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[casi] FW: hope you like this

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Published on Sunday, March 3, 2002 by Common Dreams
An American POW in the US War on Iraq
by Mike Miles
 The first time I went to Iraq in 1997, bringing medicine to children in
hospitals, I wasn't prepared for the psychological impact of being on the
front lines of a war. Madeleine Albright had clearly spelled out who the
combatants were, the 500,000 children whose deaths were, " a difficult
choice but worth the price."  I hadn't read the Defense Intelligence Agency
report which laid out the intent to unleash biological warfare on the
civilian population by laying waste to Iraq's supply of clean drinking
water.  Yet there it was in front of me, bed after bed full of miniature,
gasping soldiers whom I'm sure had no idea that they had even been drafted.

I returned to Baghdad a year later with even more medicine, desperate to
make an impact, completely unaware that here, deep behind "enemy lines", I
was in mortal danger.  Then it happened without my even knowing-- the Iraqi
people captured my heart and it was clear that my life would never be the

Maybe it was the woman feeding her hydrocephalic baby who was too weak to
nurse, with a spoonful of milk taken ever so gently from a breast that would
wither prematurely from disuse.  Perhaps it was the hotel owner who informed
me that we Americans had it all wrong, and when we had wrung the last drop
of oil out of their country, we would have missed the true Iraq that he
loved-- the rivers, the citrus and date groves, the music and poetry, the
history, the magnificent architecture, the lovely people.

It could have been the shoe shine boys Rami and Kareem, smiles flashing,
amused by the old American trying to keep up with them in a spirited game of
street soccer.  Most likely it was Mustafa, sitting on my lap, flashing a
peace sign with the three fingers he has left--the other two lost to the
missile that killed his brother as they played in front of their house, a
missile fired by a US fighter pilot retaliating for an alleged Iraqi
violation of the southern no fly zone.

In the end I guess it doesn't matter how it happened-- I was a prisoner,
taken by surprise,  and there was no way to escape.  It only stands to
reason then, that in the aftermath of September 11, with every indication
that Iraq is facing another massive attack from the United States, we would
race back to Baghdad to stand with our friends, desperate to prevent what is
seeming more and more inevitable-- the annihilation of the Cradle of

As we were finishing breakfast in our hotel one cold,  January  morning, the
report came in that John  McCain, on a tour of the Persian Gulf, was
rallying troops on an aircraft carrier with the cry, "Next stop, Baghdad!"
That afternoon we visited a fire station to tell them of the heroism of
their colleagues in New York City and to ask how they decided who to rescue
and which fire to put out when their entire city was under attack.  Their
thoughtful responses made McCain's rantings reek of madness.

We flew on Iraqi Airways through the no fly zone down to Basra, the
legendary port city of Sinbad, to visit friends.  Basra stopped being a port
years ago, ravaged by bombs because of its proximity to Iran during those
eight years of war, as well as being across the border from Kuwait during
the Gulf War. Here in the Venice of the Middle East, named for the canals
that run through the heart of the city, the electricity still goes out up to
eighteen hours a day and sewage ponds straddle neighborhoods, the deadly
brew just waiting to infect cuts on barefoot children who play by them
because that's what children do.

One of our most touching encounters  was the afternoon spent with Harbi
Jawair, the farmer whose thirteen year old son Omran was killed, again by
bombs dropped by US pilots, as he was keeping the family's sheep out of
wheat that was being planted nearby that fateful spring morning. We had
previously  received from  Mr. Harbi the only photograph the family had of
Omran-- which we  used in an educational bus tour back in the United States
that traveled 20,000 miles and stopped at two hundred campuses all across
the country.  As I showed him how we had used the picture on posters and
leaflets, in newspapers, and even mounted to the side of the bus,  he and I
wept together--two farmers, both fathers of sons who should still be the
same age.

So how is it that after being bombed for forty-two days with more ordinance
than was dropped by the United States and its allies during all of World War
II; eleven years of the most crippling sanctions ever imposed on a modern
nation; hundreds of thousands of children killed prematurely from completely
preventable circumstances; hundreds of additional deaths from the longest
sustained bombing campaign that the United States has been involved in since
World War II; and the very real prospect that the worst is yet to come; that
Americans would still be welcomed to Iraq like long lost relatives coming

This for me has become the burning question. The best I can come up with, is
that while there are extremists with a variety of political, religious,
economic, ethnic, and cultural agendas trying to assert themselves in a
world of diminishing resources and moral disintegration, most of the rest of
us are basically decent, loving people. In fact, there are six billion of
the rest of us who want nothing more than to live in modest comfort with
safety for our children and a balance between individual freedom and our
collective, societal responsibilities.

>From the isolation of my imprisonment, caught between the growing affection
I have for my Iraqi friends and an American administration that is bent on
destroying them in order to save them,  I find myself becoming almost
delusional with visions of how this can be stopped. Dwight Eisenhower said,
one day the people of the world are going to want peace so badly that
governments are going to have to get out of the way and let them have it.
What would this look like were it to actually happen?

Maybe it starts with Bono, an Iraqi flag stitched inside his leather jacket,
singing in the soccer stadium in Baghdad while the names of those killed in
the Amiriya bomb shelter are flashed on a screen behind him. The stadium is
filled with thousands, no,  millions  of people of good will inspired by the
Olympic spirit of peace and camaraderie. Children--Muslim, Christian,
Jewish, Kurdish, Arab, European, American--pass a lantern from hand to hand
as they sing, " we are the world, we are the children."  CNN cameras pan the
crowds showing signs that read, "You can't call people collateral damage"
and "Our grief is not a cry for war."  And then, and then...

Where it goes from there is up to the rest of us, the six billion who don't
want to go down the road that a few hundred thousand or even a million
extremists want to take us.  Anthropologist Margaret Mead exhorted, " that a
small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed
it's the only thing that ever has."  Hijackers and generals have had their
day.  Can  the rest of us somehow turn our dreams for peace through justice
into deeds?

Mike Miles lives at the Anathoth Community Farm, a center for the study of
nonviolence and sustainability in northern Wisconsin. He has traveled to
Iraq three times with Voices in the Wilderness
<>  and is co-director of the National
Mobile Peace Center.

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