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Special Reports Last Updated: Apr 13th, 2007 - 01:24:00

Prison for a peacemaker: An interview with Kathy Kelly, conclusion
By Jack Balkwill
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Apr 13, 2007, 01:21

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In part two, Kathy discussed her experiences in the prisons and jails of the Land of the Free for her peace actions. In part three she returns to the Iraqi people, talking about her personal experiences with those she met while working to bring about a more peaceful world.

Jack: Would you describe general conditions for the people of Iraq before the 2003 invasion and compare them to today?

Kathy: Many families whom I grew to know in Iraq had been, for many years, eking out a living under economic sanctions. When I stayed with them, I spent more money for one day�s worth of bottled water for our five-person team than they spent on their families for an entire month.

In Basra, I grew close to the family of Abu Mohammed. In the summer of 2002, when I visited his family, he shook his head and said, �Kathy, you know that we see you like a sister to ourselves and like a mother to our children. But, please, can you tell me, after all of these visits, what difference does it make?�

I looked at his daughters, still wearing the thin cotton dresses they had worn when I first met them. They slept in those dresses. They had no shoes. I looked at his wife, still suffering from arthritis and unable to obtain pain relievers. The TV still didn�t work. The roof was still damaged. Abu Mohammed still could barely feed his family. Our visits had made no difference whatsoever.

Small wonder, then, that some people would approach me, in secret, and whisper, �Believe me, Kathy, we want this war.� Poor people in impoverished areas of Iraq harbored hopes that somehow the war would release them from a dictator over whom they had no control and then they would be welcomed back into the family of nations, they would be able to earn a decent income and experience something like normalcy.

The longed for normalcy never occurred.

Over one million Iraqis are internally displaced, having fled violence in their neighborhoods. Seven hundred-fifty thousand Iraqis who fled violence in their country now live in Jordan, with another 850,000 in Syria. Hundreds of thousands of these people live in wretched conditions, unable to find employment, health care, education for their children or access to basic human rights.

The U.N. estimates that one out of every 10 Iraqis will try to flee their country in 2007.

Television coverage regularly shows blood-spattered streets and charred vehicles at the intersections where suicide bombers detonate their murderous cargo. Gruesome carnage and desperate bereavement are part of everyday footage filmed in Iraq. A growing humanitarian catastrophe is more difficult to portray.

Every family in Baghdad struggles with fuel and energy crises. They get one hour of electricity every 12 hours; only the more well-to-do families can afford a back-up generator. Fuel for transportation is extremely expensive. In a society that has 50 percent-75 percent unemployment, many find themselves scrounging for basic necessities.

Families that receive the dreaded knock on the door giving them 24 hours notice -- leave or you will be killed -- must swiftly relocate to other areas where they often face problems gaining access to food, potable water and health care.

Jack: Many Iraq experts say the biggest cause of violence in Iraq is the presence of Western troops. Do you agree, and do you favor withdrawing troops?

Kathy: In Jordan, in January of 2007, I met with Rafiq Tschannen, a Swiss national who is the chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration, a well-respected Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). I asked him if he favored a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

�Kathy, do the math,� he told me. �The amount of money which the U.S. gives to humanitarian relief, in Iraq, amounts to 0.01 percent of the amount of money directed, each day, to U.S. military spending in Iraq. If your country were to increase spending for humanitarian concerns up to just 1 percent of what is spent on the military, this could improve security in Iraq and even improve security for U.S. troops.�

Who are the �foot soldiers� for militias that attack U.S. troops and engage in inter-sectarian violence? Mr. Tschannen believes that men who cannot feed or shelter their families, men who bear the consequences of a 60 percent-80 percent unemployment rate, decide in desperation to join militias in search of income and some measure of security.

On February 5, 2007, President Bush submitted a request for 100 billion dollars of emergency supplemental funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to continue the global war against terrorism. This summer, we can expect another request for 142 billion dollars.

These funds will help protect the potential for major weapon making companies to stuff their stock portfolios with soaring profits. I don�t believe that funds for ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will improve security for Iraqis. Nor will U.S. people �support the troops� by directing U.S. wealth and productivity toward ongoing war in Iraq.

President Bush called for a 15 percent surge in the number of U.S. troops deployed to Iraq. Newly arriving troops will be stationed in nine different areas of Baghdad and in hotly contested areas of Iraq �s Anbar province.

Most of the U.S. troops don�t speak Arabic. Their mandate is to train and monitor Iraqi troops, and to equip them with firepower. But this is difficult to accomplish when you don�t speak the same language as the troops you are training.

I�m from Chicago. Law enforcers and politicians in Chicago face problems with gang rivalry. Suppose the mayor of Chicago were to invite a group of soldiers from a foreign country, let�s say Romania, to train one armed group in Chicago, to monitor this group, and to equip them with firepower.

But suppose that the Romanian soldiers didn�t speak English, didn�t understand Chicago�s neighborhoods, and knew nothing about the history of gang warfare in Chicago. Would Chicagoans object to the idea of asking the Romanians to distribute weapons to one group, train and monitor this group, and yet be unable to communicate with them?

It�s absurd to say that people who don�t support ongoing funding for war in Iraq don�t support the troops. How is it supportive to send U.S. troops into immensely dangerous situations where over 70 percent of the population claims they want the U.S. troops to leave and where the U.S. troops are handicapped by inability to speak the language or understand their environs?

