Letters from Iraq- Dec. 18. Jonah and a Whale of a Lie- Back in the Belly of the Beast

Jonah and a Whale of a Lie- Back in the Belly of the Beast. 12/18/02
Minneapolis

I have returned from Baghdad. As I get re-acclimated to the US after my 2+ week sojourn, an uneasy feeling creeps back. With all the talk, all the bombast and threatening of going to war to rid the world of Saddam Hussein, there is usually one thing missing. Iraq has 23 million other people living, some barely surviving, in what has been identified as “the cradle of civilization”.

While Europe was in the midst of what has been referred to as “the Dark Ages”, intellectual though and the treasured writings of the Greeks were kept alive and flourished in Baghdad. As our world struggles to define the minimum parameters of what it means to be human, we can trace some of the beginnings of social structure to the law codes of Hammarabi. Again, culture springing from the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

We have been told a lie- that we can go to war with Saddam and somehow, mystically, it will remain a war with one person, not killing thousands, if not millions, of innocent Iraqis. Somehow, we can target Saddam Hussein without jeopardizing Achmed, Abdul, Abeer, Ali, Amal, Amil, Amira, Amal, Dhuha, Fatima, Hebe, Karima, Mahmoud, Mohammed, Mustafa, Nassim, Omar, Sattar, Whalid, Yassir, and …, all real, fresh-and-blood Iraqis I was privileged to meet. They are not my enemy. I pray that I do not become theirs.

When I despair of the crushing violence of an empire bent on domination of a world, I can, once again, re-visit the story of the prophet, Jonah, who finally, reluctantly, took his message of repentance to the heart of his contemporary empire, Assyria’s capitol, the great city of Nineveh. That city, now known as Mosul, is in the Kurdish section of northern Iraq, in the middle of what today’s empire has unilaterally declared (with the help and acquiescence of Great Britain) to be a “no-fly zone”. It isn’t really a no-fly zone – US and British warplanes regularly fly there, bombing, on average, every third or fourth day.

Nineveh, the scriptures tell us, listened to the message from God, delivered through Jonah, and repented. Jonah, however, had his heart set on the anticipated destruction of his enemy, and went into a funk over Nineveh’s change of heart. Today, even though we want to identify ourselves as “God’s chosen people”, we are the empire; and even though what has been identified as “our enemy” has agreed to allow UN inspection of their proclaimed disarmament, our President continues to call for war. He would do well to re-learn the message of that feisty, Minor Prophet of the Hebrew scriptures: God wants to have mercy on the great city because of the lives of the innocent people living there.

I have returned from Iraq, the land that now holds the burial site of the reluctant prophet, Jonah. Like Jonah, I find myself in the belly of a great beast, and I cry out to a God who desires mercy and compassion. Let us hear the call of God for our own repentance and not wreak the havoc and destruction we threaten on a people who have already experiences the terrors and costs of war and continue under a war of economic sanctions.

The people of Nineveh (Mosul), Baghdad, Basrah, and Babylon are like you and me. We can see in their faces the same joys and sorrows. They, too, want their children to grow up in a world safe from threats. They, too, want to be able to drink clean water and not live in the fear of an earth contaminated by radioactive waste. It would cost a fraction of what we spend on armaments and munitions for this empire to insure clean water, adequate nutrition, and to allow Iraq to rebuild itself with its own revenues from the sale of oil.

Let us work together in this great land to repent of the evil we have planned under the guise of ridding the world of evil. Instead, let us strive to be #1 in compassion, healing, and reconciliation. What better way to once again to prepare our hearts for the coming of “the Prince of Peace”?

-Steve Clemens
Iraq Peace Team member

Letters from Iraq- Dec. 15-16. Returning from Baghdad



Dec. 15-16, 2002 Returning from Baghdad

Our return trip to Amman is delayed by an hour because Dr. Swann has to go get his blood test for AIDs so he isn’t fined $200. at the border. Our faithful Baghdad “cab” driver, Mohammed drives him to the clinic and after some back and forth about why he is here and the fact that he is a doctor, he is charged only $25. instead of the usual $50. The reason he didn’t get the test before is that several people told him the copy of his recent test conducted in Canada would suffice but apparently he received information correcting that impression. As we head out of town, David asks Sattar if we can stop at a fruit stand and buy some bananas and oranges for our long trip. We see in the distance the new “mother of all mosques” that Saddam is building that will hold 45,000 worshippers- at a time when many families are barely scraping to get by. I wonder if they feel the same way some of the families in the Middle Ages must have felt when great sums were spent on Europe’s cathedrals.

The land between the Tigris and Euphrates is irrigated and we see people working in the fields or tending grazing sheep and goats. Soon after we get beyond the river valley created by the Euphrates, we see miles and miles of desert. Occasionally we spot a few Bedouin tents with a new wrinkle- pick-up trucks and other larger trucks instead of camels! We pass a few smaller cities where, Sattar explains to me, the government has given the people the land on which to build their house. Almost all new construction appears to be concrete construction. A few hours west of Baghdad, I spot a few Iraqi tanks in the desert. Sattar asks us not to take photos of them. We comply since we still have to cross the border and I’m wondering what might happen since I left the laptop computer I brought in Baghdad for those remaining there with the IPT. I told Cathy and Cliff to give it to a local family if it was not needed in the future.

When we arrive at the border, Sattar very efficiently gathers all our passports and visas and other documents and begins the processing while we wait outside the building. The large painting of Saddam is graced by a text in English and Arabic stating that we are welcome here and that he has instructed the workers to efficiently serve us. After about an hour or so, Sattar returns and the guard begins to inspect all our luggage. When he asks each of us how many US dollars we are carrying, I can see Sattar getting upset. I learn later that this guard is very out of line with this questioning since we have entered the country with the blessing of the foreign ministry and should not be asked to declare the money we are carrying. Although I only have $20 USD of my own money, Sattar suggests that Peter give me the money Kathy gave me to pay Sattar for the trip and for our meals and hotel and visas for Jordan. Since they have no record of how much money I brought into the country, it should be no problem, but it becomes one when the guard asks where the laptop computer is. When I reply that I left it in Baghdad, he said, “We have a problem”. I’m a little nervous- but not nearly as much as I’d be without Sattar by my side as we drive to meet with the guard’s supervisor. He tells Sattar he is hungry as we drive to the building in the back. The guard quickly stuffs two bananas into his mouth and consumes them before we arrive at the supervisors station. After a few minutes, the two supervisors tell me that I can go now, but I should be certain to fill in the proper forms for carrying money into the country next time I visit. Sattar has already explained who we are and the purpose of our trip so I have escaped any trouble. Sattar is asked for a “tip” by the original guard on the way back and when I ask Sattar how much is appropriate, the guard tell Sattar he wants $20. I pay the “tip” and we are allowed to proceed to the Jordanian border.

Sattar insists that he be allowed to buy us supper in Jordan when we stop just before sunset. He is such a generous and beautiful man. We pray that he might find a way to emigrate with his family to Canada although we realize it is a long-shot and an expensive undertaking. He drops us off at the Al Monzer Hotel after dark, driving us all the way into Amman, despite the regulations prohibiting Iraqis from driving in the capital city. It saves us both time and money at the end of a long day on the road. David is catching a plane in the very early morning and we say good-bye to Dean as well. We’ll say good-bye to Neville at 6:30 AM as we leave for the airport. Although our flight leaves at 10:40 AM, Kathy instructs us to get there at least 2 hours early to secure our seats.

