DENVER - Despite camping out next to George
W Bush's Texas ranch for two weeks, Cindy Sheehan
has been unable to get a meeting with the president
for an explanation of why her 24-year-old
son had to die in action. So, here is
some of the story from one who was there.
Like Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, I was
in Baghdad's Sadr City on April 4, 2004. I was
there as an unembedded journalist (not attached to
a military unit). Unlike Casey Sheehan, I came out alive.
had traveled to Sadr City to cover the Bush
administration's attack on the movement of Shi'ite
cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. It didn't matter that the
cleric had millions of followers or that he was
the scion of an important political family with a
history of standing up to tyranny. (His father was
killed by Saddam Hussein's regime for fomenting
revolution in 1999. His uncle, Grand Ayatollah
Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, was killed for leading an
insurrection against Saddam's Ba'ath rule in
It didn't matter that Sadr's forces
were providing food aid to the poor or organizing
traffic patrol and garbage duty in an atmosphere
with no basic services. The problem for Bush and
his Iraq administrator, L Paul Bremer, was that
Sadr was against the US occupation. So he had to
be dealt with. First his newspaper was closed.
(See The Shi'ite voice that will be
heard, Asia Times Online, April 8,
2004)Then his top advisor was arrested. Then
Bremer announced an unnamed judge was demanding
that Sadr be arrested on charges of murder. "He's
effectively attempting to establish his authority
in place of the legitimate Iraqi government,"
Bremer told reporters. "We will not tolerate
That was the last straw. Until
April 4, 2004 Muqtada had urged his followers to
protest peacefully against the occupation. But the
US assault led him to urge his followers to
"terrorize the enemy". In the first 48 hours of
fighting, Sadr's followers seized police stations
and government buildings across the country,
including the governor's office in Basra.
At least 75 Iraqis and 10 US servicemen
were killed, among them Army Specialist Casey
Sheehan. As an unembedded journalist, I saw only
the Iraqi casualties (the US casualties being
taken away to military hospitals). My translator
Waseem and I weaved through roads closed by US
tanks until we arrived at Sadr City's al-Ubaidi
There, I interviewed 15-year-old
Ali Hussein. He lay in the hospital, a US bullet
lodged in his gut. He was barely able to lift his
head, but he wanted to say a few words to the
Western reporter: "I was standing in my doorway
and I was shot," he said. "I don't have anything
to say to the Americans. It's just between them
A few miles away at Baghdad's
Mustansuriye University, hundreds of students
marched through the center of campus. They
chanted, "The dead want a brave people so we won't
follow the law of Bremer."
"We will act
according to the situation that we face," said
Wassam Mehdi Hussein, head of the Islamic Union of
Iraqi Students, standing by Muqtada's declaration
of jihad against the occupation. "We will use any
means peaceful and violent."
Mustansuriye student, Ali Mohammed, noted the
violence started when the US military closed
Sadr's newspaper and arrested his top advisor. "We
don't want to fight the Americans," he told me.
"We are very grateful to them. They are very dear
to us because they released us from Saddam. But at
the same time we want them to do something for
"A lot of people are suffering
from hunger and sitting at home having no work.
These things make the situation bad and then we
turn to explosions. We want to respect them and we
want them to respect us."
A year on, such
respect still isn't forthcoming - even to US
citizens like Cindy Sheehan, who deserve to know
the truth of why their sons have been killed in
Iraq. It isn't for lack of trying that Sheehan
isn't getting answers from Bush.
stubbornly maintained her vigil outside Bush's
ranch in Crawford, Texas, demanding a meeting with
the president. Since no weapons of mass
destruction - which Bush used as grounds to go
into Iraq - have been found there, she thinks Bush
owes her an explanation.
Her protest has
become a lightning rod for antiwar sentiment, with
more than 1,000 vigils organized across the US
this week in support of her demand.
has largely ignored Sheehan's protest.
When asked last week about Sheehan's
demand for a meeting, Bush refused to answer
directly: "And so, you know, listen, I sympathize
with Mrs Sheehan. She feels strongly about her -
about her position. And I am - she has every right
in the world to say what she believes. This is
Meanwhile, Associated Press
reported that Bush was to spend two hours on
Wednesday with families of soldiers killed in
Iraq, but the meeting wasn't to include Cindy
Sheehan. Bush said Tuesday he understood her
anguish, but he also challenged her, saying the
California woman's demands for an immediate
withdrawal of troops from Iraq was not embraced by
many military families and represented a view
contrary to the national interest, AP reported.
IPS reporter Aaron
Glantz is author of the book How
America Lost Iraq (Tarcher/Penguin).