Sophia's Peace Work

Thursday, June 30, 2005

The dangers of being a single man driving a car in Iraq

A friend of mine who works for Knight-Ridder News Service just told me of the recent killing of one of their best Iraqi reporters. Killed while driving alone and approaching a U.S./Iraq Patrol. Read the story HERE.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

For the folks back home ...

I recently did a trip north of Amman to Ajloun to check out the Ajloun Nature Reserve run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. I'm planning a workshop for Iraqi Environmental NGO's in September and I want to take the group there. The reserve is unique because of it is the only place where the once vast Evergreen Oak trees of Jordan can still be found. The reserve as two trails, a nature center with restaurant and giftshop, 10 very nice cabins for overnight camping and an area set aside for the breeding of Roe Deer, also once native to the area.

Most people heading up into Ajloun go to the Ajloun Castle, a crusader-era castle built by the nephew of Saladin (who many don't realize was a Kurd from what is now Iraq). You can see the castle, perched at the top of a steep hill, from miles around.

A Visit from Haji Ali

Haji Ali, who is in Amman for a few weeks, came over to my apartment a few nights ago with my housemate and a journalist for dinner.

This is what my friends at the Christian Peacemaker Team had to say about Haji Ali:
Haji Ali is a staff person for human rights organization called Victims of American Occupation Prison Association. He says he is the person in the famous picture from Abu Ghraib Prison, a hooded detainee standing on a stool with electrical wires attached to his body.

A big man, who my housemate said is part of a large tribe or family in the Abu Ghraib area west of Baghdad, Haji Ali's only visible, physical problem is a crippled left hand which he claims was crushed repeatedly by his prison keepers.

With the help of some U.S. lawyers, Haji Ali, along with several other detainees who say they were tortured at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, is pursuing a legal claim against the following corporations: TITAN CORPORATION,a Delaware Corporation; CACI INTERNATIONAL INC., a Delaware Corporation; CACI INCORPORATED Ð FEDERAL, a Delaware Corporation; and CACI N.V., a Netherlands corporation. These companies where hired under contract by the U.S. military to run operations and interrogations at detention facilities in Abu Ghraib.

Here are the specific allegations made in the claim against these companies by Haji Ali.

On October 13, 2003, Plaintiff “Haji” Ali Shallal Abass was arrested without cause by United States military forces and held in custody. He was subsequently taken to the Abu Ghraib prison where Defendants were performing detention and interrogation services for the United States.

Until his release in early January, 2004, Mr. Abass was detained, interrogated, and physically abused by the Defendants and/or others while under the custody and control of the Defendants.

During the course of said detention, interrogation, and physical abuse, the Defendants and/or others tortured Mr. Abass as follows:

(a)By beating him;
(b)By depriving him of food and water;
(c)By hanging him by his injured arm from a steel rail, with his feet off the floor;
(d)By subjecting him to long periods of excessive noise;
(e)By forcing him to be naked throughout most of his time in custody;
(f)By holding a pistol (which, unknown to him, was unloaded) against his head and pulling the trigger;
(g)By repeated assaults upon his already broken left hand, thereby exacerbating his condition and probably causing him to be permanently disabled;
(h)By threatening to attack him with dogs; and
(i)By prolonged exposure to cold.

You can find more information on this claim at Find Law

Thursday, June 23, 2005


In the post below, I talk about a recent change to transportation rules in Washington state that will require military transports of Depleted Uranium munitions to label their cargo as "radioactive" instead of just "explosive" as they currently do. The following is a on-line poll being done on the Port Townsend Leader website asking the public what they think. I'm not sure but I think the Leader may have mis-represented this slightly ... I don't believe that military cargo is exempt from transportation placard rules presently. Anyone care to weigh in on this? There may be alot of secrets in the military, but I don't think that applies to transportation rules, which are pretty generalized as it is.

Anyway, here is the poll results currently.

Should truck-and-trailer rigs hauling military ordnance on roads be required to have a placard so emergency responders can identify potentially radioactive cargo?

