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According to Ali, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has secret contacts with Iran and Iranians are controlling the Iraqi economy—a common story among Iraqis. “Hot areas” in Iraq—Salahadin, Tikrit, Falluja, Samara, Anbar—are targeted by an Iranian-financed al Qaeda. Iran is responsible for pushing the Sunni/Shiite divide and recent US talks with Iran are an “unforgivable humiliation for Iraqis because it is a confession that Iran is in control of Iraq.” There is enough food in Baghdad’s Food Storage system for two million people but its distribution is run by the Mehdi militia, who “do not distribute these food stuffs to areas not in agreement with them.” Ali wants five tanks to secure the road to allow for proper food distribution—“some people have not received [their food ration] for 10 months. Iraqis don’t know what is going on and so they are against the Americans.”
A Sunni himself, when pressed as to how many among the 65,000 members of his “ethno-unified” NGO are Shiite, he said, “We represent all Iraqi people. We are all Iraqis. There is no division among us,” and explained that people from different parts of Iraq visit his association that “has helped 23,000 people in Iraq by giving them such things as a bottle of oil or food.” When asked who the funders of his NGO are, at first Ali said that in addition to money he accepts things like “10 boxes of wheat or flour and food.” Later in the interview Ali said his NGO doesn’t take money only goods.” Given the fact that he falsely put himself forth as something he was not—one look at the hulk of a man reveals he could not be the small man in the infamous Abu Graib photo—and that he willingly became a poster child for an anti-war community who for some reason failed to question his story, it is safe to say that Ali is an unreliable source. At the same time, he has stated things that I have heard echoed from other, more reliable sources. Specifically, the overbearing Iranian influence in Iraq.
“I watch the BBC News and I am afraid to go back to Baghdad. I made seven visits to the Green Zone but nobody helps me in Iraq. I need treatment for these girls. How can I work with this in my old age? I am tired. I lost my home, lost everything; the mosques and good people helped me. If Iraq were secure I would rather be there—is there anyone who doesn’t love their country?”
Two empty wheelchairs signal we have reached the home of Um Rawa and her daughters. The door is open and the women inside ask for a moment to cover their heads before we enter. Once all heads are covered, we enter to see three remarkably similar looking young women with huge smiles beaming up at us. All three begin talking at once. All three have speech impediments. All three are in wheelchairs. At the age of 26—some 12 years after her older sisters, Rawa and Wala took to their wheelchairs—Waarka, now 30 years old, began to show signs of the same mysterious affliction.
Rawa and Wala said they have been recently diagnosed by doctors in Amman as suffering from nerve damage brought on by gases released when their complex in Tikrit was bombed by the US during the first Gulf War in 1991. Waarka was away from home when her affliction came on—living in a dorm of her university in Baghdad when it was bombed during the current conflict. Doctors have told her that the cause of her crippling is the same, albeit from newer bombs. They, along with their mother, have come from Baghdad, driven out by the violence and lack of health care.
Carrying huge bottles of orange soda, Um Rawa arrives soon after we do. Despite her fasting to relieve a gastrointestinal infection, Um Rawa continues to work daily at the job she has managed to find in a local bakery where she earns 8JD a day—the equivalent of $5.60. Her husband was killed in the Iran-Iraq War leaving her to care for her invalid daughters by herself. Neighbors in Amman have helped them get an exception from the Royal Court of Jordan—a rare allowance to Iraqi refugees—that enables them all to receive health care. The Iraqi filmmaker friend who has brought me here points out the obvious: “These girls are always laughing and their mother is always crying.”