Stories from Baghdad
 Irene Vandas
17 December 2002
(Irene Vandas, a Vancouver, BC nurse and member of CANESI, is working with The Iraq Peace Team a project of Voices In the Wilderness. She is currently in Iraq.)
Currently, the events concerning Iraq are the most prevalent and talked about in the world. They are being highlighted in the media in terms of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction which need to be disarmed, and that Saddam Hussein is a ruthless dictator, that regime change must take place for the sake of democracy. Or the focus has been on how unjust the US has been over the last 12 years by their enforcement of the economic sanctions and what terrible effects the bombing campaigns have had on the civilian population.
What needs to be continually highlighted are the real life stories of the Iraqi people who continue to live under the devastating effects of the economic sanctions and who live daily with the threat of yet another war.
I have been in Baghdad for 6 days and already have a sense of how the Iraqi people live and how they feel concerning these realities.
Ali Hassan, is an 8 year old boy who was willing to share some of his story with me (with the help of a translator). I met him in front of the Al Fanar Hotel where he comes daily to shine shoes which he does to help provide for his family. What I noticed in Ali’s appearance were his well worn and ripped shoes and how little he was wearing on that particularly cold day. He is the youngest of seven children the oldest of whom lives on the outskirts of Baghdad in a village called Diyala. Ali lives with his large family in a small flat of a building which they help maintain. His father works as a servant in various houses and his mother works at home. Ali goes to school every day between 8am and 1pm. In the afternoon he makes his way to the hotel where he works until sundown. He is a keen worker and eager to meet new people. As much as he enjoys working and going to school he especially enjoys being at home playing with his toys, some of which he says were given to him by rich people
In asking young Ali if he remembers the bombing, he said he did. He called it “war Bush”. Ali expressed how afraid he is of another bombing. He said that should another war come he and his family will leave the city and go live with his brother in Diyala.
Next to my hotel lives a wonderful family of five who welcomed me warmly into their home. The father, Saff’e, is a gentle man with a mischievous sense of humour. His wife, Amal, is a beautiful and intellectual woman. Amal is an artist who paints beautiful pictures of Baghdad. They have three children, Abeer who is 11 years old, Omar who is 6 and Ali who is 4. Both parents speak English well and Abeer, their daughter, understands a little. Amal is the most fluent in English, she also speaks some Russian, French and German. Abeer seems eager to speak English but she is shy, yet seems curious to know more about me upon my first visit. Later, as I got caught up in adult conversation I noticed Abeer grab paper and pencil crayons. She drew a picture of a beautiful young girl which she later offered as a gift to be given to a child back in Canada.
As the visit progressed Saff’e began to share some of his story of the last 20 years. He was a soldier in the Iran-Iraq war fighting directly on the front lines. He remembered the Gulf War in 1991 and the bombings that occurred in 1998. He recalled the bombing of Baghdad and how in his mind it seemed that every fifth house was being bombed. The ground of their own house rumbled from the impact of the bombings causing the ceiling to collapse. Thankfully none of them were home at the time. He reflected on when his neighbor’s house was bombed how he ran to help and found the mother bleeding from a severe wound in her neck. She told him she was alright but to go help her children. Saff’e pulled her children out from under the rubble but they were already dead. The mother later died on the way to the hospital. His feelings now are that if another war happens it will be more devastating then the one’s before. He warns me not to stay if war becomes imminent because of how dangerous it will be, that millions of people will die as a result. In asking why the next war would be worse he says, “It is because of the new bomb that the US possesses and will use”, the one known as the “microwave bomb”. He says, “It will be like another Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this war must not happen!” Saff’e plans to take his family out of Baghdad to some place safe if signs of war grow close.
Unfortunately these two stories reflect what the majority of Iraqi’s have lived through and continue to live under. Not only have they tried to piece their lives back together from the devastating effects of the economic sanctions and the bombing campaigns of 1991 and 1998, they now live with the psychological trauma caused by the looming threat of another war. It is important to remember that the ones who will be most effected by another war will be the innocent people of Iraq who yearn for peace. We must not forget the human face of the Iraqi people in these crucial times.