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Nov. 1st, 2005 | 10:58 pm

Question: Tell me about your trip to Iraq.

Bruce Cockburn: It was a whirlwind. We were in Baghdad for a week, we being myself and three Americans under the leadership of Thomas Gumbleton, a Catholic bishop from Detroit. Great guy. We met Iraqis from all walks of life, from the arts, the intelligentsia, business people, various religious communities, homeless people, human rights workers.

There were many things that stood out. One that comes to mind immediately was the huge gap that existed between the U.S. and the Iraqis. There's just no communication there at all, at least not on the street level. We watched the interaction on a number of occasions between U.S. soldiers and the Iraqis. The soldiers were doing their best to not be heavy, to not be any more confrontational than a guy with a gun can be when the other guy doesn't have one. But there was no understanding. Almost all the military personnel were wearing sunglasses. No Iraqis wear sunglasses. They really want to see your eyes. So immediately they can't trust the Americans.

A number of Iraqis told us they had welcomed the U.S. forces as liberators initially but in the intervening months, they had come to feel that they had swapped one oppressive regime for another. The Iraqis did exchange one oppression for a lighter kind, in some ways. Abu Ghraib, as bad as it was, can't be compared to what Saddam was doing to people.

But what they also traded away--well, they didn't trade it away, it was taken from them--was any possibility of personal security, whether it was economic or physical. The prevailing attitude in Baghdad was fear: Are they going to kidnap my kids? Is somebody going to shoot me in the middle of the night? Am I going to get carjacked and killed? We heard firefights every night. Everyone keeps their drapes closed in Baghdad because of the possibility of flying glass.

And people were afraid of getting sick because there just are not enough facilities to take care of them. And that's not only a product of the war but also of the thirteen years of sanctions that preceded it. We went to a couple of different hospitals and doctors would talk to us about the shortages of everything from trained nurses to morphine. The power would go out continually, the hospitals would try to rely upon their emergency generators. But those were rickety because they could not get the spare parts to fix them up properly.

Everything that makes a society run is broken in Iraq. The only real structure is the people's own sense of themselves as Iraqis, which was very strong. They're a proud people, and they trace their historic roots way, way back.

I got invited to lunch at this guy's art studio. In the courtyard, he was cooking fish in a way I had never seen before. I asked him about it, and he said, "It's a Sumerian recipe." Here's Iraq, where irrigation was invented, where law was invented, where writing was invented. All these things that we consider necessities of civilization started there. And the people who live there damn well know that.

full interview

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