Veterans for Peace Iraq Water Project,
Art Dorland, Chairman
Late December 2005:
The Pied Piper of Hamden
Veterans for Peace Iraq Water
Project has just accepted a contract to repair the Hamden Jisr water treatment
plant at Abul Khaseeb. We will
fancifully think of ourselves as the Pied Piper of Hamden.
Unlike the other fellow, our piping will supply clean water to the
children of Hamden, and we will not lead them away.
Rather, they will hopefully stay right at home with the benefit of better
water and out of the undersupplied local clinics struggling against the tide of
water borne disease.
Hamden Jisr is part of the
larger community of Abul Khaseeb, a widely dispersed farming area below Basra on
the Shatt al-Arab waterway. When
the Iraq Water Project was first put together, Abul Khaseeb supplied the first
four treatment plants addressed by IWP. One
of these was Hamden Jisr, and emergency repairs were completed in the course of
Since that point no further
work has been undertaken here, neither by the Saddam Hussein government while it
was still in power, nor by any other authority subsequent to the calamitous US
invasion. We now have an
opportunity to make an improvement in the lives of about 3000 neighbors at
Throughout this project our
partner on the ground in Iraq has been LIFE for Relief and Development whose
engineers let out contracts to Iraqi construction firms and supervise the work. LIFE is one of the very few NGOs that rode out the United
States shock and awe assault in 2003 and continues to work in country after
almost all other relief organizations have fled.
The Iraq water Project is cordially proud of its association with LIFE (www.lifeusa.org).
In the past, IWP sent member
delegations into Iraq to participate in the physical reconstruction work and to
bear witness to the disastrous effects of US policy on the people of Iraq.
But with the American (sorry---“coalition”) invasion of 2003 and the
consequent collapse of security in the country this aspect of the project came
to a brain-jarring halt. None of us, however much willing to hazard our own carcasses,
wants to put Iraqis at risk of attack by the mere presence of westerners, in a
hotel or on the street, as now seems to be the condition in much of the country.
Any number of Veterans for Peace would willingly smartly salute,
parachute into Falluja, the site of our last repair, and bring personal
greetings to the city’s people and our apologies for what our government has
done to them. At this point, however, we will bide our time.
The last VFP member---at least
that I am aware of---to travel in Iraq was Cherie Clark in
2004, and her letter home---which includes her visit to Hamden Jisr---is
well worth a read and attached at the end of this piece.
Our thanks to everyone who has
supported previous reconstruction by the VFP Iraq Water Project, as well as our
stubborn effort to influence US policy, and we ask that you consider a
continuation of your work and ours. Keep
us piping---and piping up, at Hamden and elsewhere.
Report from Cherie Clark --- on location inside
March 7, 2004
Many days have passed and many people have died
since I began writing this. I have had so many emails asking if I am
"okay" that I thought I would try to send this out today as I am in
Pakistan getting ready to leave for Afghanistan tomorrow. Many of my
impressions at the moment would be quite different if I were to take the trip
today. Such as my trip to Basrah. We passed through many checkpoints which are
now set up along the road with Iraqi security. For the most part these were
routine and nothing compared to the humiliation and difficulties in traveling
in Palestine but two of the American's recently killed in Iraq were killed on
the day I returned from Basrah and they were stopped at a false
"roadblock" which was actually a set up with armed men dressed as
Iraqi police who shot and killed two American women and their translator. The
hotel which was bombed yesterday in Basrah is where I stayed and wrote some of
So this is what I saw but absence a great deal of
the pain of knowing how deeply the Iraqi people are suffering and how
terrified they are. There is simply no way I can convey the collective mental
state of the people I met. One kind man told me of how during Saddam's time
they "walked close to the wall" and did not make their feelings
public. This is life under a dictator. Now he told me that he has withdrawn
his daughter from school and only allows his son to attend on sporadic
occasions and lives in daily fear when he is away from his family. He has not
washed his car or repaired the broken windshields to make it a less attractive
target for being stolen or shot at as he works for an American based NGO.
Today is the 7th of March evening here in Baghdad
and we reached yesterday about twenty-four hours ago. Last week was the
bloodiest week since the war "ended" with the attacks in Kerbala and
Baghdad and yet we were beginning to talk about how things looked somehow
better until minutes ago when I heard blasts and went to the window with hotel
staff. We can still see the smoke rising above the so called "Green
Zone" just down the road and the former Al Rashid, now a US Military
headquarter. Strange that both Vicki and I felt that we simply did not want to
stay inside the Green Zone even though we had a reservation there. We pulled
up to the entrance which is heavily guarded as this is where all the news
groups as well as many aid agencies stay, we were sent around to another
entrance and showed our passports again and then decided to opt for a smaller
hotel down the street where Vicki has stayed in the past. I feel pretty good
about that decision as it is difficult to say how many rockets hit as it only
happened a half an hour ago. So although I hear sirens, see and smell smoke I
really don't know what happened! To try to keep my mind off of the immediate I
think I will go back to my writing about what our trip over here was like.
