Amman, Iraq, and Al-Qaim

It feels uncomfortable writing about Iraq from Amman…but my close friends, Abu Talat (my close friend and interpreter) and intuition have all provided the same message-do not go inside Iraq at this time.

So I’ve been in Amman now for about a week, and will resume posting stories from here soon. We’ve been working on a couple of stories about Iraqis in Amman…those should be out soon.

For now, I am using my Iraqi contacts in Baghdad (and other cities) as well as those who have joined me here, along with watching Al-Jazeera television, to pass on some news and photos about the situation.

Abu Talat phoned his family today in Baghdad. They’ve had no electricity for four days. They told him (unconfirmed) that all of Iraq has had no electricity for several days. As Abu Talat says, “Baghdad is running on the generator.”

Of course the gas crisis persists augmented by the lack of electricity, along with constantly increasing attacks.

We were in a taxi earlier, driving across the orderly streets of Amman and talking about the situation in Iraq. “Now I feel ashamed to tell people I am Iraqi,” says Abu Talat after he told the taxi driver he is from Baghdad, “Because my country has been totally destroyed.”

I look out the window, not knowing what to say. I think to say, ‘But it isn’t your fault, habibi,” but instead sit quietly, feeling that any words would be inadequate.

The situation around Al-Qaim where “Operation Matador” is ongoing, appears to be a micro-version of Fallujah. The military and corporate media continue to portray the situation as if “foreign fighters” have taken control of Qaim and surrounding villages (as was said about Fallujah) when reports from the ground state that interviews with the fighters have them all saying they are Iraqi.

Of course it behooves the military to claim they are battling “foreign fighters,” because as in Fallujah and elsewhere, it doesn’t look good in the press to admit that they are fighting Iraqis who are fighting for their independence from the occupiers of their country. Even the marines in Fallujah admitted they had killed a grand total of 35 foreign fighters there. That kind of debunks the myth of a foreign terrorist group taking over the city and terrorizing the citizens.

Another similarity between Qaim and Fallujah is that now there is a humanitarian crisis in Qaim from the fighting. There are 1,300 displaced families (approximately 12,000 people) from Qaim and the hospital there was destroyed amidst fighting on 8 May between resistance fighters and locals. On the 9th there was no electricity or water in Qaim and the surrounding areas and schools were closed. On the 11th US warplanes continued to bomb Obeidy and other nearby locations.

All of the aforementioned statistics were provided to me by a friend who is here working with the Italian Consortium of Solidarity, an Italian NGO based in Amman which provides humanitarian aid and has set up an emergency working group for al-Qaim and has contacts on the ground there. She also reports that people there need shelter, food, water and medical care.

The loss of life continues unabated….in the last week at least 37 US soldiers have been killed, while at least 450 Iraqis have died amidst a huge surge of ongoing attacks since 28 April, when the Iraqi government was officially announced.

Abdul-Khaliq al-Raqwi, the director of communications for the Iraqi Government in al-Qaim, confirmed to Al-Jazeera that 2 US helicopters were shot down in Qusaybah this past Wednesday. The military denied this, even though witnesses on the ground confirmed the report as well.

Another interesting incident which occurred the beginning of the month was when two F-18 Hornet jets crashed in Iraq. The military claimed there was no indication of hostile fire, yet they crashed in different locations. On the day of their crash, Baghdad airport was closed to commercial air traffic for three days with no reason given by authorities.