Published with permission from Cathy Breen
Dec. 25, 2016
Karbala, Iraq–It is Christmas day, and I am in Karbala with dear friends. We awoke to a second day of rain, and pictures of flooding, especially in Baghdad, are being shown on TV. Yesterday, on Christmas-eve, several tents caught fire in a camp for the internally displaced near Mosel. As I write you, I am looking at the charred remains of one of the tents on TV. Angry people are describing what happened, lifting high the kerosene heaters for all to see. And, of course, the conflict in Mosel is foremost in the news. I am missing a translator this morning as my host is at work. But I would like to relate something from last week’s events.
Over the years, we have made many contacts in Najaf through our generous host there, Sami. These include doctors, dentists, hospital personnel and University deans. On one particular morning last week two presentations for me had been arranged, one at a Medical college, another at a college of Dentistry. As Voices for Creative Nonviolence we are eager to hear from young people, and rather than giving a presentation, I welcomed the opportunity for an open exchange.
One of the questions that repeatedly arose was “What will happen under Trump to all Muslims in America?”
“We want the U.S. to understand one thing” said a student. “Islam doesn’t mean terrorism.”
When asked if there was any interest in the US elections, a female student spoke up. “The elections were not important for us, but somehow the U.S. rules the world and I think the elections for the U.S. president should be worldwide. I was really disappointed in Trump.” Another student felt that it didn’t matter who was elected, the U.S. policy would remain the same.
Both Najaf and Karbala house holy Shia shrines and thousands of pilgrims visit both cities annually. They are two areas which, thank God, have remained for the most part safe and stable. It is one of the reasons we can travel here.
One of the first students to speak in the lecture hall of about 150 students said “On facebook I get the impression people think we are dodging bullets and bombs every day. We live a normal life.” Someone retorted, but not harshly, “And in Mosel or in other parts of Iraq?” And there was a feeling of agreement in the room that Najaf has been spared the violence, destruction and death that beset most other parts of the country.
“We have to start by changing the corrupt government,” said one, “a government the U.S. put in. But I don’t know how to bring about that change.”
On another day, we visited the Middle Euphrates Cancer Center which opened in 2014 and provides radiation and chemotherapy. Fifty percent of their patients come from the middle Euphrates area and they receive patients from the internally displaced population as well.
They have entered a critical period in terms of budget cutbacks. As the incidence of cancer increases throughout the country, the Ministry of Health (which provides 90-95% of their services) is cutting their budget by 50% in 2017. In 2013 the budget was 3.7 billion dollars. In 2016 the budget was $1,2 billion dollars. The salaries are fixed, but the cuts will affect drugs, equipment and specifically cancer care. Last week 85 items in their drug stock were depleted; 50% of their overall stock is depleted. The Minister of Health can only provide 6% of their needs. This is indeed distressing news.
Just prior we visited El Sadder hospital. Walking through the halls, clean but in a state of disrepair, I was reminded of the time of economic sanctions. In one of the sitting rooms, a doctor sat down next to me and immediately began to tell me of two great needs: 1. deficiency in orthopedic supplies and 2. the need for training for their technicians. Could they come to U.S. for a month or more of training? I asked to see the prosthetic unit and was taken there immediately.
A personable young man named Hussein, 21 years of age, who had lost an arm (and had extensive scarring on his face) at 10yrs of age due to an explosion approached me. He spent time in Arizona receiving treatment, and his English was excellent. Hussein has many contacts with Shriner’s Hospital in NY city. I was given an itemized list of items they need. It would be a wonderful thing if Shriners could contact this hospital for some type of interchange and/or assistance.
I struggled with mixed emotions during the visit, feeling like a visiting ‘dignitary of importance’¯ being escorted through the halls and units. I remembered back to a young 12-year-old quadruple amputee, Mohammed. Four or five years ago, his father and prosthetic technicians brought him to the house where I was staying in Najaf. Could I help him get a prosthetic arm? For months on end I showed his picture and told his story in the states and in Jordan as well, trying to find some organization that could help. Coming home from school at six years of age, Mohammed had stepped on an electrical wire from a pole downed by a U.S. bomb. All of my/our attempts proved futile. I still find it painful to remember this boy, who had not been able to feed himself, itch his nose or embrace a fellow human being since he was six years of age. This experience has made me very hesitant to receive similar requests.
Last night my host read to me from the Koran the account of Jesus’s birth. It was a special way to spend Christmas eve, assuring, that our faith traditions share much in common.
Festival of Nations recap by IARP intern Jackie Myer.