The Royal Jordanian flight is quite full and the magic sheet Peter passes to his seat-mate starts a very friendly discussion with the Palestinian sitting next to him. He is from Ramalla and he excitedly tells the man sitting next to him about us. I am sitting next to an older Arabic woman who can’t read so he tells her about us as well. Peter and I discuss how we will answer the immigration form we are given prior to landing at Shannon airport in Ireland. The US has set up immigration there to attempt to prevent anyone from even landing on our soil who “should not be there”. Oh, the tentacles of empire that reveal our national arrogance! We decide to list Iraq since the question on the form asks what countries (plural) have you visited? Even though there is no visa stamp in our passports stating we have entered Iraq, our passports show we entered Jordan, left, and then re-entered, with a 2 week period unexplained. I’m glad to have my attorney traveling with me! Peter says making a false statement is a crime in and of itself and we should concentrate on why we were there rather than risk arrest for lying. We had previously talked about “pleading the 5th” on the form but felt that might raise more questions and delay our return to the states. As it turned out, neither the immigration official at Shannon or the customs official in Chicago asked any questions as we proceeded through.

We are back “home” with a large responsibility: we must share what we’ve experienced and increase our efforts to stop this war. We are grateful that we have many friends and loved ones who will share that burden with us.

Letters from Iraq- Dec. 14. Bishop Neville Pacificus


Iraq Dec 14, 2002

Bishop Neville Pacificus

At our 7 AM reflection time, Neville Watson brought his stole and ring. In his rich Aussie accent, he told us that the only time he has used his stole in his 47 years as a minister was in impersonating a priest. When a friend of his was leaving the Catholic priesthood to marry and no priest would consent to marry them, Neville, a man filled with the peace and joy of Christ, who radiates that love to those he meets, said he'd be happy to oblige. When asked by the bride to "dress like a priest", Neville replied he'd "not only dress as one, he'd act like one". After the ceremony, the Bride's mother said to Neville, "Thank you, Father, that was a beautiful service"!

When Neville traveled to Bosnia during the war there, he was asked to be present and say a few words at the burial of 17 kids who had been killed in the conflict. He didn't have his stole with him at the time and wished he had it to communicate that it was not only his grief he was sharing but wanted a symbol to show that the whole church was in mourning. He also told of seeing stoles worn by Army Chaplains in military uniforms after an Australian tragedy and decided if stoles could be used to bless war, he'd find a way to use a stole for peace.

On his stole are two symbols. The first, a cross, which Neville proclaimed was there to remind us to work for an end to the idea of sacred violence. The other, a bright red flower, the Australian desert pea, reminding us that the desert shall bloom but also a symbol of blood in the desert- especially appropriate for the violence that has been visited and once again threatened on this country.

Neville also brought a large ring with a big stone in the center, which had been given to him by Yassir, a local Iraqi who is unemployed. Neville remarked that it symbolizes the unimportant people, the ones forgotten, and left behind. It looks like a bishop's ring so Neville stated that he has been consecrated and appointed by the poor, Bishop Neville Pacificus.

He continued the parody by stating that the first homily of his Episcopate was one that was actually delivered almost 100 years ago by Rev. Charles E. Jefferson of Broadway Congregational Tabernacle Church in NYC after he helped organize the NY Peace Society. Entitled "Militarism and the Church", the sermon was preached May 3, 1908. [Please try to find a copy of this on the web and read it yourselves.] The sermon ends:
"Rather I do pray that God will give me grace and strength to fight unceasingly and with every ounce of energy of brain and heart against everything which my own conscience tells me is contrary to the will of God and the happiness of [humankind]; no matter what forces are arrayed against me and how utterly hopeless the outcome of my labor seems."

After reading the sermon, Neville proceeded to talk about the act central to Christians around the world. "On the night he was betrayed, Jesus...", Neville began. Betrayed is a bad translation of the word, he continued. It is really the shift between acting and being acted upon. It was the point of Jesus' ministry where he ceased acting and was acted upon. The meal Jesus was sharing with his disciples was the Passover yet when it became time to share the bread that was accompanied by the words, "the bread of affliction", Jesus said it was his body. When he took the cup, he also changed the accustomed prayer to reflect the cup of the new covenant. Neville then took Iraqi bread and passed it around to us and asked us to eat it until it was consumed. He then took a new bottle of purified water, (what has been a lifeline for us westerners here), and said, Jesus used wine - but for us it is this water, and he poured us a cup. After we all partook, he gave us the blessing of the God of Peace to go in peace and work for peace.

Upon ending his parody, he shared his sense of disappointment that although he clearly wants to be here with the Iraqi people when war breaks out, he might be denied re-entry into this country because of inappropriate actions by a fellow Aussie during his stay here. "If I am unable to come back, I can live with that- in fact if I can't come back, I'll probably be able to live much longer!" Neville then shared the conversation he had with an architect the other night as they were talking about the architect's two kids and Neville's 3 grandkids. Neville told the architect that he hoped his [the architect's] kids would grow up to live in a better world than we have left it. The architect, with sadness in his eyes said, "If they survive." His children are 9 and 11.

Cynthia had us gather in a circle to lay hands on and bless Neville as he leaves with Peter, David Swann, and me tomorrow. We gladly offered our prayers and thanks for this wonderful servant of God! Had I not been able to meet wonderful Iraqi families and kids and be here in a show of solidarity with them, this trip would have been worthwhile in just meeting and spending time with Neville Watson, peacemaker and ambassador for Christ.

-Steve

Letters from Iraq- Dec. 13

Dec. 13 Iraq journal

We met with Dr. Souad Al-Azzawi, an Asst. Professor of the College of Engineering of the University of Baghdad. She received her PhD in Environmental Engineering from the University of Colorado. Her topic was the results of the use of depleted uranium weapons used in Iraq during the “war of American Aggression” in 1991. Since more than 1 million Du-tipped munitions were used by the American forces in the southern part of Iraq during the brief war, scientists have noticed medical effects on the residents of this area and the soldiers fighting there which first started showing up in increasing numbers in 1995-96.

Although it was quite difficult to hear her presentation due to the size of the room and her accent, Dr. Al-Azzawi showed slides with the results of soil and air samples taken from the area in 1995. She stated that 44% of the population in that area south of Basrah are expected to get lung or other cancers and about 5% of these patients will develop fatal cases of cancers. The effects will usually start appearing within 10 years after exposure. As of 1998, cases of cancers have tripled in Basrah. 7.3% of the Iraqi troops will have the same problems. 31% of the livestock was also exposed. Besides the contamination of U-238, there is also contamination of radium which has very active gamma rays. The cancer rates appear to be increasing at a sharper rate since 1999. Although more tests are clearly needed, the WHO (World Health Organization under the UN) changed it’s mind about investigating the effects of the use of Du weapons in Iraq after pressure was brought to bear on it. Given the realities of the economic sanctions, Iraq is hard pressed to be able to conduct the thorough scientific studies needed in this area.

I asked about the effects of the radiation and heavy metals on the vast fields of tomatoes growing in the area close to the “Highway of Death” south of Basrah. She replied that although there are not recent tests that have been done, she personally would not consume fruits and vegetables grown in that area. However, we were told that tomatoes grown there are shipped all over the country.

Letters from Iraq- Dec. 12. Highway of Death

Basrah- 12/12/02
The call to prayer woke me up by 5 AM and I showered and packed up my backpack since we wouldn't be returning to this hotel. It was just turning daylight when the power went off so I decided to write my reflection on the visit to the "Garden of Eden" site and the hospital. There is no sense in reciting the facts about cancers and birth defects again. If you are really interested, others have written much more eloquently about it. Suffice it to say that we are responsible for a monstrous war crime and it has been compounded and worsened by the continued sanctions. President Bush may rail about the ineffectiveness of the UN to do some things but it is a shame and a crime how the UN structure has allowed the US and Britain to make it complicit with this death by bureaucracy. The sanctions were set up with no end defined and the US and Britain are allowed to veto any items they wish to ban under the sanctions regime.


As we are driving south toward the Kuwaiti border, we see row after row of make-shift greenhouses. Mohammed, our government minder, tells us that they are growing tomatoes. What is the effect of growing tomatoes or any other edible fruit or veggie is soil that is likely to have been contaminated with radioactive dust from the war? Occasionally we past the scrap metal or burned out tank alongside the roadway until we come to a small path off the road leading to a much larger pile of scrap metal. These are a few of the vehicles pulled off the road after the war from "the highway of death". As both civilians and surrendered military were fleeing north from the Kuwaiti border on this highway, US planes bombed the road to the north, trapping the people and the vehicles. Then, in what has been since described by some of the military participants as "shooting fish in a barrel", the killing took place. Not all of this was with depleted uranium weapons, although one tank we did look at closely showed several holes where the munitions burned through or pierced more than 3 inches of solid steel. The mixture of military vehicles with cars and vans, obviously civilian in nature, testifies to the indiscriminate nature of this slaughter. Yet many Americans today lament that Bush senior didn't "finish the job".

I gathered the Iraqis who were with our group and ask Amira to translate for me as I apologized to them as an American. Even though I protested the war and tried to prevent it, I bear some responsibility for this slaughter. My taxes are used, albeit against my will, to pay Alliant Tech to make these indiscriminate weapons. I could always do more. I pledge to these new friends that I will return to my country to fight (nonviolently, of course) with renewed vigor to stop this impending war. My new friends want to distinguish between me and my government but the distinction can't be so cut and dried to leave me out of the sense of at least partial responsibility. Can I consume less of the world's resources so my government can use my consumption as an excuse to steal more or to protect what we have from the have nots?

Letters from Iraq- Dec. 11. What Have We Done To the Garden of Eden?




What Have We Done To the Garden of Eden?


What have we done to the earth?
What have we done to our fair sister?
Ravaged, and plundered, and ripped her and bit her,
stuck her with knives in the side of her dawn,
tied her with fences, and dragged her down.
- Jim Morrison (The Doors), The End

The town now situated at the reputed site of the Garden of Eden lies amidst decay and desolation. A group of boys and young men play soccer on a bare patch of dirt, many in bare feet, just a couple of hundred yards from the two dysfunctional water treatment plants for the town of Qurnah. One draws its water from the legendary Euphrates River, the other from the equally famous, Tigris. We are in the "cradle of civilization" as we rush to snap photos of the sun going down, silhouetting the palm trees, some which have lost their fronds from the percussion of the bombings and shelling over the past 22 years. We are just north of Basrah, a city of 1.7 million.

The sediment tanks are full of mud from the intake from the river. The chemical mixing motor is broken. The chlorine, closely monitored by the UN because it is "dual use", and the alum are now added by hand, the operator explains. The pumps are leaking, needing new valves and gaskets, not to mention, new motors. The sand and gravel filtering tanks desperately need new filters. Without clean water, many young children will succumb to diarrhea, dysentery, or other water-borne diseases.

In the midst of grinding poverty, there are two signs of hope. We travel with Tom Satar, a Vietnam War Vet and member of Vets for Peace. This group is working in partnership with Life for Food and Development, the only non-profit organization recognized and accepted by the US, UN, and Iraq. The are working together to rebuild, one-by-one, the water treatment plants that we, in some cases, deliberately destroyed during the Gulf War, or, more frequently, crippled during the past 12 years of economic sanctions. Tom has traveled to Iraq four times, learning about these critical infrastructure plants. He is here to "inspect" these facilities and make recommendations to Vets for Peace and LIFE personnel back in the US and Canada to get the needed parts. We are also accompanied by Amil, a bright, young graduate student who works with LIFE to improve this deadly problem. These two plants will, hopefully, be next on the list for rehab if the needed funds can be raised. The group has spent over $250,000 USD to repair a much larger plant in a southern part of Basrah, and about $35,000 for each of several smaller plants we are scheduled to visit this morning.


The other sign of hope is the children. As they are let of the school across the street, they see this strange group of 5 Americans (one of us Japanese-born), 2 Australians, and 5 Iraqis gathered up on the platform that holds the sediment tanks and broken chemical mixers. They see our cameras and want to pose for pictures, scrambling, like most 6-12 year old boys, to get closest to the camera, some daring to begin to climb the metal staircase leading to our position. When I take their pictures, they are fascinated when they see their image appear on the digital screen. More and more kids arrive as word magically gets out about the visitors to their town. Yasko and Amira have wisely brought some balloons for the kids and Tom has a stash of M&Ms and other small chocolates to distribute before the temperature, in the mid-60s, melts them. Few girls are in sight as seems to be the custom in Iraq where many women have disappeared from public view. Those women we have seen in public in this southern city and more conservatively dressed than the few women we see on the streets in Baghdad. Here in the south, virtually all the women and most of the young girls have their heads covered. Black is definitely the dominate color for the older women, a few colors creeping in for the younger-set.

After driving around the corner to visit the second treatment plant, this one across the street from the banks of the Tigris, the kids follow closely behind, running to keep pace with us. Additional friends have now joined them as more classes have been let out. Older boys in their early and mid teens gather round, some holding their English class text book. (All secondary school students learn English as well as Arabic, Amira informs me.) We exchange names, shake hands, and I teach them the word "Peace", showing them the two-fingered salute of the fingers raised in a V. The younger boys understand when I say "Salaam" and practice this new English word. They do a better job than I do in pronouncing their names. They ask me to pronounce other English words, printed on their clothing, delighted to hear my pronunciation of the words: Calvin Klein, Reebok, Nike, Authentic Quality, leather. An older boy brought his bicycle so I use that word and we talk about brakes- front and rear, the seat, tires, pedals. More and more questions implying "how do you pronounce this?".

One older boy wants to trade pens with me but I'm unwilling to pick one boy out of the more than 50 to decide who would get what. The camera and the digital pictures have already created enough jealousy and competition. Some of the words on the brand-name clothing knock-offs are badly miss-spelled, including the word boldly printed above "Authentic Quality" which is a mis-mash of consonants that is impossible to pronounce as an English word - something like "Ptontpntpal".

The joy and laughter, the eagerness to learn, the life and vigor are a wonderful elixir for us. It is just what we needed when our previous visit before lunch was at the Basrah Children's Hospital where a young Pediatric Oncologist took us to meet five of his patients, all young girls from 4-15 years old, in terminal stages of cancer and other diseases suspected to have originated from the radiation of the depleted uranium weapons used in this area by the US Army and Air Force in 1991.



Each girl lies on her bed with her black-covered mother grieving along-side. The mothers essentially live at the hospital when their child is here. The doctors plead with us to try to provide up-to-date textbooks and medical journals which the US has denied them under the sanctions regime. Amira, a beautiful, middle-aged woman, born and raised in Babylon, is our guide and interpreter and knows we need to experience some signs of life after this sobering hospital visit, thus scheduling the next visit to the water treatment plant that is nearby a school.

Yet, in the midst of the stark reality of the increasing cancers, grotesque deformities, grinding poverty, contaminated water, and machinery gradually decaying and dying, a much larger threat looms over the Garden of Eden. My President, my nation, wants to use these vulnerable kids in a macabre game of "chicken" with the old ally-turned-adversary of his father. Threats of an impending war that no one else around the world wants (except for Israel, Britain, and the Military-Industrial Complex), place the Garden of Eden in jeopardy again. As if the crippling economic sanctions were not enough. They already are warfare-by-attrition and the results are just as deadly. They are a "neutron bomb" that leaves the building standing but gutted of all life.

The Crosby, Stills, and Nash song drifts through my head- "We've got to get ourselves, back to the Garden ...". Yes we do. We've got to get ourselves back to this Garden with medicines, tools, supplies, and love - not bombs and bullets laced with deadly radioactive material. With understanding and compassion, not with the arrogance of a world-class bully.

The electrical power was off for more than 1/2 hour last night and again this morning for the past hour. These water treatment plants, even if Tom and others are able to secure the needed parts and filters and can bring them in-country, by-passing the sanctions, still need electricity to pump the water. The electrical facilities, too, were bombed last time by US warplanes. What happens on the cancer wards when the lights go out? Will the lights go out all over "the Cradle of Civilization"? Can we call ourselves a civilization if we continue to respond to each other with mindless violence? We need answers soon!

