VfP Teams in Iraq
Dr. Abdul Razak ( President of Peace & Friendship Society of Iraq ) in his welcome speech for Team One:
There are certain experiences and impressions common to all delegations that travel to Iraq. Far from being a "developing" country, Iraq is the oldest civilization on earth. Here in what was once known as the Fertile Crescent, writing, mathematics, and astronomy were first developed. Traces of the ancient glory of Babylon can still be seen in the museums. Baghdad and Basrah developed later as cultural centers of Islam, and the ornate architecture is striking.
Until the Gulf War, Iraq was a modern, highly-developed country. Education is free, and both men and women are encouraged to study in the eight universities. Agriculture was the mainstay of the population; wheat and rice were the staple food and dates the largest export. However, war and sanctions in the last eleven years changed all that. Even highly qualified professionals, such as medical doctors, don't make enough to support a family. Spare parts for agricultural machinery are not available; neither are fertilizers, pesticides, or electricity to pump water into the irrigation canals. Since 1996 the UN agreed that Iraq could sell "oil for food." However, this never happened in reality. Iraq has sold $41 billion worth of oil in the past five years but received only $10 billion in commodities. 1500 contracts are "on hold." Items such as chlorine for purifying water are deemed of "dual use" (they might be used in the manufacture of weapons) so they are not permitted.
Walking through the pediatric wards in Iraq's hospitals is heartbreaking. Particularly so in southern Iraq, where Allied forces used depleted uranium weaponry during the Gulf War. Levels of radiation are high and as a result, there has been a sharp increase in congenital malformations and in leukemia.
Children under the age of five have been shown to be particularly vulnerable to this deadly blood disease. Leukemia is treatable,but because of the sanctions, it is impossible for the children to get sufficient medications, and doctors are faced with the terrible decision of which children to treat. Mothers sit hopelessly on the beds of their children, knowing that they have little chance of survival.
In Iraq's schools, children are bright-eyed and curious, eager to practice their English. But the classrooms are dingy and in disrepair. Basic materials such as pencils, paper, and books are in short supply and often unavailable.
Baghdad's Museum of History shows clearly how schools, hospitals, bridges, and communications systems were targeted by America's "smart bombs" during the Gulf War.
Most shattering is the Al-Amariyah Shelter, a massive, Swedish-designed bomb shelter built of reinforced concrete. It was penetrated by two American bombs, which incinerated more than 400 people, mostly women and children. It is now a memorial to their suffering, covered with photographs of smiling children who died that day.In places, their silhouettes can be seen on the walls.
The road from Basrah to Baghdad runs through Qurna. Located at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, this is the traditional site of the "Garden of Eden." The place where, according to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions, it all began.
Qurna was once a thriving tourist town, but today the water treatment plant is in disrepair. The palm trees surrounding Qurna are blackened stumps, bombed during the Iran-Iraq War. Like the rest of Iraq, Qurna stands desolate - a testimony to how we humans are destroying our planet and killing her people.
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