peace by peace
-- March 8, International Women's Day peace rally 11 am, march 1 pm. OISE, 252 Bloor West. 416-963-4420.
-- March 10, Artists Against the War meet, 7:30 pm. Trinity-St.Paul's, 427 Bloor West.
-- March 31, Women's peace forum with Sally Armstrong, Michele Landsberg, Judy Rebbick, 7-10 pm. OISE, 252 Bloor West. www.lindenschool.ca
-- If U.S. attacks Iraq, rally that day at 5 pm at the U.S. Consulate, University north of Queen, and on the first Saturday after, same location. 416-588-5555.
Baghdad -- The afternoon sky over Baghdad browned ominously as the sandstorm swirled in from the surrounding desert. Suddenly, the dirt was flying everywhere, filling mouths with grit in a choking blast of hot, stifling air. Some taxi drivers cursed, fearing the worst for their already damaged vehicles, while others were enthused. "God is Great" rejoiced the bearded driver who carried me home from a meeting.Indeed, the storm was a portent of weather to come, as the desert heats up to 37°-plus Celsius. Here the spring and summer sandstorms blow like the Russian snow that snatched victory from Napoleon and the Nazis back in history's frozen museum. The heat here, they say, will fry the brains of the invading army. And because the brains of the U.S. barbarians are now embodied by killer computers, their machines of war will slow and miscalibrate, and the 3,000 missiles Bush brags he will drill down upon us in an unprecedented 48-hour blitzkrieg are not guaranteed to kiss their targets with any precision. Above all, this is not good news.
Everywhere we go, war is in the air. In Babylon, an hour south of Baghdad, a sinister Moloch with its head of a snake and fearsome eagle talons will greet the invading army when it descends upon this dusty, sparsely attended tract. The reconstructed walls will surely fall when the missiles zero in on the presidential guest house in their painstaking search-and-destroy.
The shields have come to Babylon hoping to set up shop, but the Iraqi authorities have put up obstacles. The minders want us installed at what they consider priority infrastructure sites -- refineries, power plants, water treatment facilities that are sure to be bombed. At a mass meeting of all volunteers last Saturday in the ballroom of the ritzy Palestine Hotel, the chief of the minders, Dr. Al-Hasimi of the Peace and Solidarity Committee, ordered all potential shields to immediately deploy to 60 government-selected sites or leave the country the next morning.
The shields who have voluntarily set up camp at water treatment, food storage and power plants took umbrage at such ham-handedness and once again demanded that they be allowed to put their trainee corpses on the line at schools, hospitals and archaeological sites -- a demand the Iraqi government, in a supreme political blunder, has time and again refused. The rebellion resulted in the overnight exodus of nearly 30 shields who fled overland to Amman to protest Iraq's coercion. Nonetheless, nearly 100 volunteers remained in Baghdad and used the moment to deploy to sites where they'd already established a presence.
But the government men in Saddam mustachios and leather jackets were not to be satisfied. Instead, they forced dozens of volunteers aboard buses and ferried them out to the favoured installations, temporarily taking back the initiative. And the ranks of newly arrived shields were padded by an assortment of dangerous-looking types who seemed more like volunteers from the French Foreign Legion.
I'm stationed at the Daura refinery in west Bagdad, and I bunked last night with a fellow who jabbered past midnight about the humanitarian attributes of the Basque terrorists who hide behind the initials ETA. But by the next evening, full-blown community had settled in and old and new volunteers gathered in friendship around the house hookah.
The Daura refinery is a little neighbourhood unto itself. Muslim and Christian families live on either side of the guest house in which we're installed and sometimes invite us in for tea. Stray soccer balls occasionally bounce into the courtyard and laughting kids rush in to retrieve them. A woolly goat lives just across the street. A childcare centre is a few hundred yards away, with a primary school right next door. Each morning I walk with the scrubbed, smiling children to class, and they practise their English. If Bush harms a hair on their heads, I will forever thirst for vengeance.
But settling in at the Daura Oil Refinery is only part of the business we are about. The international volunteers are resolved to maintain a steady drumbeat of street protest, and almost daily we parade along the boulevards of Baghdad. Recently we strung up a 17-metre-long banner on one of the eight bridges that connect the banks of the Tigris River (all were blown up the last time around), strumming guitars and shouting poems to the joyous honking of horns. "Bush -- The Whole World Is Watching You!" the banner reads, but can it be seen 16,100 kilometres away in Tampa, Florida, whence the missiles will be triggered?
The day before, the Turkish comrades had danced through Martyrs' Square, pounding drums and shaking tambourines. Earlier that morning, we had descended on the International Press Center, hollering "No More Lies!" into the cubicles of corporate media. "No More Lies!" we shouted at a CNN flunky, Ingrid Kormanack, who stomped out of her cardboard-walled cave muttering, "I ask the questions around here."
But for all our fury, in the still of the soon-to-be-exploding, we know it's all a pantomime. The missiles will whistle in very soon. Many here would just as soon get it over with as quickly as possible because the waiting is killing their souls. "We eat America for breakfast," says Bassam, an ex-army man who invented a way to feed sheep chicken shit (32 per cent protein) in the aftermath of the last war and now works as a driver at the swank Palestine Hotel. "Every morning we listen to the news. If it is good our day will be good, but if it is bad we cannot eat...."
Bassam and I have agreed to celebrate our birthdays together -- my 65th is March 11, when we may still be alive, but his is April 19, by which date our fate will surely be sealed. Only an impossible miracle -- the apparition of the Pope in Baghdad or a transplant of George W. Bush's evil heart -- can save us now.