Iraq: We do not want tears, we want solidarity by Farida Akhter

Farida Akhter
Following her trip to Baghdad from 5-9 March 2003, Farida Akhter writes about her experiences and thoughts.
Iraq is now under aggressive military attack. The US-UK led war has started without obtaining the UN resolution and in defiance of world opinion against war. Within forty-eight hours of the attack, the pictures of injured children and innocent civilians in the hospitals are already appearing. This is why the tens of thousands people around the world have been protesting against the war. They urged for Peace, no War. But US-UK did not listen; they went ahead with their destructive plans and rendered the United Nations irrelevant and useless.
For me, it is very difficult to watch the TV with the war scenes, and listen to the details of the attacks. In the newspapers I read about the people, the women and children in particular. All the faces I see look familiar, I can hear their pain. I can hear pain of the little child, who is lying on the hospital bed. I feel that I know the child. I feel as if I have already met him or her very recently. I can not forget the faces of the people I have seen in Baghdad, during my visit in the first week of March. I have seen the fear about the possible war, now the war is already on.

I had the opportunity to be part of the International Women's Solidarity Iraq comprising of women from different countries in the world. They were Samira Khoury (Palestine), Iqbal Doughan, (Lebanon), Farida Akhter (Bangladesh), Pregs Govender (South Africa), Lillimore Erikson (Sweden), Martha Mundey (Britain), Nelia Sancho (Philippines), Sura Ghassan, Iraq and Corinne Kumar (India). We have visited Baghdad during 5 to 9 March, 2003 to oppose the possible attack on Iraq, to listen to the testimonies of the Iraqi women who have already been suffering from the war of 1991 and to express solidarity with Iraqi people and particularly the Iraqi women. The International Women's day, i.e. March 8 was celebrated as a day of International solidarity. General Federation of Iraqi Women hosted the visit with very sincere hospitality and care for the International team. They told us, we should try to stop the war.

On March 8, women gathered together in Talai Square in Haifa Street in circles of peace against the war. We all have chanted slogans against the war. The women of different ages, even old women in Burkhas were very loud in chanting slogans. The others were in Iraqi style skirts with scarfs. A very young girl, 12 years old, came forward and started a speech in front of the crowd of several thousand people. There was no microphone, but she spoke in a very strong voice. She was speaking in Arabic, so I could not understand what she was saying. But I could read the language of her face, her hands and her expressions. she sounded very bold and powerful. I got a brief translation from one woman that the girl was actually speaking against the war. She also declared that if there were war, they would fight back. It was also very interesting to see that while everybody is busy in chanting slogans, forming circles of peace, few women were drawing pictures on pieces of white papers. The Iraqi women seemed very artistic. They drew pictures on many occasions not as a piece of art, but as an expression of what they felt at that particular moment. I carried a banner "Bangladeshi Peoples' Solidarity with Iraq". As I was holding the banner, many women came to me and said, "Marhaba, Marhaba", some said, "thank you". I felt sad but empowered. I saw that people believe in solidarity so much as if it can stop the war. In a way, they are right. The peoples' opposition against the war is now an issue that US-UK have to handle. Although, the US-UK are showing their arrogance to its extreme extent. They are establishing the fact that they do not care about humanity.

From the Talai Square, we were requested to visit the house of Fariel who lives in the older part of Baghdad. Her house was small, but had very nicely decorated drawing room, with carpets, sofa and even hanging lamps. Fariel is in her mid-fifties. She lost 21 members of her family including her parents, brothers, sisters, husband and sons. Fariel gave an account of the Gulf war in 1991. Now she is living in this house with her daughter, who is now working as an engineer. Fariel could not forget anything about the Gulf war. She said, we are not yet able to get over the pains of the Gulf war, now another war threat is there. We do not want any more pains, any more deaths. Manal Younis Al-Alousi, President of the General Federation of Iraqi Women was there with us. There were few other women accompanying us in Fariel's house. Fariel served us with sarbat. They are under severe economic hardship. Despite this, she tried her best to show hospitality to the international guests. Maha explained how she has suffered from breast-cancer after the war. But she said, I am working to earn some income to maintain the family. My hands are still ok. Eqbal Alaowi described the death of her brother and his wife. But the son is alive. He was only 1 year old when his parents died. But the memory of his mother is so much in his mind that he follows women on the street wearing hijab. But after seeing their faces, he realises that those women are not his mother. Then he comes back. Eqbal said, he is now about 12 years old and a very brilliant student, but I cannot do anything about his 'strange' behaviour to try to find his mother despite the fact he knows he is an orphan. Eqbal was in tears while she explained about her nephew. We heard many stories of women. It was very difficult to control ourselves. We were in tears, too. We were getting an English translation to their stories described in Arabic. But we could feel the pain as they were speaking. Those words are still ringing in my ears. It sounds even harder, when I see the bombs blasting in the TV screen showing BBC world service.

