Sophia's Peace Work

Wednesday, June 30, 2004


Well June 30th is here and it has been surprisingly quiet ... I've mostly been in Karrada Outside and near the city center on the Khark side (took two boat rides to look at some boats). I haven't seen or heard quite so many helicopter patrols, but I have seen some street patrols and the usual number of blocked roads. I haven't heard the news today and there may be other things going on.

Looks like I may have found some boats that are fast enough for the trip on July 11th but we had to do some serious negotiations ... they wanted 350,000 ID for each boat (over $240 and well out of my budget) ... I did some fast talking (well, my translator Mazin did ... but I stood around with pained expressions on my face, which must have counted for something!) and got them down to 175,000 ID each ($120 - still more than I wanted to spend but I had to bit the bullet). Still they are the fastest boats I've seen and it will mean that we can get down the river in probably no more than 6 hours ... which, given how hot it is now at mid-day, will be well worth it.

I'll be spending tomorrow visiting Arabic and Western press offices to distribute press releases about the trip ... Check below as well as the pictures of the water plant I'm trying to identify and get information about. I'm not sure but it may be the plant that is known locally as "Nile Flower" and is a noxious, invasive plant.


English Language: Sophia
7 901 308 562

Arabic Language: Mazin Sami
7 901 313 321

Iraqis make first environmental assessment of river

July 1, 2004 – Engineers from the Ministry of Environment’s Baghdad Environment Office will do their first river survey of the Tigris River since the war.

Ministry Staff and representatives of Iraqi Environmental NGO’s will on hand to discuss the environmental challenges facing Iraq after decades of war, sanctions and occupation.

Iraqis will travel by boat down the length of the Tigris River in their capital city for the first time since Saddam took control and made it impossible for the people of Iraq to visit and enjoy large sections of their own river.

The Tigris River Project is a landmark trip down the Tigris River from the Muthana Bridge in the north of Baghdad to the mouth of the Diyala River at the southern extent of the city. It will take place on Sunday, July 11th from 7 a.m. to approximately 12 noon (+/- 1 hour). Coalition Military Units have been informed and have given clearance for the trip (there will be some limitations on taking pictures). The Iraqi River Police will provide a discreet escort for the trip.

According to the UN Environmental Program’s Desk Study on the Environment in Iraq (2003), the collapse of Iraq’s sewage treatment systems has led to the dumping of vast amounts of untreated, raw sewage (mixed with industrial wastes, which has no separate system) into Iraq’s waters. Much of these releases occur on the Tigris River in Baghdad, which also serves as the major source for drinking water for the city.

The Tigris, called “the Great River” and known (in the Bible) as one of the rivers of Eden, is anything but dead. Fish still swim in its waters and many individuals making their living on and by the river. Although the river landings and sides are characterized by floating trash and derelict boats, children still come down to swim its waters on hot days. The problems of this river are emblematic of the larger environmental challenges facing the Iraqi people today. The Tigris River Project will take a look at the results of war, sanctions and government neglect and try to clarify the solutions necessary to recover from this bitter legacy.

Space is extremely limited and invited press officials are asked to confirm the name and contact information for one representative who will take part in this trip by Thursday, July 8th at 12 Noon to the contacts listed on this press release.

Final trip confirmation and logistics (meeting location and times) will be provided by Saturday, July 10th at 12 Noon.


Now on to the mystery plant ...

Monday, June 28, 2004

Sovereignty Strikes

Well the news came out today that Iraq gets it's sovereignty early. Haven't seen much (or any) street celebration as yet. My translator, Mazin, called me up to tell me, "Be careful. Stay off the streets." He's doing the same since two days ago he got a call accussing him of being a Baathist and threatening his life (he's hoping that it's just a hoax but he and his family are lying low for a few days). I should have expected this to happen ... right when I have so much work to do to get ready for this trip, I can't do a bloody thing but sit around and wait!

So I'll share a few pictures instead ...

Green Zone Dump seen from Abu Nuwas Street

Sophia and friends at a farewell party for Dahr Jamail, a freelance journalist from Alaska

Sophia, David and Dahr at Dahr's farewell party

Dahr does a farewell interview

Saturday, June 26, 2004

AC for Everyone

It's hot as an oven today and I am in awe of the stamina people have here who live without AC or fans. Or perhaps it is the lack of such stamina which makes people resort to joining the resistance! Who know? If Bremer had just bought AC's for everyone in Sadr City and Fallujah ... maybe there wouldn't be so much trouble. Even without electricity, the people would sit around their non-functioning AC's and think, "Well, it's better than anything Saddam ever did for us."

Yes, I think that is what the Americans never realized, the solution to winning hearts and minds was as simple as Air Conditioning. Who would want to go running around outside in this heat with IED and mortars if they had a nice room at home with a little chill in the air? Yet another in the long list of missed opportunities.

The Blast Wall Poster by the Iraqi group - Iraqi Free Observer. The writing is small but it says that each individual section of blast wall costs between $800 and $1200 US.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Mazin, my translator, was caught in the crossfire of an attack on the airport road this morning on his way to meet me.

"The road was packed with cars and when the bullets started flying," he said with a laugh, "somehow, all the cars just got out of there! Including me!"

There were coordinated attackes all over Iraq today, according to my friend David. I spent the morning at the Medical City talking to staff at the Engineering department (still trying to track down their sewage issues). I got completely different information this time, but Mazin doesn't think they are being honest with me.

"They just don't want to take responsibility," he said.

"So where is the truth?" I asked, "Who will tell me the truth?"

"Maybe you will not find it," was all he said.

It was a hot, hazy, dusty, dirty-air kind of day and I was glad to finally retreat to my favorite Internet Cafe, Zozic. It's cold enough in here to require a jacket and for a few hours I can forget how hot it is outside and delight in a few shivering chills.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

I had a good meeting today and a bad one.

I've been seeing posters around town that have been put up the a group called the Iraqi Free Observers ... the one that caught my attention was a poster about the concrete blast walls that are everywhere around town. Each section of these walls costs between $800 and $1200 ... The group estimated that there are over 230 of these sections set up around a typical building in Iraq. That's a lot of dough being spent on something like concrete and rebar. The poster started by saying "Concrete Shield ... Until When? ... An Actual Obstacle in the Face of Reconstructing Iraq"... I saw the poster right after speaking to an advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture who had told me pretty much the same thing, but I wasn't sure if I should believe him or not. When I saw the groups poster, I knew I had to talk to them.

I sat down with three members of the group today and was not disappointed ... they are a group of young professionals from a wide variety of fields. They've formed a kind of watchdog group and have put out three posters so far, using only their own resources. One concerned the blast walls I just mentioned. Another, featuring colorful graphics, focused on the take over by the American Military of an island on the Tigris that was an amusement park. It stated "Where are Iraqi's Children Playing in Holiday!?" The third poster featured bomb-carrying, cartoon terrorists entering Iraq and pointed to the lack of secure borders which had led to an increase in the drug trade and smuggling, the spread of Aids, the importation of expired foods, and the deaths of innocent people because of terrorism.

They were interested in the Tigris River Boat Project and wanted to know how they could help. This blew my mind because on more than one occasion I have been faced with a group that wants to know how I can best transfer money to their pocket. After meeting with the Iraqi Free Observers, I ran off to another meeting with an Environmental NGO that proceeded to do just that.

