kpaul: Who are you? (What do you do for a living? etc.)
Jo: I'm a 29 year old trainee lawyer and social justice activist from Bristol,
UK. I was working in immigration and welfare in Bristol Law Centre and as
an advocate for Bristol Mind, a mental health organisation until I left to
come to Iraq.
kpaul: How did you come to find yourself in Iraq?
Jo: I was an activist mainly on environmental issues in the UK when we
organised an information squat café in Bristol in May 2003. There was a
different theme for each day, with speakers, and one of the speakers was a
woman called Joanne Baker, who had been to Iraq twice to break the
sanctions. I was outraged and started campaigning against the sanctions
with Bristol Peace and Justice Group. In August 2001 I came to Iraq for
the first time to break the sanctions and see what was happening for
I forced the British government to take me to court for breaking the
sanctions, the first time their legality had been directly at issue in a
UK court. I then decided to come back, and was here for the month before
the war and the first 12 days of bombing, before I was told to leave by
the Iraqi foreign ministry, talking to people and interviewing civilian
I had to leave without saying goodbye to most of my Iraqi friends, at a
time of complete chaos. I wanted to come back and do something positive,
make some links, work on some solidarity projects that would enable people
at home in the UK to more effectively support Iraqi people, put people who
have skills and information in touch with people who need it. So I came
kpaul: Can you explain some about Circus2Iraq?
Jo: During the war I was in one of the hospitals and there was a little boy
whose home was destroyed by a rocket. He was traumatised, not responding
to anything, till a friend of mine started blowing bubbles. He watched for
a while and then reached out and popped one and it was the first thing
that made him smile since the bombing. Over the summer I thought about
bringing a circus to Iraq for all the hundreds of thousands of children
who had been traumatised by the war and sanctions and everything before
I sent out an email about the plan and we got a wicked crew together and
spent 3 months touring in Iraq, working in squatter camps, orphanages,
schools, youth centres, theatres, anywhere there were children, with
really positive results. The girls and young women, especially, loved
seeing a woman in the show and with the squatter camps we noticed that
each time we went back the girls' confidence grew and they played more and
A newspaper in the UK sneered about it, but without knowing anything about
what we did. Play is incredibly powerful when people are suffering. Yes,
there are a lot of physical needs here, but people also desperately need
the psychological reconstruction, the transformative and healing effect of
kpaul Who has funded your trip to Iraq?
Jo: The British public, via donations and fundraising events.
kpaul: Is it difficult posting on your blog from Iraq?
Jo: No, I just write on my laptop and then go to the internet café. The main problem is that the electricity is erratic, the surges have destroyed my
laptop battery and that means whenever the power goes off, so does my
kpaul: Have you seen any US troops killing civilians first hand?
Jo:I have not seen any civilians being killed by Americans.
kpaul: Being there first-hand as opposed to getting your info from the media,
how is the situation in Iraq. That is, are things falling apart? Are they
What I have seen is people who have come into the clinic in Falluja from
US held parts of the town with bullet wounds which they said were caused
by US soldiers shooting at them, for example a woman and two young
children were brought into the clinic with bullet wounds. The other
relatives with them said they were trying to leave their house to flee to
Baghdad and were shot by US soldiers. I saw a man who was clearly unarmed
and had been shot in the back in an area controlled by US marines on
nearby rooftops. The families trapped in the houses said they were afraid
to come out because the US soldiers were shooting at anyone who came out.
I was travelling in an ambulance, clearly marked as such, in English, with
a blue flashing light on top, trying to reach a pregnant woman who had
gone into premature labour, when the ambulance was shot at by US soldiers
on a nearby rooftop. At least one bullet hit the ambulance, among several
which were fired. It was hard to tell which were new bullet holes as there
were already so many. We were forced to withdraw from the area.
Likewise in Thawra [Sadr City] I received several reports of attacks
resulting in civilian deaths that people were certain were US-fired.
Jo: Hmm - that's a very big question.
I met a man today who was conscripted into the Iraqi army, as normal, at
the age of 18. They weren't given proper food or uniforms and the pay was
so low that he couldn't support his young relatives who depended on him as
the only adult male in the family. [H]e bribed an officer to give him a
counterfeit ID and cover for him, and returned to his family. Eventually
he was caught because of the fake ID and jailed for a year in Kirkuk, in
After his release, he was sent back to the army but the same conditions
applied so he bribed an officer and escaped again. He lived for years that
way, getting caught now and then and bribing the police to let him go. He
thought the US invasion had to make things better. Now he thinks the US is
worse. He is poorer, more desperate, more afraid. He lives in a tiny farm
building in the squatter camp at Shuala with his wife, unemployed like
most of the men there, like a majority of the population of Baghdad and
afraid to go out much because of the security problems.
