Thursday, September 29, 2005

Sept 29, 2005 - Amman, Jordan
Thursday, 7:00 pm

We are back in Jordan and getting ready to head out to the airport again for the flight back to the US (Germany, Chicago, Austin). We flew through a sandstorm about half way between Baghdad and Amman. This morning on the ride to the aiport traffic was all backed up - apparently there had been a couple bombings earlier - however we didn't have trouble making our flight since we set aside 5 hours to make the 15-mile trip to the airports. Saw some friends from the Red Cross while there.

Yesterday afternoon, we were back in a section of the Green Zone visiting with the Independent Election Commission of Iraq (IECI). They are responsible for managing all elections, both constitutional and parlimentary, and are gearing up for the referendom on the Constitution. They will employ 200,000 persons to carry out the election at every precinct nationwide and expect a good turnout for this referendum. More on the issue of elections later.


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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Sept 28, 2005 - Baghdad
2:00 pm Wednesday

We were headed out to the market to buy some groceries for lunch when something happened nearby (we could hear gunfire). Now our empty neighborhood is full of cars that are being re-routed from a major street. Therefore we decided to stop into an internet cafe for awhile so we wouldn't be so noticeable to the strangers driving through. This morning we had a brief visit to the central morgue of Baghdad. However, the staff is shorthanded and busy with 50 new bodies overnight so we weren't able to have our meeting as scheduled. Instead we visited the nearby College of Fine Arts. The College was burned and looted in the aftermath of the invasion but have repaired most of their classrooms (although they are still short of some basic supplies). School doesn't begin until next week but there were plenty of teachers and students dropping by. This afternoon, another interesting trip is scheduled.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sept 27 - Baghdad
Tuesday 4:30 pm

Back in Baghdad after a 3 1/2 hour trip from Najaf (about 20 checkpoints along the way) We have spent the past three days doing things in Kerbala and Najaf including visiting human rights and womens' groups, a trip to a school, seeing the Shrine of Imman Ali (Shi'ias holiest shrine), and meeting Muqtada al-Sadr in person (see reports about all of the fighting in Najaf in 2004 and al-Madhi army).

Iraqis watch the evening news from the US and have been very interested in what is going on with hurricanes Rita and Katrina as well as the marches in D.C. (glad to see everyone doing things on that end).

The news from Iraq, however, continues to be troublesome. Today: bomb attack of SUVs carrying security forces for American companies (Iraqis call them "shoot me" cars). Whenever anyone sees these convoys, or the military or Iraqi National Guard (ING) all the cars pull over of don't go ahead. No one wants to be near them. Five Shi'ia teachers in Baghdad were dragged from their car and killed, along with their driver. 3 US forces were killed by bombings.

Otherwise a hot busy day in Iraq....lots of cars everywhere and traffic jams with checkpoints about every 3 miles. Many bridges are closed down and highways reduced to single lanes for everyone to crawl through these checkpoint, manned either by police or the ING. The US forces either patrol from vehicles or hide behind the walls of their military bases. Iraqis are doing much of the work of security the country and checking things.

Iraqi Shi'ia, Sunni, and Christians get along mostly. Iraqis are confused about who is being all of violence that appears to try and create sectarian division. Everywhere we have been we have seen all types of Muslims and Christians working together in daily life. There are "dark forces" at work here in Iraq...say many Iraqis.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

26-Sept, 2005 Najaf
Monday 10:30 pm

Halfway around the world to check my email....

I never thought that after traveling halfway around the world to Iraq that I would find myself at a friend's home in the Karbala area on such a nice evening, enjoying conversation, eating and ... checking my email (and also writing this blog).

Watching Boston Public on television and the news (suicide bomber on bus of petroleum employees headed to work, bombing on pipeline outside of Kirkuk, etc.) Such as normal family-type life that I almost forget that I'm not in the U.S. More on the trip when I return to Baghdad since I haven't completed it yet. I'll also tell you about our visit with one of the key figures in Iraqi religion/politics. Expect more tomorrow or the next day.

