Is Bush out to further outsource war?
The private security firm Blackwater USA is back in the news again. On Tuesday, hours before President Bush’s State of the Union address, one of the Blackwater’s helicopters was brought down in a violent Baghdad neighborhood. Five Blackwater troops - all Americans - were killed. Reports say the men’s bodies show signs of execution-style deaths with bullet wounds to the back off the head.
Blackwater provided no identities or details of those killed. They did release a statement saying the deaths “are a reminder of the extraordinary circumstances under which our professionals voluntarily serve to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people.”
President Bush made no mention of the incident during his State of the Union. But he did address the very issue that has brought dozens of private security companies like Blackwater to Iraq in the first place: the need for more troops.
Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! talks with Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute and author of, “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army”:
AMY GOODMAN: President Bush made no mention of the incident during his State of the Union, but he did address the very issue that’s brought dozens of private security companies like Blackwater to Iraq in the first place: the need for more troops.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Tonight, I ask the Congress to authorize an increase in the size of our active Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 in the next five years. A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer civilian reserve corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them.AMY GOODMAN: Is the President looking to further outsource war? My next guest writes, “Blackwater is a reminder of just how privatized the Iraq war has become.” Jeremy Scahill is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute. He’s author of the forthcoming book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He has an op-ed piece in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, entitled "Are Mercenaries in Iraq?" Joining us now in the firehouse studio, welcome to Democracy Now!, Jeremy.
JEREMY SCAHILL: It’s good to be home.
AMY GOODMAN: We invited Blackwater on; they refused. But, Jeremy, let's talk fist about Blackwater. What is it?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Blackwater is a company that began in 1996 as a private military training facility in -- it was built near the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina. And visionary executives, all of them former Navy Seals or other Elite Special Forces people, envisioned it as a project that would take advantage of the anticipated government outsourcing.
Well, here we are a decade later, and it’s the most powerful mercenary firm in the world. It has 20,000 soldiers on the ready, the world’s largest private military base, a fleet of twenty aircraft, including helicopter gunships. It’s become nothing short of the Praetorian Guard for the Bush administration's so-called global war on terror. And it’s headed by a very rightwing Christian activist, ex-Navy Seal named Erik Prince, whose family was one of the major bankrollers of the Republican Revolution of the 1990s. He, himself, is a significant funder of President Bush and his allies.
And what they’ve done is they have built a very frightening empire near the Great Dismal Swamp in North Carolina. They’ve got about 2,300 men actively deployed around the world. They provide the security for the US diplomats in Iraq. They’ve guarded everyone, from Paul Bremer and John Negroponte to the current US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad. They’re training troops in Afghanistan. They have been active in the Caspian Sea, where they set up a Special Forces base miles from the Iranian border. They really are the frontline in what the Bush administration viewed as a necessary revolution in military affairs. In fact, they represent the life's work of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, the “life's work”?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, Dick Cheney, when he was Defense Secretary under George H.W. Bush during the Gulf War, one of the last things he did before leaving office was to create an unprecedented lucrative market for the firm that he would go on to head, Halliburton. He commissioned [a] Halliburton [division] to do a study on how to privatize the military bureaucracy. That effectively created the groundwork for the absolute war profiteer bonanza that we’ve seen unfold in the aftermath of 9/11. I mean, Clinton was totally on board with all of this, but it has exploded since 9/11. And so, Cheney, after he left office, when the first Bush was the president, went on to work at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, which really led the push for privatization of the government, not just the military.
And then, when these guys took office, Rumsfeld's first real major address, delivered on September 10, 2001, he literally declared war on the Pentagon bureaucracy and said he had come to liberate the Pentagon. And what he meant by that -- and he wrote this in an article in Foreign Affairs -- was that governments, unlike companies, can't die. He literally said that. So you have to figure out new incentives for competition, and Rumsfeld said that it should be run more like a corporation than a bureaucracy. And so, the company that most embodies that vision -- and they call it a revolutionary in military affairs. It’s a total part of the Project for a New American Century and the neoconservative movement. The company that most embodies that is not Halliburton; it’s Blackwater.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you understand happened on Tuesday: President Bush giving his address, the Blackwater helicopter crashing.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I think a lot of people -- even though I think there’s been a lot of reporting on it and it’s been out in the public sphere, I think a lot of people still would be surprised to know that the US ambassador in Iraq and US diplomats throughout Iraq and US diplomatic facilities and regional occupational offices are actually guarded by mercenaries. And Blackwater has a $300 million contract to provide diplomatic security. And so, they guard Zalmay Khalilzad and other US diplomats in Iraq.
