While in Amman, Jordan, in January, I received a joyful phone call from friends in Baghdad announcing that one of their daughters was engaged. Broken Arabic and broken English crossed the lines-”We love you! We miss you!”
“What an amazing family,” said a colleague, upon hearing the happy news. “Imagine all that they've survived.” A few hours later, the family sent us a text message: “Now bombs destroy all the glasses in our home- no one hurt.”
No one was home when a car-bomb shattered every window and damaged the ceilings and walls of their apartment. The family of nine then moved into an even smaller home where one daughter lives with her husband and newborn baby. It happened that their aunt and her three children, who had recently come from Amman to Baghdad, were also with them. Seventeen people crowded into an apartment the size of a small one-car garage.
Television coverage showed the blood-spattered streets and charred vehicles at the intersection of the street where they had lived. Gruesome carnage and desperate bereavement are part of everyday footage filmed in Iraq. A growing humanitarian catastrophe is more difficult to portray.
Scrounging for necessities
Every family in Baghdad struggles with fuel and energy crises. They get one hour of electricity every 12 hours; only the more well-to- do families can afford a back-up generator. Fuel for transportation is extremely expensive. In a society that has 50%â€“75% unemployment, many find themselves scrounging for basic necessities.
Families that receive the dreaded knock on the door giving them 24 hours' notice â€“ leave or you will be killed â€“ must swiftly relocate to other areas where they often face problems gaining access to food, potable water and health care.
Consider, for instance, that over a third (38%) of Iraq's people depend on the ration system for meagre allotments of lentils, rice, flour, cooking oil, salt and tea. If a family is displaced by an attack on their home, distance or personal safety often prohibits them from returning to their former neighbourhood to pick up these supplies.
Sometimes, the agent who delivers the supplies can't even approach the warehouse to collect them, because it is located in a “hot” area controlled by a sect or militia to which he does not belong and which may kill him. In those cases, whole neighbourhoods may go without a month's supply of food.
When displaced families move into a new area, it's difficult for overcrowded schools to accept new students; neighbourhood sewage and sanitation systems are stressed by unexpected population rises. How are the host families and communities to continue hospitality with very little international relief available?
There should be massive relief convoys travelling into Iraq on a regular basis. There should be, but there aren't. Instead, US lawmakers are asked to pour 100 billion dollars into emergency supplemental funding for ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now another engagement looms. The Bush administration may try to wed US people to yet another war, this time against Iran. If so, that would be joyful news for the controlling interests of large corporations that benefit from US warfare.
For those who are trapped inside Iraq, ongoing war is like a threatening noose, cutting their capacity to meet basic human needs. We who claim the right to free speech should join our strengths and wills to swiftly cut all ties to the wasteful, cruel, illegal and immoral US addiction to war.