My diary in Iraq: Final DayHope to bring Iraqis together lives… [Archives:2004/731/Opinion]

April 22 2004

By Emma Bomino
For the Yemen Times

At the intergovernmental conference in Sana'a, Yemen, organised in January of this year by No Peace Without Justice, Iraqi ministers invited Emma Bonino, Radical Party Member of the European Parliament and member of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, to Baghdad. A delegation of Radical MEPs – Bonino herself, Marco Cappato and Gianfranco Dell'Alba – accepted their invitation. On the final day of their visit, the delegation attend a reception with the Peshmerga and a meeting with Rajaa, a symbol of hope for the future of Iraq

We are suddenly woken up by a hissing sound. A missile flies over our camp and crashes, we learn later, into the Sheraton Hotel. A siren warns everyone to go to the shelters. And yet the evening had begun with a series of celebrations, the farewell party for Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Head of the British Forces in Iraq, who is returning to London after six months, and then a party in our honour, offered by the representatives in Baghdad of the Kurdish minority, the first to free itself of Saddam's regime. The party takes place in a hotel in the centre of Baghdad, guarded by dozens of armed men, the famous Peshmerga.

The Kurds welcome us warmly; with them there are many members of the community of diplomats, functionaries and experts of the Coalition and soldiers trying, despite everything, to enjoy moments of normal life. The Kurds tell us of a country whose fate is still in the balance. “Every day,” says Baktiar Amin, a member of the Governing Council, “around 10,000 Iranians cross the border claiming to be pilgrims to the holy places of Shiite Islam, and who knows how many of them will go back.
From Syria, too, and probably from Jordan and Saudi Arabia, armed groups are infiltrating the country continually and unchecked. There are two major branches of international terrorism operating in the country, each with its own galaxy of groups and movements: Sunnite fundamentalism, also linked to groups loyal to Saddam, is close to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations, whilst Shiite fundamentalism is funded by the Hezbollah and influenced by Iran. The stakes are high, and after being oppressed for thirty years by Saddam the Kurds, who have taken important decisions in the field of the fundamental rights and freedoms – with regard to women, for example – are clearly not willing to give up their freedom in a State dominated by the mullahs.
During the day we had visited the burns ward in the hospital run by the Italian Red Cross. They operate in a high-risk zone, and we arrive accompanied by Ambassador de Martino and the highly efficient Carabinieri of the Tuscania division. The premises are clean and tidy – a different world compared to the Saddam Hospital which I visited in 1997 – and the highly qualified staff are working miracles, though they are unable to cope completely, with over 100 patients on the waiting-list for the most serious cases. They ask me to convey an appeal to the Italian regions to help out.
At the Embassy I meet painters, sculptors, archaeologists… a society waking up, with all sorts of expectations. They want to promote projects on “art and democracy”, above all to help children to express themselves. They are thinking of painting murals to embellish the city. They show us photos of their works and would like to establish contacts with Europe.
I find the possible future of Iraq, multiethnic and tolerant, in the words of Rajaa Kuzai, the women who, as a member of the Governing Council, has shown most determination in defending the draft Constitution from the inclusion of articles inspired by fundamentalism. Her account of whole days spent in the Council to thwart the Islamist boycotts reminded me of the many Radical battles in the Italian parliament. I hope that her plan to establish a cross-ethnic “liberal” group – bringing together Shiites, Sunnites and Kurds who oppose fundamentalism – will immediately become an objective shared by our Transnational Radical Party.
* Emma Bonino is a Member of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy. She is also an active member of the Transnational Radical Party.