Reparation Journey In Iraq

November 4, 2014

"This is community land" says a man herding his cows in this valley.

"They have plans" says a farmer about the cement factory being built in this valley.

"They are building there, and there, and soon our land will be surrounded. They promised electricity and benefits, but it never came."

"Come, let me show you all my plants!"


Farmer_Northern IraqIrrigation_Northern_Iraq


This is a valley between Bazian and Suleymania where cement companies have found a long line of hillside with the chemistry of stone they want for mining. This valley is fated for pollution and complete destruction.

It works like this: Traditional living= low consumption. Destroy traditional living= war, military occupation, or other tears to the social fabric. Introduce infrastructure for consumer capitalism ("the mall" "the hotel" "the supermarket"). Last step is to get all those displaced rural people concentrated in cities and ready to consume= introducing Coke, Wonderbread, etc.

October 30, 2014

Tannour Oven
Tannour Oven


If you cook bread in a salted mud tannour oven, made by hand, it tastes so different from bread cooked in a metal oven by a machine. What does it mean, the mud and grass, the time drying in the sun, the sweat of its maker, the skill of muscle memory... the intergenerational memory that both the mud and the maker share. They remember each other, recognize each other, bend toward each other. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And we bite the dust when we tear at the bread. Biting dust, after all, is the ultimate humility.

So what is displacement? it is when the ashes don't become ashes, and the dust does not become dust. It is suspended space and suspended time. Atoms suspended above the ground, outside of "ethical time." Cells that do not divide, produce, or decay. A removal, an abstraction, an arrogance.

October 29, 2014

Kali making tea in Iraq with displaced persons.
Kali making tea in Iraq with displaced persons.

You idiot, you can't even make tea! Hahaha.

The best thing about anthropology is becoming an infant over and over, just when you thought you were a full grown adult.

Creating opportunity for cooperation and community.
Creating opportunity for cooperation and community.

“At the margins, we face more opportunities for cooperation with a wider array of people.” -Russell Hardin.

October 28, 2014

Kurdish Bakery
Kurdish Bakery

The complexity and creativity of a Kurdish Bakery: a legacy of French and British colonialism, adapted with artistic flare to suite the aesthetic taste of the Middle East.

I am reminded once again how materially we are connected.

October 20, 2014

Northern Iraq
Northern Iraq

Meeting with an Iraqi Seed and Chemical Supplier that contracts with large multinational companies and sells to local farmers:

"We can use the tubers (potato) for two seasons, one year: the mother companies have exclusive rights to the genetic material of the crops."
"Everyone wants Iraq importing, not exporting"
"The government is not protecting farmers, no one is."

"Since 2003, they are opening the Iraq markets up and getting rid of farmers."
Who is they?
"Does it matter? Iraq is losing farmers."
"Outside countries are flooding the market at cheap rates to drive prices down in Iraq."
"Before 2003, 100 percent of tomatoes consumed in Iraq were grown in Iraq. Now we import 90 percent of all tomatoes."

"We like the mother companies [seed providers], they have crops that are immune to viruses. The only problem we have is they don't give agency to the farmer."

So you are okay importing seeds from Europe and the US, but you are not okay importing crops from neighboring countries. What's the difference?
"In the first case, at least there is room for farmers to exist. In the second case, the farmers are displaced entirely from Iraq. We become import-only."

If I wanted to find plants that produced seeds that I could save and produce a second year of crops, could I find this in Iraq?
"Not anymore. Before 2003, yes, but now there are no such seeds."

Are you worried about chemical saturation or the health effects of GMO crops?
"No we are just worried about yield. Besides, chemical are helping us recover from the war. We need them to make our crops better."

Which "mother companies" do you think are best?
"Simins, Nana Hams, Pioneer, Sergenta, Bacher Brother, Agro. Monsanto! the best ones, since 4 years, but now they are not contracting with us directly. Mostly from France and Holland. We like John Deer tractors too."

If I were Iraqi, I would boycott American products.
"No, we need them. They are helping us repair."

October 16, 2014

Kali Rubaii with Yazidi children in Iraq
Kali Rubaii with Yazidi children in Iraq

Segregation becomes the answer to racism, separation becomes the answer to conflict, prisons becomes the answer to poverty... etc.

