‘Bush Is a Great Actor’

From Dahr’s weblog

The floor of my hotel rumbled as yet another bomb detonated in central Baghdad at 8:55 a.m. today. My colleague down the hall showed up and asked, “Did you feel that?” I responded, “Yeah, Abu Talat is scheduled to show at nine so we can go to work … get your stuff.”

As usual, Abu Talat was right on time and we were off into the heat and traffic, inching our way toward the blast sight near the Central Bank.

The usual crowd milled about a crumbled area of curb where the small bomb had turned a nearby iron gate into a tortured metal jungle-gym. Fragments of concrete lay strewn about the street as anxious security guards wearing black flak jackets nervously directed the traffic that creeps by.

“It is the Americans and Israelis who are planting these bombs,” said Hammad Hussan, who is a security guard at the nearby bank. His hysteria is not uncommon here in Baghdad, where a day without an IED or car bomb has become an oddity. The four Iraqis wounded by the blast had already been evacuated. Hammad and several of the other guards believed the attack was meant to destabilize the banking system, as it occurred at the time when money is usually deposited at the bank.

One of the cars which was ripped up from the blast sat nearby – looters already propping bricks under it while taking the wheels off under the supervision of bank security guards.

At a nearby tea stall the owner, Hussein Ali openly expressed his grievances toward the occupation. Being an ex-Iraqi Army captain, he refuses to join the new army. “I don’t like the defense minister, and nobody knows who these people [the new government] are,” he said while sweat beaded on his forehead. The mornings don’t start off too hot, but by 10 a.m. it was already 90 degrees.

Another man sitting nearby as we drank tea jumped in, “There is no security here, and this is why we have no jobs.” He continued, “The Americans can never bring security here, everyday we have these bombs killing Iraqis, for what?” Despite so many people having grown weary of the fighting, bloodshed and bombs, Iraqis’ anger toward the occupation is rising along with the stifling summer temperatures here.

I continued my ongoing hospital research after the lively tea discussion over at Yarmouk Hospital. The Assistant Manager, Dr. Hayder Al-Safar told me how there were no problems there, that if they ever have shortages of any medicines, he calls the U.S.-funded Ministry of Health and within days they are provided.

I stared at him blankly, while making it a point not to ask him the question in my mind, which was, “So doctor, how much, exactly, do they pay you to lie?”

See, it was just weeks earlier that I’d visited Yarmouk Hospital.

At that time, Dr. Namin Rashid, the chief resident, stated that the only medical help his hospital had received lately had been a load of medical supplies from Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani.

He complained that the Ministry of Health consistently failed to give them enough supplies, and his hospital currently only had 100 sets of IVs and blood transfusion equipment. Yarmouk serves 5,000 patients each day.

He stated then, “We are getting less medical supplies now than we were during the sanctions!”

He said his hospital is receiving only one half as many supplies as it was prior to the invasion.

He stated, “The Ministry [of Health] talks a lot, but they do no action for us.” He said that people are getting injured or killed on their way to the hospital because of the dismal security situation. He said, “Bremer came here and talked a lot at the beginning of the occupation, but nothing has changed.”

His anger and frustration was palpable when he discussed how many gunshot victims he treated who are shot at U.S. checkpoints, and said that he too was afraid to even leave his hospital.

He was outraged at the fact that his hospital treats 10-20 gunshot victims each day, whereas before the invasion they treated an average of one per week, sometimes only one per month.

But it had been a little while since Dr. Rashid had told me these things, so Abu Talat, my friend Tareq and I decided to go get a second opinion about what Dr. Al-Safar had just told us.

Abu Talat, who is like a guided missile when it comes to gathering information for my stories, insisted we go straight to the supply room of the hospital.

There we met Dr. Um Mohammed at her desk. She is responsible for assisting in running the supply distribution for the hospital. At first reluctant to talk with me about supply shortages, I let her know Dr. Al-Safar had told me everything was great.

“He says these things but he knows better,” she said while sitting very still. “We tell him what we need, and he says that he asks the Ministry of Health but they don’t give it to him, so why bother?”

She has grown weary of the broken promises from the coalition, scattered like useless debris over the wreckage of her shattered country.

“This is just like Afghanistan,” she said while beginning to open up more about things that she has obviously been internalizing. “We lack everything here.”

Her talk went straight to those responsible for the lack of supplies – those funding and controlling the Ministry of Health: the U.S.-led CPA.

“They’ve destroyed the foundations of Iraq. What do you think we can do with no foundations,” she asked, her eyes looking deeply into mine as I wrote furiously on my note pad while maintaining eye contact. “Even if the Americans stay here 15 years, there will be no security.”

Her dark eyes were like lasers as her focused discussion seared into one topic after another. She was on fire.

“The West knows what is happening here but nobody can stand up to the colonial superpower America. Look at this hospital! Anything they do or build is superficial, not fundamental,” she stated firmly. “Bush is a great actor while he speaks of freedom.”

She shifted to the prison scandal. “Abu Ghraib attacked the dignity of the Iraqi people. America didn’t become barbarians from killing Indians, Vietnamese, Central Americans, Afghanis, and bombing us and our young children, who now have psychological scars?”

“I never liked Saddam, nor did I support him, but at least under the dictator there was order and some basic services,” she continued vehemently, her eyes becoming more intense after I’d thought that impossible. “Now there is no order, no electricity, no fundamental stability.”

Abu Talat suggested that she be careful, speaking so sternly about the failure of the occupation. She looked piercingly at him and said, “I am afraid, but not for myself. I’m not afraid to tell the truth, I’m only afraid for my family.”

Nevertheless, she continued with this chance to express her anger.

“So many Iraqis said the Americans would treat them better than Saddam, but when they saw the Americans stealing and killing, the Iraqis started to think differently about them.”

Though the topic is dancing about, the passion of her feelings links it all together. “The bad side of the Americans has been exposed to Iraqis now, and this is what we are seeing,” she said, referencing the indiscriminate street killings, Abu Ghraib and the wedding party massacre. “Me and my husband used to want to go to America,” she said before taking a long pause without looking away.

The next words were from her eyes, and she said, “Now … never.”

She told us a story of a truck that was turning around near a U.S. tank and was shot because it was too close. Everyone in it was severely injured; many had lost their eyes from the shrapnel. She was the doctor who wrote up the report, and had written “occupying forces” for those responsible for destroying the truck. She said the administrator of Yarmouk Hospital crossed out “occupying,” then crossed out “forces” from the report.

“So the truck just exploded on its own?” she asked.

Several seconds were allowed to pass to drive home her point.

She then told of a car full of medications for the hospital that was traveling from the airport when it was shot by a passing tank. “And the tank did not even stop,” she added.

Her anger from being on the front lines, treating the casualties churned out on a daily basis by the occupation forces was palpable.

“Some Iraqis still believe the Americans are here to help them,” she said in disbelief.

“I pray that God shows them what the Americans are like,” she said unmoving, her eyes unwavering. “I pray that God sics the Americans on them so they will see for themselves.”

She asked us if the occupation forces suffer from psychological problems, because she doesn’t think it is possible for anyone to do and say the things they do in Iraq and still be healthy.

She looked even deeper into my eyes and said, “Don’t imagine that the U.S. has come here to do us any good.”

Abu Talat asked her who her husband is, wondering if her strong opinions have been influenced by him.

She looked directly at him and said, “These are MY thoughts and emotions! Who my husband might be is irrelevant to my beliefs.”

We thanked her and walked out of the hospital to find several Humvees out front, en route to what a security guard told us was yet another bombing.

Author: Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail has reported from inside Iraq and is the author of Beyond the Green Zone.