Public Comment

Commentary: A Berkeleyan’s View From Iraq

By Jane Stillwater
Friday April 20, 2007

EDITOR’S NOTE: Berkeley resident Jane Stillwater, sponsored by the Lone Star Iconoclast, a Crawford, Texas newspaper, is blogging about her trip to Iraq. Below are her posts of April 12 and 13. To read more, see 



If you invade someone’s country, they are going to fight back. Apparently that wasn’t taught at Yale.  

—Kurt Vonnegut. 


Yesterday I went down to the Iraqi Parliament and interviewed two female Parliament members regarding their views on the current situation in Iraq. The Parliament was meeting in what formerly used to be Baghdad’s most prestigious convention center. I sat in the center’s restaurant for over an hour, interviewing the Parliamentarians and observing various delegates come and go. 

After I had written and filed my story this morning, I returned to the convention center in order to see if I could give a copy of it to my two female Parliamentarian interviewees. I entered the front of the building and climbed the stairs to the second floor but after a visual search of the many delegates gathered there to caucus between sessions, I was unable to find who I was looking for and so I left. 

An hour later an apparent suicide bomber somehow managed to enter the restaurant and set off an incendiary device which, according to Reuters, injured over a dozen delegates, some of them seriously. Two delegates were allegedly killed.  

My heart goes out to the injured delegates and their families—and to all of Iraq. Am I relieved that I missed being injured by flying shrapnel or burned? Of course. But more than that, I am deeply grieved by this tragic horror that happened to people who were well and whole just minutes before. 


Friday the 13th: No luck getting out of the Green Zone — or the war 

With the bombing of the Iraqi Parliament on April 12, my thinking about war in general and this war in particular changed radically. This freaking adventure isn’t fun any more. 

Be careful what you pray for. Every single day of my life, I get up in the morning and pray that I will be able to do as many good deeds as possible that day. And then I add, “And have fun doing it too.” Well, this invasion/war/occupation/police action/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Bush blunder (or whatever it is) isn’t fun any more. It stopped being fun for me at around 2 p.m. yesterday afternoon. 

I had gone to the Baghdad convention center yesterday to see if I could find my two new Parliamentarian friends. They weren’t there so I left. Had they been there, we might have talked for a while and we might still have been there when the suicide bomber blew himself up a short time later. Apparently, he blew himself up only about three or four tables away from where we had been sitting the day before. We could have been injured or killed. But that didn’t happen. End of story. 

But here is another story about yesterday—which, for security reasons, I was asked not to tell at the time. But I can tell it now. After I left the convention center, I then went over to the CSH—the Combat Support Hospital—and took a tour. The public affairs officer was wonderful and gave me a complete tour of the facility. “The wounded soldiers are medi-vac-ed to the CSH by helicopter.” Then they are triaged at the ER and sent upstairs to the ICU or the operating rooms. I met doctors and nurses and saw a bunch of stuff like the sterilization room, the blood bank and the chapel. It was a fabulous hospital. It was a great tour. According to the PAO, “Our staff is always calm, collected, professional and proficient despite whatever challenges they face.” I believe it. These guys look like they are ready for ANYTHING! 

At one point, however, a middle-aged Iraqi man with blood on his face came in through the front door. “Sometimes civilians arrive here for treatment,” said the PAO, “and we treat them. It’s not all that common but it does happen.” We both thought nothing more about it. Until the next middle-aged Iraqi man appeared with blood on his face and hands. And then there was another. And another. Good grief! What is going on here!  

“The Parliament has been bombed! The Parliament has been bombed!” someone sobbed. And then suddenly we were in the mix. The injured started pouring in. The CSH went into high gear, proving its worth once again as one of the best trauma centers in the world.  

You cannot imagine the hell that ensued. Soon the corridors and examining rooms and operating theaters were filled with gurneys with bleeding Parliamentarians on them. “How many women were injured!” I screamed. “Where are they! What do they look like!” Three women were injured. I raced to look at them. They were not my friends. I was happy. Sure I was happy. But my heart was also breaking for these others. 

One Parliament member, a woman, a younger woman, wrapped in blankets, turned her terror-filled eyes toward me. Her face streamed with blood. I looked into her eyes as deeply as I could and whispered, “I will perform du’a for you, Sister,” and pantomimed the universal Muslim gesture for prayer. God, I hope that my futile gesture did some good. 

Doctors and nurses came and went. The gurneys piled up in the hallways. They cut the clothes off the victims. One man’s face was completely blackened from the collar-line up. I hoped that somehow it was just blackness from powder and not from burns. Another man’s hand was badly injured and laid limply on his chest while he was strapped with IVs. 

And then it hit me. “War is Hell.” War isn’t some stupid little thing that someone playing at President declares (with or without the approval of Congress) so that he can fatten his Swiss bank account. War is your worst nightmare. End of story. “Lighten up, Jane.” 

So last night I was finally gonna leave the Green Zone and take the Rhino—an armored transport vehicle the size of a house—out to Baghdad airport and start going home. But guess what? Even that didn’t happen! I can’t even get to the Red Zone on my way home! I’m doomed to stay here forever. Like that old Kingston Trio song about Charlie who was stuck on the MTA, I may “never return”! 

But that’s not the point. What happens to me or doesn’t happen to me doesn’t matter. What matter is this: People are being killed over here folks. I don’t care who started it. I don’t care who’s to blame. I don’t care who the good guys are or who the bad guys are. I just want to stop it. To stop here. To stop in Israel/Palestine. To stop in Darfur. I want man’s inhumanity to man to stop. I don’t want to see my friends who are American troops die. I don’t want to see my friends in the Parliament die. I want this bloody nonsense to stop. 

And violence is never prevented by the use of more violence. Never. 

Last night I called a cell phone number of an Iraqi friend. “I can’t talk now,” he said. “I’m walking to my home. I can’t be heard speaking English on the street.” There you have it, summed up in a few words. On the streets of Baghdad, speaking English can get you killed. Hell, on the streets of Baghdad, anything can get you killed. 

What do I propose as a solution? Edmund Burke said it best. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” There are six billion people alive on the planet today. Of all those people, surely a majority of us are not in the killing business. It’s time for the rest of us to put our “boots on the ground.” Enough! Enough killing. Enough war. It’s time for the human race to evolve. 


PS: After my experience at the CSH, I started seeing the Green Zone in a whole new light. Before this, I had seen it as a small bit of America plopped down in the middle of Iraq, where you could get pumpkin pie at the dining facility and watch America’s Next Top Model on TV. Now I see that it too is a war zone and that every day people here also deal with the ever-present possibility of sudden death. 


PS: I got some schemes up my sleeve to get out of the Green Zone. I could always say something in my articles that are against the ground rules and then they would throw me out—but I don’t want to do that. I could develop a mysterious disease and get med-evac-ed out. I could go on strike and walk around the press room with my fist raised, chanting, “Attica! Attica! Sal si Puedes! We shall overcome!” Or I could whip out my REAL secret weapon—my dirty laundry. I could stop taking showers and keep wearing yesterday’s clothes. That oughta do it.