Veterans for Peace Iraq Water Project, April, 2004
If you have read some of the other material posted on this
website, you are acquainted with the purposes and goals of the Veterans for
Peace Iraq Water Project. You will also know that IWP has funded repairs
to six water treatment plants, two in central Iraq and the other four near
Basra. Among the members of our first delegation to Iraq in October 2000
was Cherie Clark, a major supporter of the project and a woman of dauntless
and invincible courage. She has recently revisited the country under
conditions far more hazardous than ever before, and accompanied by Vicki Robb
of LIFE for Relief and Development, inspected a water plant at Hamden Jissar,
a community some few miles south of Basra. Cherie's report is appended
below. This little plant, together with the people it serves, is clearly
in desperate need of help and will not attract the attention of the big
construction mercenaries like Bechtel. We have requested LIFE, the
on-the-ground nonprofit we have always worked with, to make an assessment and
cost estimate of improving the water at Hamden Jissar. Hopefully we will
be able offer a true and sincere helping hand to the people of this community.
Unlike some, the Veterans for Peace hand that we extend will not mask another
purpose concealed in the hand behind.
Please take a look at an on-the-fly report of the general
situation sent to us by Cherie Clark.
Dorland, VFP Iraq Water Project Chair
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 this from.
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
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
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
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
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 this
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 Basra
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 Palestine.
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 books.
With love to all,