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the following is an excerpt taken from a longer article published in the August 10, 2002 edition of the publication CounterPunch written by Jan Oberg. - The countryside and its people When you leave Baghdad, the scenery changes and is reminiscent of poor developing countries. On the highway toward Babylon, you see half-finished houses, water facilities out of order and fences with barbed wire where all the metal has been taken away and only the poles left naked behind. The typical village is a series of houses on both sides of the four-lane road with small shops selling cigarettes, groceries, and vegetables. People, sheep and a few cows here and there move around in sand, dust and filth. There is no end to the car repair shops, of course. There may be large plantations, some surprisingly green but there are also grey or light-brown agricultural fields that do not seem to have seen water for months. Bedouin men and women in black or white dresses move slowly with their flock of sheep. Here a demolished bus, victim of the murderous traffic; there a Vauxhall station car from the 1950s; further along a Toyota with maize. Two men try to repair a water pump in the sticky heat, approaching 50fC (122fF). Women, some completely covered in black with only their eyes visible, fetch water from a well while men drink tea and smoke under a tree. An over-filled Scania Bus has seen better days when it passes a type of arch at the entrance to a village on which a portrait of the great smiling leader has been hung. You wonder whether, back in his palace in Baghdad, he has ever been here or has a clue about the situation 50 kilometres away? Now and then, but by no means in surprising numbers, we see soldiers, checkpoints and (unmanned) watch towers. We ask ourselves whether this is the type of rural area which hundreds of thousands of Baghdad citizens will flee to when and if their country is bombed and invaded? There is no way that they could survive out here. The whole environment smells of stagnation, de-development after years of domestic mismanagement and international sanctions. Iraq is a very unique country, but in one sense it is like anywhere I have seen wars: it's the ordinary, powerless people who pay the price of high politics. They have no chance to get out of the double cage of domestic and international politics. Of course we see Babylon here; it's being rebuilt to a certain extent. The huge walls and few original stones and reliefs are impressive. The attempts to rebuild Babylon and the small tiles inserted with a text stating that Saddam Husseyn is the builder and protector of it all, feels slightly pathetic given the misery we have just passed through. Hopes among the disadvantaged However, we are in Babylon not merely to see this but to visit some UNDP micro-credit programs. In Babylon town we meet a young energetic woman who speaks a few English words. She is in a wheelchair and tells us that she recently finished her education in computer science at the Babylon College. She then applied to the UNDP for a micro credit and got $750 US after having also been accepted by the Iraqi Ministry of Labour. She was trained by UNDP and she now runs courses with all types of students, local (older) citizens, even one in the shop who does not own a computer but hopes to one day. The walls in her little combined shop and classroom are filled with manuals and there are advanced programs on several of the computers in the room. The local UNDP people also take us to an unmarried carpenter born without legs in 1964. He is repairing a rather large rococo chair with some gold paint on it when we arrive in his little shop. He has received $500 US and he pays back about $25 every month. The huge cupboards he builds by sitting and crawling low on the floor, cost about $80 US. He has a good chance to repay the loan within a few years as his business grows. He has just invested in a saw but his greatest wish in the future is to be able to buy a wheelchair that cost about $75 US. We leave with a sense of hope; he has a chance to prosper because he makes incredible things with his hands and works hard. It is impossible to miss the pride and the hope in his brown eyes. We also visit a bazaar area where a young, round man has been helped to run a shoe shop. He buys Chinese and Syrian shoes and sandals in Baghdad for 7,500 Iraqi dinars a pair (about $3 US) and sells them for 9,000. We hastily enter all kinds of shops in the bazaar and ask for the prices. ($1 US = approx. 2000 Dinars) A piece of soap 250, make- up powder 2000, a blouse 16,000, hair conditioner 6,000, night gown 7,500, a kilo of olives 1,000, rice from Southern Iraq 200 per kilo, 100 grams of curry 500, flour 500 per kilo. The ordinary citizen who has a job will hardly have more than $5-10 US a month, 10,000-20,000 Dinars. Those who have a job, or a pension, must share it with family and relatives who don't. Here, like everywhere else and in Baghdad, we meet only kind, welcoming people. We would not have been surprised if someone thought we belonged to the West (we do!), were Americans or otherwise guilty for the sanctions, a major cause of their misery. Not one person did during 14 days; we felt safe everywhere. We took pictures, many asking us to do so, and the children of course indescribably happy to see themselves on the monitor of the digital camera. Shop owners invited us in, offered sweet tea, and showed us their neatly arranged produce and commodities. Here you may get a pen, here is something sweet to taste. "Welcome, welcome, wher' you from?" The classic Arab hospitality and welcoming attitude towards the stranger has certainly not been destroyed. Their gratitude and joy over the fact that somebody has come a long way to ask them about their lives is so touching. These are the people we, who have been there, think of when we read about the Bush regime's plans to bomb the country. Even if the peasants, Bedouin shepherds, the young handicapped computer woman and carpenter and our bazaar friends may not be killed, their dreams and hopes - like those of 25 million other innocent Iraqi civilians - will be brutally crushed. There is no humanity without empathy When you are here, and see with your own eyes, there are other pictures of Iraq than those you get sitting back home. One reason that so few scholars, journalists and diplomats go there is that it opens your eyes to another reality, a broader human reality, of this problem called Iraq. It becomes impossible not to sympathise with the 25 million people sitting for decades in a double cage. It becomes difficult to accept that cold-blooded, emotionally numbed people in your own Western "civilisation" have nothing else to offer the Iraqi people than their present lives, where they live like animals in a zoo (the Oil for Food Program just keeps people alive on a minimum of calories) and a future of war. That war is bound to destroy their few simple belongings, homes, water supply and produce. It will be the climax of decades of dehumanisation and humiliation. How could it ever lead to peace and justice? Only one conclusion is possible when you go there: the Iraqi people deserve the world's sympathy, not our bombs. If you go there, you will hardly be able to advocate war. Not one international staff member or mission chief we met, most of whom have worked there for months and years, thought sanctions was an effective political tool or that an invasion would solve more problems than it would cause. If TFF can go there, so can thousands of other citizens, NGOs, media people, scholars and diplomats. Please do, and find out about the other angles you never get here. Jan Oberg is director of Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research based in Lund, Sweden. _________________________________________________________________ Send and receive Hotmail on your mobile device: http://mobile.msn.com _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk