Sophia's Peace Work

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.


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