An Update from Amman, Jordan

December 21, 2006

Dear Friends,

Greetings from Amman, Jordan, where our small team consists of David Smith-Ferri, Bob Abplanalp and Kathy Kelly. Cathy Breen will join us in January.

We’re encouraged by updates about the Occupation Project. Activists in many states and congressional districts are joining together and organizing campaigns of sustained nonviolent civil disobedience to end Iraq war funding. The Occupation Project campaign calls upon Representatives and Senators to publicly pledge to vote against the supplemental spending bill which President Bush will submit to Congress in early 2007 and which will seek an estimated $100 billion more in funds for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the so-called global war on terror.

Civil disobedience will begin on February 5 in the offices of those legislators who do not make a public pledge to vote against the supplemental war funding bill, with c.d. actions continuing through at least the end of March. February is the date when, in 2003, Colin Powell delivered a report to the U.N. Security Council which claimed the U.S. had intelligence about Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction.

For the past three weeks, we’ve met with Iraqis living in Amman, Jordan. Some are old friends. Others befriended Cathy Breen when she lived in Amman for six months, earlier this year. Cathy worked hard to raise concern about the plight of Iraqis who are trapped here, unable to attain refugee status, ineligible for resettlement, and lacking documentation to make their stay here legal. Some progress has been made in this regard, particularly after the Human Rights Watch report about the plight of Iraqis in Jordan and Syria.

In the late summer, Claudia Lefko of Northampton, MA met several Iraqi families when she traveled to Amman on behalf of the “Iraq Children’s Art” project. She was literally on the “ground floor” of efforts to begin an informal school for Iraqi youngsters. Following her lead, we’ve regularly visited this growing project. We’ve agreed to offer a three week course in very basic English instruction to Iraqi adults in the neighborhood, many of whom are parents of children who attend the informal school.

Those who worked to end the sanctions will be particularly struck, we think, by our conversation with a young maxillofacial surgeon, Dr. Abbas. We learned of his work in Amman because it’s hoped that he’ll be able to perform a reconstructive surgery for a teenager we know who was shot in the face by assailants in August of 2005.

Dr. Abbas courageously splits his time between a large medical complex in a violent section of Baghdad and a hospital in Amman. While here in Amman, he is a part of a remarkable collaboration among Iraqi doctors, the Jordanian Red Crescent, and the international NGO, Doctors Without Borders. This program, begun in August, 2006, makes it possible to airlift badly injured Iraqis to Amman for treatment, greatly increasing their chances of a successful recovery.

We talked with Dr. Abbas about Voices’ work opposing the sanctions. He visited our websites and wrote us a letter expressing genuine gratitude. In one of many candid and striking moments in our conversations with him, he said, “We never tasted the sweetness of the lifting of sanctions. When it happened, we didn’t even notice.” With remarkable dignity and compassion, Dr. Abbas shared with us many stories about violence against doctors and other academics, and the ongoing challenges of trying to provide medical treatment without the proper equipment, supplies, and stocks of medicine. It seemed we had gone back in time to 1996. Referring to the first weeks of the invasion when there was heavy bombing in Baghdad, a time when Voices had a strong presence in the city, Dr. Abbas said, “That was a very hard time. But now,” he said, “is worse.”

We suggested that he is courageous to do the work he is doing, and he responded simply, “I should be doing this. It’s my country and my job. I should be braver than the American soldier who is a target because it is my country, my family, my relatives.” At a time when the news from Iraq can seem so unremittingly bad, we are happy to be able to share this encounter with you and to count Dr. Abbas as one of our new friends.

Several UNHCR representatives have met with us regarding their work with Iraqis displaced within Iraq and those who have come to Jordan since the Shock and Awe campaign began, many of whom fled Iraq to escape death threats. Facts and statistics sadly reinforce the general impression that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, just yet, for Iraqis afflicted by war, trauma, displacement, inadequate health care, deteriorating infrastructure conditions, and death threats.

What is to be done?

We continue wanting to speak from within the context of personal friendships, deepening old friendships and building new ones. We hope there will be a way to bring all of the warring groups to a negotiating table. One way to begin this process is to stop pouring resources into solutions based on threats, force, and the capacity to kill. Public pressure, sustained and serious, will be indispensable. We must voice our opposition to each bill that appropriates more billions for weapon and war.

David Smith Ferri’s book of poems, Battlefield Without Borders, is now available. All proceeds from the book will go to Iraqi victims of the war. You can read some of David’s poems on his new website. They are breathtaking.

Another very useful resource is the new book by Hans von Sponeck entitled, “A Different Kind of War: The U.N. Sanction Regime in Iraq”. Hans formerly directed the U.N. humanitarian program in Iraq under the sanctions regime in the late 1990’s. He resigned in protest of the impact of the sanctions upon ordinary Iraqi citizens. You can download the informational flier about the book.

Along with our website, we especially rely on and recommend Jeff Guntzel’s presentation of news and views about Iraq which you can find at electronicIraq.net. Please let us know if we can be of any assistance to you and your community in developing outreach, education and public pressure to end U.S. military and economic warfare against Iraq.

Sincerely, Kathy Kelly