Ode To Nuha - US Depleted
Uranium Takes Another

By Rana El-Khatib
My friend Nuha Al Radi died yesterday due to complications from leukemia. An Iraqi national educated in the U.K., she lived between Iraq and Lebanon. Nuha's end was set into motion the day President George H. Bush declared war on Iraq during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Thanks to him, a generation of Iraqi citizens lost their lives, starting with his bombs and ending with his sanctions. Along the way, Bill Clinton took the sanctions baton and flippantly added a bombing raid or two killing many more innocent Iraqis, before passing it on to George W. Bush, who is now finishing off his father's cruel legacy.

The U.S., once again, has taken its big, abusive fist and planted it into the pit of my stomach and this time I am an American citizen. The first time I felt America,s merciless blow was in 1986 when Ronald Reagan killed my cousin in Libya just days after I had left her home in Tripoli. One of his F-111 fighter jets dropped a bomb on her parents, home as they slept, snuffing out her young 18 year old life and the lives of all the neighbors I had met only days before.

As the years passed, I have stood helplessly watching American tax dollars, Apaches and F-16s kill Palestinians like flies in support of Israel's brutal occupation. So many innocent people in the Middle East have been killed either directly or indirectly by they U.S., that the pang of loss within me is sometimes easily substituted with loathing.
Nuha was an accomplished artist and author. Her book, "Baghdad Diaries," now stares down at me from my bookshelf. I reach for it, and begin to thumb through its pages. It opens to Nuha,s hand-written note to me, which reads, "For Rana, who is an inspiration to every one - with much love, N."
Nuha found something inspiring in everything she saw and touched - no matter how mundane or uninspiring it seemed to most. I race through my e-mail exchanges with her. I catch myself contemplating writing to her as though an e-mail from me might awaken her from her eternal sleep. I read and re-read her last e-mail to me, dated August 5, 2004.
She seems so alive and hopeful - "France is lovely. Just had my new blood count done today and I am holding steady. So if it continues, that's great, but I still keep fingers and toes crossed, have a long way to go still," and she ends with her signature "Love N." Her words take on new meaning now that I know I will never again get another Nuha e-mail. Reality is a hard pill to swallow.

I knew Nuha only for a short while. But during that time, I grew to love her so very deeply. She was unique, caring and had a style about her that was all her own. In Nuha, there was a distinctive human with boundless energy and creativity. She saw art in every day objects. What people often discarded, she would pick up and turn into whimsical figures that were exclusively 'Nuha'.

Nuha was never unrealistic. Unlike myself, she accepted reality and dealt with its blows. But she also relished life's magnificent moments. Nuha was always comfortable in her own skin, and her resilience was to be envied.

As I flip though her book, I am comforted just a little by her humor and matter-of-fact writing style as she describes the horrors of the bombs that tore her beautiful country apart in 1991. My eyes fall onto page 18:

Day 10
I say, "Read my Lips", today is the tenth day of the war and we are still here. Where is your three to ten days swift and clean kill? Mind you, we, are ruined. I don't think I could set foot in the West again. If someone like myself who is Western educated feels this way, then what about the rest of the country?

I can almost hear her English accent utter the words in her own Nuha way. And then I remember the first time I sat down to play Scrabble with her at my Uncle's home in Lebanon. I figured we would have fun, but I had no idea who I was up against. She started to put down the letters 'I.N.E.R.' and all I could think was, "What is an 'iner'? But she kept going, and finished off the word with 'T.I.A.' I looked at the word again, and then back at her letter rack, and realized that all her letters were gone! She opened with the word INERTIA beginning with a score of over 150 points. I knew I was in trouble at that point. "Inertia?!" I protested incredulously - "How did you come up with 'inertia'?!" She just smiled in her own gentle way, and disparaged her far superior skills with a good-natured retort, "Well, that was the only word I could come up with."

The most 'Nuha-esque' image that will forever be imbedded in my mind will be the fresh flower or two which always adorned her full head of black hair, poking out above her ear. They never seemed to fall or waiver from their spot above her warm, smiling face.

Three weeks prior to her passing, I mailed to Nuha at her sister,s N.Y. apartment an album of photos I had taken of birds, flowers and my two cats. Nuha loved nature. She loved all animals. And she was always tending to stray cats, dogs or injured birds of the city in which she lived - most recently the feral, often severely injured cats of Beirut. She seemed to enjoy my stories about the animals in my life - the quail in the yard, the hummingbirds I feed, the rabbits. But as luck would have it, my album arrived too late. Nuha had already left N.Y. She never received my little gift. I felt devastated, sensing then she might never see the birds and wildlife I often wrote to her about.

Nuha was killed by America,s bombs dumped on Iraq during the first Gulf War. She was not directly injured upon their impact. Instead, she has become an untallied victim of their carcinogenic aftermath, joining thousands of others who have suffered silently under the thick coat of deceptions about 'smart bombs' and 'limiting collateral damage.' As though foreseeing her own fate, Nuha makes reference throughout her book to the rampant grave illnesses that afflicted Iraq's citizens following Desert Storm, as she did on this particular entry on page 16.

15 November 1994
Everyone seems to by dying of cancer. Every day one hears about another acquaintance or friend of a friend dying. How many more die in hospitals that one does not know? Apparently, over thirty percent of Iraqis have cancer, and there are lots of kids with leukaemia.

According to reputable sources, of the 580,400 soldiers who served in the first Gulf War, 11,000 are now dead. By 2000, 325,000 U.S. soldiers who served in the Gulf were on medical disability - a mere 13 years after being on combat duty.[1] Imagine then the ravages inflicted upon Iraq's population who did not have the option to leave.

The depleted uranium left by the U.S. bombing campaign has turned Iraq into a cancer-infested country. For hundreds of years to come, the effects of the uranium will continue to wreak havoc on Iraq and its surrounding areas.

If no one in the White House and Congress cares to speak out against the murder of millions of Iraqis, then perhaps someone might want to consider the harm the U.S. military has inflicted upon its own soldiers as a result of its brutal actions in Iraq. On page 41 of Nuha's book, she captures very eloquently her own feelings of exasperation toward Washington and its horrific policies:

Day 34
What a brave man, [President George H. Bush] passes judgment on us while he plays golf far away in Washington. His forces are annihilating us. I find it very difficult to believe that we have been so discarded by everyone, especially the Arabs. I presume that this war will be the end of so-called Arab unity - that was a farce even while it lasted. We had a super barbecue lunch today. A lovely day, but quite noisy - the racket is still going on even now at midnight. I can't stand the Voice of America going on about American children and how they are being affected by this war. Mrs. Bush, the so called humane member of that marriage, had the gall to say comfortingly to a group of school kids, "Don't worry, it's far away and won't affect you." What about the children here? What double standards, what hypocricy! Where's justice?

Nuha ends her book with the following statement:

Being the eternal optimist, I can only pray and hope that war can be avoided.

The U.S. has killed yet another innocent and peaceful person. Nuha is gone, following in the footsteps of millions that have passed before her, paving the way for millions to follow. Iraq is not as far away as Ms. Bush and family like to believe. Sooner or later, the murderous consequences of America's actions will catch up with us - all of us. For now, however, I mourn the loss of my friend Nuha - alone.
Rana El-Khatib is an author living in Phoenix, Arizona. She is the author of the collection of political poetry, BRANDED: The Poetry of a So-Called 'Terrorist', which, along with Nuha Al Radi's "Baghdad Diaries" can be found at The author can be reached at



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