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Dust bowl: Like Okies in the 1930s, Iraqi farmers must move on or dig in

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(To see photos of the Iraqi dust bowl, go to my blog)

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Last June, I attended the 2007 Book Expo in New York City, and when I walked into the gigantic Jacob Javits Center, all I could see was oceans of books. There were 5,000 booths and each booth had a publisher and each publisher was just dying to give me a free book. It was Heaven! And along with the 30 or 40 other books that I scored from various publishers, I also received a copy of Cyan Press's new book, "High Tea in Mosul".

Unfortunately, however, I didn't get around to reading "High Tea" until I got to Iraq last week and now I'm still not going to finish it because at least ten people here on the Marine base have asked me if they could read it so I'm leaving it behind when I go. But I thought I'd give you some quotes before I pass the book on and go off to catch my flight back to Kuwait this afternoon. Inshallah. I missed the flight yesterday because a sandstorm was brewing. But hopefully I will fly out today.

"On May 16 [2003]," said the book, "five days after landing in Baghdad and without any apparent attempt at wide-ranging consultation on what such sweeping moves [such as dissolving the Iraqi army, sacking most senior civil servants and curtailing moves toward the creation of an interim domestic government] might have on the social landscape, Bremer transformed Iraqis from friends-in-waiting to resentful foes. Suddenly hundreds of thousands of people were without work and income."

Did Bremer do this deliberately in order to promote chaos in Iraq -- following the Bush-Cheney neo-con plan that Naomi Klein labeled "Disaster Capitalism" wherein super-profits are made for a few top dogs as a result of the mega-disasters suffered by the rest of us? Or was Bremer just stupid?

"Jane, you think too much," said my conscience. "You are in way over your head here, trying to figure out what all the good guys and bad guys are up to -- and trying to figure out which is which. You just need to chill out and go back to California." Hey, I been trying! But that sandstorm canceled my flight yesterday and today I actually made it as far as the airfield before they told me that THIS flight was canceled too because some stupid bird had just flown at our plane and punched a hole in the tail. That's war for you. War is hell.

"But Jane, you are the one who is always saying that what is happening now in Iraq isn't a 'war'." Okay then, if it's not a 'war' then what is it? "In Iraq, we appear to be witnessing the deliberate creation of chaos by all those who benefit from chaos."
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I'm tired of chaos. I don't do well with chaos. I want peace and quiet. Fortunately, there is a lot of that in Al Anbar province. But what about Baghdad and Mosul and Basra? Who is benefiting from creating chaos there? I'm not really sure. But I'm definitely here to tell you that the Average American is NOT.

"We are going to have to get out of Iraq," I preached to a KBR contractor sitting next to me in the giant Quonset hut that passes for an air terminal at Al Asad, "because America simply cannot afford to stay here any more."

"Heck, no," he replied. "In another two or three years, the oil here will start to pay for everything America has spent on the war." Everything? Really? THIS is the plan?

Then we trudged off back to the airbase to spend the night while the bird-hole in the airplane got repaired. But I couldn't sleep. I just kept thinking about farmers -- no, not the winner of the "Farmer Wants a Wife" reality show. I got to thinking about Iraqi farmers.

By 5 am, I was all ready to jump up and go track down and interview some Iraqi farmers. Everyone here has read Steinbeck's book entitled "The Grapes of Wrath," about the terrible dust storms in Oklahoma and Arkansas during the Great Depression -- it's required reading in high school. So. Is farming in Iraq like that too? A dust bowl where you either dig in and stay by the skin of your teeth or, like the Joad family, move somewhere else?
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My great-grandfather on my father's side was a deputy US Marshall at Talequa, Oklahoma. My grandfather was an itinerant sharecropper who moved west around 1910. I can relate to farmers! But where am I going to find an Iraqi farmer who speaks English on a Marine airbase out in the middle of nowhere at 5 am?

When people here refer to sandstorms, their terminology is wrong. It's not sand in the air. It's dust. A sandstorm here basically looks like very thick smog. As I flew into Kuwait last week, the whole country looked like China had -- covered with smog. But it wasn't smog. It was dust. Billions and billions and billions of particles of dust. It reminded me of Oklahoma in the 1930s.

If I ever get a flight out of this dust bowl, I'm going to go off to this year's Book Expo being held in Los Angeles on May 29. And I'm going to get another three tons of free books. But if I can't get a flight out of here and am stuck in Anbar province forever? Not to worry. I've got a mission. I've got a goal. I'm going to go out and interview farmers. "What would you do if you had unlimited water?" I'd ask. Because, in the end, after everything is said and done, if you are an Iraqi, water is life. Water is even more precious than oil.

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Stillwater is a freelance writer who hates injustice and corruption in any form but especially injustice and corruption paid for by American taxpayers. She has recently published a book entitled, "Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: Helpful Tips For Touring (more...)
 

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