No. If it's military cargo, it can still be kept secret. 81%

Yes. It's safer for the public and emergency responders should there ever be an accident. 13%

Don't care. I trust haulers to be safe drivers and it's not something I worry about. 6 %

Total Voters: 31

This was my letter to the editors:

Sophia here, writing to you from Amman, Jordan where I continue my work on environmental restoration in Iraq (Because of it's impact on human health and the environment, I think depleted uranium should be banned not just properly labeled)

A friend alerted me to your story on the military transport of D.U. munitions. I noticed that there was a poll on the website asking the public what they thought about this issue. I'm wondering if perhaps this poll may have somewhat misrepresented the issue. There are three choices.

No. If it's military cargo, it can still be kept secret.
Yes. It's safer for the public and emergency responders should there ever be an accident.
Don't care. I trust haulers to be safe drivers and it's not something I worry about.

Current results show that the "No" answer is getting the most votes (I checked when there were still 31 votes, and 81% were "No" votes). But it seems to me that the "No" answer provided may be giving people the impression that current military shipments are secret. There may be alot of secrets in the U.S. Military but I believe they are still subject to most domestic transportation rules such as placarding (which by the way are rather broad and non-descriptive most of the time). If it was secret, then there wouldn't even be an "explosive" label on these trucks hauling D.U.

If I'm wrong and the poll is being presented correctly, I'm still concerned with the trend in the results so far. Why are so many, atleast initially, voting for secrecy in our government?

What with all this hysteria over homeland security, I suppose these folks are in the mode of thinking that if properly labelled, these transports might be open to a terrorist attack or hijacking. But I really wonder if these folks voting "No" are really thinking this through. What about transportation of radioactive medical material or radioactive material used at university labs. Shouldn't they be secret too?

The fact is that the possibility of these types of transports running into something and bursting into flame is far more likely than a terrorist attack or hijacking. I'm happy to vote for public safely over military secrecy.

Congrats to PT DUST!

A friend alerted me to recent developments back home. PT DUST, the Port Townsend Depleted Uranium Study Group made up of local folks from my town, have had a achieved a important step in the fight to ban depleted uranium munitions, which the U.S. Military has been using in Iraq and Afganistan. Port Townsend, Washington sits directly across from a major naval munitions base on the Olympic Peninsula. About a year ago, we asked the base commander if there was any radioactive material on the base to which he replied no. When we asked if there was depleted uranium munitions on the base (this is a type of munitions tipped with a radioactive isotope of Uranium that is super-hard and pyrophoric ... i.e. this stuff likes to burn), he said, "Oh, yes."

You see the U.S. military doesn't like to bring attention to the fact that D.U. is radioactive (it's not intensely radioactive ... you wont be hurt but it if you are in the same room with it, but if you use it ... burn or turn it into D.U. dust and fragments, it's toxicity goes way up). The military uses it because it is so hard that it goes through metal tanks like a hot knife through butter.

PT DUST has scored a victory simply in calling a spade a spade. Now that we can admit, yes, D.U. IS radioactive ... we can start saying, "Hmmm, maybe it would be better not to spread this stuff all over the place?"

Here's the article from the local paper:

Feds nudged on radioactive transport

By Janet Huck
Staff Writer, Port Townsend Leader
Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Jefferson County activists played a key role in an ongoing national effort to change how depleted uranium (DU) and other potentially radioactive military munitions are identified during transport.

Presently, radioactive munitions such as DU projectiles under transport – including trucks bound for Naval Magazine Indian Island – are required to be labeled only as "explosive." But there is a big difference between an explosive cargo and one that

is potentially radioactive for those firefighters and other emergency first responders who come to an accident. DU munitions are flammable and could emit radioactivity if their vehicle catches fire.

After 18 months of intense lobbying, environmentalist and peace activists around the nation, including the Port Townsend Depleted Uranium Study Team, persuaded the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Hazardous Material to recommend a change. The agency is recommending the Department of Defense be required to label trucks carrying radioactive depleted uranium ammunition as "radioactive."

It's not a done deal yet, but emergency responders and activists are encouraged.

"The victory is a subtle shade of gray," said PT DUST member Doug Milholland. "But it's heartening to know we live in a democracy where some levers of power are connected to real people."

No accidents

Naval Magazine Indian Island is the nation's top ordnance shipping point on the West Coast. Jefferson County Emergency Program Manager Bob Hamlin stressed there hasn't been an ordnance transport vehicle accident since the facility's mission was developed 25 years ago. Indian Island itself maintains one of the top safety records – for both personnel and product handled – in the entire military.

"We haven't had a single problem with the transports," said Hamlin.

Milholland countered. "It happened in Saudi Arabia. It could happen here, next to a school or a shopping center."

Milholland said what sounds like national politics is really a Jefferson County issue. He estimated that dozens if not hundreds of trucks traveling between Naval Magazine Indian Island and Kitsap County each year carry radioactive munitions across the Hood Canal Bridge, along State Route 19, and through Chimacum and Port Hadlock.

Nationwide, activists argued persuasively that the new labeling is necessary to warn emergency services first responders of possible radioactive emissions in case of an accident.

PT DUST has been an important part of the national lobbying campaign. Some 200 environmental activists around the country wrote letters. Twenty of the 200 letters came from Jefferson County, including the appointed Port Townsend mayor, Catharine Robinson, and former mayor, Kees Kolff.

"PT DUST was really helpful," said Glen Milne, director of Ground Zero Center for NonViolent Action in Poulsbo. "The members convinced the mayor of Port Townsend and the former mayor of Port Townsend to write letters."

"Truckloads of munitions, on their way to Indian Island, routinely cross the same bridge I take almost daily," wrote Marrowstone resident Steve Hamm. "Consequently, if a truck traveling through our community were involved in an accident, our initial responding police and firefighters might have no idea the shipment contained radioactive material. Some of these folks are my friends and neighbors."

The argument hit a nerve in Washington, D.C. In an internal memo at the DOT, the analyst said depleted uranium emits ionizing radiation that results "in potential internal ingestion and inhalation radiation exposures to first responders in accident conditions."

East Jefferson Fire Rescue Chief Mike Mingee thought that the more information available, the better. "The placard would give us information to act properly in an emergency," the chief said of having information on radioactive cargo. "Though there have been no noteworthy incidences, we are in the 'what if' business. If something happened, it would be a problem. The first people to die in Chernobyl were firefighters."

DOD requirement

According to a 1986 agreement between the DOT and the Department of Defense (DOD) that has been renewed every two years, the trucks carrying munitions now being used in Iraq and Afghanistan are identified only as "explosive." The current exemption expires at the end of June 2005 and has yet to be renewed. According to an Office of Hazardous Material memorandum, a DOD agency wanted to renew the exemption to preclude disruption of munitions' transportation worldwide.

"The Office of Hazardous Materials has announced its intention to phase out the exemptions over the next two years and help the DOD work out the details," said Milne from Poulsbo's Ground Zero. "It sounds clear to me that they don't want to renew it."

US Navy Cmdr. Karen Sellers of Navy Region Northwest said, "If the rules change, we will comply with the changed rules."

Geiger counters

PT DUST also helped Jefferson County Emergency Program Manager Bob Hamlin obtain funding for training and equipment in case of a disaster, said Milholland. The funding started coming in about two years ago. Hamlin said the county and the region have begun training local trainers in handling weapons of mass destruction. The local trainers will in turn train 100 designated first responders in Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam counties. Emergency preparedness has set up a decontamination unit at Jefferson Healthcare hospital in Port Townsend.

"We have drilled first responders and healthcare workers so they know how to use it," said Hamlin.

His office has also stocked Geiger counters for one year.

"You can't smell, taste or see radioactivity," said Hamlin. "You can only tell by turning on a Geiger counter and listen for the tick, tick, tick."

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Old Ronald would be spinning in his grave (if he had a grave)
The following is from a friend on the Christian Peacemaker Team currently in Iraq.

