As a Black writer, I was expected to accept the role of victim. That made it difficult in the beginning to be a writer. James Baldwin
I often feel that there must have been something that I should’ve done that I didn’t do. But I can’t identify what it is that I didn’t do. That’s the first difficulty. And the second is, what makes you think you’re it?
Harry Belafonte, activist and singer at 89
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble; It's what you know for sure that just ainst so.
You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you.
Mary Tyler Moore
You can’t defend Christianity by being against refugees and other religions
"I don't have to be what you want me to be". Muhammad Ali
"The Secret of Living Well and Longer: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure" attributed to Tibetan sources
Recent audio posts include interviews with Rumi interpreter Shahram Shiva, London-based author Aamer Hussein, South African Muslim scholar, professor Farid Esack, and Iraqi journalist Nermeen Al-Mufti's brief account of Kirkuk City history. Your comments on our blogs are always welcome.
- Gravesites: Environmental Ruin in Iraq
- by Barbara Nimri Aziz
The chain of death created by the Gulf War is a scary thing. I'm not talking about black skies over the blazing oil wells of Kuwait, or charred remains of soldiers on the sand or the incinerated families who had sought protection in a bomb shelter. Those are familiar images of death, recognizable, and however painful, they are finite. With the end of hostilities, they disappear.
The really scary part comes later--now--when we find that things which looked alive are really dead or doomed.
I refer to a chain of deadly pollution, the kind that creeps up on us, first with vague complaints, then with the persistence of strange illnesses, then with more testimonials of similar symptoms. We slowly recognize that disparate efforts which first appear unrelated are, in fact, connected.
We have the sickening sense of something spreading, without limits, of something embedded so deep within the system that it's unreachable. Our inquiries are met with denials. So, to begin, all we seek to do is confront it. We just want to stand on the gravesite as if it were a known, finite place.
This is our feeling, I think, as we hear more and more documentation regarding Gulf War syndrome and its link to the use, by the Pentagon, of depleted uranium weaponry during the 1991 war. Evidence is mounting, and those soldiers who find themselves stricken are growing in number, networking and uniting in a swelling movement of people who refuse to accept government disclaimers that these soldiers might be the victims of some new dangerous materials the Pentagon used. A public movement to ban depleted uranium is growing and attracting more media attention in the U.S.
Many Iraqis were killed outright by the weapons that blew apart their vehicles and their bunkers. Those who survived the onslaught and fled must have ingested and carried with them the fumes and toxic dust created by the bombardments. There is also the uranium waste--three hundred tons of it, according to reports--left on the battlefield.
Today the entire population of Iraq is besieged by diseases. We know that waterborne parasites and bacteria and malnutrition in Iraq are responsible for many recognizable diseases, and for wasting and death. But there are also reports of a sharp rise in spontaneous abortions, cancers, and other "new diseases" The Iraqi Ministry of Health is systematically documenting some of these health problems. Dr. Siegwart Guenther of the Austrian Yellow Cross International is also studying evidence of possible Gulf War syndrome inside Iraq and the high incidence across the country of abnormal births.(endnote 1)
Iraqi Scientists Most Concerned about Radiation
Those most concerned about radiation and other kinds of pollution are Iraqis. Their entire population is probably afflicted. And essential empirical evidence of strange illnesses in the Iraqi population is being gathered by their own scientists. Iraq still has a highly trained community of biologists, environmentalists, energy specialists, cancer researchers, etc., most of whom earned advanced degrees in the U.S. or Great Britain. With access to the entire country, they are capable of conducting the needed research.
Until the embargo and war, these scholars were in the international scientific community; they published widely and they took part in international scientific gatherings.
Because of the embargo, however, their careful on site work and their disturbing findings are not as widely known as they should be, partly because these men and women are now denied professional contact with their peers overseas and are therefore unable to offer comparative statistics and work together with concerned scientists worldwide to find solutions and recommend treatments.
This is happening when health and environmental conditions inside Iraq are deteriorating, and bad conditions generated by the war are spreading, creating a catastrophe of accelerating proportions and unknown ramifications.
The Pentagon, which has been trying so hard to suppress information about the extent, occurrence, and possible source of Gulf War syndrome among its own personnel, would doubtless want to keep any Iraqi source silent on this matter as well. Even a highly qualified scientist researching the hazardous effects of the war finds herself or himself effectively blocked from reporting important relevant findings.
