Friday, June 23, 2006

Iraq stories:
"They ruined everything."

From June 12-20, I was a member of a group of U.S. citizen peace activists organized by Global Exchange who traveled in Jordan and Syria in order to listen to people and groups, mostly Iraqi, reflect on the U.S. occupation of Iraq. This post is one of several that report what we saw and heard.

While we were in Amman, George W. dropped in for his photo op in the Baghdad Green Zone. As a consequence, one of the Iraqi women we were lucky enough to meet with, Raissa Zaydal (left above), found herself imprisoned in the Baghdad airport for 24 hours instead of taking off for Amman. There's a snapshot of the U.S. project in Iraq: it has the capacity to lock down the country for a five hour visit but most residents won't even be able to see the visitor on TV because they don't have any electricity. When Raissa finally got off the plane, she joined Faiza Al-Arji, the author of the blog A Family in Baghdad to talk with our group.

Raissa, a middle class Sunni, brought a very immediate account of conditions in Iraq's capital. She has sons who are university students. The practical effect of having only two hours of electricity a day is that the boys can scarcely study. To get light, they need natural gas for their house generator (I guess the occupation has succeeded in privatizing electric service); the price of natural gas has gone up 10 times since 2003. Not that studying seems very relevant in a country with so few prospects. A friend of one of Raissa's son's had been randomly killed by a car bomb near his university only three days before.

She had been forced out of her pre-war job as a pharmacist, a victim of the pressure from religious radicals to return women to the home. In general, security has become so poor that women simply have to stay home if they possibly can afford to. People are afraid to send their children to school, so she worries that literacy rates are declining. One way some families seek to protect their daughters is to marry them off very young. The pervasive lawlessness and actual danger is destroying the future for Iraq's young people.

After Bush's stunt, she particularly feared there would be a security crackdown in Baghdad. The prospect didn't make her feel safer. When the U.S. forces have done this previously, they have invaded houses, tossing in a stun grenade, then breaking down the door. They separate the women and the men, usually handcuffing the latter. After the 2004 siege of Fallujah, she explained that they'd heard rumors that whole families whose houses had been searched and who appeared to have come through the ordeal safely, suddenly left their homes and disappeared. It took a long time for those who remained to figure out what had happened to them: it is believed that the soldiers (U.S. and Iraqi, she wasn't sure which) had raped the women after taking them out of view of the men. The dishonored families fled their neighbors as well as the soldiers.

While Raissa shared what seemed sensible, day-to-day fears, Faiza, an educated, middle class Shiite, expressed a carefully honed, articulate fury about what has been done to her country. Before the war she had been a civil engineer. Under occupation, her car was highjacked at gunpoint. Her son was arrested by the Iraqi secret service probably because of his blog but luckily released intact; see here for the story as told by another brother. The family knew it was time to leave the country and fortunately were able to move to Amman. She insisted:

"the media just show Bush. They don't tell you how it really is. They don't tell you about all the Iraqis in Jordan and Syria."

She has no faith in the new Iraqi government.

"Iraqis are lost between the occupation and the crooks who say they are a government. ... The young men are being made fuel for war. There are no jobs. The occupiers send weapons; they make militias; they make the young men killers.

"There are gangs in the streets that attack women. You have to put a veil on your daughter or send your son with her if you want her to go to a store.

"Women from foreign non-governmental organizations come to tell us that we should make a revolution against our religious leaders. This would solve our problems, they say. But who put those leaders in power? The occupation!

"They [the Americans] ruined everything."


Eric Mar said...

Thanks Jan for the reports and photos. I am off to China in a few days and hope to learn more about their school system, but also regular Chinese people's views about the US occupation of Iraq, etc.

Anonymous said...

so powerful, jan. glad that ronni bennett of TGB reminding me to visit you again. how to move americans beyond their passivity is the BIG question.