Cliff Kindy Iraq Blog

Current entries are related to Cliff Kindy's fourth Iraq trip, beginning in October 2007. The blog archives contains letters from Cliff's third Iraq trip in 2004-5.

Friday, December 28, 2007

CPT Security Statement for the KRG Area

CPT Iraq Security Statement, 27 December, 2007

Security can apply differently to various populations. This statement will highlight three populations, to assist an understanding of security for this CPT project.

One: security for Kurds here in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq, the three governates of Dahuk, Erbil and Suleimaniyah, is judged in light of the end of the Baathist regime. Kurds feel any current difficulties are better than the discrimination, terror and death experienced during the Anfal. But now, practically, the KRG does not face the suicide bombings, kidnappings and random violence that have been so prevalent in the south and central parts of Iraq. 170,000 Peshmerga and an unknown number of Asaish security police and other patrols staff check points on highways and tightly control the transit of strangers and security of Kurds. The exceptions are resistance groups and voices of dissent (Islamic groups and journalists) that have been silenced, jailed and disappeared, even in recent years. Presently, the Turkish border is a potentially volatile region that will require close attention.

Two: security for the CPT team in Kurdistan was cause for very careful planning as the team returned in October, 2007. The kidnapping of early 2007, which happened outside the KRG, led to a great deal of caution and the development of security guidelines. But CPT has not been in survival mode as in Baghdad. Women are free to dress as fashion misfits – no need for an abaya or head covering. CPTers over the past two months have found little cause for security concern in the KRG. CPTers have traveled to the Iranian border region, have walked the Suly streets alone without qualms, have ventured into new areas like Halabja and within four miles of the Iranian border as a team, and traveled alone from Erbil. CPT has relaxed the tight guidelines set in place prior to our travel to Iraq. They do listen to voices of caution about particular areas, assess those warnings, and then decide how to respond. There are mined areas, especially along the borders, and they have been urged to stay away from the Penjeune area.

Three: security for a CPT delegation must be judged in light of little or no experience by delegates in this region. But there is continuous safe travel in the KRG area. Travel by bus, taxi and with hired drivers is safe. Movement of a delegation would not be a security concern. This project is operating in a security situation that is better, at the present, than the Colombia and Palestine projects.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Visit to Halapja, Story of Chemical Attack in 1988

Bakrideen Haji Saleem and his wife

Anita David, Michele Obed Naar, Peggy Gish and Cliff Kindy with Shadan translating and Driver Mohammad accompanying met with this couple in their home for over three hours.

Bakrideen started by saying, “We like the US, but they do not return the appreciation. Where is the US human rights message with their support of Turkey as Turkey bombs the borders of Kurdistan? Why did it happen during our feast days?"

My home is in the old Jewish quarter, part of a very ancient city. My first home in a village near Halupja was destroyed, then a home here in Halupja, this is my third home.

The US is not alone at fault. The US people are also to blame because they vote for the government. During Vietnam the people took to the streets and stopped the government. We received the US with flowers in 2003, but got nothing in return. The US supports its enemies better than us. Our people in Turkey and Iran are being mistreated. We can provide six times the support for the US that Turkey can. Kurds are 50 million people in all countries. New ideas cannot come into the Mideast without Kurdistan.

My two sons and three daughters (the youngest 20 days) died in the chemical attack by Iraq on Halupja.

I know the US from Abraham Lincoln through civil rights, and I am just a common man. I know what happened in Cuba, Panama, and the Soviet Union. You can’t neglect other people. Now, since the Soviet collapse, the US is the father in the world. You must be faithful to your promises.

In the US there are civil organizations and students, but they are not active now. The US is more than government. Two hands (US NGO – CARE?) supported the Kurdish Revolution 40 years ago with cans of food. At that time Saddam Hussein accused us of being US agents. But to no avail; we were dropped by the US.

Two of our children remain alive, a daughter in Germany and one here with this one year old grandson playing on the floor.

Bakrideen is an art teacher (sculptor). He showed us a stone carving he did of a young boy and told us of another carving with Jesus and a lamb. He indicated strong support for Jesus as a prophet and for Christianity. He sent an oral message and pictures to father Bush in 1993 via a representative who visited with Bakrideen in his basement.

