- I took yesterday 'off' by basically hibernating inside
my hotel room. As has happened so often before, I found myself tired and
depressed after covering so many different aspects of the occupation -
from maimed and dead bodies in hospitals, to one demolished building after
another staring me in the face throughout Baghdad, to witnessing grinding
poverty, to the constant threat of being blown up by an IED (Improvised
Explosive Device) or shot by a trigger happy US soldier. After awhile it
all tends to get one a bit down.
- I can only imagine how the people of Iraq get by on a
daily basis, and continue to push forward with life, having endured years
of war, 13 years of devastating sanctions, and now an occupied homeland.
- Today, I went to the Iraqi Air Defense Ministry. Or more
precisely, what is left of it. For what used to be a proud complex of buildings
in central Baghdad which housed generals and airmen from the Iraqi Air
Force, is no longer. Bombed during the Anglo-American Invasion, many of
the buildings have been reduced to large heaps of broken concrete and metal.
- What is left of the other buildings has been looted to
the bare walls; even the marble siding has been pillaged. As some journalists
and myself walk through the complex towards the back, nothing but garbage,
dirt, broken glass, useless scraps of tin and various sorts of rubble litter
the ground all around.
- Like guts hanging from the ceiling, long pieces of scrap
metal swing lifelessly. Whatever they supported or were attached to, has
long since been looted. The typical black flame marks are smeared above
the outside of the window areas.
- Today, the Air Defense Ministry serves as a makeshift
refuge for people and families with little or no income. Children with
dirt smeared into their faces and arms run about the area near two swimming
pools, which now are filled with one meter of dark brown scum, littered
with garbage floating lifelessly above.
- Hussein Khalaf Hussein, a shoeless man with unshaven
stubble on his face invites us into a building where several families and
men are squatting. Barren rooms serve as homes for people, with only a
couple of blankets and a few dishes lying around on the grimy floor. He
gives us the quick rundown of how the area is divided into four sections.
Each section has a representative who brings and distributes food and supplies
(when lucky enough to find some) to families in their section.
- Mr. Hussein is a Shia man who fought the Iraqi Intifada
which stood up against Saddam Hussein's regime in 1991 when the Americans
asked them to do so, promising support. After the uprising was crushed
when the Americanís failed to follow through on the promise of supporting
it, like so many others Mr. Hussein fled the country for his own survival.
- He returned from Lebanon two weeks ago.
- While we are talking another man tells us that some British
army personnel brought them some blankets six weeks ago. As far as the
Americans, two months ago some men came by to take photos of everyone in
the gutted buildings, but have brought no supplies.
- Another man walks up to us and says,
- "Saddam is gone, and look at us! We have nothing.
No medicine. No food. Living like animals. What have the Americans done
for us? The Americans make all these promises, but have done nothing, and
they have made everything so expensive."
- Mr. Abbas Abu Fadel, is a Shia man who lives in one of
the old houses in the complex which used to be inhabited by Ba'athist Generals.
Abu Fadel has been here longer than everyone else, having moved in immediately
after the invasion of Baghdad and now serves as a representative of one
of the sections of this area.
- He invites us into his home at the edge of the bombed
out complex for tea and to talk with us. As per Arab custom, he is welcoming
and pleasant, saying,
- "Anyone invited into my home is my family and my
friend. You are most welcome here."
- We sit on the carpet of the scantily furnished room;
a lone television sits off to the side on the single piece of furniture-an
old cabinet with a few stuffed animals sitting atop it.
- He tells us how he escaped from the Iraqi Army in 1989,
but was thrown in jail on a regular basis by the Ba'athists for distributing
anti-Saddam leaflets. Between his stints in jail he would sneak around
to do work as an air conditioner repairman.
- A large explosion booms in another part of Baghdad while
he talks with us.
- "I was poor, and I still am. This is my life. This
is the life for all of us here. We are only here because there is nowhere
else. My landlord kicked me out of where I was living before because I
had no money."
- Tanks rumble down the road next to the home he and his
family of five are squatting in.
- According to Abu Fadel, there are 375 families living
in squalor here, and a total of around 4,000 people.
- He shows us a stack of forms from the Iraqi Organization
for Victims of Terrorism. He says this organization is supported by the
US in order to give compensation for people who suffered under the rule
of Saddam Hussein.
- "I hand out these forms to all of the people here,
and tell them to fill it out and turn it in to try to get some money and
- I ask if anyone has had any success in being compensated
by the Americans, via this Iraqi organization.
- "All I have gotten has been from NGO's and rich
Iraqi people who donate things for the poor."
- He points to the compensation form he is holding in his
- "This is nothing. This is only promises."
- We ask how he feels about the Americans being in Iraq.
- "The Americans are here, but we can't complain about
them occupying our country. They tell us they are here to help us, yet
we know they are occupiers. For now, there is nothing we can say because
they tell us they are here to defend us from the people who support Saddam."
- He obviously has mixed feelings about the all powerful
military of the US who effectively removed the nightmare of Saddam Hussein
from the lives of the Shia people like himself.
- "At first I disagreed that Iraq was occupied. We
supported the Americans in getting rid of Saddam. Now I admit we are occupied.
My opinion is that I give them another 6 months, maybe 2 years to help
us rebuild. I know they came here for the oil though."
- Abu Fadel sips some tea and continues.
- "I think the US will take all of the oil. But Saddam
also took all of the oil for 35 years, so what is the difference? The oil
didn't help me then, and it doesn't help me now, so why should I care?
Sure it makes me upset, but what can I do about it?"
- He is asked what he will do in the future.
- "I don't have the power to stand against the Americans,
so I'll close my mouth and wait. It's better for me that the nightmare
of Saddam is gone. We will follow our leaders. If they say wait, we wait.
If they say fight, we fight. Right now we wait."
- "This is my country. I hope George Bush will be
honest with us and do as he has promised. I just want a place to live and
to not be forgotten. I want to be safe and live a normal life. This is
all that I want and need."
- He continues,
- "I would continue to live here if the Americans
rebuild this and let us stay here. Under Saddam, I couldn't dream of this;
I have a television, CD player, and carpets."
- After our talk, he takes us out to show us more of the
compound, of how other families are living. His home is luxurious by comparison.
- A family of seven has moved into a large public bathroom.
Dirty carpets cover the floor, and a shoe-shine box sits near the entryway.
- The man living here stands up and apologizes to us for
- We walk amongst the rubble under a dreary grey sky to
view another bombed out section. While walking Abu Fadel says,
- "I think our leaders will call for jihad against
the Americans because we are all living in such a terrible situation."