We left at three in the morning and were at the
Iraq boarder by seven. We made excellent time despite the fact that on the
Jordanian side the road is not too good but was virtually empty. The night
before we left my friend Vicki arrived in the room with news that there were
six car-jackings on the road the day before. One of her colleagues was car
jacked and lost everything including his belt in broad day light. I hid my
limited cash in various places including an old pretzel bag that I filled with
tissues to look like trash.
Today I got to hear first hand just what had
happened. A car pulled up along side of that of a new friend and he was forced
to the side of the road. Two men held guns to his head in broad day light
while another held a gun to the head of his driver while they took his
belongings. This is very common and often times they steal the cars too.
Fortunately on our journey the biggest problem we
faced was trying to keep our driver awake! He kept nodding off and when you
are starting off across the desert on such a long journey this is not easy. We
literally kept shaking him to keep him awake! To further keep him alert I even
practiced my Arabic on him.
We reached the border by seven in the morning and
were the first to pass out of Jordan and into Iraq. With both of us dressed in
Hijab and looking like proper Muslim ladies no questions were asked on either
side. My first trip into Iraq back in 1999 was quite different. Once we
entered the Iraq side we were taken into a large and rather plush reception
room with two wall size photo's of Saddam and were served Tea as we waited for
our visas. The last times I have gone in there have only been a US tank
sitting there with no boarder checks at all. This time the "reception
area" was just a dirty glass booth with broken chairs, trash piled
everywhere and one officer. There were no American tanks as was the case when
I passed through in recent times. I saw three American's in the distance but
they were on the other side of the road. Hard to miss those camouflage
uniforms they stand out quite well against buildings. The Iraqi guards were
not in uniform at the boarder but down the road we passed a police truck and
the guys had on blue uniforms with the traditional red and white checkered
scarf around their faces to keep the wind out of their face which looked odd
for lack of a more descriptive word.
Well we just lost all power. Always reassuring to
work off a lap top even though we have no internet connection. I hear sirens
in the distance now but feel closer to everyone as I write. The strange thing
is that when you are not here you can watch TV and have some idea what is
going on but from here I have no idea except I smell and see smoke.
Back to yesterday! Once you pass into Iraq the
highway becomes a modern four lane with a dividing line and other than the
fact that all of the steel barriers have been torn down. I have learned that
the metal everywhere is scavenged and used to raise cash with. So much has to
be guarded including power lines so that the posts will not be taken away and
stolen interrupting the sporadic electric supply.
We saw young guys playing football and the stores
were well packed in the few truck stops we stopped in with just about
everything but gas we had to stop in several places to find that. My last
trips in the stops were closed and there was nothing much for sale. Now there
is plenty of water and any kind of soft drink.
By the time we were approaching Faluja where the
recent robberies have taken placed we came upon the largest military convoy
that I have ever seen. I counted 50 tanks each fully armed and truck upon
truck of American soldiers. The supply and gas tanks were also following. I
lost count when we had passed two hundred vehicles. Using my best Arabic I
asked the driver where the American soldiers were going and he said out of
Baghdad. Whatever that meant. So we passed through the more risky areas
without event. However as we came into the city we began passing tanks which
were also armed rolling in to the city that were loaded onto huge trucks. The
number leaving was definitely higher! but there were at least 25 going in.
We set off to find something to eat and that was
easy. Clean and decent food. Again something very new to me. People were
walking about and I was pretty impressed with the number of shops that were
stacked with televisions and air conditioners. We roamed the streets and felt
quite safe. When Dan and I were here the hot item on sale was Satellite's. Now
it seems that the number of stores selling Mobile phones are in the majority.
I have heard that the phones do not work well because of the heavy equipment
all around and are very expensive to use. We attempted to find someone to help
us with out Satellite phones as neither one was working. We were pretty
fortunate to find a group of men on the corner who Vicki asked for help and
suddenly we were surrounded by a huge number of people all ready to fix the
phones. It worked and I was able to call Ron in Viet Nam to let him know that
we had reached safely.
The power has been off more than it was on today.
We were out and about in the city today. Any real work for me will not begin
until tomorrow when I will begin visiting some clinic's, hospitals and
orphanages. We head down to Basrah on Tuesday though we are being encouraged
not to stay down there as the place we hope to visit is where 7 British
soldiers were just attacked. I did manage to make it to a business center
today with ten computers but could only write to a few of you as I don't have
addresses in my Yahoo account. They encouraged me to bring this thing back
tomorrow and said they would connect it. I have most of my addresses in my
laptop. The best news was that I got so many emails from Palestine from good
friends. The news is so depressing from there as always but everyone is so
gracious and full of good wishes for whatever I do.