“Now we want Kirkuk. We could have had our own country with Kirkuk separately, but wanted to stay together. This is not like the Falkland Islands. There is a history; we have family there; not Babylon, just Kirkuk. In school we say Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan. Arabs came there through Arabization; Turkomans are the remains of the Ottoman Empire. 800 years ago there were no Turks. They did a genocide of Armenians, now Kurds. US Congress said genocide in Armenia, administration said not. Kissinger talked about breaking with the Kurds in some 1974 US statement about Kurds. The master of the world should not break its word.”

Bakrideen went on: Iran was not a good support of the Kurds. Iran and Iraq chose this area as a battlefield. Other areas were emptied of people. Halupja was full, about 70,000 because villages had been destroyed. That is why Iran chose this area. Iran attacked from all sides, but Iraq provided no defense for us. Iraq did not care for Kurds; Iran discovered too late. Iran was paving roads here – I saw this while in the army- and building bridges across the Sirwan River. Iraq retreated to draw Iran in.

March 13, 1988, Iran attacked. 14 and 15 they circled the city. 15th they entered; one Iraq plane observed. On the night of 16th we wanted to leave. Iranians stopped us. I was preparing for 10 days. A neighbor tried three gates and couldn’t get out, even to the caves. The river bridge was controlled and no one could leave.

We used salt and ashes in a wet towel for a quasi gas mask. Peshmerga Kurdish fighters were here in the city too. A couple hours before the chemical assault, Iraq attacked with napalm until sunset to break all the windows so the gas would work. Then there were 20,000 canisters in a couple hours. Iran trucked most of those out for metal. I bought two so there would be evidence.

I buried my dead children with their clothes on, again for evidence. I told my family to go to the basement. Mom was unconscious. Our daughter brought her small sister to me. I put the children on my shoulder; tears prevented me from seeing except at my feet. I was walking in the middle of destroyed houses. Hopeless, I sat down. My mother died. “I am just going to die.” Our 8 year old daughter said, “Not you; I will die.” {crying now.} I woke up in the morning with my wife still alive {also crying now} with daughter.

With the chemicals, maybe my children died of hunger. My son had asked for bread and water. I brought bread back in my pockets, but forgot because I was affected by the chemicals. 17th I dug a place to bury our children. A nephew had died since evening. My brother was in Suly, so I left sign so he could find the body. That evening I thought, “I am losing control.” The other daughter was still alive, eyes very red. My wife and I drank salt water to vomit, but could not open my daughter’s mouth. I was also told that fires are good to clean lungs.

Iranian soldiers told me that they would take us to Iran. I was getting ready to bury another body and the soldiers said, “There are too many dead people to bury.” “Don’t argue with Iranian soldiers,” said my friend. Then he brought a car, “Let’s go to the cemetery so we can be easily buried when we die.”

I could hear water running, but couldn’t see it. I was very thirsty. 18th before sunrise another daughter died. By then I could open my eyes. I put her body in a rice bag to protect her from animals. I was assured that my friend would return to bury her, since I wanted to save my two living daughters.

That day I chose to stay alive to save my other children. There was a village nearby; I took the rest of my family to a school there. It is only ten minutes away, but it took us four hours. I saw Iranian soldiers and an empty mosque. The Iraqis destroyed 5000 mosques in 5000 destroyed villages. This mosque was saved for Iraqi soldiers to bed in, not for worship. Iranian soldiers gave ointment for our eyes and canned food. At night we went by car to Iran.

19th we reached Kermashan in Iran. We got injections and were treated like prisoners. Traveling in a bus, too crowded, a young girl died. Ordered to get out, I argued with them. We reached a hospital then were quarantined. We got clean clothes and were guarded. Mahawand is an historical city where people, not government, brought us clothes, food and crying.

Khomeini said, “Those people are our guests.” Then treatment became better. People were still dying; I had trouble breathing; couldn’t feel air in my lungs. How can my family breathe? I couldn’t sleep for 9-10 days. Then the doctor said I was okay.

I couldn’t cry for my lost family. A doctor gave me a pill he said would sleep a horse. I was still ½ dead and ½ alive with my family. People died with smiles because of the chemicals. Parents were laughing when their children died. The gas smelled like rotten apples and orange peelings remind me of the gassing.

