Sophia's Peace Work

Sunday, May 30, 2004

A Night at the Arasat

Every now and then, when I grow tired of having no hot water and air conditioning at the University dorm, I go and hang out with my friends Dahr and David at the Arasat Hotel. They have all of the above plus internet access (intermittent though it is) and satellite T.V. I can check my email while I watch CNN, BBC World News or Channel 2, the movie channel that features American TV sit coms and movies with Arabic subtitles. Tonight's movie is The Thin Red Line ... a beautifully filmed movie about WWII and the battle to take some anonymous strip of land that few had ever heard of before (Guadalcanal) from the Japanese in the Pacific.

We hear that Allawi has been chosen by the Governing Council is the new Prime Minister. The UN Envoy seems to have accepted him, though I've read that he's a nephew of Chalabi and seemed to play his counterpart as an informant to the British. Some Iraqis are celebrating his nomination. One young man stopped me today in Khadamiyah to ask what I thought about it.

"I don't know much about the man," I said, "but I wonder if the fact that he was selected by the Governing Council will taint him in some way." As a rule, the GC is generally despised as puppets of the Americans.

I spent the morning interviewing an Iraqi Environmental NGO and the afternoon meeting with an Iraqi doctor working on a study of victims of Tuwaitha radiation exposure. My experience with both had given me the impression that there is a general inability or unwillingness to work and coordinate activities with other Iraqis. In the case of the NGO's it appears to come down to a fear that the other group might get funding and yours wont. When I asked the director of the NGO about why he was unwilling to collaborate with another organization, he simply attempted to downplay the importance and effectiveness of the other group. (Incidentally, this other group acts the same way).

In the case of the Iraqi doctor, he told me that he had to be extremely careful in his collaborations. He said that he worked extremely hard and that there were many "parasites" in Iraq. People who talk big and do nothing, stealing the work of others when they can.

These sentiments indicate to me that Iraqis have a long way to go to recover from the years of Saddam. "Many of the Iraqis I have met," I told the doctor, "Seem to act as if Saddam had never left. And yet, the problems of the country are so severe that people will have to speak about them honestly and work together jointly to solve them."

Tonight as I review the day, David sits nearby tallying the results of his survey for the Men's Journal. He's given the survey to 200 soldiers asking questions like, "If it were up to you, would you go home now or stay here until the job is done?" and "Who would you vote for if the presidential election were held today?" When I arrived he looked up at me in frustration, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, and said, "A lot of these guys don't even intend to vote!" (You'll have to check out the Men's Journal to get the full results of the survey)

Dahr also works quietly on his computer next to me, trying to document torture cases from U.S. Military prisons in Iraq for an attorney in the U.S. who is trying to put together a case against the government. Everyday, for the last several days, he's been crying out, "No more torture cases! It's too depressing!"

I'll stop here ... the movie continues, some forgotten hill has been taken, but I'm too tired to watch the end.


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