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Messages from Iraq: 15 January 2003
I am back in Jordan, staying once again in Amman. My visa was not extended. No reasons are given. The system is you get the visa to enter Iraq for ten days and then have to get it renewed. This can be for as much as a month or as little as a week. The request comes through whichever Ministry you are associated with. In my case the Foreign Ministry. But I think the actual visas are issued by the Interior Ministry and it is impossible to know why extensions aren't granted. I think it could well be due to the pressure they are under at the present. It is easier for them to deal with groups and I am on my own and also in so far as we are of value to them it is the US citizens with their direct effect on their media which helps most. So I will try to get back again as part of another group of Voices in the Wilderness which is going in on the 21st of this month.
During my stay I was at a number of press conferences. Reporters would ask questions like: "Aren't you just stooges for Government? You are just naive if you think you can do anything. Why don't you let it happen and release the people from this oppressive dictatorship". I have reflected on my stay. You can be totally opposed to dictatorship and yet be in Iraq. Of course you run the risk of being used. We were filmed by the Iraqi media as we were by the Western media. Each can put their own spin on it. But we were 100% there about being anti-war and for a diplomatic solution. We were there courtesy the Foreign Ministry, but we are entirely financed by our own country and not by Iraq. We never got into conversation over their regime. It was not relevant. None of us would have supported it, but because we don't support a particular country's administration does not mean we believe we have the right to force it to change.
Only in a simplistic view of the world where people are either good or evil can that seen to be right. Only where people can say "you are either for us or against us". After all, despite all the terrible things that the US has done and is doing to other countries, would I support Iraq in threatening to attack the US to bring about a regime change? And if the US can get UN support for attacking on the basis of this flimsy evidence, which country will it attack next. When oil runs out in the Middle East, will it turn on other countries? One day New Zealand?
In reading the numerous articles coming out of the US and UK press over the past weeks, I have been struck by the much better standard of reporting by the latter. There has been much more analysis. There have been some really good pieces in the US press that I have seen, one in the current issue of 'Foreign Policy', but on the whole as an article in 'The Nation' put it: "Bush lies, the press swallows". What is outstanding throughout is that the issues when dealt with in depth either in the US or UK, whether issues around US domestic effects, foreign policy, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction (WMD), inspections, the UN, the threat of Iraq - to the US or locally all - all reach the conclusion that war is inadvisable/unnecessary/wrong ... whereas the proponents of war do the chanting of slogans ... "unless Iraq disarms ... ", "even if the UN inspectors fail to find ... ", "the people of Iraq need to be liberated ... " etc etc. The trouble is that as yet the arguments for diplomacy and against war have not sunk in. The need for oil is clearly very great.
One final thing. One of our group was killed in a car crash. He was from Canada. His body was brought back from Basrah where he died, to Baghdad. It then had to wait two days before Royal Jordanian airways could fly the body to Amman. The reason? The UN sanctions committee had to give consent. And that required representations from the Canadian Government in Ottawa. It just shows the absurdity of the sanctions.
So now I am waiting to see if I can get another visa for Iraq. I am going to travel to Jerusalem and visit parts of the West Bank for the few days before returning here.
With greetings from Jordan, John