Last week we featured community organizer Elce Redmond’s summary of his recent trip to Iraq. Redmond returned to Chicago’s Austin community on Sept. 30. He spent two weeks there as part of a 6-member team sponsored by Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). Redmond is a member of the South Austin Coalition (SACCC) and recounted his visit at their monthly meeting. Redmond spoke of the various militant groups terrorizing the country, the people’s fascination with blacks in America and the prevalence of religion in the country. We pick up his account as he talks more about the people and places in Iraq:
I went to a place called Sadr City. It is one of the poorest places within all of Baghdad. Now, you take the 50 poorest neighborhoods in the United States and put them all together; they would not equal Sadr City. There is trash everywhere, dead animals and the water system is really bad. So in terms of organizing, they wanted me to help in Sadr City. But Sadr City is run by Muqtada al-Sadr, and he is one of their leading clerics, so you can’t organize in Sadr City without his approval [Note: Muqtada al-Sadr’s father, Mohammed al-Sadr, was assassinated in 1999. Sadr City was named after him].
He has his own army and his army has been battling with the U.S. troops. When I left they were battling U.S. troops. He has an army of about 40,000 very loyal soldiers. Under the Shiite religion, they not only believe in Allah, but their representatives are as equal to God. So Sadr is looked upon as being equal to God even though he’s in human form. So his image and picture are everywhere, and they will die for him in a second.
The power of two men
So I had a meeting with Muqtada al-Sadr. He was talking about [W.E.B.] DuBois (he’s very well read). He knows a lot more about DuBois and the history of black people than most folks I talk to?”a very, very smart guy.
But for you to do anything, it has to have his approval and no one is going to move without his approval. So the meeting we’re having were really organizing plans, but he doesn’t want the people to have too much control because that would minimize his power. When he was walking out, people were falling on their knees. This group I went with, the Christian Peacemakers, are Christians mainly from the Mennonite kind of Quaker faith, and they had not any success in moving things. I hate to say this, but when I got there, things were more open because I was a black American. So everybody wanted to meet me, and it was a good way to get things moving.
We met with the Shiites and the Sunni leaders, and this one Sunni guy. His name is Sheik al-Munie, and all of us are going to be reading about this guy. This guy scared the heck out of me because he was very smart, very articulate, but he was very dangerous. And he made sure to let you know that “you leave this country because I allow you to leave, and I’ll allow you to come back and allow you to leave again.” He made that clear in a very subtle manner. Now the Sunnis were tight with Saddaam, so they don’t like the current government. They see themselves as a minority in the current government, so they are going to make trouble.
The bottom line is the country is going to have civil war, and it’s going to be bad. You’re going to have Muqtada al-Sadr and Sheik al-Munie going head-to-head. Both of them have powerful armies and very committed fighters. And each side is going to use the foreign fighters and the gangs to their advantage, to just break the country up. It’s difficult to organize independently in the country because you’ve got to deal these guys and they have an incredible amount of power, and they’ll make it very uncomfortable for you. They don’t have to have their own security people to kill you or kidnap you. They can suggest it to one of the gangs or one of these other groups.
Violence as a way of life
I met with a pathologist in Baghdad, and they are getting 100 suspicious deaths a day. And pretty much the person has two bullets in the back of their head, and their hands are tied up. This is every day … someone is trying to send a message. And the message is if you try to sneak out, this is what is going to happen to you. No one really knows who’s doing it. There’s suspicion that it’s the Iraqi police [or] the Black Force. [Note: The Black Force is a Jihadist militant group, Redmond recounted earlier]. It seems more professional.
And then you’ve got to worry about these bombings that go on every day. I had this driver who would have this “bad feeling” and we would head for the ditch. But the people have adapted to all these bombings and shootings. When it’s over, everybody goes back to their routine.
Customs, culture and one last bombing
The people were really nice. People welcomed me into their homes. They wanted to talk about the U.S., particularly the Hurricane Katrina situation. [They] wanted to know how black people are treated with Katrina. Their society is very gender-segregated. I was in the homes of people and eating their food; the women would make the food, but couldn’t eat in the same room with me. So they are in another room; this is part of their culture. Another thing: the eldest son rules even if there is a daughter who is older.
Even the schools are segregated. The girls don’t go to school at the same time as boys, and they get a different education too. The girls are prepared to live under Islam; the boys are prepared to lead under Islam.
As I was going to the airport [to return home], they decided to bomb the airport right in the middle of the road about a half mile away. The U.S. has these Apache helicopters; they were shooting, the Iraqis were shooting. And then this security team for another car, they got out and were shooting. I’m right in the middle of it. I had a new driver. I couldn’t understand him, and he couldn’t understand me, so I’m thinking I’m going to die in this Toyota Corolla in Baghdad. So we ended up staying in this ditch for about three hours.
We get up to leave and in the distance there is a massive explosion, like an atom bomb. So I took my bag and walked 2 or 3 miles to the airport.