War Without End

Andrea Schmidt

April 10, 2004

Iraq is a country at war.

Exactly a year after we were told that the war had ended and that freedom had been brought to the people of Iraq, the square in which Saddam’s statue was toppled was put under curfew again. The curfew didn't prevent a mortar attack on the Alwiyah Club that stands beside the square hidden behind blast walls.

Yesterday, reports from Falluja indicated that the city was still being held under siege by US Occupation Forces, as it had been since Tuesday. In the morning, word came that a cease-fire had been negotiated between US soldiers and resistance fighters, but by afternoon, the cease-fire was off. US Occupation Forces had continued to bomb the city with mortars, Apache helicopters, fighter planes, RPG7s and cluster bombs.

By evening, medical aid workers were giving the cautious estimate that the death-toll of this week’s massacre in Falluja had reached 427 Iraqis; 1200 people were said to be injured. An acquaintance arrived with video footage of families fleeing the city in an attempt to reach Baghdad. They formed a caravan that stretched over 10 kilometers long and were being prevented from advancing by US troops.

We do not have news of what is going on in the predominately Shia cities in the South where there has been fighting over the past days, and where people are preparing to celebrate Arbayeen, the end of Muharram. We rely on international news channels and the internet. But Muharram began with the bombing of shrines in Najaf and in Kadhimiya, that killed over 178 people. Who will decide that their interests might be served by attacking the pilgrimage?

The war is not a civil war; it is a war of terror in which collective punishment is a preferred tactic.

In Sadr City, where battles between resistance fighters from Moqtada Al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army and US Occupation Forces have gone on since last Sunday, families have spent sleepless nights listening to the sound of missiles, machine gun fire, tanks and low-flying helicopters.

On Wednesday morning, we visited a block of houses that had been hit by missiles they said were fired from a helicopter after 11:30 PM on Monday night. One missile hit the kitchen wall and blew up the kerosene tank, causing a fire. The second missile hit the outside wall of a second floor bedroom, destroying all the furniture within. A third missile hit the corner room of the building next door, in which food rations for 158 families were said to be stored. The food was destroyed. Families on the block have left temporarily to go and live with relatives or friends.

We also saw the burnt-out remains of two cars that neighbours say were shot by rockets fired from helicopters the night before. Two neighbors who tried to assist four people in one of the burning cars were shot at from tanks. A total of six people were reportedly killed in the two cars. No curfew had been imposed, but it seemed that US Occupying Forces were targeting any vehicles they found moving after dark.

"If America doesn't leave the areas, this will go on and on," said a man who said he witnessed the targeting of one of the cars. "America is fighting poor people…"

Indeed, this war is visibly being fought with tanks and RPG7s, with helicopters and cluster-bombs, but the years of US-supported Ba'athist dictatorship and the impoverishment of the majority of Iraqi people were also years of war. I listened yesterday as a Shia man told me that during the twelve years of UN-imposed sanctions, Shiite communities in Iraq really had to survive two sets of sanctions – one from outside Iraq, and one imposed by the dictatorship within. This disenfranchisement has not come to an end over the past year of war we’ve called occupation. Poverty, denial of education, malnutrition: these are also forms of war, as deadly in the long run as military machinery.

This is a war without end.

There is a feeling of hopelessness that permeates the present terror. As the number of kidnapped foreigners rises NGOs and humanitarian organizations are deliberating on whether or not to pack up and leave the country. A young Iraqi woman called me yesterday morning, greeting me with words dulled by resignation: “So we are at war again.” She told me to leave the country.

An Iraqi man I run into describes his country as a prison, but adds that “maybe prison is better, because at least in prison, there is a date when you know you can leave.” As a foreigner with a Canadian passport, I have the option of leaving and a choice to make.

We drive past the UNICEF compound and notice that new blast walls have put up, closing off the entrance to their offices. A road that was open two days ago is now blocked off by razor wire. The young man driving the car turns around and motions to the dead-end, a new variant on the many dead-ends that have turned the city into a labyrinth; “This is Iraq,” he says, and smiles.

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This report was written by Andréa Schmidt for the Iraq Solidarity Project. The Iraq Solidarity Project is a Montreal-based grassroots initiative to provide direct non-violent support to Iraqis struggling against the occupation; strengthen the mobilization against economic and military domination and anti-war work in Quebec and Canada; and build links of solidarity between struggles against the occupation of Iraq and struggles against oppression in Canada and Quebec.

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