“Happy” Birthday

Where we are after three years in Iraq

by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, March 16, 2006

“Iraq is finished.”

They tell me this as Americans. Not as war heroes or foreigners or extremists or patriots or traitors or vigilantes, but as U.S. citizens with deep-rooted connections to the Iraqi community and the war. They tell me many things about the state of Iraq, post-Saddam, post-“Mission Accomplished,” post-elections. The picture they paint is one that has been primarily hidden from ordinary American citizens—sealed off by a veil of media smoke. The imagery is of bombs, kidnappings, lootings, killings, rape, hunger and fear. It is not democracy. It is not freedom. And it has, in their words, destroyed a 5,000-year-old civilization.

To commemorate the three-year birthday of the Iraq War, the Alibi reached out to people connected to the Iraqi community in Albuquerque—to speak with those who wished to voice their feelings about the conflict—good or bad, victory or tragedy. Unfortunately, not many wanted to talk. Some felt they couldn't. But three did. We're not operating under the illusion that these three voices in any way represent the breadth of opinions within the local Iraqi community. That said, we find it interesting, and somewhat alarming, to note that they all echoed one sentiment: “Iraq is finished.”


This One's for Peace

Mohassen Shukri moved to Albuquerque in 1970. Born in Lebanon and married to an Iraqi man, she lived in Iraq for a number of years before settling in the U.S. Over the last three-plus decades, she has retained her roots—traveling back to Iraq and Lebanon often to visit, keeping ties to her husband's five brothers and sisters and other relatives in the region.

Born into an area rife with conflict, Shukri has made a point of devoting her life to peace. The cofounder of the Arab-Jewish Peace Alliance in Albuquerque, on the board of the local chapter of the United Nations and a member of other peace groups such as the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice, she works closely on a daily basis with people in the Iraqi community in Albuquerque.

The story she tells of the situation in Iraq is one of gruesome violence and government lies, which is weakening the U.S. through both physical and political casualties and debt.

“To destabilize the area [of Iraq] is not in the interest of the United States,” she says. “But what's going on now—nothing is in the interest of the United States. They are destroying this country. When we go to a war, we are destroying ourselves and somebody else. We are destroying our economy. We are a small nation, you know, of 300 million. We want to just spread our skin all over the world—we cannot.

“We are not a rich country; we cannot pay our debt, we cannot pay the interest even. We are cutting on the poor, on the women, on the children, on the veterans—they have to wait one year for their appointment [at a VA hospital], you know. The veterans are really suffering and they cannot get what they need.”

For Iraqis, Shukri says the picture is increasingly dismal, even with Saddam Hussein gone. Indeed, she says many Iraqis have communicated to her that things were much better when Saddam was in power.

“The Iraqis, they don't want Saddam Hussein, either. They come here and they tell me, ’We wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but we don't want to destroy our country and kill our people to do that.'

“Saddam Hussein provided for his country. He built the country like you cannot believe—he concentrated on education, he sent everybody to school. He was recognized by the United Nations because he worked so much in education for illiteracy in Iraq.

“He provided everything, but you just had to do everything right. Everything was paid for by the government—highways, hotels, universities, garbage collection every single day, daycare for free. Everyone, every child even, had a bank account. So there was not a single person in Iraq who said ’I want to work' and there was no work for him. Everyone who comes from outside Iraq, they had the right to go to the universities for free, and graduate and get an education. And they give them pocket money, too.”

But that Iraq is a thing of the past. Now, the stories Shukri hears are of Iraqis standing in line for five hours to buy gasoline, the lootings of museums to the extent that not a single artifact is left, fathers prostituting their daughters to buy food, the rape of “every single man and woman and child in jail” and of old women being shot in the street for no apparent reason.

“There is a 5,000-year-old civilization in Iraq, there are many civilizations in Iraq, and they destroyed everything. They ran the country down to the Stone Age—there is nothing functioning, there is nothing working. The electricity, the sewage, the water, the hospitals—there isn't much of anything for the Iraqis. We are destroying Iraq, we are not building Iraq. When we destroy democracy and destroy the people, what democracy are we bringing?”

