Posted by Sadie from ? (188.8.131.52) on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 at 11:41AM :
Check out the pictures at electroniciraq.net!
Salam Pax - News from the ground #1
Salam Pax, Electronic Iraq
20 May 2003
The people at Electronic Iraq and al-Muajaha kindly agreed to host the images for this post and we will put up the post on their site too. I have warned them that I have a lot of images and as the Arabic saying goes: "wa qad u'thira man anthar" - don't blame someone who has already given you a warning. I really didn't have any other choice, the guys at the Internet place wanted to charge 66,000 dinars for uploading 1.2MB of images, around $50 by today's rate. You should see how people react when they tell them how much they charge. Because of the rise in the value of the dinar even richrich people from abroad find them expensive and start bartering. We buy Internet time like we buy tomatoes now: "Look if a spend an extra half hour will the rate go down 3000 dinars?"
Three days in the south of Iraq. A quick run from Baghdad to Basra and back. Since I am only tagging along I didn't really have a say on where to go and what to see. Raed had to check on the CIVIC teams (Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, you can check the site - iraqvictimsfund.org - but I have been told by Marla that it is not very informative at the moment). Raed has teams in a couple of cities and had to form new teams in others. The only place which has some sort of an administrative structure left in Iraq after the chaos are hospitals, we meet the teams in various hospitals and medical centers.
Lots of pictures to take and lots of people to talk to. We were moving to the south at the same time al-Hakiem (leader of SCIRI) was making his trip to Baghdad. We crossed paths on his way towards Samawah. In Basra I discovered the best ice cream place in all of Iraq, really the best and so cheap. I was also given "the finger" by a British soldier while trying to take pictures of the burned down Basra (ex)Sheraton hotel. That is one picture I am really sad that it didn't turn out good, it would have been great, half of him hanging out of a military car giving me the finger. Now that's a souvenir to bring back from Basra. Anyway, the pictures below are in no particular order.
The entrance of (Saddam) Hospital in Najaf, now obviously changed to Sadir Hospital. One icon goes another comes, not even necessary to repaint the whole picture. It is scary how well the two images fit on top of each other (pictured above right). I came back from the trip seriously worrying that we might become an Iran clone. If anyone went to the streets now and decided to hold elections we will end up with something that is scarier than Khomeini's Iran.
What looks (pictured left) like a gay parade on wheels with all the pink flags is actually al-Hakiem's welcoming committee near samawah, don't ask me why the pink flags, I couldn't figure that one out. the color of SCIRI is red but all you see are pink flags.
Do you see that graffiti in English? "God's great miracle". G. was in Najaf while "god's great miracle" made his speech and cried. Very good theatrical effects, you see he is being accused of not being here and going thru what other Shia parties have gone thru (i.e. Islamic Dawa Party and the people around al-Sadir). The tears got the desired effect from the crowds apparently. Unfortunately Raed was in too much of a hurry to take time and see what Najaf was like at the arrival of "God's great miracle".
One of the biggest surprises when we got to Karbala was that Raed has a girl on his CIVIC team there. She has sent her brother to ask if it was OK for a woman to join. She keeps a notebook for the cases she wants CIVIC to try help as fast as they can. She told us about Um Khdair, who is a 30-year-old mother with 6 children. Her husband is 50, their house was bombed. He died and the house has been destroyed. Um Khdair and her 6 children now live in one room in a "khan" (these are hotel-like buildings managed by mosques). She is pregnant as well.
Sabah, the girl on the CIVIC team, tried to make Raed promise that he will do something, but he can't promise anything really. There is nothing worse than giving people false hope in situations like these and we remind the team not to give the people they interview any promises. CIVIC at the moment can only collect information and in extreme cases forward the info to an organization that has the funds and capability to help.
After the meeting they insist on going to the city and buy us drinks (juice). Sabah does not join us, but she asks Read if she could take a picture with him. I am not so sure about the juice place (pictured right) so we decide on canned fizzy drinks. Kufa-Cola. Iraqi Shia soft drinks (Kufa is a city with an important Shia mosque), how good is that? I bet "God's great miracle" al-Hakiem only drinks Kufa Cola!
While sipping on our blessed cokes, Riyadh, one of the older volunteers tells us about an army training camp where families have taken shelter after their houses were bombed or couldn't pay the rent the last two months when the country came to a stand still. Since this is one of the things CIVIC is looking into Raed decides to take a look.
There we get to meet Saif al-Deen (below left), a huge name for the little kid who has a problem with S's (if you ask him he'll tell you his name is "thaif") and Ibrahim with his little brother (below right).
Saif al-Deen ("Sword of the Faith") and his family had to move to the army training camp when his father, a soldier in the Iraqi army couldn't pay the rent for last two months, US $10 per month.
In total there are eight families in the camp. They say they have been moved from other places they have squatted within the city until they got to this army center in the outskirts. When we asked who moved them out of the places they were in they said it was usually the new political parties. These buildings were NOT given to these parties by the "coalition forces", the Americans here have decided to not look at that situation for now.
I don't think that when ministries and other public institutions start functioning again they will not ask for their property back, I can't see why the Dawa Party should take the place of a public library. Anyway, both the newly homeless and the parties are competing to occupy public buildings.
The problem in the one we went to was that this training center is full of ammunition. And one unexploded thingy that has been fired at the camp from a helicopter. The kids run around showing us where the grenades and other stuff lies. There is no use taping the warnings (pictured right, given to organizations by the coalition forces to put at places where there are unexploded objects - mainly cluster bombs) because no one in this place can read or write.
The only thing to do is to ask the families that are living near the back of the camp to move away from the areas where the ammunition is. They tell us that this is just training ammunition and not dangerous. And they won't move out of this place because they have no where else to go.
We also go take a look at a neighborhood where the Iraqi army tried to hide armored vehicles which later got attacked by missiles from helicopters.
In many cases the soldiers and the civilians were warned by dropping leaflets, in some cases that didn't happen. No one got injured here because they had left the area after the Iraqi army positioned four vehicles in the streets but a couple of houses got badly damaged. The families later moved back and repaired what could be repaired.
Enough about Karbala. Next stop Diwanya.
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