March 6, 2006
This weekend, five Iraqi women arrived in New York City to begin a
speaking tour to educate Americans about the reality in Iraq and meet
with UN and US officials to call for a peace plan. Two of them join us
in our firehouse studio: Faiza Al-Araji is a civil engineer and
blogger, whose family recently fled to Jordan after her son was
temporarily kidnapped, and Eman Ahmad Khamas, an Iraqi journalist,
translator and human rights activist. [includes rush transcript]
We turn now to the War in Iraq. Nearly three months after a
December election, Iraq's divided political leaders are still fighting
over the crucial post of prime minister in the new government. Iraqi
president Jalal Talabani said Monday he would convene parliament in six
days but there is little chance of forming a unity coalition. Talabani
is leading a group of Sunni, Kurds and others opposing Prime Minister
Ibrahim al-Jaafari's bid for a new term amid anger over the recent
surge violence in the country.
In the latest bloodshed, a car bomb in Baquba north of Baghdad killed
six people, two of whom were girls under four years old. As many as
1,300 Iraqis were killed the week following the February 22nd bombing
of the gold dome of the Askariya shrine in Samarra - one of the holiest
sites to Shiite Muslims. It marked one of the bloodiest periods since
the U.S. invaded the country nearly three years ago.
While the bloodshed appears to have at least temporarily subsided, the
outbreak of violence last week has raised new concerns about where Iraq
is headed and the prospect of an outbreak of all-out civil war. But
back in Washington, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General
Peter Pace was asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" how things are going in
Iraq. He replied, "I'd say they're going well. I wouldn't put a great
big smiley face on it, but I'd say they're going well."
Pace's comments come as Amnesty International releases a new
report condemning what it calls the "arbitrary" detention of tens of
thousands of people in Iraq. In a new report, the human rights group
says the situation has become "a recipe for abuse." Amnesty
International UK Director Kate Allen said: "As long as U.S. and U.K.
forces hold prisoners in secret detention conditions, torture is much
more likely to occur, to go undetected and to go unpunished."
Today we speak about Iraq with Iraqis. This weekend, five Iraqi women
arrived in New York City to begin a speaking tour to educate Americans
about the reality in Iraq and meet with UN and US officials to call for
a peace plan. We are joined by two of them in our firehouse studio:
- Faiza Al-Araji, a civil engineer and blogger. She is a
religious Shia with a Sunni husband, and mother of three. After one son
was recently held as a political prisoner by the Ministry of the
Interior, the family fled to Jordan. Her blog is afamilyinbaghdad.blogspot.com
- Eman Ahmad Khamas, journalist, translator and activist.
She is a member of the Women's Will organization, which focuses on
defining and defending women's rights. For the past three years she has
been documenting crimes committed by US and Iraqi forces. She is the
former Director of International Occupation Watch Center Baghdad. She is married with two daughters and lives in Baghdad.
- Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink that organized the delegation of Iraqi women.
AMY GOODMAN: Back in Washington, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, was asked by Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press how things are going in Iraq.
TIM RUSSERT: If you were to be asked whether things in Iraq are going well or badly, what would you say? How would you answer?
GEN. PETER PACE: Iíd certainly say they are going well. I
wouldn't put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they are
going very, very well.
AMY GOODMAN: General Pace's comments come as Amnesty
International releases a new report condemning what it calls the
"arbitrary" detention of tens of thousands of people in Iraq. In this
new report, the human rights group says the situation has become "a
recipe for abuse." Amnesty Internationalís UK Director, Kate Allen,
said, "As long as U.S. and U.K. forces hold prisoners in secret
detention conditions, torture is much more likely to occur, to go
undetected and to go unpunished."
Today, we will talk about Iraq with Iraqis. This weekend, seven
Iraqi women arrived in New York City, or at least were supposed to, to
begin a speaking tour to educate Americans about the reality in Iraq
and meet with U.N. and U.S. officials to call for a peace plan. We will
be joined by two of them, but before we go to them, I wanted to turn to
Medea Benjamin, who is organizing this tour around the country, founder
of Code Pink Women for Peace. Medea, I said seven women came into the
country or were supposed to, because, in fact, only five made it?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Two of the women who we wanted to bring
here were women whose entire families were killed by the U.S. military.
