Minden woman gets look inside Iraqi viewpoint
December 31, 2003
As a member of the Reno-Tahoe Friendship Force International, I joined 28 other ambassadors on a Peacemaking Mission to Jordan from Dec. 2-10, just prior to the capture of Saddam Hussein. Our purpose was to meet Iraqi refugee families and foster friendships beginning the difficult task of reconciliation. As a Friendship Force, we represented the United States (Russia and Israel) with arms of love, not arms of violence.
My 24-year-old Russian roommate and I were hosted by an Iraqi Kurd artist who was working diligently to earn a living for himself and for sending funds to his family in Baghdad. Although he was unable to speak English, we communicated basic essentials through sign language and when available, through an Iraqi friend.
The families we met varied considerably in their experiences and situations. For example, one family had left Baghdad to live in Amman 11 years ago escaping from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Another family had just left Iraq in July after a Fedayeen drive-by bombing of their 11-year-old daughter’s school during classes and the destruction of their home. Jordan, of course, limits the number of Iraqi refugees allowed into the country. Unfortunately, they are third class citizens and are either unable to obtain work, or are in the lowest paying jobs. They are required to pay an unaffordable tuition for their children’s schooling.
In every case, in spite of meager living circumstances, our Iraqi hosts were most hospitable. They could not do enough for us. Delicious Iraqi food was prepared and served in a most loving manner.
Our group of Friendship Force ambassadors and Iraqi hosts enjoyed sightseeing excursions together. The ruins of the old Roman city of Jerash are some of the most well preserved in the Middle East. We explored the extensive city-amphitheater, churches, the colonnade market square, and temples. The ancient rose-red city of Petra in a hidden canyon several hours south of Amman offered a look at life prior to the time of Christ. We hiked through the gorgeous seik (narrow canyon) that suddenly opens up into a wide expanse of incredible buildings carved into the cliffs.
Our Iraqi friends taught us about family values, hospitality, tenacity, perseverance, and courage in the face of most difficult circumstances. They are keeping hope alive!
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Some additional information:
– Menno Wiebe, The Mennonite Central Committee Jordan co-country representative, was required to be in Baghdad during our stay. Therefore he was unavailable to orient us about civilian efforts in the city.
– In Amman, we talked with several English-speaking refugees. We asked the following question and received these responses:
What position should the US be playing in Iraq?
Ahmed Al Karkhi- permanent resident form Michigan, Detroit gas station business co-owner, POW 7 years in Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War, learned English in POW camp, sponsored to the US afterward by a family member, supports Iraqi family with US earnings: “On my recent visit, my Baghdad family told me that the US and the UN should leave Iraq and let the Iraqis determine their own fate. They do not think that the current governing Iraqi Council of leaders has the support to implement policy even though they are well meaning. Since security and stability are absent in Baghdad at this time they would even consider having Saddam return as a leader because he can instill relative stability.”
Jameel Baban — Iraqi Kurd refugee in Amman, single, aged 22, affluent marketing student in Jordanian University, deceased father was attorney in Baghdad, mother and sister in Amman, another sister in Baghdad staying in the home place. He travels freely and regularly between Baghdad and Jordan with inconveniences but with relative security: “Iraqis know that the U.S. is not in our country because they love our eyes. If the U.S. shares 10 percent of the oil profit, it is more than Saddam Hussein shared with the Iraqi people. Also do you think that I could get into the U.S. to study easier than into Britain?”
Lana Baban — Iraqi Kurd refugee in Amman, aged 41, affluent employee of the UN High Commission for Refugees in Baghdad, administrative professional and translator, single: “The UN is a bloated agency of career bureaucrats with no incentive to solve the problems of Iraq. I do not want the UN to take the place of U.S. in Iraq. The U.S., in my opinion, is the only agent that has a chance of creating stability for Iraq.”
Tanya Baban — Iraqi Kurd refugee in Amman, widow approximately 60 years old, affluent former attorney educated in a French Catholic school in Iraq in the 1950s, currently taking radiation and chemo for cancer treatment in Jordan. Mother of Jameel and Lana: “George Bush is wonderful and a great man for the Iraqis.”
– Rick and Mary McDowell- Baghdad American Friends Service representatives spoke to our group. Since 1996, they worked with the results of the economic sanctions in Iraq, which had more Iraqi casualties than either Gulf War. They stay far from any connection to the U.S. government or military, and provide service to all that come to them as their resources permit. They stated that few basic services are available in Baghdad to date. Security has not been restored by the U.S. in Iraq, as had been expected.
They reported that in Baghdad alone, more than 54,000 people have been identified as homeless and the numbers increase daily. Many more people remain in their homes but live there in dire poverty. Jobs have not materialized in post-war Iraq, resulting in an unemployment rate of more than 50 percent. The housing shortage stands at 1.4 million. (Note: it was only during the end of sanctions that the Iraqi government was allowed to include material for housing as part of the oil-for-food program. Almost no construction took place from 1991 to 2000. Once allowed, the government engaged in an ambitious subsidized building effort in the final phases of the oil-for-food program.)
“The US military should hand over control to the UN. If we care about our children in the U.S. then we must take an interest and care about the children of Iraq and the Middle East because they will be the future leaders and will have to work together. We are in Iraq to assist in the development of a civil society and to represent Americans who come without guns.”
– Linda Hiebert Sekiguchi is a resident of Minden.