The RW Interview
Revolutionary Worker #1210, August 17, 2003, posted at rwor.org
A special feature of the RW to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.
Jodie Evans is an environmental activist and the director of the non-violent direct action group Bad Babes and Their Buddies. As the U.S. moved toward the war on Iraq, Evans and others founded Code Pink Women for Peace.
Part of the massive movement that rose up in opposition to the U.S. war, Code Pink organized actions such as vigils at the White House and a march on Washington on March 8, International Women's Day. On its website (codepink4peace.org), Code Pink describes itself as "a women initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement that seeks positive social change through proactive, creative protest and non-violent direct action." The group's use of the color pink is a rejection of "the Bush Administration's color-coded security alerts that are based on fear."
In February of this year, Jodie Evans went to Iraq with a delegation organized by Code Pink. After the U.S. war and invasion, she went back with three activist friends from Code Pink, including Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange, to see for herself the impact of the U.S. invasion and occupation. She was in Baghdad July 1 through July 12. Since her return, she has been speaking and giving interviews about the U.S. occupation.
On August 8--100 days after he declared an end to the fighting in Iraq--George W. Bush said, "The liberation of Iraq has improved the lives of the Iraqi people and the safety and security of the world." During the trip to Iraq, Jodie Evans witnessed first-hand what the Iraqi people are facing under U.S. occupation.
In one interview, she described the general scene in Baghdad: "It was 120 degrees, it was dusty, the air had a haze that makes everything gray. The buildings you see on the road are bombed out. In some, you can see the fire coming up. In some, you only see the scaffolding of contorted metal. We got across our bridge and turned right onto the street we know so well, the one we've stayed on, and every building was either boarded up or bombed out."
Jodie Evans recently spoke with the Revolutionary Worker about her July trip to Iraq.
RW: Who did you speak to on this trip, and what did you find?
Jodie Evans: We went and revisited friends, and then I met people at every edge of the spectrum of Iraqi people, from women and children and men who live in the poorest neighborhoods of Baghdad where they have no water or electricity, to people who are the most elite.
Generally the impact is horrible. It's not liberation, it's devastation. You say, "So is everything better now or before?" And they say, "It was better during the invasion." Because they're living in anarchy. Nothing works, magnified by the fact that it's beastly hot, and you're in peril all the time. Everything that was stable is now not stable, and you have no idea what tomorrow will bring. You keep thinking that it can't get worse than this, and it does.
RW: Thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties have been reported. Going up to and during the war, the U.S. claimed to be using all these "smart bombs."
JE: Then why did they hit people's houses? Certainly, you can see that they hit what they wanted to hit. During the invasion, U.S. General Tommy Franks was on the cover of the paper one day saying, "We're not going to bomb that [building] because pretty soon we're going to own it." That's the palace that U.S. overseer Paul Bremer works out of. So that's not bombed at all. But every ministry was bombed to smithereens--like the health and welfare ministry. The Iraqis ask, "Why? What was the point of that?"
Basically what the Americans did was destroy any form of infrastructure that could have held the country together--like the Iraqis say, to wipe anything that could hold the country together off the map. The day the U.S. took over Baghdad was the day they bombed the electrical works.
RW: What has been the overall impact of the occupation on the Iraqi people?
JE: Everybody you know has been somehow affected. There wasn't anybody I met that hadn't in some way been personally affected. Like somebody they knew had been taken prisoner at the airport, or somebody was dead, or somebody got killed in the war, or somebody's house got bombed. Everybody had some story to tell you about what was happening, or somebody who couldn't work. Everybody felt the effects of this.
There isn't an Iraqi you meet who doesn't feel that they're being disrespected, that this is being done on purpose. It's made them hate the American government, hate it. They just think it's stupid and cruel and mean and thoughtless and everything you can think of.
There was this very wonderful, beautiful old man who sat home with his daughter and her four kids. He told the story of his son, a veterinarian. The son walked out of the house, going to work. He had his little satchel and went to the corner square to catch a cab. His friend was nearby. There had been some shooting at the American tank that was in the square--and the Americans just shot at him and killed him, right before we got there. The older couple, the wife, and kids all depended on him for their support. And he's gone.
I was in the hospital with women who sleep on the floor below their children who've had some limb blown off. It's horrible in the hospital.
RW: What's the difference in medical care that was available when you last went to Iraq in February and what's there now?
JE: Everything is worse. Nothing is better. You talk to the doctors in the hospitals and it's all worse. First, try it with no electricity. They had electricity in February. They had a better delivery system. They weren't getting everything they needed because of the Food for Oil Program, and if it was anything that could be used for another purpose, they couldn't get it. But now they just can't get stuff.
