Messages to the People

Editor’s Note: The following testimonials are drawn from a longer report, 90 Statements Commemorating Five Years of War in Iraq, published by The Brussels Tribunal.

20th March 2003: the American army and its allies bombard Baghdad. The War in Iraq has started. The blood and ink flow in abundance. Five years later, we, as writers, are sending a message to the people. We would like to appeal to each and every one of you and make you think.

Five or Seventeen?

It jolts me to hear “fifth year anniversary” and “beginning of sixth year of the war in Iraq” when we all know that the US never stopped bombing Iraq since January of 1991. That’s 17 years. Remember the no-fly zones? Remember looking on page 12 in the papers and seeing a one inch article about how “sheep were bombed yesterday in Iraq” or some such “news”?

I’m reminded of Carolyn Forche’s book of poetry: Against Forgetting. In it she reminds us that Hitler asked his military cabinet before his invasion of Poland in 1939: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

The media cultivates amnesia in us; the government requires such mindlessness in us. And yet we have a responsibility as a peace community to remember the nation that Iraq was before 1991: the water systems, the electrical systems, the educational, medical and agricultural systems that were, in some ways, more advanced than what we have today in the states. We have a responsibility to remember the carpet bombing that in 42 days systematically destroyed objects “indispensable to the survival of the civilian population” which is against the Geneva conventions. In those 42 days, Iraq was bombed to a pre-industrial age and then, through sanctions, Iraqis were denied trade, telecommunications, power, sanitation, water repairs, seed, food, medical supplies and equipment.

And how many Iraqi people have been killed? Must be more than 1,000,000: a number too large to comprehend unless you’re an Iraqi mother or father or child who has lost a family member. And how many Iraqi people have suffered? The stories of suffering are heartbreaking: the terror of the bombs, soldiers breaking down doors, poisoning from depleted uranium munitions… These stories could fill all the books in the world.

And so we move forward and support all the nonviolent actions on March 19: we’re thankful for the work people have put into planning many good and creative resistance actions but we must urge remembrance of the many years our country has punished, bombed, poisoned and killed people of Iraq and done all in its power to destroy their country.

“Love is the measure.”

Susan Crane, Jonah House

An Iraqi in America

In our small Midwestern town in the middle of cornfields that extend hundreds of kilometers in every direction, there is a grocery run by a former Iraqi schoolteacher named Mohammed. We often shop there; my wife likes to practice her Arabic with him. Mohammed came to the States in the late 1990s, a refugee from Saddam’s terror. And he stayed to witness his adopted country invade and destroy the country of his birth.

We visited with Mohammed not long ago. He’s our best source of reliable information about Iraq, five years after the invasion. He has by now lost 11 extended family members in the war. His cousin survived imprisonment by the Americans. His brother recently died a terrible and wholly gratuitous death. I asked Mohammed what he thought about the struggle now gripping America, dominating the elections, and at last challenging the conscience of the core of the country. I asked him what he thought the best way forward was, out of the intractable morass we have made there.

In his cosmopolitan, Middle Eastern, now Midwestern-inflected English, he answered, “The Americans must leave, the sooner the better. Today, if possible. It doesn’t matter how. If they do, the situation can only improve. Iraq has governed itself for 5000 years; it can do so again, without any further lessons in nation-building.”
Most people in our small town now agree with our friend. So do most people in the state of Illinois, and, by several different counts, so do a majority in the rest of this incredibly diverse country. And I believe that, come November, most of our elected officials in Washington will agree as well. If I’m right, then the next time we greet Mohammed, our As-Salamu `Alaykum stands some better chance of coming true.

Richard Powers, American novelist

Justice for the People of Iraq

The international community must not allow that more dishonesty is added to history by referring to the wrongdoings of a dictator to explain the horrific suffering the Iraqi people have had to endure. There is much that can only be added to the account of the outside world, to the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom and other governments and tragically to the United Nations in explaining the Iraq drama: many years of sanctions that punished the Iraqi people for something they had not done followed by the subsequent illegal invasion and brutal occupation.

The tally of international guilt amounts to millions of dead and even larger numbers of physically and mentally maimed. Added to this is a nation’s destroyed social infrastructure.

Iraqis are a proud and strong people who will do everything to help themselves. Yet, we can make our contribution by demanding that those responsible for the carnage and destruction are taken to task and held accountable for what they have done. The international peace movement must never relent in calling for justice for the people of Iraq.

