A book recently launched at Sydney University attracted a large audience and scant media attention. At first glance this may not seem surprising, as its author is not a Vogue model, shock jock, porn start or literary giant. She is a Christian; one of an unusual hue. Her faith is expressed in deeds, not platitudes and ghastly hymns. She believes John Howard, Tony Blair, George Bush – all self proclaimed Christians – committed grave crimes with the 2003 shock & awe invasion of Baghdad. She was there – she saw it, she smelled it, she nursed the limbless children in hospitals, their mattresses soaked in blood. Her name is Donna Mulhearn.
Back then, “forty six per cent of Iraq’s population was below the age of sixteen,” Donna writes in her memoir, Ordinary Courage, “this is essentially a war against kids”. She was right. In 2007,UNICEF reported the number of vulnerable children in Iraq had outstripped the country’s capacity to care for them. Half of Iraq’s four million people who had fled their homes since 2003 were children, most of whom were traumatized.
Not that the media gave a hoot about that. They were too busy stitching up Donna for “supporting Saddam Hussein”, whom she didn’t support in the slightest. It was the Australian Wheat Board which supported Saddam, thickly greasing the palms of his entourage, with a nod and a wink from neo-con Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer.
Donna arrived in Baghdad with the goal of doing good. She was part of the derided initiative known as “human shields”, which attracted civilians from numerous countries. Up to 500 shields eventually made their way to Iraq and played a part in protecting non military infrastructure, such as water purifying plants, hospitals and the decrepit telephone exchange. Donna was one of the first to arrive and the last to leave.
Back in Sydney, she was stunned by the media’s hostility. According to her memoir, the usually pleasant ABC drive time host, Richard Glover, treated her as a Saddam cheerleader and bombarded her with accusations. In the eyes of jingoists, she is “a traitor”. Yet her warnings about the impact of the invasion were accurate, much more so than the assurances of politicians. Some recent estimates place Iraqi civilian casualties at over 600,000. About 4 million Iraqis have been displaced, 2 million of them within Iraq and the rest primarily in Syria and Jordan. Over 8000 children are believed to have been permanently disabled. The reason John Howard and his colleagues have not been dragged to the Hague, is because in matters of international law, Australia often ducks its obligation to prosecute.
In September 2004, UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan proclaimed the invasion was not in conformity with the UN Charter. “From our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal”. As far as I am aware, not a single Australian Prime Minister has expressed regret at the scale of slaughter and mayhem unleashed on Iraqi by the unlawful attack and prolonged occupation. The bombs that continue to kill in Baghdad today are no longer triggered by us, but remain a bitter testament of our legacy.
When ‘shock and awe’ hit the heart of Baghdad and John Howard went to his local Church, Donna Mulhearn and fellow shields huddled inside the city’s Water Treatment plant. Night after night bombs shook the city. “The tremors, the sirens, the fear, the smell of death…”. In a rare lull, she visits the hospitals: “rows of beds mostly filled with children”. She sees a little girl, Rosul, who has was playing at home when flying shrapnel ripped out pieces of her chest and right arm. “The wounds are deep; the bones in her arm have protruded through her flesh; she has a collapsed lung and internal bleeding….”. On TV the media pundits are touting the joys of ‘precision bombing’.
Although the invaders had little interest in Iraqi civilian casualties, they were well aware that the bombing human shields could be a PR disaster. The co-ordinates of sites hosting the shields had been sent to Central Command, for which Donna and her colleagues deserve credit. All sites where shields remained in place during the bombings survived intact. No shields were injured. Unlike the hapless US President, the motley crew of peaceniks and pacifists who descended on Baghdad in 2003 could truly say …. Mission Accomplished.
Ordinary Courage, by Donna Mulhearn, is published by
Murdoch Books, Australia.
RICHARD NEVILLE lives in Australia, the land that formed him. In the Sixties he raised hell in London and published Oz. He can be reached through his websites, http://www.homepagedaily.com/ and http://www.richardneville.com.au/