I woke up and started crying after 15 days. I cried for one year, like a habit. I got relief by crying. Now we are better except at each anniversary event. I was comforted when Saddam Hussein’s sons were killed. Now he and his wife could feel as we did – no son to carry on name. We didn’t want Saddam Hussein to die as he did; there was no revenge or punishment for what he did to Kurds.

Everyone in the world, with its history and civilization, should know about this story. The whole world should have objected. Kurds never attacked another nation.

Taweila village on the border was destroyed before he came to Halupja. There he had gardens, trees, property. He was also a teacher in Rania where his house was destroyed in 1974 when it was just he and his wife.

Bakrideen continued: If Kirkuk is solved, I’m okay and nothing can happen to me from now on. I will feel safe. We are not afraid of death; we only want support. I and my family are ready to sacrifice for Kirkuk. Your place of birth is very sacred, but I pass by it unaware.

Seven times I was in the army; drafted, and you know what that is like. I lost my younger son, who was everything.

I was 37 years as a teacher in the same school that children were in when they were killed. This daughter (helping to serve fruit and hot chocolate) was born in 1989. We never gave up on life; we had four others too, 13 altogether.

CPT asked about health problems. My wife has vocal cord problems and had surgery in Teheran. Her brother died. Two hundred and ten from my village were victims here in Halupja after moving from the village. 72 were relatives. I have diabetes, can’t hear well or breathe well. It affected my brain too.

Many children are affected too – missing body parts, anxiety problems. There are blood and ovarian cancers. Many women are sterile, but no studies have been done. Average life expectancy is under 50, though it used to be above 70. There are many heart attacks, brain problems.

Halupja is like a nut being cracked between two countries. Now I own nothing. I receive only 100,000 ID compensation per month from the KRG. Kurds have 12% of the Central Iraq Government. “We as a people of Halupja are satisfied with the KRG, especially compared to the previous government. This one comes from our own people – kind of holy – KRG doesn’t have the capacity to rebuild. Charities came and helped to rebuild.

Kurds (the KRG) are contracting for oil; the central government blacklisted those companies. Local oil used to come to our families, but was stopped by US. Now Kurds get cash from Central Government. One barrel is 75,000 and we also buy from a former Soviet country.

The US is paying for bases in other countries; we’d provide it for free. When France, UK and US had the no-fly zone, children were named for Mitterrand, Blair and Bush. I have a US flag which I put up in 2003. We put Bush up with Talibani. We have sympathy for US people – we hope tornadoes won’t hurt them. Kurds welcome foreigners.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Can Textiles Restore a People?

By Cliff Kindy, December 11, 2007

This morning CPTers visited “The Citadel,” the world’s oldest inhabited city, according to the sign at the entrance. It is true, the ruins that date back to 7000BC are deep within the mound that rises in the center of Erbil and the buildings inside the protecting wall date back only into the last century. The oldest site still being used is a public bath that is less than 200 years old.

But the most interesting spot is the Kurdish Textile Museum, a project of Lolan Mustefa. It is located in a three story building that he renovated. The walls and floors are covered with intricately designed hand-woven woolen rugs, baby carriers, saddle bags, blankets, and sleeping pads. Scattered elsewhere are displays of mittens, hats, ropes, socks and also reed mats that serve as walls of tents. On the roof top is a goat hair tent that sheds rain when the fibers swell to close the tiny openings. Then inside the museum is another room of felt products, again with designs that indicate tribal connections and are filled with symbols, some of which have meanings lost in history.

These handicrafts are the products of traditional nomadic Kurdish tribes. The resources for the crafts are from the animals and plants that surround the migrating tribes as they move from summer pastures in the mountains to the winter camps in the lowlands. The wool crafts are the handiwork of the women and the felt crafts are traditionally done by the men.

Mustefa came by this interest naturally. His grandparents moved from the mountains and pastures to Erbil when Mustefa was a child. They maintained their connection to the animals and continued the weaving practices even in the city. The visits and time he shared with his grandparents are the germ of his interest today.

But a crisis inundated these Kurdish people in 1975 when the Iraqi government began to destroy the villages that border Iran and Turkey to establish a free fire protection zone between Iraq and potential enemies. In those forced moves, families were unable to take with them the handwork and the tools of their trades and as they planted themselves in new locations the skills were lost.

