A First-Hand Perspective
By Sonia Nettnin
28 March, 2006
At the Chicago-Kent College of
Law, Dr. Rashad Zayadan spoke about the situation in Iraq since the
US-led invasion over three years ago. She asked a group of lawyers and
law students to inform their families and friends about Iraqi suffering
because of the war. She talked about justice and peace by ending the
military occupation in Iraq.
“We do not want the war to continue,” Zayadan said. “The
Iraqi people still suffering and this will not end until all of the
good people with hand-in-hand trying hard because it’s just not
suffering for my people but suffering for your people.”
Zayadan is a pharmacist in Baghdad, a mother of four children and the
head manageress of the Knowledge for Iraqi Women Society. On tour in
the US for three weeks, she is a part of an Iraqi women’s delegation
promoting the Women’s Call for Peace, which has been signed by
more than five million women around the globe. Their call urges that
the strategy in Iraq change from a military model to a conflict resolution
model by withdrawing all foreign troops from Iraq. Their belief is that
women will play an integral role in the peacemaking process. The lawyers
and law students attended Zayadan’s lecture for the National Lawyers
Guild Annual Midwest Regional Conference. This year’s theme: “Rising
to the Challenge: Pursuing Justice in Dangerous Times.”
The National Lawyers Guild has a history of examining the rights of
the Middle East’s indigenous people, with a focus on Palestinian
rights through published reports and press releases. Recently, London’s
Sunday Times published an article that explained Israel’s military
has planned major military operations against Palestinian militant groups
in the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem, Jenin, Hebron, and Ramallah
– scheduled to take place after Tuesday’s elections.
The thrust of Zayadan’s lecture was a slide presentation with
the preface: “What the words can not say might be cleared by pictures.
This is a story of a country – my country Iraq.” Dozens
of photographs told thousands and thousands of words about the suffering
experienced by Iraqis living with war and occupation.
There were civil buildings bombed and ashes lined the streets. One man,
who lost his entire family, stood in front of the rubble of his house.
He had burns on his chest. There were pictures of vegetable markets
in rubble and streets filled with fire. When a bomb drops on a house,
building or public square, cars, water, gas and electricity goes along
with it. “We hear about smart bomb but we do not see it,”
Since the war the telecommunications network of landlines was destroyed,
so for the most part, Iraqis depend on cellular phones for communication.
However, wireless communication is expensive and most Iraqi families
are large. As a result, they cannot afford cellular phone bills.
One photograph showed women
carrying water in pots and buckets on their heads. They have to travel
long distances for water while managing their households and children.
The Iraqi men are busy looking for work to feed their families. There
are approximately 1,200 Iraqi women in prison. Sometimes they are kept
in prison because US forces want their husbands or fathers. Iraqi men
feel it is their duty to help release the women in their families. Most
of the men will turn themselves to get the women out - even if he is
History has shown that war and violence will use love between people
When US soldiers invade Iraqi homes, children are traumatized. Photos
showed scared women and children standing or sitting by walls. They
cried. Sometimes they escort the women outside in their nightclothes.
If the women wear hijabs, head coverings for Muslim women, they may
not be allowed to cover their heads.
Some of the photographs showed US soldiers frisking grade-school children
on their way to school. The boys and girls have their hands in the air.
Some of boys – ages five, six seven, and eight – had to
sit on the ground blindfolded with what appeared to be plastic ties
around their wrists. I saw the photographs with my own eyes. What kind
of psychological effects this abuse will have on the Iraqi children
requires further study and research. How international law can be applied
should be reviewed also.
Yet, the photos became more graphic. Burned in my memory is the photo
of the US female soldier, a young woman in her early twenties with strawberry
blonde hair, fair skin, most likely of Irish or Scandinavian descent,
smiling at the camera. Her face was next to an Iraqi man’s face,
so beaten, swollen, bloody, black, and blue that he appeared unconscious.
There were several photos of Iraqi men, groups of men sitting on the
floor with their wrists tied behind their backs or in front of their
heads on the ground. Some of the men were half-naked and with hoods
(some with their shirts) over their heads. One man had a rice bag on
Several photos show Iraqi families living in tents from the UNHCR. The
families sleep on pillows and blankets on the dirt ground. They live
in these tents during the hot summer months and throughout the cold,
desert nights of winter. In Fallujah, one-third of the families lost
their homes, house made of stone that took families a long time to build.
In a matter of seconds these homes became rubble and human loss. Photos
show men screaming into the air. They lost their families and their
lives have been destroyed. In fact a couple of Iraqi women who were
part of the delegation lost their families also. While traveling to
the US with their photos and stories they were told they cannot enter
the US for concern “they would immigrate into Iraq permanently.”
In Fallujah what used to be an open place for sports is now an open
field of tombstones.
For readers interested in additional reading material for extended context
that was a lecture topic at the conference, here is an article I wrote
about counter-recruitment in the US.
For readers who want to know why they have not seen war coverage described
above should check out film reviews about the media and who controls
US media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When I thought I had seen the most graphic photos more images followed.
Nothing is worse than seeing burned children, armless children, eyeless
children, legless children on their backs and in so much pain they cannot
cry. Zayadan worked in hospitals where people suffer from the effects
of Depleted Uranium (DU). Most of the hospitals in Iraq do not have
the costly chemotherapy, which are daily injections, needed to treat
the patients. When Iraqis bring their children into the hospitals the
staff may not have the medicine needed to treat them. However, the hospital
staffs may keep the children as patients to help the families psychologically.
During her tour in the US, Zayadan met with religious leaders –
Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu – who said they
are not for this war.
When the invasion began, Zayadan sold her private pharmacy so she could
devote her time to the women’s organization Knowledge for Iraqi
Women Society. The Arabic word “Al Maarefa” means “knowledge.”
Al-Maarefa is an Islamic-based, humanitarian and women’s life
organization. They provide medical, social, educational, and clinical
care for Iraqi orphans, widows and families. They give people food,
clothing and tents; they train women for professions involving sewing
and computers; and they provide family loans for small business development.
Zayadan said she hopes the right bridge will be built between Iraq and
America because “war is not the answer and it was never the answer.”
Her hope is that there will be peace and love for future generations
because there is space in the world for all our religions and values.
Global Exchange and Code Pink sponsored the tour.
-Journalist Sonia Nettnin
writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus
is the Middle East.