'Why Are You Doing This to Us?'
This question was asked repeatedly of American visitors to an Iraq still devastated by bombing and sanctions
PRESIDENT Bush's assurance during the Gulf war that "the war is not against the Iraqi people" kept ringing in my ears throughout a recent trip to Iraq. Yet "Desert Storm" has now been moved directly into Iraqi homes. This latest "surgical strike" is turning out to be neither "clinical" nor "gentler and kinder."Skip to next paragraph
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As a result of the United Nations sanctions, many in Iraq don't get enough to eat, but they are hungry with dignity. Many others have succumbed to diseases, but they are willing to die if their pride remains intact. It is only the most vulnerable members of the society who have given up - babies, children, the enfeebled, and the sick. Conversely, Saddam Hussein and his ruling cadre are neither hungry nor dying.
Yet the staying power of ordinary Iraqis in Baghdad appears invincible. Their lives are shattered, their homes in shambles, but, amazingly, not their spirits. With diligence, courage, and unusual perseverance, the ordinary people of Iraq are struggling to rebuild their war-torn country.
Most of the rubble is cleared; all the Baghdad bridges are repaired; highways and many demolished buildings are being reconstructed at a rapid pace; essential telephone and power lines are back in operation; vast date groves are being cleared for alternative cultivation; formerly abandoned lands are now being plowed; the government's efforts to liberalize what's left of the economy are even more vigorous than they were before the war.
"Why are you Americans doing this to us?" was repeatedly asked of us by Iraqis, both in Baghdad and Karabala, a Shiite holy city. It was as though they expected an answer that made sense.
When this question about the sanctions was first posed to me by our Iraqi driver during our 14-hour journey from Amman, Jordan, to Baghdad, I was caught off guard. I turned to my husband, a professor of Middle East and Islamic history, for help. "Why, Howard?"
The obvious answer, of course, was, "Get rid of Saddam fast or you are doomed to go with him." But at that moment neither of us could articulate it. One university student had his own answer: "In the brave new world order, Big Brother Bush wants us to obey all his commandments, cloaked in UN resolutions!"
It is the women of Iraq today who carry the greatest brunt of this tragedy. They are the ones that deal day-to-day with the malnutrition-related diseases that their families suffer. They are the ones who sit on hospital floors with their dying babies; who go through the motions of nursing, with sagging breasts that have no milk, babies too weak to suck; who have to wash diapers in contaminated waters; who have to suffer when the pain of their children is not relieved because the hospitals have run out of
medication and supplies.
Above all, it is the women of Iraq who have taken it upon themselves to prevent the starvation of their children and families. You see them bartering off their jewelry, silverware, rugs, furniture, household appliances, and even clothes in return for food. Most Iraqi men are unemployed today because Iraq's economy depends so heavily on oil and on the trade now interdicted by the sanctions.
Many Iraqis say they would rather starve than allow the UN or any other outsider to dole out food to them. Iraqis will never accept enforced charity. They appreciate the way their government is distributing the little food they had.