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On Iraqi Relatives Living Under Occupation And War

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Jan. 17, 2005

Singer-Songwriter Stephan Smith Tells of His Iraqi Relatives' Experiences Under U.S. Occupation and War

Interview with Stephan Smith, singer and songwriter, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

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As violence continues to escalate in advance of Iraqi elections scheduled for Jan. 30, the insurgency has assassinated several high officials of the U.S. installed interim Iraqi government, including the governor of Baghdad province and Baghdad's deputy police chief and his son. The insurgents are employing new and more deadly tactics to attack U.S. troops by using powerful explosives to blow up heavily armored American military vehicles.

Stephan Smith is a singer/songwriter and activist who has spoken out against the U.S. war in Iraq. His father was born in Iraq and now lives in the U.S., but Smith's entire extended family on his father's side continues to live in Iraq. Smith, who sometimes uses his birth father's name, Said, rather than his stepfather's name, recently established phone contact with many of his Iraqi relatives.

His family members are Sunni Muslims, but did not cooperate with or support the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Smith, who shares some of what he recently discussed with his aunts, uncles and cousins. Although he says they are afraid to give their opinions openly about the Iraqi election scheduled for Jan. 30, or the anti-war movement in the U.S., Smith says they appreciate Americans standing against the occupation.

STEPHAN SMITH: I think there’s a certain desire to distance themselves from both sides; it depends, of course, who you’re going to speak to. But even distancing oneself from them, there’s undeniable support at least for the fight against the occupation, regardless of whether or not the silenced majority just wants peace and has a hard time supporting the Mahdi army, let’s say, on one hand, or supporting the occupation. The resistance they say is maybe 100,000 people; has it gone up to 150,000 people? The country’s got what, 25 million people in it? What about the 24 million, 800,000 people that aren’t in the resistance? That’s who I’m talking about trying to give voice to.

Now, lots of people who weren’t supportive of Saddam Hussein now also say they wish Saddam Hussein was back, because they can’t eat; they can’t go to school; they have no water. Predominantly, my uncle told me in my last conversation with him a few days ago, the number one thing that they’ve lost entirely is security. And albeit they had security by the arm of the military under Saddam Hussein, but security in Iraq was probably greater than in any other Arabic nation until the invasion. Now it’s probably the least secure daily lifestyle, country in the region. These people can’t, you know, I can’t speak to my family in any detail even though they are doctors in the main hospitals; they’re former service people in high-ranking positions in the government. I can’t speak to them about all that they know because they’re afraid they’re going to be killed for talking to me on the phone. It’s hard for them to speak on the phone now, pro- or anti-U.S. or pro- or anti-insurgency. They’re damned if they do or damned BETWEEN THE LINES: You’ve talked about this a little bit, but can you say more about how bad things really are for your family under the U.S. occupation?

STEPHAN SMITH: I think on really bad days or weeks, with electrical rations and so on and so forth, they can’t get water now, or sometimes they can, and the phone lines -- I couldn’t reach them for months, now I seem to be able to get through to them more often than not. I know there’ve been months when my cousins couldn’t go to school. I know that in Mosul, it’s much worse right now, because that’s where my family’s from. Things there have been bad because the entire city shut down, my uncle said. He was there for Ramadan feast and couldn’t leave for two weeks to go back home to Baghdad, because the invasion of Fallujah -- this last invasion of Fallujah -- started during that time. And that created an insurgent uprising in Mosul, as we know, that continues to today. And things were so bad, there was so much fear in the city, that nobody opened their shops, nobody opened their schools, nobody opened anything. It was like a deserted ghost town, and nobody could leave.

BETWEEN THE LINES: We hear very little about how daily life is for women in Iraq.

STEPHAN SMITH: Yeah, it obviously depends on what part of the…because it’s such a diverse culture. I do know that things are worse and worse as fundamentalism is allowed to rise. And it’s very difficult, like for our family, because we remember a Middle East, especially Iraq, that was so far ahead of its time in having some liberations for women. My aunts have been doctors and teachers for years, since the ’50s. There was a lot more freedom for them than there is now. The more fundamentalism rises, in reaction to oppression and occupation, the worse things are actually going to get. I think the occupation has done nothing but create a climate that is more and more adverse for women.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You have so many relatives who are doctors. Do they see the results of depleted uranium use on the civilian population?

STEPHAN SMITH: Two aunts work in the main hospitals in Baghdad and two in Mosul. So they’re seeing and have been seeing for over 12 years continuous and increasing injuries and increasing illness and cancers and malformations, deformities from depleted uranium. But these are only starting to show up now. Two years is about the time when the gestation and results are starting to show up. So now we’re starting to see the first babies born damaged by this invasion’s droppings. They feel like they’ve been poisoned. They feel like their country is being poisoned and it seems to them it’s intentional. I mean, when your entire country is getting littered with stuff and everybody knows that it has radioactivity – even if it’s low radioactivity, but it’s not going anywhere for thousands of years – you’ve got to start to wonder if it’s intentional.

Related links on our website at - "My Family In Iraq: Views on a Silenced Majority," written by Stephan Smith, via

For information on Smith's music and touring schedule, visit his website at


Melinda Tuhus is producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Jan. 21, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.



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