Our reasons for war, she says, are not enough.

“[9/11] is just an excuse, and the war has no end. When you say we are fighting the terror—who are the terrorists? We are the terrorists. Where are terrorists? Anywhere we find them—so we find excuses to enter any country, invade it and take out the terrorists. So what are we doing? This is what the American country stands for? America doesn't stand for that.”


I Remember the Guns

“I know how war is—they killed my family.”

Martha Dominguez was born in Honduras. She has been a U.S. citizen since 1959, has lived in Albuquerque since 1986 and remembers her past. “I come from an isolated village in the mountains [of Honduras]. Since I was a kid, we had to continue fighting. The Honduran government [has always] tried to take our land. I know what it is to be treated like I am not a human being—because of that, I have a connection to the people in Iraq. We are all human beings.”

Today, Dominguez is working in her own way to try to end the war and change out some of the leaders in U.S. government who she feels are not representing the American people. She has regularly met with legislators to express her concern with the combat but, feeling like nothing ever came from the meetings, she established the Coalition to Take Back Our Government soon after the Iraq War began.

Within the coalition she works to rally people together for peace marches, letter-writing campaigns and other activities, and works closely with the Muslim community in Albuquerque to talk with them about the war and their experiences.

“I work with people here, and my heart feels terrible about the situation [in Iraq]. $357 billion was used to buy weapons for the war, and it's terrible [how] that money is being used. Resources in this country [are dwindling]; people are looking for housing, there is no healthcare. That money is being used to kill families in Iraq—women and children and our young people. It's a high humanity cost for using $357 billion. It's heartbreaking for me to think about people in that situation, where homes are bombed and children can't go in the street.”

The stories she hears from Iraq, of bombings and kidnappings and shootings, are ones she relates to. “I know how it is, to have people colonize and invade you,” she says. “To turn off the lights so they won't see you; to know what it is to be hungry. They kidnapped our children, and [in Honduras] they're still doing it.

“I went to school several times in Honduras. Once, I was on a school bus, and the driver told us to hit the floor—outside, in front of us, people were resisting, without weapons. [The police] shot them. Another time, I saw my cousin shot—he was 17 years old. It was in 1983; he was at a university, voicing concerns about what was happening with the government. How can I not have a connection with every mother and every child in Iraq?”

For Dominguez, the solution is simple: The U.S. should withdraw from Iraq, and as soon as possible. “It's a bad habit to always choose war—there are so many people nationally and internationally [who are against it]. Americans shouldn't be there to be killed. And now that they've taken out a horrible dictator, we need to get out and get the U.N. to go in and help them.”

According to Dominguez, one positive thing that has come from the war is taking Saddam Hussein out of power, although she believes it could have been done a different way. “Saddam—he needed to go, the Iraqi people were suffering. But this war wasn't about taking him out. Another alternative would have been to help the people in Iraq do it themselves. He had to go, no question. Saddam is an ogre, not a man; he killed his own people. But to help people organize to do it themselves would have been a better way—the cost [of the war] is too high for Iraqis and Americans. A lot of Iraqis are saying now that they like Saddam [compared to what they have now], but I don't like him.

“Still, we should be able to use other ways to handle international problems. This country is in a worse place now than I've ever seen it. And it's both parties, not just Bush, that are allowing it to continue.

“People from Iraq, they don't talk about complicated politics—they talk simply about the reality of their lives. They talk about the kidnappings, all of which are not done by the Iraqis. These are human beings—not just ’Muslims'—and their suffering needs to stop. They want Americans out—they want people to come in and help them build infrastructure. Their country is destroyed.”


He Asked for Asylum

Abdul Alkasir was born in Iraq, is the father of three children, the author of four books, a former scientific assistant to Saddam Hussein and a political refugee. He has been a U.S. citizen since 1988, when he was granted political asylum. And he is worried about the future of the United States.

