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Reflections from Iraq

by Karen O'Keefe - as a conduit Wednesday, Oct. 02, 2002 at 5:00 PM
kbokeefe@loyno.edu 4525 Freret, E, New Orleans, LA 70115

A series of e-mails that Loyola School of Law, New Orleans, Professor Bill Quigley has sent back from Iraq. He has been there on a Voices in the Wilderness delegation since Sept. 21. I hope they inspire us all to work harder for peace.

>From: bill quigley
>Subject: news from amman, jordan
>Date: Sat, 21 Sep 2002 00:00:01 -0700 (PDT)

Please forward widely
>Dear Friends and Family:
This is Bill Quigley writing you from an internet cafe in downtown Aman Jordan. Arrived in Jordan last night (Friday) about 10pm after leaving New Orleans Thursday at noon. Voices in Wilderness team is purchasing additional medicines today to take into Iraq with us. We are meeting with three different pharmacy groups to try to get maximum for the money donated.

Today we are getting visas to go into Iraq and purchasing cancer medicines to combat all the unusual cancers in Iraq due to the vast amounts of depleted uranium still around from being used in weapons during the gulf war. Everyone is very excited with all the medicines and vitamins I was able to bring. When we have done all the shopping we will start the ride into Iraq, apparently in 2 GMC trucks. We flew over on Royal Jordanian, lots of families and small kids. It was like flying in a hot crowded nursery! As people found out that we were Americans and going to Iraq they wished us the best and were very friendly, asking us not to bomb Iraq. They are very, very concerned about threats of war. Jordan is fascinating. As we drove into town from the airport, they had big billboard signs in Arabic and English, first I saw was for Lipton tea! Most of the signs are not in English but some are, like internet cafe. An olive tree was planted in a spot in the sidewalk on the walk over here! Ate lots of rice, humus, falafel, and bottled water while a combination of games shows, CNN, and Al Jezeerah played in the background.
Hotel is simple. No AC, no screens on window, right across the street from the bus station. Got to bed at 12:30 and woke early to loudspeaker outside window calling all to morning prayers.
People I am travelling with are very experienced and very nice. Henry Williamson is 3 term Vietnam vet medical corps from South Carolina who just finished 40 days juice fastg outside United Nations in NYC protesting the sanctions. Henry is staying in Iraq to prepare for Iraq peace team. Barbara Lubin is mother of 4 who leads Middle Eastern Children's Alliance in California and who is going to Palestine for a week or two after leaving here. Leah Wells is young peace educator who taught nonviolence with Colman McCarthy. David Smith Ferri is stay home dad and poet from CA. Nathan Mauger is also staying in Iraq and is one semester short of his degree at Washington State in Spokane. Nathan is one of the guys imprisoned for 2 weeks for bringing food into Chruch of the Savior in Bethlehem siege a few months ago. Danny Muller is in his 20s and is our leader. His mom is parish associate at NYC Catholic church. Our driver and guide is Sattar, who is the regular transport and guide for 40+ voices in the wilderness delegations who have laready visited Iraq. Next report will likely be in a few days and will be from Iraq.
> Thanks to all for your love, support and help.
>Peace, Bill

(received on Sunday, September 22)
dear family and friends:
> arrived this afternoon after long, long drive through desert. very hot, over 100 degrees. did not know that there were so many types of desert. many areas of sand and rocks, saw small towns on drive over and even had to slow for a slow moving wild burro or donkey of some sort crossing the road! people live in stone square houses and some live in tents. some wonderful houses, many poor. meeting with un officials first thing in morn. this is much bigger city than i thought. people everywhere. people wear western clothes and more traditional garb as well. as we drove into town we could see big areas where housing construction has stopped in last 8 weeks or so as everyone is very nervous because of "the news." cars drive as bad as new orleans! brought in much medicine and thanks are due to so many who helped donate meds and money. we will be delivering meds soon and i will make report, but these are much appreciated. not getting very much sleep, but health is good. going to change dollars for dinars. before gulf war, one dinar was $3. today one dollar is two thousand dinar. teachers make $6 per month! big problems. they are closing this place so I am off.
> love and support to all,
> peace
>bill