Lots of news about Iraq and the opinions of 24 million people (24 million opinions).


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Saturday, September 24, 2005

24-Sept 1:00 pm Baghdad

Blogged on watching the increadible destruction of Hurricane Rita (note, I was born in Port Arthur near the eye of where the storm is going through). Looks bad for all of you back home, but I know Texans are opening up their homes and hearts once again to help out.

Yesterday (9/23) we visited one of three refineries in Iraq, the plant in the Al-Dora area of Baghdad. Very good visit with the plant manager as well as a tour of the plant ... smelled just like home. Good statistics about what is going on with gasoline, etc. to follow in an article later.

We then took a driving tour of the entire city. Good photos and videos. Our translater knows the Baghdad well. Spent about 3 hours touring and seeing everything from where people live, and what conditions, to bombed and burned buildings, places of fighting, etc. Traffic was light due to it is Friday which is generally a holiday. Few stores were open. Lots to see and we're sharing photos with one another on the team.

Today (9/24) we spent this morning interviewing one of our friends to learn about conditions of food, living, etc. in Iraqi Middle Class. I was able to get some video before the camera ran out of batteries (the electricity was off so I county plug in). Next we went to visit the Iraqi Al-Amal Association...a women's rights organization lead by a very brave woman (exiled from Baghdad for 25 years). They have been active in the north of Iraq since 1992 and returned to Baghdad after the US invasion. Very outspoken and critical of the proposed constitution. More on this later.

This afternoon we will spend visiting other religious leader(s).

I will probably be unable to blog for a few days since we will be traveling to other parts of Iraq. I will tell all about this trip when it is over (security remains a BIG issue for all concerned).

Peace, Charlie

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

cont. (i am posting quickly in case the power goes off so i won't lose everything)

9/21 afternoon

visited with the assocition of muslim scholars. this is a very sunni group and we met at the "saddam mosque" that was built 10 years ago. lots of security, scared our translator even to be there. met with sheik m. discussed current problems ranging from children who need medical attention to tortures and killings....and of course the political situtation in iraq. the muslims scholars association sees this as an entire racists war and that the us is trying to divide up iraq by pitting groups against one another. however, they are all trying to stay together and stem the tide of factionalism.

it was my turn to cook dinner for the group today. we had tortilla soup, without cilantro, chili, or tortillas. however, everyone was hungry enough to eat my cooking anyway.

9/22 am
we went to sadr city and met with the council there. the sadr city area of baghdad is one of the poorest and has between 1-2 million people. they have their own malitia (see sadr) and patrol that part of town and say it's now the safest part of the city - no bombings. shi'ia, sunni, turk, etc. all live there and it is democratically run with a 3-person elected council. we weren't able to spend time in the city visiting the homes, but there is some good information on this on the cpt site. perhaps we'll get back next week.

during the afternoon we went to the green zone, only that area of the convention center - not the us embassy. our meeting was with col. in charge of the iraq assiatance center. this is the army's cival affairs office that is suppose to run things like jobs, women's shelter, compensation for those who have had deaths or damage (i.e. tank runs over a car), find detained family members. VERY interested notes from that meeting...much along the notes that i published during my visit in 2003 (see prior blog dates). more on this later.

this brings things up to date. i'm not posting what we will do in advance due to security concerns. however, i will say that some areas of the city have improved since my last visit in nov-dec 2003 but some things are worse. water and sewer better. electricity about the same or slightly better, telephones back on and many now can buy mobile phones. business slightly better so is employment. traffic worse, more streets permanently blocked off and barricaded. long gasonline lines. good news is that i see people out on the streets during the day included lots of children on their way home from school while i was out shopping around lunchtime. there is more food in the market, better variety and prices are inexpensive so people look a bit better fed and healthier. on the bad side, because of the bombings, fewer make it to the hospitals, universities, and other places where they need to go. almost no one goes out after 8 pm due to security. all have guns and many carry them out on the streets.

it's not bosnia yet.