"We have lots of projects," said Dr. Al Shakarchi, an Environmental Engineer who retired in 1994 and now heads the newly formed Green Iraq Organization, "We just need the funding to do them. We are ready to work with you. How can you help us?"

Shaking my head, I can only say what I have said a dozen times before, "I am just one person, working as a volunteer for a small peace organization. I do not have any money to give you. All I can try to do is to connect you to groups working on similar issues in the West and help get you some exposure so that you can potentially attract support in the future."

Dr. Al Shakarchi was clearly disappointed in me.

Still I invited both groups to participate in the Tigris River trip and to join me for a pre-survey of the upper river on Friday. But I had to agree with my translator, Mazin, who said, after we were driving away, "That first group gives me hope that there are still people working in Iraq to make it a better place. But this last group, I don't know. Are they really trying to help Iraq or just help themselves?"

I have written about this issue before but it's worth repeating again: Westerners with western notions of what an NGOs (Non-governmental Organizations ... i.e. Non-Profit Organizations) should be like (i.e. grassroots, activist-oriented, and often peopled by young, dedicated individuals) are going to be disappointed. Iraqis have no tradition, knowledge or understanding of such organizations. Everything in Iraq has always been government-sponsored (or repressed). Research and credentials in a safe, academic environment tend to be emphasised more than individualistic, action-oriented projects that push the comfort levels of the powers that be.

If you ask an environmentalist in the West why they are working in such issues, you'll get a long story complete with vivid recreations of childhood romps through pristine forests. Or perhaps the horror-stricken details of a spiritual revelation set in motion upon seeing some environmental disaster. You ask that same question to an Iraqi environmentalist, as I have done on several occasions, and you'll be lucky if you get, "Because I like the environment."

It's not because they can't trump your environmental disaster story by a hundred fold and it's not because Iraq isn't (or can't be) a beautiful place. I suspect it is because these people are so trodden upon, so beaten down and tired, and so hopeless in their outlook for the future, that they simply don't have the energy to wax poetic about their love for the environment. They are struggling just to survive and they are working in the only way they know how.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Excerpt from Wildthing

The following is an excerpt from my friend Jo's Weblog. I met Jo here in Iraq this past spring. I was one of her support people when she traveled into the mess that was being made of Fallujah. After much soul searching, she left Iraq this spring to participate in a speaking tour in the U.S. The following was written after a visit she did to a bookshop in Olympia, Washington (my former home). I wanted to include it for two reasons ...

The first because over the past year I've heard about as much criticism of Rachel Corrie (a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia ... where I also went to school) as I have heard praise. The second reason is that it touches on the need to focus, in all our actions, on the Means and not the Ends (i.e. we never know what will result from our actions. All that is important is that we do the actions that we think are best).

Here is Jo's passage:
At the end of the second talk, in Orca Books, an ordinary bookshop which gives a lot of space to independent and radical books and to talks by their writers, I told a story specific to Olympia, the home town of Rachel Corrie, the young woman murdered by an Israeli military bulldozer in March 2003 while she was trying to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes in Rafah.

I was in Iraq when she was killed and dedicated that day’s dispatch to her. A friend in England was reading selected, non-political parts of my writing to the kids she taught in a secure unit for young people with severe emotional problems such as advanced eating disorders or repeated suicide attempts. One of the girls wrote her a letter a while later, having moved on into another place, saying that was what turned her around, realising that there was someone who had travelled miles from home and died for something really important, while she was trying to kill herself for nothing at all.

The point is that you never know: Rachel couldn’t have known that her going to Palestine would inspire a young woman she’d never met to live; I didn’t know when I wrote about it and my friend didn’t guess when she read it out. You don’t know the effects your actions and words are going to have and often you don’t find out afterwards, so you just have to throw yourself in and do what you think is right without trying to add up the results and despair if they don’t seem big enough. That’s what I think anyway.

Two Steps forward and One Step Back

I may have found the boats I need AND I've set up a pre-survey for the upper section of the river for Friday morning.

But I also had a rather useless meeting with the Environmental NGO's ... useless because many did not show ... and the rest came late ... and there is this crazy (but essentially harmless) guy named Ma'an who, whenever he sees me, pounces on me and talks me to death without really saying anything at all. I did invite three representatives from three of the groups on the pre-survey tour for Friday. It will be a chance for us to get to know one another and for me to see which of them really knows and/or cares anything about the river.

And then I thought I'd share something a friend sent ...

They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq. Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years, and hell, we're not using it anymore. ---David Letterman

Monday, June 21, 2004

Some Success Today

The Ministry of Environment's Baghdad Environment office has assigned four engineers to join us on the Tigris River Boat Project Trip in July ... now schedule for July 11th. They will take water samples along the way and will provide the basic scientific expertise on the boats. It will also be their first survey of the river since the war.

Now, if I can only get the OK from the U.S. Military ... and find some fast, reliable boats ... I'm just about good to go!

I've been working with a new translator these past few days. His name is Mazin and he's pretty good. I much prefer working with a woman but working with a man has it's own advantages. Mazin is 42, just a year older than me, and always reminds me that he wants me to think of him as a friend. "Anything you need," he says, "just call on me!" He also has a car with air-conditioning! What a luxury!

My former translator, A and I used to joke about the disadvantages we faced as two women trying to do our work in an Arab society. If we were rebuffed from meeting with a male ministry official, was it because he was really busy or was it simply that he couldn't be bothered to meet two women. If we were able to get a tour of a waste water treatment plant without any special permission, was it because we really didn't need the permission or was it because they simply didn't feel threatened by a couple of women? You'll never know the answer to such questions.

But with Mazin, it's a different dynamic. He's a more powerful force to reckon with. Whereas A always stood back, waiting for me to take the lead, Mazin jumps in ahead of me. He also gets more thoroughly searched and patted down at checkpoints than I do. AlI I usually get is a desultory rifle through my bag by a very bored looking female security guard.

But Mazin is an amazing find, for in a country with absolutely crazy drivers, he is very careful and conscientious ... and without having experienced Baghdad "iz-da-ham" (traffic jams, lit. crowdedness), you just can't appreciate how truely extraordinary that is!

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Post-Saddam Stress Disorder

I've probably spoken about this before but I ran into another case of PSSD today. I was down at the Central Organization for Standardization and Quality Control (Part of the Ministry of Planning for some reason). This government body is in charge of setting standards in Iraq for, among other things, food safety (they test the local bottled water Furat, made from the immortal ... and polluted ... Tigris River water).

On my first visit I spoke to Ms. Manal, the Head of the Food Section. She told me that they were trying to meet 1993 ISO Standards (International Standards Organization, I believe) but it even this was difficult as 70% of their building and lab equipment were looted after the war and there are many test they simply can't do. (In case you were interested, they need Atomic Absorption, Gas Chromatography, anaerobic incubators, and digital Microscopes for a start).

On my first visit, I also met Dr. Haifa Abid Ibraheem, a Chemist in the Quality Management department. She is the person I had first wanted to meet. I had been told that she had done a lot of research on the pollution of the Tigris River.

I made a special appointment just to meet with her today (my 2nd trip) and learned that here work had mostly centered on heavy metal pollution of the river. Looking at my map (which a posted a few days ago), she indicated the places on the river where different industries were located ... soap and detergent plants, cement plants, textile and leather industries, etc.