When Mustefa returned from Sweden after some years of school in the United States and a year of travel across Latin America, he began buying rugs and weavings that portrayed the best of those earlier traditions. His family and friends thought he had taken leave of his senses. Jobs were essential and this was not an income producing job! Only his deep commitment and pulsating vision helped him stay with this work.

Mustefa told CPT, “I fear these nomadic traditions have nearly been lost. My vision is that we can recover these lost skills and a living sustainable culture can again become part of Kurdish society.”

Muslim Peacemaker Teams Reports Depleted Uranium Epidemic

Sami Rasouli, Dr. Najim Askouri and Dr. Assad Al-Janabi, members of Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT) in Najaf, visited with Christian Peacemaker Teams CPT) in Suleimaniya, Kurdish Iraq, on December 10 and 11. The visit was an opportunity to report the recent activities of the respective peacemaker groups and learn to know new people. But the primary activity was a forum on depleted uranium (DU) presented by Drs. Assad and Najim.

Dr. Assad is the director of the Pathology Department at the 400-bed public hospital in Najaf. Dr. Najim is a nuclear physicist, trained in Britain, and one of the leading nuclear researchers in Iraq until his departure in 1998. They have worked as an MPT team documenting information about the health impact on Najaf of depleted uranium weapons used during the 1991 and 2003 Gulf wars.

This was not an exhaustive study because of the limits of personnel, resources and equipment. But it did rely on accumulated public data, thorough research, and a major contribution of time and energy. The focus was Najaf, a city of over one million people, and the rural areas in the governate. The area is about 180 miles from where DU was used in the First Gulf War.

Starting in 2004 when the political situation and devastation of the health care infrastructure were at their worst, there were 251 reported cases of cancer. By 2006, when the numbers more accurately reflected the real situation, that figure had risen to 688. Already in 2007, 801 cancer cases have been reported. Those figures portray an incidence rate of 28.21 by 2006, even after screening out cases that came into the Najaf Hospital from outside the governate, a number which contrasts with the normal rate of 8-12 cases of cancer per 100,000 people.

Two observations are striking. One, there has been a dramatic increase in the cancers that are related to radiation exposure, especially the very rare soft tissue sarcoma and leukemia. Two, the age at which cancer begins in an individual has been dropping rapidly, with incidents of breast cancer at 16, colon cancer at 8, and liposarcoma at 1.5 years. Dr. Assad noted that 6% of the cancers reported occurred in the 11-20 age range and another 18% in ages 21-30.

There were three locations in Najaf that received special attention from the researchers. Al-Anzar Square is an L-shaped street less than 50 meters long. There were 13 cases in that small area. The individuals were not related, were of different ages and genders and did not have a family history of cancer. Another, Al-Fathi, is a one kilometer rural stretch along both sides of a river. There were 37 cases reported, all varied types of cancer.
The third was Hay Al-Muslameen, a very well-to-do sector of the city. Twenty cases were documented there, mostly among teachers.

Dr. Najim began his report by noting that Coalition Forces, mostly U.S., used 350 tons of DU weapons in about 45 days in 1991, primarily in the stretch of Iraq northwest of Kuwait where Iraqi troops were on their retreat. Then in 2003, during the Shock and Awe bombing of Baghdad, the U.S. used another 150 tons of DU.

When DU hits a target it aerosolizes and oxidizes forming a uranium oxide that is two parts UO3 and one part UO2. The first is water soluble and filters down into the water aquifers and also becomes part of the food chain as plants take up the UO3 dissolved in water. The UO2 is insoluble and settles as dust on the surface of the earth and is blown by the winds to other locations.

As aerosolized dust it can enter the lungs and there begins to cause problems as it can cross cell walls and even impact the genetic system. Dr. Najim shared that one of his grandsons was born with congenital heart problems, Downs Syndrome, an underdeveloped liver and leukemia. He assumes that the problems were related to exposure of the child’s parents to DU. He said, “Cancer is spreading from the conflict area as a health epidemic and will only get worse.” The cancer rate has more than tripled over the last16 years in Najaf, similarly to Kuwait, Basra and Saudi Arabia.

