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[casi] Things Iraqis canít do under the Occupation

An interesting article.

August 31, 2003

Baghdad, Iraq

1. Move around without fear. This is one of the biggest concerns. I
talked to someone yesterday who said that he and his family have
given up on expecting anything from Bush except security. If the US
could only provide security then that would be a start. Women are
especially at risk of rape and murder, and often donít go out at
night even in large groups. Many say that if the country were truly
safe then Iraqis wouldnít need any help to begin to establish their
own systems of governance; they could do this on their own. The US
has shown itself to not able to provide security, though, and the 11
pm curfew means that people really canít travel freely in the
evenings or go to visit a familyís home unless they decide to stay
there for the evening. Iraqis canít get passports yet, and even if
they get permission to leave the country they are often afraid that
if they do so they will not be allowed back into Iraq.

2. Work for a living. While Iraqis are continually accused by US
troops of being thieves or ďAli Babas,Ē the US soldiersí new word for
thief, the unemployment rate has skyrocketed in Iraq, reaching 60% by
many estimates. Many people blame the incidence of thievery on the
criminals that Saddam Hussein released from prison just months before
the war, while others blame the obvious lack of employment. In truth,
however, it seems that most people are taking their situation of
unemployment with great dignity. As aid agencies such as Oxfam
continue to pull out of Iraq, along with UN officials, the situation
will likely get worse as it gets more difficult to get food rations.
It is hard to get an exact unemployment figure, though, because there
are really few organizations working in Iraq that are able to do the
sort of broad-range studies necessary to determine this. Most NGOís
in Iraq are so scared for their lives that they are unwilling to go
door to door or to have any interaction with Iraqi people. Even
Iraqis are afraid to go out.

3. Get a dayís respite from killing. There are deaths everyday from
so many causes, and itís impossible to overestimate the stress that
is associated with this. Iraqis are constantly looking over their
shoulders. Hatham, a young man who works on the newspaper here and is
now also volunteering with Voices, just lost his cousin to murder
because some of his cousinís friends wanted to steal his car.
Everyone seems to have a story of a recent death or near brush with

4. Get admission of liability or monetary compensation from the US
for unlawful deaths. There is a foreign occupying force in Iraq,
mostly made of jittery US soldiers. They shoot a lot of people, many
more people than you can ever estimate because, as General Sanchez
said in a recent press conference here, there is no estimate of
civilian deaths by occupation forces. There is not a tally of
civilian deaths. Why is this? Well, General Sanchez was
characteristically vague, but it seems to have something to do with
the quick way that bodies are taken from the streets after a
firefight. Also, Bremer has stated that there will be no compensation
given for civilians killed at checkpoints because, as he states, the
soldiers so scared that they are running around with their fingers on
the triggers.

5. Get sufficient food or proper medications. This is, of course,
directly related to the unemployment and lack of security. The ration
system and the hospitals are still badly in need of supplies and
repairs. Most of the protein supplements for the food rations have
run out, since more and more people are in need of them. Many
families are only receiving rice, flour and cooking oil now. Iraq
Country, one of the new English language newspapers here in Baghdad,
reported on September 1 that there is expected to be a huge shortage
of medicines soon as the UN proceeds to pull out 90% of its staff due
to security concerns. The Baghdad Bulletin reports that the UN
remains at level four security, which is the second highest of five
levels. At level five they would pull out their entire staff from the

6. Visit a friend or family member in jail or get information about
prisoners. There are thousands of Iraqis being held in detention
right now, many of them in the most feared Saddam Hussein prison of
all, the underground airport prison. Dr. Saíad, a friend of Voices
and currently a journalist, describes this prison as a secret so
terrible that even Saddam Hussein chose to hide its existence from
his own people. This prison was not even discovered until after the
invasion. Now the United States is using it themselves and not
allowing any visitors at all, except for an occasional Red Crescent
or Red Cross worker. Christian Peacemaking Teams is trying to do the
good work of advocating for families of detainees, at least to let
the families know where their relatives might be, but the lists
provided by the CPA are so bungled and inaccurate that there is
really no way of knowing for sure where someone is, especially since
visits to most prisons are not allowed at all. Also, the lists are
written in English.

