Welcome to Missile Street
(Editor's note: The following is the first of a series of reports from a four-person team of Voices in the Wilderness, an organization which actively seeks an end to the sanctions against Iraq. The team has been living with families in Basra's Jumuhriya neighborhood since July 12 and will remain until September, insha' Allah. You can visit their website at http://www.nonviolence.org/vitw/)
Word that our VOICES in the Wilderness Team will spend the hottest months of the year in Sunny Basra drew hearty laughter from our friends who work at a telephone/fax center in Baghdad: "We are going to send you home through the fax machine!"
Upon arrival in Basra, July 15, we were each paired with our host family. The next morning, Mark McGuire's summary statement was: "I'm immersed."
This update will focus on the family that welcomed Ken Hannaford-Ricardi into their home. Mr. Saadi, his wife and their seven children ages 2 - 19, live in a small threadbare home that has exactly seven pieces of furniture. They also own a refrigerator but have put it in storage since electricity is so erratic and infrequent. Mr. Saadi has been out of work for seven years. Formerly he translated and consulted for an Ad company, traveling abroad sometimes on company business. Since the sanctions were imposed he has been unemployed.
He and his family mostly subsist on the ration basket. Last night, welcoming Ken, they had watermelon and dates! They also painted the door and washed all the floors in preparation for his visit. Now they also want to make room for Mr. Saadi's father who went to the hospital for emergency treatment and remains seriously ill.
Ken marvels at how well the family treats him. "In the Middle East," says Mr. Saadi, "our guests are treated as though they own the home." Their generosity is even more remarkable considering Ken comes from the country that bombed Mr. Saadi's street in January 1999. Now it's called "Missile Street" or "Rocket Street," and the block's residents all recall with horror the day that a bomb struck, killing 6 and wounding many more, including Mr. Saadi's teenage son.+
Iraqis on "Missile Street" and elsewhere refer to the event as "the Accident." To us, it appears that ongoing US[/UK] bombing raids over the no-fly zones are "an accident" waiting to happen. Likewise, the sanctions prey on our vulnerable hosts.
Yes, all who warned us that we would melt in Basra were right. But mostly the children's eyes and the Basrans' countless kindnesses melt our hearts.
-- Kathy Kelly, From Basra, Iraq, in the "No-Fly Zone."
+ from Chris Ducot, Catholic Worker House in Hartford, CT:
"The missile attack was on January 25, 1999 on the Al-Jamhuriyah district of Basra in southern Iraq. The missile used was an AGM-130 guided cruise missile. The missile uses global positioning satellites [GPS] and preprogrammed ground coordinates to reach within 10 feet of the proscribed target. When the missile is closing in on the target the pilot can take control of the missile (seeing what is about to be hit with either infra-red or normal video cameras) and choose 'the window pane or doorknob he wishes to hit' (quote is from a Pentagon spokesperson I have interviewed on several occasions.). The bomb killed 6 and injured 64 people. Thirty-four houses were damaged or destroyed. Another missile killed 11 and injured 36 that same day in another neighborhood [Khadasiyah] in [sic: 25 kilometers outside] Basra. On Feb 15, 1999, 5 people were killed and 22 injured in another bombing in Basra."
-- N.B.: above figures verified through official investigation by head of UN "oil-for-food" program in Iraq.