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[casi] just come back from iraq

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The Coalition Against Sanctions and War on Iraq.

c/o Bridge 5 Mill, 22a Beswick Street, Ancoats, Manchester, M4, UK.

"Just Come Back From Iraq"

"Just Come Back From Iraq" was written by Shihab Almahdawi after a visit he made to Iraq in July 
2001.  Shihab is the promotion and fundraising officer for the Human Relief Foundation, which is a 
registered charity based in Bradford.

This was our eigth visit during the last two years; the trip was to review our projects and to try 
to do more.  We visited the 'Misan' water treatment plant which is south of Iraq; situated about 
100km to the north of Albasra City that is now completely finished , apart from a few cosmetics at 
a cost of 200,000.

Before our rehabilitation project, 50,000 households drank untreated water pumped directly from the 
Tigress river.  Water born diseases are the main child killers around these areas.  We also visited 
Ashama'el  primary school  which we renovated  at a cost of 15,000.  Now the children have cold 
water foutains, clean toilets, all windows are fitted with glass and curtains are a new addition.  
I wrote about the state of this school in another article which can be viewed at   
Lastly we visited the "Albasra Elderly Care Centre", the Human Relief Foundation added a third 
dormitory to house 20 new beds, showers and toilets.

We expected some change to peoples lives, to say the least, espeacially after ten years of 
sanctions.  The ration has increased a bit, by Nov 2000 but still had no animal protein.  For a 
family of six the ration contained:

4.5 kg Flour.

12.5 kg Rice.

9 pieces Soap.

3.5 kg oil (solid)

2 kg lentil or dry beans.

3 kg dry milk powder.

750 gm tea.

6 kg sugar.

500 gm salt.

Milk for so many families is an unaffordable luxury so the powder is distant to the 'Shorja Market 
Place' (the biggest market place in Baghdad) to be sold.  Some families regard tea as a luxury  and 
can do with out so suger will go to the market as well in exchange of a chicken or fish, although 
chicken is very difficult to acquire.

I took a taxi and discovered that my taxi driver was a very educated man with an undergraduate 
degree, MSC and was Iraq's delegate to the UNESCO.  And on my way back to Amman our driver was a 
mechanical engineer who worked as a barbar, tourest guide, table top seller and finally a driver.

If you were unlucky and had an accident then you would have to be extra rich to have your brocken 
limb X-rayed and it would cost around 15,000 ID to 40,000 ID to have it plastered or to have an 
operation of some sort.

I met so many middle aged men with extremely bad teeth, due to the fact  that a tooth brush and 
paste would cost around the third of a primary school teachers salary and dental care i.e filling, 
extraction, removal of plaque and the like is very expensive, hence out of the question.

Therefore people have to have two or three jobs to cope or ask openly for handouts.  It is very 
common for a primary school teacher to ask for a financial present when your child passes his/her 
mid-term or final exam or if she/he  were to offer to keep an extra eye on the child so that they 
could pass with flying colours.

Some visitors note that food and household things are on available in the market place, fruit and 
veg, meat and so on.  But these people are usually bound to the main streets and never see what 
happens to Iraqis at the lower levels of the society.   Second hand shops are on the increase and 
some families are still selling things to survive and send their children to the streets to provide 
a second income.

A happy family is the one that has a relative or a friend with a good community spirit working 
abroad and sending whatever he can to his relatives or friends.   I was told that a paraffin seller 
from Al-Hartheia immigrated to the United States where he works at a super market and sends money 
to his family and to some of his old customers in that area.  Not every family is as lucky as these 
but many families have relatives who work abroad.  Almost 90% of Iraqi people are living in dire 
straits  and are in urgent need of support.  The rest are either having relatives abroad, 
businessmen who have more than two jobs or have some super-high-profit yielding enterprises.

DU related cancer and water born diseases are ruthless killers and take no prisoners.   Infact 
erratic and irregular supply of medicine is another killer.  Every family has or knows someone with 
cancer.  This state of affairs will stay aslong as the sanctions regime; smart or other-wise 

Driving through the streets of Baghdad is a very good thing to do, it enables you to see how the 
majority of Iraqi people live.  Siome cars go back to the early eighties, some ar forty and forty 
five years old.  Bald tires are not an issue; cars can go with no or one light at night.  "One 
light is better than none." one driver commented and smiled, then said "Smile you are in Baghdad."  
I said to myself "floating on the worlds 2nd Oil reserve and can't afford to have a half decent 

"Look! New busses from China we have now," the taxi driver said.  He added: "Do you know why we 
have Chinese buses and not Swedish or European for example?"  I was waiting for the answer, the 
driver did'nt keep me int he dark for long , he said: "Because these have a short life compared to 
the European makes, so (Sanctions Committee) 661 approved of these together with Chinese power 
stations, which took two months to put in service, against the Swedish ones, in order that we loose 
our money and buy new stuff again."

Every person you see asks you how to get out of the country and where to go and how to get there, 
and you seldom visit someone and leave without being given a prescription to send the medicine to 
them.  Young men have started taking tranquilizers and other such medication from an early age.  
"Life is a misery" a civil engineer told me. "I can't find a job, infact it is difficult to find a 
job these days.  I am happy my brother is leaving the country".  His brother is a doctor who 
managed through a friend oversees to arrange for him to get out the country.  Another qualified 
person is leaving!  Iraq will suffer allot because of this brain drain, infact nearly every British 
hospital will have an Iraqi doctor speacialised in one of the unique fields of medicine and science.

When we left, we left a nation submerged in desperation, need, devastation and disease.  We 
couldn't drink the water or eat the vegetables, only God knows what this country is drinking, 
eating and breathing in.  In a nutshell; water, air and food are polluted and no one knows what 
will happen to these people in ten years time.  Dr. Jenan of Albasra Maternity Hospital had said to 
us "It's good that you came to see us, in ten years time we will not be around".

On leaving Iraq, our driver took us once again through the long boring journey back to Amman 
leaving behind us the land where the first writing scrolls were found and the first battery was 
made, the cradle of civilisation, what will we tell the next generation?

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