Saturday, July 11, 2009

WWB: the disappeared

WHAT WAR BRINGS: the disappeared

This edition of WHAT WAR BRINGS will focus on the disappeared from war zones and the unrelenting agony that causes the loved ones left behind.

Here is one story from the New York Times:

Fate of missing Iraqis haunts those left behind

During the worst of Iraq's sectarian violence three years ago, Anam Diham's 13-year-old son went out to buy vegetables one afternoon. He never returned. Since then, Ms. Diham has exhausted her family's life savings trying to find the boy, who spent his days with his father searching Baghdad's streets for dropped coins. She has traveled to big American prisons and small-town Iraqi cemeteries. And as have hundreds of other people, mostly women in black abayas, she often waits patiently in line outside government offices, waiting to meet with officials she hopes will have news. They never do. After all this time, no one can say whether her son is dead or alive.

"All I need is to find some clue about him," Ms. Diham, a mother of seven, said recently as she pored over hundreds of photographs of unidentified bodies at a morgue. "I'd like to build a grave to visit him. Nothing more than that." She made it through about a quarter of the photos before she left, too upset to continue.

Ms. Diham shares her fate with tens of thousands of other people in Iraq. There are ten thousand Iraqis listed as missing since the American invasion, per the same NYT article, and the Iraqi government says that this number is probably a small fraction of the total. I know that mass graves – from the Bush era in Iraq – are being found nearly every week. On top of that, in the summer of 2007, I read that there were 40,000 unidentified bodies placed in graves in Najaf since 2003. On top of that, these unidentified bodies would only be from a geographical area covering Basra to Baghdad. And, for the victims of violence buried in mass graves or randomly dumped in the country side, there is the problem of decomposition. This is compounded by the fact that the victims may have had their head or limbs removed, or been severely tortured.

And then there are bombings – particular US bombings – that are so huge that there really is not a lot of ‘body’ left to identify someone without DNA analysis. And DNA analysis is only available at one lab in Iraq. There is no central database for the missing, and no coordination between various agencies in war-torn Iraq.

Most of the disappeared are believed to be dead.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has this to say about the disappeared in Iraq:

"The problem of the missing is enormous," said Dibeh Fakhr, a spokeswoman for the Iraq office of the International Committee of the Red Cross. "Families have the right to know, and governments have an obligation to help find out what happened to their loved ones."

And the toll of not knowing has economic consequences when the missing person was the husband and bread winner for the family. The surviving wife cannot collect benefits, remarry, or gain access to the family’s bank account.

Here is one more story:

Ghaniah Ayed Mudhi, who lives in the industrial city of Baiji, in northern Iraq, has had a brother, two cousins and two brothers-in-law disappear since 2006. Her brother, Muhammad Ayed Mudhi, left behind 4 children and 11 other dependents. He disappeared after being pulled out of his truck at a checkpoint. Later, a stranger came to the family's house demanding the equivalent of $7,000 for his return. The family paid the ransom, but Mr. Ayed Mudhi, who would be 29 if alive, remains missing.

And another one:

In the Shuala neighborhood of Baghdad, Fadhilah Harfish has kept the room that belonged to her 25-year-old son, Muhammad, as he left it — just a little tidier. The bed is made. The curtains are drawn. His shirts hang neatly in a closet. Relatives removed photos of Muhammad from the house because Ms. Harfish sometimes spent hours crying over them. The family has visited morgues, prisons and graveyards, and has even communicated with members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the Mahdi Army militia, to no avail. Muhammad, who trained as a teacher, had been working as a taxi driver, a common job for Iraqis who cannot find career-oriented work. Driving cabs was also among the most dangerous jobs during the height of the sectarian killings. He disappeared one morning in December 2007, early in his workday. "I can't sleep at night," said Ms. Harfish, sobbing. "I can't forget him. He's like my breath."

And those stories are just three stories out of tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of disappeared people. I would have included more, if only someone was reporting on them.

If you support the continued occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan, or the bombing of Pakistan, then you support WHAT WAR BRINGS: tens of thousands of disappeared and unending agony for their families.

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