By David Swanson
A delegation of women from Iraq told stories last night in Washington, D.C., unlike anything we’ve ever heard about this war from the media in the United States. And the media was not there, so I’m going to tell you what they said.
The event was held at Busboys and Poets, the restaurant that serves as the gathering place for all social justice groups in Washington. The restaurant’s owner is Andy Shallal, an Iraqi American and an active opponent of the war. Shallal spoke briefly, and then Gael Murphy of CODE PINK introduced six women.
Elaine Johnson is an African American woman from South Carolina who lost her son in the war. She said:
“When I met George Bush, five or six days after my son was killed, I promised him one thing, that he will forever see my face….[drowned out by applause]
“You send a son, and you get back a coffin, but you don’t know who’s in the coffin. So, a little part of me is hoping I’ll get a knock on the door, and my only son will say ‘Mom, I’m home.’
“I don’t understand why Bush is still in office. But as long as Elaine is out here and I got y’all backing me, we gonna get him!”
Eman Ahmad Khamas is a human rights advocate who has documented abuses by the U.S. military in Iraq. She is a member of Women’s Will, and is married with two daughters. She said:
“Hundreds of Iraqi mothers and wives are, like you, waiting for a knock on the door…
“This occupation has destroyed Iraq. Americans don’t know that tens of thousands of Iraqis are in prisons. Americans don’t know how many have been killed. Lancet reported 100,000 in 2004, not counting Falluja. Now it is something like double this number.
“Hundreds of thousands of families must search for men who are missing, and they are left with nothing to support themselves.
“Many people do not know about the bombing of cities. Bush said the war ended on May 1, 2003. That’s not true. Many Iraqi cities have been bombed severely. And families are buried in the rubble.
“‘Get the troops back home’ is not enough. Yes, the occupation has to end immediately, but those responsible for these crimes have to be held responsible.” [huge applause]
Entisar Mohammad Ariabi is a pharmacist at the Yarmook Teaching Hospital in Baghdad who has documented the deteriorating health system. She is married with five children. She said in Arabic, with Khamas interpreting:
“Bush promised to keep civilian casualties as low as possible.
“I work in the second biggest hospital in Baghdad as director of the pharmacy department, and my office is across from the emergency department. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. the bodies don’t stop coming in, injured or killed, and the crying and the agony of the mothers and wives.
[with voice breaking] “In the emergency department I see the bodies cut into parts, dead, or injured, blood everywhere. I ask what happened, and they tell me stories. They were driving and the Americans began shooting randomly….
“I feel the sadness of these mothers, but I am also afraid that one day this will happen to me and my family. Iraqi families say goodbye in the morning to go to work or school, and pray to come home alive or if shot to die immediately, because if you are injured they will not find the medicines….
“To come here was not easy and not safe, but the most difficult part is that every minute we think of our families back home, and we are worried.”
Faiza Al-Araji is a civil engineer, a blogger (http://afamilyinbaghdad.blogspot.com ) and a religious Shia with a Sunni husband. She has three children. After one of her sons was recently held by the Ministry of the Interior, the family fled to Jordan. She said, very rapidly, very passionately:
“Please work on ending this occupation. You live in a beautiful country. We are human, like you. And we deserve to have a life, like you.
“This will destroy our country. People are dying day and night. And your media is telling you the lies. Baghdad was shining. It was very nice. Even under Saddam it was the shining Baghdad. Now it is full of garbage and tanks and barriers. People are dying. They are not normal people. You cannot see three years of dying and lack of security and lack of medicine, lack of everything.
“We see Mr. Bush on television lying that Iraqis are happy for their freedom. Oh, my God! Who will come to tell you the truth? We are come to tell you the truth. And what we have done? This is what we are always asking: What we have done?
“And where is the media? They will stay in the Green Zone and tell you the stories of the occupation leaders. Sixty reporters have been killed, because they do not want you to hear the stories of Iraqi people.
“They are provoking Iraqis against each other to make civil war to make justification to stay forever in Iraq. We are not stupid.
“Iraq for the Iraqis!”
