It was heartbreaking on June 12 to hear Mohammed Al Dulaimy, an Iraqi reporter for McClatchy Newspapers, speak on “Democracy Now!” As Mosul, a city of two million, falls to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and Iraqi soldiers drop their arms and flee, we hear that the militants are now heading toward Baghdad, Sunni Islamic rebels have seized Tikrit, and Iraqi Kurds have taken Kirkuk.
A dear Iraqi woman friend called me just two days ago, her voice frantic; she was lamenting the lack of media coverage about Iraq here in the States. She has relatives in Mosul who are fleeing the bombs of the Iraqi government forces. Over 500,000 have fled, many in recent days. “You can’t fight bombs with a kitchen knife!” my friend cried over the phone. Herself a recent refugee to the United States, we met in Jordan some years ago as I followed the situation of Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria. As my friend described the desperate nature of the situation in Mosul, she told me how helpless she feels. A part of her, she said, wants to go home, “even if it means dying there.”
For years I have kept count of the number of dead and wounded in Iraq in my “At-a-Glance” calendar. On a given day this month: 85, 122, 166, 122. March: 1,886 killed. May: 2,219 killed. But Americans do not get this news, so at every opportunity I try to speak about the U.S.-led war on Iraq and its consequences.
As part of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, I was able to return to to central and southern Iraq in the fall of 2012. I went again in 2013 and in January and February of this year. During this latest trip, we felt it unwise to travel to Baghdad, not to mention Falluja, Ramadi, Mosul or Diyala, fearing not only for our own safety, but that of our drivers, translators and host families. These trips are an attempt to bear witness to this war, so that we do not have another.
“Your country brought the war on terrorism to our country” is something I heard more than once in Iraq. “My staying in Iraq is a form of resistance against the dirty war,” one person said. “You could have taken Saddam out at a parade…this war was planned.” A fifth-year university student told me, “You have destroyed our ancient civilization, our country…. You have destroyed something inside of us.” Yet another student: “You bomb us and then send teams to investigate what was in the bombs. Thirty percent of our children in Falluja are born with birth defects!” And a final indictment: “We will not forget. It is not written in our hearts; it is carved into our hearts.”
Iraq never had a suicide bomber before the U.S.-led war started in 2003.
I am beholden to WBAI Radio in New York City and “Democracy Now!” for their excellent reporting. I am beholden to Mohammed Al Dulaimy for his courage to speak and be seen on the June 12 program. They are my heroes, along with the countless people in Iraq holding out on the front lines, so to speak, in times of unspeakable terror and suffering. Mohammed spoke of how we see the failure of the whole system of the United States and its allies, the failure of the democratic experiment. We see, he said, the consequences in the lack of trust and in the corruption in the leadership, which has provided a way for radicals to rise, for a descent into a Syria-like civil war.
“ISIS is not alone in this fight,” Mohammed said. We have to pause and understand what is happening, he said. We see the use of hellfire missiles by the Iraqi army targeting a hospital in Falluja. ISIS is using the anger and building on it. We see weapons falling into the hands of ISIS and going across to Syria.
Amy Goodman, the host of “Democracy Now!”, asked Mohammed why he was taking such a risk in showing his face. “My country, Iraq, has lost so many people,” he explained. “It’s about time to spend some time to understand what’s going on the ground.” He spoke of heartbreaking images from Falluja, his city, from Ramadi and now Mosul, like a father watching his children killed, all of which leads to a “huge sense of anger” toward the Iraqi military, he said. ISIS will seize this moment as all are “afraid of the random shelling of the military.”
Cathy Breen is a member of Maryhouse Catholic Worker in New York City.