I asked her if she would like to join us on the Tigris Boat trip. She was very interested but her boss, who refused to meet with us, said no. Not without the "permission" of the Minister of Planning. Ah, the dreaded "P" word. To me it is the most obvious symptom that I'm facing another difficult case of Post-Saddam Stress Disorder. When asked why permission is needed, you either get a shrug of the shoulders or some mumbled words about security issues. Dr. Haifa was willing to admit that it was also probably simple fear.

It's a fear of westerners (or really any outsiders) so ingrained by the Saddam government that it still haunts the people of Iraq. Though Saddam has gone, this fear still exists and in many cases, sometimes with reason but often, I think, without, the fear has simply shifted to fear of the Americans. You don't talk, you don't give information, and God forbid, always ask for Permission!

And though I try to be understanding, I find it difficult not to express my exasperation with it all. It stands in the way of so much. With only about three weeks to go before the River Trip, I don't have the time to spend the next day or so, trying to get permission for one person to come on the trip. I'll do what I can but the odds don't look good at this point.

Note: I don't often report on the daily bombings and shootings that occur throughout the country. For one thing, since I'm in the country, the rumor mill is rampant and I don't always get the most accurate information unless I'm hanging out with reporters who just came from the scene. My experience of the violence and chaos in Iraq is the occasional intense, booming rumble of an explosion in the distance or the heavy rattle of the helicopters that buzz the roof-tops in twos and threes. I know that the explosion I heard this morning was of a bomb attack at a bank in Baghdad that injured three people. I also heard there was a terrible U.S. attack in Fallujah that killed some women and children.

I try and check Juan Cole's website, as he usually lists the daily toll, along with his editorial comments as a Middle East expert and, if I'm lucky enough to have access to Satellite (not a daily occurrence), I'll check in with BBC World, or just watch the video footage of the Al Jazeera channel. Those of you outside Iraq probably have better access than I do to the most current information on the violence. I'm often glad that I'm not so privileged ... it makes it easier to plug away with my work.

I don't want you to get the impression that I'm walking around oblivious to it all. That would be impossible. But there are plenty of people chasing down the latest bombings and shootings. I want my work (and hence my posts) to be a bit more forward looking - focus on the consequences of the war, the problems aka challenges, and maybe, if I'm lucky, on some of the solutions.

Saturday, June 19, 2004


A few days ago, I went to the Alwiyha Club (located near Firdos Square) for a meeting on the Marshes of Iraq. For those of you who do not know, the Marshes of Iraq were located in and around the conjunction of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and originally spread across the three southern governates of Iraq. They were once the largest marshes in Eurasia and were a major stopping point for migrating birds, as well as the home of the Marsh Arabs, an ancient Arab fishing culture with very distinct customs, that lived and worked within the Marshes. To find out more about the Marshes check the Eden Again Project site.

As a rule, I hate workshops and conferences. To me, they are mostly an excuse to NOT do anything about a problem.

Having trouble with democracy? Why, just have a conference! You'll feel better.

Need to deal with why children are dying of leukemia? Well, let's have a workshop on the matter, so that we can sleep better at night.

In general, we seem to have workshops and conferences about topics that we really don't have the political will or ... more importantly ... the money to deal with. A conference is cheap when compared to building, staffing and maintaining a hospital. Yet it is the hospital that is needed ... not the conference.

Perhaps I'm not being completely fair. There are great opportunities for networking at such events and a lot of work goes on behind the scenes. But, as I predicted, the workshop on the Marshes was mostly about a lot of people getting up to reiterate again and again ...

- the history of the Marshes(Saddam destroyed the Marshes because the Marsh Arabs, who are mostly Shia, resisted him and because army deserters used the marshes to hide in);
- the long list of problems (returning the water to the marshes remains a problem, extensive services are needed in terms of roads, hospitals, electricity, schools, assistance is needed to help the Marsh Arabs re-establish themselves in the region);
- the beauty of the Marshes (favorite quote: "The Marshes were a Gift from God to the People of Iraq.");
- the need to study the Marshes (always a fruitful way to spend limited resources), and
- the fact that there is no money, no resources, and no real driving force to actually do anything about the Marshes (except to have conferences and workshops about them).

But there were many leaders from the Marsh Arab communities who had come to the workshop with some hope of getting results. And when the speakers became too long-winded in their descriptions of the surpassing beauty of the Marshes, one or another would get up and complain,

"You don't need to spend time telling us about how wonderful the Marshes were. We know this. We need you to talk about how we can solve all the problems of the Marshes!"

Since I am interested in looking at the Environmental consequences of the war and because I am working on this Tigris River Boat Project to look at the problems of the river in the Baghdad area (many miles before the Tigris feeds into the Marshes), I had asked to speak briefly about my work and this project. But as I listened to the workshop speakers and I felt the impatience of the audience, I grew worried about what to say.

These people didn't care about the Tigris river in Baghdad. They didn't care about the environmental consequences of the war. The didn't care about the destruction of the ozone layer (one workshop speaker actually talked about this). All they cared about was the fact that they lived in a landscape that had been virtually obliterated, they had no jobs, they had no hospitals, no education for their children, no electricity to provide even the motion of a fan in the increasingly sweltering heat of summer. This was not an audience that cared about boat projects in Baghdad.

But I was asked to speak and so I rose to the podium with my translator with some trepidation.

"I will only take a moment of your time," I said, apologetically, "I am here in Iraq with a peace organization and I am working on a project to look at pollution of the Tigris River as it flows through Baghdad. But I am also interested in looking at the environmental consequences of the wars in Iraq ... one of which is the destruction of the Marshes. Someone here today said that 'the Marshes were God's gift to the Iraqi people' and yet it was because of one man and because of war that the Marshes were destroyed. This has only strengthened my commitment to working for peace."

"You are here to find real solutions to very real problems in the Marshes," I continued, "But, as I understand it, the only reasons that the Marshes are beginning to come back at all is because the Marsh Arabs took matters into their own hands. After the war, they started to remove the dams that Saddam had built to stop the water from entering the Marshes. They started to flood the Marshes with water again. My only advice to you is that you don't look to outsiders to solve your problems. You must depend upon yourselves to find the solutions. There are people who can and want to help, but you must decide what course to take."

"I haven't been able to visit the Marshes during my time in Iraq," I concluded, "But, inshallah, I hope to see them one day soon."

Not very helpful words when you know people are reaching out for help ... but atleast they didn't throw spitballs at me!

Friday, June 18, 2004

A Relative Asked Me About ...

What do Iraqis think of the sabotage and violence happening right now. Here is my take on it ... for what it is worth

It's hard to guage what the Iraqi people think ... I would say most are sick of the sabotage ... but there are also alot of people here that have seen no benefit from the occupation ... people in Sadr city get all the problems (no jobs, no power - even when exists elsewhere in the city, horrible water, rotten education system ... basically big poverty problems). And on top of that the house raids too.

These are the people who don't get much benefit from oil or electricity anyway, so why shouldn't they bomb the electricity lines and the oil pipelines. There are some pretty big class divisions here ... with most of the people who are upset being upper middle class (of which there are few) or weathy, and the rest apathetic to downright angry at the coalition for being so incompetent. And there are all the Sunni's that have been shut out from the new government (old Bathists of various strips) ... just because they were shut out doesn't mean they just disappeared. And then you add religion to this mix!