While what we understand -- and, of course, as you know, reports are always very shaky in the early stages -- is that a US diplomatic convoy came under fire in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad, and a Blackwater helicopter apparently landed to try to respond to that attack, because Blackwater and its “Little Bird” helicopters provide the security for diplomatic convoys, and they got engaged in some kind of a firefight on the ground, and four men from one helicopter were killed. Then another helicopter responded and was brought down, either by fire or it got tangled in some wires.
Four of the five men who worked for Blackwater that were killed were shot in the back of the head, according to reports. And what’s interesting about this is that Zalmay Khalilzad said that he had traveled with the men and then said that he had gone to the morgue to view their bodies. And he said that the circumstances of their death were unclear, because of what he called the “fog of war.” But I think it’s very possible that they were guarding a very senior diplomat, if not Zalmay Khalilzad himself. I mean, we don't have evidence to suggest that, but the fact that Khalilzad really came out forward and said, These were fine men. I was with them and visited them in the morgue, indicates that it could have been a very serious attack on a senior official.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the actual body count in Iraq of US soldiers? I mean, we count them very carefully, you know, when it surpassed 3,000. This was extremely significant. What really is the number of US military dead?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Military dead is -- I mean, I think it’s interesting, because the lines have totally been erased. I would say that we should be counting the deaths of Blackwater soldiers in the total troop count. I mean, I filed over the last year a lot of Freedom of Information Act requests, and one of the ways that we have found to discover the deaths of the number of contractors that have been killed is actually through the Department of Labor, because the government has a federal insurance scheme that’s been set up, which is actually very controversial -- grew out of something called the Defense Base Act -- and it’s insurance provided to contractors who service the US military abroad. And so, as of late last year, more than 600 families of contractors in Iraq had filed for those benefits.
So I think we’re talking somewhere in the realm of -- and these are just US contractors that have rights to federal benefits inside of the United States. Remember, it’s not necessarily Americans that make up the majority of these 100,000 -- 100,000 -- contractors that are operating in Iraq right now, 48,000 of whom are mercenaries, according to the GAO. So I don't think it’s possible to put a fine point on the number of troops killed, because the Bush administration has found a backdoor way to engage in an undeclared expansion of the occupation by deploying these private armies.
And at the State of the Union address the other night, Bush announces this civilian reserve corps, which is gaining momentum among Democrats and others. Wesley Clark has talked about it, the former presidential candidate and Supreme Allied NATO Commander. But what that is is another Frankenstein scheme that Cheney and these guys cooked up in their outsourcing laboratory to engage in an undeclared expansion. I mean, on the one hand, we have Bush talking about an official US troop surge. The Army said -- a few months ago, when Colin Powell said that the active-duty Army is basically broken, the Army was calling for 30,000 troops over ten years. Bush then announces in his State of the Union 92,000 active-duty troops over five years, and at the same time, they're increasing the presence of the mercenaries, increasing the presence of the other contractors, talking about some privatized or civilian reserve corps. This is all an undeclared expansion of the US occupation, totally against the will of the American people and the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Civilian reserve corps?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. That's what they're calling it. And, you know, I mean, a lot of what has been tossed around about this since 2002 has been envisioning a sort of disaster response, international aid. You know, it’s all very benign-sounding, but the context of it, when Bush announced it the other night, he said we need 92,000 troops and we should develop a civilian reserve corps to supplement the work of the military.
Now, what’s interesting, Amy, is that two years ago Erik Prince, the head of Blackwater USA, was speaking at a military conference. He only comes out of his headquarters to speak in front of military audiences. He does not speak in front of civilians. He's on panels with top brass and others. He’s very secretive. He gave a major address in which he called for the creation of what he called a “contractor brigade.” And I actually -- I can read you what he said. He said -- this is two years ago, before Bush called for his civilian reserve corps. Erik Prince, head of Blackwater USA: “There’s consternation in the [Pentagon] about increasing the permanent size of the Army. We want to add 30,000 people.” And they talked about costs of anywhere from $3.6 billion to $4 billion to do that. Well, by my math, that comes out to about $135,000 per soldier. And then, Prince added, “We could do it certainly cheaper.”
