Iraqi medicine ... from the inside

(published in the San Antonio Express-News July 7, 2003)

"The learning and knowledge that we have, is, at the most, but little compared with that of which we are ignorant." - Plato

Inside the beltway and out, political pundits shake their heads and speak with gravitas as they debate the "failure of intelligence" regarding the war in Iraq and the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But hearings, investigations, and finger pointing won't change the fact that intelligence professionals in the CIA, Defense Department, and other agencies provided adequate documentation for the lack of WMDs in Iraq.

The paramount concern is why so many Americans, at every level, preferred to ignore the warnings of those familiar with Iraq and instead choose to believe the prevarications (a ten-dollar word for "lies") of the White House.

This January I traveled throughout Iraq on an unsanctioned peace mission, in part to inquire about the conditions of that land but also to examine the premises upon which the war was being championed. It seemed like an honest and objective assessment was needed - something that is lacking in the vocabulary of the ideologues setting national policy.

My degrees in government and technology came in handy as I spent a month surveying the infrastructure and political situation in Basrah, Um Qasr, and Baghdad. From the fortifications that were being built alongside houses to my ability to surreptitiously gain access my personal Internet servers, I was intrigued at the amount of information I was able to gather about that country through official and unofficial means.

As I traveled throughout the country I was able to have private conversations with Iraqis at many levels of society and different faiths. I found a wide range of attitudes and opinions about the United States, the U.N. sanctions, President Saddam Hussein, and the nearing war.

I learned how easily I could slip away throughout the Baghdad, even at night, to discover the diversity of the city while my experiences as a hospital patient after a tragic auto accident provided me an inside perspective into Iraqi emergency medicine, bureaucracy and air transport.

Imagine how surprised I was upon my return home to not only avoid an arrest or "debriefing" but to find that few cared to learn what I had garnered. There was no television follow up, no radio discussions, not even interviews by the local newspapers. It seemed that the military was firmly "embedded" in every news organization instead of the other way around.

Knowing that hostilities were soon to commence, I launched a campaign to get members of Congress to travel to Iraq to learn for themselves about that country before committing young men and women to fight a war. I even offered to help pay for the trip.

As a former analyst for a congressional investigative committee, I thought that at least there might be some interest. But when I traveled to D.C. I found that the mood was one of resignation to war and that politicians - of either side of the aisle - didn't want to be "confused with the facts" concerning Iraq.

I had encountered similar self-inflicted benightedness, earlier in the decade, when I returned from trips to Bosnia during that conflict. The complacency of my fellow Americans wasn't shaken by the television descriptions of horror of that combat and wouldn't be stirred by the possibility of another massive battle in the Gulf region.

Except for the antiwar protestors that continued to fill the streets of the world, few appreciated that the facts surrounding Iraq and the war on terrorism were being distorted to present a fictional premise for invasion.

So I traveled back to Texas and began communicating my experiences with groups of people who were interested and willing to learn: churches, schools, Rotary and Lions clubs, political groups, and the peace community. With them I shared my "intelligence" concerning Iraq.

I told them about Safa and Amal and their three beautiful children. I related my days spent at churches and mosques in worship. I spoke about the orphanages and schools, described the orange groves of the countryside, and the liquor and gun stores in central Baghdad, and illustrated scenes from the Euphrates River to city street life.

I also gave them my analysis of the political situation and likely responses of Iraq during wartime including reports from the American citizens that I left behind and who remained; friends like Cliff, Peggy, and Cathy who provided accounts throughout the bombings and the arrival of American troops.

I still read with interest the reports that filter back each week from eyewitnesses who are absolutely honest in their commitment to building a better world and work hard to gather information from inside Iraq.

We're entering a long hot summer both here and in the Middle East, one that reminds me of the mid and late 1960's. If we continue to ignore the evidence that is provided by those who truly understand the preeminent issues of the day we will continue to be blindsided by events.

If we allow those who lack experience and training to objectively assess threats and areas of need we will find ourselves in even greater predicaments. Or we can use our understanding, learning and knowledge to reinvigorate the geopolitical landscape with frankness and integrity and defeat the WMDs…both here and abroad.

Peace - Charlie


Charlie Jackson, founder of Texans for Peace, recently returned from his second trip to Iraq, undertaken through the Christian Peacemaker Teams organization of Chicago. He is a high-tech CEO and lives with his two sons in San Antonio.


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