This is one conceptualization of the "peace paradigm"-- that once everyone in a single place is the same or dead, while others are separated from them by a highway, a wall, a national border… then we can see from a distance what looks like restful sleep, but is in fact the dead body of Iraq, or The Holy Land, or Rwanda, or the reservation and ranchero pocked geography of apartheid California.

October 14, 2014

Congenital birth defects and cancers have been on the rise in Iraq since 2003
Congenital birth defects and cancers have been on the rise in Iraq since 2003

Iraq Public Health Crisis Speaking Tour

Thank you! We have successfully funded this project!

Please help us spread the word about this important speaking tour to raise awareness in the U.S. scientific community about the alarming rise in rates of congenital birth defects and cancers in Iraq. Dr. Muhsin Al-Sabbak, a gynecologist at Basra Maternity Hospital, and Dr. Mozhgan Savavieasfahani, an independent public health researcher, will be visiting major U.S. universities this coming October to discuss the public health crisis in Iraq. Dr. Samira Alaani, a pediatrician at the Fallujah General Hospital, will be joining them via Skype. These doctors have been amongst the few to research Iraq’s public health crisis.

For more information and a calendar of the tour visit The Islah Reparations Project.

October 10, 2014
Just as proximity to power is not equal to having power, proximity to risk is not risk itself. Dohuk, for the time being is quite safe for those of us not in refugee camps.

Photo by Jay Visbal
Photo by Jay Visbal

October 3, 2014
A day with the "Joad Family." Ma, a 50 year old grandmother of 25, taught us how to build a taboun bread oven and make pacha (goat head), Iraqi rice, and bread. We sat in one of the many fields of partially constructed houses, cooked our food with LaFarge cement bags and twigs, surrounded by cement blocks, which we used as chairs, a stove, housing, cutting boards, play structures, ec. I counted at least 6 obvious cases of birth defects or cancer in this family of 31 people.

September 30, 2014
Quotes from 2 Anbari farmers from Saqlawiya:
"We inherited 'maximac' wheat."
"In continuous agriculture, you store some seeds for the next year. Seasons don't work that way anymore."
"We have a lot of dusty winds. It is new."
"The borders opened after 2003-- too much! [joke references all the foreign militias in Iraq]. So also came the cheaper, superior wheat from outside. Now it is cheaper to buy the food than to farm for it."
"War now is a financial war."
"They got there at the same time: chemicals for crops and chemicals of war."
"The number of limbs and heads multiplied." I ask: you mean for cows, for humans? "For everything, for all of Iraq, we have too many heads and too many limbs."
"Our borders opened to the whole world-- any bad product in the world enters the country."
"We are compelled to put it in the soil. These chemicals do not meet international standards of health."
"We use 'Tylocin' to treat the chickens for flu. It is illegal because it causes cancers. We use it."
"We needed more and more chemicals to treat the diseases and pests that came in."
"The company seeds were very productive! But when you plant them, they are not virile. You must buy new ones."
"The company, it's a big American company. The subsidiary is Dabana. You can visit their office in Erbil. They make all the chemical and the seeds."
"You see these dates, see how their skins broke and they are mushed? This is the problem with homogenization [of crops]. It is the result of the 'busnaqi' insect."
"Iraq is drying up. I noticed when I tried to pollinate the dates that the flower had no natural moisture. It wasn't making nectar. So I tried to make it have tears with an onion. It worked! I was surprised. But this is how we will repair Iraq. With tears, with onions. It is beautiful, no?"
"You see, the need forces creativity, forces the solution."
"Here, have an Anbari date. You can't take it home, it will alert the radioactive detectors." I say: I guess I'll reap what I sew. "Yes, but there is love in the date too. I grew it myself and even coaxed the nectar from its flowers." [It was actually the best date I've ever had.]

September 29, 2014
Quotes from Interviews with Anbari women:
“When life is a question, death is the answer.”
“Our men are so depressed. It is impossible to find work for the men.”
“The men sit at home now, like women, and we go out to look for work.”
“I came here [sewing coop] to make $200 a month.”
“My husband started taking medication for blood pressure.”
“We are so many people in a single room. The pressure is so great.”
“My husband never smoked. Now he started started smoking 3 packs a day.”
“The financial stress is so hard. We have no income. Even we, the women, started hitting the children more.”
“The problem is male pride. My husband refuses to collect aid.”
“Some of the young men started drinking, and even there is much more attempts at suicide.”
“NGOs should find a way to remove the pressure on men, our men.”
The impact on the men affects us so much. They are at home with our children, and we are going outside. It is not our tradition to leave the home.”