As they were driving in their cars to get away from the violence, the
tanks came and shot into their cars. One woman talks about her little
boy on her lap and seeing the bullet go right through his forehead, her
other two children killed, her husband killed, and her left in the car
with the bloody bodies. We thought it was important to bring these
women to meet with Cindy Sheehan, other U.S. mothers who have lost
their children. And yet, when these women went to apply for their
visas, they were denied. When I called the State Department to find out
why, they said they had no compelling family ties left in Iraq that
would ensure that they would return home, so they were at risk of
staying in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: So, they were denied entry into the United States because the U.S. military had killed their families?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: They could not prove that they would want
to go home. So, yes, we killed their families and then denied them the
right to come to the United States to tell what the U.S. had done to
AMY GOODMAN: So, the five women who are here, what are your plans? Where are you going starting today?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: This is part of Code Pink's campaign
called "Women Say No to War." And we have a rally today at noon in
front of the United Nations. We are calling on the U.N. to stand up and
do something, to call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and send in
U.N. peacekeepers. Any New Yorkers listening, please join us at noon,
and then on Wednesday, International Women's Day, we will be meeting
with Congress, weíll be doing briefings at Congress, and we will be
marching from the Iraqi embassy to the White House with our call for
peace. Our call for peace has so far been signed by tens and tens of
thousands of women and men around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: About 70,000?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: About 70,000 to date, and if thereís one thing Iíd ask your listeners, Amy, to do is get online now, go to WomenSayNoToWar.org,
whether youíre a woman or a man, and sign up so we can count you in
with us when we march to the Iraqi embassy, to the White House, and go
through the halls of Congress, turning in our urgent call for peace.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we are also joined by Faiza
Al-Araji, who has just come into the United States as part of this
tour. She did make it, and you came from Amman, is that right?
FAIZA AL-ARAJI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: You just heard the Chair of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, General Peter Pace, when asked how things are going, saying
they were going very well, but he wouldn't put a smiley face on it, but
that things are going very well. What is your response?
FAIZA AL-ARAJI: I'm watching the documentary on the TV
now. Iím Iraqi. I left Iraq because of the kidnapping of my son in the
last summer and stay in Jordan as refugee. You know, the story went
out; living there is different. Itís completely different about the
story your media is sending you or the message the media is sending
you. When somebody telling you that things is going on in Iraq well and
everything is fine, please ask him, "What is your evidence? What is
your proof? What is your clue? Give me. Give me something on the
I can make a kind of debate. I'm ready to have a debate with
the American leaders, to sit with them in front of the American people.
I want to hear from them, and I will give them the answers for
everything they are talking about, because we have the real story on
the ground. After three years of evaluation, I think Iraqis have the
right to talk about the evolution of the war, not the American leaders,
because we are who are suffering here and we are -- we lost the money
of Iraq, we lost the souls of Iraqis, we lost the souls of loved ones
in Iraq. We have -- our kids have been kidnapped. Our neighbors have
been killed. We lost everything. But what about the leaders? They are
sitting in their chairs, and they have the power. And they did nothing
for the Iraqi people to help the Iraqi people. I'm not telling this
from my mind. It is facts on the ground.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened to your son?
FAIZA AL-ARAJI: My son was in the college. My son is not
the only story. It is a familiar story for the Iraqi families nowadays.
My son was going to the college in the morning. He finished his exam,
and he went to continue his operation in their office, you know, in the
college. The security man faced him, and he was a new one. And thatís a
new government, you know, how the style of security man. He asked him,
"Where are you going?" My son was not very friendly. He asked him, "It
is not your work. I'm going to finish my work in there. Iím familiar
here, and this is my college." When he finished his work with the
employee, and he went out, the security man stopped him, and he said,
"I want to open your wallet, and I want to check your identity." He
said, "Let me see your boss." Khalid asked him. And he said, "Okay. You
have to wait here." He was sitting to wait, and they got a bag.