As visitors entered the exhibit area, they to the festival were drawn to the beautiful blue replica of the Gate of Ishtar, the former eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon. The gate was originally constructed in 575 BC by the order of King Nebuchadnezzar II, and was considered to be one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. The other side of the exhibit was decorated with a replica of shanasheel, an element of traditional Arab architecture. The projecting windows frequently used in houses and palaces to provide privacy are typically made from wood lattice, and the design attracted attention from visitors to the Festival who wanted to know more about the origins of the design. As visitors walked inside, they were able to see beautiful carpets and pillows, multiple tea sets, and various other decorations from local Iraqis. Children in particular were attracted to the large blue gate, and were often lined up outside the entrance waiting to get inside to receive a stamp in their passport and their name written in Arabic.
It was enjoyable to work at the exhibit with local Iraqis and listen to them tell stories and answer questions from children about Iraq, as well as laughing with them as I made (frequent) mistakes while attempting to speak Arabic. The Iraqis were eager to share the side of Iraq that is not usually portrayed on the news. When asked what they knew about Iraq, most children responded by saying, “there’s a war there, right?” but typically did not know anything else about the country. At the exhibit, we were able to teach them about Iraqi culture, typical foods in Iraq, and the Arabic language, as well as explaining the rich history of Iraq, which was often prompted by questions about the Gate of Ishtar. As people increasingly only hear about Iraq in the context of conflict, this opportunity to share the other side of Iraq with the community was invaluable and I hope that it opened their eyes to a richer, more complicated picture of Iraq than what they hear on the news.
Every year we look forward to the annual Sister Cities Day! Mark your calendar, save the date and bring the family to Sister Cities Day on Sunday, July 20th, at the Nicollet Island Pavilion.
Free ice cream social, youth international performers Songs of Hope, multicultural performances by the Sister Cities and kids activities. All for free as part of the Minneapolis Aquatennial Celebration.
All 10 Sister City Groups will be in attendance, including IARP! Come say hi at our booth.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for the annual celebration cruise! The rain held off and mist came off the river at sunset, we danced on the upper deck to Arabic music… a wonderful time was had by all. Nine film makers and their families were introduced to the sold out crowd of 85 guests and Suaad Allami spoke for a few minutes about her work promoting woman’s rights in Iraq. Until next year!
Iraqi American Reconciliation Project Invites you to our 2nd Annual Celebration of the Sister City relationship between Minneapolis and Najaf!
Please join us for a fun-filled evening accompanied with delicious food, music and sharing between local Iraqis and Americans. In addition to your conversations, we will be hearing from our special guest Suaad Allami, a prominent Iraqi women’s rights leader and attorney.
Tickets to this event are $15.00 per guest and will include dinner and beverages. In order to ensure your seat on the ship, please email Lauren no later than June 16th. Reservations and payments will need to be placed in advance by credit card or check. Please call to arrange for cash payments if necessary. You can also mail your check to the IARP office at Suite 116, 416 East Hennepin, Minneapolis, MN. 55414. Tickets can be payed for in cash at the event if guests have already RSVP’d.
Questions? Contact Lauren at lauren@reconciliationproje
Boat departs at 6:30pm / Sunday, June 22
From: St. Croix River Falls Boat Tours
220 South St. Taylors Falls, MN 55084
Join us on FACEBOOK.
IARP looks forward to seeing you!!
From IARP Executive Director Kathy McKay’s article in the May 2014 Reconciliation Report newsletter:
The work of reconciliation takes many forms. Fostering connections between civilians in the US and civilians in Iraq is one of the ways at IARP that we work toward better understanding between the people of our two countries.
It is through the collective effort of volunteers, interns, contract employees, Board members, donors and email readers from both countries that opinions change, new ideas form, positive curiosities are aroused, and friends are made.
Thank you to everyone who made the Minneapolis Sister Cities Day 2013 a success! A special thanks to our volunteers from Target*Northtown who made it a special day for all the kids who attended.
Minneapolis Sister Cities Day is an annual event presenting the cultures of Minneapolis’ 10 Sister Cities, including Najaf, Iraq. IARP and Target hosted a kids activities area at the event with a beanbag toss, cakewalk Arabic-style, a soccer tournament, and other fun activities.
See photos from the day below:
Come join us for Sister Cities Day Celebration and Ice Cream Social this Sunday, July 14th, 1-5 pm. at the Nicollet Island Pavilion in downtown Minneapolis, MN! This free family event offers dancing, live music, free ice cream, and fun for all ages. Enjoy arts, crafts, games, and activities about Najaf, Iraq, at the IARP booth, and other entertainment from the booths of Minneapolis’s other sister cities.
Special thanks to Target Northtown for their generous support!
Thank you to all of our supporters who attended the July 2 Cruise with Iraqi Women Leaders on Lake Minnetonka! Here are some photos from the event:
Meet and support courageous women leaders from Iraq
July 2, 2013
6:00 – 9:00 PM
Lady of the Lake Cruise, Lake Minnetonka
8 Water Street
Excelsior, MN 55331