FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Caught in the DMZ

by Ramzi Kysia

The drive from Basra to Safwan, Iraq, is eerily apocalyptic. In the Demilitarised Zone, the Iraqi desert is an odd mix of greenhouse farms competing for space with decrepit and bombed-out concrete factories and mills. To the east run a series of rebuilt plastics factories whose stackfires bellow acrid, black smoke over the whole landscape. Burned, rusting cars dot the sides of the road on this, the northern tip of the infamous “highway of death”. This is the road along which the US massacred thousands of retreating Iraqi soldiers after an armistice had been signed at the end of “Desert Storm”.

A stone’s throw from the Kuwaiti border, Safwan was once a large farming town that traded with the whole Gulf. Today, the sight of strangers is enough to bring out seemingly every child for miles around to chase after our car and beg for money. Throughout Iraq, war and drought and sanctions have resulted in a 30 per cent drop in crop production. After the destruction of Iraq’s vaccine facilities by UN weapons inspectors, hoof and mouth disease ran rampant, killing over 1 million cattle.

Since 1980, half the date trees – over 15 million trees – have died. There are 14 new crop diseases, and, since 1998, the screw worm parasite, which is not native to the Middle East, has suddenly appeared in Iraq to devastate the remaining farms.

Mohason Mehsen’s home and farm in Safwan could almost be beautiful. His courtyard boasts a garden surrounded by old brickwork standing under a huge and stunning sky. But the bricks are patched with cheap concrete, and Mohason is an angry and depressed man. His wife refuses to leave the house, and spends her days crying.

Their son, Nadham, is dying.

Born just after “Desert Storm,” Nadham has been seriously ill since he was a year old. It could have been exposure to war pollutants or depleted uranium while he was in the womb. It may simply be bad luck.

Nadham’s been diagnosed with Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a rare genetic disease that causes extreme sensitivity to the UV radiation in sunlight. He only has partial vision left in one eye. His face is a pockmarked ruin of open, bloody sores. His nose has rotted away. When he comes out of the house, he must hide from the sun under the black robes of his grandmother’s abaya.

Nadham’s condition is treatable, but not in Safwan.

There is medication that can help, but the family cannot afford it. Mohason has been to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, the Red Cross, ICRC, UNIKOM, UNOHCI, and others, but to no avail. Nadham’s story has been told on Iraqi and French TV. NBC did a segment on him for American viewers. No help came.

Mohason has no message to take to the rest of the world. He made no plea to me. Through our translator, he told me: “What are you going to do? Nothing. There’s no help in America. There’s no help anywhere. We are Muslim. We believe in God more than American people, more than European people. Only God can help us.”

As we left the Mehsen’s home, their neighbour Hussein Sultan ran to our car carrying his baby daughter, Barah. She has a heart defect. She needs corrective surgery. When we told him we weren’t doctors, his face fell.

“Can’t you help my child?” he quietly asked us.

Our driver grimly informed us as we drove back to Basra that he was certain whatever homes we visited in Safwan, every one of them would have a Nadham, a Barah.

Once, once upon a time, there was and was not a people on whom catastrophe after catastrophe were driven, and no help came.

Ramzi Kysia is a Muslim-American peace activist who serves on the board of directors for the Education for Peace in Iraq Centre. He recently spent two months in Iraq as part of a Voices in the Wilderness peace mission trying to stop the war.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail