Eyewitness from Iraq
JOANNE BAKER has recently returned from
Child Victims of War delegation to Iraq.
"The daily problems for ordinary people in Iraq are legion and the situation
is going from bad to worse. Our first week we spent with Iraqi friends in
Basrah. The hospitality was incredible and we had a personal insight into
the struggles of people trying to cope with daily living.
Everyday our friends had to drive in their old car (1978) to fetch water.
The electricity supply there was completely haphazard. They told us that
just before we arrived, they had had no electricity for 9 days! Everyone is
struggling. Employment in Iraq is virtually non-existent and prices are
rising. The occupiers offer jobs with the security forces – or, if you are a
woman, in one of their many brothels - but this puts you on the wrong ‘side’
and can be very hazardous. Crime and kidnappings are rampant and a major
source of distress is the constant feeling of insecurity. Driving through
Baghdad at 11pm is now like entering a ghost city.
American and British tanks still patrol the streets and helicopters fly
regularly just above the rooftops. Moving around Baghdad is becoming
increasingly difficult as so many roads and bridges are now blocked. Every
building you enter, you are frisked and searched.
One visit with the Iraqi Red Crescent took us into the heart of Sadr City,
formerly Saddam city. It is the Gaza of Baghdad, a slum for around 3 million
of Baghdad’s poorest people. Not only are the residents of Sadr City trying
to cope with dire poverty and a complete collapse of infrastructure, they
find themselves at war with the world’s mightiest army. Men and young ragged
boys, armed with rocket launchers, stand on street corners amidst the
rotting garbage and pools of sewage, while US snipers hold their positions
on the high rooftops at the city’s edge.
We were taken to the Ali Bin bi Talib Hospital. The director has moved
himself and his family into the hospital itself so he had been constantly on
call. Conditions are desperate with antiquated equipment, some of it dating
back to the 1950s and 60s, and lack of medicine. The intensive care unit was
empty, the injured fighters of the previous day having ‘escaped’ the
hospital, in fear of arrest. Many are too afraid of the Americans to even
seek medical help. The children’s ward was filled with dehydrated babies
suffering from the appalling water. Water-borne diseases including hepatitis
and typhoid are endemic.
One sees in people’s faces here a terrible sadness and desperation. They
were oppressed by Saddam and are now oppressed by the new US driven
administration. One man said to us, “Before the occupation, we had 40% hope,
now we have 0%”. It is not surprising that resistance against the occupation
is growing. People were greatly affected by the massacres in Negev and the
bombing of Fallujah and Sadr City is an almost daily event. The hospitals
cannot cope with the injuries and there is a serious shortage of saline and
blood for transfusion.
During our visit to Basrah, we made strong connections with the Basrah
Children’s Hospital. Many children there are dying of cancer and leukaemia,
but the hospital lacks even the most basic equipment. They begged us
particularly to raise money to buy a platelet machine to separate the red
and white blood cells. This will benefit children suffering from both
leukaemia and thallasemia. Dr Jawad Al-Ali from Basrah teaching hospital,
emphasised that Basrah desperately needs a functioning oncology centre,
which could provide bone marrow transplant among other things.
We spoke to an environmental scientist who has been locating depleted
uranium sites in the city. He is shocked that he has already found 26 sites
within a relatively small area. Houses have been hit as well as Iraqi tanks
and troop carriers. We met a family forced to live in their highly
radioactive house, which was hit in March 2003. Two of the children are
suffering from skin and breathing problems and another has deteriorating
night vision. Two sons were killed in the bombing and a young cousin has a
burn on his leg, which is refusing to heal. Children play in and around two
burnt our troop carriers still left in the street. Although notified, the
British military and WHO have refused to respond."
For further information contact Jo Baker at: