From Baghdad with Love

This message was e-mailed from Baghdad by Bloomington activist BRET EARTHEART to Syndee Eartheart, his “dear friend and mother of their beautiful child Mayan” on Jan. 13.

We got into Baghdad last Thursday (1/9/03) at 1:30 a.m. Coming into the city felt familiar, like driving through any other big American city, LA maybe. What you see first are broad, well-built, 6-lane highways, lots of high-rise apartment buildings, huge hotels and office buildings. It very much feels like a city of first- world wealth whose infrastructure and economy have gradually become threadbare and shoddy in the past 12 years.

I’ve been here four days, and it still feels unreal. Tonight, a group of about 25 of us from the Iraq Peace Team, the 9/11 Families For Peaceful Tomorrows, and a couple of other European humanitarian groups got together in our hotel lobby and sang songs together.

First, Theresa from Chicago played a few good sing-along songs from “Rise Up Singing,” and then she played “The Balm of Gilead” in memory of George Weber, the 73-year-old Canadian Christian Peacemaker who died in a car wreck last Monday coming back to Baghdad from Basra. Theresa then played a song that she wrote titled “Mesopotamia.” Some of the lyrics are, “We’re going to the Fertile Crescent, The cradle of civilization, The land between two rivers, We’re going to Mesopotamia.”

Next, Kristina from Peaceful Tomorrows (her sister was killed in 9/11) picked up the guitar and we sang “Imagine.” Imagine being in Baghdad on what feels like the eve of war with a bunch of Love activists singing “Imagine.” It was sad, beautiful and powerful. Kristina then delighted us with a couple of Joni Mitchell songs and then “Fire and Rain” (which always reminds me of the movie “Running on Empty”) which put me further into a sad and beautiful mood. Kristina’s voice was enchanting.

The Peaceful Tomorrows group is one of the most hopeful movements I know, on par with the refuseniks in Israel. The other Peaceful Tomorrows people here that I’ve gotten to spend time with are Terry Rockefeller (her sister was killed), Kathleen Tinley (her uncle was killed), and Colleen Kelly (her brother was killed). I taped a short interview with Colleen Kelly in Amman, Jordan, before we all came to Baghdad. These people are leading us into the reality of a world that we can now only ‘imagine.’ It’s such an incredible privilege to be here, to know them, and all of the others that are called here.

Thursday morning, after we had just arrived, several of us went to a press conference at which Denis Halliday spoke. Halliday is a past United Nations Assistant Secretary-General who also served as the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Baghdad. He resigned after a 34-year-career in order to be free to speak out publicly on the deadly impact of the UN sanctions on the people of Iraq. He’s an Irish national who currently lives in NYC. An amazing man, he spoke with the same clarity and solidity that I heard in Scott Ritter. Denis wasn’t at all afraid to speak his mind. Some of the more profound things he said were,

“We have a UN Security Council out of control. A council corrupted by the USA, the sole hyper-power, and undermined by the veto power of the five permanent members, all of whom use the UN for their national interests. We have twelve years of genocidal sanctions sustained on the people of Iraq by the same Council. The ambassadors around that table and their heads of state should all be indicted for crimes against humanity. And we have UN Resolution 1441 about Weapons of Mass Destruction, it’s a game, a charade, a form of theatre. It’s really about oil and US control thereof.

“It’s about a war on Iraq, about oil and providing UN respectability for Bush to have his unilateral war. There is no threat to the neighbors of Iraq, nor to the US. That is Washington fiction, propaganda designed to frighten the American people into supporting the ambitions of Bush for control of oil, and empire. We see a colonial regime that wants to dominate and control the Arab world, Iraqi oil and to enhance the size and power of Israel, the mislocated American aircraft carrier in a sea of Arab peoples.” He went on to say how good the American people are and that the only way a war will be averted is if the American people take to the streets.”

The most disturbing thing that he said was that he fears that if a total war does happen, the US may very well use Depleted Uranium (DU) weapons in urban warfare that will make Baghdad, a city of 6 million, into a nuclear waste dump. The long-term effects would be horrible. I’ve met several Japanese internationals here, and I find that they tend to be more involved in the DU issue than any other nation. It’s so logical that they’re fighting against the use of nuclear weapons, given their experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The effects of DU radiation poisoning in Iraq from the Persian Gulf War are very similar to what the Japanese experienced.

Micah is a person I’ve bonded with since arriving here. He’s an American who grew up in Nepal and lives there again now. His parents were part Mennonite Central Committee and have done service work in Nepal. I’ll be taking over his role as main media person for the Iraq Peace Team for the month that I’m here. It’s already keeping me quite busy. Today, Micah and I went to the press center and by all the different media offices, passing out press releases and promoting the final press conference that the Peaceful Tomorrows people are doing tomorrow night. I’ll miss them greatly. By the way, Kristina, the guitarist/singer, gave me an all-original CD that she made of her music that I’ll gladly share with everyone when I return.