Jack: What are you hearing from people in Iraq these days?

I hear, often, from Iraqi families who face aching losses, agonizing choices, seemingly insoluble problems, and some sliver of hope that Voices might be able to help them. In Amman, I met with two friends who had arrived in Jordan because their lives were threatened, in Iraq. Both decided to risk returning to Baghdad, in part because this was the only way they could get necessary documents if they were ever to resettle their families in another country. But both had also wanted very badly to reconnect with family members in Iraq.

A father separated from his wife and his four children couldn�t bear, any longer, the frustration of hearing his wife, over a cell phone, describe her nightmare fears as he also heard rifle and mortar fire in the distance. A mother bundled up her three children and took them with her on her return trip to Iraq. Just following these two families has yielded a litany of disaster and tragedy.

Ahmed�s younger brother was killed as he returned home from the university. His wife�s father was kidnapped and the captors wanted a ransom well beyond all of Ahmed�s savings. His cousin was a pedestrian in an area where a roadside explosive device was detonated. A frightened U.S. soldier began shooting randomly. The cousin was badly wounded by shrapnel that cut into his pancreas.

Ahmed�s father suffered from asthma; the dad is in his fifties and could normally survive an asthma attack. But he experienced an asthma attack in the middle of the night, during a curfew, when roads are closed. The family could not get medical help for him and he died.

Now, Ahmed must care for his younger brothers and sisters, for his mother, and for his own family.

Days after Amal returned to the Karadda district of Baghdad, the apartment where her sister-in-law had welcomed her and her three children was damaged by a suicide car bomb blast and became unlivable. All of the family members moved in with one of the recently married daughters. Seventeen people crowded into a tiny one-bedroom apartment.

Amal�s youngest son, Anoush, lost several teeth and suffered facial wounds when a mortar round hit a bus he was about to board. Amal is trying desperately to arrange passage for her and her family across the Iraq-Jordan border. She has been turned away twice. She has run out of money.

BBC Middle East marked the fourth year since the Shock and Awe bombing began by featuring 16-year-old Ali Abbas, an Iraqi youngster living in London who has personally borne terrible consequences of the U.S./UK �war of choice.� I first saw Ali at the Al Kindi hospital in Baghdad.

He was unconscious, following surgery in which doctors removed both of his arms. A U.S. missile hit the home where he and his family were eating their lunch, outside, on the patio. I sat next to his aunt, as she waited for him to regain consciousness. The woman began to sob. �How I tell him?� she asked, repeatedly. �What I say?� She searched for words to tell Ali that he had not only lost both arms, but that she was now his only surviving relative. All of his family members died.

Doctors reported that when they told Ali that they had amputated both of his arms, his first question was, �Will I always be this way?�

Hearing that, I dissolved into tears, fury mixed with dismay, asking myself over and over, �Will we always be this way?�

Ali has shown great courage in the past few years. He has learned to feed himself with his feet. He has become an accomplished artist, painting with his toes. The BBC interviewer asked him what he would like to do in his future. �I don�t know,� Ali replied, in perfect English, �but maybe I want to do something for peace.�

Jack: Can you name an Internet web site you would recommend?

Kathy: To stay in touch with �the Occupation Project,� a campaign to end funding for U.S. military and economic warfare against Iraq, I recommend visiting

Since the campaign was launched on February 5, 2007, over 300 people have committed civil disobedience by occupying the offices of their elected representatives, urging them to end funding for ongoing war in Iraq.

I recommend that people stay in touch with Jeff Guntzel and Noah Merrill maintain this site. They offer news updates, diary entries from correspondents in Iraq, opinion and analysis items, visuals and plenty of background information.

Jack: What is a good charity you would recommend for helping people in Iraq, something where there are no six-figure executives and the dollars go to really helping people? (We have readers who are activists and every dollar counts!).

Kathy: I�m deeply impressed by the work of �No More Victims,� (, a non-profit, non-sectarian, humanitarian organization which works to find medical sponsorships for war-injured Iraqi children and to forge ties between the children, their families and communities in the United States. �No More Victims� believes one of the most effective means of combating militarism is to focus on direct relief to its victims.

Jack: Do you agree with those who say the Iraq war is racist?

Who benefits from the war in Iraq? Major U.S. corporations -- General Dynamics, Lockheed, Boeing, Raytheon, Halliburton, Blackwater . . . -- the companies that constitute the number one lobby on Capitol Hill, the defense lobby, benefit from the war. Major oil companies will eventually derive enormous profit from the control and pricing of Iraq�s oil flow.

If Iraq grew asparagus, would we be there?

The beneficiaries of these corporations constitute a group of people who enjoy immense power and privilege in Western societies.

Americans who enjoy a relatively cushy lifestyle also benefit from an economy predicated on endless war and the capacity to be overly consumptive and wasteful. Yes, this war is racist.

Kathy Kelly, ( co-founded Voices in the Wilderness, a campaign to end economic sanctions against Iraq, and is now a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. ( The current campaign aims to end U.S. military and economic war in Iraq. Her experiences in Iraq and in U.S. prisons are narrated in her book, Other Lands Have Dreams: From Baghdad to Pekin Prison.

[Part One], [Part Two]

Jack Balkwill, a Vietnam veteran, does the web site Liberty Underground of Virginia (LUV) and has written for publications as varied as the little-read English Honor Society�s Rectangle to the millions of readers USA Today. He can be reached at

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