The world press on the war

Canadian doctors describe the difficulties of getting humanitarian aid into Baghdad.

Published April 28, 2003 8:53PM (EDT)

Canada, Eric Hoskins and Samantha Nutt in Macleans

Editor's note: As executives with Toronto-based War Child Canada, an organization that provides aid to children in war zones, physicians Samantha Nutt and Eric Hoskins have made numerous humanitarian trips to Baghdad.

At 6:30 a.m., five white GMC trucks with the letters "TV" spelled out with duct tape on the hood and doors pull up to the Iraqi-Jordanian border. Four journalists and 10 tired, beleaguered aid workers get out ... We don't know each other, having just met at the bakery (the last stop for fresh pita bread) outside Amman, Jordan, at 2 a.m. There, we formed a spontaneous convoy, as a measure of added security for the long, dangerous drive to Baghdad, a route rife with robberies, ambushes and shootings -- enough to keep the United Nations and most aid agencies firmly rooted in Jordan.

Representing various nationalities, we proceed together to the Jordanian authorities and present our documents. Initial efforts fail, and we haggle our way up the chain of command to the border chief of police. After three hours of tea and exhaustive explanations, he taps his cigarette on the stack of passports and announces: "Those of you with press passes can travel to Baghdad. Anyone who is a doctor cannot. You must go back to Amman and get visas from the Iraqi embassy." It's irrelevant that there is no official Iraqi embassy in Amman, or that a humanitarian crisis is unfolding. But we refuse to give up, and following a series of manoeuvres (waiting for the shift to change and passing off our Ontario driver's licences as press passes), we are finally granted exit stamps.

A few things quickly become clear in Baghdad...

It is virtually impossible to know how many civilians died. Hospitals report casualty numbers significant enough to suggest that several thousand were killed or injured in Baghdad alone. At al-Yarmouk Hospital, a 1,000-bed facility, doctors and nurses are haunted by the faces of those they could not save. Lists of deceased and missing are posted in the hospital's waiting room -- anxious relatives frantically scan them for the names of lost loved ones.

Dr. Tala Awkati is the director of the facility's neonatal unit. Her ward is in a separate building from the main hospital. There is a faded stencil of Mickey Mouse above the unit's empty oxygen canisters; the room's dozen incubators sit empty. Awkati was forced to leave when she found herself, and her tiny patients, caught in a crossfire. She says Iraqi troops ordered her out, leaving three premature infants in incubators. Looters later shot the hospital's security guard and stripped the wards of medications, beds, blankets, lights, even the ceiling fans. By the time she returned, the three infants had died. "Their bodies were decomposing, still in their incubators," she said tearfully. "And the smell, I will never forget it"...

United Kingdom, Audrey Gillan in the Guardian

It had not occurred to me or my editors that being a woman would be a hindrance to me doing my job or to the army. In the end, it wasn't...

Within days, I found myself with the 105 men of D Squadron, the Blues and Royals, in Camp Eagle in Kuwait...

Towards the back were the officers and it was here that I found Squadron Leader Richard Taylor. He sat us down and said, in the politest of Household Cavalry tones: "When we are out in our vehicles in the field we live together, eat together, sleep together, fart together and wash our bollocks together. Do you think you can handle it?" I shrugged my shoulders, a part of me hoping he was pulling my leg in the way the regiment had when they hung up a picture of the Queen especially for the Guardian's arrival.

But he wasn't joking...

As they saw that I was prepared to muck in -- and as part of a crew of five on a small vehicle, I had little choice but to take my turn at making the tea, heating up the boil-in-the-bags or laying down people's "doss bags", I was shouted at and ordered around -- I simply became "one of the boys". Learning to swear like a trooper probably helped too...

On one occasion, as the soldiers rooted around an abandoned barracks, finding Iraqi chemical warfare suits and masks, the squadron corporal major told some American marines that I was there to make his "brew" but he never treated me with any less respect -- or indeed afforded me more privileges -- than he did his own troops. My safety was one of his prime concerns.