- Steve Clemens
Basra, Iraq.
Dec. 12, 2002. 5:30 AM

Letters from Iraq- Dec. 10. The Other Faces of Iraq



Iraq Dec 10, 2002

The Other Faces of Iraq

We went and got our visas extended today. That part of the process went smoothly but instead of leaving with Peter, David, and John, I went back to wait for Nathan and Dean. While waiting outside the building for them, I saw a fascinating billboard-sized painting of Saddam leading his people into battle. I took my camera out of my pocket and almost immediately a guard came rushing at me, waving others to join him, asking to see my camera and asking if I took a photo of the building. I hadn't taken a photo of that building they pointed to but they took the camera and asked how many exposures were on the film. I told them it was a digital one so they took it and escorted me inside the building and told me to wait. After about 5 minutes, they asked me if I was an American. I said yes. After another 5 minutes, I decided to show them the "magic sheet", a 1-page paper in English and Arabic describing what the Iraq Peace Team is about. As soon as the guard read the paper, he called upstairs and then carried the letter up there. I felt for sure that I might be kicked out of the country during the next 20 minute wait, but then an official came down with my camera and the magic sheet and apologized to me. I apologized back, we shook hands, and feeling quite chastened and humbled, I quickly walked back to our hotel. Upon arriving, I checked the camera and the compact flash card was still there so I didn't lose any of my photos.

Tarik Aziz


When I walked into the Al Fanar, several team members were waiting, all dressed up. They asked me where Peter was. He was upstairs resting after getting sick the previous evening. I was told if Peter was unable to go, I should return downstairs immediately, ready to go to a hastily-scheduled meeting with the #2 man in the nation, Deputy Prime Minister, Tarik Aziz. Mr. Wadah, our "minder" from the Foreign Ministry Office, and the person we use to be the liaison between VITW and the government of Iraq, joined Kathy, Bitta, Cynthia, Neville, Cliff, David Swann, and me for the visit at a beautiful building hidden from sight off a main highway. We were first ushered into a room to meet the former Ambassador to the UN from Iraq, and then he escorted us to meet with Mr. Aziz.

Mr. Aziz was dressed what appeared to be a casual military uniform and was warm and gracious to us. We were served mineral water and "chi", the traditional small glass of hot, sweetened tea. He talked to us about his concerns over the continued threat of war and asked us questions about our perspectives on the political realities in the US. He wanted to know why our nation had elected so many Republicans in November, despite the weakened economy and the scandals affecting some of our large corporations. He was aware of the recent declaration of bankruptcy of United Airlines and displayed insightful analysis of American life.

When one of our group asked his assessment of whether war would come, he said reluctantly that he felt President Bush was determined to do so. However, in face of the widespread opposition to any war around the globe, he was hopeful that a "miracle" might happen and war might be adverted. He said he had "1,000 and one reasons to reject the new UN Resolution" but accepted it on behalf of Iraq to show he world that they wanted to find a peaceful solution. He continued that they have given free access to the UN Weapons Inspectors and stated that our group was welcome to accompany the media in going to the sites to verify their compliance with the UN. He said that every day that passes without a US attack gives more time for the public movement to grow against the war. He mentioned Hollywood celebrities like Barbra Streisand and Susan Sarandon who have spoken out for peace. When we mentioned that actor Sean Penn was interested in coming to Baghdad, he welcomed his visit and showed he knew more about American pop culture than Kathy Kelly, when, after we explained that Penn used to be married to Madonna, he remarked that she is now married to that British or Scottish film director. He wished Kathy a happy birthday and our 45 minute visit ended and he graciously allowed us to take photos with him.

As we traveled back through the halls from the meeting, a group member asked the former Ambassador how he felt about the potential of war. "I wish I too could believe in such a miracle [that war could be averted], but I feel the US has already invested so much money into doing this that it won't be able to stop." On that somber note, we took our cab ride back to our hotel.

Amal and the daytime visitors


The name Amal reminds me of the Christmas story of a young Arab boy who welcomes the Magi on the way to visit the Christ child. This Amal, however, is a warm, engaging mother of three who paints wonderful oil paintings after the children have gone to bed. She welcomed both Davids, Cathy, and myself to her home right next door to the Al Dar Hotel where the other 3 team members are living. Her 3 children, boys 4 (Ali) and 6 (Omar) and a daughter, 9 (Abeer), are well behaved and offer us Pepsi to drink. As we talk to Amal about her art, the children get pencils and work on some drawings themselves. Amal explains that she has relatives who are Bedouin so many of her paintings have camels and tents. When I ask her if the paintings on her walls are of scenes from Basrah, she says no, they are of Baghdad. As late as the early 50's many of Baghdad’s buildings came right up to the waters edge. When I asked about flooding, she stated that this house, where she was born and raised and is over 100 years old, had 2 meters of water in it after a flood in 1954 or '55. As we were talking about the house, she said when the US planes bombed nearby, because a Presidential Palace is located across the nearby Tigris River, the percussion from the blast caused the roof in her house to collapse. She hopes to sell some of her paintings to be able to purchase a computer so she can teach others how to use it. Besides her fluency in English, she also speaks Russian and German because there were a number of business people from those countries as well as England in the years prior to the Gulf War.

The Intelligencia.



Tuesday night we were hosted, as a team, by Al-Beit Al-Iraqi, an arts and crafts gallery run by some extraordinary women who graduated together from an American missionary school here in Baghdad, probably 50 years ago. After looking at the magnificent ancient architecture of the building, complete with an open courtyard with date palm trees, we sat around a large room to have a conversation about Iraq and the possibility of the coming war.



I had the pleasure of sitting next to Dr. Qassab, an accomplished cancer surgeon and landscape artist who received his medical training, in part, in England, New York City, Buffalo, and Rochester, MN. We talked for about 1/2 hour when our hostess quieted everyone down and asked all of us to introduce ourselves, starting with the foreign guests. When we got to the local guests, all of the men and several of the woman made eloquent statements. It was obvious they had done this before with other gatherings. Dr. Qassab talked about what it was like to be "on the receiving end" of US rockets, missiles, and bombs.

A civil engineer whose daughter is a physician in England talked about being glad to see in us the "beautiful face of America." The America that is caring, compassionate, generous. But too often he sees the ugly face of America that hides behind walls and wars. America has the opportunity to be the leader of the world but is presently on course to be the most hated nation instead.

The group included a biologist trained in the US and England, a physician who is also a concert violinist, a supervisor of English teachers, and a retired army officer who also served 2 years in the US Army in the mid-60s. Here are some of their comments:
-The west values individual freedom while Iraqis value the freedom of the group.
-It is up to American mothers to stop this war. Mothers are the ones who understand the true costs of war.
-America is the world's #1 bully. If there is a terrorist country, it is the US. They bomb us on average, every 3 days.
-How quickly could we solve problem like cancer if the US would use the money and resources for good instead of weapons?
- [In American missionary schools] we learned all about democracy. How could your Congress give the right to wage war on the whole world to one man?
-Why are not all the children killed on the street in Palestine [by Israeli troops] not shown on TV in America?
- We [Iraqis] have been here for 5-6,000 years- who is the US to say you will come over here and place a military governor in charge?
-America has a wonderful constitution. I hope your people will be able to share their best with the rest of the world rather than destroying it.

Needless to say, I think the evening allowed these beautiful Iraqi friends and opportunity to both vent their frustrations with our government while also giving us a chance to see the wonderful gifts they have to offer the world. Not that we needed any more excuses not to bomb here. ...

