Invisible Iraqis - by Charlie Jackson
(published in Truthout.org May 01, 2007)
Against a sensual and elegant backdrop of marble and lush carpets,
impeccably-attired men and women talk business in a room overlooking
the fairy-tale lights of the city. The clink of ice in sparkling
glasses, the splashing of scotch, and the fizz of soda mix with
the talk and the muted laughter. The setting? Not Paris, or even
Chicago or Dallas. This is the Le Royal Hotel in uptown Amman, where
wealthy Jordanians, Iraqis, and Americans come to deal.
Downtown, however, near the al-Husseini mosque and Roman ruins
of the ancient city of Philadelphia, a very different picture unfolds,
one of grinding poverty, fear, and desperation. Off a narrow alley
in a room without windows, lives one of the many poor refugee families
from Iraq. Like those who have fled to Damascus, and elsewhere,
this family is in search of relief and an escape from the unrelenting
"Mohammed" (not his real name) brought his family to
Amman to find medical care for his son, and a life removed from
the violence of Baghdad. In is prior life, he earned his living
as a truck driver, but here in the city, he and his four children,
ranging from 3 to 11, spend their time inside the windowless room
so they won't be arrested as illegal refugees.
"Riya", his wife, spends her day sitting on the sidewalks
of the old souk (marketplace) selling cigarettes, lighters, and
trinkets. She has a pleasant smile for each customer, but must stand
vigilant to ensure she isn't arrested, or has her goods confiscated
by the police. She wonders if anyone cares about her little family.
This family of six arrived four months ago from the Sadr City district
of Baghdad to seek medical help for their son, Haider, whose leg
and back were severely burned in 2004 after a Katusha rocket landed
near their home. He still needs extensive medical treatment, as
well as plastic surgery.
Since there was no hope for obtaining assistance in Iraq - all
international aid organizations have fled the country - they saw
Jordan as a new chance for their son. But so far, that has not proven
to be the case. They receive some economic aid from Caritas, a Catholic
social agency, but still struggle to pay their sixty-five-dollar
monthly rent and buy food. Medical care is out of the question,
whether for their son, or their other children, now suffering from
malnutrition and from the respiratory problems caused by the damp,
moldy walls of the apartment.
If they don't find a solution, they fear they will have to return
Baghdad. "If I can't get help here," Mohammed says, "
I would rather return to Sadr City, where at least my children can
see the sun."
The plight of this family is shared by an estimated 750,000 refugees
(The Hashemite Kingdom insists that they be called "guests")who
have fled to Jordan, according to the United Nations. During the
past four years, four to five million Iraqis have become displaced
persons, either as refugees in neighboring countries, or in Iraq
itself. It is estimated that the humanitarian crisis is growing
by 50,000 people per month.
Iraqis of substantial means meet at the Le Royal to discuss the
latest news from Washington and oil politics of Iraq. Their families
shop in the new Mecca Mall across town and buy coffee at Starbucks.
In many ways, these few are little different from powerbrokers in
the U.S. capital.
They have the means to avoid the unpleasantness of the occupation
Meanwhile, the true victims of war go unnoticed and ignored. They
are invisible Iraqis.
This story, and other projects of Texans for Peace, are geared
towards documenting the effects of - and bringing an end to - the
war and occupation in Iraq. Charlie Jackson has visited Iraq three
times on peace delegations and is the founder of Texans for Peace.
Other projects include the Women's
Business Center of Baghdad (WBCB) and End
the War in Iraq Daily News