Your Call airs on the Bay Area's public radio station KALW Monday through Friday (ten to eleven in the morning Pacific Time). Today host Rose Aguilar and the program offered something you rarely hear on American radio today: a discussion of Iraq. The guests were Kael Alford and Thorne Anderson.
Rose Aguilar: It's been almost ten years since the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. In fact today marks the 10th anniversary of the historic global protests against the war that took place all over the world. In 2003, today's guests photo journalist Kael Alford and Thorne Anderson took photos of Iraqi citizens outside of the confines of the US military's embedded journalist program. Their goal was to find out how the war was effecting ordinary people. Their photos are on display at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The description on a photo taken in Baghdad at a hospital on April 9, 2003 says, "A pool of blood is left on the floor of the lobby of the Saddam Medical Center after a man died on a makeshift operating table. Located near the front lines, the hospital was overlowing with patients." Another photo taken in Najaf on August 21, 2004 shows a man holding his crying son. The description reads, "On the wrecked outskirts of the old city, a father tries to cross the front lines with his terrified child signaling to snipers to hold their fire. Father and son crossed safely." Thorne Anderson began his work in Iraq in October 2002 photographing the impact of UN sanctions on Iraqis. He spent ten months of the last two years -- actually, that's not right. He was last in Iraq in 2004. While covering the war from Baghdad, he was arrested by Iraqi intelligence and expelled from the country. He returned from Iraq as soon as the borders opened at the end of the war and has covered the occupation resistance movements. He's also worked in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine. He's taught photo journalism at the American University in Bulgaria and his photographs regularly appear in major American and international newspapers and magazines. And Thorne joins us here in the studio. [. . .] We're also joined by Kael Alfred, a freelance photo journalist who was based in Baghdad during the US invasion in 2003. She was last in Iraq in 2011. Her work focuses on the growing culture of resistance, religion and the grassroots movements developing since the invasion. She has worked extensively covering southeast Europe and the Middle East for many major US and European magazines. She's currently working on a longterm project about the environmental degradation of the landscape and culture of the Gulf Coast.
At the top of each Friday show, Your Call always asks their guests to note reporting that they found valuable and noteworthy that week.
Kael Alfred: Well this isn't specifically -- It's not journalism but it's reporting done by Human Rights Watch. They just -- every year they publish this world report based on what happened in the last year. And as I was researching and preparing to speak to audiences about Iraq, I came across their report which goes into some depth about what's happened in Iraq in the last year. And, although I was there in 2011, it's nice to see -- or, it's not sort of nice, but it's confirmed in this report what I saw in Iraq in 2011 which is that the leadership of Iraq is, and I'm quoting the report here, sort of the intro to the report, "is using draconian measures against opposition politicians, detainees, demonstrators and journalists -- effectively squeezing the space for independent civil society and political freedoms in Iraq." Human Rights Watch said this today in their world report -- this was just published at the end of January. And so it's -- There just isn't a huge amount of reporting coming out of Iraq these days by western media because budgets are shrinking. There are a lot of conflicts happening all over the world and our attention shifts elsewhere. And, you know, we were just speaking about this before the show, how tens years on, the anniversary of this war, we don't really know what's happening in Iraq, we don't know what it looks like.
Rose Aguilar: Right. I remember on MSNBC, one of the hosts said, "President Obama has announced that the war is over, the troops are leaving." Sort of 'end of story.'
Kael Alford: Right.
Rose Aguilar: So you went there last year. Just talk about when you go, where do you go and what do you set out to do? What did you find this time around?
Kael Alford: Well I-I had a short period of time to work there. I only had a few weeks. And actually my time was even shortened by my having to get my visa through. So I had this window to work and I decided that what I would -- The best way to catch up with what had happened since I was there last would be to take the photographs I had made and revisit as many of the people as I could in these photograph -- people I had met in the past and reported on in the past. So I searched systematically, went searching for these people, and it was like detective work because the country was so up-ended in the last years that I didn't know where to find anyone, they weren't living in the same neighborhoods, they certainly didn't have the same phone numbers --
Rose Aguilar: And these are the people you have gotten to know over the years?