There’s so much wisdom and experience, so many loving intentions here in my colleagues. Dan is a 60-something computer programmer from Boulder who was here during the Persian Gulf War. This trip is his 3rd or 4th to Iraq. He’s also been to East Timor and Columbia. When he heard that I had been in Palestine, he talked about the time he spent there. He then talked about how his grandparents on one side are Jewish and how, when his family moved here from Italy, they lived in a mostly Jewish neighborhood in NYC. Most of his childhood friends with whom he has maintained contact are Jewish. His experiences in Palestine greatly affected his opinion of that conflict.

Dan occasionally writes letters that are very critical of Israel to the editor. When his letters are published, he has noticed that directly afterwards his property is vandalized. Twice he has had windows on his vehicles bashed in and his house has been egged on several other occasions. He shrugs it off as being a nuisance, but a small price for being in integrity with himself.

This morning we planned an action for January 15th, Martin Luther King’s birthday. The committee includes: Paul, an amazing, dynamic Chinese-American artist from NYC. He leaves tomorrow and we will greatly miss him. Michelle is a sweet and energetic Mom from Minnesota, who is every bit as committed as I to working for a better world for our children. Her face is all cut and bruised from the same car wreck that killed George. Michael, an intuitive and lighthearted Irish national, has been here since September and plans on staying for the long haul. It’s much easier for non-Americans to get visas to stay for more than two months.

We wanted to create an action in honor of MLK and decided that we will create a demonstration in which a group of Americans and other internationals will read from MLK’s ‘Riverside Speech.’ This speech is the one in which Dr. King made his very clear statement against the Viet Nam War. It’s a 12-page speech, which I have cut down to 5 pages for our demonstration. We members of the International community will take turns reading the speech. One of our readers will be a Japanese Buddhist monk that I’ve seen in Palestine. He has lived there for 10 years to be a presence for peace, in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

As we were planning the MLK demonstration, Charlie Liteky, a Vietnam war veteran, walked into the room to say goodbye. He was on the way to Jordan and will be at the DC rally on January 18th. He spontaneously announced that if the US attacks Iraq, he is going to give up his US citizenship and leave the country for good. Attacking Iraq would be such an egregious, destructive act that he would no longer be able to identify himself as a US citizen. After he left, someone said that Charlie had been considering beginning a hunger strike to protest the sanctions. Everyone on the Iraq Peace Team was praying that he wouldn’t do it because he is the kind of person that would do it to the end.

After being in Rafah camp in the Gaza Strip and feeling the very real edge of danger that comes with confronting injustice, I couldn’t stop someone from putting their life on the line in a stand for Justice if they were doing out of a mature conviction.

Gandhi knew quite well that until people, masses of people, are able to liberate their minds to the level of being able to put their lives on the line for what is right, then nothing will change. Martin Luther King lived Gandhi1s vision, and he was assassinated one year to the day after making his “Riverside Speech.” In that historic speech, he took on the powerful forces in our nation, the Pentagon and the interests of the wealthy.

We’ll be reading from MLK’s Riverside speech on Wednesday the 15th, it would be great if you in Bloomington might also read from it at the Wednesday demonstration, and we can be with each other in spirit in yet another way.

Tonight was the last press conference for the Peaceful Tomorrows delegation. They each talked, introducing themselves and honoring their family members who were murdered. They each went on to describe their experiences here. They all gave the same message, that most of the million plus people killed by UN sanctions, and many of the people who would die in a US led war, are/would be innocent people, just like their family members. It’s a potent message to witness. I recorded it so I will be able to share the press conference with yah all when I return.

Since the Pentagon started its spam e-mail attack on Iraq, the e-mail providers are shut down, and phone lines are shaky. When I arrived in Baghdad I was very surprised at how little military and police presence was visible, especially after being in Palestine and Israel, where there are soldiers on every other street. Since the Spam attack, the police presence has increased quite a bit, mostly taking the form of guards around the buildings where the internationals are staying.

This message feels disorganized and incomplete to me, but the 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows group is leaving for Amman, Jordan right now, and they’ve offered to send this out for me from there.

I Love you all and hold you all close to my heart.

Love from Baghdad,


Voices in the Wilderness 1-773-784-8065 1460 West Carmen Ave, Chicago 60640

Bloomington Peace Coalition

This dispatch from Baghdad was originally published in The Bloomington Alternative.