Life in the Green Zone
by Greg Rollins - June 18, 2005

I recently talked to a foreigner I know who lives in the Green Zone, Saddam's old palace grounds in the centre of Baghdad. The Green Zone is about four kilometres long and two kilometres wide. It holds the biggest U.S. embassy in the world, the British embassy, along with several others, the Iraqi parliament and dozens of foreign
organizations and contractors. The man I spoke to works for a telecommunications company. He said the Green Zone is like a prison. He wants to leave it and live else where in Baghdad but his company won't let him.

One condition that makes his life there so difficult is the myriad levels of security. Almost every major contractor or organization in the Green Zone has its own security unit. Each one is an entity unto itself. He refers to these security guards as cowboys, strutting around with their guns strapped to their thighs. Many security companies have their own checkpoints in front of their buildings. He said every time he leaves his apartment he must pass through two of these checkpoints on his street alone. It can take him as long as fifteen minutes to pass through them. I asked him if the guards ever recognized him and let him pass without checking him. He said they do recognize him but always search him.

To pass through some of these security zones the guy showed me several of his ID badges. Each one allows him to enter a different place. The badges reminded me of stories about Beirut in the 1970s when journalists needed different forms to move through the checkpoints of the numerous militias. The guy told me that each badge had different restrictions. Some stated he needed an escort to go places, some read he needed prior permission to enter areas. I asked him if it was true that there was a McDonald's in the Green Zone. He said there was but you needed a special badge to go there.

My teammate Tom asked if the badge had a picture of Ronald McDonaldon it.

The man I spoke with was also irritated by the fact that the Iraqis who work for him are not allowed to go anywhere in the Green Zone with out him escorting them. Every morning he has to pick them up at one of the entrances and every night he has to drop them off there.

The guy did not like the behaviour of the U.S. soldiers in the Green Zone either. He said they yell at cars to move out of their way, pointing their guns at anyone and everything. If they drove that way inside the Green Zone, he was afraid to hear how they drove outside the Green Zone in Iraqi traffic.

From my own experiences in the Green Zone and from what other people I know who live there have said, life in such a tight environment is not satisfying. It might be a "safe" place but it isn't real. It doesn't reflect what is happening in Iraq.
Most foreigners who live in the Green Zone never set foot outside its borders. They spend months here but they have no idea what Iraq is really like. It makes me wonder if people inside the Green Zone, particularly U.S. military and government officials, really know what is going on in Iraq at all.

Friday, June 17, 2005

I ripped my what?

I was coming down the hill from my morning Arabic class on Jabel Amman into Wasit al Balad (the crowded city center of Amman, Jordan), when I put my foot on an unstable rock and fell.

Now I could go into a long story here about the difference between the Middle East and the U.S. in terms of how we handle uneven pavement ... walk along any sidewalk in my town back home and you will see all the ridges and cracks in the cement painted in yellow to alert the elderly, disabled, or unobservant to the possibility for a nasty fall. It's a simple ploy to avoid future litigation. On the contrary, here in the Middle East, if you fall on a crack, it's taken as the will of Allah .... walkers beware! The Middle East is a minefield of potential trips, stumbles and nasty falls just waiting to happen.

Anyway, I wont go into that ... as I was saying, I took a tumble off an unstable rock coming down into the city center. It was a hard one and I wrenched my arm a bit but I was up in a flash, dusted myself off and continued on my way through the crowded, narrow passageways and streets of the downtown area over to a Service (a shared taxi) that drove me back up the hill to Jabel al Hussain where I live.

As I left the the Service and began glumping my way happily home, a very embarressed-looking Jordanian man who had gotten out of the Service after me touched my arm.

"I'm sorry," he cringed in broken but serviceable English, "I've very sorry to tell you this. But ... but ... there is a hole in your pants. Please forgive me. I had to tell you."

Well, I went bug eyed and felt behind me ... oh lordy, there it was! My ass (clothed in black, ripped pants showing my pink underware beneath) had been on view for all to see. All the way through the crowded downtown area and he was the first person to work up the courage to tell me! I turned red and then, laughing, thanked the man.