From: "ivoices"
>To:
>Subject: from bill in iraq
>Date: Mon, 23 Sep 2002 17:26:51 +0430
>
>Dear Family and Friends:
> This is a brief hello from Baghdad. Feel free to copy and send on to others if you wish. This will be brief because there are few internet connections in Baghdad, the $30 hookup charge is unaffordable for most everyone and security is tight. So there few internet connections and a lot of our people waiting for this computer.
> First of all, people are friendly. I know many were worried that the people would hate us because we are from the USA, but they do not. They are very nice, even giving US small gifts. They worry George Bush will bomb them, but are friendly to individuals, especially when they find out we are here with medicines donated by americans for peace.
> It is very hot and very dry and very dusty, over 100 degrees. Even though everyone assures me that it is much cooler now than it has been in the past few weeks it still is very hot.
> We are staying at a very low budget hotel, but it does have a weak airconditioner unlike the last one I was at which had no ac and not even screens, so I a counting my blessings. We take lots of cabs around. Many people drive cabs to make money. The cabs are just small beat up cars, no airconditioning at all, most with broken windshields, windows that do not all roll down, etc. The average cost for a pretty long ride, about 20 minutes, is about one dollar. (I got my laundry done, 2 shirts, 2 pants, socks
and underwear and it cost about $2.25 with a generous tip.) People are desperately poor and there are lots of them.
> I have stayed healthy so far. I am eating lots of bread and rice and bottled water and yogurt. Since the gulf war, the water system and sewer system have been intermixed and water quality is really pretty bad. They have been making some progress lately but still bad.
> Met with heaqd of United Nations Food Program today, a man from denmark. He says that every Iraqui (24 million) gets a food ration every month of wheat, rice, powdered milk and cooking oil. This is paid for by Iraq under oil for food and UN oversees to make sure it is done fairly. The UN says it is done fairly. The ration amount is more than UN gives to Somalian refugees. In return they pay 12.5 cents. Unemployment is so bad that some people do not have the 12.5 cents and have to
promise some of their food to borrow the money to pay for this month rations. He says program is very fairly run, but massive poverty, bad water, and disease still make malnutrition too frequent. (One person said econommic sanctions are like the Great Depression each and every year being imposed on the people of the country, so many do not work and rely on the food ration as their entire source of food, sometimes trading food for shoes or medicine or fuel for cooking). Bombing bridges and electricty etc would obviously destroy this system of feeding people.
> There are some places of considerable wealth, luxury buildings, we have seen new mercedes benzes and lots of products for the few who can afford. But for most (90+%) people, the economy is in shambles. I have also seen horse drawn vehicles on the street.
> Tomorrow we bring about $30,000 worth of meds to hospital and wednesday we bring peace letters from USA kids to Iraqui kids to a school and also peace ribbons (good wishes from usa people to iraqui people). We hope to go to basra later this week.
> If there is any message here, it is that there are over 20 million people in this country not named saddam h and they are in real trouble right now because of current sanctions. War? Bombing this densely packed city seems unimaginable.
> love you all. bill


