Saturday, December 28, 2002

Portrait of a day in Baghdad
By Paul Chan
Dec 28

2AM
My first drink of Arak, an Iraqi liquor that tastes like licorice and stings like rock candy. The poet Farouk Salloum told me he was drinking Arak at his house when the missiles hit Baghdad in the first gulf war. After his first glass he prayed the attack would end quickly. After the second he wished he had more Arak at his house because there was no way he was going to get more during an attack. After his third glass he screamed at the missiles to bring it on.

9AM
I remember now the party last night at Farouk’s house. Members of the Iraq Peace Team were invited to a private party of musicians, journalists, and poets. Farouk dressed in casual black. He had sleepy eyes. He was gracious and demanding, ordering drinks to be constantly filled, especially for the women. The Socialist Baath Party banned public drinking in 1995. Ever since, Iraqis have taken their drink underground and at each other’s homes. Farouk’s second daughter is named Reem, which means one who is as graceful as a deer running. She doesn't have her father's eyes.

A droll pianist and a veteran of the Iran/Iraq war in the early 80's played Bach and a jazzy funeral march. Earlier in the evening the pianist told me he killed six men in the war and that the men and women of Iraq are all trained in combat, and will take to arms and stones if need be to stop the Americans from entering Baghdad. I ask him if his experience in killing shaped in any way his piano playing. No response.

NOON
A word or two about Kubbe in soup. At the Al-Shadbandar Café, where the Iraqi literati come to drink tea and speculate about the war and who is the number one poet of the week, Almad, a young sculptor, invites me for Kubbe in soup. It is close and it is good, he says. Fair enough. I’m ready for it. Before I left the states, Aviv, a dear friend and member of New Kids On The Black Bloc, an artist political collective in Barcelona, asked me to seek out Kubbe in soup. “I know you’re not going to Baghdad for a culinary tour, but promise me you will try it.”

It is a meat dumpling the size of my head swimming in greasy soup. The skin of the dumpling is thick and wheaty. Inside, a mixture of ground meat of unknown origins and cinnamon. Other spices too, but who can tell. The soup is hot water with onions. Sometimes with tomatoes.

Almad wants me to come. But Haider, another sculptor, says it may not be such a good idea. It will be crowded, he says, and the water is not so good for foreigners. Okay I say to Almad, next time. I drink my lemon tea and dream of dumplings the size of my head. A cinema critic enters the café. He’s the number one critic in Baghdad, Haider tells me, because he is the only one in the city. He jokes to Ellen, my travel companion for the day and a full time peace activist from Maryland, that he would like to do a cultural exchange with her; she can take his post as the number one critic in Baghdad if he could get a visa and go to the US.

3PM
We wander around the booksellers row, a suk (open market) next to the Al-Shadbandar Café. Former engineers sell their collection of books on statistical analysis here and whatever else they can find in their house. Books are indiscriminately piled on the sidewalk for people to browse through. Iraq had, before the sanctions, one of the highest literacy rates in the Middle East and the largest number of PhD’s. This is why you will find not only books on mathematics and structural mechanics, but also Hegelian philosphy, Pop Art, and Modern absurdist drama, in Arabic, English, French, German, and even Chinese. I find a nice copy of Tom Stoppard’s play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Also a beautiful book on Islamic Calligraphy.

We have what’s called a magic sheet. On one side of this piece of paper is an explanation of what the Iraq Peace Team is about and why we are in Iraq. On the other side, the same thing in Arabic. We pass this out and hope to enlarge our family. It does work like magic and a bookseller quickly becomes a friend (because not surprisingly everyone is against the war). It is only paper but has the weight of gold.

I meet a poet named Suha Noman Rasheed. He is slowly selling his collection of poetry books on the row to live. He has published three books of Arabic poetry and promises me he will bring a copy of one next week. A writer friend in the US asked me to bring back some books in Arabic so they can be translated into English. This is our rescue mission, he tells me.

4:50PM
Walking back to the hotel, Ellen and I noticed the pristine quality of the Iraqi police cars. Some of the plastic coverings haven’t even been taken off the seats. Ellen, who served for four years in the US army, and I agreed that one can tell the health of any regime by the cleaniness of the police cars.