Fortunately, there was a clothing store nearby, into which I quickly edged my way in a crab-like fashion and bought the first thing I could find that fit me.

Yet another misadventure.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Refugees: Waiting for status.

Most of us never think we'll be in this situation. To be, for whatever reason, forced to leave the country of our birth and travel to a new country that may not be so welcoming of our presence. How would we deal with such a situation. How would we handle the new rules, regulations and limits that are placed on us because we are "outsiders". What would it be like to know or atleast believe that we could never go "home"? What would it be like to live in limbo, become illegal, seek refuge?

I've met alot of such people living here in Jordan. Jordan has long established refugee camps for Palestinians. They get constant support from the UN for these camps ... they could not exist otherwise. Jordan, as a desert country without oil reserves to speak of, simply doesn't have the resources to support it's large refugee population without outside help ... the majority of which comes from the U.N. This is what they mean when they say, "the rest of the world pays for the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian land."

Jordan doesn't want to take on anymore refugees but Iraqis have come here in droves ... before, during and particularly now, after the war in 2003. Rich and poor alike, came to Jordan. Some are hoping to immigrate to another country. My Iraqi neighbors down the street, christians, have relatives in the U.S. ... they think it is only a matter of a few months before they can immigrate to the U.S. (though I've been told they are deluding themselves and it can take many years to accomplish this).

Some are hoping just to stay out of Iraq until things settle down so that they can return back to their old lives.

Some are Baathist that have a history in Iraq and are afraid to return because of the long memories that exist in their homeland.

Some have been arrested and released by the Multinational Forces (MNF) in Iraq; some have been targetted by insurgents for working with the MNF or the new Iraqi government or international aid workers; some have lost their livelihoods and all they've worked for, and some are just tired and discouraged and heartbroken over what has become of their country. Many of these never want to see Iraq again.

These photos were from a refugee protest in May outside the offices of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) ... there were only a few refugees protesting (most probably are afraid to) but they seemed to make the UNHCR security very nervous and they refused to allow us to take pictures showing the building or the UNHCR sign.

Iraqi refugees in Jordan (as in many other countries) have a precarious existence. They can't work and they can't stay legally for more than three months (without paying). If they are checked by the police and found to be illegal they are thrown in jail and quickly deported. The people in the first shot are holding up their letters from the UNHCR stating that they are refugees ... which should give them some protection. But many claim that these letters, which can be hard to obtain, really don't help them to stay in Jordan. Sometimes, we were told, as soon as the police see these letters, they ship them right back.

Iraqis with their UNHCR letters stating that they are official refugees

A man with his child ... the wife left them he said, because she couldn't face the hardships of living as a refugee.

It's easy to be callous towards these people (they tell me that is how the UNHCR is) ... there are so many, their hands are reaching out ... and grasping at you so hard! For any crumb or ray of hope. It is overwhelming.

But you have to ask yourself ... would you be any different if their shoes?

'Oh, but that will never happen to me,' you think. Perhaps you're right ... but many of these people would, once in their life, have said the exact, same thing. Life is precarious. Our connection to our current life is a simple thread. Who knows how easy or how hard it would be to break?

The latest from the Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq

Tales from Falcon Camp
by Tom Fox

CPT Iraq has visited U.S. base Falcon Camp three times during the last five weeks to conduct exit interviews of relatives of detainees being held there. Falcon Camp is the holding center for the Dora district in Baghdad. Anyone detained by multinational Forces (MNF)in Dora is held there first before being either released or sent to a prison. Also civilians who have suffered property damage or been injured or had a family member killed as a result of MNF actions in Dora come there as well.

On the Wrong Side of the Street: A man was driving home before the beginning of curfew (11pm) in April. Suddenly a MNF convey appeared-on his side of the street. The man didn't know what to do and kept driving towards the convoy. The front hummer opened fire on him and he was killed. The family was informed of his death by MNF
soldiers and was told verbally "We are very sorry we opened fire and killed him. We thought he was a suicide bomber going to attack us." Without any paperwork or any indication of what unit and what person fired on the man they have been told at Falcon Camp that nothing can be done to compensate them for the loss of the head of
the household.