7. Get an ambulance, a police officer, or an audience with a
government official. Unless you have connections, you can forget
about this one. These social services are extremely scarce here. If
you are an Iraqi and you want to go to the Coalition Provisional
Authority for something, make sure you bring someone along who is
from the US or another foreign country, or you probably wonít be able
to get in to talk to anyone. Iraqis do not have access to their own
government. Itís nearly impossible for Iraqis to get answers for

8. Talk on a cell phone (or a phone at all). There is phone service
in Baghdad, but it is limited by neighborhood. [The neighborhood
where we live, Karrada Dakhil, doesnít have phone service at all
right now, but it perhaps will be coming eventually.] As for cell
phones, MCI came in right after the war and set up massive cell
towers to prepare to sell cell phones to Iraqis. Cell phones were
purchased by the occupation forces for all the NGOís working in Iraq,
and if you are a foreigner or have a US passport you can easily go to
the CPA offices and pick one up, or two, or three. All the minutes
are free courtesy of the US government (this occupation sponsored by
MCI). But if you are Iraqi then you are not able to get a cell phone.
Of course there is no law against it, itís just that Bremer
disallowed MCI from selling all the phones that it was ready to sell
on the street because he said that Iraqis might use them to organize
opposition to the occupation, which is about the same reason that
Saddam Hussein gave for restricting cell technology. As an Iraqi you
might be lucky enough to get a phone if you go to the CPA accompanied
by a white person or someone with a US passport but otherwise youíre
probably out of luck.

9. Demonstrate in the streets without fear of getting killed by US
forces. There have been many shootings at demonstrations, and Iraqis
are afraid to join them. A sort of work that some people at VitW
Baghdad do occasionally is to go to these demonstrations and be eyes
and ears looking for possible abuses of power by the military.

10. Get from one place to another easily. Combine an occupational
force that closes off major streets of Baghdad with barbed wire and
cement blocks for hours, days, weeks or months at a time without
informing the general populace at all, with a lack of reliable
electricity and a lack of any street lights at all, with a shortage
of traffic police in all areas, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Traffic is chaos here in Baghdad, and it will often take hours of
commuting by taxi to do only a few hours of work. In 130 degree heat,
traveling in the tin cans of cars that reign in Baghdad, this becomes
even more of a daily headache.

11. Sleep easily at night. Electricity is on again and off again,
which means that you must either sleep in rooms where the air
conditioning or fans may go off at any time, or you must sleep on the
roof, if you are lucky enough like us to have access to a roof. If
you sleep on the roof, though, most people are awakened constantly to
the sounds of random gunfire, firefights, explosions, helicopters and
tanks patrolling the streets. Getting a good nightís sleep in Baghdad
is a rarity.

12. Drink clean water whenever you want. Baghdad summers are hot.
Unlike anyplace in the United States, even Phoenix. There is no way
to describe 130 degree heat, or the 150 degree temperatures in Basra.
Water is provided for a few hours a day if youíre lucky. The trick is
to pump the water whenever you can (usually in the middle of the
night) into your storage tank so that you have enough to use for
washing and showering for the day. If you are not lucky enough to
collect clean water for the day you may have to drink the water in
your storage tank, which may be stagnate.

13. Store food in your home. You canít really be sure that you will
have electricity, so you canít really buy milk, cheese or other
perishables in large quantities. This leads to frequent shopping
trips and frequently buying prepared food out of the house, and for a
family who is struggling to get by this would be a more difficult
thing than for us foreigners.

14. Enjoy true freedom of the press. There is freedom of the press at
least in name in Iraq. There are at least 150 newspapers that have
been started since the fall of Saddam. Most people consider this to
be a good thing. At the same time, the US forces have shut down at
least five newspapers for publishing articles that were extremely
critical of the occupation. I spoke with one of the editors of one of
the papers that was shut down; he also works as a human rights
lawyer. Unless you have a satellite dish and if you are Iraqi you
probably donít, you can only get one channel: the CPA channel or Iraq
media network. According to most Iraqis this is much like the station
that existed in Saddamís years. It is full of propaganda for the CPA
and edicts and proclamations issued by Paul Bremer, whom many people
have begun to nickname Paul Hussein. Some joke that the only
difference between this station and Saddamís station is that the CPA
station has more music videos.

The one positive thing that people are able to do now is list the
abuses of Saddam Hussein, and they do. This could be a healthy thing,
but so far they have not been given any forum or positive way to
address the pains that they have experienced over the past thirty
three years of war, sanctions and dictatorship. As of yet there is no
truth commission or public attempt at justice for Baíathist

Everyone qualifies their anti-Saddam statements now. Certainly no one
says that they want him to come back into power in their country, but
they are starting to compare this occupation to the previous regime,
in that it seems to be using fear and chaos as tools to control the
people and it seems to be more inept at how to handle basic social
services than Saddam was. This is scary, and it means that the US has
to get their act together right away. They are in bad company in the
minds of ordinary Iraqis.

John Farrell Voices in The Wilderness

Mark Parkinson

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