6PM
An action planning meeting for the Peace Team. Productive. There will be an action on Dec 31st entitled “Resolutions and Celebrations”. The goal is to throw a party and get Iraqi mothers, fathers, kids, poets, writers and peace activists together to make New Year’s resolutions that would replace the UN resolutions now serving as the litmus test for war. I am in charge of the visuals. I imagine 10,000 Iraqi children dressed in white suits and dresses, singing and waving their hands up as if they were surrendering. Musical accompaniment: Aretha Franklin. Special Guest: subcommandante Marcos. I don’t tell the other about the plan. Let’s see what I can do in four days.


7:30PM
Found out George is leaving the team because his father in Massachusetts is in serious condition after he broke his hip. I’m very fond of George. A Lebanese man who also stays at the Al-Fanar hotel who may or may not be a war profiteer said George has a heart of gold. I believe him. He’s been to Iraq nine times and financially supports eight families here. On this trip he brought two suitcases of medicines and toys. Baghdad is the city of infinite need.


8PM
Saddam is on television. He is sitting on a white leather couch. The reception is bad. Just now there was a cut-away shot to the crowd listening to him speak. It is immense. But there is never a shot of the crowd and Saddam together. Did you know the Russian KGB was the grandfather of Adobe Photoshop? Not only did they make people disappear, they made their appearance in photographs disappear as well. With a razor blade, pen and ink they would retouch photographs with such precision that it was as if the person never appeared in the original photograph. Now, the cut-away is the standard, whether it is used to subtract or add people. Reality has never been so elastic. Now a music video of children singing and images of Saddam at various state functions.

11PM
Saf, a young student who I play dominos with sometimes, asks me if I have any asprin for him. I tell Saf tomorrow.

11:50PM
Every night at 11:30 Iraq television plays a movie. Tonight it's "Mission to Mars" starring Val Kilmer. Kilmer, incidently, came to Iraq in 1998 as a part of a campaign called "America Cares". One of the board of directors on AC was Barbara Bush. The campaign was set up to take the media spotlight away from former attorney general Ramsey Clark's delegation called "The Sanctions Challenge", which was in Baghdad at the same time. It worked. No one paid attention to Clark and his crew, who were campaigning to stop the sanctions. All eyes were on Val and his vague promises to bring democracy and bad movies to the Middle East.

1AM
Cannot sleep. The wild dogs of Baghdad are out, barking and laughing at the few cars that are still out on the street. I find the following quote in a book about Laozi, mystical chinese philisopher, that seems appropriate to the times: "Vulgar people are clear, I alone am drowsy. Vulgar people are alert, I alone am muddled."




Friday, December 27, 2002

jean,
there seemed to be a delay and I didn't get your OK until too late. I'm trying to set it up again. Are you getting the ivoices emails? I got your latest one (wondering if we were receiving) but I'm getting the feeling you didn't get mine explaining all the details. Anyway, I'm passing along your number and hopefully we can pull something together. Thinking of you
Cornelia

Thursday, December 26, 2002

Magnesium dripstones glitter and Europe prints Christmas peace!

There was a wonderful interview by Noam Chomsky. Harry Belafonte had one on Ntv that made me take out my records again and believe that listing to music sung by a fellow who thinks the same might help the echo rebound in the jungle of dripstone. The Pope reminded the World of it too, where ever; "Peace " is in the air. Even G. W. Bush enlightened us with peaceful greetings on the web and that God be with us. But why does this make me more confused than ever?
I have radio connection, an interview. Two important weekly newspapers that will bring stuff on us and people.
I feel better now that the machinery is slowly coming into motion after the cries for Christmas peace are over and the voices turn into actions.

A flamboyant New Year to you all may our wishes and actions be heard.

V

[ I'm reposting this because I found a bunch of typos and errors in the original post. Forgive. Here is a cleaned up version.]

Miserable Miracles
By Paul Chan

“I will not war against women and children. I have ordered my air force to restrict itself to attacks on military objectives.” For weeks now, the atmosphere in Washington has been heavy with such promises of humility and restraint. That particular promise happened to be made by Adolf Hitler, on the occasion of his declaration of war against Poland in September 1939, but it serves to illustrate the universal desire of statesmen to make their most monstrous missions seem like acts of mercy. – Andrew Kopkind.



