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Website update for February, 2018

Veterans for Peace Iraq Water Project: How Have We Done? Are We Done?

The first place was Abul Khaseeb. Abul Khaseeb is a town and adjoining valley---if you can call a miniscule depression amid such a flat land a “valley”---in the Governorate of Basra, southern Iraq. Abul Khaseeb is the site of the Iraq Water Project’s first water plant rebuild back in 2000, three years before our militantly compassionate US government decided to rebuild all of Iraq.

After Abul Khaseeb, which embraced also three nearby derelict area water treatment plants, the project moved on to other rebuilds, the last of which involved a plant in a town we had never heard of, soon to be (to its infinite regret) television and print news star Falluja, in central Iraq. All this work was done in cooperation with Life for Relief and Development, an American/Islamic NGO in Southfield, Michigan. Life arranged that our own Veterans for Peace delegations were included in the hands on work.

But then the United States marched countless boots and other military assets over the Kuwait border and occupied Iraq. Who could have imagined that a noble and selfless government like ours would pursue goals that soon curiously moved the interests of Iraqi families to the bottom of the policy page? We managed not only to obliterate the previous regime and its nationwide security services, but atomized the country’s advanced health and education systems as well.

Next, came a decision on the part of our project to continue clean water work by other means. Through a valuable contact in Jordan, engineer Faiza alAraji, we dispatched small water treatment units to clinics, schools, and similar institutions in central and southern Iraq. Life for Relief and Development also placed several other such units, IWP covering the expense. The count now stands close to 170. (Truth in advertising: a small number of these miscarried.)

The project is grateful to announce installation of two more water units in clinics that have somehow survived the massive demolishment of Mosul. This is the northernmost point of Iraq our work has reached. Yet it is not the territorial but the political geography in Mosul’s case that gives special meaning. Anyone reading this brief report will be painfully conscious of the vast destruction visited upon an ancient and historic city in the course of driving out ISIS and returning the population to Iraqi government control. A recent Associated Press investigation estimates nine to eleven thousand civilians killed over the many months of bombing, shelling, and vicious street to street fighting. And that report is only a latest statistic tacked on to all the others documenting casualty figures which resulted from decisions made in air conditioned United States government offices--- estimations, calculations and determinations that initiated (and perhaps foresaw?) the uncontrolled disintegration of Iraq.

In addition to the Mosul water filters, two other units got plumbed in to clinics in a city called Tuz Khormato, located midway between Baghdad and Kirkuk. Recent news items reported fighting at Tuz Khormato between Peshmerga and Iraqi government forces, the conflict a result of the contentious Kurdish independence referendum late last year.

This brings up an associated issue: how did IWP manage to get units installed in places as tumultuous and dangerous as Mosul and Tuz Khormato? Bear in mind, first of all, that our work has been primarily a funding effort, not an in-country hands-on construction project. Excepting the initial rebuilds assisted by Veterans for Peace delegations carrying tools and sweating in the sun, all the project work has been proposed and carried out by Iraqis, not us. We are thousands of comfortable miles away. In the past few years the actual installations have been the responsibility of Life for Relief and Development in Diyala Province and of a civil youth organization in Nassiriya. The head of this latter group, Assaed (out of security concerns, no last names) suggested attempting placements outside his normal operating area by way of people he knows and trusts in Mosul and Tuz Khormato. This made for a more complicated and dicey arrangement, five transfer links in all. The money moved from VFP in the US to Faiza in Amman who forwarded to Assaed who then purchased the units in Baghdad and handed them over to the aforementioned friends for installation in their respective cities. The process consumed some six months, the most troubling obstacle, not surprisingly, the delicate and highly hazardous political situation in the destination cities. Yet it looks like Assaed’s confidence is justified, as the units are installed and working, however long it took. Whether something like this is attempted again time and news bulletins will tell.

One small disappointment: the photographic record. Assaed normally supplies copious pictures of the installation work. His friends up north, I suspect, had to be much more circumspect and sent us only a few pictures from the clinics. The discouragement is, however, tempered: I have a personal recollection of casually strolling about the US airfield at Cam Ranh Bay during another militarily warm period, blithely and stupidly snapping photos right up until the screaming approach of base security. They appeared at bullet-train speed out of nowhere laden with epithets, weapons and unflattering addresses. Luckily, they didn’t smash the camera. But Cam Ranh 1966 was a considerably more secure area than northern Iraq today, so I well understand the installers’ caution. We had a similar experience a few years ago when IWP people were plumbing a unit into an Iraqi prison.

The water project will soon send funds to Assaed for upkeep of previously placed Nassiriya units. As well, the bill for monthly maintenance at five school filters in Najaf, installed by Muslim Peacemaker Teams, is coming due. The newest ones at Mosul and Tuz Khormato were supplied with spare parts that should last a while; after that, local resources will hopefully answer the phone. As with all this work, from beginning till now, there are no money back guarantees, ever.

We are not done yet. After some twenty years, public attention fades away and refocuses on other hot news. So do donations. We still have some money left in the bank account and until that sum irretrievably bottoms out Iraq Water Project will keep trying to help Iraqis, who are after all sacrifices upon political altars where they never worshipped. Twenty years after this project first formed, we say it again and will keep saying it: Give those people peace.

--Art Dorland, Chair, Iraq Water Project, Veterans For Peace