March 21 update VitW

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Posted by Sadie from D006025.N1.Vanderbilt.Edu ( on Wednesday, March 26, 2003 at 1:55PM :

Dear Friends,

Earlier today, I spoke with Kathy Kelly and Ramzi Kysia in Baghdad. As I
was editing the transcribed conversation, CNN announced that "Shock &
Awe" had begun. I don't know when we will hear from our friends in Iraq
again. I hope it will be soon. We are on the phone constantly trying to reach
any of the three hotels housing the 25 Iraq Peace Team delegates in
downtown Baghdad.

Here is what Kathy and Ramzi had to say this morning:


"People in our team here are heartened by news of actions in the United
States to continue antiwar momentum. The bombings last night were
intense for about thirty minutes beginning at 9:10 last night. But, compared to
what people were bracing themselves for, which was the "Shock & Awe"
saturation bombing, these attacks have seemed limited. We're getting
rumors and some hard news, mostly from journalists who tell us what seems
to be going on.

"Today I had a chance to go and visit families in three different
neighborhoods and the neighborhoods were fairly calm. There is still not
much in the way of a military presence on the streets other than sand bags
that are piled up at various intersections.

"I visited the family of a friend who left for Amman a few weeks ago, and that
is always a wonderful place to be. Her family - all women - are full of energy,
there is no man in the house. They were very welcoming towards us and
didn't want us to go. The grandmother just held on to me, clung to me,
begged me 'Please, please stay and spend the night here with us.' But I
would be no protection. They are quite close to what I think is a military
storage depot. They begged us to come back and eat with them. With their
slim rations I think that is very telling.

"And then there is Kareema's family. They have just now come to visit us at
the hotel. This is the family I am the most worried about. They are in a pretty
precarious spot, and their neighbors seem to know it. Many of them have
left now. I will get a chance to talk more with them this afternoon when they
come here to stay with us. But we haven't received permission from the
hotel owners for them to stay here."


"Wednesday, the day it started, I went around to some of the high schools
that we've been working with to do letter exchanges and diaries. Schools
were in session. About half the students weren't there. Some were staying at
home with their folks but a lot of families did leave Baghdad if they could.

"I talked to the teachers, talked to some students. Everybody seemed to be
in pretty good spirits. One of the English teachers did break down in front of
me afterwards. She was really, really scared. She was scared about the
U.S. possibly using chemical weapons here, she was scared about this new
bomb she heard of - you know, 'the mother of all bombs'. She really just
wanted to vent with somebody. So I listened to what she had to say, tried to
comfort her as much as I could.

"The kids talked about how hard it had been the day before on Tuesday.
That was the last official day of school even though some kids came in on
Wednesday. On Tuesday everybody said good-bye to one another. They
said it was a really emotional experience. They didn't know whether they
were going to see their friends again or how long it might be. Wednesday
had a very strange feel to it. Sort of like a holiday. Not that people were
joyous, but everything was very slow, very easy. Not too much traffic. It was
slightly overcast. It was as if you know, you're living somewhere in the United
States and the weather reports are saying there's about to be a hurricane
and people are just going about their business preparing for the hurricane.
No panic. But you saw people taping up their windows, getting supplies, just
trying to get ready for what was about to happen.

"Thank God we haven't had saturation bombing here in Baghdad for the last
couple days. The life here has been very normal. People are out on the
street. The markets were open. I think though that its not going to stay like
this. We hear there are several American armored divisions approaching
Baghdad, the B-52s in Britain are being fueled up and are ready to go for
saturation bombing, maybe tonight. And you know, there is an air of bravado
among people here. They tell you that the United States has bombing them
for the last 12 years and they're still here. But I think underneath that
everybody is very scared. I know I'm very scared.

"Personally, I thought that the United States wasn't going to being bombing
last night until after midnight, wait until people had settled in, in order to
minimize civilian casualties. That was the time frame that I was going on.
And I went upstairs to my room to take a shower and I heard the air raid
sirens. And then the sirens cut off after a minute. I brushed my teeth and
waited a little bit - nothing happened for about 10 minutes so I figured that
was a false alarm. Then I got into the shower. I was all lathered up and then
BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM! they started bombing. I very quickly rinsed, put
on my clothes and went downstairs. Everybody had gathered in the tea
room here at the Al Fanar, and I think I was the most nervous of everybody
here. The team seemed fine. They were playing chess, people were
drinking tea, journaling. The Iraqis here were all talking and laughing. They
hit a couple buildings across the river. We've heard conflicting reports. Two
buildings behind the Ministry of Planning, some people have said it was the
old National Assembly, others said it was the building that housed Deputy
Prime Minister Tariq Aziz's office.

"There's a little bit more military out on the street than you usually see here,
but there is in no way an overwhelming presence. In fact when I was in
Lebanon, 3 or 4 years ago, I saw much, much more military on the streets
there. Its really kind of eerie. To look at Baghdad it does not seem to be a
nation that is at war. But I do know that things are much worse in other parts
the country.

"Were talking about the possibility of doing several things if there is a real
heavy bombing. One is to do war crimes monitoring. Curtis Doebbler, who is
an international lawyer has been in touch with us and he has a sheet that he
prepared for the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] in Bosnia
to do monitoring of violations of humanitarian law. So were going to see if
were going to be able to go to hospital emergency rooms and to bombing
sites to interview people in order to provide that information to groups that
are going to be looking at what the United States does here. We've also
been talking to relief agencies and if its at all possible were going to try and
volunteer with them to provide direct assistance to people. And of course to
do journaling and writing and to be a presence in the city to visit with the
people that we've come to love - to be a voice in the wilderness for them.

"The group mourns what is happening to Iraq and what has been happening
the last 13 years. Its really horrendous. Hundreds of thousands of people in
this country have been killed because of greed and short-sightedness on
the part of politicians on all sides. Millions of people now are risk. And who
knows what's going to happen in this war. If they do saturation bombing here
thousands of people are going to die. I don't know how many have died
already in the campaign. And I think the long-term consequences really
could be horrendous.

"So we mourn. We really do mourn for what's happening to this country. I
think at the same time though, were trying to not let George Bush or Tony
Blair or Saddam Hussein depress us. You hear the phrase: life is a joy. It
should be a joy. The reason that we work so hard here in Iraq is because
that choice for life to be a joy has been taken away from so many people.
Violently taken away from them. And I don't think we can let that happen to


"It is almost impossible for me to imagine that bombings to the extent of what
I heard here last night and the previous morning - if they happened in
Chicago - would result in people carrying on with ordinary days. Part of it is
people having been inured to warfare and its also a sign of a really
particular kind of courage and dignity within the population here. Its really
very, very amazing to me.

"If Chicago was under attack - and people known to be from the attacking
country were in Chicago - it's hard for me to imagine that they'd be sitting in
pleasant hotel tea room together. So when I think of Baghdad and Chicago
in that light,I love Chicago, I miss it - I think it's a city that's full of a
diversity of people - but I often think: What would be happening in Chicago if
what's happening here were happening there?

"I really think it is not overstating the case, because we are hearing this
kind of news from all over the world, that we are approaching what would be
near critical mass for stopping war-makers. I hope with all my heart that
the Bush administration doesn't go ahead with this shock and awe. I think
that if they don't do it there probably will be more of a tapering off. If
they do it, I think that the momentum is going to be very steady and
every long day everybody puts in, it can be worth it now for a long, long

Thank you again for all that you are doing for peace.


Jeff Guntzel...and everybody at the Chicago office

-- Sadie
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