Kate Raphael | January 28, 2004
Today was a rather strange day. Every day I have been here, there has been at least one incident in which U.S. soldiers were killed. Yesterday, there were two. Today, planes and helicopters circled overhead much of the day.
We visited a children's hospital, where the director of medicine explained that their biggest problem, more than lack of supplies (which they have, but they also get lots of international donations) is lack of access to updated information and training. The internet would help them immeasurably, but the Ministry of Health has not managed to get them connected. The other big problem, we learned from Tuna of the Nurses and Doctors Care Organization, is that both nurses and doctors are paid so little, that there is no incentive for people to choose the professions. Nurses, we were told, during the Saddam regime made $1 a month. So there is a big nursing shortage and a lack of training.
After that, we headed to the police station to report the things that had beenstolen on the road. Of course, there will be no chance of recovering the things, but people need a report for their insurance claims. As we entered, we met two U.S. policemen who are here on a contract with Dyncorp (it took me a while to get to that, they kept insisting they were working for the State Department), to train Iraqi police in internal affairs. The whole encounter with them, as well as our interview with the police chief and the head of internal affairs, who are both long-term veterans of the regime police force, was quite interesting. One of them, who is from Chesapeake, Virginia, near where I am from originally, almost convinced some members of the group that we should hire an armed escort (Kurdish mercenaries) for the trip back to the border. Paola from Occupation Watch says that nothing would make us more of a target than an armed convoy, which I am inclined to believe. We have not consensed on what to do with that advice yet, but I think we are unlikely to do it.
The police chief told us, not that surprisingly, that rape hardly ever happens. He seemed to fear that we had a misconception that rape was particularly common here. I explained that no, we also talk to U.S. police departments about their handling of reports of rape, because women everywhere are afraid to report it. Rape under the old laws was punishable by the death penalty, but in his 32 years of policing, he only took two reports of rape and neither of the perpetrators was convicted. So he does not know of anyone actually executed for it. On the other hand, he described to us in rather gruesome detail the public executions of prostitutes, which he has witnessed.
The internal affairs guy told us that he believes it is the policy of the President of the United States to attract everyone who wants to commit attacks ("terrorists") into Iraq, so they only have one place to worry about. In other word, he says, the highest levels of the U.S. government wants this to be a long-term war zone. For this reason, he says, the borders are not controlled. I don't know if he is right, but it is certainly true that the borders are not controlled, which is quite surprising. It took us, as I previously mentioned, three hours to cross out of Jordan and not five minutes to cross into Iraq.
On our way out, I asked the police chief one question I had not thought to ask in the meeting. "Andchum internet?" (I am learning to sub "ch" for "k" because people understand me much better that way.) Do you have the internet? He said they expect to have it within a week. I mentioned this to other delegation members at lunch. So the hospitals cannot get it, but of course the police get a majority of the money that the U.S. is sending for "reconstruction." They are also hoping for new jails, new checkpoints, all the other things Bush and cronies love to fund. But I think that is not the whole problem. It is also because everything is being done by contract, so Dyncorp is running everything having to do with security, while another company may be working with the Ministry of Health (doubtless Vencor or someone) and they probably don't even know that the police are about to get the internet. Whereas if one authority was overseeing the whole reconstruction, then presumably they could hook up all the departments of the government at once.
Back in the van, Jodie told us the most shocking piece of news, which may or may not be true.
One of the Americans had confided to her that he had just watched a group of police line 12 prostitutes up against the wall and beat them. They then took them out into a yard, tied them with electrical cords, and gave them electric shocks, after which they shot them. Van told her that he was not able to convince the police that there was anything wrong with this behavior, and that was why he had come to meet with the chief.
My mouth dropped open. I said, "Are you telling me that Iraqi police just massacred 12 women, and a U.S. policeman stood and watched them?" Yes, she said, he said he didn't have their trust to be able to stop it.
We are trying to figure out ways to substantiate this story, because it is huge to us. Later in the afternoon, we were meeting with two amazingly articulate women from the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq. Jodie told them the story and asked what they thought. Yanar Mohammed, who runs the organization, said that her past experience is that prostitutes are not considered people, and so yes, she said, she believes the story.
Yesterday, I mentioned many of the similarities between this occupation and the one I know so well in Palestine. Today, I was struck most by the vast differences. We need a very different approach here. Even Yanar and Sawsan, who are with the Workers Communist Party and have a great radical vision (Yanar outlined four goals for the short term future, the first of which is "share the wealth"), said, "We cannot call for the Americans to leave with no substitution. There needs to be some form of peacekeepers, without a political agenda they will impose on us." I know that many of you are opposed to "internationalizing the occupation," and I often would be too, but I have not heard one Iraqi say that they favor all international troops leaving their country. The situations much more complicated than I can hope to understand in a week.
Kate Raphael has recently been kicked out of Palestine and is now on a 7-day delegation to Baghdad organized by CodePink and Occupation Watch. The group is investigating the status of women under occupation.
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