>From: "ivoices"
>To:
>Subject: hello from baghdad tuesday the 24th
>Date: Tue, 24 Sep 2002 15:24:55 +0300
>
>hello to all family and friends from downtown baghdad-
> i have heard a lot of new orleans music since i have been here. they
have a wedding tradition of having a honking car caravan
following the bridal car which has ribbons and flowers on it, but the
entire group follows a truck that blasts out traditional new
orleas brass band music! i have heard this each night since i have been
here and it reminds me of home.
> we are staying at the al fanar hotel which is a small hotel by the
euphrates river and just down the street from the Ishtar
sheraton. The Sheraton is famous as the place where CNN filmed the
bombing of this city in the gulf war 10 plus years ago.
> today we went to a big public hospital to give the medicines that you
all donated. it was big and full of people, mostly women
in black with children. while it is apparently much improved in the
past few years, there are still many problems because the UN
sanctions prohibit importation of many medicines that are designated as
"dual use" or things that might be able to be used for
weapons. unfortunately this includes a lot of cancer fighting
medicines, especially for child leukemia. we went to the children's
wards where mothers and children were on beds, moms fanning their
children. there is one nurse for every 40 children with
cancer. the doctor said that in European countries 90% of kids with
these diseases could be cured, in Iraq it is 10%. There is
increasing numbers of these kids too since there are lots of depleted
uranium from the bombings still in the ground. i have some
pictures, that if they come out, will break your heart. one of our
group asked a mother what message she would send to the
mothers in America, most refused to answer saying they were too shy,
but one did. she was all dressed in brown robes and
stood by her 13 year old daughter who had 2 IVs running from her arms
and said, "please tell people that my 13 year old
daughter, Roa, cannot live without her medicine... a lot of children
are getting diseases and all that suffering is caused by these
sanctions and the uranium from bombs. please help us get the medicines
for our children."
> the head internist at the hospital, dr. hassani, says that he is
convinced that 'the whole purpose of the sanctions is to kill Iraqi
children - there is no other explanation."
> as we left the hospital a sobbing mother all dressed in black robes
ran to the car and clutched my arm, begging me to help her
first grade son and showed me his picture while she cried. she begged
us for medicines to help him as he is in a coma. the driver
explained that we were not doctors and had already given the medicine
to the hospital but she insisted on giving me her address
and the picture of her son and a copy of ghis medical summary. i will
show it to you when i return. our driver finally said we
must just leave and we did. as we drove back to the hotel, i felt like
I did when i saw the state of Louisiana execute my client 15
years ago in front of my face. except this time it is children and it
isin slow motion and it happens over and over again.
> the news media loved our visit to the hospital as there are media
from all over the world here just waiting for the bombing to
begin and they have little to do until then.
> despite all of this people are very nice to us. i have never been
threatened or intimidated at all. cab drivers are nice, hotel
workers are nice, soldiers are nice, people int he phone place and
internet place and etc are nice. people do not blame
individual americans for their suffering, but they do blame our
government.
> i am sorry to be so grim, but the reality here is pretty incredible.
I have no doubt that if any of you were here to see what i am
seeing, you would be as moved as i. these folks are people like us.
> i give thanks for all our blessings and hope that we can find a way
out of this disaster.
> love to each of you, bill


>From: "ivoices"
>To:
>Subject: hello from iraq
>Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2002 16:32:44 +0330
>
>dear family and friends; (please feel free to copy and send to others)
>love to you all. i miss you and look forward to coming back to be with
you. i hope the hurricane does not cause too much flooding. i am keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.
>
>while here i continue to be impressed by two things.
>
>first, how really hot it is here, and i mean HOT. i canot read celsius
but it is very, very hot. thhere is little air conditioninng. we
we went to a boys high school today and there was not only no a/c but
there were no fans. we went to the local law school and
they had a power blackout (they say it happens every couple of days)
and we met in a room with no lights, no a/c and no fans.
tomorrow we are going to basra, which is south of here. when you tell
people here you are going to basra, they all shake their
heads and say "hot, hot." i cannot imagine hotter, but you can be
assured that i will complain about it to you! since i am going to
basra i will probably not be in touch for a few days so do not fret if
there are no emails!
>
>secondly, i continue to be amazed at how friendly people are. many
people speak english. many signs are both in english and
arabic. while walking through one of the narrow streets in Daniel
Market (named after the OT Daniel whol is buried outside of
Baghdad) one of the markets in this city (like the french quarter only
much older and much more crowded) i came to a smaller place in the sidewalk where only one person could pass. i stepped back
to let a tall man in long robes go first. he said in a low voice "you are visitor, you go first." I said thank you. he then asked "where are you from?" i hesitated for a second, and then said "united states.' he looked at me and said "you are welcome here" and then passed on.
>
>late yesterday we met with UNICEF officials who were from canada. they
gave us information, all of which is on the internet, of the effect of the iran-iraq war, the gulf war, and the sanctions have
had on iraq. for example, in the 1980s, 47 out of every 1,000 babies born in Iraq died before the age of 1. Now it is 114 per 1,000. Thye said no country in the world has regressed in infant mortality like iraq, mainly because of malnutrition and bad water from the water system thhat was destroyed by bombing in the gulf war. Most of the babies who die do so because of diarrhea and respiratory infections (colds etc) that are preventable if there was sanitary water.
>
>we went to a boys high school today, 1200 students, where we brought
letters of friendship and peace from students in usa and peace ribbons signed by hundreds of others. they were in a square room seated in twos at wooden desks. they were all dressed in western clothes. (one in the front was in a dark blue aamco shirt with a name tag stitched on that said Darwin!) Many of the boys thanked us for them and we asked them for questions. Though they were reluctant at first, finally one very tall boy (who plays basketball) said, in english, "I only have one question. Is your country going to make war against us?" I told him that there were millions of people in the usa who did not want our country to go to war against iraq and that many are working to try
to stop it from happening, but that the politicians are close to
election time and calls for war seem to be better for votes than
calls for peace. i told him we would continue to work for peace. he and
the rest of the teenage boys were very friendly with all of us, as were the teachers and the principal. they promised to send letters to students in the usa and we hope to be able to bring them back with us.
>
>this is very far from a perfect country. it is not anywhere near a democracy and not all their problems are from the economic sanctions, but many are. unicef estimates that over 500,000 children
under 5 have died in iraq as a direct result of the sanctions.
over a million over 5 have also. being here i can see why. what i
cannot see is why our elected officials continue to impose them
on the poorest of the poor. punishing children? i don't see why.
Weapons of mass destruction? does 1.5 million people dead sound like mass destruction to you? our elected officials need to take and honest look at reality asap.
>
>war on iraq? that seems totally unnecesary. it is impossible to think
of us bombing this city. this country is already devastated
by the last war and the sanctions. please do what you can to tell our
elected officials that further war will only hurt the poorest. i
heard that the catholic bishops delivered a letter to Pres bush saying
that unprovoked war against iraq would be immoral. Please do what you can to help spread that word. i do not think any young man or woman in the military who spent time in this densely packed city of over 5 million could possibly follow orders to drop bombs on it. please do everything you can to make sure they do not have to face that horrible decision.
>
>help me answer the basketball player who asked if we are going to make
war on iraq. i said many of us are working to try to stop it. work for peace.
>
>love you all,
>
>bill