Kael Alford: Right. The people who I met in 2003 and 2004. And, you know, I hadn't really kept in close contact with them, it was really difficult, many of them don't speak English or don't write English and I don't speak or read Arabic. So when I went back, I found these people and just sort of asked them what's happened in the last eight years since I was here last? How is your life? What are your concerns? And almost universally, people's lives had gotten much, much harder. The situation was violent. It was very divided. People couldn't live safely in the places they'd lived before. The Sunni people I'd met, many of them felt confined to specific neighborhoods. There really was this ethnic divide, this ethnic cleansing, that targeted mostly Sunnis -- who are in the minority now -- were the subject of that. So Sunni people were really living in much more cloistered circumstances than they'd lived before -- if I could even find them at all. And-and there's one woman. Her name is Karimah. She and her family, I'd spent time at their house a lot in 2003 and 2004 and she's a widow and her husband was killed in the Iran - Iraq War. She has a large number of kids. And I went to visit her and her son, her oldest son, Aalee had been picked up at a cafe in a raid. And there were these Iraqi security forces who were looking for members of the Sadr militia. They picked him up, detained him, didn't charge him with anything really and interrogated him, extracting a confession from him and then proceeded to sort of keep him in prison until the family sold everything they had and could buy him out of prison basically. And that speaks to the state of the Iraqi judicial system today. It's a confession-based sort of system and people are frequently detained and not charged with anything until people can just buy them out. And that's included in this Human Rights Watch report. So it's really, the biggest concerns for the people who are coming up from this new very sort of corrupt and ineffective Iraqi government, in their words, in the way they described it and also the infrastructure was just a mess.
Rose Aguilar: Tell us more about that because we've done -- over the years we've done a lot of shows about the infrastructure. And I remember when we used to have a series Open Line To Iraq and we'd bring Iraqis on on a regular basis and the first question was do you have electricity, do you have water and it was so sporadic.
Kael Alford: So sporadic. I mean, the grid supplies maybe six hours of power a day -- the national grid. And otherwise, there are these neighborhood generators that are either privately owned by one wealthy person in the neighborhood that sells energy to everybody else -- produces it and sells it to everybody else at whatever price they decide to set. At least when I was there, they were talking about regulating this generator system but it wasn't happening yet when I was there. And then sometimes a neighborhood would go in together and buy a generator and they can be more of a grassroots, sort of democratic use of the generator. And these are the very large generators, like the size of shipping containers that would sit every few blocks and were constantly running and spewing fumes -- they run on petroleum and they smell terrible and they're loud. And then people would have a little generator at their house if they were wealthy enough to have their own generator that they would run when both those other systems weren't working.
Thorne Anderson: You know, it's important to note, we're not talking about an earthquake or some kind of natural disaster. What we're talking about here is just a disaster of massive corruption because there have been billions and billions of dollars that have been poured in for the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure and that has not been realized. That money has gone into Iraq but it hasn't gone into the infrastructure.
Kael Alford: That's a good point.
Thorne Anderson: So we're not talking about a national disaster here. We're talking about a really poorly managed transition of huge amounts of money.
The exhibit is entitled to "Eye Level in Iraq" and the exhibit continues to June 16, 2013 at the de Young Museum. Kenneth Baker (San Francisco Chronicle) reviews the exhibit today observing:
Looking at these images, visitors who opposed the man-made human catastrophe of Operation Iraqi Freedom before or after it began will experience again some of the nauseating helplessness they felt a decade ago at government deceit, lawlessness and ideology-driven aggression.
The exhibition leaves it to viewers to connect the discredited neocon foreign policy with draconian provisions of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act and with the killer drones now fatally realizing abroad the nightmare concept of the world as a battlefield. A picture such as one Alford took in Zafrania a month after the invasion suggests the peril she must have faced daily from enraged Iraqis certain of her foreignness but not of her relationship to the calamity engulfing them.
No less chilling is a shot she took from behind on the same day of an insurgent peering from an alley, a loaded rocket launcher on his shoulder. Was he aware of her presence? What preceded and followed from the image we see?
But I do know that Nouri's refusal to listen to the protesters is why the protests continue. Nouri's refusal to govern -- let alone govern fairly -- is why the violence continues today. Alsumaria reports one person was injured in a Baquba arm,ed attack, a Baquba car bombing has left four people injured (one an Iraqi solider), and an Al Zeera roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left another injured (Al Zeera is a village to the south of Mosul). All Iraq News adds that 1 police officer was shot dead in Baghdad and a Muqdadiyah suicide car bomber has left at least eleven people injured.
Today is the tenth anniversary of a historic day around the world. At the Guardian, Patrick Barkham reports:
For some, 15 February 2003 will go down in history as the final moment that Britons demonstrated a touching faith in parliamentary democracy.
Henna Malik, a sixth-former at the time, painted her face with the Stop the War logo and took the train to Waterloo with her friends. She believed the millions chanting "George Bush, terrorist" would persuade their MPs to vote against the war. "It was incredibly empowering at the time," she says. When most MPs and the government ignored this will of the people, Malik became a revolutionary socialist; now she does not support any political party but is training to be a human rights lawyer. "In retrospect we didn't stop the war so I became quite disillusioned but it did shape my political beliefs and how I felt I fit within society," she says.