Hans von Sponeck, Former UN Assistant Secretary General and UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (1998-2000)

My Country

For five years my country has shown the world just how ruthless and cold-blooded it can be. While the result has provided the younger generation with a grim lesson in the cheapening of human life, the damage the current rulers of this country have done to millions of people in Iraq is unspeakable, incalculable. Meanwhile the profits of oil companies and weapons manufacturers have soared. No apologies can hope to convey the regret millions of us who oppose the war feel every minute of every day, and no promises can match the obligation we have incurred to the victims of our warlord’s actions.

Askold Melnyczuk, Author (House of Widows), Founding Editor (Agni), Editor (Arrowsmith Press)

The Costs of War and Occupation

It has cost the United States and its allies three trillion dollars to kill one million Iraqis, wound a million more and drive two million Iraqis out of their country as refugees. The human cost of this war would, if some other country were doing it, be labeled genocide. The leaders who went to war would be tried as war criminals, but this is the war of ‘western civilization’ against Islamo-barbarians, Islamo-fascists and all the other names given to the new enemy. Abusing, defaming, killing Muslims is now calmly accepted in Euro-American culture. The people who do this have institutionalized the judeocide of the Second World War as the only universal crime. As long as you denounce that crime, you can commit your own crimes today. This is the world we live in. This is the world of double-standards. Why the surprise when those under fire refuse to accept these standards. A modest proposal. Perhaps the Nobel Prize Committee should institute a new award: the Nobel Prize for War Crimes.

Tariq Ali, British-Pakistani historian, novelist, film maker and commentator

How did it Go?

More than fifteen years ago, in January 1991, I wrote, in response to the outbreak of the Gulf War, the following lines. They remain relevant:

The daily news seeps into the room. Sharp, wet north wind and heavy clouds are to be expected. Suddenly we look at each other, shocked: war has broken out. Tonight, British and American fighters, the shimmering miracles of high technology, have carried out the first ‘surgery’ on Baghdad. The latest euphemism to evade the international law on war. A rhetorical perversion of medical language. Baghdad as a malignant lump to be removed from the globe. So has decided the hygienic healthcare of the western world. Doctors beyond borders. Science as a new Bible. God with US, Allah a desert rat.

A pilot, safely returned, wipes the sweat from his forehead and is pushed a microphone under his nose: how did it go? Science turns into aesthetics: It was like the movies. The city was illuminated like a Christmas tree, it was like shooting colored balls off it. Reality is a movie, movie and television are reality. In the prehistoric times of Vietnam the screen at least showed a glimpse of the real war, but the civilized world was panicking by seeing her own blood splashed murderers face. No such thing should happen again. War will always be, but never, never the truth about war.

Paul de Wispelaere, Romanschrijver, essayist
(Translation Ria Hillewaert)

The American Occupation of Iraq: Most Flagrant Crime of Modern History

The American ongoing crime of invading and occupying Iraq since 2003 was the most notorious and comprehensive political and military aggression in modern history, mocked at all the moral codes of humanity and the international laws. While all the world, including the American administration itself, was completely aware that all the pretexts of invading Iraq (WMD, link to terrorism, or liberation) were false, and in spite of the fact that the international community opposed that aggression and protested against it, the Bush administration ignored everything and everybody and invaded one of the oldest civilizations of the world. Iraq, 6000 years of history, the cradle of civilizations, where the first letter was written, the first law was put, the first university was built, the first money was done, the first irrigation system was created, the first poetry was written…

What the occupation authorities and their Iraqi agents did during the last 5 years of controlling Iraq, and what they are still doing now, were even more flagrant. Iraq was subjugated to systematic destruction. The State was dismantled, the institutions were abolished, the educational, health, economic, security and infrastructure systems were broken, even the cultural and social fabrics were torn apart. So far 1.3 million civilian Iraqis were killed, more than 5 million are refugees outside Iraq or displaced inside (1.5 m of them are children), 2 million orphans and more widows, and hundreds of thousands are detainees, exposed to the worst kinds of torture and humiliation (including 10.000 women), and without any kind of legal procedures…

According to the UN 8 million Iraqis are in need of emergency assistance. 70% of Iraqi’s are without access to safe drinking water supplies. Electricity supply is beneath pre-invasion levels (in many areas electricity simply does not exist). 43% of the population lives on less than half a Dollar a day. Living standards in Iraq are getting worse despite contracts of over $20 billion being paid to companies to rebuild Iraq; they were swallowed by governmental corruption. Iraq now is the 3rd on the list of the most corrupted states in the world. The Iraqi Government figures say that unemployment is between 60% and 70%. Child malnutrition has increased from 19 percent during 1990s “economic sanctions period” before the invasion, to 28 percent today.