If your life is shit with no hope of improvement, and you saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib or saw the fighting in the holy cities and your Iman or whoever is preaching resistance, and maybe there is some guy paying you to shoot mortars and you've got kids at home to feed, and maybe there are also some outside resistance fighters hanging around who hate America for whatever reason, stirring up trouble. Anyway, as you can see it is quite a soup here. After the attack on the convoy of contractors a few days ago (in which by-standers were killed), there was a spontaneous demonstration against the Americans ... the general feeling being against the Americans who they feel aren't doing enough to protect the people from the violence (i.e. haven't done enough to secure the borders, spending loads of money on their own security but little on the security of Iraqis, etc.)

Anyway, the public outcry against the violence exists but the sentiments of the Iraqis are all over the map.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Big Screw up in the grades at the University ... spent the morning clearing things up.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

More on Poo

O.K. Maybe some of you out there can check my numbers and give me some feedback. The pretty pictures are at the end.

- Phase 0 of Rustimiyah South plant (built 1960), approx. 39,000 cu. m/day, serves 350,000 people
- The 1st Extension of the South plant (built 1971), approx. 40,000 cu. m/day, serves 400,000 people
- The 2nd Extension of the South plant (built 1980), approx. 90,000 cu. m/day, serves 750,000 people (This is the Extension that Bechtel is working on now)

So by this calculation, the south plant serves 1.5 million people ... 175,000 cu m./day.

- The 3rd Extension aka. Rustimiyah North plant (built 1987), has a flow of approx. 300,000 cu. m/day, so that means, according to the engineer I talked to, that can serve 3 million people.

So combined, the two plants should serve 4.5 million people. Baghdad is divided into two sections ... the east bank of the Tigris (known as Rasafa and served by the Rustimiyah plants) and the west bank (known as Kharkh and served by the Kharkh plant).

Sadr city ... the big city slums is in Rasafa (on the edge of the city). There are approx. 2 to 3 million people in Sadr City alone (which when you look at a map of Baghdad is astonishing ... they must be really packed in there ... but then again, numbers might be off here).

Baghdad as a whole is around 6 million people (stats are just an estimate though ... after the war there was a big influx of people ... I don't know if anyone really has a good count).

According to the engineer I talked to, if both Rustimiyah South and North were working, they would be just meeting the needs of Rusafa. (Actual flow to the plants is 473,000 cu. m/day ... the design capacity, if both plants were working, would be 475,000 cu. m/day) But neither plant is working and currently all the sewage goes right to the Diyala river. - very stinky -

According to the guy I talked (he wasn't an engineer by said he was with the "Technical Department") to about Kharkh ... the design capacity of the plant is 205,000 cu. m./day but the flow is 658,500 cu. m./day. This guy's info was a little more sketchy ... given the numbers above, the capacity of this plant should serve about 2 million people. The flow rate they gave me indicates that is actually getting the water from more than 6 million people ... which makes me think that the numbers here aren't quite right.

Kharkh has 6 different units, only two of which are working at this point ... so it is only working at about 1/3 capacity.

I don't know what the average Iraqi uses in terms of water per day (they wouldn't measure it in gallons) ... but people use water pretty freely here ... the two rivers here supply alot of water, and even though Iraq is generally surrounded by desert country, people use quite a bit of it ... boy, and they love to wash their cars! I've seen them take trucks down to rivers in the north, park the think in the middle of a stream and wash it down.

As for the process at the plant ... well basically, as it was explained to me, the water comes in from the main pump stations, goes through grit and grease removal, aeration, primary settling, sludge removal (the sludge then goes through a digester and into drying beds), the water goes for more aeration, to a final settling tank, then (atleast at the Rustimiyah plants) the water gets a shot of chlorine before heading to the river. The same is basically true at the Kharkh plant (sans the chlorine). The sludge, once dry is used as fertilizer but in both the case of the sludge and the water, they will do only basic testing (Dissolved Oxygen, Biological Oxygen Demand, pH).

I asked the man at the Kharkh plant how much time does it take for the water to go through the plant. He told me six hours and he had made several comments that he thought that that wasn't enough time to properly clean the water.

Anyway, on to the pictures

Rustimiyah Outfall into the Diyala River

Incoming water to the Kharkh Waste Water Treatment plant

Overflow of water to Kharkh Treatment plant goes straight to the Tigris River

Degreaser/Degrit area of Kharkh Treatment plant

Salah Ali of the Kharkh WWTP Technical Department - at the 1st Aeration station (He thought there was too much aeration)

A map of the Tigris River in Baghdad

Monday, June 14, 2004

A, my translator is leaving me for another foreigner! Waaaaaaaah! It's just because he pays better! And he is cuter than me!

More explosions today ... we ended up heading straight for it in our taxi this morning ... got pretty close ... a convey was hit, six Iraqis and five contractors were killed.

Anyway, doing fine ... just a bit frustrated about the situation here. I was at a waste water treatment plant today that Bechtel is working on (one of the many western contractors feeding at the public trough here in Iraq) ... there was surprisingly little work going on. We went to their outfall pipe ... since the plant isn't working ... the sewage of 3 million people is just pouring into the river. It reeked!!! There are three waste water treatment plants in Iraq ... all under Bechtel contract to bring them up to design capacity ... all together they represent 10 distinct units. Only two of which are working (just started a month ago) ... the rest will come on-line (so they say) between September and December. But even when all of the plants are finished, they won't be big enough to meet the need. Al Kharkh Treatment plant is designed to handle 205,000 cubic meters per day. But the current flow to the plant is over 650,000 cubic meters per day. There really are no plans to deal with the capacity issue at this point.

As we were returning to the main office of the Rustimiyah South plant (located on the south side of the Army Canal where it empties into the Diyala river, a tributary to the Tigris), we bumped into some Bechtel types ... I tried to introduce myself and ask them a few questions ... but it was quickly obvious that they wouldn't say anything to me.

They told me that I should get "permission before coming on-site ... for security reasons." I wonder what kind of security threat I could possibly pose? I just smiled at them, shrugged my shoulders and told them I had come with a representative from the Municipality of Baghdad. Bechtel is fixing the plant but, as far as I know, it still belongs to the city of Baghdad.

Anyway, pictures soon ... I promise!

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Big explosions heard this morning ... I think I heard a mortar go off not to far from where I'm living ... I was told that they were aimed at the Green Zone. Also heard there were some deaths (both Iraqi and American) by a car bomb near a base in Rustimiyah (eastern Baghdad) ... but I never know the accuracy of the reporting I get. Some of it is just word of mouth. Taxi drivers listening to the radio and reporting to me in broken English.

I had to go to the University today to drop off the last of the graded tests, only to find that the grades I had given in last week were all wrong! I used the MS Excel program and made a silly error in adding up the test scores. Frak! I was pretty embarrassed. I'm glad the students didn't lynch Dr. Maan, the head of the department, because of my stupid mistake!

Saturday, June 12, 2004

The CPA’s Environmental Aftermath

Dr. Khammo Awshalim is going back to the UK. A former Agriculture professor with the Universities in Baghdad and Basra, he has been working for over a year for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) as an advisor to the new Ministry of Agriculture. He helped develop numerous programs and projects to increase agriculture production, provide assistance to farmers, and restore the date palms, the national symbol of Iraq. Nearly all have come to naught and Dr. Awshalim is fed up and leaving the land of his birth to return to his adopted country where he lived for 14 years before returning to Iraq after the war to help with the reconstruction.

