Special Edition: Reports from Iraq
'And then the Bombs Began to Fall' by Ramzi Kysia (Iraq Peace Team), 'Human Shields Sing as the Bombs Rain Down' by Tom Cahill, and 'The View from the Ground' by the Iraq Peace Team (Voices in the Wilderness)
April 4, 2003
And then the Bombs Began to Fall ...
by Ramzi Kysia / Iraq Peace Team
BAGHDAD -- Wednesday, the day it started, I went around to some of the high schools. About half the students weren't there. Some were staying at home with their folks. I talked to the teachers. I talked to some students. One of the English teachers did break down in front of me. She was scared about the US possibly using chemical weapons here. She was scared about this new bomb she heard of -- "the mother of all bombs." I tried to comfort her as much as I could.
The kids talked about how hard it had been the day before, the last official day of school. Everybody said good-bye to one another. It was really emotional. They didn't know whether they were going to see their friends again.
Wednesday had a very strange feel to it. It was as if the weather reports are saying there's about to be a hurricane and people are just going about their business preparing for the hurricane. No panic, but you saw people taping up their windows, getting supplies, just trying to get ready for what was about to happen.
People are out on the street. The markets were open. I think though that it's not going to stay like this. We hear there are several American armored divisions approaching Baghdad. The B-52s in Britain are being fueled up and are ready to go for saturation bombing. Maybe tonight.
There is an air of bravado among people here. They tell you that the US has bombing them for the last 12 years and they're still here. But I think underneath that everybody is very scared. I know I'm very scared.
I went upstairs to my room to shower and I heard the air-raid sirens. The sirens cut off after a minute so I brushed my teeth and waited a little bit. Nothing happened for about 10 minutes so I figured that it was a false alarm. I got into the shower and was all lathered up when -- BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM! -- they started bombing.
I put on my clothes and went downstairs. Everybody had gathered in the tea room here at the Al Fanar. The team seemed fine. They were playing chess, people were drinking tea, journaling. [Missiles] hit a couple buildings across the river. We've heard conflicting reports: Two buildings behind the Ministry of Planning; some people have said it was the old National Assembly; others said it was the building that housed Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz's office.
If it is at all possible, we're going to try and volunteer with [relief agencies] to provide direct assistance to people -- to be a presence in the city, to visit with the people that we've come to love.
The group mourns what is happening to Iraq and what has been happening the last 13 years. It's horrendous. Hundreds of thousands of people in this country have been killed because of greed and short-sightedness on the part of politicians on all sides. Millions of people now are risk. If they do saturation bombing here thousands of people are going to die. I don't know how many have died already.
We're trying to not let George Bush or Tony Blair or Saddam Hussein depress us. You hear the phrase: "Life is a joy." The reason that we work so hard here in Iraq is because that choice for life to be a joy has been taken away from so many people. Violently taken away from them. And I don't think we can let that happen to us.
Human Shields Sing as the Bombs Rain Down
by Tom Cahill
BAGHDAD (March 21, 2003) -- There are 13 of us from eight countries now at the 7th of April Water Treatment Plant ten or twenty miles northwest of downtown Baghdad. Although we put on a brave front with lots of black humor, we are all terrified but so angry with our respective governments that we are more determined than ever to fulfill our mission -- to try to protect our site from the "smart" bombs.
Washington has been notified more than once of every site the more than 100 Human Shields from 25 countries are trying to protect under the Geneva Convention. In Baghdad there are hundreds of others -- ambassadors of peace -- including Kathy Kelly and Charlie Lietkey, a US Medal of Honor winner turned peace activist.
We've taped the windows in our dormitory and have gathered a large supply of bottled and bagged water and a smaller supply of food. Our vacation is over. We are no longer "peace tourists," as we used to call ourselves. We are now truly human shields and are getting organized for siege. Our large medical kit includes surgical instruments.
I badmouth the Bush Administration so much to the world media that my comrades are convinced the US government wants me home alive for trial as a traitor. For this reason, they think our site is safest. We joke about them sticking to me like glue -- all sleeping close to me.
Last night during the bombing of Baghdad, I played on my harmonica The Internationale while Helene Dryer of Denmark and Mitsuo Tsukushi of Japan sang the words in their respective languages and everyone else hummed along as we watched the flashes in the sky. We repeated the song over and over until Donna Mulhearne of Australia asked us to pipe down. She was on the phone being interviewed by the media in Sydney.
We need large numbers of US activists, willing to fill the jails, nonviolently stopping business-as-usual. Please all, do what you can to stop galloping corporatism. If I can't e-mail again, goodbye, good luck and may the good Lord take a liking to you.