Looking for a Renter: A young man said that his father was detained three days ago. The family had just moved back into a house that they had been renting. The MNF raided the house looking for the previous tenant. They detained the father who has a serious medical problem that requires daily medication. As the MNF was taking him
away the son approached them with his father's medicine asking them to take it for him. "Go back inside or we will shoot you!" was the reply of the MNF soldiers. The family was told that he would be released when either he or the family gives the MNF
information about the tenant. They say they don't know anything about him.

After the Fact House Raid: Relatives are at the base looking for information about a father and son who have been detained for almost one month. The remaining son is caring for the mother who suffers from a mental disorder. The relatives said that four days before the MNF had raided the family house looking for the son and father
even though they were still at Falcon camp. The relatives said this is their fourth visit to the base and at their previous visit they were told that the father had been released and that the son had been transferred to a prison facility. On this visit they were told that they both were still at Falcon camp. "We have been treated
very poorly," they said.

A New Meaning for the Word "Released": A father has been coming to Falcon camp regularly seeking news on this two sons who were detained three and a half weeks ago. The last time the father came to the camp he was told that one son had been released and the other son was still being held at Falcon. "If he has been released where is he?" the father asked us on the way into the camp. When he went into check on his detained son he was told that the detained son and the "released" son are now in prison at Abu Ghraib.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Crossing the Border

An Iraqi friend who has been here for many months had to leave because his Jordanian visa was up ... as I've written before, they give Iraqis three months and if they stay longer they become illegal and will need to pay about 1.500 Dinars (a little over $2 US). He has wanted to be legal, so he has left the country once before for brief trips to Syria. Today when he returned from his second trip to Syria, he was kept at the border a long time for questioning.

"Why are you coming?" "Why did you only stay in Syria for a few days?" "We can see you are trying to reside in Jordan. What for?" "What are you doing here?"

Finally they let him in and when I saw him, "I think this is the last time I can go out ... the next time they won't let me back in."

Under the Weather ...

I've been feeling tired and slightly sick alot lately ... but I've resisted going to a doctor. I haven't had much luck with doctors in my past (they don't appear to listen very much and they usually tell me what I already know) and here in Jordan, well, I just don't know the system. Not having any insurance makes me leary of the sticker price. But today I felt kind of ill and faint walking up a steep hill ... so I bit the bullet and went in to see a doctor around the corner.

Seems I have hypotension ... low blood pressure ... not too severe but for someone like me who has always had spot-on in the blood pressure department, it was a bit strange. I think I've just gotten anemia (a common problem I've had in the past). Well at least I know what the tired feeling is about, so now I can do something about it.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Teaching Tai Chi Chuan in the Middle East

I've been studying Tai Chi Chuan, an ancient form of Chinese Martial Arts, for about four years now with the Gilman Studio in the Pacific Northwest. When I came to the Middle East, I looked around for a class to join but found few pickin's ... some hard style forms and Akido. I toyed with the idea of taking the Akido class ... the teacher looked good and it would have been good exercise ... but I just didn't feel like a class where I would spend half of my time getting thrown to the ground and having to pick myself up again time after time.

It's hard, especially if you are a woman, to get exercise here in the Middle East. You just don't see alot of women out and about running or playing sports ... it does happen but to just go put on a pair of jogging shorts and hit the streets is king of out of the question ... atleast in my neighborhood ... where I am already a bit of an oddity. I'm generally pretty shy and have no wish to stand out.

After searching, without success, for a Tai Chi class I could join ... I decided to try my luck teaching Tai Chi at one of the hotel health clubs. It just so happens that one of the closest to me (within walking distance) is the health club at the Meridien Hotel ... a very posh joint that was originally built, I'm told, for the Arab Summit (i.e. it was designed for high security). There happens to be alot of Iraqi-related conferences and trainings at the hotels and loads of Iraqis come and go from the place (a few weeks ago, I saw Ayad Allawi, the former PM of Iraq, in the lobby).