Dr. Huda Ammash is one of those Iraqi scientists who should be speaking to her international colleagues. She is presently an environmental biologist and professor at Baghdad University, having undertaken graduate studies in the U.S. where she obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri.
Working with governmental departments of agriculture, health, and environment, Ammash is now undertaking research in Iraq. When I met her in 1995, she kindly shared her report with me. She is most concerned with the enormous energy emission and light energy from the massive bombing in the forty days of war in 1991 and the resulting ionization. [endnote 2]
"We know that ionization causes radiation," she said. "It is now diffused throughout the entire airspace of Iraq and has likely spread to our neighbors as well, possibly as far north as the southern border of Russia."
Dr. Ammash calculates that "the prolonged effect of this ionization is, over a period of more than ten years, equal to one hundred Chernobyls."
Dr. Ammash and others note that "an outbreak of meningitis in children concentrated in one Baghdad locality is highly unusual and may be a manifestation of high ionization levels. It has never been seen in Iraq before and, under the circumstances of the embargo, Iraq can provide no immunization against it." She notes the alarm among doctors she interviewed who report that "ninety-nine percent of the victims of this disease are children." Ammash accumulated reports that show cancer increasing at rapid and abnormal rates; child leukemia is especially rampant with some areas of south Iraq showing a four-fold rise in these few years. Breast cancer in young women (age 30 and under) is also many times higher than in 1990 in certain parts of Iraq.
In addition, the Iraqi environment is subject to a mass of other chemical and microbial pollutants released into the atmosphere because of indirect results of the war. Ammash points out, for example, how "damage to bombed and crippled industrial plants resulted in the leakage of millions of liters of chemical pollutants--black oil, fuel oil, liquid sulfur, concentrated sulfuric acid, ammonia, and insecticides--into the atmosphere. Fumes created by the bombardment of more than 380 oil wells produced toxic gases and acid rain."
Bombardment of chemical factories damaged their gas purification units and thus created tremendous air pollution as well. If these filters can't function, dangerous gases are allowed to escape from cement factories. Up to the present, the imposition of sanctions prevents the repair of these industrial filters. Untreated heavy waters from industrial centers are the media for growth of microbes, mainly typhoid, malta fever, and other pathogenic bacteria.
Ammash also reports fourteen crop diseases--including covered smut, sazamia moth, yellow crust, spickulated drought disease, gladosporium disease, and epical bent--which were never before recorded in Iraq's history. These are now infecting date trees and citrus trees.
When I arrived back in Baghdad, I followed up my research in Mosul with discussions with agriculture officials and with visits to small, local farms engaged in mixed agriculture. I spoke with experts at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a U.N. agency in Baghdad since before the Gulf War. Their mandate is to assist any nation to increase its food production and they are trying to help Iraq in this area.
Now, more than ever, with food imports from abroad limited due to the UN sanctions, Iraq is obliged to reverse its rather neglected agricultural policy with active food production schemes. Since the imposition of the embargo [ADD in 1990], Iraq has been trying to do so, bringing more land under grain production and improving irrigation.
Iraq Could Be Self-Sufficient
FAO officials were unequivocal about prospects. "Iraq could be self-sufficient in grain," said director Amir Khalil. "It has the water; it has the land; it has the expertise." Yet, despite efforts and the growing food crisis, production was declining. Why?
For agriculture experts and farmers alike, the explanation is simple: "No herbicides, no pesticides, no fertilizer, no improved seed." The animal husbandry and poultry situation is as severe as the grain crisis. Without vaccines and other medicines, all of which Iraq cannot furnish itself, animals--like people and plants--cannot survive.
According to a 1995 FAO report, dairy herds were down forty percent since 1990. Before the war, dairy cows numbered 1,512,000; by 1995, their number fell to only one million. Water buffaloes suffered an even worse fate, and goat herds have declined from 1.3 million to fewer than a quarter of a million. Iraq's poultry system with 106 million hatching hens was virtually wiped out overnight by the bombing when electrically run poultry sheds across the country--8400 units--shut down. Without vaccines and specialized, treated food, moreover, hens cannot survive long.
Why this devastation? Largely because agricultural imports, all essential in food production in any modern state today, are unavailable.