Dr. Awshalim rubbed his fingers together. “No money.” They seem to have plenty of money for security, he complained. Hundreds of thousands are being spent on concrete blast walls, armored vehicles, and security guards. “Tell me,” he said, “When the Americans finally leave, what will we do with all these concrete blast walls? Of what help will they be to the Iraqis?” For months now, Dr. Awshalim has been sending out email missives addressing these and many other issues that point to a lack of real reconstruction, huge wastes in spending and dubious environmental practices.

I had met Dr. Awshalim to speak to him about the huge trash dump that is growing on the banks of the Tigris River outside the walls of the Green Zone, the area housing the CPA and its workers in the center of Baghdad. He showed me his pictures of the area and gave me a tour to the outer edge of the dump. The area between the river and the outer blast walls of the Green Zone has become a wasteland of demolition materials, torn up trees (cleared from the extensive orchards surrounding the Palace to make room for the many trailer parks set up to house CPA workers), and ordinary garbage generated for the thousands of people living and working in the Zone. Rather than truck these items to the city garbage dumps, KBR and the other contractors working inside the Zone, with a quiet nod from the CPA, have been dumping them along the river’s edge in Central Baghdad. Such an action, in many other major cities, would have landed them in jail after the first dump truck load.

Dr. Awshalim has raised this and other issues with the CPA, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Iraqi Ministries, yet no one seems to have the power or the will to stop these kinds of activities. “Somebody must listen to reason before it is too late,” he wrote in one of his many emails to the CPA (this one on the burning and destruction of the landscape in Radhwaniya, near the Baghdad Airport), “With action like this we are losing friends very fast and gaining enemies even faster.”

Dr. Awshalim has finally gotten tired of hitting brick walls. He’s going home.

Pictures of the Green Zone Dump Yard

The Palace Orchard and Grounds being clears for CPA showers and trailers

Another interesting development ... Washington Apples in Iraq courtesy of KBR ... apparently Iraq Apples aren't good enough

Thursday, June 10, 2004

To Help Harb ...

Global Exchange is sponsoring a small fund to help Harb with the repair of his car (damage having been done to it by overzealous peshmergas in Kurdistan) ... Harb lives on a restricted income and can't really afford the cost to fix his car. If anyone would like to help, financial contributions can be sent to the following:

Global Exchange,
2017 Mission Street, Suite 303,
San Francisco, CA 94110,
attn. Andrea Buffa.

In the notes field, they should write Independent Journalism in Iraq Project.

Many thanks!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Tigris River Boat Project

Now that I'm back in Baghdad, I need to hit the ground running! I've spoken about this project in a roundabout way and I thought I'd give folks a full description. I'd love to hear your thoughts, ideas and concerns.

I. Purpose:
1. To visit and focus attention to the specific problems areas and hotspots on the Tigris River and discuss plans, solutions and funding for the river clean-up.
2. To bring public awareness to the river as well as to the larger water quality issues that face Iraq and to the variety of stakeholders invested in cleaning up the environment in Iraq.
3. To bring attention to Iraqi groups and individuals who are improving the environment in Iraq.
4. To discuss the opening of the entire river back to public use and access.

II. Project Description: Bring together various government, NGO, and public stakeholders who are concerned about the state of Iraq’s rivers to take a boat trip down the entire length on the Tigris River through the city of Baghdad. Ministry staff, members of Iraqi Environmental NGO’s, Media representatives, and Iraqi citizens would be invited to participate in the trip.

III. Background: The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers flow from the mountains of Turkey into Iraq. Before they converge just north of the southern city of Basra, the alluvial plane of these two great rivers comprises over a quarter of the surface area of Iraq. The Tigris River is 1146 miles long and is joined by five major tributaries (Zakko or eastern Tigris, the Great Zab (Zab Ala) the Lesser Zab (Zab Asfal), the Adhem and the Diyalah). In scripture, the Tigris is one of the rivers of Eden and it was know to the Prophet Daniel as “the Great River.”

According to the UN Environmental Program’s Desk Study on the Environment in Iraq (2003), the collapse of Iraq’s sewage treatment systems has led to the dumping of vast amounts of untreated, raw sewage (mixed with industrial wastes, which has no separate system) into Iraq’s waters. Much of these releases occur on the Tigris River in Baghdad, which also serves as the major source for drinking water for the city.

The problems of the Tigris River, as with many of the rivers and water bodies of Iraq, are grave. A ride upon the river through the city of Baghdad can give one the sense of the scale of the problems that Iraqis face in cleaning up the river. Problems with water quality, industrial waste, disease, biodiversity and water flows/access are easy to see on the Tigris in Baghdad but they are also emblematic of the larger environmental issues that the people of Iraq have inherited from decades of war, sanctions, and short-sighted, government policies.

Yet this Great River is anything but dead. Fish still swim in its waters and many individuals making their living on and by the river. Although the river landings and sides are characterized by floating trash and derelict boats, children still come down to swim its waters on hot days. Perhaps the sewage coming from the huge complex of medical buildings called the Medical city is tainted with more than just fecal matter and oil scum’s the surface near the power plant, but the river has been here for thousands of years.

Many of the ferrymen near the Al Ahrar Bridge have worked on the river for years and some remember the floating barges that would take people out for pleasure cruises on the river before the era of Saddam. During the regime of Saddam, large sections of the river were off limits to the citizens of Iraq. People could not come near the section of river that passes the Presidential Palace (now the headquarters of the CPA) located in the center of Baghdad. “I was once arrested for looking toward the Palace from my balcony,” said Ahmed, a resident of Karada Dakhil, which is across the river from the Palace. Ahmed now takes his fishing pole down to the river four times a week where formerly it would have been impossible for him to go. Though going to the river’s edge is now possible in some sections, boating the length of the river is still problematic due to the presence of Coalition military bases and the massive area in the city center known as the Green Zone (Presidential Palace complex and Military base). This trip will obtain special permission to boat the length of the river through Baghdad.

As CPA Administrator Paul Bremer noted in an address at the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works in April 2004, “modern urban life cannot long be sustained without clean water, and the cleanliness and public health benefits provided by sewage treatment and waste collection— are fundamental to civilized life.” It is the duty of the people of Iraq in partnership with concerned people, organization and governments all over the world to clean and protect the river and Iraq’s environment for the future.