The events of Alkasir's life have been dramatic and terrifying, from personal death threats from Saddam Hussein himself to his wife dying of breast cancer at the age of 37 to the torture of his 90-year-old mother to his children's kidnapping to what he believes to be the murder of his wife's father. He is a man who understands the Iraqi mentality, as well as many of the inner workings of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Prior to the war, he had conversations with FBI agents, telling them some of what he knew, offering information to help the U.S. to better understand what it was entering into. But, according to him, they didn't listen.

“Before the war, I met with the FBI several times, I volunteered to give them information—but they didn't take it serious. They asked, ’What would happen in a war between the U.S. and Iraq?' And I told them that war wouldn't solve the problem. Saddam Hussein is an intelligent man—I know what happened, what he would do. But more importantly, I care about what would happen to the area. I told them the Americans would win, no doubt, but that was not the point.

“I told them if they went to war that three things would happen. One—if they go inside the country and go against Saddam, the Iraqi people will hug and kiss you. But two—in three months, they will hate you. Third—Iran will move inward and take over the country. Now we see this beginning to happen.”

Alkasir says if the U.S. had studied the Iraqi mentality more thoroughly before the war, things might have been different. “Before the war, there were terrorists, extreme religion, people who would invite you to eat food and then put poison in it—we needed to study this before. Now, my brother, [who is living in the area], says U.S. soldiers have no information, that they don't come prepared; he cries for them. And now, after three years, we see more people dying than we did during wartime. If we don't solve this, we will lose a lot, not just Iraq.”

According to Alkasir, the picture of Iraq is not good. “People in Iraq don't have electricity, water, security, police. If someone shoots their friend or their house, to whom do they complain? If they go to an official now, they'll kill them too. Since the war, all these babies and kids have been killed. Saddam—he tortured a lot of people, but the people killed in the last three years is more than with Saddam.”

Like others, Alkasir has mixed feelings over Saddam Hussein and whether he was in some ways good for Iraq. “Saddam is a man who is very hard to understand. He's very aggressive and very kind. You need to study his mentality to know what kind of human being he is. Saddam tortured, shot and killed his people, but he has another side. I'm against him—I lost too much. He took my kids hostage. But I saw his mentality; he had some heart. But now [the Iraqi] people have lost everything.”

At this point, Alkasir is possibly more concerned with what the U.S. could lose if Iran takes over the area as he thinks they can and will. He says that soon after the war, Iran coaxed many of the high-level scientists from Iraq to work for the country, offering them large amounts of money. Currently, he says there are many Iranians and people who work for Iran inside Iraq, and that the nation is building power.

“Iran has nuclear power and long-range missiles. And there is chemical material in Iran, people tell me that. My brother, who has a degree in chemical engineering, he is involved with such material and he knows.”

Alkasir says Iran should be a priority for the U.S. not only because of their weapons and position, but also because of their mentality. “The Iranian mentality is that they're happy to see their people die, because it means they're going to heaven. Their religion is very strong. It's easy to change politics, but not religion. And the mentality [in the whole region] has changed to the worse. They use religion as power.”

But Alkasir's solution to the war differs from that of others who were opposed to invading. “In the beginning, I said the war wouldn't work. But now we're there, we have to finish it. Iran is a problem now because Americans went inside. Before, the Iranians were scared of Saddam, but now he's gone. And the U.S. is weak now; our soldiers are over there.

“The only solution is there must be a strong revolution. The U.S. must be aggressive. Forget democracy—have no top-position Iraqi. The U.S. must occupy all of the country at once, and they must be even more aggressive than Saddam. The Iraqi people, you must be aggressive with them; otherwise, they don't respect you. Forget the election, it's only wasting time. Force a new government and in five to six months the country will be peaceful. But you need a huge revolution in one night—save freedom for later, because Iraq will never be the same. Iraq is finished.”