SA’s Team Iraq turns on the gas

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Major Bill Raihl, Clark County coordinator, Nevada reports on his experiences in Iraq

by Major Bill Raihl – 

WESTERN SALVATIONISTS joined relief teams in Iraq and Kuwait.

I have already made six separate trips into Iraq. While most of my trips have been to the city of Basrah, a mere 2 1/2 hour drive from Kuwait City, it might as well be another world away.

The desert landscape is the dominant scene, with blowing sand and the ever-present sand storms make driving a challenge and visibility even more of a challenge. Remnants of the 1990-1991 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the liberation of Kuwait and the Gulf War still remain along the road; destroyed buildings, downed communication towers, abandoned prison camps.

Upon entering Iraq, it is almost as if you have taken a step back into time. Almost all women wear the traditional black outer covering of the Shi’ite sect. The buildings are in deplorable condition. Children line the road begging for food and water knowing that convoys roll through their border town.

Basrah is a city of over 2 million people. Much of the infrastructure of the city, e.g.; water, electricity, sanitation, basic services, is barely in existence. Our current base of operations in Iraq is in a rented house in Basrah. The home, by Iraqi standards, is quite nice. However, much of the time there is no water and electricity. Recently, 10 people from our teams were living in the home waiting for placement up-country in Iraq. For four days, the 10 unlucky residents endured the stifling heat, as the electricity was off (no air conditioning), and no water other than bottled drinking water.

An Iraqi family owns the home. Rod, the owner’s son, watches over the home very carefully. Rod is a friendly person. On my last visit, he brought over some delicious fresh-baked flat bread that his mother had just taken from her brick oven. The bread was still warm and smelled and tasted heavenly.

On this same visit, we had travelled to Basrah from Kuwait with our Toyota cab truck loaded with supplies. We backed this vehicle in the gated driveway of the home so it could be unloaded. There was not enough room for two vehicles in the driveway so the gates can be closed and the vehicles safe inside. I had to park the vehicle I drove on the street in front of the house. Rod was so worried about the vehicle being stolen, damaged or bothered that he stood outside in the 110+ degree heat for over four hours and watched over the vehicle.

Basrah has been suffering terribly since the 1990-1991 Gulf War. It was the Shi’ite population, 60% of Iraqis, mostly in the Southern region, who rebelled against Saddam after his defeat in Kuwait. Without outside support, the rebellion was quickly and cruelly put down. Hundreds of thousands of Shi’ites lost their lives as punishment. As further punishment, Saddam all but put an end to any assistance to the Basrah region. Not only did the Shi’ites suffer because of the UN imposed sanctions, but they suffered even more because of Saddam’s punishment for their uprising.

Open sewage is a problem in many areas of Iraq. In Al Amarah, a city in which we have placed a team to work as outside independent monitors working with the United Nations’ World Food Program, open sewage is common. Much of the sewage is drained into back streets and makes its way to open pits and/or the river. One of the health issues that has plagued a number of our team members is an airborne virus caused by open sewage. There is no immunization against this and the only precaution is to wear a mask, which isn’t practical in 110+ heat, soon to be 120 to 130+ in mid-July. The virus makes one very sick. The only treatment is antibiotics and rest, and it takes many weeks to clean out the virus from the system. Three of our team members have had to return home as a result of this virus and its effect on their health.

My most exciting trip came a week ago when all NGOs (Non Government Organizations) were invited to a conference sponsored by the 1MEF (1st Marine Expeditionary Force), who have command over Southern Iraq. The conference was held at the marine base called Camp Babylon, which is located at the ancient ruins of the city of Babylon. The conference was a good experience. It gave us an opportunity to meet people who can help us in the cities we want to work in. The Marines readily admit they are good at war and destruction, but not so good at rebuilding a country. They told us they wanted and needed the help of the NGOs. The SA does not have any difficulty working with the military. As a matter a fact, we have a lot of history working with the military; the military knows this and openly welcomes the Army.


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