally, by British MP Bernard Jenkin, who has recently returned from Iraq:

      "In Basra itself, there is an impression that things are half-working - markets are buzzing (there is not a shortage of food in Basra at the moment), shops are open, there are cars on the roads. Even smart yellow buses are running, but all this gives a false impression. In reality, nobody is in charge of anything. The only reason there are buses is because the drivers themselves hid them during the conflict. They now run each bus as a private business. There is no bus company or municipal authority, no rubbish collection, virtually no public services of any kind, no courts, no magistrates or prison service. There are piles of rubble, burnt-out vehicles and squalor in the streets. There are queues at petrol stations, for cooking gas and for potable water delivered by British army tankers."

    4. The love for democracy expressed as one of the reasons for the attack on Iraq by Blair-Bush is only a theoretical love, as the British have disbanded the city council in Basra, a council they were quite proud of a few weeks ago. The stated reason for the disbandment is that the council was dominated by hated Baathists, which may be true, but the locals are understandably upset that the local government is now going to be run by the British. If they really cared about democracy, they would get rid of the bad leader, but leave a locally chosen council in place as the local government.

  • In Hit, the Americans arrived to disarm the population, applied their usual charm - NOT! - and were met with a riot. The general failure of social services and the failure to pay salaries have led to a simmering anger in the whole country, and anger which came to the boil when combined with overly aggressive house invasions by the clumsy American troops. To add to the anger, the Americans used the assistance of the hated local police in their gun searches. Resident Amer Aziz said:

    "The Iraqi police were very rough with our women. They forced their way into houses without knocking, sometimes when women were sleeping. This is a very conservative town."

    The most interesting aspect of the searches is that the appear to be a form of revenge taken by the Americans for the previous day's rocket-propelled grenade firing on a U.S. convoy. Fawzi Saud, a teacher whose house was searched Tuesday, said:

    "They are provoking us. This is a violation of our dignity.They have no right to enter our house and search it.I'm not a soldier, I'm not a policeman, I'm not a party member."

    Unless the Americans grow some brains soon, it is going to be a long summer.

  • On Nasiriyah, by Salam Pax on May 22 (I find it amusing that Salam Pax was the hero of the warmongers until he had the bad taste to say some things mildly critical of the people who were dropping bombs on his head, at which point he became some sort of Baathist spy for Saddam):

    "Something in the Nasiriyah electricity station exploded, this station feeds most of the southern areas with the exception of Basra. Between Karbala and Diwaniya the grid is down. Nasiriayh does not have drinking water at all and people are drinking untreated river water, you can imagine what that will do. An hour and a half down the road is Basra where the RO Water is now more than they need but no one is driving water tanks to Nasiriyah. The type of 'humanitarian aid' reaching the southern governorates turns the situation into a sick comedy. Nasiriayh Hospital got 20 boxes; six of them had only shampoo in them. Need a blood transfusion? Have shampoo, it smells nice. Another four or five were full of past-use-date stitching thread. In Basra the trucks of 'humanitarian aid' coming from Saudi Arabia have crates of Pepsi in them. The Pediatric ward there is running out of medicine to suppress a fever, but they do have Pepsi. If this was in a movie it would be hilarious."

  • Villagers in the area of the looted Tuwaitha nuclear facility continue to show signs of radiation poisoning, probably caused by the radioactive material in the containers they looted. The Americans have finally allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect the site to see how bad the situation is. Looting continues, as the Americans, after removing the Iraqi guards, still haven't placed sufficient troops at the site. A source close to the IAEA said:

    "It's been two months now. It's absolutely crazy. If you've got a nuclear emergency, you get the IAEA in. It's getting the sheepdog to look after the sheep."

  • Looters are starting to steal from the gasoline pipelines (you can bet that gasoline looting won't be tolerated as the other looting is, as gasoline looting reaches right into Bush's friends' pockets).

  • British troops appear to have tortured Iraqi POW's, with one brilliant soldier actually providing evidence in his trophy photos, which he tried to have developed in England.

  • In Samarra, American soldiers opened fire on a wedding parade, killing three teen-agers and wounding seven others after the celebrants fired weapons in the air, a custom in Iraq now banned by the 'liberators'. "Very irritable" soldiers with rifles then entered the hospital to obtain the names of the wounded, causing some people to flee in fear. The day after the shooting, the Americans issued a curfew which interferes with evening prayers.

  • I remember noting the death of a woman who had just completed her PhD in psychology. At the time, what struck me was the unlikelihood of there being any more female doctorates in an Iraq controlled by fundamentalist Islam. Women are already starting to notice the beginnings of restrictions on freedom with the control shifting to Shiite clerics, and I don't doubt that they will be living in the Middle Ages fairly soon. Due to the complete lack of security, women have basically disappeared from the streets, and are prisoners in their own homes. Female children are being taken out of school as their families don't feel they can be protected. One of Saddam's few virtues was that he was a secularist and, in the context of the Arab world, a feminist, and I can see his social reforms all disappearing down the slippery slope that starts with head scarfs and chaperones.

  • More soon, as it is hard to keep up with the insanity of the occupation.