Saturday, September 13, 2008

Truth - and its consequences

Manal and I went out today to visit 3 families who had been past recipients of micro-projects. We are assessing how well their projects are working for them in generating income while also seeing what other needs they have. We are so blessed with having Maha as our team leader as she not only manages our work here in Amman but, because she works informally with local donors and in cooperation with other NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) she helps many families get medical treatment, food rations, and medical treatment and prescriptions filled outside of the confines of CRP. Even though Maha already has a list of hundreds of needy families that she coordinates relief for, she is always on the lookout for more that need help. She has a strong commitment to the families CRP has already assisted, not willing to abandon them from our support unless they are genuinely able to provide for their own needs.

We first visited Ruquya, a middle aged widow who lives with her two younger brothers. The brothers had been kidnapped together when they still lived in Iraq. They, along with others who'd been kidnapped (all Sunna) were taken to a local mosque where a "trial" by a Imam was to decide their fate. The two brothers were miraculously able to escape and, as they ran down the road away from the mosque, were rescued by a taxi driver who spirited them to safety. The others were not as lucky. All were "sentenced to death".

I asked Ruqaya what she thought of Bush / Maliki's claims that Iraq was safe to return to now and she became animated. She said that her friend came in from Baghdad yesterday and told her "Baghdad has no security at all! Bombings! Kidnappings! Teen gangs operate "checkpoints", and if you are of the 'wrong sect' or do not have ID, you are killed! No one helps because they are afraid! They stay in their homes, afraid to go out, afraid they will be next, afraid to send their children to school because they do not want them to be kidnapped! Now cholera because they still have no clean water!"

Ruqaya knows about this first-hand. Her face is drawn with worry, her eyes rimmed in redness from constant tears. One of her brothers who still lives in Baghdad has been kidnapped and nothing has been heard from him for several weeks now. He has cancer and was undergoing treatment. She worries that if the kidnappers do not kill him outright, his cancer, without treatment, will. Now she hears that his wife and children are also being threatened. The kidnappers are asking for a ridiculous ransom of $50,000 to return her brother. Of course, the family does not have this amount of money. And sadly, there is no guarantee her brother is still alive. The militias that operate under the support of the Iranian-backed "government" of Iraq are ruthless. She said that many people are now mistakenly supporting the Americans only because the Iranians are worse.

The US-led invasion and occupation swung the doors wide open to Iranian fundamentalists whose intent is to pull Iraq under Persian rule as a Shia state. It is 'peculiar' that the US has allowed this to happen and supports a 'government' in Iraq that consists of so many Iranians and yet, at the same time, postures against Iran. It all seems a clever if brutal ploy to use Iran to divide and weaken Iraq while utilizing the ensuing chaos and violence as an excuse to continue the occupation.

Manal tells us that several Arab news programs this weekend aired video, evidently taken by a militia member's cell phone, that shows what has happened to one of the families who have returned to Iraq recently. As his wife and children watched, the father was bound with his hands behind his back, kicked repeatedly by the militia, and then shot with a machine gun in the head. They then rampaged through the house and set it on fire when they finished.

This is the secure Baghdad that the Surge produced. All of the Iraqis I talk with speculate that this is propaganda meant for American voters, to give them the false impression that the loss of American lives and tax payers' dollars has been 'worth it'. In election-frenzied America, all we hear is that the Surge worked; Iraq is now safe (if imperfectly) for Iraqis to return. The picture given to US voters is tinted in a deeply false rose color so that the sins of the out-going Administration do not tinge the aspirations of the current candidates for office. This cheap campaign trick is costly to Iraqis. They are paying the price in blood and tears.

"...Refugees and IDPs know from their contact with friends and family that it is not safe to go home. Violence is still widespread, and basic services such as access to healthcare, clean water or adequate shelter are unavailable in many parts of the country. As the situation in Iraq evolves, it is essential the US Government, the Government of Iraq and other countries in the region do not encourage returns to Iraq until conditions are met for a voluntary, safe and sustainable return process. A rushed premature return process would have disastrous consequences both for the displaced and for the stability of Iraq..."
excerpt from: NGO Statement: Addressing the Iraqi Humanitarian Challenge - July 31, 2008

As we discussed these horrors that are all too real to the women in the room, we all were wiping tears from our eyes. I told Ruqaya that I was so very and deeply sorry for what my country has done even though I know my apology was inconsequential compared to the size of the pain caused. She said what every other Iraqi has said to me, "I know Americans are good people. It is your government. Americans are kind. They just do not know the truth"