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22-Sept, 2005 5:45 pm Baghdad

I'll keep it quick since the electricity is out and the internet cafe is on generator. i'm down the street in central baghdad blogging from a public cafe.

20-sept after arriving in baghdad via the airport, we met up with the permanent cpt team here, had a couple of briefings and then headed out for our first appointment, after lunch. we visited sayyid ali, the immam of the shrine of kazimayah. you may have read about the many people who died in that part of the city last week in the accident over the bridge. this imman is one of the major figures in the shi'ia community and follows ayatolla sistani. first night in baghdad.

21-sept during a.m. we visited the al dora electrical plant, the largest in baghdad, to learn about what's going on in electrical production. although we had a scheduled meeting with the plant manager and everything was arranged, we were challenged by us forces guarding the plant who say 'we are in charge' before we could get through to out meeting. good meeting, lots of stats about the current power generation, past, and future plans. only 2 of 4 units are currently operating .... this long after the us invasion. before 1991 iraq had a production of 9,600 mwz and only neded 7,500 mwz for the entire country. today the need is for 10-12,000 mwz but only 5,500 is being produced. complaints about lack of parts and (still) no money to buy them with. as soon as al dorah's 2 other units are back online they need to take the others offline to fix.

overhead i can hear us choppers.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

I've had a chance to check my e-mail and want to give a big "thank you" to all of you who have sent encouraging messages about my trip to Baghdad. I hope that you will all join the nationwide demonstration Sept 24-26 and remember us in Iraq during that time.


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From a CPT friend in Baghdad that we will join tomorrow:
Glimpses of Iraq by Sheila Provencher 17 September 2005
***What happens when car bombs become normal? One hundred fifty-two people die in your city in one day and you feel sad but then you go about cooking supper, and you laugh with your family and watch some music videos. This past Wednesday, ten car bombs exploded throughout the city, and I went and played with Noor’s* little baby and forgot until I read the news again.
Maybe you don’t forget inside. I see it in the faces of friends, shopkeepers, and neighbors. People feel tired, worn out, like the layer of dust and plastic bags littering every surface of the city. Numb. At night you wonder: Whose family was changed forever that day?
***Refugees from Tal Afar, the northern city alternatively occupied by foreign fighters and bombed by U.S. and Iraqi military, told me and CPT colleagues some stories of their suffering. We met them in an abandoned hotel-turned-refugee-camp in Kerbala, where they had been living there since June 2005.
“If you take my picture and the wrong people see it, my house could get burned down,” said one man. He told of foreign fighters who came and forced people from their homes. “U.S. and Iraqi soldiers did not help the citizens,” he added. “They only secured the main road so that convoys could pass through.”
Since that time, of course, Tal Afar has been thoroughly bombed by U.S. and Iraqi forces. Maybe this man would be happy that the U.S. military used such force against foreign fighters. Maybe he wouldn’t care, as his home is gone anyway. But I remembered: Were foreign fighters flooding Iraq and setting off car bombs before “Operation Iraqi Freedom”? President Bush does not want the war on terrorism to be fought on American soil. Why are Iraqi soil and Iraqi lives less precious?
***Muslim Peacemaker Team (MPT) in Kerbala continues to offer hope. During the Tal Afar testimonies, a Shi’ite refugee from a Baghdad neighborhood made an insulting comment about Sunni people. Sami, a leader of MPT, invited the man to come forward and sit down next to Omar,* a Sunni man from Ramadi. The refugee kissed Omar on the cheek (a traditional Iraqi greeting), and proceeded to share his anger and pain about the Sunnis who had forced him from his home in Baghdad. Omar listened and asked, “How many people are in your family? I have a farm in Ramadi, and you are all welcome to come live there.” The refugee stood and publicly apologized for his comments while everyone smiled their approval.
***Checkpoints manned by Iraqi Police holding machine guns dot the city of Baghdad. Their goal is to reduce terrorist attacks, I assume. But a few days ago, I and CPT colleagues found ourselves looking down the barrel of the machine gun pointed at our car or the one behind us. In that moment, everything froze. When the officer then raised the gun and waved us on, we laughed it off. But I wonder­-how many innocent civilians have died because police officers or U.S. soldiers were afraid that they were terrorists? And how are the policemen and soldiers dealing with the trauma of taking innocent life? The only son of a friend of a friend just killed himself after returning home from military service in Iraq. What is happening to our young people sent to war?
***A light moment. Last week I helped Riga* and her family, as they moved from their house to a nearby apartment. Together we loaded their things onto a truck that the men then drove to the new address. In the meantime, we women, draped in scarves, pushed a cart full of remaining possessions up a sewage-strewn, deeply rutted street. Halfway there, the cart got jammed in the mud, and we all dissolved into laughter as we tried to un-stick it from slimy, smelly sludge.
These are all random strands of stories, I suppose. It’s like a giant puzzle, and there is no clear answer. When I try to figure it out, it is beyond me. But after living in a war zone for almost two years, I am sure of two things:
One: Violence simply does not work, no matter who uses it. And two: We are all together in this. Noor’s baby is your own child, and the death of that only son of a friend of a friend creates a vacuum in your heart just as it does in the hearts of his family. We are all in this together.
*Name has been changed
Sheila Provencher Christian Peacemaker Teams Baghdad, Iraq