Anyway, I happened to meet the man who ran the health club and he was very interested in having me teach. I've taught two classes so far at the club (we are up to Right Push Upwards, Roll Back & Push). It's a bit nerve wracking teaching other people (though I've only had one student who has ever done Tai Chi before ... 20 years ago ... so they really can't be too judgemental of me!) but in the end it will be worth it ... I've finally got a good place to get some exercise and I'll become a much better Tai Chi player by teaching.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

A Few Good Quotes from the Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq

Over the past several days I have spent time with a CPT delegation here in Iraq. We listened to a lot of different people speak. Because the people in Iraq, Iraqi or other wise, always ask us to tell people abroad what they have to say, here are some of their quotes:

"I am not special," one of our translators told us as he talked about the violence here in Iraq. "Everyone has seen what I have seen."

"It has been two years," the psychiatrist said, "and not much has changed."

"It is like trying to yell through concrete walls. The sound comes back and hurts your ears so you stop yelling; he has made the concrete that thick." One of our translators said about Iraq under Saddam and why the rest of the world never paid attention to the cries of the Iraqi people.

"I was a resident of an American colony," an Iraqi said with a smile as he referred to his time in a U.S. run prison in Iraq.

"They should all be killed," said an Iraqi friend when he talked about the insurgents that the Multinational Forces and Iraqi forces have captured.

"When your hand is in the fire, it is different than when your hand is in the snow," a Chaldean priest told the delegation. His reference was towards the violence and lack of security in Iraq and why he, a priest, carries a gun.

"Ultimately, the U.S. forces are going to pull out," a U.S. major told us at a military base outside the city of Kerbala.

"Satellite television; praise be to God," said one of our drivers.

"Iraq is not only Fallujah. Now a days many villages, many towns are the same," a woman told us. She talked about the suffering of the people in Fallujah and Iraq in general after the U.S. invasion last fall.

"The occupation is responsible for bringing terrorists from outside the country to inside the country," a woman stated to the delegation.

"If America wanted to eliminate terrorists, they could make it, but they…. use Iraq as a big magnet to attract terrorists from all over the world," said the representative of a shrine in the city of Kerbala.

"Yes, there are foreign terrorists here. They are from the U.S., Britain…. Italy," said one woman when asked if she believed foreign militants were responsible for the violence in Iraq.

"On this channel we have a show called Oprah," our landlord said while we watched T.V.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Visa Application Blues

I've been busy for the last few weeks helping about ten Iraqi professors fill out their Canadian Visa applications for a trip to Montreal in August. There is a big Wetlands Conference there.

I've become quite an expert at this ... atleast with the Canadian application process. I've said before that it's a good thing that the Canadians don't make Americans go through this process ... otherwise no one would visit Canada (but truth be told, the American application process is nastier).

Here are the following lists of forms required:

1. Temporary Resident Visa (Where they ask nice little questions like, "Have you ever been involved in the commission of a waqr crime or crime against humanity, such as: willful killing, torture, attacks upon, enslavement, starvation or other inhumane acts committed against civilians or prisoners of war or deportation of civilians?")
2. Additional Family Information (where they ask for information on your parents, siblings and children ... I've no idea why this is necessary)
3. Use of a Representative Form (since they are applying to the Canadian Embassy in Amman and they are all in Baghdad ... I'm their representative)
4. Supplementary Information Form (A four page questionnarie including some of the same questions listed in No. 1)
5. Military Form (where they, if they were ever in the Military, list their military background
6. A CV
7. Copies of their passport pages
8. Two passport-sized photos
9. And last but not least, their invitation letter from the schmuck that is putting them (and me) through this hell.

On top of all this, they have to do just about all of this in English (or French, if they want ... since Canada is bi-lingual) ... and here I am in Amman, hundreds of miles away from them, trying to corral all these people and get them to fill the forms out correctly ... repeating the same instructions over and over again ... such as,

No, "Residential Address" is the place where you live, not the place where you work.

I've been at this for over a month ... and there doesn't appear to be an end of it any time soon!