rest of our trip was comprised of a frenetic tour
of stopping by villages both near and inside the
city limits of Hilla, Najaf, and Diwaniya. Hilla,
right near Babylon, has a water treatment plant
and distribution center that is managed by Salmam
Hassan Kadel, who is also the Chief Engineer.
The wastewater project here, like in Najaf and
Diwaniya, is specifically named on Bechtel's contract
as one that they are responsible for rehabilitating.
Kadel informed me that he has received help from
UNICEF, Red Cross and several others. He told
me that even during the war they had running water
in every house, and just had the normal problems
of needing to replace old pipes and pumps. Now,
they are supplying 50% of the water they need
for the people of Hilla. The villages have no
water, and they don't have the pipes they need
to get the work done.
they have had no contact from Bechtel, or a subcontractor
of said. He tells of massive numbers of people
with cholera, diarrhea, nausea, and kidney stones.
Kadel says, "Bechtel is spending all of their
money without any studies. We give our NGO's all
of our information before they do the work, and
they know what to do. Bechtel is painting buildings,
but this doesn't give clean water to the people
who have died from drinking contaminated water.
We ask of them that instead of painting buildings,
they give us one water pump and we'll use it to
give water service to more people. We have had
no change since the Americanís came here. We know
Bechtel is wasting money, but we can't prove it."
outside of Hilla I speak with several men of a
small village. It's the usual story-no running
water, maybe 2-4 hours of electricity per day
to run their feeble pumps to pull in contaminated
water for them to use.
old man, Hussin Hamsa Nagem, tells me, "This is
just like Saddam's time. In fact, it is worse.
We have less water now than before. We are all
sick with stomach problems and kidney stones.
Our crops are dying."
another small village between Hilla and Najaf,
1500 people are drinking water from a dirty stream
which slowly trickles near the homes. Everyone
has dysentery, many with kidney stones, a huge
number with cholera. One of the men, holding a
sick child, tells me, "It was much better before
the invasion. We had 24 hours running water then.
Now we are drinking this garbage because it is
all we have."
little further down the road at a village of 6000
homes called Abu Hidari, it is more of the same.
Here, Saddam was rebuilding the pipes, but this
ceased during the invasion and has yet to be resumed.
The women are carrying water from a nearby dirty
creek into their homes, because again, they have
no other option.
a night in Najaf, the next morning finds me at
yet another village on the outskirts of Najaf,
which falls under the responsibility of Najaf's
water center. Here the people had been pro-active
in collecting funds from each house to install
new pipes. But due to lack of electricity and
lack of water from the Najaf water treatment center,
they are suffering.
large hole is dug into the ground where they tapped
into already existing pipes to siphon water. It
fills the dirty hole in the night, when water
is collected. This morning, children stand around
it as women collect what little bit of dirty water
which stands in the bottom of the hole.
cholera, nausea, diarrhea, kidney stones -- everyone
is suffering from some water-born illness here,
like the rest. 8 children from the village have
been killed when attempting to cross the busy
highway to a nearby factory in order to retrieve
are walking 1 km down to a stream, which dries
up in the summer, to collect water for their homes.
In the same stream other people are washing their
dishes and doing laundry. I am told that many
children from the village have drowned in this
stream while collecting water.
translating for upwards of several hundred men
from at least 10 different villages in this region
south of Baghdad, at one point Hamoudi, with a
tired and sad look on his face, said, "I cannot
do this work. They are desperate. They are asking
me to help, and I can do nothing for these people.
I'm very tired."
Mehdi is an engineer and Assistant Manager at
the Najaf water distribution center. With help
from Red Cross and the Spanish Army, they are
doing some of the rebuilding on their own. He
tells me Bechtel has begun working on the Arzaga
Water Project to help bring water into the city
center of Najaf. He says that Bechtel started
one month ago; painting buildings, cleaning and
repairing storage tanks and repairing and replacing
is the only project he knows of that Bechtel has
been working on in Najaf.
has been no work on desalinization, which is critical
in this area, or other purification processes.
states, "Bechtel is repairing some water facilities,
but not improving the electricity any, which is
their responsibility. Their work has not produced
any more clean water than what we already had.
Bechtel has not spoken with us, or promised us
to do anything else."
ask him if he thinks Bechtel can meet their contractual
obligation of restoring potable water supply in
all of the urban centers of Iraq by April 17th,
and he laughs.
ask him, "How successful has Bechtel been in restoring
electrical service to your water facility which
depends on electricity to operate?" He tells me
at least 30% of Najaf doesn't have clean water
simply because of lack of electricity.
Diwaniya, and each of the 5 other villages I visited
the story is the same. Change the names of the
people and the names of the city/village, and
we find cholera, dysentery, diarrhea, nausea,
less than 8 hours of electricity per day, contaminated
water (or no water), and everyone is suffering.
of these people are Shi'ite Muslims, those the
US hopes to gain the support of. Those who have
been promised the most, and had the most hope
for a better life now that they are no longer
living in the shadow of Saddam Hussein. These
are the people who suffered the most from his
am here to state, unequivocally, that 100% of
the people I spoke with in this area south of
Baghdad have stated that their living conditions
are worse now than when Saddam was in power.
Hassan Mehdi Mohammed lives in a small village
with his wife and 8 children, about an hours drive
south of Baghdad. His village has 80% unemployment.
He tells me, "The American's have come and taken
everything but have given us nothing. It is worse
than before. We were hoping it would be better
than before, but now it is worse. The IGC has
forgotten to take care of the Iraqi people."
ask him what he thinks needs to occur to improve
we need security. But the Americanís aren't even
safe themselves. They are killed everyday. We
like to hear that companies are coming here and
we can work for them, but the IGC is always disagreeing
amongst themselves. They have done nothing to
help. We need free elections, this would be good
for the people and give them hope. But we know
Mr. Bremer will cheat us with those."
ask him what he thinks will happen here in the
we don't get our elections, there will be a bloody
war. I fear a civilian war."
of his children come sit with us as we drink chai
and talk. He continues,
think the American's came here because they want
something, not just because they love the Iraqi
people. If they really came to help, then they
should leave quickly. Now we are waiting for the
next 6 months. The longer we wait, the more we
see their promises are not being kept."
takes a sip of chai, thinks for a moment, and
occupation ever makes things good for the people.
All the people in the world must know the Americans
are here just to help Mr. Bush win this next election.
The same people who benefited under Saddam are
benefiting more now. And the same people who suffered
under Saddam, are suffering even more now."
brother-in-law, Saduk al Abid, who has joined
the discussion says, "Iraqi people now have no
trust in the Americans or the IGC. They have given
us one empty promise after another. We can feel
the emptiness of all of their promises now."
of these men fought in the Intifada against Saddam
Hussein in 1991. Now they both lack jobs and are
suffering worse than before.
Abid says, "During Saddam's time we could at least
find a job and bring home some money. Now, we
drive the rest of the way back to Baghdad and
listen to the news of a bus being exploded by
an IED on the Dora Highway, and three US soldiers
missing near Mosul. More Iraqi Police are killed
in this incident as well.
night we hear a couple of loud explosions, then
listen to the warning sirens wailing from the
CPA headquarters in Baghdad as it was once again
attacked with rockets. Several Bradley fighting
vehicles rumble down the street under my window,
and helicopters fly across Baghdad in different
Posted: January 31, 2004