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:
Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
Karl Grossman
Disaster Island
Thomas S. Harrington
What Nerve! In Catalonia They are Once Again Trying to Swear in the Coalition that Won the Most Votes
Pepe Escobar
Rome: A Eulogy
Robert Hunziker
Will Aliens Save Humanity?
Jonah Raskin
“Can’t Put the Pot Genie Back in the Bottle”: An Interview with CAL NORML’s Dale Gieringer
Stepan Hobza
Beckett, Ionesco, and Trump
Joseph Natoli
The ‘Worlding’ of the Party-less
Julia Stein
The Myths of Housing Policy
George Ochenski
Zinke’s Purge at Interior
Christopher Brauchli
How Trump Killed the Asterisk
Rosemary Mason - Colin Todhunter
Corporate Monopolies Will Accelerate the Globalisation of Bad Food, Poor Health and Environmental Catastrophe
Michael J. Sainato
U.S Prisons Are Ending In-Person Visits, Cutting Down On Reading Books
Michael Barker
Blame Game: Carillion or Capitalism?
Binoy Kampmark
The War on Plastic
Cindy Sheehan – Rick Sterling
Peace Should Be Integral to the Women’s March
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
No Foreign Bases!
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Across the Boer Heartland to Pretoria
Joe Emersberger
What’s Going On in Ecuador? An Interview With Wladimir Iza
Clark T. Scott
1918, 1968, 2018: From Debs to Trump
Cesar Chelala
Women Pay a Grievous Price in Congo’s Conflict
Michael Welton
Secondly
Robert Koehler
The Wisdom of Mass Salvation
Seth Sandronsky
Misreading Edu-Reform 
Ann Garrison
Full-Spectrum Arrogance: US Bases Span the Globe
Louis Proyect
Morality Tales on the American Malaise: the Films of Rick Alverson
David Yearsley
Winston and Paddington: Marianelli’s Musical Bears
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail