Monday, March 30, 2009

Water in Iraq

Water in Iraq

How many times a day do you drink water? Do you stop to think what might be in it, besides “just water”? In the U.S., many peole take safe water for granted, but in Iraq, water can be dangerous. According to the Red Cross, about 40% of Iraqis today lack access to clean water, putting millions at risk of contracting water-borne diseases just from drinking tap water. 36% of drinking water in Iraq’s capital city, Baghdad, is unsafe in a good month, and 90% is unsafe in a bad month. Water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid, and hepatitis are the biggest killers of children under 5.

Imagine nearly losing your six year old son, or your friend, to a disease contracted from drinking bad water. After this happened to one Iraqi man, he began devoting a huge portion of his monthly income to buying clean water from private tankers. Many Iraqis spend a third or more of their income on clean water. For the poor families who cannot afford to buy any clean water, the only option is to drink water that smells of human waste and carries multiple diseases. One man says his infant daughter’s continuous illnesses and his constant nausea confirm that the water is bad: “We are the poor. No one cares if we get sick and die. But someone should do something about the water. It is dirty. It brings disease.”

Why is water in Iraq so bad? Iraq's waste-treatment systems – similar to what we have in the U.S. – are obsolete, and sewage is poured into the country’s main sources of water, such as the Tigris river. Iraq’s upstream neighbors Syria, Turkey, and Iran have all built dams reducing the flow of clean water into Iraq. According to U.S. Vets for Peace, “Since 1991, the water supply and sanitation sector has experienced steady but devastating decline. Aging infrastructure, poorly maintained equipment, leaking water and sewer networks and low technical capacity are some of the key problems of the sector. Only 9% of the urban population outside Baghdad is served by sewerage systems, while the northern and rural areas do not have piped sewage systems.”

The country’s water infrastructure (treatment plants, pipes, etc.) has steadily worsened over the last two decades for a number of reasons: neglect under Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. bombing that forced Iraq to leave Kuwait in 1991 and hit Iraq’s infrastructure, international sanctions during the 1990s, and the U.S. invasion in 2003 that led to sectarian fighting. Since 2003, insurgents have targeted the country's water system and killed 500 of Baghdad's engineers. More than 2,200 doctors and nurses have been killed and more than 250 kidnapped, and at least 20,000 have left the country.

While U.S. reconstruction teams, the Iraqi government, and relief organizations have been working to repair and upgrade water and sewage treatment plants, there is a long way to go. Much more is needed to help provide Iraqis with clean water.
Water for Peace is one attempt to do that. Initiated by Vets for Peace, it is a service-learning project that raises funds to provide Iraqi schools with drinkable water. Available to US schools, clubs, and religious institutions, this project links a US organization with a recipient school. Photos of the installation process and the resulting happy, healthier children help to build bridges across our cultures that have been torn apart by war.

These projects are sponsored by the Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project (IARP) of MN whose mission is to promote reconciliation between the people of the United States and Iraq in response to the devastation affecting Iraqi families, society and culture.

Additional sources for Iraqi water situation

International Red Cross (March 2008):$file/ICRC-Iraq-report-0308-eng.pdf

Veterans for Peace (2007):

IRIN humanitarian news and analysis (April 2009):

Government Accountability Office (September 2005):

Water Webster Iraq (news source about water):

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction:

CBS News (August 2007):

USA Today (August 2008):

Thursday, March 19, 2009


By Michael Kiesow Moore

For Sami Rasouli

Invoke the ancient scribes of Sumeria, who by carefully plying wedge
shaped hieroglyphs onto red clay cuneiforms, and in the course of

tabulating the sales of property and goats, invented writing. Hear the
story of Gilgamesh, the world's first hero, how after the death of his

true friend, Enkidu, sought the end to death itself. It was a futile task and
Gilgamesh settled for inscribing his name into tablets of lapis lazuli, and

by the near permanence of stone and poem, claim immortality.
Remember Eridu, the first city. Mesopotamia has no Garden of Eden

where life begins with flowers and trees. Instead, in the beginning of time, the god Marduk creates a city from which all things spring: Marduk constructs

a reed frame on the face of the waters. He creates dirt and pours it out by the
reed frame. In order to settle the gods in the dwelling of their hearts' delight,

he creates mankind. In Marduk's new world, holiness is civilization.
Celebrate the elders of Uruk who said governance was a civil duty, and

so they never recorded their names for posterity. Faceless is their
remembrance, but is this not a better model for governing?

Summon old Baghdad, once the shining center of the Islamic world.
Let me tell you how it was built: After the epic battles between the

Umayyads and the Abbasids, it was decreed that a new capital
would be formed, east of Damascus. In 762, Abu Jafar al-Mansur, the second

caliph of the new dynasty, traveled the length of the Tigris River. He found a
little village on its west bank - surrounded by palm trees, connected to the

Euphrates by canals. The caliph laid the first brick, and 100,000 laborers arrived
from the cities of Mosul, Kufa, Wasit, and Basra, from Syria, Persia, and other

lands. The Golden Gate palace of the caliph held its center, topped by a green
dome and connected to the Great Mosque. The palace opened its doors to the

far-flung reaches of Arabia. The caliph named his new city "Dar es-Salaam" -
the City of Peace. The city filled with fountains and public baths, the streets always

washed and swept clean. Water flowed into homes from aqueducts, rooms cooled
by screens of wet reeds. Marble steps led to river's edge where at anchor you can

see Chinese junks, Assyrian rafts resting on inflated skins, thousands of gondolas,
decked with little flags, carrying people to and fro. Outside the city are parks, gardens,

and villas, adorned with varnished frescoes and tiled vermilion murals. In the City
of Peace, the Academy of Wisdom was formed, a great library where you could find

the works of Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates, Ptolemy, Archimedes, Euclid, and the
Torah. Studying there were Islamic, Persian, Greek, Hindu, and Jewish scholars.

Over the millennia Arabian scholars discovered algebra, calculus, and trigonometry;
they built great celestial observatories scattered throughout the lands; they

established the decimal system, invented the zero. Forget not the words that were
coined there: nadir and zenith, star names like Rigel and Betelgeuse.


I am told that all Iraqis today are poets, for when gazing upon their deserts' golden
plains, the blazing sun in sapphire skies, the gentle waters of the Euphrates,

how can anyone stop the torrents of poetry

that spill like rivers of flower petals?

Monday, March 9, 2009


Welcome. Ahlan wa sahlan! This is the first post of the unofficial blog of the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP). Since you've gotten this far, you're obviously an intelligent and caring person (or you're lost), so I won't say much in the way of an introduction. IARP is an international non-profit organization based in Minneapolis, MN and Najaf, Iraq. It supports reconciliation between Iraqis and Americans through education, art, and development programs. The plan for this blog is to provide you with news and resources relevant to the relationship between Iraqis and Americans; the fields of reconciliation, conflict transformation and development; and the activities of IARP. By reading this blog, you will become even more intelligent and knowledgeable about these things (we hope).

In lieu of a longer explanation of IARP, below is a copy of an article I wrote about the organization's work, published recently in the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

Minnesotans and Iraqis work together for reconciliation

by Luke Wilcox | February 25, 2009 • Iraq can seem far from Minnesota, both geographically and culturally. While nearly six years of military operations in Iraq have brought images of war and its consequences into American homes, the culture and people of Iraq have rarely followed. Many Americans support peace with Iraq, but know little about Iraqis and wonder how much impact one person can realistically have in a violent world. For a group of Minnesotans and Iraqis, the answer is, “more than you think.” For the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP) and the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT), interpersonal and local community connections – rather than strategic agreements between national governments – are exactly what is needed to sustain an enduring process of reconciliation and peacebuilding.

Based in Minneapolis and Najaf, Iraq, IARP and MPT work as partners to build stronger connections between Iraqis and Americans through education, art, and humanitarian aid. Their programs include exchanging handwritten letters between Iraqi and Minnesotan students, showcasing Iraqi art in Minnesota, and finding Minnesotan communities, businesses, and other groups to sponsor water filtration systems for Iraqi schools with no access to safe drinking water. In January, IARP and MPT installed filtration systems at three schools in Najaf, with more schools planned for February and March.

Besides providing clean drinking water for students, the partnership between MPT and IARP is a concrete example of Iraqi and American citizens promoting “reconciliation.” More than resolution of a dispute, reconciliation within the framework of conflict transformation seeks to repair broken relationships and establish “right relationships” of justice, peace and equality. As John Paul Lederach notes, reconciliation “is built on and oriented toward the relational aspects of a conflict… and create(s) an encounter where people can focus on their relationship.” As the U.S. military slowly draws down its presence in Iraq over the coming months and years, it will be important for Americans and Iraqis to engage in sustained, deliberate and creative efforts to promote reconciliation.

Despite significant (yet fragile) progress in the security and political situation in Iraq, the wounds of war remain in both Iraq and the U.S. Consider the following numbers:

• 151,000 violent Iraqi deaths from March, 2003 through June, 2006.

• 2 out of 3 Iraqi children without access to safe drinking water and 4 million Iraqis considered food insecure and in need of food assistance (November, 2007). Only 17 percent of Iraq’s sewage treated before entering the country’s rivers and waterways (March 2008).

• 4.2 million Iraqis displaced from their homes – 1.8 million refugees outside of Iraq and 2.4 million inside Iraq. Four out of 5 Iraqi refugees report having witnessed a shooting and 3 out of 4 report having had someone close to them killed or murdered (March, 2008).

• More than 4,100 U.S. military casualties in Iraq (February, 2009). About 20 percent of Iraq war veterans report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression (October, 2008).

• Approximately $650 billion spent on Iraq war operations by the U.S. (July 2008).

The last six years have bound the histories of Iraq and the U.S. together. If a real partnership between the two countries is to emerge from these six years, local and community connections that promote reconciliation and build grassroots support for peaceful and just foreign policies will be critical.

Such connections will be important, in part, because we live in a globalized and interconnected world. While nation-states (like Iraq and the U.S.) remain the most visible actors on the world stage, the effects of globalization have increased the importance of international corporations, international organizations, and direct, “people to people” dialogue and interaction. Increasingly, the world is tied together through the environment, the global economy, global security, and global communication. With a focus on human rather than national security, many international NGOs and individual actors recognize that, in the 21st century, the future well-being of all people is increasingly interconnected.

While some argue that international peace and reconciliation are unrealistic or even irresponsible goals for nation-states to pursue in a chaotic and dangerous world, too often this argument misperceives reconciliation as an all-or-nothing, ideal end state. Instead, reconciliation is an imperfect, practical process with concrete and achievable steps that can support national (as well as global) interests and security. For example, a process of reconciliation could help alleviate the current, widespread anti-Americanism among Arab populations. Anti-Americanism harms U.S. interests in the Middle East in several ways: government allies in the region find it harder to cooperate with the U.S.; greater instability follows a greater disconnect between repressive, pro-American governments and anti-American populations; anti-American movements find it easier to recruit new followers; and the U.S. has less “soft power” (everything “American” – values, culture, and policy – is less attractive). By taking steps to address grievances and change policies that are perceived as unjust, anti-Americanism can be reduced and foreign policy goals made easier to realize. President Obama took one such step on January 26 when he gave a television interview to the Arabic news station al-Arabiya. In the interview, he asserted his commitment to listen to the Arab world and the Muslim world and his readiness “to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest.”

Of course, words must be followed by actions in order to demonstrate sincerity. One initial action that Americans can take is to acknowledge the truth, a common first step in processes of reconciliation. The Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project, for example, begins with an acknowledgment that the U.S. invasion of Iraq caused widespread suffering among Iraqis (and among all those affected by the war, including U.S. military personnel and their families). Because this truth – or any “truth” – about history depends on one’s perspective in history, it is important to listen to multiple perspectives (in this case, to Iraqis and to others around the world), and especially to victims. Then, after listening and acknowledging, it is important to apologize for past wrongdoing and admit guilt or responsibility. The corresponding step of forgiveness occurs in some processes of reconciliation but not all, and cannot be imposed.

Acknowledging truth and accepting responsibility usually must be followed by concrete action to redress past wrongs. Such action usually takes the form of retributive justice (perpetrators held accountable and punished), restorative justice (perpetrators, victims, and their communities undergo a process to repair and rebuild their relationships), or distributive justice (goods in a society are redistributed in a more just manner), or a combination of these three. Restorative and distributive justice generally entail some form of reparations, or compensation offered to victims. Besides economic reparations, social and political reparations (e.g., greater political rights) are possible. While not exactly reparations, the water filtration systems installed by IARP and MPT offer aid to victims of the conflict in Iraq with the goal of transforming relationships between Americans and Iraqis.

In order for a process of reconciliation to endure, it is important to build trust and create assurances that past grievances will not reoccur. At the interpersonal level, cultural exchanges can develop shared values and increase mutual understanding and respect, thereby decreasing support for future use of force or violence that could harm the other. For example, IARP’s Iraq Art Project brings art from Iraq to local Minnesota communities with the aim of building “on the transformative power of art (to) personalize relationships with Iraqis.” Local galleries, coffee-shops and businesses host art shows of paintings by Iraqi artists and expose Minnesotans to the people and land of Iraq. IARP then sells the paintings, giving part of the proceeds to the artists and part to MPT to support its reconciliation efforts in Iraq. Similarly, IARP’s Letters for Peace program facilitates exchanges of letters between Iraqi and American students in order to create personal relationships and plant seeds of understanding and respect.

Such programs offer creative ways to decrease the distance between Americans and Iraqis at a critical juncture in the relationship between the U.S. and Iraq (and between the U.S. and the world). Nearly six years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Americans and Iraqis have been bound together by war. Now is the time to turn those ties into a more peaceful, shared future. As organizations like IARP and MPT recognize, this can only happen in local communities – one personal connection at a time.