There are nine DU production sites in the U.S., though, at this point, several (like National Lead in Colonie, NY, and Starmet in Concord, MA) have closed because of environmental contamination. Also, there are 14 testing sites for DU weapons in the U.S., though, again, some (like Jefferson Proving Grounds in Indiana) have closed because the military says they cannot be cleaned up.

Using a simple Geiger counter the research team discovered radiation levels of 30 counts per minute in Najaf and 40 counts per minute in the rural areas around Najaf. This compared to 10-15 counts per minute in Suleimaniya and at the Tawaitha nuclear research reactor outside Baghdad.

He concluded his talk by asking, “Would it be just to ask for equipment to continue the testing to locate contaminated sites, a hospital to care for children born with a DU-impacted genetic system, a center for study and decontamination of affected areas, and support for a special environmental department at the local university?” He assumed the U.S. would not respond to a total compensation request, but did assume it was appropriate to make these requests for compensation, to clean the environment and care for those exposed to the DU.

It was a rather diverse audience in Suleimaniya that participated in this DU forum. A local physician who had earlier in his career been the director at the Najaf Public Hospital, students, a local political leader, recently returned Kurds from other countries, and a local UN worker were among those who had questions and responses for the doctors. An important benefit of the forum was to provide a model that any small group of people can duplicate in their own communities as a way to spread awareness of the serious problems as DU blows into neighborhoods across Iraq.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Advent Slips into Kurdistan

Dear Friends, Family and All Good People,

We have had a downpour of welcome rain with accompanying thunder, hail and lightning this morning. It replenishes the reservoir that provides our limited electricity and soaks the earth so that farmers can plant their crops. I saw a farmer broadcasting grain on worked ground last week as we traveled to Erbil.

We spent that day in Erbil meeting with two members of the Kurdish Parliament to share the concerns that independent journalists had asked us to raise with them. Kurdish Iraq is being encouraged to join the "War Against Terrorism," so media freedom of speech is being throttled so that fear might be used to manipulate the population. The youth are so clear about the distinction between their elders who are living in the Anfal (the Kurdish holocaust, especially during the 1980's) mindset and their own vision of focusing on a vision for a different and positive future.

The last two days three members of Muslim Peacemaker Teams were with us. They presented a forum yesterday on their learnings about depleted uranium and its impact on their local Najaf community. They monitored sites across that city and found consistent readings at least double the background readings from the former Tawaitha nuclear site. This parallels similar findings all across south Iraq. Cancer rates are triple the rates before 1991. Rare cancers and cancers in the very young are becoming common. They report cancer spreading across their region as an epidemic. It is more sobering as the two presenters were the director of the Pathology Department at the large public hospital in Najaf and a nuclear physicist who was trained in Britain and was third in the nuclear program of Iraq until he left in the 90's.

Tomorrow we meet with the Minister of Awkaf and Religious Affairs. He will report on his trip to South Africa to learn about that reconciliation process. He wants to find application for that healing model here in the Kurdish area. We in CPT hope that we can encourage that effort as it relates to healing from the horrors of the Anfal and present tensions between locals and the large internally displaced population that has moved into this relatively safer space.

Some items of notice: Iraqi Airways ads are one of the few ads on bus windows. Old men wear the baggy sharwall trousers held up with a bulky cumberbund-type wrap while I see youths in shorts on the streets. There are young university women who appear to be poured into jeans alongside other women who are totally covered except for their eyes. On Fridays the shops that are open are internet cafes, carpet stores, money exchange fronts (The dollar has dropped in the last month from 1250 Iraqi dinars per dollar to 1217 dinars per dollar.), barber shops, and liquor stores. There are men tea shops where folks visit and drink tea, and there were tea shops for women until conservative Islamicists raised concerns. I have seen no donkey or horse carts here in Suleimaniya, a couple bicycles, motorcycles and bikes, and lots of taxis. I did see a Chevy and a Humvee automobile recently, but most of the cars are Nissan, Toyota, VW, KIA, BMW and Mercedes. The shops are filled with goods from China, Turkey, and Iran. If the economy is a sign of what influences this region, the United States is having a very small impact.

So, where is Jesus? Maybe in the guise of the elderly or the mothers with young children begging on the streets? Maybe he comes as an independent journalist? A child with cancer or a baby born with grotesque birth defects because parents breathed in depleted uranium dust? Or perhaps he comes again as a reconciler.

Come Lord Jesus!