IV. Known Hotspots & Problem Areas along the River (not inclusive)
1. Discharges from Rainwater stations (A1, T1, Pn, Al Masbah, Ts1)
2. Sewage Treatment plants
3. Medical City Outfalls
4. Dumping of demolition materials and refuse on the river edges
5. Burning of refuse on the river edges
6. Street run-off
7. Leaking sewage pipes
8. Industrial wastes
9. Dumping of toxins
10. Power Plant
11. Sewage and industrial wastes from the Diyalah River
12. Fishing practices (electro-shocking, dynamite fishing)
13. Exotic and invasive plant and animal species
14. River Access (between Jameriyah and Jadriyah Bridges, Military bases)
15. Shoreline development
16. Shoreline hardening
17. Poor or non-existing funding for on-going monitoring and clean-up
18. River flows

V. Timeline for the Project
May 10th – NGO Meeting at Ministry of Environment – Initial Presentation of Project to Dr. Ali Azziz, Deputy Minister of the MOE
May 14th – Pre-survey from 14th Ramadan Bridge to Jameriyah Bridge
May 25th – Agreement with Major Basim, Iraqi Police Headquarters
May 30th – Pre-survey from Jadriyah Bridge to Big Bridge
June 1st – Meeting with Governate Support Team
June 2nd – Meeting with Mr. Mahmoud, Ministry of Municipalities and public Works
June 10th – NGO Meeting at Ministry of Environment, NADEC Meeting
June 12th – Meeting at Municipality of Baghdad
June 13th – June 30th - interviews with officials from the Ministries of Public Works, Water Resources, Baghdad Water Authority, Baghdad Environment, Sewage Treatment plants, Medical City, Power Plant, Fisherman, Boatmen, Pre-survey from Big Bridge to mouth of Diyala River, etc.
July 1st – Determine final itinerary of trip
July 2nd – Press Release to local and international press
July 8th – Participants list given to Iraqi Police
July 10th – Tigris River Boat Trip 6AM – 12Noon
July 12th – Trip Review and Follow-up plan for stakeholders

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Back in Baghdad

We're back! It was a four 1/2 hour, hot drive home ... since Harb wasn't able to fix his window. Had a brief stop in Kirkuk to hang with Harb's Turkman friend. We started seeing the U.S. military presence (or atleast noticed it) about an hour south of Kirkuk. The checkpoints are cursory ... Harb explained that with so many different groups (U.S. Military, Iraqi Police, Iraqi Civil Defense Force, Iraqi Army, different Militias, Private Security aka Gun's for Hire), everyone is pointing the finger at everyone else as far as setting up effective checkpoints. We hit one private security checkpoint with absolutely no warning and I, atleast, sat up in my seat as they pointed their guns at us. But fortunately we made it into Baghdad with no problem ... just tired and wishing I could have stayed and poked around Kurdistan longer.

Kurdistan in June is Golden and Stunning

We left for Erbil on Friday, June 4th. David & James two journalists and A my translator had gone up on Wednesday. I traveled with another journalist named Dahr and his translator/driver Harb (Harb is Arabic word for war and given that this man can be argumentative, unwilling to listen and always sure that he is right while you are most assuredly wrong, I think is name is quite appropriate. Regardless, he is a very nice man and according to Dahr an amazing "fixer").

First we visit with some friends of Harb in Kirkuk that lies a little over an hour south of Erbil. Harb is a retired Iraq army officer. His friend could only be described as something equivalent to the English batman. We spent time talking about the situation in Kirkuk, which is primarily characterized, according to Harb’s friend (a Turkmen) as a fight for control of the city between Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds. There is an American military presence here but unlike Baghdad, it is less visible.

In fact, as you go into Kurdistan, that is your first impression. No U.S. Military. No patrols, no American-manned checkpoints (though there are loads of Peshmerga/Kurdish police checkpoints … in fact more than I am used to), no helicopters buzzing the roof-tops. The second thing you notice is that the cities and towns look cleaner and more orderly and there is a lot of economic activity. There are few concrete barriers set up and almost no razor wire. I’m in a foreign land, where many people don’t even speak Arabic, and it felt almost normal to me. I hadn’t realized how oppressive the atmosphere in Baghdad was until I came north. It was like an invisible weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I started to dread the return to Baghdad.

That first day, we drove to the Chwar Chera Hotel. I had been offered a free place to stay in Erbil at a Kurdish friend’s house and was told that the manager of this hotel was a relative and could help us get settled at the house. Kamran was a bit stiff at first but a loosened up over lunch in his hotel as Harb and he began an extensive discussion/argument about the future of Kurdistan. Kamran was in the camp that called for independence.

"Yes, we are all brothers, Arab and Kurd," he said, "but there should be no problem if, as brothers living in a crowded house, we decide we want to move out and find our way on our own."

But Harb is a true Arab patriot. Iraq is Iraq and should not be split asunder. If the Kurds go, what will stop Sunni, Shia, Turkmen, and Assyrian from breaking up? The argument ranged over the gamut of Iraqi/Kurdish history. Saddam did this. Saddam did that. Barzani did this. Barzani did that. Talibani did this … etc. etc. etc. They really weren’t getting anywhere and I was starting to worry that Harb was slowly wearing upon the hospitality of our host.

During the fray, I wrote on a piece of paper (which I later read to them) the following:

As Arabs, if you know the history of the Kurds, you should understand the passionate desire of the Kurds for independence. If you do not want the Kurds to separate from Iraq, how can you prove to them that their history will not be repeated? At this point it should not be up to the Kurds to capitulate to the Arab sentiment of unity. It should be up to the Arabs to prove that that unity will protect the rights and life of the Kurdish people and ultimately serve their interests better than independence. You can not enforce your vision of unity upon them … if you do they will always fight you.

But living up to his name, Harb could barely listen. Dahr and I eventually intervened before Kamran was driven to his wits end and both shook hands, agreeing to disagree. After getting settled into the house of my friend (a large, slightly rundown house with a big garden) we took off for Shaklawa, a garden city about a half hour from town. There, by chance, we ran into our friends who had left two days before and were able to get some tea overlooking the town before heading back to Erbil. It was Friday, an Arabic weekend, so people were everywhere picnicking beside the roads and there was quite a jam getting back into Erbil.

The Gang at Shaklawa

My one main agenda for wanting to come to Erbil was to visit the Italian NGO called "Emergency." Dahr and David were also interested in go, so we hooked up and visited them on Saturday (see my post on Emergency below). In the evening we headed for the city center and the old Souq and the Citadel that sits atop some high ground in the center of the city. I do not pretend to know much about Kurdish history, past or present, but I was told that Erbil is very old and the massive walls of the Citadel have seen many conflicts in the past. There was, according to Harb, very little fighting seen in the major cities of Kurdistan during the recent conflicts between Iraqis and Kurds, but this was not true here in Erbil, which saw fighting at the Citadel. There are two flags flown prominently here. The Kurdish flag (which makes Harb’s blood boil to see) … with its three horizontal bars of Red, White and Green, a many pointed sun in the center. And the yellow flag of Barzani which bares the letters PDK (Patriotic Democratic Party of Kurdistan) for his party. Kurdistan, in addition to conflicts between Kurd and Arab, has seen fighting between the two most powerful Kurdish families … the Barzanis and the Talibanis. Erbil and the surrounding area is controlled by Barzani. Sulaimaniya is controlled by Talibani and flies the green flag of the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan).

Dahr & Sophia in Erbil from the Citadel

PDK & Kurdish Flags Atop Erbil Citadel

Honestly, trying to understand this internecine Kurdish conflict is more than I can handle at this point (this trip was supposed to be a break for me!) and I would be happy to find anyone who can explain it in some succinct and comprehensive way. When we are stopped at checkpoints, we don’t know if we are being stopped by PUK or PDK Peshmerga. Is this a Barzani man or a Talibani man? And Harb spends most of his time carping about the fact that no one speaks Arabic here and they refuse to fly the Iraqi flag (unless it is to show it in its previous incarnation that has removed the "Allah Akbar" … placed there by Saddam Hussain). Suffice it to say that Dahr and I are neophytes in this area and Harb is less than a reliable source since who would tend to wish ill will on the whole lot of them.

