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

July 27, 2017
Edward Curtin
The Deep State, Now and Then
Melvin Goodman
The Myth of American Exceptionalism
Nozomi Hayase
From Watergate to Russiagate: the Hidden Scandal of American Power
Kenneth Surin
Come Fly the Unfriendly Skies
Andre Vltchek
Philippines: Western Media is Distorting Reality, People and Army Unite to Battle “ISIS”
Robert Fisk
Out of the Ruins of Aleppo: a Syrian Community Begins to Rebuild
Andrew Moss
What is Adelanto?
Thomas Mountain
Free Speech or Terror TV? Al Jazeera’s Support for ISIS and Al Queda
Robert J. - Byers
Jamboree Travesty
Thomas Knapp
Send in the Clown: Scaramucci Versus the Leakers
Rob Seimetz
Because the Night Belonged to Us in St. Petersburg (Florida)
Paul Cantor
Momentum Not Mojo
Patrick Walker
In Defense of Caitlin Johnstone (Part Two)
July 26, 2017
John W. Whitehead
Policing for Profit: Jeff Sessions & Co.’s Thinly Veiled Plot to Rob Us Blind
Pete Dolack
Trump’s Re-Negotiation Proposal Will Make NAFTA Worse
George Capaccio
“Beauty of Our Weapons” in the War on Yemen
Ramzy Baroud
Fear and Trepidation in Tel Aviv: Is Israel Losing the Syrian War?
John McMurtry
Brexit Counter-Revolution Still in Motion
Ted Rall
The Democrats Are A Lost Cause
Tom Gill
Is Macron Already Faltering?
Ed Kemmick
Empty Charges Erode Trust in Montana Elections
Rev. William Alberts
Fake News? Or Fake Faith?
James Heddle
The Ethics and Politics of Nuclear Waste are Being Tested in Southern California
Binoy Kampmark
Slaying in Minneapolis: Justine Damond, Shooting Cultures and Race
Jeff Berg
Jonesing for Real Change
Jesse Jackson
The ‘Voter Fraud’ Commission Itself is Fraudulent
July 25, 2017
Paul Street
A Suggestion for Bernie: On Crimes Detectable and Not
David W. Pear
Venezuela on the Edge of Civil War
John Grant
Uruguay Tells US Drug War to Take a Hike
Charles Pierson
Like Climate Change? You’ll Love the Langevin Amendment
Linda Ford
Feminism Co-opted
Andrew Stewart
Any Regrets About Not Supporting Clinton Last Summer?
Aidan O'Brien
Painting the Irish Titanic Pink
Rob Seimetz
Attitudes Towards Pets vs Attitudes Towards the Natural World
Medea Benjamin
A Global Movement to Confront Drone Warfare
Norman Solomon
When Barbara Lee Doesn’t Speak for Me
William Hawes
What Divides America From the World (and Each Other)
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Was the “Russian Hack” an Inside Job?
Chandra Muzaffar
The Bilateral Relationship that Matters
Binoy Kampmark
John McCain: Cancer as Combatant
July 24, 2017
Patrick Cockburn
A Shameful Silence: Where is the Outrage Over the Slaughter of Civilians in Mosul?
Robert Hunziker
Extremely Nasty Climate Wake-Up
Ron Jacobs
Dylan and Woody: Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad
Dan Glazebrook
Quantitative Easing: the Most Opaque Transfer of Wealth in History
Ellen Brown
Saving Illinois: Getting More Bang for the State’s Bucks
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail