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>From Ramzi Kysia, currently in Iraq -------- 21 November, 2001 Dear Friends, Greetings from Iraq! After a week in the country, I can say that the attitude here is pretty fatalistic. People are not too worried about the U.S. expanding the “war” to Iraq anytime soon. They’re celebrating Ramadan and going about their lives as usual. They say that the future is out of their hands, so why bother worrying about it? Everyone agrees that after Afghanistan, America will bomb Iraq next. But - as one man put it to me - the Iraqi people are “used to the voice of American bombs.” In fact, this is something people have said to me again and again - that if America thinks they’re going to fall apart like the Taliban, they should think again. People say that Iraq has been bombed repeatedly by the U.S. for 11 years - almost every day in the North and South - and they’re still here. They don’ t like it. It really, and justifiably, angers them, but, well - one woman compared U.S. bombings to the weather, saying it was just a fact of Iraqi life. I don’t know myself. This time it seems different. This time it seems much more serious. And much more frightening. Unlike Iraqis, the UN staff seem much more nervous. Off the record, they seem to think that there’s no way the U.S. will risk all of it’s interests in the region by destroying Iraq. On the other hand, the increasingly bellicose rhetoric coming out of Washington is making them wonder, and they remember how they got caught back in December ’98 & had to spend a day or two huddled at the Canal St. Headquarters during the last, major U.S. bombing campaign. No one knows what’s going to happen, and that’s very disconcerting. On the surface, Iraq does seem much changed from my last visit in 1999. There are more shops in the Sadoun and Karada neighborhoods (the “ritzy” shopping areas - although even someplace like Detroit gives them a run for their money), and the quality of merchandise is greatly improved. Imports are everywhere, including washing machines, stove tops, boom boxes, and widescreen tv’s. There are also many more pharmacies open, and they actually have lots of medicines in them. This is very different from my last trip. The supermarkets abound with shampoos and lotions, Western breakfast cereals & so on… But, the question I have is “who’s buying all this stuff?” Really, you talk to the shopkeepers, and they’ll tell you - this is only here, in Sadoun, in Karada, in Baghdad. You talk to the folks at the UN and, again, they’ll tell you that no one is buying all this stuff. No one can afford it. For the vast majority of Iraqi people, these products are so far out of reach it’s ridiculous. For instance, I noticed a 8 or 10 oz. container of “Pert” shampoo in one of the supermarkets was selling for 8,000 ID (Iraqi Dinar). Now, that’s about $4, so it’s more expensive than in the States, but that doesn’t tell you everything. The fact is that $4 is a month’s salary for half the population here in Iraq. And the $200 tv’s in the electronic shops in Karada? Those are so far out of reach for anyone except UN staff or elites that they may as well be made of solid gold. I see this stuff in the stores, and on the one hand it makes me feel good to see *something* getting into the country. But, then, you see the prices, and the terrible poverty here, and it just makes your blood boil. You’ll be walking, or driving, down the street looking at these fancy shops, and then you’ll see a young child in torn and dirty clothes, no shoes, or a pair of filthy flip-flops, rooting through the garbage by the side of the road - looking for treasure, or maybe just a meal. That’s Iraq. That discontinuity is Iraq. You know, when I came two years ago I wrote that nothing could have prepared me for Iraq, and I’d have to repeat that again just as loudly. As active, and as informed, as I’ve been on Iraq, I really had internalized this idea that sanctions were crumbling and people’s lives here had - while not returned to normal - had definitely improved quite a bit. I was wrong. The hospitals are as crowded, as poorly lit, and as understocked, as I remember from my last trip. The doctors are complaining just as much about not having enough medicines, or the proper medicines. And the children are still dying by the thousands. I guess I knew that, but just the same I wasn’t expecting it. I wanted to walk into those hospitals, see them brightly lit, and have the doctors tell me, yes, we still have problems, but at least the children aren’t dying anymore, not like before. God willing, someday it will be so. Just not today. My love to everyone. All of you are in my thoughts and prayers. Inshallah, someday we’ll have peace. Ma Salaam, Ramzi Kysia Voices in the Wilderness -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org CASI's website - www.casi.org.uk - includes an archive of all postings.