They put it on his head, and they arrested him and put him in
the pickup and get him out of the college to the Interior Ministry, put
him in the seventh floor, like this is the zone of the terrorist
people. And he saw the people who were there. There were about 50 or 60
people sitting in that floor. Nobody -- they have been there in this
room since three or four months. Their families don't know about them,
if they are alive or they are dead. They have no right to contact their
families. They have no right to have a lawyer. They are just suspected
people. And after that, they told him that "You are innocent. We have
nothing against you, but you have to tell your parents to pay money."
We have to pay money to get your innocent son from their hands. I will
pay a thousand of dollars and get our son out of Iraq, and the whole
family went out of Iraq. We closed the house. And this is the familiar
story in Iraq now.
Every day, stories of horrible Ė the life is horrible for
Iraqis now. Iraq now is the hell. It is the land of hell. There is
nothing. There's no electricity. Thereís no water. There's no security.
You canít send your boy to the school, because you are scared. You have
to change the priority of your life. What is the priority? The
education of my son or the life of him? Yes, sure. The life of my son.
So the people are putting their son in the houses. They will never send
them to the schools or to the universities. And you can imagine what
kind of life, if you want to move to your job or to your school, and
thereís curfew or there is blocks of concrete barriers for the
occupation and checkpoints and checkpoints, and everywhere. It is a
kind of hell. You canít go out for shopping. You canít go for the
hospital. Everything is -- everything is destroyed in Iraq now. And
this is for the services or the conditions on the ground.
And what about the civil war? Somebody is pushing the country
to, you know, to get the option of civil war. Why? Who is the benefit?
Iraqis are against civil war. If you have the chance to go to move in
the streets of Iraqis and asking everyone, "Are you with the civil
war?" they will say, "No." Okay, if you have like official meeting with
the leaders of religion and political parties and social parties and
everything, they will say, "No." So the question is: Who is pushing the
country to choose civil war? Itís just to taunt the society and to
destroy the race of Iraq? This is strange point, but the people thought
that. The only one who will benefit from this civil war is the
occupation force, because it will give them the justification to stay
forever in Iraq. They are building army bases to stay in Iraq. So, we
have no other explanation.
AMY GOODMAN: Faizal Al-Araji, we have to break, but
when we come back, we will continue with you, as a civil engineer and a
blogger who has informed people outside of Iraq what's going on there.
We will also be joined by Eman Khamas, who is a journalist, translator
and activist, who also made it out of Baghdad. And Medea Benjamin, I
want to thank you for being with us, of Code Pink.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue with our guests today. We are
joined by Faiza Al-Araji, who is a civil engineer, who has just flown
in from Amman, lived in Iraq until this past summer when her son was
kidnapped. We are also joined by Eman Ahmad Khamas, who is a
journalist, translator and activist, a member of the Womenís Will
organization. We welcome you both. I asked you during the break, Faiza,
are you Sunni or Shia?
FAIZA AL-ARAJI: I don't like this question. I'm Iraqi.
And I'm insisting I am Iraqi. I don't want to use these new titles,
have been entered Iraq after Bremer. When he entered Iraq he put this
division for the Iraqi people. And we refuse it.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean itís just been
introduced? I mean, there is a sense in the media in this country that
this is age-old sectarian, almost tribal hatred.
FAIZA AL-ARAJI: Oh, my God. Yeah, they are trying to
tell you another story. The reality is there. We are brothers and
sisters. We are Muslim, my dear. This is the identity of the nation. We
are Muslim. But they are trying to divide the people, to go to the
sub-identity, to make a cause of fighting or to provoke the people
against each other. And we refuse it.
AMY GOODMAN: Eman?
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: Well, the reality is that it never
happened in the history of Iraq for thousands, six thousands of years.
It never happened, a civil war or these kind of distinctions. It is
true that there are in Iraq, there are Kurds, there are Arabs and
Sunnis and Shia and the Christians and many other minor religions and
groups. But it never happened that we fight each other. No. At all.
FAIZA AL-ARAJI: And a thing I said yesterday, in the
history there is fighting between the regime and the Kurds or the
regime against the Shia. But it doesn't mean it is civil war. It is
something between, you know, for political reasons. But the media here
is investing these actions to tell you another kind of stories.
