Sarah Helm: Where's Raed? He's Here!
Where's Raed? Here!
By Sarah Helm
Muhsen Numan Musa Al-Ardawy, under-one-month-old, male, deceased
Frsa Gwad Kathem Alasbae, one-month, female, deceased
Bnet Hmed Hade Unes, two-months-old, female, deceased
Tabarek Hamzaa Taleb, four-months-old, female, deceased
Nethem Hbeb Gasem Alsaade, four-months-old, male, deceased
Noor Saad, six-months-old, female, deceased…
A handful of names from a disturbing 78 page report that lists children and civilians killed by occupation forces in southern Iraq. The names form part of a report being compiled by on-line celebrity and NGO director, Raed Jarrar.
The renowned web-logger is juggling romance, war, love and death. While he is tackling the gruelling job of reporting the effects of war on innocent civilians he is planning his wedding to an Iranian web-logger.
The report is the result of the only door-to-door survey of Iraqi civilians to record the death of innocent non-combatants.
Raed says the project aims “to give faces and names to the Iraqi casualties, instead of having them as just numbers”. The compiled information has begun to appear on a website.
“I excluded all military people and everyone who was killed in battle. All the people were killed in their cars or houses, so there is no excuse to say that they were fighting and that they had to be killed. These people are 100% civilians who do not have anything to do with the war.
“These were civilians who were in their houses and ‘operation freedom’ came and killed them.”
About 170 volunteers conducted the survey for the small non-governmental organisation ‘Campaign for Innocent Civilians’.
A modern-day Anne Frank
Meanwhile, Raed’s personal life plays out on-line like a made-for-internet reality show. Raed is known by many computer nerds as ‘Raed in the Middle’, made famous in certain circles by his ‘blogs’.
For the uninitiated blogging may sound like a stomach cramp, a sledding event, a car manoeuvre or perhaps even a sexual act. However a ‘blog’ has become ‘net-speak’ for a diary kept on-line for all to read.
The web-logs of Iraqis have become a sought after alternative news source, with a handful forming a strong reputation for reliable information. Riverbend, Salam Pax and Raed-in-the-Middle are three of the most prominent. Pax was recently snapped by the Guardian and the BBC as the ‘Baghdad Blogger’.
Raed is a modern day Anne Frank. He began his diaries with Salam Pax, and continues to keep them with both his family and his new love Niki ‘The Irani’.
An Iraqi and an Iranian engaged to be married? The unlikely union of supposed long-term enemies unwittingly symbolises a change in Iraqi-Iranian politics.
Only days after Niki and Raed became engaged photographs emerged of Iranians protesting the occupation of Iraq. A significant thawing in relations between two countries at war from 1980 to 1988.
Raed is not altogether surprised by the Iranian protests.
“I think that there is a very strong religious connection between the Iraqi and Iranian people because both of them are Shia and because all of the war destruction is happening in very important Shia cities like Kabala and Najaf. So Iranian people have all of this religious sympathy with the Shia Iraqis. That’s why it is very obvious that they will go on demonstrations. It makes very strong sense from a religious point of view”
But Raed jokes that his engagement to an Iranian “adds more complexity” to his life.
As if being an Iraqi was not complicated enough, Raed’s heritage is made up of pieces of a fragmented Middle East. A Sunni father, a Shia mother, an Iranian grandmother. And his ethnicity? Palestinian.
“So I find myself exactly in the middle, at least in terms of our area,” he says referring to his blog name, Raed in the Middle.
A Plan for Peace
Raed has his own plan for rebuilding a peaceful Iraq and it largely excludes the United States. He says Iraqis have all the experience they need to rebuild their own country. After all, they have done it before.
“We can look at the reconstruction campaign of 1991 and 1992 and work from that, because all Iraqis went through that. We have enough engineers and technicians to reconstruct everything ourselves.”
Following Raed’s experience in organising with the American ‘Campaign for Innocent Civilians’ he went about setting up the first Iraqi non-governmental organisation ‘Emaar’, which means reconstruction. The project fell over because of a lack of funding, but not before it made significant improvements to the lives of Iraqis.
“The main goal of Emaar was to begin micro-projects to let Iraqi people start to reconstruct their country by themselves, instead of waiting for the American magic wand to come and reconstruct everything.”
He says they worked on budgets of about $100 - $200 “because we were working in the Iraqi scale of money”, unlike other foreign organisations that have large budgets.
“We were implementing very small projects like starting from fixing water pipes, fixing a fence at a school, or that type of project. The last project was re-building an entire village inside the marsh Arab land, which was a very big project that Iraqis did for themselves.”
But the funding for ‘Emaar’ was withdrawn.
“The main funding for Emaar I arranged from US aid. But they stopped funding us after three months. After that there were problems with funding because no one else has money in Iraq other than Americans. That’s why we started taking money from them at first. But it was a little bit disgusting taking money from there.
“The position I was taking personally, and Emaar was taking as an organisation was against the US interests. And that’s why they stopped funding us.”
The blogger’s ideas about rebuilding Iraq have received attention from peace activists in New Zealand. A voice recording of his ‘roadmap to peace’ was played at an anti-war demonstration in Wellington.
John Anderson from Peace Action Wellington asked Raed to participate in the action.
“We invited Raed to record his 'Iraqi Roadmap' as a counter voice to a talk at the US Embassy given by Michael O'Hanlon, a specialist in armed humanitarian interventions. The Bush administration and the media almost always portray Iraqis as victims or savage aggressors, ignoring the many thoughtful and constructive voices like Raed's who want to work for a better future for their country - free of US influence," John explains.
Raed’s roadmap to peace begins with an apology and compensation to victims of the war.
Raed is angry about the abuses in Abu Ghraib and he compares the effects on the individuals with death.
“Iraqis would prefer to die than to go on television and say they have been abused.”
He receives correspondence from around the world in response to his blog, including emails from many Americans.
“‘Didn’t Saddam treat you the same way’? That is a very common American response to what has happened [in Abu Ghraib]. My response to that is you cannot see what Saddam did as a measure of how you should treat Iraqis.”
Raed is not convinced that Iraqis are better off under a US regime.
“I remember one of the people who was imprisoned for a couple of days, who came out last year. He told me he would prefer to be kicked by a dirty Iraqi shoe than by a clean American one.”
Raed is reluctant to share his hopes for Iraq’s future. But he does think that things might improve a little under Democrat candidate John Kerry.
“I do not believe that he has very good or better ideas than Bush, but at least he will have the chance to change the policy. Bush does not have the courage to stop and confess their failures.”
He is extremely sceptical about the hand-over of power to Iraq, which he says looks after US interests more than Iraqis’. He claims “everyone is against the way Americans are constructing the Iraqi government”.