It is neither the best of times nor the worst of times in Baghdad. Abi Nuwa’s street, which runs parallel to the Tigris River through Baghdad, remains as busy as ever, packed with dilapidated cars careening down the street in a kind of leisurely recklessness that would make Beijing drivers proud. Skinny eight year old boys still hustle tourists (yes, there are still tourists coming to Baghdad) with the promise of beautiful shoe shines and sad stories about a strange fever that only goes away with money or chocolates. Poverty still looms in every house without food or a working toilet. Saddam Central Hospital still doesn’t have aspirin and none of the city power plants are fully operational. The first gulf war and the UN sanctions have crippled Baghdad into this state: a new war threatens to bomb the city into a nonexistent one. But these matters seem minor on a radiant and breezy day like today. There are foreigners to hustle, tea to drink, and dominos to play on the banks of the Tigris. Cities that have gone through the trauma of war either collapse under the weight of their own misery or survive by cobbling together a makeshift life using the rubble from their past. Baghdad chooses to survive.

At a modest hotel near the center of the city called the Al-Fanar, the thirty members of the Iraq peace team are cobbling together the ultimate survival plan for Baghdad and the whole of Iraq: a plan for peace. It is a Sisyphean task. There is not much room to work and likely not much time. The US military buildup in the Middle East increases with each passing day. And it is clear that there is absolutely nothing the Iraqi government can do or say or declare that will change Washington’s mind. How do you stop a future so hell bent on coming?

The Iraq Peace Team is a project of Voices in the Wilderness, a campaign to end the sanctions imposed on Iraq after the first Gulf War. Since 1996, Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices, has led nearly fifty delegations into Iraq, bringing with her politicians, writers, activists, medicines, books, and toys to the Iraqi people, trying to alleviate in some small way the burden of the sanctions and to campaign for its termination. For Kelly, the sanctions act like a second war against Iraq, but this time waged directly against the Iraqi people. The sanctions ban all imports into the country except for medicines and supplies for what is called “essential” civilian needs. Essential is the key term here. Is clean water essential? Apparently not, since components to rebuild the water treatment plants in Baghdad did not get clearance. What about electricity? Not essential either. Iraqi officials recently purchased a six million dollar power plant from a British company, only to have it sit in Baghdad because the installation manual, computer software, and technical advisors were all denied permission to enter Iraq. The sanctions were supposed to disable the military regime by denying them the ability to rebuild. But what they have actually done is to deny the Iraqi people the right to be civilians. The sanctions have transformed Baghdad into the world’s largest military prison. And the prisoners are slowly dying.

*

It is the impending third war against Iraq that brings Kelly back to Baghdad. This is her seventeenth trip to this city of five million people. In many of the neighborhoods she works in they affectionately call her Ms. Kathy. She can quote Albert Camus effortlessly and has long gray hair and a slight overbite that makes her smile ever effective at easing nervous Iraqi officials who watch over the peace team, or nervous team members who are, well, just plain nervous about the possibility of war. This is a very useful skill, since the fluid circumstances and the tension that comes from working in a possible war zone demand a mode of mediation that is direct but non-confrontational. This style is also reflected in the goal of the team: be a source of news and inspiration for the anti-war movement outside Iraq by connecting with the Iraqi people and publicizing the suffering the sanctions have created and the chaos a new war will bring to this devastated country. The Iraqi government doesn’t help. Although they have given the blessing of the Iraq peace team to be in Baghdad, there are restrictions about what the team can do in terms of political actions or media events. The US government doesn’t help either. They have fined Voices in the Wilderness over $163,000 and have threatened members with twelve years of prison and fines of up to one million dollars for bringing toys and medicines into the country.

This hasn’t deterred the twenty nine people from around the world to join Kelly in Baghdad. There is John, a lively seventy eight year old World War II veteran and former television producer from New Mexico. John plays both the sage and the fool in the group. At a recent visit to the University of Baghdad, he was the main attraction on the campus square, yelling “I love you” in Arabic to a cheering crowd of students. Bitta is a twenty two year old Iranian activist. She can be radiant in front of news cameras and this is undoubtedly why she is one of the spokespeople for the peace team. There is Peggy, the organic farmer from Ohio, and Tom, the flamboyant deacon and organizer for the Catholic workers movement in New York. There is Theresa, the school teacher from Illinois, who had problems bringing her guitar into Iraq until she played a song for the Iraqi border guards. There is George, the storyteller from Massachusetts, and Micah, the former copy editor from Nepal. They are activists and nurses and artists and lawyers. They come from England, Canada, Ireland, and the United States.