-Steve

Letters from Iraq-Dec. 9. Demonstrating at the UNDP





Iraq Dec. 9

Today was our first public demonstration. If you get CNN in Spanish, Japanese Public TV, Iraqi TV, Dubai TV, or German TV, you might see me holding a "No War" sign or Peter holding a multi-colored heart flag or a white banner reading Peace in English or Arabic. We were in front of the UN Development Program office for 2 1/2 hours, causing traffic to back up. There was a meeting inside with the heads of the 5 agencies that UNDP works with including the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), WHO (World Health Organization), HCR (High Commissioner for Refugees), UNICEF, and possibly CARE as well. There were about a dozen UN troops stationed by the front of the building to insure things went smoothly. I'd take it that there aren't too many demonstrations like this in Iraq!

It was wonderful to be able to look into the eyes of the Iraqi people driving by, smiling, blowing their horns, waving, giving us the peace sign- reminiscent of our Tuesday vigils on the Franklin Street bridge and Wednesday on the Lake Street bridge- only without the occasional drive who gives us only one finger instead of two! There was so much traffic that I'm sure world will get around the city tonight that we are here. It was truly an international event with demonstrators from Sweden, Canada, Australian, American, and even a Iranian-Canadian! What a terrific bunch of folk to be in solidarity together.

The four of us in our arrival group that are under 60 went and got our mandatory AIDS test today. We were very relieved to see they use a new wrapped needle each time. Now we have to go to the Foreign Ministry office to get our 10 day visas renewed so we can stay until Sunday (for Peter and me) or longer (for the other 3). Charlie just got a one month extension so he'll likely be here into the new year.

My diet is back to normal after two days of only bananas. I bought a backpack so I can carry my water bottle with me when I'm out and about. Hope you were able to get some of the pictures I sent. Here is a description of them:
- one is of the outside of the Amariyah bomb shelter with the grave stones that soon will be installed to recognize the 408 civilians killed there in Feb. '91. You might note on the top of the building is a horizontal ventilation opening; that is where the second bomb entered that created the firestorm.
- a second picture is all we could see inside of the shelter because they are renovating it so more people come view it. You can notice the black charring around this metal door a see a little of the devastation the bombs caused.
- there is a picture outside of the orphanage with the group of people awaiting the relic of St. Therese of Liseaux. I have another picture of the box the relic is carried in which I'll show when I return home.
- the picture of the kids giving the peace sign are part of Karima's family that I visited with Dean and Kathy. Dean is in this picture. Mahmoud is the young boy. Fatima is the older girl in front. Peter and I are still working on spelling the names of the twins.
- the other picture is with the twins, myself, Kathy Kelly, and Karima

Great News! Kathy just informed me that Peter and I will be able to travel to Basra on Wed. and Thursday. Pray for no bombing.

Salaam,
Steve
_____________________________________________________________
I came here wanting to see the face of Iraq. Being able to look into the eyes of the thousands whip drove by our witness reminded me that these people are just like you and me. Yes, some were frustrated and irritated at the delay that was caused by our presence alongside the highway but many, when they the reason why, after seeing our signs, said in their hearts, "Yes, we want peace, too". We are one human family. But we also witnessed as well, one of the faces of evil that stalks this land. The UN troops were stationed in a line between those of us on the building's entrance-side of the street, spaced apart so cars going by could read our signs: "No War", "Peace", "Don't Nix Blix" (let the weapons inspectors do their jobs), "We support the UN Charter", Cherish Live, not Oil", "Speak Truth to Power", ...

Most of the UN troops appeared to be unarmed, although several carried rifles usually slung over their shoulders. The first soldier in line did have a weapon and was responsible for getting the traffic moved over into one or two "lanes", (One of the first things you learn here is that traffic lanes are merely a suggestion. Most cars end up merely inches apart.) As the traffic was funneled into a more narrow space, it naturally backed up, causing more congestion. Some cars actually bumped the end of this soldier's rifle at times.

After a very fancy car eased its way past this soldier, a new, monstrous SUV stopped a few feet from this soldier and a large, burly man stepped out of the vehicle from the driver's position. With an act of authority, he quickly strode up to the soldier a slapped him with great force across the side of his face. He obviously cursed him and challenged him although I could not here what was said. Immediately, a dozen or so of the UN troops rushed to the aid of their fellow soldier. Meanwhile, three or four other large men, brandishing automatic weapons jumped out of the SUV to join their driver. As the soldier obviously in command of the UN troops rushed to the scene, the luxury car in front quickly backed up to the scene as well. After heated words were exchanged, the "big wig" and his henchmen sped off. Some of these men who have killed and intimidated their way to power here, are used to being a law unto themselves.

It reveals the face of evil just under the surface. Of course, we remember Jesus' words and seek to over this evil with the goodness of the love and compassion of God. I was so proud of the soldier who stood his ground but did not retaliate in kind or escalate the violence. We pray we will have such discipline when we are confronted.

-Steve

Letters from Iraq- Dec. 8. Meeting with Francis Dubois, UNDP official


Meeting with Francis Dubois, UNDP official. Baghdad, Iraq Dec. 8,2002

French national. Was exchange student at Edison High School in Minneapolis (AFS program). Lived in US for 10 years. The Americans are generous, open. The countryside is beautiful but the politics of the US are terrible.

Saddened by what is happening in this region and around the world.
Has been in Iraq for 4 years.
The sanctions are a humiliation. They consist of over 12,000 pages of documents. When will it be enough? Although it is apparent there are rational decisions behind the sanctions, we don’t know what those reasons are. It is both about weapons and economics. It is obviously linked with Saudi Arabia.

It is a privilege to work it Iraq, a great country that exhibits resilience, generosity, hospitality. In France, people complain about everything. Here in Iraq, they don’t complain. It strengthens my spirituality to be here.

I joined the UN to work for peace. I am a man of peace. A was will lead nowhere. To target Iraq will not fight terrorism. The US is aiming at the wrong target. The west will pay dearly for this in increasing Islamic fundamentalism. (Remember, women cannot even drive or work outside the home in Saudi Arabia in 2002). The Palestinian people are desperate. We must have dialog and reconciliation, not threats.

I’m much safer living here in Baghdad than in NYC or Paris (where I was mugged in the Metro).

To focus now on Saddam is dirty politics. Where were we 15 years ago? (The US was supporting and arming him). A friend of his in the UN in NYC said to him: “The US is creating 5,000 Osama bin Ladens everyday”.

People in Iraq are tired. There is such fatigue setting in.

The Oil for Food program has $59 billion USD/ per year. This program has slighlt improved conditions under the sanctions. It has brought a lot of change in the 3 northern sectors (Kurdish areas). The money is used for food, electricity, education, telecommunications. However, 32% of the commodities requested have been put on “hold” by US or British reps on the committee.

Where is the end of the tunnel? My personal opinion is that the sanctions are ill conceived because there is no end in sight. He met with Hans Blix and was told that the Iraqi cooperation with the weapons inspection was good.

Saddam has allowed the Christian churches to be full. Christians feel he has protected them from the Islamic fundamentalist movement. There have been violations of human rights but there are also positive things he has done. I’m not the Human Rights Commissioner, my job is to help the poor. There are human rights violations in the US, Britain, and France as well. There are darker countries where human rights are more violated. There are clearly double standards: what about other countries in this region who have violated UN Resolutions?

Because of the sanctions, there have been no professional medical journals allowed into Iraq in the last 12 years. There is a desperate need for them, especially on CD ROMs.

Letters From Iraq- Dec.8. "Suffer the Children"

"Suffer the Children" 12/8/02
Kathy led the reflection time this morning and had Luke 18:32-34 as her text where Jesus says, "Let the little children come unto me, ... for such is the Reign of God". She told how when she used to teach in an exclusive Jesuit high school, all of the students had dreams of a better life for any off-spring they might bring into this world. Even those who came from situations of plenty or luxury had expected even more for their successors. Toward the end of the school year, Kathy would challenge her students to consider life from the perspective of the poor and to consider a life of service rather than one of accumulation. At that point, her students would divide between those who could hear that message and those who chose to reject it. What expectations do we have here for the children we meet?

