Salam Pax - News from the ground #2

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 at 11:43AM :

In Reply to: Salam Pax & Raed are back! posted by Sadie from ? ( on Wednesday, May 21, 2003 at 11:41AM :

Salam Pax - News from the ground #2
Salam Pax, Electronic Iraq

20 May 2003

Saddam General Hospital in Diwaniya. We get there after we pass thru the Shamia area. Scenes of typical Iraqi rural areas, mud houses and palm trees. Then suddenly you see this:

The Shamia medical center saw 44 civilian deaths in one single night. All making the mistake of getting near the Shamia checkpoint on a day when the US army was having a bit of a mood. The people who live there told us that it was one of the sandstorm days. Everything that approached the checkpoint was shot without any discrimination. One of the cars was carrying the casket of a dead woman to the cemetery. All four passengers died.

It was bad during these days, not for the civilians only but for the "coalition forces". These were days when the number of suicide attacks was increasing and after the woman who killed a number of American soldiers in one of these attacks they changed the rules of engagement (is that what it is called?). There was no way an Iraqi could approach an area where US troops where stationed without risking a 50/50 chance of being shot at because your pockets looked funny.

At Diwaniya hospital Raed had to look around for people who would want to volunteer, and I looked around for things to photograph. And look what I saw.

The US army was helping the hospital bring back X-Ray machines and other stuff that was stored elsewhere to make sure it didn't get looted. Afterwards they stood around for a while, took pictures and let the kids poke their big biceps. "Strong mister".

Throughout the south in all the hospitals we have been to, there was military presence. In Kut there were FIF (free Iraqi forces - chlabai's militia) people wearing exactsame uniforms as the Americans but with little badges saying FIF. Not high on my top five list. Yes, I don't like Chalabi. Go sue me.

Having military there makes everybody feel safer, to the point where in Basra, because the main general hospital and the college of medicine are in the same compound, the British forces are making the area safe enough for that college to be the only one with regular attendance and classes.

A couple of meters from this scene someone was stacking "humanitarian aid" boxes on a cart and pushing it out of the hospital.

There is absolutely no distribution method. The aid that is coming in gets taken by whomever and sold on the market. You could buy the whole box for 16.000 dinars (a bit more than 16 US dollars by today's rate). Or you can buy only the things you like. Everybody is buying the chocolates and leaving the sugar and rice.

This scene was repeated everywhere, in Basra these boxes were on the street. Did I mention these boxes were from Kuwait? There are others from Emirates and Saudi Arabia on the market. Water gets sold separately, 1000 dinar per bottle. A family in need was supposed to get one box and 12 bottles of water.

Diwaniya wasn't so great. For some reason it was difficult to find the enthusiasm I have seen in Karbala and Najaf. Anyway, a team was formed. Next stop Samawah.

-- Sadie
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