Reports from Baghdad: Countdown to Cataclysm at the Daura Refinery, by John Ross
Fear and Fury in Baghdad, by Jo Wilding / Human Shields - UK
March 14, 2003
Reports from Baghdad:Countdown to Cataclysm at the Daura Refinery
By John Ross
BAGHDAD (March 7, 2003) - The sun comes up sulfur yellow over the Daura refinery here in west Baghdad. The air quality is not too hot either. Fireballs that can be seen all the way downtown erupt from the stacks and the burn-off of toxic waste sears the eyes and smothers the lungs.
|Canadian "shield" Roberta Taman in Baghdad. Her 14 member team has appealed to South African statesman Nelson Mandela to join their vigil in Iraq. Credit: Suhaid Salem/ Reuters|
Last night, three US citizens plus a virtual international brigade of volunteers from South Africa, Great Britain, Slovinia, Cataluna, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan slept here under the roar and whistle of the stacks, waiting for George Bush to drop his bombs on this prime target which was severely blasted in the 1991 holocaust here, knocking a key fuel source off-line for a full year.
On Sunday, March 2nd, the hundred or so Human Shields currently in Baghdad faxed the White House to inform Bush that we are now on site at the Daura refinery and four other civilian infrastructure sites in Baghdad - all of them designated by the United Nations Development Program as human-directed installations. [We wrote] to remind the US president that by bombing these facilities he would be endangering the lives of his own citizens as well as those of 34 other nations who have come to Iraq to interpose their bodies between the North American death machine and the people of this unfortunate land.
We also sought to make it clear that aerial bombing of civilian sites is a violation of the Geneva Convention and would make the US Commander-in-Chief subject to international prosecution for war crimes. We are not hopeful that Bush will take our lives into account as his mad conflagration looms on the tarnished horizon but at least we tried to make it perfectly clear that murdering us will not go unpunished.
The Daura refinery is a little neighborhood unto itself. Muslim and Christian families live on either side of the guesthouse in which we are installed and they sometimes invite us in for tea. Stray soccer balls occasionally bounce into the courtyard and laughing kids rush in to retrieve them.
A child-care center is a few hundred yards away with a primary school right next door. Each morning, I walk with the scrubbed, smiling children to class and they practice their English with me. If George Bush harms a hair on their heads with his bombs, I will forever thirst for vengeance.
I write this article as six minders prowl through the guesthouse. To say that these burly men with Saddam mustacios and leather jackets are trying to control us is not an exaggeration.
The Rebellion against the "Minders"
At a mass meeting of all volunteers last Saturday in the ballroom of the ritzy Palestine Hotel, the chief of the minders, Dr. Al-Hasimi of the Peace and Solidarity Committee, ordered all potential Shields to immediately deploy to 60 government-selected sites or leave the country the next morning.
The Human Shields, who have voluntarily set up camp at water treatment, food storage, and power plants in addition to the refinery here, took umbrage at such ham-handed manipulation and once again, demanded that they be allowed to place their trainee corpses on line at hospitals, schools, and archeological sites which the Iraqi government, in a supreme political blunder, has time and again denied them.
The rebellion resulted in the over-night exodus of nearly 30 Shields who fled overland to Amman in protest. Nonetheless, nearly a hundred volunteers remained in Baghdad and utilized the moment to deploy to sites where they had already established a presence.
The government men forced dozens of volunteers aboard buses and ferried them out to the installations, temporarily taking back the initiative. The newcomers' ranks were padded out by an assortment of dangerous-looking types who seemed more like volunteers from the French Foreign Legion or escapees from Devil's Island than Human Shields.
Snide young reporters for whom the imminent war is little more than a crass career move, come to us with worst-case scenarios: We will be taken hostage as happened in 1991; We are worth more to Saddam dead than alive; We will be swallowed up in the civil unrest that will follow the war and swing from local lampposts. Or even the worst of the worst in which we are rescued by the Yanqui troops and earn a free trip to Guantanamo Bay.
Given our uncertain status - trapped as we are between governments - we are susceptible to panic attacks. But then hometown comrades from Mexico City suddenly, miraculously, appear, and we are chanting "El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido" in Martyrs Square, and the light at the end of the tunnel is not a freight train barreling down upon us in the claustrophobic dark.
Maybe I'm delusional but it sometimes seems to me that war is not inevitable. The Turkish parliament has thus far resisted the sledgehammer pressures of Powell, Rumsfeld, and Cheney to land 40,000 GIs on their turf and key Kurdish leaders have nixed Bushwa's ploy to exploit their fierce opposition to Hussein. Most of all, Baghdad does not seem to be preparing for doomsday.
Life's Sweet Glow in the Shadow of Death
Each Monday and Thursday evenings, young couples marry to the tumultuous honking of horns, the blaring of trumpets, and the pounding of drums. Old men wash cars in the street, the candy store man down the avenue just took in a fresh inventory of sweets.
But there is no denying that we have painted ourselves into a scary corner with our determination to fulfill our commitments as Human Shields. Last Sunday dusk, we went to the north bank of the Tigris and put little candle-lit boats of palm wood into the muddy river, closed our eyes, and wished for a peaceful resolution to this frightening endgame.
Then I read a poem to the handful of Iraqi National Theater workers who had invited us to this quietly desperate ritual in which I declared I would "never surrender my beating heart to the bastard who calls himself Bush." But if indeed he does nail me with his accursed bombs, "I will return in the flowers in the desert and in the open veins of the people." Inchilah.