Yesterday, I phoned Bruce Adams and asked him what it was about me being a woman that got me by in a war, living together with more than 100 men. "Balls," he said. "More than some of the soldiers." So, that could be the answer, I didn't have the bollocks to wash in front of the squadron leader, but it seemed I had the balls.

Hong Kong, Li Yongyan in Asia Times

Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, the Iraqi information minister, did not appear to be bothered by lies. In fact, he lived and breathed them, right up until the last day before Baghdad fell to coalition forces ... While it is easy to dismiss him as the joker in a deck of cards, some people may have a hard time understanding how someone is capable of denying ironclad facts and at the same time fabricating blatant, downright stupid lies.

To people familiar with totalitarianism, however, [his] utterings fail in ingenuity and pale in comparison...

Totalitarianism is propped up by two things: force and lies. It works like this: "We know you don't believe, but we make sure you don't voice your dissent. So we can keep spinning out 'Newspeak'. And we are under no pressure whatsoever to explain or account for anything that we say"...

The toll on the collective credibility is enormous, and sad. The same horde of students who threw ink and stones at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in the wake of U.S. bombing of the Chinese mission in Belgrade flocked back the next week to queue for visa applications. The brave girl from Peking University who questioned the visiting U.S. president why he was meddling in China's "internal affairs" when New York police "beat people up at will" ended up marrying, of all nationalities, a U.S. citizen and emigrating to the land of police brutality.

The only sure thing about all this propaganda and cynicism is that since these nasty habits die hard, they always die the hard way.

Israel, Zvi Bar'el in Haaretz

The report that 4,000 suicide volunteers are in Iraq is more exotic than a strategic threat at this stage, but it is raising fears of an Afghanistan-style scenario. According to Turkish and Jordanian military sources, Iraq could attract every organization and fragment group that has not found a military operating field since Afghanistan.

"Iraq may turn into the next focus of Al-Qaida activity," said a senior Jordanian source. "Now there is a dangerous combination of radical Islamic rulings calling for jihad, a state in which every citizen carries arms, the lack of ability to distinguish between an innocent civilian and an activist in an organization, and an abundance of American targets."

Iraq's long and unsecured borders enable entrance from nearly every direction -- Syria, Iran, Jordan and Turkey -- and every village or township has plenty of weapons and explosive charges for volunteers to stock up on. The result is already evident: When coalition soldiers have difficulty setting traffic regulations for civilians, roadblocks turn into points of unrest, food distribution becomes a dangerous military operation, and every civilian vehicle is a suspicious object. In fact, a war within a war is developing in Iraq: one involves heavy weapons, planes and missiles against the Iraqi regime's targets, while the other involves an ongoing war to secure the fighting forces and logistic divisions from sporadic attacks...

Iraqi propaganda is taking advantage of the struggle for the public's heart. Yesterday it presented foreign correspondents with Iraqi women enlisting as warriors in the country's cities where they received lavish meals at their positions. Iraq says there is enough food to last five or six months, while international aid organizations estimate food supplies will last only four or five weeks.

The problem is not merely food distribution and humanitarian aid administration. Apparently in those townships and villages conquered, or partly dominated, by the coalition forces, the local authorities have been eliminated and there is no one overseeing public safety. Gangs of robbers and looters have been formed, and in some places, there have been reports of deadly score settling. The coalition forces lack the knowledge, ability and suitable personnel to cope with these developments.

Lebanon, Khaled Dakhil in Al-Hayat

It seems that there is an increasing conviction in the Iraqi society, especially in the leaderships of religious organizations, that it is imperative to understand the difference between religious convictions from one hand, and the political objectives on the other hand. In addition to being aware of the dangerous impacts and political repercussions if we do not differentiate between them. Religious convictions are by nature private and exclusive convictions on the level of the individual or the confession. Hence, they are characterized by the isolation and exclusion of other religions or confessions. This is why religious convictions are characterized by privacy and an endless ability to split and divide. On the contrary, political objectives, especially when they are away of religious commitments, are characterized by their ability of being general objectives where all parties meet, leading to meeting and national unity.