All the technical equipment has been looted. From all the different countries in the Middle East, they pour in their manufactured goods and their alcohol. They're bringing their trucks in full of that, and they're taking out the equipment from hospitals. I met with two Jordanian guys who were bringing in alcohol, and I watched all the stuff they were taking back out--it was X-ray machines, microscopes.
RW: What about cholera and dysentery?
JE: They're on the rise. People in the hospital said that it's definitely from the water, the sewage in the streets, and they don't have the medicine to treat it.
RW: What's the impact of the U.S. occupation on the women of Iraq?
JE: They can't go out of their houses because it's just too dangerous. But there's also having to cover themselves again. It was a secular society, and now the religious are taking over. If you're working in a hospital, university, or business, your status is being lowered. You're being treated worse--the abuse of women is up--and you have to come to work covered. If you talk to women in the hospitals, that's what's happening.
Rape and also "honor" killings are up. Relationship violence is up.
RW: You talked to U.S. soldiers and the officials who are part of the occupying authority. Can you give us a picture of that?
JE: They're not patrolling the streets, they're patrolling for themselves. That's something you get right away. They're not doing anything to actually create security in the streets. Places burn down, people are looting. If you try to get the American soldiers there, "It's not their job." Their job is to patrol for the Americans. So whatever American thing is there--like hotels where Americans are staying or their compounds or the USAID workers-- that they protect. But they're not there to make the streets safer.
The Americans live in a compound that has all the services--running water, electricity, fancy food. They live in a palace, surrounded by walls, protected by American soldiers. Outside is the madness of the streets. When you talk to the people inside, they say things like, "Everything is fine out there." It's like, "Let them eat cake." It's so clear that they don't understand what day-to-day life is outside of there.
One of the guys, the head of the intelligence department for Bremer, said, "If you keep a dog hungry, he'll follow you anywhere. If we don't keep them down this way, there are mullahs and others who would just take over the country and take it away from us, and we have to keep control."
The press is being told that if they say anything they'll get closed down. And their owners disappear, which is happening right now. Three newspapers have been shut down, and the owners are all missing.
If the NGOs say anything bad, they get their funding taken away. When we were there in February, everybody was quiet about Saddam. And now everybody has to be quiet about Bremer. It's one dictatorship replaced by another.
The intelligence guy told me that this one mullah put out a thing that if you work with the occupiers, you're dead. The Americans went to him and basically said, "You have to shut up or you won't have representation on the governing council."
Even when they go in the streets, Bremer goes in his little car that's surrounded by all these big military vehicles. They power through the streets and everybody has to move aside. The images are just awesome. You feel like this is Rome, watching it happen. Are these people so clueless that they don't even know how to travel in the streets in a respectful way? No: "We're the power. We're the might."
RW: The U.S. government has the attitude that the lives of U.S. soldiers or U.S. people are more precious than other people's lives. This has gotten even more blatant since 9/11.
JE: Fifty-one American soldiers are dead since the end of the war. How many Iraqi citizens? That number keeps going up. They couldn't give a shit about an Iraqi life. Every day in the U.S. papers you see, "This soldier died, that soldier died." You never see, "And this many innocent civilian Iraqis died in the street when the Americans attacked them." Where is that in our newspapers?
The American soldiers are like sitting ducks on these turrets with their guns in their hands that some of them even tell you they don't know how to use. They were in the National Guard and they got one day of training a year--and they're sent off to Baghdad. They're sitting there shaking, and somebody moves and they start shooting. So innocent Iraqis are getting shot. But they didn't even sign up to be in the army.
In that same square where that American soldier was shot buying a soda, three days earlier Americans shot women and children. The Americans scream these orders in English, and the Iraqis don't understand it, so they start running because they're afraid--and they get shot. So you're not getting the whole story in the U.S. newspapers.
RW: What signs of resistance did you see?
JE: What's interesting is the graffiti all over the walls: "Americans go home." "Sooner or later we're going to get rid of you." "Liberation not occupation." "Get the hell out of here."
There are about 140 new groups. When I was there people put out a paper saying, "We've got nothing to do with Saddam," and telling him, "Don't you dare try to associate yourself with us."
What's cool about the resistance is that every time Bremer draws a line, the Iraqis don't back down. Their lives are much more at stake, so they just find another way. They say, "We're going to be gnats. This is not a life worth living." You literally have people who keep crossing Bremer's lines.
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