There is rarely electricity so each building seems
to have a generator this leaves for an acrid caustic pretty dirty air quality.
I was impressed that in the internet shop there was a sign that stated,
"Smoking is not healthy for Other People". This sign in light of the
tape on the windows to reduce the glass that shatters when explosions go off
and the bullet holes in half of the windows made me laugh. The one thing I
have learned in such situations is not to let your sense of humor run down!
Signing off for the night! Hope that we get some
Greetings from Basrah. I have been down here for
several days and have had a wonderful experience so far in meeting people hard
at work rebuilding the country as best they can.
I have learned so much in the past days. Meeting
people from all types of UN workers and other NGO's. Most people are keeping a
pretty low profile and despite the fact that the UN is hampered after the
bombing of their office and death of their staff work is still going on
through Iraqi NGO's.
Our trip down to Basrah wasn't difficult and we
reached safely three nights ago. I was able to go to the LIFE office and to
visit a water plant which I came to work on with Veterans For Peace and LIFE
in 1999. It was wonderful to return and to actually meet a worker who
remembered me! The plant seems to be working well and for those interested I
have pictures. This plant is up and going and provides water for a huge number
of people. Someone is constructing a new plant to expand so that there is
drinking water. I have not met anyone here yet despite the poverty who is not
buying drinking water. Despite this the major problems that I came across in
clinic's as well as a hospital I visited today are water borne problems. They
are anticipating many more problems as summer arrives.
We visited one water plant that the Veterans also
worked on and this plant is in poor condition. It requires a filter and would
not cost too much to bring up to standards. It provides water for thousands of
people but the water is not drinkable because of the pollution. They brought a
sample for me to see of clouded water with an acrid smell and explained that
even if they wash clothing in it that the clothes turn a strange color or end
up with holes in them. So what is used for? Bathing. Considering the
incredible rate of cancer this is quite distressing.
We went on to visit many other projects here in
Basrah including an area of a town which has been adopted by a Canadian group.
This is a wonderful project. The homes were destroyed when fighters of the
Iraqi army clashed with the British and the people in between were simply
caught in the cross fire. Their homes were destroyed, their children injured
and some people died in their homes. LIFE has helped to "adopt" this
area by raising funds in a "adopt a city program" which has enabled
homes to be rebuilt and they are also making a playground for the many
children in that area. I met a young boy who showed me horrible scars on his
arm and leg from shrapnel or perhaps an infected bullet. Hard to say.
We visited a clinic which is ran by LIFE. Like all
of their projects it is extremely well organized and was filled with women and
children. I became friends almost instantly with one of the women doctors who
is working with Obstetric's and we discussed the numerous problems that she
faces. Her latest PDR is from 1995 and her other reference materials are even
older. She talked of the same problems for women. A very high rate of uterine
Cancer as well as other cancers among the women and a dire problem with water
borne diseases among the women and children and malnutrition.
We arranged to delay my return to Baghdad for a
day so that I could go to the hospital where she works today. I saw advanced
cases of Melanoma as well as other cancers. In part this is because there is
no such thing as a regular check up and most do not reach the hospital until
it is far too late.
I met other doctors who seem to be very dedicated,
hard working, and hopeful. At this point everyone is short of text books as
well as medicine. I spoke with some doctors who would be very interested in
any information about the health and any side effects or problems that have
developed regarding the use of DU among Gulf War vets. This is not my field
nor have I followed the reports on this.
Hamdan Jissar is a plant that has an EU sign on
the outside and a Life sign that was located which was lying broken inside the
office. There is also an Italian organizations sign on the wall that you can
see. This is Hamdan Jissar, next to a bridge.
There were two plants by bridges so I was not
certain exactly which one the vet's were involved with. This one really needs
some help. Not certain if there is any interest but I will write more at
length if you think anyone would be interested in more news or possible help
for this place. when back to Baghdad but this plant is interesting.
All I could figure out was that Vet's had worked
there in the past and that the Italian group and the European Commission
donated the generator in the background. There were quite a few people working
there who felt that there need was very great.
They brought water to show me and told me that now
because of the pollution in the water they cannot filter it to the point that
people can drink it and that all of the people must buy drinking water. They
went on to explain that not only could they not drink the water but that they
need some kind of filter even to make it fit to wash clothes. If they wash
clothes in this water it causes spots all over the clothing. They brought me a
sample to smell. Terrible. So what is it used for? bathing. It seems that with
the terrible cancer rate here that this would be so harmful if the water is
I am going to a hospital tomorrow and went to a
clinic yesterday. It seems that the cancer rate has continued to climb in the
Just some fast notes. I cannot email this but
wanted to write some of it down on the lap top while it was fresh in my mind.