Tom Cahill is a member of Veterans For Peace, Peace Navy, Industrial Workers of the World, and Earth First. A former resident of dozens of towns and cities in California, Texas, and New Jersey, Cahill now describes himself as a resident of Baghdad.
The View from the Ground
The Iraq Peace Team / Voices in the Wilderness
(March 24, 2003) -- Today the Voices in the Wilderness office received a flood of phone and email updates from our people in Baghdad. What follows is a collection of excerpts from these updates:
I'm at the al Fanar Hotel right now. Baghdad is still being bombed. We were bombed as recently as 15 minutes ago. It rattled all the windows and shook the walls. It was a series of explosions, but that seems to have passed. I don't know where the bomb hit, but it was not too far from here.
General Tommy Franks described the bombing as a "mosaic" and we can understand that. We simply don't know when bombs are suddenly going to burst overhead. It continues to be horrifying when you think about what's happening to families, particularly now as members of the Iraq Peace Team have started to go to the hospitals and to the sites where family people have been harmed. We were utterly appalled when we heard that the Bush Administration is saying the war is a success because there have only been hundreds of casualties in spite of ... thousands of cruise missiles and bombs.
But we now know of some of these so-called success stories and it can make you wonder what kind of perversity can be possessing the Oval Office and the defense planners. Some of our team members today with Dr. April Hurley encountered a family that was just rushing into a hospital after a bomb hit the picnic lunch they were having in front of their home. At least one child was killed. Two others are in uncertain condition.
At both of the hospitals we visited, doctors were working around the clock trying their best to heal people and, if they have minimal injuries, send them on their way so that they can make beds available for the many, many more casualties they expect to come. Particularly as there are reports of more massive bombings and a possible siege of Baghdad.
The air-raid sirens are wailing. This has been a daily and nightly event. We are all sleep-deprived. I continue to marvel at how well people handle themselves -- from the youngest of children to the most seasoned of peace activists to the people who are new to war zones. And of course these many, many families that are no strangers to war.
We get many phone calls from the media wanting to know casualty numbers and information about places hit. There's a lot of talk about "precision." Are the Americans hitting "precise" targets? Are they keeping casualties to a "minimum"? It makes me very angry. Even if it were precision bombing ("precision" meaning that not a single civilian or home were hit), it still doesn't make this war legitimate.
I don't know how we're going to hold the American administration accountable. But it isn't that precise. We've gone to a hospital to see the civilian casualties. We've gone to visit bomb sites. There are civilian homes that are being hit. I wonder how many people -- little girls, little boys, mothers, fathers, grandparents -- do we need to see either dead or maimed in order to say this is wrong.
I watched TV yesterday and I saw some American casualties, some prisoners of war and some dead, and it breaks my heart to see those young soldiers stripped of their gear and their teams and their armaments and their weapons and their certainties, alone in the enemy camp. It shouldn't come to that.
The city has been engulfed in a thick black smoke caused by large ditches of oil fires [that] are supposed to make it more difficult for missiles to hit their mark. There were also winds from the south today which brings a heavy dust covering. It seems like twilight everyday.
We have all heard about "Shock and Awe" but I can tell you that on the ground it feels a lot more like "misery and terror." For the last week, there has been a very limited access to food and other basic necessities. I would say that about 95 percent of the city is shut down.
Most of the Iraqis we meet seem to remain calm in the face of bombing. They ask us, "Why?" They ask us after each bomb, "How many people do you think died in that one?" The question is rhetorical. We do not respond because there is really nothing to say.
While the Iraqis continue to be friendly, many see the invasion as hostile, and there are many civilians with guns. Perhaps not state-of-the-art guns, but it seems clear that there are many people here who -- in addition to the armed forces -- are prepared to defend themselves from any invasion forces.
Note: Thorne Anderson and Jerry Zawada left Baghdad for Amman, Jordan on March 23rd. Having heard reports about everything from bombing to looting on the road connecting the two capitals, we were relieved to receive this update from Amman:
The trip from Baghdad was lonely and creepy. We saw burning oil pits, bombed and burned out cars on the side of the road, a couple of downed bridges, a destroyed roadside tea stand (the place we always stop on the trip to Baghdad from Amman), a destroyed ambulance abandoned down the embankment, a few routes hastily blocked with piles of rocks, etc.
The Iraqi border crossing was surprisingly painless. United Nations High Commission on Refugees observers at the border told us that they had seen ZERO Iraqi refugees crossing into Jordan and were worried about that. Many young Iraqi men were being expelled from Jordan back into Iraq. They walk across the border into the empty dark desert with small bags slung over their shoulders.
The Voices in the Wilderness' Iraq Peace Team is a group of international peaceworkers remaining in Iraq through the war, in order to be a voice for the Iraqi people in the West. The Iraq Peace Team can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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