Report From Basra: “No Choice Is Left For Us Except Facing the War”
by Jeremy Scahill
February 26, 2003
(Filed February 23, 2003)
BASRA—One and a half year old Hamoudi Abbas is going to die. Maybe in a week, maybe in a month, maybe in a year. But his doctor says he won’t see a third birthday. Hamoudi was just diagnosed with lymphoma-cancer of the lymph nodes. His face is severely disfigured by a large softball size tumor that presses against his left eye. He wears a bib around his neck that says “I Love My Mommy.” The bib is covered with the blood that Hamoudi has been coughing up.
His doctor, Mohammed Kamel, says that with adequate drugs Hammoudi would have a solid chance of beating the cancer. But he says that because of shortages caused by the US-led sanctions, the necessary drugs are simply not available.
“Eventually, they all will die,” says Dr. Kamel, as he stands at Hamoudi’s bedside.
Hamoudi is one of the thousands of children in southern Iraq that have fallen victim to the cancer epidemic that has plagued the region since the end of the 1991 Gulf War. The doctors at the hospital say the cancer is the result of Washington’s use of depleted uranium munitions and the ensuing contamination of southern Iraq’s food and water supply.
Eighteen-month-old Hamoudi Abbas suffers from lymphoma in the Ibn Gazwan pediatric hospital in Basra. Photo by Thorne Anderson.
Dr. Nasir and other hospital administrators say that if there are heavy casualties during a US war against Iraq, they will share in the responsibilities for dealing with the situation. Dr. Nasir says they are trying to gather supplies for that eventuality, but are finding shortages of most basic necessities. Furthermore, Nasir says he has enough troubles worrying about how to continue the hospital’s existing work through a crisis.
“In 1991, Iraq had a lot of things to deal with any emergencies, but now it is very difficult for us,” says Dr. Nasir. He says that the doctors at the hospital are committed to continuing their work in the event of war, but that it may become difficult for the staff to reach the hospital. “If we have cars, we will transport them in cars; if no car, then bicycle; if no bicycle, then by walking. We will deal with it. Whatever happens to us, we will have to accept it because no choice is left for us except facing the war,” says Nasir.
A group of women gathers on a corner of what is now known as "Rocket Street" in the poor Jumhurriyah neighborhood of Basra. The street took on the nickname after a January 25, 1999, U.S. missle attack killed several civilians there. Photo by Thorne Anderson.
For years, since the 1991 Gulf War, large many communities in Basra have lived with raw sewage flowing through their streets like a canal. Their roads are not paved and their drinking water is polluted. Some say the conditions are the result of the sanctions and regular bombings. Others say it is Saddam Hussein’s punishment of the overwhelmingly Shiite population. Likely, it is a combination of the two.
In recent months, bulldozers and other machinery arrived in the Jumhurryia neighborhood-the government has finally gotten around to paving some of the streets-and work is underway to reconnect the neighborhood to the sewage system in Basra.
Last November, Iraqjournal.org visited the home of a struggling artist, Majid, his wife and their four children. At that time, Majid’s wife Kareema told us how the American and British warplanes scared her so much that she would experience “psychological collapse” when she heard them in the air.
“I feel sick when I hear the planes flying above,” Kareema told us. “I cry. I have psychological shock. I can’t sleep. I listen to the radio and I feel scared. We are asking God just to save us.”
As we left Jumhurriya, we learned that not long after she spoke with us in November, Kareema had an episode of psychological collapse on the street in front of her house after hearing what she thought was a warplane. It turned out it was a bulldozer starting its engine. As she fell, Kareema hit her head on one of the machines working in the neighborhood. Her injuries were so severe that she died.
Majed's painting of his late wife, Kereema, hangs in a place of honor in his impoverished home in Basra. Photo by Thorne Anderson.
Her husband Majid, who loved to paint pictures of Imam Ali, one of the holiest figures in Shia Islam, has painted a picture of his wife that now hangs in their modest home. The painting is strikingly life-like and those who knew Kareema say it perfectly captures who she was.
Several of her neighbors told us that now Kareema can finally rest peacefully away from the rumble of the warplanes. But Majid and the children and their neighbors in Basra know they are left to face a very uncertain future.
Jeremy Scahill is an independent journalist, who reports for the nationally syndicated Radio and TV show Democracy Now! He and filmmaker Jacquie Soohen are coordinating Iraqjournal.org, the only website providing regular independent reporting from the ground in Baghdad.