Where Is The Bread

Published on
by
The Baghdad Observer

Where Is The Bread

by
Leila Fadel

A reader wrote in criticizing me for writing about soccer and a National Anthem when OXFAM had released a report that chronicled the suffering of Iraqi people here, which has deteriorated since the U.S. led-invasion here in 2003. Watching Iraqis celebrate for the first time since I came here was enchanting. I've written so much about the misery I see every day it was an uplifting change to see a moment of fleeting happiness. Also, seeing the joyful reaction by some of my Iraqi friends when the Baathist National Anthem played in Dubai, seen as a direct snub against the Iraqi government set up during a deemed American occupation, is telling.

But he's right. Here are some snippets from that report:

Four million Iraqis can't afford to eat enough

70 percent of Iraqis don't have clean water supplies, a 20 percent increase since 2003.

28 percent of children are malnourished, a nine percent increase since the invasion in March 2003.

92 percent of children have learning problems that stem from the constant fear they live here in Iraq.

More than two million people are internally displaced in Iraq.

Another two million have fled, most taking refuge in Jordan and Syria, both now unwelcoming.

We've written a lot about what I think can be termed a crisis in Iraq. But the numbers show that there is no question that life for Iraqis here has deteriorated since the March 2003 invasion.

The signs of this crisis are in the streets. An Iraqi friend of mine has a two-year-old daughter, Dima. She is a funny child who sings a long with Barney. Her little lips, mouth the words, "I love you, you love me." When she sees candy she gets so excited she bites right into the wrapper to get to the treat inside.

She's a lot like her mom; she loves new dresses and pretty jewelry. My makeup is her toy box, she begs for lipstick and perfume. But she often breaks into fevers and has had such serious bouts of diarrhea because of the unwavering summer heat of Baghdad and tainted water. The capital has only one to two hours of government electricity a day. The rest of the time Iraqis sleep in more than 110 degree temperatures. They used to sleep on their roofs at night, to catch any cool breeze. But low flying U.S. helicopters that kick up dust are a hindrance and stray bullets from a nearby gun fight could injure or kill them.

Here in central Baghdad, people are digging wells in their backyards for water, because water supplies are so limited.

I remember on my first trip here in 2005 the complaints were the same, no water, no electricity, no money and no jobs. Nothing has changed, in some cases its much worse.

Most doctors have fled the country and Iraqis end up in Iran or Syria for treatment, if they can get there in time.

One of my Iraqi colleagues, Sahar, a brave single mother, struggles to keep her children in school. She is now among the displaced. She moved into our bureau. She feared staying at home would cost her another child; she's already lost one to this war. Now her beautiful 22-year-old daughter and clever 13-year-old boy are staples here. Her daughter is studying to be a dentist, despite snipers on campus, threats to professors and the dangerous road to school. Sahar's son, who loves Linkin' Park, a mix of heavy metal and alternative rock, goes to a private school known for its good education system. But now she's considering pulling him out to put him somewhere safer, closer to home. She fears that securing him a good future with a solid education could also abruptly end his future in a nearby car bomb.

There is little she can do but try to protect him from the dangers outside: random gunfire, roadside bombs, kidnappings and sectarian killings. I can see her fear, she will never get over the pain of her loss and I know she couldn't bear another.

In the past the bureau has written stories about children growing up knowing more about war than anything else. At day cares four-year-olds draw pictures of severed limbs, American tanks and gunmen; images they've seen their entire lives. Among children's first words here is the word bullet, Talqa or Rasasa in Arabic.

I remember when Dima's mother told me about her baby girl crying in fear. She was too young to talk, but she used her thumb and index finger to make the shape of a gun and made the sounds "Ta, Ta" to mimic the sound of gunfire outside.

Today I spent the morning at the Deputy Prime Minister's house. Barham Saleh met with the provincial council from Ninewah, north of Baghdad. One thing on the agenda was oil. The governor refused to transport oil through the province, the central government was upset.

"They are targeted," he said, referring to the oil tankers. Then he moved on to a more pressing issue, the province could not get enough rice, tea or milk for the people. The Minister of Trade said the problem wasn't supply, it was transport. People weren't willing to drive the products to the province because of the danger. His suggestion to the council was this: provide your own security or hire private companies to bring in the food.

Today in Baghdad at least 76 people were killed in car bombs. Sometimes with all the horrific attacks that rip a part bodies and bloody the streets, we forget about the daily suffering that have nothing to do with a spectacular explosion. We forget about the young children who can't focus in school because they fear they might die. Many don't go to school at all, the roads are to dangerous.

We forget about the little girl who looks up at her penniless father and asks her baba for bread. We forget about the hundreds of thousands of women who are now widows and are forced to find a way to feed their family. We forget about the day when the four-year-old who grew up in this war can't get a job as an adult because it was to dangerous to go to school. We forget that not everything is Sunni vs. Shiite, Sunni vs. Sunni, Shiite vs. Shiite or Kurd vs Arab. We forget that not everything is about Al Qaida, a group that only formed in Iraq after the 2003 invasion and according to some reports is only responsible for 15 percent of the violence in Iraq. We forget that it's not just about U.S. government catch phrases like, "democracy is hard," or "If we don't fight them here, they will follow us home." We forget that this is more than labels, this is people.

I have been criticized for writing to many "poor Iraqi stories" or being too critical of the situation here and today criticized for not being critical enough. But life according to this report is not better for Iraqis since 2003.

Baghdad Observer is written by Leila Fadel, the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. She has covered the war in Iraq for Knight Ridder and now McClatchy on and off since June 2005, as well as the 34-day war in Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel in the summer of 2006. Feel free to send a story suggestion. Read her stories at news.mcclatchy.com.

© 2007 McClatchy Newspapers

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