There rest of our trip has been truly a vacation … drives through the amazing Kurdish mountains (some of them still baring snow), rolling fields of wheat, sunflowers and oleander, stops at Galli Ali Bek waterfall, which is tiny in comparison to the Bakhal falls, that latter formed from a large underground river that comes crashing out of a mountain side. The rivers here look like a kayakers dream. The Big Zab, laden with silt, sweeps through amazing country dotted by here and there by small herds of goats, sheep, and cows.

Bekhal Falls - with restaurants and shops built around and sometimes over the falls.

Before coming here, someone told me that when they refer to the cradle of civilization, they are really referring to Kurdistan. Seeing just a small part of it, I’m sure they must be at least partially correct. It is June and Kurdistan is golden and stunning.

Unfortunately, my memory if Kurdistan will also be mixed up with the war, for we had trouble when we got to Sulaimaniya. In the downtown bazaar area, Harb left his car in the street as we went to secure lodging. Upon returning we found that the car had been towed away. Dahr and I went to find an internet café and Harb went to go get his car but when we finally connected with Harb again, he found him seething in anger. His car had been badly damaged and he himself had been interrogated by Peshmerga. A car bearing a Baghdad license had made the Sulaimaniya police nervous In attempting to search the car for explosives, they dented the trunk, smashed the driver side window, ripped apart the rear interior (apparently they hadn’t been able to get in through the trunk … though they sure tried), cut the fuel line and the ignition … and for good measure they snapped off the antennae.

We estimate that they did about $500 (Dahr thinks it’s more like $1000) of damage. Of course there will be no compensation and Harb, who is living on a pension, is not in any position to be able to pay for the damages. Dahr and I feel heartsick because the only reason Harb is here is because we asked him to drive us. Dahr has asked a friend with the organization Global Exchange to set up a fund to help Harb out. I’ll get the information on my web log in the next few days. At present, we sit in our hotel room in downtown Sulaimaniyah, listening to the noise off the street below and waiting to hear if Harb can get the car at least partially repaired so that we can start our journey back to Baghdad.


My one main agenda for wanting to come to Erbil was to visit the Italian NGO called "Emergency." They run a clinic for victims of war. But I found that it was more like a complete hospital and offers a level of care rarely if ever seen in Iraq (or in some Western cities for that matter).

Emergency has been present in Northern Iraq since 1995. Originally they conducted surgeries in the village of Choman close to the border with Iran. Later they opened two surgical centers in Sulaimaniya and Erbil, each with over 100 beds. They also have a network of first aid posts for providing outpatient treatments. In addition they have a Center for Rehabilitation, Prostheses and Social Reintegration where over 1,600 landmine amputees have received prostheses and rehab since it opened in 1998. Emergency also run centers in Cambodia, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.

In Iraq, their staff is all Iraqi/Kurdish. There was only one Italian administrator present at the Erbil center when I was there. What was most refreshing to see was the emphasis placed on nursing care. Each unit was well staffed with nurses. This is a rare sight in Iraq these days. Since 1991, nurse salaries slipped below the level that made it possible for people to work in this field. You rarely see nurses in hospitals in Iraq but at nearly every bedside you’ll see a relative sitting who tries, thought they have no training, to provide care to the patient. At Emergency, there was a man who had been operated on by an American doctor in Kirkuk. He was then left in the care of his relatives who were given little to no instruction and who never moved him in his bed for forty days. He developed horrible bed sores and was finally sent to Emergency. The nursing staff there cleaned his sores and move him every two hours.

"We believe that healing," said Sabrina de Rosa, the Italian nurse with Emergency whose main focus is the burn unit at the Center, "is the job of the nursing staff."

I was very impressed with Emergency. Rather than just a piecemeal approach to providing care … flying in some doctors to perform a few surgeries and then moving on, they have set up a long-term operation which covers everything from surgery to rehabilitation of the victims of war, the majority of which are civilians. They are also helping to provide education to hospitals and schools and work to promote a culture of peace that will one day ban the use of antipersonnel mines that remain an inhuman, indiscriminate and persistent weapon of war.

If you want to learn more about Emergency or make a donation, here is their contact info:
Via Bagutta 12 -20121 Milan, Italy
Tel. + + 39 02 76001104

Monday, June 07, 2004

More from Kurdistan

I was going to save my writing on Kurdistan until I returned to Baghdad. I wanted to sit and collect my thoughts, assemble my pictures and tell of our travels to Shaklawa, Ali Bek, Bekhal, the Big Zab and Sulimaniyah. But I've run into a little snag here in Sulimaniyah.

Harb, our driver and translator (though he complains that no one up here speaks Arabic), left his car parked on the street in the city center while we went to get a hotel room. When we returned to the street we found that the car had been towed away. Dahr and I went off to Internet and Harb went to get his car, but upon meeting up again, we found that the police had smashed up the car and Peshmerga had interrogated Harb. Apparently the Baghdad plates spooked them. They busted the trunk, smashed the driver side window, ripped up the interior of the car, cut the fuel line and the ignition ... oh and to top it off they ripped off the antennea. Harb, as you might imagine, is slightly upset.

As a result ... we may be delayed in our return to Baghdad. If that happens, I'll probably spend the day in the Internet cafe waiting for the car to be fixed. Alas, Harb is in no position to be able to pay for what we think is about $500 worth of damage. We're not sure what we'll do about it but we feel more than a little responsible.

More from my friend Mike on the Voices Court Hearing

Contact: John Farrell (Voices in The Wilderness) (773) 619-2418 (on site), Carl Messineo (Partnership for Civil Justice) (202) 270-3531

(Washington, D.C.) At a court hearing today in the US District Court Building in Washington, D.C., Judge John D. Bates has given the US prosecution team two weeks to explain why it took 3 years and 11 months to initiate the $20,000.00 fine that the US Treasury Department had assessed onto Voices in The Wilderness (VitW) for "exporting medicines to Iraq."

Judge Bates also questioned inconsistency around the economic sanctions statute that explicitly allows for the delivery of food and medicine to those suffering in Iraq. Ironically, this was the same regulation that comprised the main complaint found in the summons which ViTW received on July 29, 2003 from the US Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Asset Control.

ViTW has campaigned to end economic and military warfare against the Iraqi people since 1996. In over seventy delegations to Iraq, ViTW representatives delivered medicines to hospitals throughout Iraq, hospitals filled entirely with innocent civilians dying from preventable diseases. ViTW recognizes that an unjust law is no law at all, and will nonviolently resist all payments, fines, taxes, and laws that perpetuate war and restrict our rights and responsibilities as world citizens.

"The Judge in this case is asking the US Government the same questions Voices in The Wilderness delegates have been asking all along: How does serving the medical needs of dying Iraqis defy any law, US, International or moral?" stated Bill Quigley, ViTW lawyer and professor of law at Loyola University, New Orleans, LA. Mr. Quigley traveled to Iraq with a ViTW delegation months prior to the latest US led invasion of Iraq.

VitW is advocating for public scrutiny of the devastating sanctions regime in a counter law suit that they have filed against the US Government. Recent Congressional hearings have investigated what the US administration knew about the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the September 11th attacks. The counter-lawsuit by VitW has the chance to expose the genocidal history of US-led sanctions on Iraq, which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children under the age of five (UNICEF 1999).

VitW calls for its network to continue nonviolent resistance to warfare. We would also like to thank our legal team, especially Mara Verheyden-Hilliard and Carl Messineo of the Partnership for Civil Justice, and Bill Quigley of Loyola University, New Orleans. For more information, contact the Partnership for Civil Justice at 202-530-5630, Bill Quigley at 504-606-3073, or Tom Walsh in the ViTW Chicago office at 773-784-8065.