John Ross implores you to try and save his life by informing the White House that he is on site at the Daura Oil Refinery in Baghdad. Ask that the White House [(202) 456-1414, fax: (202) 456-2461] cancel plans to bomb nonmilitary facilities in this ancient. John Ross may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fear and Fury in Baghdad
By Jo Wilding / Human Shields - UK
BAGHDAD (March 6, 2003) - Yesterday I felt scared for the first time since I got here, standing on my balcony, looking out at the city: suddenly I could picture the sky dark with smoke, air thick with debris, burning eyes and throat.
| Credit: www.endthewar.org. Iraqi children are not the enemy. Will we "destroy" Iraq to "save" it? |
"This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember it or overthrow it"
- Abraham Lincoln, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861
There was a police pick-up on the corner of Al Sadoon Street by the Ali Baba fountain, with soldiers on the back and guns mounted, pointing down the street. It was the first real sign of war. The fluffy teddy bear dangling from the rear view mirror was not as incongruous in Baghdad as it would have been anywhere else.
Small children played on mounds of sand and ran about the street and women chatted between ramshackle fairytale houses, with overhanging wooden upstairs parts and blue patterned outsides.
We found ourselves in front of an accumulation of curious children. I knelt on the ground and said "Marhaba" (hello) and one or two replied, "Hello." The crowd grew and I did what I do best - I pulled a face. All the kids laughed, so I pulled another. Their mothers began to join the cluster: stunning women with enormous dark eyes.
"Ismi Joanna," I said. "My name is Joanna."
"Shwanna," the kids repeated, and went through all their names: Maha, Zaineb, Treibe, dozens and dozens of them, and this one is that one's sister and that one is this one's brother, and these two are cousins, and as the introductions went on the huddle grew closer and the" tickle monster" urge took me. Assuming a fearsome look, I growled and made a tickle monster grab for one. Shrieking gleefully they all jumped back and, giggling, advanced again.
Where were we from, the kids wanted to know? England, Ireland and Pakistan, between us. There was a girl of maybe ten who was learning English at school. "What's that?" she said, and "Thankyou." "Afwan," I replied: "You're welcome."
A tiny one with round cheeks, long black plaits and a face full of mischief blew a raspberry and doubled up with mirth. I could describe everyone one of them as "the gorgeous one with huge eyes." Bright, chatty little girls and laughing boys - a little girl all in black with the most melting smile, a taller one carrying her little brother, kissing and nuzzling his cheek, a young boy who tried to copy the faces I pulled - all of them with hearts wide open and full of laughter.
They waved us off with more kisses blown after the taxi. I suddenly caught sight of the sharp, bright crescent of the new moon in the dusk sky. Then Felicity pointed out the Ministry of Defense building, just a minute or so away from those laughing children, their mothers and their homes, right in the firing line if the US and UK decide the Ministry is a target.
A Regime of New Thugs - Backed by the CIA
Iraq is a country of many different groups but the majority are Shia Muslims. A simple majority vote in this country would produce a Shia leadership, something the US is unlikely to accept.
The Iraqi National Congress (INC) is the body of exiles which is primed to become the new leadership - a "murderous bunch of thugs" that includes the General who led the Anfal campaign against the Kurds and the massacre of 5,000 at Halabja. The US and UK are aiming to remove from power someone who "kills his own people" by killing a vast number of his own people, in order to install other men who kill their own people.
I met a Canadian journalist a couple of days ago who had just come from Hungary, where a secretive training camp has been set up to train Iraqi exiles for an overthrow force. Many of these are INC members, trained, funded and equipped by the CIA. The US has repeatedly lied about the function of this force, saying for example that they were to be "translators" or would perform "civil administration duties."
Each "volunteer" is paid a $3,000 "signing bonus" and no background checks have been made because the US is in a hurry. The training is in Hungary because the US didn't want to admit the trainees within its own borders.
So the CIA is funding and training an army of opposition soldiers made up of anyone it could find, whilst also funding and legitimizing an opposition political movement that includes many people heavily implicated in atrocities which they are using to justify their war.
And then Iraq will be controlled through its debts. In terms of its debt-to-export ratio, Iraq is the most indebted country in the world. Its external debt of $130 billion is rising all the time through compound interest and cannot be repaid with Oil For Food money. The UN has already awarded $36 billion in compensation claims against Iraq for the invasion of Kuwait and is considering a further $127 billion. Iraq's export earnings in the six-and-a-half years of the Oil For Food program have been only $51 billion.
Structural adjustment policies are enforced on heavily indebted countries so that their resources are taken over by multinational companies and the wealth is taken out of the country. Public services are privatized, so the burden of paying for water, health care, education is shifted to the people.
The Children Play and I'm No Longer Scared
Children play football on the roofs of bomb shelters, raised above the ground because it's impossible to build them fully underground when the water table is so high. Walking between them, you have to duck the balls, usually followed by a child, as they fly over the edge.
So now I'm not scared. Now I'm furious. I'm raging. I'm going to stay here and watch it all happen and I won't turn my head away no matter how hard it is to bear, and afterwards I'm going to come back and tell the warmongers in the government and the corporations about the sparkling eyes and the bubbling laughter of every single person they kill here. I'm going to write down their crimes, one by one, and name their victims, and I'm not going to stop until there's justice in the world.
Jo Wilding may be reached at email@example.com, www.bristolfoe.org.uk/wildfire.
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