15, 2005—While the world has been falling all over itself to remember
the victims of 9–11 and digging deep in its pockets to aid the
wealthiest nation on the planet recovering from a natural disaster, a
ferocious man-made onslaught on a town in northeast Iraq is being
This is yet one more example of the double standards prevalent today when the color of your passport can determine your worth
as a human being.
We saw this discrepancy recently when 1,000 Iraqis—mainly women and children—who lost their lives on a Baghdad bridge were a
mere footnote in the Western media.
we are witnessing this discrepancy now as our screens fill with images
of Hurricane Katrina and 9–11 commemoration ceremonies with next to
nothing about the horrors of Tal Afar, a stricken town in northeast
Iraq, accused of harboring insurgents.
the people of New Orleans, almost 90 percent of Tal Afar's residents
have fled their homes. And like their American counterparts, the doors
of their houses are being smashed in by military forces, there to
pacify the town after weeks of bombing and shelling.
similarities don't end there. While people of the US Gulf Coast are
suffering the effects of a cocktail of chemicals and effluent in the
flood waters, 170 residents of Tal Afar have fallen ill to "curious
poisons," which, according to Dr. Mohammed Qassem of the Iraqi Red
Crescent, could result from "inhaling gases."
unlike the unfortunates trapped for five days in the Superdome and the
convention center who have been evacuated to air-conditioned reception
centers around the US, many of Tal Afar's people can be found
subsisting under canvas without access to clean water, food and
medicines. There is no telethon for them. There are no convoys of
aid-bearing trucks and planes, stuffed with food and blankets, headed
in their direction.
difference is the pleas of American victims were eventually heard loud
and clear but those of people trapped inside Tal Afar or forgotten
around its peripheries are lost in the ether. The afflicted of New
Orleans deemed refugees were insulted, while refugees from Tal Afar
don't have that luxury. Even to be acknowledged at all would be a step
only are Tal Afar's civilians in peril and left to their own devices,
their neighbors can look forward to more of the same. "We tell our
people in Ramadi, Samarra, Rawa and Qaem that we are coming," said
Iraq's Defense Minister Saadan Al-Dulaimi.
are warning those who give shelter to terrorists that they must stop,
kick them out, or else we will cut off their hands, heads and tongues
as we did in Tal Afar," said this nice fellow, who was speaking
figuratively according to news reports. Let's hope so!
mayor of Tal Afar says the problem is sectarian with Sunni Muslims
being targeted, those same Sunnis who are being asked to vote on the
country's cobbled together new constitution, which threatens Iraq's
break-up. The mayor believes the ousting of insurgents could have been achieved by negotiation with Sunni tribal leaders.
New Orleans, it was mainly poor African Americans held hostage to the
deluge while the rich sped north in their SUVs and are now employing
armed security guards—including those from Blackwater, a private
contractor also operating in Iraq—to protect their mansions from
It's a similar "strong versus weak" principle in Tal Afar where organized insurgents are said to have escaped the city via a
system of clandestine tunnels leaving women, children and the elderly to their fate.
Last Saturday, the Iraqi government, no doubt prodded by their American masters, ordered the closing of the border with
Syria, which they say facilitates the entry and exit of foreign terrorists.
local Iraqi journalist Nasir Ali told Al-Jazeera that there were very
few foreign combatants in the region. "Every time the US Army and the
Iraqi government want to destroy a specific city, they claim it hosts
Arab fighters and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi," he said.
just as in New Orleans where reporters have been dissuaded from taking
pictures of the dead with guns to their heads, the media is unwanted in
Tal Afar. The US, which discouraged independent journalists in Iraq
from the outset, has learned its lesson from Fallujah when a Marine was
captured on video shooting dead an unarmed, injured Iraqi on the floor
of a mosque.
On Sunday, the entire world remembered 9–11. So did Iraqis. For them it was not only the day the hopes and dreams of 3,000
innocents were incinerated, it also changed their world forever. The Iraqi
Girl Blogger Riverbend
expresses this far better than I can. After recounting the dismay she
experienced while watching the twin-towers fall, and describing her
subsequent fears that her country was in danger of being targeted for
something it did not do, she writes:
the 3,000 victims in America, more than 100,000 have died in Iraq. Tens
of thousands of others are being detained for interrogation and
torture. Our homes have been raided, our cities are constantly being
bombed and Iraq has fallen back decades. And for several years to come
we will suffer under the influence of the extremism we didn't know
prior to the war.
I write this, Tal Afar, a small place north of Mosul, is being bombed.
Dozens of people are going to be buried under their homes in the dead
of the night. Their water and electricity has been cut off for days. It
doesn't seem to matter much, though, because they don't live in a
wonderful skyscraper in a glamorous city. They are, quite simply,
farmers and herders not worth a second thought."
to those wealthy Arab countries racing to deposit millions of dollars
in US aid coffers, I would say this: How about sparing a little
compassion along with a few cents for your brothers and sisters in Iraq?
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.