Sophia's Peace Work

Friday, March 05, 2004

He said, She Said

In coming to Iraq as an advocate for peace and human-rights, I have to admit that I come in with a set of preconceived notions. My own personal set of blinders if you like. There are some wonderful peace and justice groups working in Iraq, but as one member told us, "We have to admit that the reason why a lot of us are here is not because we love Iraqis. We’re here because we hate what our government is doing." This set of blinders makes it possible for one to see only what is bad about the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The Iraqis are the poor and helpless natives, while the U.S. military are the cruel and heartless invaders. But no situation is so black and white.

The following was reported to me by Lorna Tychostup, my travel partner and the editor of Chronogram Magazine, a Hudson Valley monthly, and Mike Ferner, an independent journalist. They went several times to the small farming village north of Baghdad, called Abu Hishma, famous for having been enclosed within a wall of concertina wire by the occupation forces. On their trip, they talked to members of the community and to the U.S. commander and various soldiers at the local base that is in charge of the area.

Not surprisingly, the villagers and the military have two different stories. Here is just one example:

The villagers’ story: An army patrol started firing at random, Aziz was wounded, Majida went to help him and in the process was shot and killed.

The U.S. Military’s story: An army patrol was trying to detain Aziz for questioning and in the process a sniper open up on them, wounding an American soldier. Aziz tried to escape and was wounded. Majida was killed in the exchange as well.

Whose version is the correct one? Both agree that Aziz was wounded and Majida was killed, but then the stories part company. There has to be much more to both versions. What would have made the soldiers fire at random? They have, when frightened, been known to do this. What information, if any, did the army have on Aziz? Was it accurate or, as we have heard happens, did it come from an enemy of Aziz who used the U.S. Army to get rid of him. If he did run from the soldiers, was it truly guilt that made him run or just the fear that many may have of long months of detention without hope of fair treatment.

When you come to a place like Iraq, with so many conflicting forces at work, it is sometimes hard to make definitive statements about anything. I have heard of soldiers making outrageously racists comments about the Iraqis. And then I heard Iraqis say virtually the same things about themselves. I talked to a young student at Baghdad University who says she sees no hope for her country and just wants to leave. "Anyplace is better than here," she told me. And I spoke to an official with the Communist Party, which has a deep and respected history in Iraq, who told me that his party was working diligently for the creation of a democratic, federal state in Iraq. And then today, horrific bombings in Karbala and Baghdad. And tonight, just now, the sound of gunfire, uncomfortably close.

A lot of good things, one has to admit, has probably come out of this war. A lot of bad things too. For me, as I work to remove my blinders or at least widen my field of view, I think that the issues of rightness or wrongness, good and evil, are relatively moot at this point (I would say they were never really the issue). But we have stepped into a hornet's nest here in Iraq and we've unleashed things for good or ill or in-between that we should admit we can never quite control.

I only hope that by the time I've left Iraq I can say that I came because I hated what my country has done and because I loved the Iraqi people.


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