Three Blind Mice
by Leah C. Wells*, March 1, 2003
I sat next to seventh grader Amina and ninth grader
Samara on the Royal Jordanian flight from Baghdad to Amman a week
ago. These two young girls are fleeing Iraq with their family,
as are millions of other Iraqis, for neighboring Jordan. Syria
is inundated with Iraqi refugees; the girls' father estimated
around four million.
"Iraqis right now are like this," describes
Samara. "It's like putting mice in a jar and shaking it up
and then letting the mice run loose. That is Iraq. That is how
the people are."
Disoriented. Chaotic. Dazed. Quaking.
But on the surface you'd never know. In Baghdad
for an international student gathering, I had the opportunity
to walk around the city to restaurants, strolling and taking stock
of the fragile situation. Old men sat outside cafes playing chess,
drinking Iraqi chai, or sweet tea. Young men worked to clean out
and repair building facades. Boys washed cars and peddled cigarettes.
Women and children walked to and from the markets, and kids went
to school. Life on the surface appears normal.
But the two girls, Amina and Samara, are correct.
Their metaphor accurately depicts Iraq at this moment. People
are recalling the first Gulf War, thinking of all that was destroyed
and the enduring catastrophic sanctions which have left their
country largely unrepaired. The people of Iraq are considerably
less prepared and certainly less healthy than they were twelve
Iraq's medical infrastructure provided for preventative
medicine for all members of society. Children in 1990 had all
their inoculations and an infrastructure which provided them with
clean water and adequate nutrition. Today, due to the sporadic
functioning of electrical plants, refrigerated vaccinations ruin,
and crucial medical supplies like x-ray film and bloodbags are
hard to come by. A centrifuge waited on hold in Amman, banned
by the Sanctions Committee 661.
UNICEF and the World Food Programme have been trying
to prepare the country for a U.S.-led invasion. These agencies,
along with every other United Nations agency dealing with children,
agriculture, health, welfare, education and nutrition, have reported
on the devastating effects of the sanctions, and now they are
bracing for a humanitarian crisis resulting from a massive attack.
UNICEF worries most about the people having access to clean water
post-invasion. In 1991, civilian infrastructure like water and
sewage treatment facilities were targeted, as were roads and bridges.
UNICEF is working around the clock to distribute humanitarian
goods all over the country so that in the case of damaged transportation
routes, the people will have access to vital sustenance.
They are getting unprecedented cooperation from
the Government of Iraq in importing and distributing necessary
goods, like high protein biscuits and F100, a therapeutic food/medicine
which helps to recover body weight and fluid in cases of severe
dehydration and malnutrition. These two particular items had been
unimportable for over two years.
While major media networks are reporting that as
a tactic of war, Saddam intends to starve his people, the humanitarian
agencies dealing with food distribution are reporting the exact
opposite. Already, UNICEF is distributing the food rations for
June and July, and they were given the authority six months ago
to begin distributing rations in two months' supply at the urgence
of the Government of Iraq. In essence, the government and the
United Nations agencies are working in concert to ensure that
in the case of war, the people would not be unprepared.
Many U.N. agencies are also working with the local
Iraqi staff to complete post-conflict assessments. UNICEF has
been training teachers how to diagnose students with severe trauma
and where to refer them for further in-depth care. Schools are
also a crucial part of the post-conflict plan for supporting the
children of Iraq whose age demographics comprise half of the country,
and UNICEF believes it will be very important to have a functioning
educational infrastructure so that students can resume some normalcy
as quickly as possible after a major attack.
But what will that normalcy look like?
How can life be normal for a four-year-old who
has experience the "shock and awe" of 800 bombs falling
on his city in just two days? Even if school restarts, even if
there is a commitment from the United States to rebuild Iraq,
how could we ever undo the damage done to the children of Iraq
who have no control over their leader, his policies or the past
grievances of the Iraqi government.
The internationally supported alternative weapons
inspections should be given ample time to work. The aforementioned
student gathering is another means for creating spaces for peace:
dialogue. Young people separated by warring governments need the
space to know each other as people, not as enemy nations.
War is not liberation. Bombs do not bring peace.
*Leah C. Wells serves
as the Peace Education Coordinator for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.