They don’t have the answer for how the war can be stopped. But it is clear that thirty people in Baghdad cannot do it alone. It will take a kind of mass mobilization within the next few weeks, from every part of the globe, to create a critical mass big enough to generate the gravity that can shift the debate from when to why. It will take a scale of organizing not seen since the height of the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. But that took at least four years and thousands of dead American soldiers. This war will have a shorter shelf life. And the ingredients for this war will be primarily technological and non-human. One does not mourn the loss of a laser-guided missile. So are the deaths of Iraqi civilians and the extermination of a whole society enough to stop a war waged in the name of freedom and motivated by profit?

The hope is it will be. It is harder to kill indiscriminately when a name is attached to a body. The closer the image of the other is to ourselves, the less likely we are to abstract them into oblivion or indifference. There is the usual grunt work of press releases, phone calls, and demonstrations to work on. But the main task of the peace team is simply to meet people. The extended family of the peace team number in the hundreds. They range from Amal, a painter and mother of seven who lives in the oldest house in Baghdad, to Dr. Saad Al Hassani, the graceful drama professor at the University of Baghdad who asked team members to smuggle in books by Samuel Beckett for his students (the sanctions will not allow books since it is not considered an essential civilian need and weighs over eleven ounces). This informal network of Iraqis, together with the peace team, become a small political ecosystem that sustains the work through mutual support and exchange. Peace team members like George bring chemotherapy drugs, which is virtually non-existent in Baghdad, to an Iraqi friend who has breast cancer. She in turn introduces him to family and friends who are more than willing to befriend an American who does not want to bomb them. George introduces his new friends to the peace team. And the word spreads, to neighborhoods, restaurants, schools, and mosques.

This kind of political work is at once intimate and painful because the connections one makes are intense and in the flesh. After a visit to an Iraqi family’s home, which usually lasts four to five hours, with the obligatory meal made from the food rations given out by the government and several rounds of sweet tea, they no longer look like the wretched of the earth. They are the eleven year old twins, He’be and Du’a, who loves Jackie Chan (Baghdad television broadcasts a movie every night at 11:30PM). And Shouruk, the twenty two year old student who believes sadness is the primary value in music, and thinks Celine Dion is the pinnacle of this value. This is as grassroots as political work gets, which is to say it is slow and the results are hard to quantify. Does it serve peace to know that Sundis, who is thirty three years old and has sparkling azure eyes, suffers from bouts of influenza that cripples her? Yes, if it means the team can get her medicine that will make her healthy again so she can rejoin the constellation of people working in Baghdad with the team. Yes, people can be saved. But peoples cannot. The peace team can only provide the prototype, not the product, of peacemaking. For that it will take movements and actions as well as coalitions and consensus from the outside.

*

Tonight, a wedding party arrived at the Al-Fanar Hotel. Most of the members of the peace team had just returned from a press conference that was staged at a defunct power plant twenty minutes from the center of Baghdad. The goal was to highlight the need to lift the sanctions so the plant can become operational again. There were speeches and the requisite candle-light vigil. A group calling themselves the Japan-Iraq Friendship Committee arrived to lend their solidarity. It was a good event but the timing was bad. Earlier in the day, Colin Powell had delivered his message to the UN security council. The official US position is the position everyone had expected after Iraq delivered the 12,000 page report detailing their weapons production: they are lying. So tonight, at the same time as the power plant action, all the press in Baghdad converged on the ministry of information to hear the Iraqi rebuttal from General Amer al-Saadi, a former scientist and head weapons advisor for the Iraqi government.

Peace team members were being briefed about the Iraqi response in the lobby of the hotel when the music began. Everyone streams out of the hotel to see the ruckus. A cavalcade of thirty or so had set up an impromptu dance party outside the Al-Fanar. The bride and the groom, who were from Basra, a city in southern Iraq, stand on one side, stiff but smiling. Their family twists and turns in front of the newlyweds, accompanied by a three man band playing a kind of music that sounds vaguely like marching songs. All of a sudden, someone grabs me and I find myself in the middle of the dancing. I wasn’t the only one. Sheila, a thirty year old activist and part of the Catholic Worker movement joins the fray with the insistence of three girls. There were others from the team who joined the party but I couldn’t keep count. Men were spraying a white foamy substance into the air and the women were recruiting the elders to shake it. In the midst of the chaos and the reverie no one seemed to mind that on another plane of existence men are planning the city’s destruction. No matter. This is what Baghdad is like. People were laughing and dancing and not yet done.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

SUPPORT TEAM, I just sent you an email. If you get it (or don’t get it) in the next 24 hours please let me know via blogger or the ivoices email address, subject line: for PAUL C. I’m still paranoid about my emails not going out….
There is a party tonight at the Al-fanar hotel. Everyone is in good spirits from the success of the church action last night. Good coverage from NBC and CNN. Now the focus is on the next event. I don’t feel of much use. The movement needs pops of images and texts that lazy journalists can take out of context and use for their rags. I can only give them long meandering paragraphs about why the wild dogs of Baghdad remind me of the wild dogs of Puerto Rico, which are famous for protecting lost street children. We remember different that is clear. I can’t bear the thought of remembering Baghdad as an op – ed piece or a human interest story. The Press center here in Baghdad is littered with wasted ambitions and short sentences. I have a cough but remain resolute in my indifference to facts.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

let's do it Corny. Is it this Wed? Dec 25th? I will be at the Al-Fanar Hotel. Here is the number. I am in rm 408. tel: 7188007 - 7172833

Thanks also for the Critique of the NYtimes. I passed it around the peace team. did people get my first essay through email? Second one coming but need to know if I need to find another way of sending them out. People are feeling anxious here because time is running out for the Iraqis. The next essay is on the burden of the gift in Baghdad. I hope everyone is doing well. It is another bright day in Baghdad. Last night a group of wild dogs roamed around our neighborhood. Strange.

Monday, December 23, 2002

jean paulhan,
I need to know if you are interested in doing this interview with The World on Wed, they are waiting info from me. can you let me know either at my yahoo address or here ASAP.
Cornelia

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Support team please let me know if you recieved the email essay I sent today on Blogger. It should come with a pic. Baghdad is beautiful and cold today. The strain of the outreach work is beginning to manifest itself in illness. Several of the members are getting sick. Don't worry I don't think it's chemically related. Yesterday we visted the University of Baghdad and talked to PHD. English candidates there. There is a general admiration for Oscar Wilde but not much love for Joyce. Beckett is a staple for the English/Drama crowd and Mathew Arnold is a real literary playboy here. The history of the British rule here probably plays a large role in Iraq's western literary consumption.

Everywhere I go I'm recognized as Jackie Chan. They love him here (and Also Jet Li but no sign of Chow Young Fat anywhere). One student told me they played Chinses action movies during Ramadan. Next essay is coming in two to three days: Christmas in Baghdad. Happy Holidays to my peeps in the dirty dirty west.
Miserable Miracles
By Paul Chan

“I will not war against women and children. I have ordered my air force to restrict itself to attacks on military objectives.” For weeks now, the atmosphere in Washington has been heavy with such promises of humility and restraint. That particular promise happened to be made by Adolf Hitler, on the occasion of his declaration of war against Poland in September 1939, but it serves to illustrate the universal desire of statesmen to make their most monstrous missions seem like acts of mercy. – Andrew Kopkind.



It is neither the best of times nor the worst of times in Baghdad. Abi Nuwa’s street, which runs parallel to the Tigris River through Baghdad, remains as busy as ever, packed with dilapidated cars careening down the street in a kind of leisurely recklessness that would make Beijing drivers proud. Skinny eight year old boys still hustle tourists (yes, there are still tourists coming to Baghdad) with the promise of beautiful shoe shines and sad stories about a strange fever that only goes away with money or chocolates. Poverty still looms in every house without food or a working toilet. Saddam Central Hospital still doesn’t have aspirin and none of the city power plants are fully operational. The first gulf war and the UN sanctions have crippled Baghdad into this state: a new war threatens to bomb the city into a nonexistent one. But these matters seem minor on a radiant and breezy day like today. There are foreigners to hustle, tea to drink, and dominos to play on the banks of the Tigris. Cities that have gone through the trauma of war either collapse under the weight of their own misery or survive by cobbling together a makeshift life using the rubble from their past. Baghdad chooses to survive.

At a modest hotel near the center of the city called the Al-Fanar, the thirty members of the Iraq peace team are cobbling together the ultimate survival plan for Baghdad and the whole of Iraq: a plan for peace. It is a Sisyphean task. There is not much room to work and likely not much time. The US military buildup in the Middle East increases with each passing day. And it is clear that there is absolutely nothing the Iraqi government can do or say or declare that will change Washington’s mind. How do you stop a future so hell bent on coming?

The Iraq Peace Team is a project of Voices in the Wilderness, a campaign to end the sanctions imposed on Iraq after the first Gulf War. Since 1996, Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices, has led nearly fifty delegations into Iraq, bringing with her politicians, writers, activists, medicines, books, and toys to the Iraqi people, trying to alleviate in some small way the burden of the sanctions and to campaign for its termination. For Kelly, the sanctions act like a second war against Iraq, but this time waged directly against the Iraqi people. The sanctions ban all imports into the country except for medicines and supplies for what is called “essential” civilian needs. Essential is the key term here. Is clean water essential? Apparently not, since components to rebuild the water treatment plants in Baghdad did not get clearance. What about electricity? Not essential either. Iraqi officials recently purchased a six million dollar power plant from a British company, only to have it sit in Baghdad because the installation manual, computer software, and technical advisors were all denied permission to enter Iraq. The sanctions were supposed to disable the military regime by denying them the ability to rebuild. But what they have actually done is to deny the Iraqi people the right to be civilians. The sanctions have transformed Baghdad into the world’s largest military prison. And the prisoners are slowly dying.

*

It is the impending third war against Iraq that brings Kelly back to Baghdad. This is her seventeenth trip to this city of five million people. In many of the neighborhoods she works in they affectionately call her Ms. Kathy. She can quote Albert Camus effortlessly and has long gray hair and a slight overbite that makes her smile ever effective at easing nervous Iraqi officials who watch over the peace team, or nervous team members who are, well, just plain nervous about the possibility of war. This is a very useful skill, since the fluid circumstances and the tension that comes from working in a possible war zone demand a mode of mediation that is direct but non-confrontational. This style is also reflected in the goal of the team: be a source of news and inspiration for the anti-war movement outside Iraq by connecting with the Iraqi people and publicizing the suffering the sanctions have created and the chaos a new war will bring to this devastated country. The Iraqi government doesn’t help. Although they have given the blessing of the Iraq peace team to be in Baghdad, there are restrictions about what the team can do in terms of political actions or media events. The US government doesn’t help either. They have fined Voices in the Wilderness over $163,000 and have threatened members with twelve years of prison and fines of up to one million dollars for bringing toys and medicines into the country.

This hasn’t deterred the twenty nine people from around the world to join Kelly in Baghdad. There is John, a lively seventy eight year old World War II veteran and former television producer from New Mexico. John plays both the sage and the fool in the group. At a recent visit to the University of Baghdad, he was the main attraction on the campus square, yelling “I love you” in Arabic to a cheering crowd of students. Bitta is a twenty two year old Iranian activist. She can be radiant in front of news cameras and this is undoubtedly why she is one of the spokespeople for the peace team. There is Peggy, the organic farmer from Ohio, and Tom, the flamboyant deacon and organizer for the Catholic workers movement in New York. There is Theresa, the school teacher from Illinois, who had problems bringing her guitar into Iraq until she played a song for the Iraqi border guards. There is George, the storyteller from Massachusetts, and Micah, the former copy editor from Nepal. They are activists and nurses and artists and lawyers. They come from England, Canada, Ireland, and the United States.

They don’t have the answer for how the war can be stopped. But it is clear that thirty people in Baghdad cannot do it alone. It will take a kind of mass mobilization within the next few weeks, from every part of the globe, to create a critical mass big enough to generate the gravity that can shift the debate from when to why. It will take a scale of organizing not seen since the height of the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. But that took at least four years and thousands of dead American soldiers. This war will have a shorter shelf life. And the ingredients for this war will be primarily technological and non-human. One does not mourn the loss of a laser-guided missile. So are the deaths of Iraqi civilians and the extermination of a whole society enough to stop a war waged in the name of freedom and motivated by profit?

The hope is it will be. It is harder to kill indiscriminately when a name is attached to a body. The closer the image of the other is to ourselves, the less likely we are to abstract them into oblivion or indifference. There is the usual grunt work of press releases, phone calls, and demonstrations to work on. But the main task of the peace team is simply to meet people. The extended family of the peace team number in the hundreds. They range from Amal, a painter and mother of seven who lives in the oldest house in Baghdad, to Dr. Saad Al Hassani, the graceful drama professor at the University of Baghdad who asked team members to smuggle in books by Samuel Beckett for his students (the sanctions will not allow books since it is not considered an essential civilian need and weighs over eleven ounces). This informal network of Iraqis, together with the peace team, become a small political ecosystem that sustains the work through mutual support and exchange. Peace team members like George bring chemotherapy drugs, which is virtually non-existent in Baghdad, to an Iraqi friend who has breast cancer. She in turn introduces him to family and friends who are more than willing to befriend an American who does not want to bomb them. George introduces his new friends to the peace team. And the word spreads, to neighborhoods, restaurants, schools, and mosques.

This kind of political work is at once intimate and painful because the connections one makes are intense and in the flesh. After a visit to an Iraqi family’s home, which usually lasts four to five hours, with the obligatory meal made from the food rations given out by the government and several rounds of sweet tea, they no longer look like the wretched of the earth. They are the eleven year old twins, He’be and Du’a, who loves Jackie Chan (Baghdad television broadcasts a movie every night at 11:30PM). And Shouruk, the twenty two year old student who believes sadness is the primary value in music, and thinks Celine Dion is the pinnacle of this value. This is as grassroots as political work gets, which is to say it is slow and the results are hard to quantify. Does it serve peace to know that Sundis, who is thirty three years old and has sparkling azure eyes, suffers from bouts of influenza that cripples her? Yes, if it means the team can get her medicine that will make her healthy again so she can rejoin the constellation of people working in Baghdad with the team. Yes, people can be saved. But peoples cannot. The peace team can only provide the prototype, not the product, of peacemaking. For that it will take movements and actions as well as coalitions and consensus from the outside.

*

Tonight, a wedding party arrived at the Al-Fanar Hotel. Most of the members of the peace team had just returned from a press conference that was staged at a defunct power plant twenty minutes from the center of Baghdad. The goal was to highlight the need to lift the sanctions so the plant can become operational again. There were speeches and the requisite candle-light vigil. A group calling themselves the Japan-Iraq Friendship Committee arrived to lend their solidarity. It was a good event but the timing was bad. Earlier in the day, Colin Powell had delivered his message to the UN security council. The official US position is the position everyone had expected after Iraq delivered the 12,000 page report detailing their weapons production: they are lying. So tonight, at the same time as the power plant action, all the press in Baghdad converged on the ministry of information to hear the Iraqi rebuttal from General Amer al-Saadi, a former scientist and head weapons advisor for the Iraqi government.

Peace team members were being briefed about the Iraqi response in the lobby of the hotel when the music began. Everyone streams out of the hotel to see the ruckus. A cavalcade of thirty or so had set up an impromptu dance party outside the Al-Fanar. The bride and the groom, who were from Basra, a city in southern Iraq, stand on one side, stiff but smiling. Their family twists and turns in front of the newlyweds, accompanied by a three man band playing a kind of music that sounds vaguely like marching songs. All of a sudden, someone grabs me and I find myself in the middle of the dancing. I wasn’t the only one. Sheila, a thirty year old activist and part of the Catholic Worker movement joins the fray with the insistence of three girls. There were others from the team who joined the party but I couldn’t keep count. Men were spraying a white foamy substance into the air and the women were recruiting the elders to shake it. In the midst of the chaos and the reverie no one seemed to mind that on another plane of existence men are planning the city’s destruction. No matter. This is what Baghdad is like. People were laughing and dancing and not yet done.