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Messages from Iraq: 13 January 2003

It is some days since last writing. It is partly because the email servers are down and have been so for three days. The story is that the CIA has been flooding the country with emails encouraging people to defect. It may well be a rumour as rumours abound here. So I am sending this out via Amman.

I may have to leave the country on Tuesday as they may not renew my visa. It is quite impossible to know what is the reason. If I leave, I will go to Amman and see if I can get another one to come back into the country with. I get the feeling that they are getting overloaded with visitors and that they only really want US citizens as they are the ones that count. They still welcome delegations of 100 or more and also famous people. They are having a peace conference for academics, but again they are solely from the USA. But it isn't even that straightforward as one of the group who had hoped to stay right through into the bombing and helped in getting emergency supplies ready left yesterday.

One of our group, George, was killed in a road accident last week and several others were injured.

I'm just back from Basrah [photo] where I went with the US group Peaceful Tomorrows, the people whose relatives died in the September 11th attack and who do not support US policy and war. I was relieved to be flying and not going by car, beautiful airports and a very easy flight. Basrah is a lovely old city, though sadly, badly damaged in the bombings.

When there we saw the Shatt al Iraq [photo], the piece of water that Iraq and Iran went to war over. And looked over to Iran and were (almost!) able to see the Gulf. We had a tour around the hospital and saw some children with malignancy. This is a source of contention as DU bombs and shells were used, particularly around Basrah. It appears that there has been a rise in severe birth defects but probably not in cancers. I have still not got hold of the data. We saw relatives of one of the victims of the US/UK bombing as well as someone seriously injured. Whilst we were there we heard the sirens go off. But no bombs, thankfully.

Most days are busy and we donít get to bed till 1am. But looking back on them they often seem to have been full of fairly trivial matters. Everything seems to take a long time. I went to UNICEF to send emails - it took about 2 hours, going there and finding no-one was in, going back to find the email was down, and going back again. I havenít discovered a telephone directory yet, so much has to be done by visiting!

I have managed to fit in a little culture: visits to the theatre and to an art gallery (where I presented the owner with a painting by Tony Maturin - much to his delight. It was an exhibition of modern art and I would have been glad to have a few at home! The exhibition was opened by the Minister of Culture - it would have been good to have had Helen here) And of course I have been to Babylon - on the way to Basrah we flew over Ur and the Garden of Eden: the only drawback to flying.

So, more news in a few days, John

Messages from Iraq

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