Dr. Dahlia Wasfi and the Tragedy of Iraq, Part 1: Interviewing Ross Caputi, a Marine in Fallujah
March 20, 2011 was the eighth anniversary of the Bush/Cheney Administration invasion and occupation of Iraq, an occupation that has increasingly fallen below the radar ever since President Obama ordered all American combat brigades home by August 31 of last year. The last unit, the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, rumbled back into Kuwait around August 19th, handily beating the deadline.
However, the occupation did not end then, only any large scale American combat role. There were still some 50,000 American troops in country on September 1st, the day after combat was declared over, their official role to maintain order and stability as well as train Iraqi troops and security forces. However, in a treaty signed with the Iraqi government, ALL American troops are supposed to be out by December 31, 2011, but is that going to be end of the story?
The American Embassy in Baghdad, the Green Zone, is the size of some 80 footballs fields, and there are huge military bases throughout Iraq such as Joint Base Balad, ten massive square miles of Army and Air Force property housing thousands of military personnel. It is hard to imagine the United States, after spending billions on all of this, simply handing over the “keys to the castle” in nine months time and walking away.
Indeed, a recurring slogan coming out of official Washington has been that we want to maintain an “enduring presence” in Iraq. That would not be surprising, historically, because we still have forces in Japan and Germany, for example, some 65 years after the end of World War II.
In light of this anniversary of what has always been a highly controversial war, one that a large cross-section of humanity has condemned as illegal and immoral, the famed independent art house, the Naro Cinema in Ghent, Norfolk, also a well-known venue for alternative politics, dedicated Wednesday night, March 16th, to reflecting upon the human costs of the invasion.
The Naro locally premiered the recent award-winning documentary, The Unreturned, a very personal look at the plight of millions of Iraqi war refugees as seen through the struggles of five externally displaced Iraqis, only five of some five million plus refugees, internally and externally displaced by the war.
But more significantly, Dahlia Wasfi MD, international speaker, author and human rights advocate on and for Iraq, was the guest speaker at this event, brought to Norfolk through the efforts of local activists.
I myself was privileged to meet her the night before her speech over dinner at the Pasha Mezze, the very stylish Turkish restaurant on 22nd Street off Llewellyn, also in the Ghent section of Norfolk. Also joining us were three other progressive activists long in the trenches against the war in Iraq.
Dahlia was traveling with close friend and activist associate Ross Caputi, (actually they have just gotten married – congratulations) a former US Marine from Massachusetts who gradually turned peace activist after becoming profoundly disenchanted with the U.S. mission in Iraq. This was after he had participated in the cataclysmic assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in November of 2004, actually the second assault on this hapless city after an earlier, unsuccessful assault in April (Operation Vigilant Resolve) ended in blood-splattered stalemate.
What he witnessed was beyond the pale for his conscience, eating away at his psyche and leading him, ultimately, to separate early from the Marine Corps, which led to an odyssey of inward reflection, outward journey and ultimate commitment to the struggle for world peace. He is currently studying Linguistics at Boston University while participating in various on-campus activist groups such as the Anti-War Coalition.
We grabbed a large table in a corner of Pasha Mezze to avoid too many surrounding conversations while I spent the next two hours doing a leisurely, recorded dinner interview with Dahlia and Ross over drinks, dinner and dessert.
Dahlia herself comes from a very interesting background. Her father was born and raised in Basrah, Iraq, before earning a degree in chemistry in Baghdad, doing well enough to win an overseas government scholarship which led him to Georgetown University in DC to pursue a PhD, and where he met his future wife, another graduate student, “a nice Jewish girl from New York”, to quote Dahlia.
From her website, http://liberatethis.com, she continues, “Her parents had fled their homeland of Austria during Hitler’s Anschluss and emigrated to the United States. Was it love at first sight? I don’t know, but my sister was born in 1969, and I arrived in 1971. To pay back his scholarship, my father taught at Basrah University from 1972 to 1977; thus, my early childhood was in both Iraq and the United States.”
So Dahlia is a woman whose ethnic history includes both the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust and the eventual angst of the Iraqi people who not only suffered for years under Saddam Hussein, but from two American-led wars, first in 1990-91 in what was referred to in the vernacular as the “Gulf War”, and then again from 2003 to our present day’s occupation of Iraq in the “Iraq War”, also known as Operation Iraqi Freedom, an Orwellian phrase if ever there was one.
These two wars were also interspersed by severe sanctions against Iraq by Bill Clinton in the latter 1990s that led to hardship, impoverishment, even death for countless Iraqis, and through all these destructive events, Dahlia’s and Ross’s lives crossed, and here I was, interviewing them both.
At this point I want to turn my full attention to Ross, so what follows next in this article, Part 1 of this series on Dahlia, is the transcript of my interview with him. Next week we will dive into my interview with Dahlia.