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From our CPT friend Will who has spent the past two days with us in Amman while on his way back to the U.S.

Subject: Iraq Reflection: In Iraq Without a Gun by William Van WagenenSeptember 14th, 2005This last week we had several meetings in Najaf and Karbala. Both are holy cities for Shiites and have shrines dedicated to the Imam Ali and to the Imam Hussein, who was assassinated in Karbala in the seventh century. Because of these shrines, both Najaf and Karbala are flooded with religious pilgrims each year. A year ago last summer, Moqtada Al-Sadr's private militia, the Mehdi Army, battled U.S. forces during an uprising in Najaf, Sadr City, and Basra. Cindy Sheehan's son Casey was killed by Mehdi Army fighters during this period in Sadr City. Much of the fighting in Najaf took place in a huge graveyard that is almost as big as the city itself. The Shrine of the Imam Ali is at the end of the graveyard and many Mehdi Army fighters ended up seeking refuge in the shrine. There is now an area of the graveyard where 250 Mehdi Army fighters who were killed in those battles are buried. We took some time to visit the site of their graves. Many of the tombstones are adorned with Iraqi flags and pictures of the dead, who were mostly young men, probably in their twenties. While we were there, some of the young men who were around noticed we were foreigners and asked who we were and what we were doing. They began telling us how they had all fought against the Americans in those battles last year as well. One guy finally asked where I was from. I told him I was from America. I was a bit nervous about how he would respond, but he immediately said, "Welcome!" and had a huge smile on his face. After we chatted for awhile I took a few pictures with him and the other young men who were hanging around. By telling this I'm not trying endorse the Mehdi Army, or say that it is good for Iraqis to fight U.S. soldiers. But it was interesting to note that even though these men had fought and killed American soldiers, and had had friends killed by American soldiers, they were still friendly and welcoming to me, an American. That act of kindness illustrated to me the difference between entering other countries as an occupier, bringing guns, tanks, and hummers, and entering as an unarmed guest. If we Americans show Muslims respect and are peaceful to them, they will show us respect and will be peaceful to us. Though such a concept seems at times obvious, it is something we Americans seem to have difficulty understanding.

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Monday - Amman

We spent the day today visiting with the United Nation's Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) and the International Commmittee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Iraq Division here in Amman, Jordan. Tomorrow morning we leave for Baghdad.