Souad Al-Jazairy is an Iraqi now living in the United States, a writer, journalist and TV producer. She is active with the Iraqi Women’s League. She said:
“I don’t know what to say anymore. I’m a Kurd from Iraq. I’m a refugee from Iraq. I knew when they bombed in 1998 that it was the start of invading Iraq. I do not support this war at all. My family is still there.
“What are these children going to grow up to be?
“There were 30 years under the dictatorship of Saddam, brought by the CIA to Iraq. Then 13 years with no food. Then the bombs. Now they’re destroying Iraq by dividing them. They want to provoke a civil war. They are turning neighbors against neighbors. It’s not just about oil, in my opinion. They want to control all of Asia.”
Nadje Al-Ali is a writer/researcher specializing in women in the Middle East. She is a founding member of Act Together: Women’s Action on Iraq and mother of a three-year-old daughter. She is currently living in the UK and working on a book about women in Iraq. She said:
“Iraqis have not just suffered for three years. At least 5,000 children per month died according to UNICEF under 13 years of sanctions. And prior to that the regime was backed by the US.
“Bush has said he will bring women rights in Iraq.
“I was on National Public Radio, and Charlotte Ponticelli from the State Department said Iraqi women were not allowed to go to university.
“You don’t have to create these lies to show that it was a dictatorship! We know it was a dictatorship!
“But Iraqi women were the most well educated in the Middle East. There was free child care and free transportation. Which countries do this? Not your country.
“Women are suffering. Everyone is scared, but if a woman is kidnapped – and most middle-class families have had a member kidnapped) she can be sexually molested or raped. A lot of families keep their women folk inside. This was not the case before.
“On August 6, 1990, the crime against humanity – the sanctions – began. The economy was devastated, and women were the first sent home.”
Gael Murphy thanked the women who had spoken, and the crowd at Busboys and Poets gave extended applause. Gael recognized the many women from Global Exchange and CODE PINK who had traveled to DC to be with the Iraqi women. And she reminded the crowd that two Iraqi women had been denied visas, because the US had killed their families (the US State Department now argues that they would have no reason to return to Iraq and so cannot be permitted to visit the US).
“Another woman,” Gael said, “a doctor, has been sitting in Amman for a week, waiting for her goddamned approval to come through. Know that about your State Department!”
“Lynn has helped us get the visas,” Murphy said, turning to Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, the sole Congress Member in the room.
Woolsey rose and said: “Standing up here with these beautiful women who have done so much and sacrificed so much, I feel inept.
“We have an Out of Iraq Caucus that is the largest Caucus in the Democratic Caucus, and a Progressive Caucus, which I co-chair, which has 62 members and growing. And every single one of us is dedicated to ending this war.
“They say if we leave there will be civil war. But we have a civil war produced by hatred of the occupation. We need to get out, give Iraq back, leave no bases, and not take over your oil industry.
“When we do, there will have been many lives lost. But there will be fewer lives lost the minute, the second, Iraqi insurgents know we’re leaving.
“The American people know we shouldn’t be there, and they want our troops home….It’s coming sooner than later, I promise you. And I apologize for everything you’ve had to live through because we do not have a nice president.”
Eman Khamas then introduced Jodie Evans of CODE PINK, saying that when she first met Jodie, Jodie promised to get her $5,000 for a town that had no health clinic. Then Jodie sent her $6,000. She used $3,000 for the clinic and the other $3,000 for a delivery room, because pregnant women had been shot in cars trying to get to a hospital. Khamas thanked Jodie, to huge applause.
“Do what you can,” Evans said, “to witness this. I remember when Elaine came to Camp Casey and I thanked her for coming, and she said ‘I came for the love.’
“We have to quit disrespecting the Iraqi people and know that they can solve this themselves. We need to give them their country back.”
Jodie said there are 90,000 signatures on the petition at www.womensaynotowar.org and they need 100,000 before taking it to the White House and possibly the State Department on Wednesday.
Medea Benjamin and Cindy Sheehan were expected at Monday’s event, but got held up in New York by being arrested at the United Nations.