Moreover, it seems there is a wide awareness that not insisting on the confessional identity of the state in Iraq will give this state the independence it looses if it is restricted to a confession at the expense of other confessions. It is an independence it has been missing, like other Arab countries, all during its history. It is sure that the political experience of Iraq during half of a century and its results led to this end. Everyone wants the national unity for it is the safety valve. However, this unity cannot be realized unless if the state is independent not only from the foreign forces, but from local forces regardless their political or ideological identity. Secularism is the valve of this necessary independence to the state. Did the Iraqis reach so far? First indicators show that. The rest is left to time and experience.

Germany, Article in Der Spiegel

It is no coincidence that Bush is currently being compared with another president...: Harry Truman. He created the underpinnings of the U.N. and NATO, and was responsible for rebuilding and integrating Japan and Germany into the Western system of states, for the entire architecture on which U.S. influence in the post-war era was principally based.

And now the early days have returned. The speeches that Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush are giving these days resound with echoes of the post-war years. What happened then in Europe and Asia is now being reenacted in the Middle East. It, too, is to become a stage for democracy, and a heretofore isolated region of the world is to move closer to the West. Does this spell visa-free travel from Baghdad to Berlin?

However, there is a decisive difference between Truman and Bush. Bush questions every aspect of the institutions, alliances and treaties that have survived from the former world order. It seems that the internationalism of classic U.S. foreign policy is being replaced by a rabid unilateralism. This approach could be effective in building an empire, but certainly not a world comprised of allies that expect to be taken seriously. In Washington, the phrase "a new empire" has long since lost its derogatory ring...

Under Bush, the administration views as amoral the former national purpose of maintaining stability, one that was once touted as the premier objective of U.S. foreign policy by such statesmen as Henry Kissinger, and it now considers destroying the status quo a necessity. According to the logic of Washington's improvers of the world, any outcome of this policy, whatever it may be, will represent a moral step forward.

India, C. Rashmee Z. Ahmed in the Times of India

It may all have been very different if we were talking about the rights of terrorists operating in Jammu and Kashmir or the extradition of Abu Salem to India. But, Britain's famous sense of fair play and Europe's exaggerated emphasis on human rights is as nothing when it comes to the following, intensely ugly facts:

  • At least 20 European nationals, from countries ranging right the way across the European Union, are presently incarcerated in the legal black hole, that American-run Gulag, called Guantánamo Bay.
  • Though impossible to confirm, it is entirely likely that none of these Europeans' is white. The only Taliban-al Qaeda fighter America has publicly charged, tried and despatched with due legal process is the white Muslim American convert, John Walker Lindh....
  • Few in public or political life in Britain, America's chief ally and cheerleader, appear worried their own nationals make up the largest Western' contingent at Guantánamo Bay.
  • The West's conspiracy of silence over Guantánamo Bay is deafening but it may actually speak volumes about multi-culturalism and the real-time skirmishes of the clash of civilisations. Is multi-culturalism really an article of faith for Britain and the new E.U.? Or is just a fashionable marketing tool for ready-chilled meals and ethnic room chic?...

    Now, the Americans have admitted they're holding children captive as well. The Europe that is perilously strict about visa violations, smoking in public, over-long sausages and extraditing Salem to a country where he could receive the death penalty, is unresponsive....

    When the rhetoric of rights and responsibility is directed at the Third World, it may be right to remember, say, these sons of Tipton in the English Midlands, and hundreds of others. Terrorists or Taliban, reckless adventurers or the unluckiest of innocents, Guantánamo Bay raises serious concerns about their future, their health, the future of international law and health of the Western concept of justice-for-all.

    By Compiled by Laura McClure

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