But worst of all these hardships is the dark future that is awaiting Iraq. The old colonial divide and rule strategy is 100% responsible for the sectarian divisions, and the longer the occupying armies remain the greater the chances of civil war and a break up of the country. The occupation created different official security bodies out of sectarian militias, hence giving them the authority to kill or to support and help those who kill, kidnap, displace on sectarian bases. On the other hand there are 180,000 mercenaries (apart from 170,000 official American troops) who are committing different kinds of killings, assassinations and explosions of civilian areas in the name of sectarian conflict.

The American administration is working with its Iraqi agents in the Iraqi government to sign a long term treaty that will control Iraq politically, economically (including oil), and militarily for decades to come. Needless to say this treaty is illegal as it is signed by two illegal parties: the occupying state (by its name it has no right to sign) and the Iraqi government which was created under (and by the occupation), and also because it is the third most corrupt government in the world according to the international reports.

The only way to stop all these crimes, to hold the American and other criminals responsible of them, and to start the real rebuilding of Iraq is to support the Iraqi people in its resistance to the occupation, to mobilize the world community against it, and to stop the world silence and indifference to the first genocide of the 21st century.

Eman Khammas, Iraqi journalist and activist, former director of Occupation Watch, now a refugee.

What Does the Future Hold for Us?

What does the future hold for us? The exit of occupation troops from Iraq is imminent. For us, the question is no longer when the troops are leaving, but rather how they will deal with the chaos and destruction they created, how to compensate the people they killed and maimed, and how to build bridges with Iraqi, Arab and Muslim population to regain hope in democracy. On the eve of US led invasion, Nelson Mandela described it as “the US wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust.” It has.

Life in post “liberation” Iraq is not just the continuity of misery and death under new guises. It is much, much worse – even without the extra dimensions of pillage, corruption and the total ruin of the infrastructure. The occupation has managed to end our hopes, as Iraqis in opposition, of persuading our people of the humanity of democracy and how it would, put an end to all abuses of human rights, torture, and violence against women, death penalty and public executions.

We who had dreams of going back home to help rebuild our country have been joined now in exile by another 2.5 millions. Hopes to see the “new Iraq” is diminishing with every house demolished, with every school and hospital bombarded, with every family forced to leave home, with every woman widowed. Despair is overtaking our souls and we know very well, from the Palestinian tragedy of occupation and injustice, how volatile is despair when mixed with injustice and how indiscriminate violence could be.

The new implant called terrorism, introduced in Iraq’s body under “War on terror” slogan has grown fast in Iraq and neighboring countries. Now, in order to regain people’s trust and believe in democracy, we have to face the huge task of fighting the occupation troops and its mercenaries, the sectarian medieval political parties and its militias, the gangs and terrorists. The daily carnage, the meaningless violence in Iraq, justified by tiresome US politicians and their stooges as necessary to establish democracy, has often forced us to distance ourselves from any project carries the word “democracy”. Democracy for people in the Arab and Muslim world has become a dirty word.

The US has failed spectacularly in Iraq yet it is still criminally high on the cocktail of power, arrogance, and ignorance. But above all racism: what is good for us is not good for you. We are patriots but you are terrorists and this racism unless dealt with by people of the world will continue to cost us all innocent lives and blood.

Personally, I find the way out of the mess, for both the US and Iraq, almost clear, provided that the occupiers are willing “to see”. In fact we, a group of over one hundred Iraqi writers, artists and academics in exile, did summaries our position, on the future of Iraq and the Middle East, in a letter we delivered to the British government, few months before the invasion. We said; “That a real change can only be brought about by the Iraqi people themselves within an environment of peace and justice for all the peoples of the Middle East.”

This continues to be the case. It implies that the occupiers have to get off their tanks, take off their racist dark glasses to see us as ordinary people just like themselves. We are not terrorists but willing to risk our lives defending our homes, families, and way of life, history, culture, identity and resources. We do not hate Americans and we do not want to humiliate America but we fight to get rid of the occupation, its greed, brutality and humiliation. We simply believe that Iraq belongs to Iraqis.

Haifa Zangana, Iraqi novelist, UK

The Brussells Tribunal are intellectuals, artists and activists who denounce the logic of permanent war promoted by the American government and its allies, affecting for the time being particularly one region in the world: the Middle East. It tries to be a bridge between the intellectual resistance in the Arab World and the Western peace movements.