Kathy then taught for several years in an inner city school where she got very close to the students. She got very emotional when she described Sean, one of her students who died. She related his death to the seeming fate that awaits many of the children here who she has grown close to if the sanctions continue or the war escalates. Each of us shared stories about how kids here at at home have impacted us. We then sang "Maria Diaz", a song from Sweet Honey in the Rock. The last verse goes:
Don't look to God up in the skies
You can't see God with closed eyes
You must look to where the children are below
And see that they too have a chance
A chance to live, a chance to dance,
A chance to dream in colors bright with freedom's glow.

We plan to have our first public demonstration tomorrow at the UNDP office after we were invited to come back and do so. It will be in support of allowing the inspectors do their work, against war, and in favor of negotiations.





I went to the "Presbyterian" church this evening although Wahid, the young man sitting beside me who offered to translate the service for me called it an "evangelical" church that grew out of the reforms of Martin Luther and John Calvin. So I think it is probably a hybrid of various protestant denominations although the sermon on I Corinthians seemed somewhat evangelical as best I could understand the translation. The church was not quite full but I counted over 200 people there for this 5:30 PM service. I was disappointed not to here any Christmas songs this time.





Our mandatory AIDS test (required of all males under 60 and females under 50 who are in country more than 10 days- at a cost of $50. USD) didn't happen today because we got to the very crowded clinic and the wait was too long and the bank closed at 1 PM. We'll try tomorrow after the demonstration.

Salaam,
Steve

Letters From Iraq- Dec.7. Day of the Black Tongue



Day of the Black Tongue 12/7/02
After a bout of "traveler's flu" last night, I awoke this AM determined to take a day off from eating, hoping to clear it out of my system. While clearing my throat, I noticed my spit was black and opened my mouth to discover a black tongue. Fortunately, three of the IPT members are physicians so this evening I had a "house call" from all three at once! They had just returned from a trip to Mosul to check out emergency medical capabilities. Amir checked out my situation and took a photo of my tongue so he could study it more. He said I should take one for my Dr. as well. He is not overly concerned so I am not either.



After his visit for medical reasons, Peter and I were treated to a fascinating discussion with Amir about Islam and the new reform movements growing in Iran. He left Iran when he was 10 because his parents were part of the opposition movement to the Shah. He speaks Farsi, English, and French (and who knows what other languages?) and is very active in medical organizations working around the world. He is very optimistic about the power of this reform movement growing, led in many ways by the women in the culture who have been so oppressed.




I've had my first ride in a Mercedes in Baghdad. The elderly woman who drove Peggy and I back to the hotel from the 7th Day Adventist service told us she had been to the US four times and has 2 nephews living there. Although her car is in good shape, you can see how it is aging, along with the rest of the economy. The service seemed typical with a few songs a few prayers and a sermon. What I enjoyed best was the Christmas carols played by the organist before the service started. For the first time, I felt a little homesick. The front of the church has a fairly large painting of what appears to be the Rapture with a western-looking Jesus in the clouds with some angels with destruction below on the earth. I'm afraid much of the theology in this congregation has more to do with the here-after than present realities. Although we had a translator, I couldn't hear very well since Peggy was between me and him. His English was very good, though.

Salaam,
Steve

Letters from Iraq- Dec. 6. Karima and Safa



12/6 report from Steve

The day began with a reflection shared by Neville Watson, the 73 yr. old Uniting Church pastor from Perth, Australia. At breakfast, we met Anders, a Swedish journalist who was supposed to have been here last week but was unable to get a visa so stayed in Amman most of the week. He was to tour with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation but will now spend the week with us. The balance of the morning was taken up by doing office work- compiling bios of the whole IPT Team to distribute to the press next week.

This afternoon, Kathy took Dean and I to visit a widow with 9 kids who is being threatened with eviction by her landlord. He claims he wants to tear down her apartment to build something more upscale- gentrification in Baghdad! She is presently paying about $12./month for rent (remember teachers are paid between $2.50 - $5.00/month and she may have to try to secure a different place for close to double of what she is paying now. I think the landlord should reconsider as President Bush likely has other ideas about "urban renewal". Her husband was an indirect victim of the economic sanctions: he died in a car accident due to failed brakes, compounded by lack of spare parts.

The youngest in the family is an 8 year old boy, followed by girls who are 10, 11 (twins), 13, 14, and 15. There is an older boy who has been in trouble with the law for stealing a car but fortunately was released from jail with Saddam's recent amnesty. I did not meet the 9th child. These kids were full of life and the youngest asked me to take out my camera and loved watching the digital photos appear on the screen after he took some pictures. Of course, after that, all of the girls had to take some as well. We will try to find a way to print a few of them to give to the family. I wish I had brought the letter from Joey Olsen with his picture for this visit (I will do so when we can go to a school), but they all loved to see my school photos of Zach and Micah. The joy on their faces is tempered for me when I realize what the continued sanctions and threats of war hold for their future. Please continue to speak and act out to save these precious children of God.

This family is Shia, the majority variety of Muslims in Iraq, and they have a drawing of the martyr, Hussein, son of the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, who is especially revered her after he was killed in Kerbula, a city to the south of Baghdad. here was also a picture of Mary, mother of Jesus who is also revered. Kathy brought small EID gifts for the kids who were excited. Some of the IPT folk will take them and kids from a couple of other families in the area to an amusement park tomorrow as a special EID activity.



Cathy Breen to Dean and I to visit another family later in the afternoon, but the artist we hoped to visit was out with her 3 kids but her husband, Safa, was home. A devout Sunni Muslim (the other major sect which is a minority within Iraq but tends to be better educated), He talked about his service in both the Iraq/Iran War and the war with Kuwait and the US. (the latter is referred to as the short war.) He thinks Americans like Iraqis and their problem is only with our government. He claims Saddam has over 2 million soldiers so he thinks America will be defeated if they attack again. Sadly, like the 3 young men at the border crossing, these men have little idea of the monstrous force they will be up against.

He graciously served us tea (everyone does) but also brought out cake, bread and jam. He studied the Koran in the university and told us that it prophesies that The US, Europe, and Iraq will fight Russia, China, Japan, and Korea- followed by a war between America and Europe and Islam. He had no doubt who would win. (Shades of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson theology with an Islamic twist.)

We hurried back to our hotel for a IPT meeting to continue to discuss our schedules and strategies for our time here. Friday night, 4 of us went to the old city for a folk music presentation that Cathy Breen likens to a mix of jazz and opera. There is a "house band" a 5 member group the consists of hand drums, tambourine, flute, violin, and a stringed instrument one plays with two metal objects. The songs start out slow and almost always end with an upbeat flourish. Each song is typically 8-10 minutes long and there were 4-5 different performers we stayed to watch. Entry cost us a little over $1. for 5 of us, including Mohammed, our driver. Admission also included a glass of sweetened lemon tea.

Since none of us had eaten supper, we asked Mohammed what he'd recommend and then we asked him if he knew of a place that had good falafel and hummus. He took us about a 20 minute walk from our hotel to what appeared to be a fast-food place where we had hummus (2 bowls), falafels (about 20 balls), bread, 2 Pepsis, and John had a chicken sandwich- all for about $2.

I've gotten my first bout of sickness tonight and hoping to rest tomorrow, trying to shake it.