Yarub's brother is in the black and white shirt
and is the man that we met who was the prisoner of war in Iran. He is recently
married to the woman in front and is doing very well. They have just been
married three months and life seems to have taken a great turn for the better
for him! He is now in charge of LIFE for Basra and doing an excellent job in
being a wonderful host to me and showing me all over Basra.
LIFE has an office here now and a beautiful
clinic. They have an adopted city program which is positively brilliant. They
did such a good job in organizing a Canadian town to adopt an area in Basra.
Seems like another idea that some might be interested in.
Basra is tense. The British soldiers are wearing
their helmets and look like they are ready to shoot at anything! This was a
surprise to me as I was ready for soldiers wearing Beret's as I had heard they
were doing and who were "relaxed". I didn't find this at all.
We return to Baghdad tomorrow when I hope that I
can send this out before it becomes a novel. From news reports I had heard
that the security situation in Basrah was "better" under the British
but I actually did not see this at all. Because this is a smaller city the
presence of the military seems much closer to me and the soldiers are
absolutely on guard no doubt due to recent attacks.
We went to the market and out to eat and I walked
about freely. We ran into fully armed Iraqi soldiers and British soldiers who
had closed off a small area in the market place so that their comrades could
do some shopping. Everyone was in full gear. I got some very strange looks
from the Brit's but didn't talk to anyone. I felt far safer walking around as
I was than shopping with guards.
The process of rebuilding Iraq seems so hopeless
what with the filth and devastation caused from the sanctions and the wars but
what is the most encouraging thing for me is the overwhelming spirit of the
people that I have met and come to know. They are absolutely charming. We
traveled throughout without any concerns and though I met UN staff here who
have guards that are paid astronomical fee's (one with two guards who are paid
$800. per day!) it hasn't occurred to me yet that there is any grave danger.
I did meet one of the drivers from LIFE who's
brother was drug from his car a few days ago, and shot in the leg as his car
was stolen so I suppose "safety" is relative. I am staying here in a
hotel where there are UN cars parked outside so security seems okay. There was
shooting last night just outside my hotel room but I suspect that it might
have been because someone was trying to steal parts from the vans.
We went with one of the Engineers of LIFE's house
today in a small and simple neighborhood. It was so nice to meet a lovely
family in their own home. Everyone invited me to stay with them on my next
trip to Basrah and not in a hotel. Typical in this part of the world. In
Palestine I was going to spend a few days with a family and ended up staying
with them three months. I consider them to be my "family" in
I never finished my online diary about my trip to
Iraq but feel with all of the latest violence that I must let friends know
that I am safe in Pakistan if anyone is safe. We reached yesterday and are
forty five minutes from the Afghanistan boarder. The planes are flying over us
as we are not far from the area where a "high level" official is
surrounded. Sad that Pakistani's are killing Pakistani's in this battle.
My visit to Iraq has left such a lasting
impression on me and I left with a vow to return as soon as possible. Who
knows what the future holds but it was an experience of a life time. I met
some of the most wonderful people working hard to bring Iraq together while at
the same time I heard countless stories of the horror of living under
occupation. To say that Iraq is a "better" place than in was a year
ago is to forget the reality that many people led ordinary lives under a
brutal dictator and under even a more brutal and oppressive system of
sanctions which made life a living hell. Better and worse cannot be so simply
defined. I am not going to finish my final thoughts with a political statement
but imposed Democracy when you are terrified to leave your home is worthless.
The number of children going to school in Iraq has decreased. The number of
girls going to school has fallen dramatically. The city lives in terror of a
loved one being kidnapped and held for a ransom they cannot pay.
The latest news sums much up and hopefully
American's will not ignore the number of deaths in the latest hotels
throughout Iraq (including the one that I stayed and wrote from in Basrah!)
The fact that eight aid workers were killed in eight days makes my writings
seem almost petty and irreverant to those lives that were lost but I
personally did not feel threatned nor would I delay my return.
There is a message for all of us in what is
happening in Iraq. We have the choice to hear that message or not. The
violence is tragic, heartbreaking and totally predictable.
What can we do to help? What can I do to help?
This is a question that I struggle with. Our ride out of Baghdad was a time
for both Vicki and I to reflect on what we had experienced in the days spent
there. The tragedy in Spain a country where millions opposed the war in Iraq
hit us hard. The further bloody tragedies in Iraq are as hard to bear because
all of those people have become more than canned TV rioters whose pictures
dominate the news. They are real people with families they love, precious
children, and people striving so hard for a better life.
I will be leaving for Afghanistan soon and am
heartbroken from the stories that I hear of what is happening there. Another
war with the common man, woman, child as a forgotten victim. We will be
distributing wheel chairs throughout the country that were distributed by the
Wheel Chair Foundation in America and were stored as no NGO was willing to
travel the country to distribute them. Thousands have already been given out
and we go back to finish giving them to the people and also to distribute text
With love to all,