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UPDATE:  Veterans for Peace Iraq Water Project, September, 2004

IRAQ WATER PROJECT UPDATE:  Falluja, continued.


In the spring of 2002 some Iraq Water Project delegates visited a municipal treatment installation we had just obligated ourselves to help repair.  This little plant---barely operating---drew some pretty ambiguous water from the Euphrates River and sent it erratically on to impoverished households in a city we had scarcely heard of.

Next year came the invasion.---And the occupation.---And then the resistance.

And as by magic, the formerly unknown city was transformed into one of the great and famous glamour capitals of the world for violence and suffering.  Among every other kind of disaster, its soccer field quickly filled up with the hastily dug graves of citizens shot down by small arms fire or smithereened by US ordnance.  The people of Falluja, it is surely safe to say, want nothing better than to become once again a city nobody knows and where nothing happens.  Veterans for Peace indeed hopes they get their wish.

The Hai al-Risala water plant at Falluja was originally chosen for repair by IWP amid entirely fortuitous circumstances.  Actually, in the confusion and turmoil of the country in the last days of Saddam Hussein, Risala ended up with us as a substitute for another water plant in a different part of Iraq.  Grateful to be given the opportunity to provide clean water to desperate Iraqis wherever they happened to be, IWP signed on to the rebuild.  For something less than a year one of Falluja’s riverside neighborhoods received good quality water from Hai al-Risala.

That was then.  The next time we heard from someone in Falluja (a representative of LIFE for Relief and Development) was this past spring following the first major uprising in the city.  Amid every other calamity that shadowed the fighting, the Risala plant had flatlined out. 

Falluja became a blinding example of what was happening in much of the rest of Iraq:  the big bowl of ice cream America called Liberation and Reconstruction evaporated and shriveled to cracked leather under the forgiveless desert sun.  It is my unhappy duty to report that something of the same nature has happened at other water plants sponsored by VFP:  the dislocations and looting that sprang from the invasion, the insecurity and lawlessness all over the country, growing worse by the day, and the inevitable violent resistance to the United States military occupation have sent the progress line on the country’s water graph into freefall throughout much of Iraq.  An already bad situation in a vital area of public health has rapidly become worse.  A survey conducted by LIFE this past spring on all the water treatment plants in the Basra vicinity found a dangerous deterioration of quality in every case.  Four of the six facilities repaired through the Iraq Water Project are among these casualties.

But given the opportunity by LIFE to re-repair the Falluja water plant, we immediately chose that project over others for a number of reasons.  Right up front, one of those reasons was visibility:  with all that fighting splashing the headlines at the time, no other place IWP could work provided the advantage of immediate recognition to the average American newspaper reader.  As this piece is written, the city of Najaf is an unhappy competitor.

More important, however, was the desperate situation within Falluja itself.  The US siege lines surrounding the city cut off the supply of every necessity and all public services, even including the instantly overwhelmed hospitals.  The city basically went dark and a good portion of its population, now without food, water or medical help, tried to flee Falluja and was trapped for days in the desert.   This wretched state of affairs continued until some dicey ad hoc arrangement was patched together by the two sides.  An Iraqi force commanded by former regime military thugs was deployed to patrol the streets of Falluja.  Now that’s Liberation for you. 

As everyone knows, the “arrangement” has not been crowned with any very visible success.  The resistance doggedly and violently refuses to enjoy the foreign occupation of its country, US airstrikes periodically blow to bits pieces of the city thought to be harboring the illusive Qaeda spinoff al-Zarqawi, and in much of Falluja nothing is any better than it was at the beginning of the siege.  Because of the critical security situation in Falluja, there is very little help to hand.  With one exception.

 Our long time partner in Iraq, LIFE for Relief and Development, has assiduously and courageously strained every muscle to help the Iraqi people under inconceivable disadvantages and all manner of danger.  As was done with our other repaired Iraqi water plants, LIFE is contracting out---to Iraqi construction firms---, the restoration of Hai al-Risala.  This is no ordinary job.  LIFE is the only non-governmental organization with the courage to keep open an office in Falluja.  A young, recently married Iraqi engineer runs that office.  LIFE has been harassed by the occupation authority on the one hand, and on the other threatened with getting its Falluja office bombed by certain elements of the insurgency.  Trying to steer a fragile relief-bearing bark through these treacherous waters is no task for the faint-hearted.  IWP thanks LIFE for everything it has done for Iraq’s people and for us.

The Hai al-Risala water plant should be back on line soon. Without benefit of some yet to be invented future-discerning lens, the longer term prospects for this plant and the city it serves, as for Iraq itself, cannot be predicted.  It is entirely possible our work here could be blown to pieces in the continuing warfare.  All it would take is one traceable insurgency mortar to be fired from the grounds of the plant, or a political  decision on the part of the United States to punish Falluja’s obstinacy by destroying its central services.  So far none of that has happened, and the combat damage done to Risala was incidental.  But news reports now pouring in from Najaf clearly indicate how far each side is willing to go in this conflict.  The al-Sadr remnants retreating and continuing to fight even from the city’s sewers offer an unsettling parallel to the resistance of the Warsaw ghetto in WWII, while the ultimate US decision to enter Najaf and risk destroying some of the most sacred sites and images of Islam, demonstrates  the desperation of the Bush administration to rescue and preserve its initial strategic goals in invading Iraq.  The reeking cloak of Imperialism be damned, this costly enterprise is going to pay its bloody dividend.

In a brief time, Hai al-Risala will be once again pumping improved municipal water to about 15,000 Fallujans.  Better household water will not, however, end these people’s misfortunes or in any way justify the actions of the United States in Iraq.  Even if Bechtel should somehow succeed in putting electricity and water into every last home, Iraqis would still be faced with a foreign occupation and a growing dependency upon a faraway imperial power using their nation and their resources for its own ends.  That is the nature of colonialism, ours like anyone else’s.  You just can’t hide that lizard in the desert sand.

The goal of the Iraq Water Project has always been to illustrate the destructiveness and what we consider the ineptitude of United States policy toward Iraq.  An example is the employment, by LIFE, of exclusively Iraqi construction firms which clearly reveals the criminal wastage of American tax billions on US corporations and their no bid contracts.  The extensive repairs at Falluja come in at less than $30,000, a sum that would scarcely cover a month’s wages of a couple of American security contractors, if Bechtel were rebuilding this plant. 

There is only one honest answer, as far as we can see:  Iraq for the Iraqis, Yankee come home.  If we absolutely have to risk and expend the lives of our soldiers, there’s got to be a better cause. 

--Art Dorland, VFP Iraq Water Project Chair