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Dispatch from Baghdad Living Against Disaster

Living Against Disaster

by RAMZI KYSIA

“War is disaster,” young Zeinab told me. “Do you know what it is to live your entire life in disaster?”

Zeinab studies English at Baghdad University, and she represents an entire generation of Iraqis raised in the nativity of war–childhoods interrupted by air raid sirens and the funeral wailings of wars with Iran and then America, teenage years exhausted under the weight of sanctions, and adult lives beginning under the promise of an even greater devastation.

You who are reading this, pay attention: Iraq lives in disaster– will you live against it?

The storm George “War” Bush has been promising to deliver for over a year is almost upon Iraq, and yet Baghdad remains surreally calm. The panic Americans show with their stockpiling of water and iodine tablets, their ridiculous plastic sheeting and duct tape talismans, is largely absent in Iraq. Life ambles on here as normal, whatever that could mean in this battered country.

I think of the teenage girl who accosted a group of American peace activists in a hospital several years ago. After watching her infant sister struggle and die of malnutrition, she yelled out at them, “What is the difference between me, I am 16, and someone in your country who is 16? I’ll tell you the difference–we cannot feel anymore.”

It’s a lie, of course. Under the surface, everyone here is terrified and depressed. While the politicians pretend that this war is about weapons of mass destruction and the liberation of Iraq, Iraqis pretend that the war will not happen. Much of the peace movement, for its part, pretends that something called “containment” can work–if America will only work within the UN and give weapons inspectors a chance, then we can find a peaceful solution.

We will all soon be shorn of our pretenses.

George Bush wants war. He wants war because of the trillions of dollars of untapped oil that lie beneath Iraqi sands. He wants war because of the power that control of that oil will give him–the power to destroy OPEC, the power to freely attack Saudi fundamentalism, the power to impose American and Israeli hegemony upon a hapless Middle East, the power to intimidate Europe and Asia.

George “War” Bush wants to send a message to the world that America is the paramount power and none may withstand him.

Control of Iraq’s oil will generate tens of billions of dollars in profits for the U.S. multinationals exploiting it and rebuilding Iraq. Control of Iraq’s oil will mean that the neoconservatives can finally attack Saudi Arabia–with threats and intimidation at first, later with force if they so desire–without the worry that a halt to Saudi oil production could cripple a dependent world. Control of Iraq’s oil will mean that Europe and Japan, so much more dependent on Middle Eastern oil than America, must go through George Bush for their energy needs. And the sheer spectacle of destruction that war will bring will intimidate enemies and allies alike for years to come.

The weapons inspectors are irrelevant. Whether the UN authorizes war or not is irrelevant. Whether Iraq has proscribed weapons or not is in the end irrelevant. With dividends so enormous, mere facts and legalities will not stop this storm. George Bush wants war, and he will have it.

The time for persuasion, for reasoned argument, is long past. Our leaders are self-observably unreasonable. If there is hope of stopping this war, then it will be because we the peoples of this world engage in massive, nonviolent civil disobedience, shut down our governments, and overthrow the institutions of war. We have but short days. We have to begin to ask–what will we risk for peace?

This war will be a reverberating catastrophe, with far-reaching consequences for us all. To those who say they are not “political,” we must demand: will you become political when the explosions from this war–dropped by U.S. warplanes or brought by suicide bombers–rock our own homes? Will you become political when the secret police–wrapped in red, white, and blue–come for you?

Massive, nonviolent civil disobedience brought down the Berlin Wall, and after it the Soviet Union. Nonviolent civil disobedience brought down the tyrant Milosevic, and nonviolent civil disobedience can bring down the tyrant Bush.

The simplest acts can have thundering consequences. A tired, middle-aged housekeeper named Rosa Parks went to jail rather than give up her bus seat to a white woman, and so brought down 100 years of state-sponsored oppression and terrorism against black Americans. A young activist named Nelson Mandela went to jail for decades and became the nexus for the revolution that brought down Apartheid.

Protest is not enough. George Bush is not listening. Donald Rumsfeld is not listening. Colin Powell does not care. As Alexander Haig, another former general and U.S. Secretary of State, once said, “Let them march, so long as they pay their taxes.”

You who are reading this: pay attention. 20 years of war and 12 years of economic sanctions have taken their toll on Iraq. I know so many engineers and college professors forced to drive taxis to earn a living. I know doctors who break down crying when they talk about all the suffering they’ve seen–all the patients they’ve lost because of the blockade. I know kids who’ve had to leave school, and beg in the streets to support their families. Their faces haunt me.

Half of all Iraqis are under the age of 18. Shall we make war on children? I know a young Baghdadi boy named Mehdi, born at the very end of Desert Storm, a child of war. He is 12 years old but malnutrition has stunted his growth and he could pass for 8 or 9. His father died 5 years ago, and he lives with his mother, younger brother, uncle and 3 cousins in a run-down apartment in central Baghdad. His uncle’s lamed, or perhaps just lazy, for all 5 boys must beg in the streets to earn their keep. Mehdi makes 75 cents a day selling candy, and every time he sees me he runs to try to kiss my hand in the hope that I’ll by him a meal.

Iraqis no longer have the reserves to withstand another storm. Because of sanctions, most Iraqis are now totally dependent on food rations distributed by the government and the UN. 24 million people are fed each and every month in the biggest breadline in world history. A breadline that will collapse when war begins.

You who are reading this: pay attention. War will not help the Iraqi people. War is not liberation. War is devastation and death.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed in the war with Iran. Hundreds of thousands were killed as a result of the war with America in 1991. Hundreds of thousands more have been killed through 12 years of the most oppressive blockade in modern history. The world has stood in silent witness before the mass destruction of human life in Iraq.

You who are reading this: pay attention. This war will be a disaster for us all. For our brothers and sisters in Iraq who are already living in disaster, will you live against it?

You who are reading this: please answer. We have but short days–what will you risk for peace?

RAMZI KYSIA is a Arab American peace activist and writer. He is currently in Iraq with the Voices in the Wilderness Iraq Peace Team , a project to keep American peaceworkers to Iraq prior to, during, and after any future U.S. attack, in order to be a voice for the Iraqi people. The Iraq Peace Team can be reached through info@vitw.org