"All We Want is Security"

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Wednesday, September 03, 2003 at 2:36PM :

All We Want is Security
Kathy Kelly
Voices in the Wilderness, via electroniciraq.net
3 September 2003

Since I first met him in 1997, Sa'ad had talked about bringing me to meet his parents and, after he married, his wife and newborn baby. But fear prohibited the visit. We were nearly certain that Ba'ath party intelligence workers would interrogate Sa'ad almost immediately after a westerner left his home. Yesterday, John Farrell and I spent the afternoon with Sa'ad and his family. We sat on thin mats in a bare room furnished only with a rickety wooden table and a vase of plastic flowers. The family is fortunate to have a fan and a working telephone.

Sharing the home are Sa'ad, his wife and six month old son, Sa'ad's brothers, Ra'ad and Qasim, his sister Eman, and his parents. At the doorstep, before we entered, Sa'ad whispered to me that Saddam's fedayeen had broken his brother Qasim's nose when they tried to conscript him into military service just before the recent invasion. Due to Qasim's refusal, they tortured him with electric shock.

"This affect him," said Sa'ad, lightly tapping his head. "His mind, it changes."

Sa'ad's older brother Ra'ad, 36, attributes his graying hair to 13 years of military service. Now he works as a taxi driver, but fears going out on the street because he might be "carjacked." Without an income, he can't support his wife and two daughters who now live with relatives in the countryside.

"All we want is security," Ra'ad emphasized several times during our visit.

There is so much more they could reasonably want. For instance, they served us a meal on a plastic spread they have used with care since 1980. Saad's shirts are clean but have threadbare collars. His mother endures severe arthritis. Under sanctions she couldn't afford medical treatment; she still can't. However, the top priority is security.

Today, Abu Wafiq, a father of ten who says he is lucky because no one in his family has been hurt or killed, echoed the need for security. "You can live on one meal a day," he said, "but we need more than food, and first we need security."

Relative security emerges in bizarre ways. Salaam is part of the extended family of Muqtedar Al Sadr, a group that leads one of the four main factions of the Shi'a faith in Iraq. When the holy shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf was recently bombed, killing Sayeed Hakim, analysts wondered if Hakim's followers would exact revenge on the family of Al Sadr. "I am part of this family," said Salaam in a matter of fact way. "But the happy news is that 20 members of my family were killed when the shrine was bombed."

It took me several minutes to catch on to the grim reality. No, Salaam is not happy, but since members of his extended family were among those murdered, it's far less likely that opposing factions will turn on his clan.

I haven't yet visited hospitals and clinics in Iraq. Now that UN sanctions are lifted, we harbor hopes that at least there we'll find greater security for families seeking to heal their loved ones. Headlines state, however, that the UN will drastically reduce its staff by 90% because of insecurity in Iraq.

I don't feel secure here. I feel uneasier than ever. We venture down streets where armed robbers attack pedestrians in broad daylight. When dusk falls, we anxiously await word that each of our team is safely indoors. At night, sleeping on the roof, gunfire from the street below awakens us. "Keep down," Cathy Breen whispers, as we try to figure out how close the shots are.

One of our team has been mugged and beaten, four have been robbed, one survived the UN bombing, and one was chased down the street at gunpoint.

John Farrell says that the warmth and hospitality he experienced in Sa'ad's home gave him an unusual sense of security. I smiled and asked if he remembered that there was a brief spate of gunfire just outside the home.

On previous trips to Iraq, I felt certain that we had a responsibility to nonviolently resist the sanctions and the impending invasion. It's very hard now to sort out which of the many threats befalling ordinary people here are the direst. It's difficult to chart a course that will help us voice the cares and concerns of those whom we encounter. Clearly, the situation here requires courage.

In no way do I want to denigrate or dismiss such valid fears. But I in turn have another fear that in the quest for security, people may succumb to the siren song of strong-arm police state tactics. This could mean the revival of Saddam style law and order, complete with informers, goon squads and other trappings of a reign of terror.

As I write, I hear an APC (armored personnel carrier) speeding down the street outside. It's followed by the grinding rumble of a tank as the Occupation vehicles travel in tandem. Their presence doesn't make any of us feel any more secure. These soldiers and people in Baghdad have one thing in common: dread.

-- Sadie
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