Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ali's Imprisonment & Depleted Uranium

30 Mar o7
Tonight is daylight savings in Iraq.
At dinner last night Ali told me that his 10 year old son called him from Baghdad to say he had gotten “a very good mark in mathematics.” Ali asked him what he would like as a reward. His son replied simply, "an American pencil." He said his son thinks American pencils must be better than pencils made in China simply because they come from America. But it seems such a simple request to ask of a father as a reward for good grades. I gave Ali an American mechanical pencil with a pack of refill lead to take to his son.

Ali is a guy after my own heart—he hates to miss a party. In 1990 he was in France learning to fly the Mirage F-1 when Saddam invaded Kuwait. As tension mounted with the west, Saddam rounded up all westerners and moved them to a controlled area in Baghdad. France retaliated by rounding up all the Iraqis and putting them in prison…including Ali. There were two types of cells, one held 6 people and the other was for one person. Ali was put in a cell by himself. After the first day he got lonely and wanted company. One of the guys in the 6-man cell did not speak French so Ali told him when the guard came to talk to him just answer “oui.” Ali told the guard he wanted to trade cells with the other guy. The guard asked the other guy if he wanted to trade. The guy replied, “oui.” Once in the cell, the guy asked Ali when the guard would move him back…Ali broke the news then enjoyed the company of his fellow captives.

After three days in jail, Ali and crew were taken to a hotel and held for a month before being returned to Iraq through Amman, Jordan. Once back in Iraq they were sent to school in Tikrit then, as the war became imminent, they were sent home and told to wait for the end of the war. Like Dhiaa, he told his commander, “Thank you!” and promptly went home.

Iraqis from Basrah are sensitive to discussions of depleted uranium (DU) weapons used by Coalition aircraft, tanks and fighting vehicles. (Google depleted uranium weapons and Basrah, to better understand why.) Basrah is in the south of the country where the bulk of the fighting occurred during GW1 so there was a higher concentration of DU and high amounts of DU dust particles in the air. Additionally, the Basrah region was cast under a sky of smoke from the burning oil fields in Kuwait. I was 30 miles south of the border in Saudi at the time; for as far as you could see the sky looked like there would be a torrential downpour at any time but it was smoke from the oil fields.

Basrah doctors have reported a 400+ percent spike in leukemia and 600+ percent spike in birth defects since the end of GW1. Iraqis believe the large amounts of DU weapons used in the region are to blame though some other theories suggest smoke from the oil fields have created the spike. Abdul Hussein is a colonel in the sqdn. He lost his four year old son to leukemia just two weeks before I arrived. He has refused to stop working/flying. The Iraqis said he needs something to keep his mind occupied.

Many of us have heard people say, “We should just nuke the place.” regarding the Middle East. Many Iraqis believe we’ve already done that.

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