>From: "ivoices"
>To:
>CC: "Voices in the Wilderness"
>Subject: message from iraq, saturday sep 28
>Date: Sat, 28 Sep 2002 19:51:44 +0330
>
>dear family and friends:
>
>(please copy and send to others)
>
>first of all, we are all safe. i know that many were worried when they
heard that basra was bombed yesterday by us or uk jet fighters while our iraq peace team was there. it was a bombing of a mobile communications unit around the airport. reports say one person was injured. we were there then but thankfully we were not affected. the area around basra, a city of 2 million or so, is apparently bombed several times a month recently and frequently in prior years because it is in the southern no-fly zone of iraq.
>
>in fact we met in the evening with the family of Uma Heider, who lost
one 7 year old boy to a bombing error by a "smart" bomb, on january 25, 1999. one of their other children, mustafa, who must be about 7 now, still carries shrapnel in his back and foot. (voices people say the pentagon response to a question about the bombing was " a missle wetn astray and we have corrected that problem") kathy kelly and others from voices in the wilderness stayed with this family for several weeks and they are very warm to peace visitors. the family lives in a very poor
neighborhood called al-jumerriya. because of the bombing everyone knows their street as missle street. the mothher of this extended family of 25, who all live in one small house, welcomed us and gave us little cups of hot sweet tea. their many children played with us and were excited because we brought a polaroid camera and took their pictures and gave them copies. when we left the family gave me a chalk drawing that i will share with you when i get back.
>
>we also brought medicines to a clinic funded by an italian
organization, bridges for baghdad, that primarily helps children with
diarrhea, and to a big hospital. everyone is extremely grateful for
your generousity and the good will of those who send wishes
of peace. the medical situation is grim. the head doctor told us that a
donated blood platelet machine and a centrifuge were sitting is jordan as we spoke, not allowed in because of the sanctions against iraq. many, many medicines available in other countries are not allowed in either. and they are falling further and further behind in medical technology as well. for example, in the entire city of basra, there is no mammogram machine nor MRI. People have to go to baghdad, six hours away, and make an appointment to get seen there and there are few machines even there. >finally, while we were waiting in the lobby to leave, a man about 25 or 30 came up to us and introduced himself to us. he said his name was Adil Hameed Raheem, an English teacher and translator. He said that when he learned we were there he came to
offer condolences on behalf of the iraqi people to the american people
for the tragedy of september 11. he said, "we know suffering and we feel the suffering of the people in the united states. please on my behalf and on behalf of the iraqi people put a white flower on the site in new york city." he had tears in his eyes. then he reached into his satchel, and pulled out a small color picture of a little blue eyed girl with dark hair and a ribbon around her head. this was his daughter, he said, and he wanted us to have the picture and the words on the back. on the back, her father had printed: "Dear US administration mems. I am Sala Adil. I am 8 months. I am iraqi. I would be very grateful if you let me live peacefully away of bombing and sanctions like all the children of the world. Sala."
>
>I am carrying that little girl's picture around my neck right now.
When i get back i will make copies for everyone. basra was bombed while we were there and many of you worried about us. thank you for your thoughts and prayers. we left safely, but 2 million people are still there. i will show you the picture of that little girl. and i will also work to stop the bombing. please do what you can.
>
>love to all,
>
>bill

