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2004-06-08

"I Rock Iraq:" Hip-Hop Artist Michael Franti Speaks From Baghdad

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We go to Baghdad to speak with hip-hop artist Michael Franti, who joined a delegation of peace workers, musicians, artists and filmmakers to see first-hand the effects of the war on all those involved from Iraqi civilians to men and women in uniform. [Includes transcript]

With the June 30 deadline for the so-called transfer of power in Iraq just three weeks away, the killings and bombing continue unabated. Today, at least 15 people, including an American soldier, died in a pair of car bombings.

Meanwhile a unanimous UN Security Council vote is expected on the revised Iraq resolution later today. The U.S. maintains it is giving Iraq full sovereignty, but under the UN resolution the US will keep its troops in Iraq and will have full say over military operations.

Independent journalist and editor of the website Empire Notes, Rahul Mahajan writes "it looks as if the United States is going over to the more sensible (from an imperialist standpoint) minimalist route espoused earlier by State and the CIA — don’t try to build a colonial administration from the ground up, just prop up a corrupt puppet administration that will do your bidding on important matters like foreign policy, oil, and even lesser matters like arms contracts, but has full responsibility over garbage collection."

This week, Hip-Hop artist Michael Franti embarked on a fact-finding peace mission to Iraq and Israel. He joined a delegation of peace workers, musicians, artists and filmmakers to see first-hand the effects of the war on all those involved from Iraqi civilians to men and women in uniform.

  • Michael Franti, hip-hop artist speaking from Baghdad.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

MICHAEL FRANTI: We flew from Amman, Jordan, and as we traveled over the border from Amman into Iraq, the first thing you notice is this incredibly vast beautiful sea of red sand and earth. Beautiful desert. At one point, the pilot said over the intercom, we’re approaching the border, and you will see the border from the air. Sure enough, from 20,000 feet, you see a straight line that was drawn by colonial powers dividing up this region. It doesn’t make any sense. There’s literally a line in the sand that you can see from the air. We flew at 23,000 feet. We were told by the pilot once we got over Baghdad, we would drop down to 15,000 feet. Just as we were getting near Baghdad, we saw the city of Fallujah and the pilot pointed it out to us. You could see whole air— Fallujah is not a big city. Maybe 50,000 or 75,000 people. We could see whole areas, whole places that had been— looked like they were carpet bombs. Whole blocks that had been destroyed. As we got over Baghdad, the plane dropped down to 15,000 feet, and the pilot said, in order to avoid surface-to-air missiles and small arms fire, we’re going to go directly over the airport and tip the plane at a 45 degree angle and do a corkscrew down to the ground in about two and a half minutes, from 15,000 feet. So you are just flying down superfast and the plane is rotating around in a circle. Then just as you get down to the bottom, you tip the plane up and land the plane. It was an exhilarating ride for the 16 of us on the plane. But, you know, the reason for the ride, you know, gave us, you know, pause to, you know — for caution once we got on the ground. As we got into the airport, we saw contractors who were hired to do security there from a company called Custer Battle Security Company. Then as we were getting in our car to leave the airport and drive into Baghdad, on the road coming into the airport, as we were going out, there was two cars that had struck a land mine there. Our driver said he’d just come in ten minutes before on the same road, and we went out on the road, and as soon as we get in the car, you know, we’re making a documentary so we asked someone if it would be appropriate to start filming. They said, any time it’s fine, but any time you see U.S. military, put the cameras down immediately because they can confuse it for a weapon. Also they don’t want pictures of their Bradleys and any other equipment being shot. They will open fire on your vehicle. So, that’s what people here are doing. They’re dealing with that constant fear of G.I.’s who are here under an incredible amount of stress and pressure. Most of them are young guys who have never had this experience before, and are afraid, and people get shot all the time.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was it like for you to move around Baghdad, the hotel that you are staying at, how you move in and out?

MICHAEL FRANTI: Well, there’s a checkpoint. The hotel that we’re at is blocked by Iraqi security guards. We’re not within the military perimeter, but we’re very close to the military perimeter, just a block away. There’s no possibility for our car to come down our place and park in front of our hotel, potentially be a car bomb or something. But once you head out into the street, you never know what you are going to run across. There’s such an anti-american sentiment here right now that the people who travel with us and interpret for us are also- they’re not armed security, but they’re handlers. They tell us where it’s safe to go, where it’s not safe to go. They tell us when it to get in the car and when to move on to the next place. You know, me with a guitar and dreadlocks and looking very unusual, I attract a lot of attention. And so far, it’s been all positive. People just want to hear songs and they smile. I have written a song call The Habibi, which means "sweetheart" in Arabic. And everyone on the street, men and women alike, call each other "habibi". It’s a term of affection like somebody might say, hey, baby, what’s up? Everywhere I go, I sing that song and it gets everybody going.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about where are some of the places that you have sung?

MICHAEL FRANTI: Singing in the hospitals is a really amazing and intense experience for me, because it’s hard to know what to say. I don’t speak Arabic, and most people don’t speak any English at all. So, you’re there witnessing children with no limbs, children who are going through chemotherapy, adults that have incredibly infected legs that are about to receive amputations, and it’s so moving that it’s hard for me to even sing. You see a lot pain. There’s no nurses or very few nurses in the hospitals, so family members sleep in the hospital with their children or their loved ones. Most of the time in the same bed. Some mothers are there 24 hours a day with their children. So, I sing songs to the mothers, and the mothers begin to weep. I begin to weep, and the children begin to weep, you know. And it was just very amazing thing, but, you know, you—

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Franti speaking to us from Baghdad, Iraq, as he sings and talks to civilians as well as U.S. soldiers. We’ll hear more from Michael Franti in the coming days.

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