For documents regarding the case, please see

Sunday, June 06, 2004

A Quick Note From Kurdistan

I've been up in Erbil for the past few days, staying at the home of a friend. We met up with some other friends yesturday and went to visit the Italian NGO "Emergency" ... a war victims clinic. It was an amazing place and we were all wondering why it was that the Italians, who seem to have the most NGO's in Iraq, are doing the best humanitarian aid work. The place was a full hospital dedicated to people who are victims of war. When I compared it to typical hospitals in the U.S., I would have to see that it won hands down. (Interesting note: They have a burn unit at the hospital that treats both war & non-war victims. Most of the patients are women ... victims of accidents during cooking or heating, but a large percentage (1 out of 3 patients) are suicide attempts. Also most of their war-related victims now are people who were hurt by old mines laid on the Iran/Iraq border... or from unexploded cluster bombs)

We will be traveling to Shaklawa and beyond today to see the waterfalls and feel some cool mountain air and then over to Sulimaniyah tomorrow to see what Talibani controlled area is like ... (Erbil is Barzani-controlled). Yesturday still felt like work (doing the interview at the clinic and grading tests - still!)... but today and tomorrow are vacation!

Saturday, June 05, 2004

From my friend Mike, who was in Iraq earlier this year.


Toledo veteran, peace activist and former City Councilman, Mike Ferner, will
leave for Washington D.C., Wednesday, to participate in a Federal Court
hearing and news conference Friday morning in Washington.

Voices in the Wilderness, (VITW) a national peace group that has sponsored
over 70 delegations to Iraq in the last six years, has been fined $20,000 by
the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, for taking medical
supplies to Iraq in violation of U.S. sanctions against that country. Voices
has refused to pay the fine and has been summoned to U.S. District Court for
the District of Columbia, 9:30am, Friday morning, June 4.

Ferner took medical supplies, donated by people in Toledo, to Iraq on his
trip there in February, 2003, just prior to the U.S. invasion. VITW has asked
him, along with Detroit's Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Sister Virgine Lawinger,
of Milwaukee, to be present at the federal court hearing and participate in a
news conference scheduled for immediately after the hearing.

"On my first trip to Iraq in 2003, and again in January of this year, I
delivered medical supplies donated by the people of Toledo. I was proud to do so.
I only wished I could have taken more," Ferner said. He added that, "the
Bush administration has lied repeatedly to its own citizens, committed a litany
of human rights abuses and caused untold suffering among the people of Iraq
and our own troops. Now it is prosecuting grandmothers, nuns, veterans and
clergy for taking medical supplies to Iraq? It staggers the imagination. One
would think this administration would be glad somebody is showing the world that
the American people are not monstrous like its government. Instead it
prosecutes them in federal court. People in Washington have indeed lost touch with

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Iraq could be a Garden

I've often been asked by Iraqis what I think about Iraq. There is so much that could be said and not very much of it good. But what I always try to say is, "I think that Iraq could be a Garden." So in that spirit, I'll share with you just a few of the wonderful flowers and plants I've come across here in Baghdad (let me know if you can identify these plants)

1. Oleander or Rose Laurel as it's also known, Nerium oleander botanically. Its beauty hides a secret: it's deadly poisonous, even too bitter for goats to eat (which probably explains its success in North Africa and South-West Asia where it is native.) Legend has it that Lucretia Borgia used to have cups made from its wood which were than passed around from the taster , to herself, her favorites, then to her target. By the time he/she drank, the poison had had time to be infused from the wood and the victim died instantly.

2.Red Hibiscus, probably Hibiscus rosa-sinensis.Originally from the Indian Ocean area. Makes a nice tea.

3. Possibly a species of Jasmine?

4. Acacia

5. Bougainvillea spectabile, originally from Brazil. It takes its name from the French man whose name is also eurocentrically still given to an island in Papua New Guinea. The flower is the white part, the pink parts are bracts and of course responsible for its popularity as a cultivated plant.

6. This appears to be Weeping Bottlebrush : Callistemon viminalis, in which case it's from Australia though it's possible there is a relative nearer to Iraq.

7. Unknown

8. Pomegranate with Kurdish bee

Feeling a bit weak today ... I've got some kind of intestinal bug ... I'll zap it with my trusty antibiotics tomorrow if I'm still feeling low. I've been grading final exams. Very exasperating! My translator was kind enough to help me grade a few ... she was pretty disgusted herself. "They should have learned some of this before they even entered the University," she exclaimed. But I must always remind myself that for the past two years, these students have lived under the threat and disruption of war and occupation. It's amazing that they have been able to learn anything at all.

One odd note: After they took their exams, Dr. Maan, the chair of the English Department, wanted me to have an escort out to the road and wanted to make sure that I brought the tests back when my students would not be on campus. "For security reasons," he said. I learned later from a friend who knows Dr. Maan, that last year at this time (which was just after the end of the war), all the teachers faced threats from the students when they were giving the final grades. So this year there are extra precautions.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

By Order of Force

I've had a particularly trying day ... running around at the Medical City (a huge complex of medical buildings in central Baghdad) ... The Ministry of Health office is very nice, clean and white with air conditioning and full of people who appear to do nothing ... I watched as one nasty receptionist told a man looking for work to come back after 10 days ... "But you told me that 10 days ago!" the man cried.

When you compare the Ministry building to the Public Hospital, which is dirty, dingy, with no air-conditioning for the patients, ... You just want to scream!

And then I went to the Palace ... My first time to the real seat of power in Iraq ... where the Americans hold sway. It really is extraordinary. My translator starting asking if there were jobs available in the Palace. I don't know, it all really affected me and then I had this interaction with a military guy there ... It was just a brief moment ... No big deal really. We were talking about the security situation after the "transition" on June 30th.

"I don't think anything will change," he said (Which everyone here knows but no one ever publicly says). I had been asking him if the streets would be opened up and the blast walls would come down. "Not with the Mahdi Army out there just waiting for an opportunity," he said. I tried to point out the catch-22 in what he said ... The current security situation attracts violence at least as much as it tries to protect (certain) people from violence. He just didn't really appear to see it ... force protection is paramount in his book. I left depressed ... And grew only more depressed because my translator appeared to agree with him.

"He's with the military," she said, "It has the right ..."
"The right!?!" I stopped her, "Just because the Military has the biggest guns, it has the right?"

It reminded me of the previous day when I saw a sign on some barriers. I forget the exact wording but it was something like, "Coalition Property. Do Not Remove By Order of Force."

I'm sick of the Order of Force. I'm sick of the helicopters that buzz the rooftops. I'm sick of all the roads that are closed and the patrols that snarl the traffic. I'm sick of motorcades for VSIP's (Very Self-Important People). I'm sick of people who can't talk to me because they have to get "permission" to tell me what kind of crap is in the Medical City sewage pipe. I'm sick of the bomb attacks. I'm sick of the checkpoints. I'm sick of grading tests. I'm sick of the heat (and everyone points out to me that it is not really that hot yet). If I'm sick of it, what do Iraqis feel.

I'm sure I'll be fine ... I'm going to take a few days off and head up to Kurdistan for a break (and maybe a little work)... It's cooler up there and safer.