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الاثنين، 10 فبراير 2014

Refugees in their own country

“The American forces destroyed our country and the relationships between us… I have a son who is 32 years old. He has only known war.”

Camps in Fallujah

Karbala, Iraq - Feb. 5, 2014
“We are refugees in our own country!” a soft spoken Sunni gentleman said this morning at the site where Fallujans are being housed in Karbala. But he was quick to add, “It is better than being refugees outside our country,” referring to Syria. I had read in the U.S. alternative media that Karbala, a Shia area, was taking in families fleeing the military attacks on their Sunni city, Fallujah. Karbala, a Shia city, is only 90 miles from Fallujah.
Karbala has three large compounds called “Visitors’ Cities,” each with a capacity to house thousands of pilgrims who come to visit the holy shrine of Imam Hussein and the shrine of his brother, Abbas. I was able to visit one of the compounds this morning which has been home to Fallujans since Iraqi forces began their assault in early January on “terrorists.”
At the Visitor City they are doing everything possible to provide for all the needs of those coming: clothes, food, schools for the children, financial aid, soccer games, medical care, and buses into town. The chief official of the site explained, “We don’t want them to feel like refugees. We want them to feel that this is their home. We are all one family. We want to send a message to all the world that there is no difference between Shia and Sunni. …We are preparing to receive many more people because we believe the fighting will continue.”
“They began coming on Jan. 5th in very small numbers…because they were fearful. When they saw that they were safe and treated like brothers, they sent word to their families. On Jan. 7th they began to arrive in greater numbers.” Now, less than a month later, there are between 1,000 and 2,000 in this compound, and they are still coming. We saw a man who had arrived with his family yesterday.
It has been said that the way we learn history shapes how we think about the present and the future. I was very mindful today
AFP photo from 2004 assault on Fallujah
speaking with one of the refugees from Fallujah of the destruction my country wrought on theirs, especially the two massive attacks we carried out on Fallujah in April and November of 2004. Before leaving, I felt the need to at least acknowledge these shameful acts.
Ross Caputi, a Marine veteran of the 2nd siege of Fallujah recently produced a documentary about the human consequences of U.S. foreign policy on the city of Fallujah. The media, says Caputi, framed the operation as a historic and heroic battle against terrorism. But he maintains that the important thing to focus on is the tremendous suffering it caused. In a December 2011 article for The Guardian, Caputi writes: “It has been seven years since the end of the second siege of Fallujah—the U.S. assault that left the city in ruins, killed thousands of civilians, and displaced hundreds of thousands more; the assault that poisoned a generation, plaguing the people who live there with cancers and their children with birth defects. It has been seven years and the lies that justified the assault still perpetuate false beliefs about what we did. The U.S. veterans who fought there still do not understand who they fought against, or what they were fighting for.”
The refugee from Fallujah has strong words for us this morning. “The American forces destroyed our country and the relationships between us… I have a son who is 32 years old. He has only known war.” The TV news is on as I write you. Live footage from bombs in Baghdad today at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as an area where a dear friend of ours lives.
The family from Baghdad who visited me yesterday in Karbala was able to take two packages to friends in Baghdad. One was for the friend living near the bombing. I just got an email from him that he was able to retrieve the package today and deliver the other package. The last part of the email leaves me shaken to my core. I have made a few minor adjustments for easier reading and I have also changed the names.
“Everybody happy with the lovely contents of the envelope. You don’t know how Zayneb [5yr daughter] felt happy to get photo of Sofia [also 5yr from states] and her family. She will soon draw picture, and as we cannot send it to them, so I will take picture and attach it to email. I went to Ali with the 2nd envelope. He was very happy to get your letter, and he appreciate your effort, he invite me to have tea but i apologize to him because situation wasn’t stable in Baghdad today. Just two hours ago two car bombs were bombed in [area where he lives], around 24 person were killed and injured. We don’t know what the reaction of this bomb will be. These car bombs were bombs in front of Sunna houses, victims mainly were kids who were playing in front of their houses. anyway Cathy keep in touch and take care.”
Here, joy and suffering exist side by side. Inseparable.

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