From: "ivoices"
>To: "William Quigley"
>Subject: Message from Baghdad 9-30-02
>Date: Mon, 30 Sep 2002 16:28:53 +0400
>
>Dear Family and Friends:
>
> (Please forward and for more info look to www.iraqpeaceteam.org )
>
> I have a coin collection, so I found it interesting that you never
see coins in Iraq. All people ever use is one type of bill, a blue
250 Dinar bill issued by the central bank of Iraq. No other coins, no
other bills. On one side is a big picture of SH and on the
other it says 250 in each corner. I will bring a few home so you can
see them. Not all that long ago, the dinar was trading at 1
Dinar for $3.00+. The 250 Dinar bill was the biggest bill they had, and
it was worth over $750. After two wars and the
economic sanctions, the 250 Dinar bill is now worth 12.5 cents.
Imagine.

>
> Last night I went to a Catholic mass at St. Raphael's church, not far
from our hotel. It is a small church, seats about 200 max. It is across the street from St. Raphael's Hospital, which is run by the Dominican sisters. They have a convent of 13 nuns. They wear white dresses with a black veil trimmed in white. Sr. Maryanne Pierre is a tiny nun, probably in her 60s, who runs the hospital. They have mass in english every sunday evening, mass is in arabic other times. When I arrived at the church looking for Sr. Maryanne an older sister and I tried to communicate, but she spoke arabic and french, and I did not, so we did sign language and I kept saying Sr. maryanne and they found her.
>
> It was a beautiful service. There were probably a hundred people
there, mostly women, mostly filling from the back, just like home. They said most of the prayers in English, with pronounced French accents. They also did the Kyrie in Greek, the Gloria in Latin, and one of the readings in Arabic. There was a small organ, a violin player and a flute player. The priest was from Finland. Very simple and peaceful.
>
> I needed the peacefulness of church because earlier I had toured the
site of the Amiraya Shelter on the outskirts of Baghdad. During the Gulf War, while the males were in the army, the women and
children stayed behind. In the neighborhood of Amiraya there was a shelter where people who wanted to could go when there were
air bombings. In the early morning hours of February 14, 1991, 110 families were in the shelter. A smart bomb hit the top of the shelter and went down the ventilation shaft, blowing a ten foot hole in the reinfroced roof. A second bomb then followed the first down through the hole in the roof and exploded inside. They estimate the water inside the building reached 400 degrees. 394 died including 52 children under 5. Four days later we admitted that we had bombed it and said we had made a mistake. The shelter remains as a shrine to those who
died. The 10 foot hole is still there in the ceiling and the burn marks
do as well. The remaining walls are covered with memorial pictures and wreaths. Other US citizens tell me it was in our papers, but only briefly, as we mentioned the mistake. I never even knew. I imagine most of you didn't either.
>
> The people here remain very friendly. Cab drivers, merchants, people
on the street, everyone is considerate to strangers. There are even signs in English welcoming tourists.
>
> Yesterday, Henry, a multi-tour viet nam vet, who is in our delegation
and plans to stay indefinitely, was out walking by himself. He was on a side street when he saw a soldier with a machine gun. The soldier waved Henry over for what henry assumed was a visa check. When henry approached the soldier, the man shifted his machine gun to his left arm and stuck out his right hand and said "welcome, where are you from?" Henry told him the US and the soldier shook his hand and said again
"welcome" and waved him on. It is like that here.
>
> I know that, in light of our political and media stories, this is
hard to believe, but we have not had a voice raised against us,
nor a threatening gesture.
>
> The people are very, very poor, but they have a warmth and a dignity
with visitors that is striking.
>
> I understand that back home the voices for war against iraq are
rising, but so are the voices of peace. No one who has seen
what I have seen and met the people I have met can think that bombing
this country will help it. Please raise your voices for
peace.
>
> Love to all,
> Bill




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