Things are extremely unstable at the moment with fighting ongoing in
several areas and liable to erupt more or less anywhere at any time. I
don't much go for predicting what's going to happen because there are so
many factors involved and I haven't got a crystal ball to gaze at, but
there are certain events and issues that are obviously significant.
The purported "handover of power" on June 30th is a big one, as there's
increasing frustration with the US administration here and they've now
started talking down the amount of power that will actually be handed
over. The situation in Falluja is still very delicate, as are those in
Najaf and Kerbala and the killings of civilians in Thawra have caused a
lot of anger in a densely populated area of 2.5-3 million poor Shia people
who were among the more willing to give the US a chance to do something
An added complication in the Najaf situation is that some of the prominent
Shia leaders have started to express differences in public. A split
between supporters of Sistani and Sadr, who have thus far said essentially
the same thing in different ways, could cause a lot of chaos. There is
also the problem that most people in Najaf depend on the flow of pilgrims
for their income and that's been stopped by the recent conflict, so
dissent is growing.
The torture photos are another factor. There were many, many people who
already knew this was going on and of course now there are more people who
know. So it's not only a question of "things falling apart" as you asked,
but also of the image falling apart. The US started a number of TV and
radio stations with names like "Freedom TV" and "Al-Iraqiya" and recently
killed two of the Iraqiya reporters and is finding the control of
information increasingly difficult to maintain - within Iraq, at least,
though perhaps less so in the US.
kpaul: What can the citizens of the world do to help in Iraq?
1. Kick our governments up the arse.
Especially in the UK and US, we need to plague the politicians who are
responsible for all this. In both countries there is no real anti-war
vote, no real vote for social justice on a whole range of issues so the
only answer is to take back the power that's been delegated to them and
make the changes ourselves. We are not their servants, they are ours, and
it's time we gave them the boot. There's so much we can do to take back
control of our lives and our country, no matter how small or how huge a
project it might seem.
2. Kick the corporations up the arse.
This goes for the corporations which are sucking Iraqis' blood through
"reconstruction contracts" and for the ones that are part of our everyday
lives, the petrochemical companies, the supermarkets which have so much
control over food issues, the ones who contributed so generously to the
election campaign of George W. Bush. Setting up co-ops, buying local,
joining unions and taking control of our workplaces - and our unions, if
necessary, living in a more eco-friendly way and so on.
3. Kick the arms trade up the arse.
The arms trade is what fuels wars. It's that simple. They sold weapons to
Saddam, with government complicity. In the case of Britain, at least, the
British taxpayer subsidised the sales and the shareholder profits by
millions of pounds, mainly through the Export Credit Guarantee system,
whereby if Saddam (or other buyer) didn't pay the bill, we did. Now Iraq
is firmly over the IMF / World Bank debt barrel, all it's public services
open to privatisation as part of enforced structural adjustment.
See www.caat.org for more on the arms trade and www.jubileeiraq.org for
more on Iraq's debt.
4. Take action on human rights in other countries.
Failure to address Saddam's human rights abuses was part of the reason
that many Iraqi exiles didn't engage with the anti-war movement. In order
to become a genuine and sustainable movement for peace and justice, the
human rights issue needs to be taken much more head on. There are abuses
going on all over the world and this one links with the last on the arms
trade and debt: the World Bank, IMF and arms dealers are inseparable from
5. Keep looking for and passing on alternative sources of information on
Iraq, outside the mainstream media. There are some good weblogs coming out
of Iraq, as well as news sites - www.newstandardnews.com and
www.informationclearinghouse.org and www.backtoiraq.com. Also check out
www.electroniciraq.net There are interesting articles and discussions on
www.opendemocracy.net and of course people should read my website frequently - www.wildfirejo.org.uk
The thousands of Iraqis held prisoner without charge, without access to a lawyer and without family visits have become an issue with the publication of The Photos, but the problem is not new. It looks like a lot of prisoners are being released now as a result of the proof that the prison can't cope with all the people locked up. It needs continued attention though and continued pressure to pay compensation to families whose main earner [h]as been killed or disabled in prison.
There are lots more things, but if I go on, you'll never get this. Let
your imagination run wild.
An interesting beginning, no? I realize the limitations of an email interview. So, if this strikes up enough conversation, I want your help in forming the next set of questions. As a follow-up we could chase down some of the paths she's started us on here. CYOA for the intellectual geek crowd. (Well, mostly...)