Share this article

print logo

AN AMERICAN FEELS THE PAIN OF IRAQI PEOPLE

She closes her eyes, and the images come back. Children, their arms and legs like sticks, pulling at her as she walked, begging for a coin or a bit of food.

Her husband's aunt, dying of breast cancer, bent with pain because there is no medicine.

Cars abandoned on the road, with no parts to fix them. Children playing in sewage in the street.

It has been 10 years since the Persian Gulf War. Ten years since the first bombs dropped, 10 years into an embargo of food, goods and medicine that was supposed to spur an uprising against Saddam Hussein. Ten years after, this is life in Baghdad.

Rose Marie Chadwick was not ready for it. She's from a small town in Maine. She went to college in Boston and became a social worker. Four years ago, she met a doctor -- a native Iraqi living in Amherst. Soon after, they married. Love opens new worlds -- emotional and, for her, geographic.

In May, she and her husband visited his parents in Baghdad. She is in her 40s, intelligent and not naive. Yet her eyes were opened.

Her husband's parents once lived well. Now they barely live.

Their stove and refrigerator, once signs of prosperity, are ornaments, mocking reminders of a lost past. Long broken, with no parts to fix them. They have a gas-fueled hot plate, but no matches to start it. As a gift, Chadwick bought them a hand-held spark-starter.

The U.S.-led embargo has partly done what it was supposed to: make the Iraqi people suffer. The U.N. says more than a million Iraqis have died because of the sanctions, half of them children.

They were supposed to rise up against Saddam, take out their agony on the tyrant. There has been no uprising. Just pain.

"Diarrhea or dehydration is a death sentence for these kids," said Chadwick. "They're dying from things that are clearly treatable."

Mothers and children beg for food. Chadwick remembers giving a sandwich she was eating on the street to a woman.

"She ate it right there, very fast," she said. "She was literally starving."

Continued bombing of water treatment plants leaves sewage in the streets. The drinking water is bad. There is an hour a day of electricity, in a city of 120-degree heat. There are no electric fans, no air conditioning. It's worse in the countryside.

U.S. officials say it's not our fault. Iraq is allowed to sell oil for food. Saddam isn't using the money to help his people.

That's partly true. Saddam and his family live in what Chadwick calls "castles," walled off from the people. But most of Iraq's oil money pays off war debts. Before the war, before sanctions, Saddam ruled a country the envy of the Arab world: good schools, plenty of doctors and hospitals, an educated class.

The war, embargo and continued bombing turned Iraq into another Mexico. Children have no books for school, no paper to write on, no pencils to write with.

Aside from stories marking the war's 10th anniversary, the American media have largely ignored the suffering.

What struck Chadwick was the deadness in many eyes. Twenty-three million Iraqis are caught in a political vise, crushed between a tyrant and a superpower.

"People are down to survival skills," said Chadwick. "There's a hopelessness I wasn't prepared for."

Yet we expect them to overthrow a military dictator. It's ridiculous. They barely have food. Anyone standing on a street corner calling for revolution would, said Chadwick, "be dead before they finished the sentence."

There have been protests the past few weeks in many American cities against the embargo. The U.N.'s former assistant secretary general, Denis Halliday, called the sanctions "genocidal." Other countries have backed off. But our new president inherits his father's war and, in Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, the men who led it. Powell recently said he would "re-energize" the sanctions.

Visiting Iraq made Chadwick wonder about the America she thought she knew.

"We were the country that cared about moral rights," said Chadwick. "Now I feel we're hypocrites. We wouldn't be able to justify what we're doing if people really knew what's going on."

For us, the war is long over. In Iraq, a half-million children are dead. A half-million reasons for us to look in the mirror.

There are no comments - be the first to comment