It was an epic day of protest by people who didn't usually do that sort of thing. "There were nuns. Toddlers. Women barristers. The Eton George Orwell Society. Archaeologists Against War. Walthamstow Catholic Church, the Swaffham Women's Choir and Notts County Supporters Say Make Love Not War (And a Home Win against Bristol would be Nice). They won 2-0, by the way," as Euan Ferguson memorably noted in the Observer the next day. As night fell, Jesse Jackson and Charles Kennedy made rousing speeches and Ms Dynamite sung in Hyde Park.
Channel 4 News provides a video report which includes the reflections of four protesters. We'll do an excerpt noting Sarah Jewell and Henna Malik:
Sarah Jewell (Occupy Activist) : There was a genuine feeling of unease in the west and certainly in Britain and in London. Communities that I were a part of, we had a sense for a long time that something was going to happen.
Henna Malik (Trainee Lawyer): I mean Iraq was a humongous issue. It was everywhere. It permeated every aspect of society. You couldn't walk down the street without seeing an Iraq War poster -- an anti-Iraq War poster.
[. . .]
Henna Malik (Trainee Lawyer): I remember standing behind the student banner surrounded by tens of thousands of students all chanting in unison. It was incredible. It was absolutely incredible. I had my face painted with the Stop the War logo on it. I was surrounded by a lot of my friends and a lot of other students.
Sarah Jewell (Occupy Activist) : [. . .] because we were stuck at Gallow Street for so long, we started singing. And we were singing quite traditional, quite 1960s protest songs that people could join in on. We were singing, "Step-by-step the longest march, can be won, single stones will form an arch [the American Miner's Association Song]. Rich, poor, old, young, right-wing, left-wing, no wing, everybody was on that march.
We noted Laurie Penny's "Ten years ago we marched against the Iraq War and I learned a lesson in betrayal" (New Statesman) earlier this week. For some reason, former Marxist Tim Stanley (Telegraph of London) feels the need to hurl insults at Penny but he really comes off looking like a fool:
Never mind that school children should be in school (that includes a 16-year old Laurie Penny). [. . .] “What changed in 2003 was that millions of ordinary citizens around the world finally understood that the game was rigged, because only a few weeks after that march Nato went to war anyway.” No, Laurie, Nato didn’t lead in the invasion of Iraq and 2003 wasn’t the first time that a protest failed. The Peasant’s Revolt? The Vietnam War? Perhaps it was a history lesson that Penny missed the day she went to London.
Laurie Penny went to London on February 15, 2003. If I was a pompous ass like Tim Stanley, I don't believe I'd be lecturing Laurie Penny. But maybe a pompous ass gets off on the world laughing at him? Tim, if that's what gives you an orgasm, prepare to moan. Your idiotic assault on Laurie and how she missed school that day? February 15th was chosen precisely because it was a Saturday and most people would not be at work or at school. Do you get that, Tim Stanley? You've mocked Laurie and chided her but you're the big idiot because the sarcastic point of your bad column is that she should have been in school that day learning and the reality is there was no school that day.
Other coverage of the world protests ten years ago? Ishaan Tharoor (Time magazine), Philip Maughan (New Statesman), Ned Simons (Huffington Post UK), these letters to the Guardian newspaper, Philip Kane (Socialist Resistance), Symon Hill (Ekklesia), Ben Quinn (Christian Science Monitor), Dan Hodges (Telegraph of London), Rabble's "F15: Assessing the legacy of the largest protest in world history," Press TV's "Why was the biggest protest in world history ignored?," and "The Feb. 15 Call for Global Protests for Democracy, Solidarity and Justice" (War Is A Crime).
We're nearly out of space.
Michael Dakduk: Well, Mr. Chairman, I want to acknowledge that since the system has been rolled out that there has been an increase in the processing of GI Bill claims so that should be acknowledged. But I would also say that at the beginning of the semesters, that's when we see an influx of delays. and that's when we receive most of our complaints at Student Veterans of America. So we have a concern when we talk about troops returning home from Afghanistan and the Dept of Defense estimate over the next five years one million troops will remove the uniform and make the transition into civilian society. Many of them are going to use this Post-9-11 GI Bill. So we want to make sure that the Dept of Veterans Affairs is ready to handle that influx of military veterans on college campuses. At the beginning of semesters is when we see a high number of delays.
That's Student Veterans of America's Michael Dakduk testifying to Congress yesterday. We'll cover it next week, there's no space tonight to do it justice. We'll close with this on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
United States Senate
113th Congress, First Session
Tuesday, February 26, 2013 2:00 p.m. 345 Cannon HOB (House Side)
Joint Hearing on the legislative presentation of Disabled American Veterans (DAV)
Thursday, February 28, 2013 10:00 a.m. SD-G50
Joint Hearing on the legislative presentation of Military Officers Association of America, Retired Enlisted Association, Non Commissioned Officers Association, Blinded Veterans Association, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Wounded Warrior Project, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, American Ex-Prisoners of War
Heather L VachonChief Clerk
Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs
SR-412 Russell Senate Office Building
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