Letters from Baghdad

Early March, 2003
Ed Kinane

“Let the American people awake and shed our blankets of complicity and dishonor. Friends, I urge you to resist this war in any way you can. Now is the time to be sand in the gears of this war.”

Ed, a local peace-worker, left Syracuse on February 8, 2003 for Baghdad, where he joined fellow CNY peace activist Cynthia Banas, who has been there since October 2002. They are among the 28 people currently in Baghdad as part of the Iraq Peace Team (IPT) and are there indefinitely. IPT has been in Iraq since September 2002 and remains alongside Iraqi families in solidarity during the US attack. Below are excerpts from messages IPT members sent out in the days immediately following the beginning of the US bombing of Iraq.

March 22, 2003
Jeff Guntzel

In Baghdad as I write, things are relatively quiet. Today IPT delegate Wade Hudson had a chance to take a limited drive around Baghdad with a driver and a government minder. After passing by the still smoking Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, he drove to a residential neighborhood where he reports having seen a bomb crater 8 to 12 feet deep “in the middle of a wide, divided street. Traffic in one direction was blocked.” He also reported passing by “many small homes in the neighborhood with all of their front windows blown out, presumably from the blast that created the crater.”
It is expected that the worst is yet to come. This grim forecast is not mitigated by Gen. Tommy Franks’ promise earlier today of “a campaign unlike any other in history, a campaign characterized by shock, by surprise, by flexibility, by the employment of precise munitions on a scale never before seen, and by the application of overwhelming force.”
Today we are neck-deep in a conflict millions of us worked tirelessly to stop. Still, the protests grow. As the war-makers threaten a “campaign unlike any other in history,” let us continue to match their promise.

March 23, 2003
Cathy Breen

One thing seems clear. The US is meeting with a resistance that they’ve not counted on. And this as they move from the south toward Baghdad, a city of 5 million people. Here the skies are filled with gray billowing smoke, and the sirens and bombs are becoming constant companions. I couldn’t help but think as I lay in bed last night (or was it in the early morning hours between bombs?) that every bomb which drives fear and terror into the heart, or takes a life or maims a loved one can only serve to ignite anger in each Iraqi. God knows how angry and distraught I am. How can they not respond accordingly when faced with advancing US soldiers? How could we ever think that the soldiers would be welcomed triumphantly as liberators?
I am so anxious to get some word off to you while there is still time. Even as I write you there is a bomb exploding, threatening to blow out the glass door/window in my room. While I am not getting less fearful of the bombs, I think I am getting more used to them. Or maybe it is the overall lack of sleep that has me moving more slowly. I slept in my room last night with Bettejo in the bed next to me. Despite the periodic bomb blasts through the night that caused the building to strongly quake, only once did we actually flee downstairs to be closer to the ground floor. This waiting to be hit is a terrible thing. But then this war is a terrible thing – too horrible to describe.

March 24, 2003
Kathy Kelly

Yes, we are angry, very angry, and yet we feel deep responsibility to further the nonviolent antiwar efforts that burgeon in cities and towns throughout the world. We can direct our anger toward clear confrontation, controlling it so that we won’t explode in reactionary rage, but rather draw the sympathies of people toward the plight of innocent people here who never wanted to attack the US, who wonder, even as the bombs terrify them, why they can’t live as brothers and sisters with people in America.
The Bush administration says the war has been successful because so far there have been only 500 casualties. From our March 24, 2003 report on visits to the Yermouk and Al Kindy hospital trauma centers, where hundreds of wounded and maimed patients have been treated over the past five days, here are some of the success stories:
Roesio Salem, age 10 is from Hai Risal. She went to the entrance of her home and shouted to her father, “Bomb coming!” at which point she was hit on the first day of the attack. She is 10 years old and has sustained severe chest injuries. We simply couldn’t take our eyes off of her as she gently smiled at us from her hospital bed.
Fatima, 10 years old, from Radwaniya. She suffered multiple fractures when she and her family ran from their home, in an urban area, on Friday evening, March 21. A wall fell down and she suffered a fractured tibia. The family had no means of transport and had to wait until the next morning to get her to a hospital. Her father, Abu Mustafa, who works as a farm laborer, said, “We are like brothers and sisters to people in the United States. We don’t attack American people. Please give this message to American people. This is an invasion, it has nothing to do with democracy.”

March 25, 2003
Ed Kinane

Yesterday was a pretty quiet day for me. After one of our lengthy team meetings — which are happening more and more often as the crisis sharpens — I joined several others at the Al Wathba Water Treatment Plant. This is one of a handful of treatment plants in Baghdad striving mightily to provide clean water to this city of four or five million. Al Wathba serves its nearby neighbors including Baghdad’s extensive complex of hospitals — formerly the Mideast’s premier medical facilities.
The plant was damaged in the last war. Thanks to the sanctions, keeping it repaired and providing nontoxic water is a struggle. Some weeks ago the team held a press conference there: our photo op was a banner we had strung up in Arabic and English, “To bomb this site is a war crime. Geneva Conventions article 54.” Our banner is still up. With the beginning of the bombing, we established a round-the-clock presence out there. We have a little cottage and a couple of tents (in deference to local sensibilities, one for each gender) for our overnights. We’ve been using the plant as a base for forays into the neighborhood and over to the hospitals. It’s one of several ways the team seeks to accompany the Iraqi people during this crisis.
…I know that our being here – like when some of us have been in prison – is much more stressful on those at home. Like prisoners of conscience, the solidarity at our back is mighty sustaining. One thing to keep in mind is that much of what you’ve surely heard in the US media is distorted and geared to keep US people in a state of fear and to also keep “the enemy” off guard. Hence, to be taken with a grain of salt.