Both Ends of Missile Street
(Editor's note: The following is the fourth in 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/)
(Basra, Iraq) - I am visiting with Umm Heyder (literally, "the mother of Heyder") in the living room of her home on Rocket Street in Basra, southern Iraq. It was here, among these closely-constructed, adobe brick and stucco apartments, that a Tomahawk Cruise Missile exploded on January 25, 1999, forever fragmenting long-held hopes for the neighborhood's safety. This story begins, however, a world away from the destitution of Basra, so perhaps we should begin there.
A little more than two years ago, I committed my first act of civil disobedience. Early on a raw March morning, seven members of the "Raytheon Peacemakers" prayed, poured our blood, and trespassed onto property belonging to the Raytheon Corporation, the nation's third largest defense contractor and the Tomahawk Missile's manufacturer.
On that late winter day, my sole knowledge of the conditions in Iraq was second-hand, but that was soon to change. In September, and again in November, of that same year I made two-week visits to the Middle East to view for myself the destruction visited upon Iraq by US/UK weapons. Today, along with four other members of the Voices in the Wilderness campaign, I am living in the Al Jumhoriya City section of Basra, Iraq's third largest city and its only port.
On January 25th, 1999, a house on what has come to be known as Rocket Street suffered a direct hit from a Tomahawk Cruise Missile. Four young children were killed, and many more were wounded, in this attack on one of the city's poorest residential districts.
On my first day in Basra, I met several examples of President Clinton's "collateral damage" - boys and girls with mutilated legs, burned hands, and scarred faces - children whom Secretary of State Madeline Albright declared were the price worth paying to preserve US hegemony in the Middle East. I have met Umm Heyder, whose son's life was ripped from him by the attack. When I asked her, "How can you smile with the memory of your son's death so raw?" she replied, "What else can I do?"
I have now stood at both ends of the Tomahawk Missile's continuum - the quiet, well-manicured factory where men and women choose to make a weapon whose only purpose is the death of other human beings, and the sandy, garbage-strewn street where children scarred by the attack continue to mourn those who died. The US-sponsored economic sanctions, soon to enter their eleventh year, and the weekly bombing of Iraqi farms, factories, and homes - the real weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - have claimed the lives of almost a million Iraqis. Aside from hands covered with the blood of children, what have we gained? Umm Heyder, and the mothers of the other murdered men, women, and children, would certainly say, "Nothing."