-Steve

Letters from Iraq- Dec.5.1 EID


Report from Iraq Dec. 5, 2002

Last night there was more car horn honking than usual at about 10:30 PM. Peter and I figured that they had just announced that EID would begin tomorrow. When the new moon appears after the month of Ramadan begins, and is verified by proper religious authorities, it signals the beginning of the 3 day festival time that marks the end of the month of fasting and other disciplines. We joined our friends at the 7 AM service at the beautiful mosque which is several blocks away. All the women on our team donned the proper garb, including head coverings and entered the mosque in the rear. There they can hear the call to prayer and the sermon but are both physically and visually separated from the men. The men all remove their shoes before entering the mosque and most prayed, on their knees, in the large, unfurnished area inside. The floor is covered with many rugs and the inside opens all the way to the dome with many intersecting archways. The intricate designs pressed into the walls are beautiful, with Arabic writing circling the base of the inside of the dome. The exterior of the dome and the minaret (the tall tower from which the call to prayer is broadcast) is all in beautiful blue tile. I wish I could send a photo of it with this journal. The more formal part of the service began about 7:20 and all the men lined up in rows and bowed, foreheads touching the floor, sat erect, stood, hands cupped outward from their ears, and chanted in response to the calls sung out to them. After another period, the "sermon" began and some of the men moved about the large room to get comfortable. Like Christmas or Easter sermons in churches, it seemed rather long because this is one of the few times all year to preach to those who attend only infrequently. At the end, we go outside to claim our shoes and greet one another, many congratulating each other for completing the discipline of the month. We walked back to the Al Fanar, our hotel, for our typical breakfast of hard boiled egg, cheese slices, bread with jam and whipped cream or butter, and hot tea. We skip the sliced tomatoes and cukes to avoid getting sick from the local water.
-Steve

Letters from Iraq- Dec. 5. first day of EID

12-05-02, first day of EID

Went to the mosque this AM for celebration of the end of EID (see 12/5 email from Peter and me).

About photographs- even though I purchased the digital camera so I could send back photos, if appropriate -especially if the war intensifies, we were informed in our orientation here that we are to take no photos outside in the streets (or anywhere outside) because:
1) one doesn't know what might be nearby that the Iraqi government doesn't want photographed. Across the Tigris River just outside our hotel, is one of numerous Presidential palaces. Since our government has made no secret about wanting to assassinate Iraq's leader, it is no wonder the government wants to forbid any photos of the area. Of course, in this totalitarian state, the US is not the only one interested in "regime change" and I'm sure Iraqis are no freer than I am in taking pictures.
2) connected to this is the fact that the US has bombed here before and has clearly threatened to do so again, so any pictures taken outside might be construed as helping Americans plan their targets. After visiting the Ameriyah bomb shelter yesterday, where 408 Iraqi women and children were blown apart and incinerated by 2 US "smart bombs" in Feb. of 1991, it is quite understandable that anyone taking pictures might be suspect. Although the US at first denied hitting it, four days later they said it was targeted because they thought top Iraqi officials were there. I think it was targeted to send a message to the average Iraqi civilian that one isn't safe anywhere.




I walked toward the downtown area to look for a backpack but all the stores, except for a few small restaurants were closed for the first day of EID.

I was hoping to have more contact with the average Iraqi family but the restrictions of this closed society make that very difficult. By law, people must report the visit of any foreigner to one's home. Since it is estimated that 1 of every 7 people reports back to the ruling Ba'ath Party leadership, the nation is full of potential informants. Saddam's history of brutally executing not only the opposition but also the other leadership within his own party make people hesitant and fearful. The gesture of visiting someone's home if one is a foreigner makes that family suspect. We are here to protect and affirm the dignity of those families yet find it difficult to have much direct contact. Again, we must remember that our nation is at war with Iraq. We are told (by VITW vets) that our visiting in Iraqi homes might be compared to our finding out the people with ties to Osama bin Laden are visiting some of our neighbors. Would we want to know who they were and what the visit was about? It is hard to grasp what all the ramifications are for us being Americans here in Iraq. Even though we strongly disagree with our nation and its foreign policy, it is hard to trust that we might not have an informant or agent provocateur in our midst. On a more realistic note, who would be crazy enough to spend $2,000. to be holed up with peace activists, fearful of eating or drinking something that will make you sick? Under the Iraqi constitution, ordinary Iraqis can be executed for criticizing their government.

We are told that it is likely we are under constant surveillance when we leave our hotel. (Probably by US and Iraqi intelligence. Why don't they just cooperate and take turns watching us?)

We carry with us the "magic sheet" a one page paper written in English on one side and in Arabic on the other, describing who we are and why we are here. When I went to purchase an adapter which allowed me to plug in my laptop computer to the 220 wall outlet, I handed the hardware shop owner a copy of the paper. Within a minute of reading it, he was beaming and said "thank you". He wanted to give me the part free but I insisted on paying the normal price which came to 50 cents, US.

David flew to Mosul with Amir and David Swan to check out the hospital situation there. We got to know David S. and Amir better last night when we had our first full team meeting. We were meeting together at the Al Dar Hotel (where Cliff, Cathy B., and Peggy are now staying) and met to discuss plans for considering a action/press conference/or whatever for 12/10 when it is Int'l Human Rights Day and the day Jimmy Carter the Nobel Peace Prize and Kathy Kelly and VITW are nominated for the 2003 prize receives by one of the past recipients from Northern Ireland. After a log discussion, we will discuss it again. We also go over the schedule for the next few days to let each other know what is happening. They are looking for a volunteer to help at the UNDP office and I'm going to check it out, but with EID on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and the UN being off on Sunday, I don't know if I can be that helpful. Peggy, Cathy, and Cliff cooked our meal last night as they have access to their hotel's kitchen. We had rice and lentils, bread, and some sweet pastry items for desert. Amir also brought along some small meat pies he had purchased. We assume, since they are cooked, that they will be OK. Amir is a physician from Montreal but don't know much more about him.



Yesterday, at the orphanage, while we were waiting for the relic of St. Therese of Liseaux to arrive (we never did find out what was in the ornate box covered with a Plexiglas dome but it resembled a small coffin), we met the children who are raised by the nuns (of the same order as Mother Theresa of Calcutta). The nuns are primarily from India, although there are several from other countries as well. They dress in the same white garb, trimmed in blue, that Mother Theresa always appeared in. Peter was really impressed with them today when he went to volunteer. Charlie and Peggy usually go every day to play with the kids and help feed them. Most, if not all of the approximately 15 kids have cerebral palsy and range in age from 2-15. One little boy appears to be about 3 or 4 but is really 10 years old. A few are blind as well. Since the nuns speak both Arabic and English, a couple of the older boys call out to us in English and try to grab our hands or our clothes.

While waiting for the relic (we were told there would be a service at 8 AM but it turned out to be 9:30 or 9:45 before it arrived), we met a wonderful Iraqi Dominican nun who had to be in her 70s. She was graceful and very eloquent even though she hadn't had a lot of English. (Her order is French which she spoke as well as Arabic and English). She told us how the Dominicans started schools in the 1870s to help teach girls in both Mosul as well as Baghdad because girls were traditionally excluded by the educational system in Arabic countries. In 1974, the government here nationalized all the private schools and took them over. The Dominicans were allowed to continue to teach but lost control of the schools. I'd love to see the De LaSalle students adopt her classroom for one of their projects!

Thursday evening was a sight to behold. People out in the streets celebrating the end of Ramadan. I should say men because there are few women out on the streets. You might see 1 or 2 women for every 50-100 men out tonight. But there were scores of people by the fountain in the middle of the traffic circle. Other evenings I've never seen even 1/2 the number of people out. Peter, Charlie Lietkey, and I go out for chicken and rice at a nearby restaurant that Cynthia recommends. We had a good meal (1/2 of a roasted chicken, a whole grin-style rice, a cream of chicken soup, flat bread, salad-which we chose not to risk), pop and Tea for about $2. USD each. We had a great conversation about Charlie's various times in jail for peace protests and continue the conversation as we walked about 2-3 miles along the Tigris. We continue the conversation in our room for another hour before 72 year-old Charlie reminds us that we have a group reflection time at 7 AM tomorrow.

