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[casi] jo wilding's diary from iraq march 17 and 18th
tel: 009641 7192303 / 7184290 rm 506 - please note
that Baghdad is 3 hours ahead of GMT and please leave
as much detail as possible in your message as it is
difficult for us to call internationally.

March 17th
Thunder on a Humid Day
Kamil is a man of enormous dignity, quiet sadness and
the elegance of the dancer he used to be, a lifetime
ago. Yesterday he stopped speaking. He would
communicate only in signs. We understood well enough.
There just weren't any words which would do.

The shops are all emptying of stock, piling it into
sacks and taking it somewhere safer. Even Husam now
warns us there's a war coming. A few days ago he swore
blind there wasn't going to be an attack. It was only
when we told him the UN were leaving in convoy, along
with most of the embassy staff, that he rubbed his
chin, frowned, and remarked that that was a bad sign.
Today in his office they were putting everything into
a back room with no windows: the photocopier, the TV,
computers, all their files.

The office is in the tallest building in the area, a
street away from a telephone exchange. In 1991
everything above the second floor collapsed and all
the windows burst inwards when the telephone exchange
was hit twice. Targets, Husam says, are always hit
two, three, four times, from the top, from both sides,
just to make sure.

Meanwhile CNN was broadcasting business news and
adverts for Texaco, showing its shiny new pipeline,
built by friendly smiling people to move the nice oil
about and not a word of pollution of the planet,
displacement of human beings and the uneven
distribution of resources the pipeline really means.
I've never watched CNN in my life before and I'll be
happy never to see it again.

There was a section showing graphics and explanations
of various military hardware and jargon. Here's an
armoured vehicle that has stinger weapons. It can
carry four at a time. A British MP says he will vote
against the war, but once it starts he will be "100%
behind our boys". There is no question in his mind
that it will start, though that implies an acceptance
that the vote, and by implication British democracy,
is a sham. Where are their principles? Why is our
country run by people who have been made irrelevant by
the prime minister and yet persist in the upholding
the pretence that there is some legitimacy to this
process? Where is the vote of no confidence?

I pushed my chair to the window and looked at a street
dotted with palm trees and cedars, a woman in a long
dress walking hand in hand with a small boy in blue
trousers and a stripy jumper, a pair of schoolgirls
wearing the uniform long navy pinafores with white
blouses and carrying shoulder bags, two old men
shuffling, cars and buses hooting in the road; beyond,
lines of washing were strung between the balconies and
the studio presenters counted the hours until it all
gets shattered: the midnight deadline, the 48 hour
evacuation warning, the speech at 4am local time.

Soulav's sister is due to give birth today. They
already know the child is a girl: she will be called
Suja. She's waiting at home till labour begins rather
than check into the hospital now: insha'Allah she will
be able to get there when she needs to.

Undoubtedly there are those in this country who want
war to begin, in the way you long for a thunderstorm
on an unbearably humid day. People are as afraid of
the Iraqi government as they are of bombs. They want
rid of the ruling clan but, even so, most who I've
spoken to reject a US invasion as the means to change.
That's not what people are supposed to say, so I'm
inclined to believe it.

Yesterday we had a girls' night out. Hind is in the
volleyball team for her college and they won the
university championship so we took her out to
celebrate. Her family is going out to a farm in the
countryside for the war, as are a lot of her friends.
Her aunt left for Syria last night. Why, she wanted to
know, was I choosing to stay. She's scared - she'd
leave if she could.

That's a bit of a weird one: it does seem a bit hard
to reconcile deliberately coming to a place which most
of the residents would leave if they could. I
explained that I'm here to gather witness statements,
damage reports and evidence of breaches of
humanitarian law -on all sides - if it's at all
possible for me to do it. I told her that a lot of the
journalists who will report on this war are 'embedded'
with the troops and will follow them in, reporting the
war from the military viewpoint. The rest will be
looking for stories, not legal evidence.

I said that the winners in any conflict write the
history, that if the US-UK are able to present this as
a bloodless war of liberation, to deny their own
crimes, then they will find it easier to begin the
next war. The crimes of both sides must be answered
for. Every criminal would like for there to be no
witnesses. I confessed I came here knowing I might not
make it home, although I believe I will, and asked her
if she thought I was mad. She said not. She said the
truth was worth taking risks for.

"I guess it's different if it's a choice to be here in
the war. If you've chosen to come, it makes you
powerful. For us, because we can't leave, we feel
trapped. The war comes to us. We have no power."

Today every friend seems more precious. I bought
presents for their kids, hugged them extra long as I
was leaving, phoned people just to say hello.
"Insha'Allah," they say, "we will see you again." For
those too far away to phone, I'm thinking of you and I
love you enormously.

This is dedicated, with rage and respect, to the
22-year-old woman killed in Rafah yesterday by an
Israeli bulldozer which was destroying the Palestinian
house she was trying to protect, and to all the
victims of wars. It is time for the international
community take on the responsibility of protecting
human lives instead of policing the distribution of
wealth. It needn't ever have come to this: we could
have chosen to help the Iraqi people a couple of
decades ago, when their oppressor was our ally.

E mail:
tel: 009641 7192303 or 7184290 room 506. Baghdad is 3 hours ahead of GMT.
Please leave as much detail in your message as possible as it is expensive
and difficult to call from here.
March 18th

Puddles in the Classroom.

There was a big puddle in the doorway into the classroom at Qataiba boys'
school in Saddam City, the poorest part of Baghdad. A woman in black dragged
rags across it by way of a mop, but made little impact. The room itself is
bare, without resources or a full complement of windows. Wooden benches are
framed with the remnants of seat covers. Outside a fence surrounds a peeling
statue of a schoolboy in a suit, gazing philosophically into the distance,
his pedestal an island in a swamp. Behind him stands a crumbling building
devoid of any windows at all. The principal's office is as battered as the
rest, deprived of maintenance for 12-and-a-half years of sanctions.

Twelve and a half years of sanctions, of incalculable deprivation, and yet
tomorrow is the day before the war.

Twenty-two teachers take mixed-age classes of 745 students between 16 - 23,
because a lot of the boys have missed a lot of time: many of them have to
work, some go to the army and then return to school. The area is noticeably
more run down than the rest of Baghdad. Around half of the city's 5 million
strong population live here. It's a Shi'a district, touted as the most
likely starting point for civil unrest after bombing starts. People tell you
not to go there, even now: "It's dangerous."

"We will not fight for Saddam Hussein, but we will fight for our land. I
will accept any Arab as president but I will not accept a foreigner. If the
Americans come, they will be very strong at first, but after some time they
will see resistance. We will fight them. It doesn't matter about sects, Shi'
a, Sunne, Kurd, Christian. I am Kurd. We will all fight together, not for
the government. For our land." It was the first time I'd seen anyone vent
frustration so openly here.

"We need to change the government, but I don't want America invasion. This
not bring freedom. I can't talk here, because of security," muttered amid
the clamour of the classroom.

 Metal sheets seal the windows of most of the non-food shops throughout the
city; men were bricking up the entire front of one, against looters,
apparently, rather than bombs. Pick-ups loaded with furniture, chandeliers,
antiques, toys pass by. Here in the internet centre the staff have moved
mattresses and bedding in so they can protect the equipment from theft. Zaid
's computer has gone into storage - he listened to all the music on it one
last time before packing it up. Waleed's death metal band can't play anymore
because one of its members is a soldier. There are tents at the roadside
with soldiers sitting around them. A boy in a uniform sat in his position in
the street, head almost between his knees.

Tomorrow is the day before the war.

sign the pledge of resistance to the "war on terrorism"

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