In all the commentary and hype about Iraq, one thing missing is the human dimension. We are told over and over about dangerous weapons, the deviousness of Saddam and the suffering of Israelis in their conflict with the Palestinians, but seldom do we hear much about the suffering of Iraqis.
We have been conditioned to regard these things as abstractions, so many obstacles to our goals, to be removed quickly, all neat and sanitary.
Have you ever wondered what it is like to live in Iraq these days with the fear of bombs and missiles dropping on your head at any moment?
Aula al-Windawi, an Iraqi girl, is just 14 years old. She has been through it all before. She tells a correspondent: When we hear the first rocket, we take the mirrors from the walls and the chandeliers from the ceiling. Then we go into my fathers study, and we dont leave.
The study is lined with thick concrete walls. It will house Aula, her two sisters, her mother, Ahdaf, an industrial chemist, her father, Dr. Mouayed al-Windawi, and the familys two dogs.
Dr. Windawi is an expert on Anglo-Iraqi relations. He and his family hope to survive what promises to be the most horrific bombardment of a civilian population in recent history.
Saddam Hussein, last week, made a televised address and urged his people to dig bomb shelters in their gardens. Iraqis are beginning to realize that war may be but days off.
The Times of London reports that despite that the cafés are full, the souks (markets) jammed with shoppers, and there are still wedding celebrations far into the night. For Iraq these may be the last hours of peace or as close to it as they can get.
The correspondent was given a tour of the Windawi home. Two large tanks filled with water sit just outside the study. A cupboard in another room is stuffed with sacks of rice, beans, sugar, tea and soap, all supplied by the government.
Every Iraqi family has this, said Aulas mother. This is enough for us to live on for several months. There is no well-stocked supermarket nearby.
Dr. al-Windawi is digging a well 100 feet deep. The water, which will come from the Tigris River, will be shared with several neighbors. His wife stores drinking water in old soda pop bottles lined up on her kitchen shelves.
Weve been preparing for four months, he said. Were no different from any family; all Iraqis do this.
Still, there are many things the family cannot afford. One needed item is a generator that costs more than Dr. Windawi can pay on his modest professors salary.
The generator is needed to light the house, but also because Aula is an insulin-dependent diabetic. The insulin, which is very difficult to obtain because of U.S. sanctions, must be refrigerated. She needs the medication twice a day.
And so they prepare and they wait. Aulas sister, Thura, 20, remarked: We know what to do now; we went through it twice before.
But they can have no idea of the death and destruction waiting to rain down on them. Far to the south, on the border with Kuwait, an Iraqi soldier mans an observation post atop Sinam Mountain, the highest point in the area.
We watch the Americans and see everything that happens, he said. We watch their maneuvers all the time.
Col. Sabri Gaib of the Iraqi air force said: Its a clear thing. We expect an attack from the Americans at any moment.
He admits the U.S. has overwhelming force poised against his country but, Col. Gaib said, The Iraqis will fight. In the 1920s the British had more manpower, equipment, even technology, you could say. We fought them with sticks and we kicked them out of Iraq.
The demilitarized zone extends from Kuwait, six miles into Iraq. UN observers are there. Just beyond the six-mile point, a road branches off. It leads to an area called the graveyard. Here are the twisted, blasted remains of tanks and trucks and other vehicles destroyed 12 years ago in the first Gulf War.
They were mostly knocked out with depleted uranium munitions. Iraqis live less than a mile from this place, and the desert winds whip the uranium-laden dust into their village. Children play near the jumble of shattered war equipment.
Getting statistics in Iraq is a difficult task, but your eyes could tell you the reality. The hospitals are jammed with children dying of leukemia and other cancers; babies are born with horrible birth defects. There are no medicines. The United States does not allow them in. Iraqi parents only can watch as disease slowly takes their children away.
Nearly half-a-million children have died since Gulf War I. Those alive today are facing what U.S. military planners call Shock and Awe. Thats a plan to fire 800 cruise missiles at Baghdad in the first two days of Gulf War II.
Fifty percent of the population of Iraq is children, aged 15 and younger; 10 percent is people 60 years and older. The plan shows the demented hypocrisy and cynicism of Mr. Rumsfeld, who claims the Pentagon goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.
But the planners, in their sterile, high-tech war rooms, do not see human beings. They see only abstract objectives such as targets, and collateral damage, as civilian deaths are termed, is merely numbers that fit into some designated slot in the overall plan.
We are planning to attack children, women, the elderly and men of arms. Reportedly, because of the projected concentration of incoming missile fire, a giant fireball is projected to cover Baghdad that will suck all the oxygen from the air sustaining that citys 5 million residents.
Yet Americans, or a goodly number of them at least, dont seem to care that this could be the greatest massacre and the greatest war crime in history, carried out in our name and financed by you and me.
Mr. Ridge may believe he has furnished homeland security with his new department. If this war happens, however, he may very well see close up what terrorism looks like and what it can do.
Source of quotes: The Times of London as posted on www.commondreams.com