- My friend Nuha Al Radi died yesterday due to complications
from leukemia. An Iraqi national educated in the U.K., she lived between
Iraq and Lebanon. Nuha's end was set into motion the day President George
H. Bush declared war on Iraq during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Thanks
to him, a generation of Iraqi citizens lost their lives, starting with
his bombs and ending with his sanctions. Along the way, Bill Clinton took
the sanctions baton and flippantly added a bombing raid or two killing
many more innocent Iraqis, before passing it on to George W. Bush, who
is now finishing off his father's cruel legacy.
The U.S., once again, has taken its big, abusive fist and planted it into
the pit of my stomach and this time I am an American citizen. The first
time I felt America,s merciless blow was in 1986 when Ronald Reagan killed
my cousin in Libya just days after I had left her home in Tripoli. One
of his F-111 fighter jets dropped a bomb on her parents, home as they slept,
snuffing out her young 18 year old life and the lives of all the neighbors
I had met only days before.
As the years passed, I have stood helplessly watching American tax dollars,
Apaches and F-16s kill Palestinians like flies in support of Israel's brutal
occupation. So many innocent people in the Middle East have been killed
either directly or indirectly by they U.S., that the pang of loss within
me is sometimes easily substituted with loathing.
- Nuha was an accomplished artist and author. Her book,
"Baghdad Diaries," now stares down at me from my bookshelf.
I reach for it, and begin to thumb through its pages. It opens to Nuha,s
hand-written note to me, which reads, "For Rana, who is an inspiration
to every one - with much love, N."
- Nuha found something inspiring in everything she saw
and touched - no matter how mundane or uninspiring it seemed to most.
I race through my e-mail exchanges with her. I catch myself contemplating
writing to her as though an e-mail from me might awaken her from her eternal
sleep. I read and re-read her last e-mail to me, dated August 5, 2004.
- She seems so alive and hopeful - "France is lovely.
Just had my new blood count done today and I am holding steady. So if
it continues, that's great, but I still keep fingers and toes crossed,
have a long way to go still," and she ends with her signature "Love
N." Her words take on new meaning now that I know I will never again
get another Nuha e-mail. Reality is a hard pill to swallow.
I knew Nuha only for a short while. But during that time, I grew to love
her so very deeply. She was unique, caring and had a style about her that
was all her own. In Nuha, there was a distinctive human with boundless
energy and creativity. She saw art in every day objects. What people
often discarded, she would pick up and turn into whimsical figures that
were exclusively 'Nuha'.
Nuha was never unrealistic. Unlike myself, she accepted reality and dealt
with its blows. But she also relished life's magnificent moments. Nuha
was always comfortable in her own skin, and her resilience was to be envied.
As I flip though her book, I am comforted just a little by her humor and
matter-of-fact writing style as she describes the horrors of the bombs
that tore her beautiful country apart in 1991. My eyes fall onto page
- I say, "Read my Lips", today is the tenth day
of the war and we are still here. Where is your three to ten days swift
and clean kill? Mind you, we, are ruined. I don't think I could set foot
in the West again. If someone like myself who is Western educated feels
this way, then what about the rest of the country?
I can almost hear her English accent utter the words in her own Nuha way.
And then I remember the first time I sat down to play Scrabble with her
at my Uncle's home in Lebanon. I figured we would have fun, but I had
no idea who I was up against. She started to put down the letters 'I.N.E.R.'
and all I could think was, "What is an 'iner'? But she kept going,
and finished off the word with 'T.I.A.' I looked at the word again, and
then back at her letter rack, and realized that all her letters were gone!
She opened with the word INERTIA beginning with a score of over 150 points.
I knew I was in trouble at that point. "Inertia?!" I protested
incredulously - "How did you come up with 'inertia'?!" She just
smiled in her own gentle way, and disparaged her far superior skills with
a good-natured retort, "Well, that was the only word I could come
The most 'Nuha-esque' image that will forever be imbedded in my mind will
be the fresh flower or two which always adorned her full head of black
hair, poking out above her ear. They never seemed to fall or waiver from
their spot above her warm, smiling face.
Three weeks prior to her passing, I mailed to Nuha at her sister,s N.Y.
apartment an album of photos I had taken of birds, flowers and my two cats.
Nuha loved nature. She loved all animals. And she was always tending
to stray cats, dogs or injured birds of the city in which she lived - most
recently the feral, often severely injured cats of Beirut. She seemed
to enjoy my stories about the animals in my life - the quail in the yard,
the hummingbirds I feed, the rabbits. But as luck would have it, my album
arrived too late. Nuha had already left N.Y. She never received my little
gift. I felt devastated, sensing then she might never see the birds and
wildlife I often wrote to her about.
Nuha was killed by America,s bombs dumped on Iraq during the first Gulf
War. She was not directly injured upon their impact. Instead, she has
become an untallied victim of their carcinogenic aftermath, joining thousands
of others who have suffered silently under the thick coat of deceptions
about 'smart bombs' and 'limiting collateral damage.' As though foreseeing
her own fate, Nuha makes reference throughout her book to the rampant grave
illnesses that afflicted Iraq's citizens following Desert Storm, as she
did on this particular entry on page 16.
15 November 1994
- Everyone seems to by dying of cancer. Every day one
hears about another acquaintance or friend of a friend dying. How many
more die in hospitals that one does not know? Apparently, over thirty
percent of Iraqis have cancer, and there are lots of kids with leukaemia.
According to reputable sources, of the 580,400 soldiers who served in the
first Gulf War, 11,000 are now dead. By 2000, 325,000 U.S. soldiers who
served in the Gulf were on medical disability - a mere 13 years after
being on combat duty. Imagine then the ravages inflicted upon Iraq's
population who did not have the option to leave.
The depleted uranium left by the U.S. bombing campaign has turned Iraq
into a cancer-infested country. For hundreds of years to come, the effects
of the uranium will continue to wreak havoc on Iraq and its surrounding
If no one in the White House and Congress cares to speak out against the
murder of millions of Iraqis, then perhaps someone might want to consider
the harm the U.S. military has inflicted upon its own soldiers as a result
of its brutal actions in Iraq. On page 41 of Nuha's book, she captures
very eloquently her own feelings of exasperation toward Washington and
its horrific policies:
- What a brave man, [President George H. Bush] passes judgment
on us while he plays golf far away in Washington. His forces are annihilating
us. I find it very difficult to believe that we have been so discarded
by everyone, especially the Arabs. I presume that this war will be the
end of so-called Arab unity - that was a farce even while it lasted. We
had a super barbecue lunch today. A lovely day, but quite noisy - the
racket is still going on even now at midnight. I can't stand the Voice
of America going on about American children and how they are being affected
by this war. Mrs. Bush, the so called humane member of that marriage,
had the gall to say comfortingly to a group of school kids, "Don't
worry, it's far away and won't affect you." What about the children
here? What double standards, what hypocricy! Where's justice?
Nuha ends her book with the following statement:
Being the eternal optimist, I can only pray and hope that war can be avoided.
The U.S. has killed yet another innocent and peaceful person. Nuha is
gone, following in the footsteps of millions that have passed before her,
paving the way for millions to follow. Iraq is not as far away as Ms.
Bush and family like to believe. Sooner or later, the murderous consequences
of America's actions will catch up with us - all of us. For now, however,
I mourn the loss of my friend Nuha - alone.
- Rana El-Khatib is an author living in Phoenix, Arizona.
She is the author of the collection of political poetry, BRANDED: The
Poetry of a So-Called 'Terrorist', which, along with Nuha Al Radi's "Baghdad
Diaries" can be found at www.amazon.com. The author can be reached