Next day in a meeting with the General Federation of Iraqi Women, we met Ezhar. She wanted to tell us the story of the death of her son Allawi. He died at the age of 11 years, suffering from leukaemia. Ezhar did everything she could to save the life of her son. She sold most of her furniture and household items, because he needed blood transfusion. All these efforts could not save his life. Allawi died. Ezhar was crying when she was describing the death of her children. As we joined her with tears, she looked at us, and said, "we do not want your tears, we want your solidarity". Ezhar's voice changed suddenly in strong protest. She said, "due to the depleted uranium so many children are suffering from blood cancer. And due to the economic embargo, we cannot even get treatment. There are no medicine. I have sold so many things but I could not buy medicine. I could not save the life of my son. I could not even give him a medicine, which could relieve his pains. I cannot forgive those who have done this to us. Please help us in getting to the International court. I want to file a petition as "Allawi's mother". I do not want my own name, because I want to represent all other mothers who have lost their children. Please, if you want to help us in any way, please let us go to the international court against such injustice.

We visited the children's hospital. We saw children, who were supposed to be playing were lying in bed with much pain. Some of them were in such bad condition that even though we greeted them, they could not even smile. Those who were feeling a bit better, got up and sat down. They responded to our greetings with lovely smile. A boy of six years, even wanted to be photographed with his toys. The parents were in every bed with their children. Mothers were holding their babies in their lap. The fathers were running around holding the prescriptions of doctors, but medicine was not available. Dr. Rana was in tears when she described that as a doctor she felt helpless because they could not even do anything to help relieve the pain of these suffering children. Due to the embargo, the medicine supply was very uncertain. Even simple medicine like paracetamol was not always available. The children suffering from leukaemia needed morphine injection when they were in severe pain. But such medicines were not available. They asked the parents to get from outside. There were very few lucky ones who got it from outside shops. Many of them could not even afford to buy. Dr. Rana said that everyday they had to see the deaths of children in the hospital. She was happy on that day, because they got some medicine. The day before, there was no medicine. According to her, the hospital in Baghdad is in much better condition. This is referral hospital. But those outside Baghdad, specially the ones in Basra are worse. Our team even could see the death of a child as soon as the team entered the children's ward. The scream of the mother shocked everybody. Every mother and father knew that once they are diagnosed with cancer, there was very little chance of surviving. Yet they tried their best for treatment.

Although, we were there to show solidarity with Iraqi people against the threat of possible war, we found that the Iraqi people were already under a situation of war. The continuation of the imposed embargo on Iraq since the adoption of the Security Council Resolution 661 in 1990 was still going on. So Iraqi people do not get medicine, food and any other basic needs. The embargo was not only economic but included cultural and educational items. The Britain and US imposed no fly zones in northern and southern Iraq since August 1992 without authorisation from the Security Council. According to General Federation of Iraqi Women, there were continuous air strikes on the densely populated areas. The total number of air raids between December 17, 1998 and May 10, 2000 amounted to 23907 raids.

The destructive war and embargo led to the deterioration of health, nutritional and environmental conditions. Infrastructures such as water supply stations, power stations and sewage stations were destroyed. This led to the spread of diseases. The use of depleted uranium in the bombs has caused serious and has become major of deaths of children and pregnant women.

Economic embargo is itself a war. UN has not been kind to the Iraqi people. Iraqi people were made to suffer without any reason. 'It is to satisfy the US and UK that UN is working', the Iraqi women complained to us.

We stayed in Hotel Al-Rashid at the courtesy of General Federation of Iraqi women. At this hotel, we met many journalists from different countries and some young people from Thailand, and also Europe who came to Baghdad to form the Human Shield. "We are ready to die along with Iraqi people when there will be bombing by the US. The US should know that they are not only killing Iraqi people, they are killing many other people from other countries." The spirit of the young people coming for forming the human shield was really very encouraging.

Now, the Iraqi people are hearing the sirens of war every night, which they did not want. They are not able to sleep. The war mongers are taking pride in declaring that they are able to bomb heavily and aggressively moving towards Baghdad. They are taking credit that they are able to destroy the buildings one after the other. Then they are announcing that they will carry out "humanitarian" services along with those European countries that have opposed military actions against Iraq. We could not stop the war; we are now seeing the destruction of humanity. It is a shame; it is disgraceful. US and UK gave a damn to the UN and to the 'NO to War' slogans raised around the world. They are doing what they wanted to do. They are attacking. Indeed this is not a war, rather a genocide of a helpless nation to defend themselves. It is only attack and aggression with overwhelming military power, delivering death and destruction and creating environmental disaster.

But history is changing, because people of the world are uniting against war. This is our hope.