Of the women I interviewed, all but two had their homes completed destroyed by Maliki barrel bombs. Of the two whose houses are standing, one is now inhabited by Daash (ISIS).
“We don’t care if our houses are there or anything. Just stop the bombing, and we will go back and start from zero.”
“My primary concern is the children;s education. They cannot take the exams without going back to Anbar.”
“If I go out of the house, I smile. If I stay in the house, I don’t smile.”

September 24, 2014
Medication received. Alhumdulallah.

The ISLAH Reparations Project

The ISLAH Reparation Project
The ISLAH Reparation Project

September 23, 2014
“I wish you didn’t see these beheadings. This is not Islam. Please make sure the Americans know, we don’t even behead chickens.”
Anbari men, young and old, talking to me about life and death all afternoon... Day by day we get closer to each other and to the fact that, as one man said:
"Simple people are all different, different religion, different clothes, but we have a common interest in life. Power is never different, and it has a common interest in death."

September 23, 2014
Thank you Kansar Hospital in Mosul for accepting our reparations and humble apologies for the US involvement in the destruction of Iraq. May you save as many lives as possible.

(One batch received and photographed. One more received today, confirmed by phone-- awaiting photos.)

September 21, 2014
Poetic Iraqi quotes of the day:
"Stillness is impossible."
"Home is a disaster state."
"It was the silence before the tornado."
"Most people affected by this 'global problem' are local Iraqis" (said of the 'global terrorism' question.)
"There is nothing more beautiful than a well run checkpoint."
""It is like a game- you live or die." (said of approaching checkpoints when you are a young man in Anbar).
"Here they do interrogations nicely. When you are released, you go home. Before, if you were released it was to a hospital."
"We are neither terrorists nor soldiers; we are citizens. Simple people."

September 21, 2014
I know we put snipers on the roof and shot your children. I know we bombed your houses and schools. I know we poisoned your land. I know we burst into your houses and stole away your men. I know when we left, we kept sending planes and money and that the bombing never stopped. I know all of this, and I am so, terribly sorry."
Mother's eyes spill over with tears, "Thank you."
Father waves his hands, "It's not the people's fault, its the government."
His son presses his leg gently as if to put his father on pause, "Ssh, dad. That's not what she is saying."
He passes me a photograph of three dead girls wearing pink.
"Yesterday. My nieces."
Mother wipes her tears, "Please, stay for dinner."

September 15, 2014
Your money, our shoulders: reparations is a global effort.

Kali and Jay, Dohuk Iraq
Kali and Jay, Dohuk Iraq

If anything is clear from distributing medicine, it's this: the damage of war is so vast and enduring-- and repair so slow-- that we simply cannot afford any deeper moral debt, not one more bullet, not one more weapons contract, not one more policy. — in Duhok, Iraq.

September 14, 2014
Long Live the Old Ways.

August 27, 2014
A small group of American citizens is sending medication, supplies, and clothing to internally displaced Iraqis. We acknowledge that we helped pay for lethal weapons in Iraq, whether they are used by ISIS (Daash), the Maliki regime, US and allied occupation forces, or any other regime. We offer reparations to the Iraqi people, knowing that this does nothing to absolve our responsibility or ameliorate their suffering. Here is Part One of our effort. More medication and clothing to be purchased and distributed shortly.

Thank you Lea Park, Barbara Erickson, Carly Visbal, Debra Ellis, Tom Shank, John Erickson, and all the rest.

If you want to offer reparations, visit Select the project called, "Medicine/clothing delivery to displaced Iraqis." — with Jay Visbal.

I invite you to follow ISLAH projects on facebook.

Kali_1About Kali Rubaii:Kali has spent time living in Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Palestine and Rwanda. She works for Friends of Sabeel, North America ( and The Islah Reparations Project ( She is a Phd candidate in Social Anthropology with a BA in International Relations.

Jay_VisbalAbout Jay Visbal: Jay is a free-lance photographer and English teacher. He's studied widely throughout the Middle East, including Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt and Iraq. He also works for Friends of Sabeel North America (