Two views of a coming war

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Two women consider the prospect of war. One is Kurdish, living in a Kurdish-controlled region of northern Iraq. The other is Iraqi, living in Lebanon. They are very different, sharing, perhaps, only their fear.

Following are their words. The first is a mother of four who teaches in a secondary school in Erbil in northern Iraq. She asked that her name not be published because she fears retribution.

The second is Nuha al-Radi, an Iraqi artist and author of Baghdad Diaries, which she began to write in Baghdad during the last Iraq war. She now lives in Beirut.

These articles were originally published in Iraqi Crisis Report No. 2, produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (http://www.iwpr.net/).

The IWPR, a London-based charity, is dedicated to strengthening local journalism in regions of conflict.

From Erbil:

Television and radio here are broadcasting announcements offering amnesty to any of Saddam Hussein's supporters if they defect. All professional people - doctors, nurses, police, firemen and fighters - are on 24-hour call. When we go out, the only topic of conversation is the war: "What's the latest information?"

Kurds are very, very apprehensive about the prospect of war. The children are terrified, even though they have no personal experience of Saddam [Hussein's] cruelty, of his terrible chemical attacks. Kurdish media have been telling us to line our rooms with plastic sheeting and keep a large tank of clean drinking water in the house. We bought crates and crates of bottled water and we tried to buy gas masks, but there were none left - not even for the children.

There is no more plastic sheeting.

Erbil market is like a graveyard. People are only shopping for the daily essentials - bread, milk, chicken, things like that. All other shops have closed because they have no customers.

We are scared that what has happened before will happen again, that the nightmares will come back. We are scared that Saddam will use the war as excuse to attack us again.

Everyone has rucksacks packed with a little clothing and food in case we have to leave in a hurry. In the past we ran to Iran for safety. But this time we will head to the mountains, hoping that the Iraqi army will not reach us there. Those who can afford to have already rented rooms in villages in the mountains.

Over many decades, we Kurds have been betrayed by both America and the United Kingdom. After the gulf war of 1991, the United States left us like a flock of sheep with a wolf walking in our midst. When Saddam sent his tanks into Erbil in 1996, under the eyes of American planes, America did nothing. Again Kurds died.

This time we are hoping that the Americans will finally get rid of Saddam. We pray that any attack will be so quick that Saddam has no time for atrocities.

We have no other option. Kurdistan is liberated, but it is poor. For the moment we are safe and we have some freedom. There is no more torture, harassment or abuse unless you live near the border with Saddam's Iraq, from where Iraqi soldiers still cross into the liberated area to raid villages. But we are desperately poor. When I married in 1989, we were rich. We had two good incomes, a good house and good car. My husband was a primary school teacher. Today he is unemployed and earns what little he can driving a taxi.

At the moment our family is caring for a guest - our 76-year-old neighbor. She is one of many Kurds who will have difficulty caring for themselves if we are attacked again. Her husband, a primary school inspector, died last year. For a while she had a small pension. But this has stopped now because the regional government does not have the funds for this type of luxury.

When the American-backed opposition was meeting here last week, Turkey closed its border with northern Iraq. We don't really know what went on at the meeting, but we do know that the closure of the border had a dramatic effect on the prices of oil and gas. They rocketed. ...

Without the help of my sister in Britain, who sends us $100 to $200 a month, we could not survive. We will worship anyone who saves us from Saddam. They will be our saviors.

I have lived in fear all my life. It is our dream to see Saddam and his barbaric regime go. Nobody wants war. We will pay a big price. But we see no other way.

By Nuha al-Radi in Beirut:

With a heavy heart I open my e-mail a number of times a day to read endless opinions for and against the war. But since I received "Is Baghdad the new Hiroshima?" a few days ago I am dazed and haunted.

According to CBS News, my correspondent tells me, the Pentagon's war plan is based upon the "rapid dominance" theory of one Harlan Ullman, formerly "head of extended planning" in the U.S. Navy and, during his tenure at the National War College, a teacher of Secretary of State Colin Powell. Ullman's theory calls for "800 cruise missiles in the first two days of the war ... one every four minutes, day and night, for 48 hours."

The missiles "will destroy everything that makes life in Baghdad livable," Ullman told CBS reporter David Martin. "We want them to quit; we want them not to fight. ... You take the city down. ... You have this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima - not taking days or weeks, but in minutes."

"Shock and awe," Ullman calls it. Shock there will be. Awe less likely, as so many will be dead by then.

The disgraceful Arabs, who have never learned the meaning of "unity" or "initiative," met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh last week. All they produced, apart from a slanging match between Libya and Saudi Arabia, was a statement saying no Arab country should help with the war against Iraq. Yet most of them already have U.S. forces stationed on their territory ready for battle. Does that give the U.S. and Britain the right to occupy Iraq, to be the new colonial masters?

The U.S. is waiting for the U.N. to give it permission to attack, but gives all indications of being ready to do it without permission. The U.N., for its part, maintains a shameful silence as Israel invades Palestinian areas, demolishes, kills pregnant women and children and razes houses with people still inside - all this from behind the safety shield of missiles and armed vehicles.

This silence is unlikely to change when the U.S. attacks Iraq. The shock-and-awe tactic will mean there are no body bags to send home to America. Iraqi dead will be called "collateral damage" again and quickly forgotten.

Yet North Korea is allowed to go into nuclear production. The gentle North Korean people are to be dialogued with. No double standards here!

I talked to my 85-year-old mother in Baghdad a few days ago. Everyone there is going about his or her normal business, quite used to war tension by now. They seem quite fatalistic.

My neighbor was going to Baghdad and I asked my mother what I could send her. "Nuts, please," she said. So I sent nuts - and chocolates and water purification tabs - and I told her: "In case war starts, please move to my house in the orchard. It's so much safer than yours on the river. ... "

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the U.N. is dismantling and blowing up all Iraq's weapons. No double standards here!

... The United Arab Emirates have suggested that Saddam step down to avoid war, but it doesn't look as if anything will satisfy the United States now except full control of Iraq. And the U.S. will be there to stay. Like Israel in the occupied territories, it will put down roots. ...

As fast as Iraqi missiles are being destroyed, so the U.S. and Britain increase their bombing of the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq. Getting rid of Iraqi defenses; getting ready for the invasion which I think has already started.

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