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Pretty Girls Mark Graves: Forensic archaeologist Karen Oeh of Boulder Creek will travel to Northern Iraq to help Kurds there preserve evidence and identify bodies in hundreds of mass burial sites.


Oeh is for Hope

Each week, Nüz hears from people who attack opposition to the war on Iraq on the basis that Saddam Hussein was such an evil mother he even used chemical weapons on his own people--an argument that Bush, too, made much of in the weeks leading up to the war.

The charge refers to the gassing of Iraqi Kurds in the town of Halabja in March of 1988, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. But the truth surrounding the incident is much weirder--in fact, no one knows for sure whether it was Iraq or Iran that used chemical weapons on the Kurds (U.S. intelligence has claimed it was Iranian gas) or even who the intended target was.

In light of that, it seems mind-boggling that none of the $166 billion allocated to the war effort will go to finally getting to the bottom of this atrocity by securing the more than 200 mass graves now in American hands in Iraq, despite requests by Human Rights Watch and other international groups that coalition forces restrict and cordon off these sites.

Which is why Boulder Creek-based forensic archaeologist Karen Oeh is heading for Iraq, even in the midst of a guerrilla war.

Indeed, on the very same day that news broke that the remains of presidential candidate Howard Dean's younger brother had been found in a rice paddy in central Laos 30 years after he disappeared, Oeh said she understands why people are desperate to find out what happened to their missing loved ones and to recover and rebury their remains.

"But the problem in Iraq is that people are using backhoes and shovels and not taking photographs," she explained, noting that such methods not only make it near impossible to preserve clues that could identify victims but also destroy evidence that could be used to prosecute Saddam.

"Which is why we want to rush in and do this, even though a war is on, because the coalition forces aren't protecting, cordoning off or restricting access to these sites," says Oeh, who'll be working with the German-based Archaeologists for Human Rights to train Kurds in the northern city of Erbil, then work with them at grave sites near the southern city of Samawa.

"We'll be trying to determine whether the victims were bound and tied, blindfolded, strangled or shot in the head or killed by biochemical weapons, as has been claimed," she says.

With her departure date imminent and the news from Iraq worsening by the day, Oeh decided to get some insider perspective by attending a talk given by Amal Al-Khedairy and Nermin Al-Mufti, two Iraqi women, who are touring the United States.

Oeh reports that both women were "upset and depressed that their country is being terrorized since the U.S. invasion" and gave some shocking, yet unconfirmed stats about the casualties of war, including that more than 400 women have gone missing in Baghdad, that the number of U.S. soldiers killed is higher than reported and that 200,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed and 100,000 injured.

All of which left Oeh wondering if she's crazy to be going to Iraq.

Indeed, when she asked if she'd be safe, Al-Khedairy touched Oeh on the shoulder and said, "I cannot guarantee your safety."

Oeh, who only has a one-way ticket to Iraq, claims that she's more worried about land mines and booby traps than anything else.

"I'm hoping southern Iraq will be a different scene from Baghdad and that there will be some acceptance, since I'm not coming to destroy the country's security." And as she writes at http://mountaingirl.blogs.com/journeytoiraq, "I have faith that the touch from this strong-willed and tireless, 60-year- old Iraqi woman will bring me luck and protection."

M Is for Mutha

Checking the Nuz emailbox is always entertaining, but this week, among the usual spam for enlarging genitals and shrinking debt, came this gem from Santa Cruz libraries director Anne M. Turner:

"Incredibly, I have actually won the Jane Magazine Bad-Ass Loudmouth award. I can't believe it, given the strength of competition. It must have been due to all the Santa Cruz folks who agree with the library's stand on the USA-PATRIOT Act logging on to the Jane website to vote for me," wrote Turner.

Readers may recall (Nüz, Aug. 20, 2003) that Turner was nominated for said award as part of the magazine's Bad-Ass/Ass-Bad Women of 2003 contest, which invited readers to pick the "one woman from each category who you think most kicks ass or most deserves a kick in the ass."

Turner won for her part in "reinforcing her citywide policy to shred library records every day in protest of the privacy-invading PATRIOT Act, which gives the government the right to find out which books people check out and anything else they're curious about."

Given the heavy badass competition Turner beat out, her middle initial, M., truly must stand for Mutha of all Bad-Ass Loudmouths.

B Is for Buying ... Nothing

Nov. 28 is Buy Nothing Day and your annual chance "to celebrate the joys of shopping, and the brilliance of American-style consumerism for dominating the planet." So say local activists, who'll be "paying tribute to the global assembly line which effectively exploits workers around the world to sustain our sumptuous lifestyle!" while warning that their activities may clash with those "fools from Art and Revolution, who are spreading lies that shopping is addictive and will be holding forth on the same street with testimonials from Shopoholics Anonymous and 'healing' people of shopping. This is un-American and must be stopped, so come out and help them out!"

Join them at 1pm behind Toadal Fitness and Logos.

Another thing you can do this holiday season is help the Bill Motto VFW Post 5888 on Front Street, which needs volunteers and donations to help support its Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, which it has been hosting since 1984. The dinners serve between 800 and 1,200 local homeless and low-income families at each gathering. Donations can be dropped off at the Vets Hall or picked up at your home or business. Call 429.8345 or check http://members.cruzio.com/~roxanne/donations.html for a list of things they need donated.

Likewise, the Homeless Services Center, which just lost a $125,000 grant unexpectedly, is looking for funds to match a $62,500 gift from Rowland and Pat Rebele to cover its losses.

"The good news is that we're going to be able to keep the church groups running," says HSC director Ken Cole, noting that the National Guard Armory is once again open at night.

While financial help is important, Cole says HSC "also appreciate material donations of winter clothing, serviceable blankets, towels and hygiene-related items like razors, shampoo and deodorant.

"These mean something to people out looking for a job."

Call 831.458.6020 or contact them at 115 Coral St., Santa Cruz.

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at , or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the November 26-December 3, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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