AMY GOODMAN: I saw you both yesterday at the Community
Church in New York where you were speaking along with Medea Benjamin
and Cindy Sheehan, talking about the conditions in Iraq. Eman, you have
been documenting human rights abuses.
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: You live in Baghdad?
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: I live in Baghdad.
AMY GOODMAN: What have you documented?
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: Well, I worked mainly on the bombed
cities, the refugee camps. I also worked on the missing, a very big
issue in Iraq now, that I don't think people here have any idea about.
I worked on the detainees. These are the things that I worked on.
AMY GOODMAN: The missing?
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: The missing. Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: Well, people are -- people disappear
in Iraq. People are -- especially men -- arrested, and you don't hear
anything about them later. For example, in the first Ė in the first era
of the war, between March 20 until April 9, when the Iraqi state fall
down, people disappeared. There are eyewitnesses that these people were
taken by the American troops. Some of them may be killed. Some of them
may be in jail. But now, they don't exist.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, how do you find out? I mean, if you want to find out if someone has been jailed, what do you do?
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: There are eyewitnesses in the place
that he disappeared, and they say that "We saw him, he was injured and
was taken in an American tank or vehicle," or "He was taken," simply.
We go to the Ė and there is a very important point. There are prisoners
injured who are released and they say that in our -- in our room and
the place, we have this man and they give his description. Many things
that no one else would know. Only the person who was with him.
AMY GOODMAN: The American authorities in the U.S.-run prisons will not tell you?
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: We go to the American military bases, to the prisons, and we ask about these people. They deny them.
AMY GOODMAN: They deny that they are there?
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: They deny they exist in that prison.
For example, we have a story of a man. He was supposed to be in prison
in Umm Qasr, you know, Camp Bucca in the south, deep in the south.
AMY GOODMAN: Camp Bucca is named for a fireman who was killed 9/11 in New York.
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: Yeah, but for Iraqis it is a very big
prison. It is a camp where tens of thousands of Iraqis are arrested for
three years now. So, people come from there, and they say, "We know
this man, we know this man," etc. And we go there. Sometimes even the
American themselves, they say Ė the American authorities, the American
officials, they say, yes, they put list of names. And when we go back,
we ask about them, they say, "No, we didn't do that." And we show them,
I have a paper, I have a document, of one of these men. And now he's
I don't know the number of these people. The number is between
5,000 to 15,000. But I had a meeting with a general called General
Brandenburg in the Ministry of Justice. And he said that he has records
of that period. And he asked me to give him the names that I'm looking
for. And I did. But when we had the meeting, and we had a date to go
and to talk about these people, to give him the names, he did not show
up, unfortunately. I'm still waiting for an answer. They said, in the
Ministry of Justice, they said that he's changed. Now, there is another
one, called Garner. But I didn't meet him yet. And I'm looking forward
to meeting him and to give him the list of names about Ė and the
stories of these people who disappeared.
I mean, this is a very big tragedy in Iraq, because there are
families, mothers, wives, children, who are waiting to hear about their
loved ones, if they exist, if they are dead, if they are alive. They
simply Ė they simply won't answer. That's all. All the answers.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you even move around in Iraq?
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: We can move around, but it is very
risky. It is very dangerous, especially if you go to dangerous places.
I mean, I go, for example, to the places that are bombed. And I have
faced death many times. I was almost shot many times. But it is risky.
But, I mean, we have to go. We have to see these people. We have to
listen to them.
AMY GOODMAN: Even to come here, that required you traveling the road to Amman?
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: Yes. Yes. It was difficult.
AMY GOODMAN: And you were issued the visa in Baghdad or in Amman.
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: No, in Amman, we don't go to the Green
Zone, we donít go to the American embassy in Baghdad. Itís inside the
Green Zone, and they do not issue visas. You have to go to Amman to
apply first. And then, you have to go back to Baghdad to wait for two,
three, six weeks, and then you are sent an email or you hear from them
and then you go back and you get the visa, if it is granted. So, this
is how it works.
AMY GOODMAN: Faiza Al-Araji, you are also a civil
engineer. What about the so-called reconstruction of Iraq? Weíve last
heard that in the upcoming budget, the only money that has been
requested for reconstruction now is for prisons.
FAIZA AL-ARAJI: Yeah. We have heard a lot of stories
about reconstruction during the six months or the first year after the
war. And we were living inside Baghdad and watching for them, as an
example, for the campaign of maintenance of the schools. We have heard
about huge budget for the contractors from Bechtel or other American
companies. But the reality on the ground that the final thing that they
paid it for subcontract and subcontract, then Ė and a subcontract, a
Iraqi one, he got it for $2,000 for each school just to put painting
and to maintain the broken glasses. This is the only thing they have
done. But maybe they are sending you the message or the story that we
put new furniture and we put the new computers and everything was
fancy. No, this is not the truth. The reality is something very
different, you know?
I have to see a lot of our Ė to hear about - because I'm
engineer, I am in touch with engineers and with contractors. The
contractors are not qualified people. If you Ė I am working with water
treatment systems, and the people who are coming with their papers of
the specification for the water treatment package for a village or a
town, he don't know what is written in the paper. Why should they give
him the contract? Why should they give him the priority? Because he is
a friend of them. Because he is working in the -- maybe in the military
bases, building for the American military force. So they trust him. And
they give him the contract. He is ignorant. He donít know what is going
on, what is inside the paper and he -- but they give him a huge amount
of money. And when he come to ask me about the prices, I can't give
him, but I can understand he got a big budget for this small piece. And
by the time I can understand there is a lot of money have been spent
for the big construction of Iraq. Something like this.
But the reality is something on the ground, that is something
is like this. And you buy something in this budget, but you are the
price -- the real price is this thing. So you can see the money of the
Iraqis have been disappeared. This is the kind of Ė if we are talking
about the reconstruction and the corruption in the ministries and
everywhere, it is a familiar story now. And what about the corruption
of the billions of dollars of Iraqi people who have been out of the
AMY GOODMAN: We are going to end by asking what you think the solution is, to both of you. What's the solution?
FAIZA AL-ARAJI: What's the solution? What's the solution,
my dear? There is chaos. If you turn your face from this direction,
from Ė there is a lot of problems in Iraq. How could you -- can imagine
to start? What is the first step to stop all of this? The first step
is, help the Iraqis to have national unity government, to make a kind
of reconciliation between them after the last election, to get a good
government, a real government which is Ė who us representative of the
Iraqi people. This is step number one. Step number two, train -- give
training for the police Iraqi men and for the soldiers to help their
people, not to arrest them and kill them and to campaign or to move
with the American occupation force to kill Iraqi people. We need
something new, strong, to trust them. And then the other step, that we
can ask the troops to go out, to pull out the troops from Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: Eman Khamas, do you think that U.S. troops should leave immediately?
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: Yes. The occupation should end immediately.
AMY GOODMAN: What would happen then?
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: What would happen? Iraq would be free, would be really liberated. Iraq is now occupied.
AMY GOODMAN: The press describes it as it would immediately descend into civil war.
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: No. I mean, itís not going to be like
that. I mean, you have to plan it in a way that, you know, guarantee
that there will be no civil war, as you said. There is the U.N., there
is the Security Council, there are the peacekeeping troops. There are
many things that they can work out to, you know, follow this security
vacuum, so that it wouldnít, as you say, go into civil war. But the
occupation should end immediately. Itís something wrong. Itís wrong for
the Iraqis, for the Americans, for the world, for peace, for the
international law. Everything. Itís wrong. It has to end now.
Immediately. And then Ė and we Iraqis, we can work things out. We are
capable of that. And if we kill each other, itís our problem. Itís not
the Americanís problem. But we -- I'm sure that we are capable of
taking care of ourselves.
AMY GOODMAN: We will touch base as you travel around
the country in this International Women's Month, and I thank you very
much for being with us.
EMAN AHMAD KHAMAS: Thank you.
FAIZA AL-ARAJI: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Hopefully, the two other women who are
supposed to be a part of your tour will also eventually make it here. I
hear Mother's Day is now their goal. Well, we have been speaking with
Faiza Al-Araji, who is a civil engineer and blogger; her blog AfamilyInBaghdad.blogspot.com,
and we will link to it at DemocracyNow.org, and Eman Ahmad Khamas, who
is a journalist, translator, and activist, a member of the Women's Will
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