Letters from Iraq- Dec. 4.1



12/4/02
Dear Friends,

The smell of diesel and car exhaust fumes fill the air and there is constant noise of cars and trucks blowing their horns in what seems to us westerners as a suicidal game of near-miss "bumper cars". Despite being inches away from the next car as our driver speeds down the street, I have yet to see an accident. This is amazing since most of the cars are pre-Gulf War and seem to be hung together with baling wire. If one doesn't notice the age and condition of the cars, on the surface one might not see the quiet desperation of the Iraqi people. But when one is followed several blocks by a 8 year old boy begging to shine your shoes to earn a 50 cent tip to help support his family, you start to see a more accurate picture. The veteran Voices in the Wilderness volunteers here handed us each a 1/2" wad of money in 250 Iraqi Dinar notes, informing us that it was worth $12. US. 2,000 Iraqi Dinars are equal to $1 USD. Prior to the imposition of economic sanctions, 1 Iraqi Dinar was equal to $3.30 USD. If any families had savings in the bank, it was all wiped out. Teachers are now being paid about $2.50 USD per month.

We are asked to tip all the staff in our hotel for every service provided. It was embarrassing not to have any Iraqi money to give the young men who insisted on carrying our suitcases to our room when we arrived at the hotel at 3:15 in the morning on Tuesday. Most speak very little English but we tried to convey that we would tip them "tomorrow". It is suggested to us that we limit our tips to "2 bills" (2- 250 dinars or 50 cents) for their bringing towels, soap, toilet paper, clothes hangers, or when we ask where we can empty our trash can or find a vacuum cleaner, they insist on doing the work so they can earn the tip and help support their families. Sattar, the wonderful man who drove us from Amman to Baghdad and helped us navigate the immigration checkpoints as we left Jordan and enter Iraq is a civil engineer. When I told him about my work for Habitat, he said he'd love to help with any engineering problems we might have. A man who has every right to be consumed by bitterness toward his own government and ours is a gracious and gentle soul. We have much to learn here about quiet dignity as we recognize our common humanity.

The Iraq Peace Team members are a wonderful, eclectic community. At present there are 3 here under the auspices of Christian Peacemaker Teams- Cliff Kindy, a 53 year old Indiana farmer who has also been on CPT delegations to Columbia, Palestine, and Chiapas, Mexico; Cathy Breen., a nurse who is a member of the NY Catholic Worker; and Peggy Gish, a 60 year old organic farmer from Ohio and member of Church of the Brethren as is Cliff.

Voices in the Wilderness has provided others, including Kathy Kelly, the founder and visionary of the organization- a woman who has poured out her heart and soul to the Iraqi people for the past seven years. This is her 17th trip to Iraq and she hopes to stay here indefinitely, if the Iraqi government extends her visa. (every 10 days- two weeks, one must go to a government office to seek to have it renewed.) Kathy served a year in federal prison in the US in 1989 for praying at a nuclear weapons missile silo, joined a group fasting to close the School of the Americas in 1990, was part of a peace encampment on the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border in 1991 that the Iraqis evacuated as the ground war started, and was in Sarajevo while that city was torn apart by war in the mid-90s. While she is clearly our guiding spirit, we make decisions collectively and cooperatively.


Also part of the team already here when we arrived are Cynthia Bannis, a member of the Syracuse (NY) Peace Workers who was a volunteer for numerous UN agencies before she realized the tragedy the UN supported sanctions were causing. Charlie Lietkey, a Viet vet who won the Congressional Metal of Honor for valor as a chaplain who rescued virtually his whole squad in the face of enemy fire and came back to the states and threw his metals back over the White House fence after a public fast to end the war. As a member of Veterans for Peace, he has been an outstanding example of a man committed to peace. Neville Watson, a 73 year old Aussie "lawyer by trade and a Uniting Church minister by calling" was also here in 1991 as part of the Iraq Peace Camp and was "evacuated against his will" so he feels he has "unfinished business" and wants to remain here to be with the Iraqi people during the war. Bitta Mostafi is the youngest in the group, an Iranian-American from Chicago where she is a volunteer staff member of VITW. She is taking a year off from school before going to law school to study International Human Rights. I think she already has a great start with her presence here! Nathan Mussleman, originally from Reading, PA and a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University has been in the Middle East since his college studies brought him here. Having lived in Palestine the past year, he also hopes to live and study in Syria before returning to the states, also to enroll in law school. May is a video maker from San Francisco who just shot some video interviewing a man from Mosul (in the northern, Kurdish section of Iraq) who lost a brother in the Iran/Iraq War. There are also two physicians, David Swan and Dr. Amir Khadir from Canada here investigating emergency medical procedures but I haven't had much opportunity to interact with them yet.

Joining Peter Thompson and myself are the other 3 who made the trek from Amman with us: Dean Jeffreys, 45, another Australian who is a documentary filmmaker was with Kathy and Neville in the peace camp in '91. He is married with 3 and 5 year old children back home. He is very interested in care for the earth and appreciating the spirituality of nature. John Evans, a 78 year old WW II vet and member of Vets for Peace is a former TV executive who helped start TV broadcasts in both Saudi Arabia and Jordan in the 1960s. He lived in Jordan 3 years and Saudi Arabia for one and two of his children were born in those countries. After 30 + years, his Arabic is rusty but much better than others in our fivesome. David Hilfiker, 57, is a member of Church of the Savior and a physician who is no longer practicing but rather writing at this point. He and his family lived and worked at Christ House and started Joseph's House in Wash., DC- working with people living on the streets and those with AIDS. In a worship service this summer was a refrain, "We are the Iraqi people". He came to incarnate that prayer.

Just being included with such a beautiful "cloud of witnesses" is a wonderful feeling. Knowing and sensing the love and prayers for us and the people we encounter here is a gift you have blessed us with- may we share that blessing with those of God's children here. Please pray and work to stop this impending war!

Love and Shalom,
Steve

Special greetings to Zach and Micah. I wish I could "IM" you and have a dialog about this experience but other than being 9 hours ahead of you, all of our e-mail is monitored by at least two governments and instant communication like IM is blocked here.

Letters from Iraq-Dec. 4


Dec. 4- Iraq journal

Woke up at 4AM and couldn’t get back to sleep so Peter reads and I write. We had a very thought-proving conversation at dinner last night with Cliff, David Hilfiker, and Neville. After talking about the structure and style of the Church of the Savior in Wash., DC, the conversation moved into reflection on our role as empire and how we deal with the PTSD caused in it’s wake- particularly to its own members. Cliff talked about the need to find creative ways to heal from the stress caused by his CPT experiences in Colombia, Kosovo, and Palestine so he didn’t transfer the stress he embodied when he returned to his own family.

We talked about the war that is coming in relation to the war that is already here. The economic sanctions have so devastated people’s lives that the children are left to pester tourists to have their shoes shined to help support their families. We were followed down the street for 5-6 long blocks after dinner by boys aged 6-12 wanting to shine our shoes. Is this a modern form of “foot washing”?

Although we requested that breakfast be ready by 7 AM so we could eat before leaving for the orphanage, there is no sign of life anywhere near the dining room of the hotel at 6:55. I am wearing dress pants, a coat and tie. The rationale given by the VITW veterans is to help us blend in with the people around us. Despite the calamitous effects of the sanctions, the Iraqi people want to appear in public as anything but destitute. So, because we are going as a team to the orphanage for an event to honor St. Therese of Liseaux, we want to dress in a way that communicates our respect for the people we meet.

Language continues to be a major barrier in feeling we have really communicated – this in the country of the fabled “Tower of Babel”. I am chagrined at the almost universal lack in the US of learning other languages early-on in the educational process. It makes me all the prouder of Zach that he continues on with his Spanish in high school.

The constant barrage of pictures of Saddam Hussein beaming down on us only serves as a reminder that we are in a police state here. If one of every seven people here report back to the ruling Ba’ath party, one must wonder who here at the hotel is reporting back and what they are saying about us! It gives me the creeps to know that Saddam used to be our ally when he was fighting the Iranians in the 1980s.