If we are to believe FAO's own reports, it seems that another weapon in this cowardly secret war is the denial of agricultural essentials--a kind of sabotage--to ensure Iraq cannot become food self-sufficient.
It is ominous that it was also during my field observations in a farming community that I found the first shocking evidence of a little discussed plague in the human population.
In the course of extended conversations with local farmers after my inspection of the fields, we spoke about social life. One farmer remarked that marriages were fewer now. "Why?" I asked. The answer was straightforward. "Young people fear the birth of malformed fetuses and still births." How was this?
"We look around our village," they said. "Everyone knows couples in the village who had deformed babies in the last four years."
With the help of these farmers and the local schoolteacher, I took an ad hoc survey. They had 160 houses here, and among these, they counted 20 households where malformed babies had been born. My hosts noted that most of the fathers of these still born and abnormal births in their village are men who served in the army during the Gulf War. They noted many spontaneous abortions, but we did not include these. I had heard in Baghdad that more spontaneous abortions are reported across the entire country now than were before 1990.
The Iraqi Ministry of Health could not provide me with any statistics about this development at that time. But my inquiries at five hospitals (in Mosul, Baghdad, and Kerbala) revealed that the number of abnormal births recorded in hospitals had dramatically increased. Recalling their personal experience, all doctors with whom I spoke estimate they see ten times more such births today than five years ago. One doctor in Mosul said she saw two cases a year before 1991; she now sees four or five cases a month. The symptoms?
"Babies born without ears, without eyes, without limbs or with foreshortened limbs, without formed genitalia, with cleft palate, club foot, enlarged heads." One doctor reported her first knowledge of a case of congenital leukemia.
"How Can I Have Any Plans?"
A professor of poultry science had accompanied us to the fields in Mosul.
From seeing how he walked and stood, I already suspected he himself was unwell. Nevertheless, I inquired about his plans for further research. I still remember the bewildered look on his face when I asked him this.
"Plans? Madam," he said softly, "I am trying to feed my family; I am looking for medicine for my ill father. How can I have plans?"
I asked Dr. Ammash the same question. "It is difficult for anyone to have a plan," she quietly explained. "You have a plan when you have a settled situation--known circumstances. We don't have that anywhere in Iraq. My immediate plan is to provide tomorrow's means for life for my children, to help my students into another successful day. After that, I don't know."
1. For more information on depleted uranium and its effects, see Siegwart-Horst-Guenther, "How DU Shell Residues Poison Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia" in Depleted Uranium Education Project (eds.), Metal of Dishonor (2nd Edition) (New York: International Action Center, 1997). See also Akira Tashiro, Discounted Casualties: The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium (Hiroshima: Chugoku Shimbun Press, 2001).
See also "La Guerre Radioactive Secrete" ("Invisible War: Depleted Uranium and the Politics of Radiation.") Feb. 2000, French--Director, Martin Meissonnier; Exec. Producer, Paul Moreira. A film produced by Canal+ and available at (www.canalplus.fr/emissions/90mn/contact.asp): US distributor: Damacio Lopez, 1322 Lopezville, Socorro, NM 87801, Tel: 505-838-0263, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Huda Ammash “Toxic Pollution, The Gulf War, and Sanctions, ” in Iraq Under Siege, edited by Anthony Arnove. 2000 South End Press. Also see “Targets –Not Victims” by Barbara Nimri Aziz, in the same volume.
- Published in "Anthropology Goes Public", 2004, edited by. Roberto Gonzalez, U. Texas Press. This essay is an abbreviated version of an article of the same title originally published in Metal of Dishonor: How the UN Military Irradiates Iraqis...., by International Action Center, NY. www.iacenter.org
I am the hand in the small of your back. I may let you stumble; but i'll never let you fall.
recalled by her grandson Colin Johnson in a review of the new film "Maya Angelou: And Stil I Rise"
- a poem.. a song..
- "I Knew"
Sapphire Ahmed's prose poem on Ramadan Flash
- Qur'an Surat Al-Shams
from 'Approaching The Qur'an', CD.
- Book review
- Khaled Hosseini's
And The Mountains Echoed
reviewed by BN Aziz.
- Tahrir Team
Barbara Nimri Aziz
- Read about Barbara Nimri Aziz in the team page.
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