The news from the UNHRC and the ICRC makes the situation in Iraq appear even worse than I thought and certainly much worse than on my last visit. The ICRC scaled back its efforts in Iraq even more since January and is now only providing for "emergencies" in Baghdad amd now operates almost esclusively from Jordan. All other programs have been suspended. The UNHRC rarely allows employees outside of the Green Zone. While the ICRC is still monitoring the US prisons, neither organizaton is able to monitor what is going on in the prisons runs by the new Iraqi military or the Interior Ministry.....areas where the US is heavily involved.

Yesterday we met with the Jesuit Bros. society in Amman run by Jesuits who used to teach at Baghdad College. Before they were taken over by the Iraqi government in the 1970's, Baghdad College and the Jesuit-run high schools trained some of the elite of Iraq - Christians, Muslims, and Jews - several alumni today who are big in the government. The Jesuits hope to be able to return to Iraq at some point and take back over management of these institutions.

While with the Jesuits, we interviewed two Iraqi ex-patriots now living in Amman. They both talked about how much Iraq has become so terrible that almost no one can stand to live there. Those with enough money or skills try to flee. They like living in Amman but wish things were better in Iraq so that they could return.

The details of the above are in my journal and I will share more upon my return on in later blogs, if I have the chance. While the bandwidth here in Amman is o.k. I expect that it will be very limited in Iraq.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Here is the sort of post on Iraq you can expect to receive from CPT (in addition to my own) if you subscribe to the CPT Iraq listserv cpt_iraq@yahoogroups.com :
Wednesday, 7 SeptemberKERBALA:

Provencher and Van Wagenen traveled from Kerbala to Najaf, another Shi'a holy city. They spent the day with members of several Iraqi human rights and humanitarian NGOs. Conversation focused on the experience of women in Iraq and the failure of reconstruction in Iraq. One women's leader said, "The years 1977-79 were the golden years for women in Iraq. But since then, because of the Iran-Iraq war, the 1991 war, the sanctions, and this war, women have lost their fathers, husbands, brothers, and they have had to take on all of the family roles themselves."

When asked about the new constitution, she said, "The role of women is getting worse. Many of the new political and religious societies limit the role of women. And women are not taking more of a role because they are scared. Our job is to be so active that we help women to be risen through awareness, to be risen from sleep."

Concerning reconstruction, the Iraqi group agreed that "there is more corruption in Najaf" than in any other Iraqi city. One man said, "I can show you places where reconstruction projects were supposed to happen, and I can tell you who the contractor was. The Iraqi contractors just pocket the money, and the U.S. does not follow up to see what happens."

BAGHDAD: The team heard a loud explosion at a few minutes past 9:00 AM.

Chandler and Nash visited Iraqi colleagues at a human rights organization.

While shopping, Chandler and Nash discovered that the loud explosion they heard that morning was from a car bomb in the area. A nearby shopkeeper told them that it was targeting a convoy of white GMC cars, like those driven by U.S. contractors and non-military government agencies. The explosion missed its target, but killed one boy selling ice and another bystander. Chandler and Nash then went to the site of the explosion and found a young man from a photo shop standing amid the rubble. He and his father were not there at the time, but their shop was completely destroyed. Dozens of other shops in the area had their windows blown out.

In the evening, Chandler and Nash hosted a team translator for a dinner to celebrate his birthday.

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I leave from Austin tomorrow for Iraq - my third trip of this war - and will attempt to blog here when I can. The trip, as part of a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation, will be from September 16-30, 2005.

Due to the security situation, I won't be able to let you know exactly when and where we are traveling. However, all of it will be outside of the "Green Zone" and most of our time will be spent in the Baghdad area, living and working among Iraqis. We also plan to visit another city in Iraq if conditions permit.

While there we will continue to work towards peace by meeting with Iraqis from all walks of life, sharing their lives and stories, and bringing information back here to you.

Peace - Charlie

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