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Fate of Kidnapped Italian and Iraqi Aid Workers Remains Unknown

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As tens of thousands people march in Italy to call for the release of the two Italian and two Iraqi aid workers abducted last week, we play an extended excerpt of an interview recorded in February 2004 with Simona Toretta, one of the two Italian women. [includes rush transcript]

As the fate of the two Italian and two Iraqi humanitarian workers abducted last week hangs in the balance, tens of thousands of people joined in a torch-lit procession through Rome last night to call for their release.

Organizers said 80,000 people had turned out in support of the hostages. Children and adults marched in silence under rainbow-colored banners and slogans calling for peace in Iraq.

The women, Simona Torretta and Simona Pari were kidnapped from their Baghdad office on September 7th in broad daylight, along with Iraqi aid workers Raad Ali Abdul Azziz and Mahnouz Bassam.

An unprecedented number of Islamic groups and scholars have publicly appealed for the release of the women, including Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, as has Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In Qatar, the exiled leader of Algeria’s dissolved Islamic Salvation Front, said he had started a hunger strike to the death to demand their release saying, “This is for the freedom of those who should be free.”

A Bridge to Baghdad is the longest standing non-governmental organization operating in Iraq. It began working in the country in 1992, a year after the so-called Gulf War. In all of its time in the country, it has opposed the sanctions against Iraq, all of the US attacks on the country as well as the invasion and current occupation.

Yesterday, on Democracy Now! we played an excerpt of an interview recorded in February with Simona Toretta. It was recorded by filmmaker and activist Francis Anderson. Today we play a longer excerpt of that interview.

  • Simona Torretta, being interviewed in February 2004. Courtesy of Francis Anderson.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Today we bring you part two of the interview with Simona Torretta, which was recorded last February by filmmaker and activist, Francis Anderson. She talks about her organization, A Bridge to Baghdad.

SIMONA TORRETTA: A Bridge to Baghdad at the moment is working in two areas, one in Basra, the other one is Baghdad. In Basra, we are particularly focusing our activities in the water and sanitation sector, and that means rehabilitation of water treatment plants, compact unit in the village surrounding Basra. So, the aim of the project is to provide safe water for the people in the village. We are adding at this project some elements of health education. That means, we go to the village and we make some advocacy and give some general and basic information out to prevent the gastrointestinal diseases. And just some [inaudible] campaign, advocacy campaign. In Baghdad, we will start a very important project for the replacement of the national library in Baghdad, you know, the one that was looted immediately after the war in the middle of April. So I think this is a very important activities because it’s focus on the culture, and here, I mean, you have a very long history of intellectual — there is a very long and important tradition about culture and literature, so we want even for this reason to support them in rebuilding one of the symbols of this country. When I talk with Iraqi people, they have always the same answer: “We are tired. We are tired of fight. We are tired of war. We want to be in peace. We just want to have peace in this country. We will never fight between us. We are too tired. We don’t have the energy. We don’t have the resource to fight. How I can fight if I don’t have money, I don’t have money for my family, I don’t have food for my family.” So, the main problem in the country now is the job, the occupation. There are many employees. So they are fighting. I mean, they are fighting against the C.P.A. because they are asking the C.P.A. to respect the responsibility to give jobs to the people, not to the American companies. To employees, the Iraqis in the reconstruction of the Iraqi country.

FRANCIS ANDERSON: What is the first time that you were here?

SIMONA TORRETTA: The first time is a long time ago. It’s almost ten years ago. I came here in 1994, but it was a short visit with some friends. I came here just for curiosity and I was impressed at that time. It was in 1994, yes, the time of the sanctions. I was impressed about the situation that I found in the country.

FRANCIS ANDERSON: What did you see?

SIMONA TORRETTA: The poverty, the lack of materials, medicines, every things. I feel impressed about the power of the sanctions. I didn’t know about this. I was impressed when I went in the hospital and I visited some children. And we looking at disease, all of this disease, the degrees after the Gulf War. Because of the use of depleted uranium and other chemical weapons. I was impressed on these such things. I was young at that time. It was may first travel outside from Europe. So, when I came back, I spent two, three years without do nothing for Iraq. But I was thinking all the time about Iraq, about Iraq, about Baghdad. So then I met for chance A Bridge to Baghdad, Un Pont Per. I went there one day just to see what they were doing, which kind of work, and to introduce myself. And from that time I start to collaborate with them. I was volunteer for two years.

FRANCIS ANDERSON: What year was that?


FRANCIS ANDERSON: What year was that?

SIMONA TORRETTA: It was 1996 until 1998. So, in the second time I came here, 1998 with A Bridge to, and then I’m in here for six months for making a survey about the university, the lack of documentation as a consequence of the sanctions, because during the period of sanction, no journals, no reference, no books you can find the update. And then I came several times. I start to — I become [inaudible] for Iraq. So [inaudible] 2002, I came before two times in 2002 with university delegation professors. They came here to assemblage collaboration with the Iraqi universities in different fields, medicines, sociology, cultures and collaboration. Then I came here in 2003, in January, before — yeah, January. I come back in Italy February, and I decide to leave the 21 of March when the war started. And I just arrived here on 23, after two days of the war. So we reached Baghdad at 9:00 or 10:00. And when we reached Baghdad, there was the bombings. It was first impact was very hard. Very hard. I couldn’t recognize Baghdad at all.

FRANCIS ANDERSON: Were there bombings happening as you were driving in?

SIMONA TORRETTA: Yes. Yes. Me, last time that I was in Baghdad was one month ago. I found everything changed. Everything changed. I couldn’t recognize Baghdad this time. All of the shops totally closed. The city empty, dark, smoke everywhere. When I met my friends, they were just so surprised to see me, you know? They said, “Why are you coming here? It’s so dangerous for you. Go back in Italy. What are you doing here? Why you came? Are you crazy?” I say, okay, I cannot stay in Italy. I decided to come here because it’s part of my life.

AMY GOODMAN: Simona Torretta, who along with Simona Pari and the Iraqi aid workers, Raad Ali Abdul Azziz and Mahnouz Bassam were abducted from their office September 7. We continue to await word on what has happened to them. Tens of thousands of people marched yesterday in Italy calling for their release. This is Democracy Now!

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