And so, now you have Blackwater, the Praetorian Guard for the war on terror, itching to get into Sudan. You know, something happened last year that got no attention whatsoever. In October, President Bush lifted sanctions on Christian Southern Sudan, and there have been reports now that Blackwater has been negotiating directly with the Southern Sudanese regional government to come in and start training the Christian forces of the south of Sudan. Blackwater has been itching to get into Sudan, and Erik Prince is on the board of Christian Freedom International, which is an evangelical missionary organization that has been targeting Sudan for many years. And there is a political agenda that Blackwater fits perfectly into, whether it’s Iraq and Afghanistan or Sudan.
AMY GOODMAN: And the other connections, Jeremy Scahill, between Blackwater and the Bush administration and the Republican Party?
JEREMY SCAHILL: The most recent one is that President Bush hired Blackwater's lawyer -- Blackwater’s former lawyer to be his lawyer. He replaced Harriet Miers. His name is Fred Fielding, of course, a man who goes back many decades to the Reagan administration, the Nixon administration. He is now going to be Bush's top lawyer, and he was Blackwater's lawyer.
Joseph Schmitz, who was the former Pentagon Inspector General, whose job it was to police the war contractor bonanza, then goes on to work for one of the most profitable of them, is the vice chairman of the Prince Group, Blackwater’s parent company, and the general counsel for Blackwater.
Ken Starr, who’s the former Whitewater prosecutor, the man who led the impeachment charge against President Clinton, Kenneth Starr is now Blackwater's counsel of record and has filed briefs for them at the Supreme Court, in fighting against wrongful death lawsuits filed against Blackwater for the deaths of its people and US soldiers in the war zones.
And then, perhaps the most frightening employee of Blackwater is Cofer Black. This is the man who was head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center at the time of 9/11, the man who promised President Bush that he was going to bring bin Laden's head back in a box on dry ice and talked about having his men chop bin Laden’s head off with a machete, told the Russians that he was going to bring the heads of the Mujahideen back on sticks, said there were going to be flies crawling across their eyeballs. Cofer Black is a 30-year veteran of the CIA, the man who many credit with really spearheading the extraordinary rendition program after 9/11, the man who told Congress that there was a “before 9/11” and an “after 9/11,” and that after 9/11, the gloves come off. He is now a senior executive at Blackwater and perhaps their most powerful behind-the-scenes operative.
AMY GOODMAN: And electoral politics?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, Erik Prince, the head of Blackwater, and other Blackwater executives are major bankrollers of the President, of Tom DeLay, of Santorum. They really were -- when those guys were running Congress, Amy, Blackwater had just a revolving door there. They were really welcomed in as heroes. Senator John Warner, the former head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called them “our silent partner in the global war on terror.” Erik Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, is married to Dick Devos, who recently lost the gubernatorial race in Michigan.
But also, Amy, this is a family, the Prince family, that really was one of the primary funders. It was Amway and Dick DeVos in the 1990s, and it was Edgar Prince and his network -- Erik Prince's father -- that really created James Dobson, Focus on the Family -- they gave them the seed money to start it -- Gary Bauer, who was one of the original signers to the Project for a New American Century, a major anti-choice leader in this country, former presidential candidate, founder of the Family Research Council. He credits Edgar Prince, Erik’s father, with giving him the money to start the Family Research Council. We’re talking about people who were at the forefront of the rightwing Christian revolution in this country that really is gaining steam, despite recent electoral defeats.
And what’s really frightening is that you have a man in Erik Prince, who is a neo-crusader, a Christian supremacist, who has been given over a half a billion dollars in federal contracts, and that's not to mention his black contracts, his secret contracts, his contracts with foreign friendly governments like Jordan. This is a man who espouses Christian supremacy, and he has been given, essentially, allowed to create a private army to defend Christendom around the world against secularists and Muslims and others, and has really been brought into the fold. He refers to Blackwater as the sort of FedEx of the Pentagon. He says if you really want a package to get somewhere, do you go with the postal service or do you go with FedEx? This is how these people view themselves. And it embodies everything that President Eisenhower prophesied would happen with the rise of an unchecked military-industrial complex. You have it all in Blackwater.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, thanks very much for joining us, and I look forward to seeing your book when it comes out. Jeremy Scahill's forthcoming book is Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Thanks for joining us.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Is Bush out to further outsource war?
Thursday, January 25, 2007
The president relies on thousands of private soldiers with little oversight, a disturbing example of the military-industrial complex.
In the LA Times, Jeremy Scahill writes:
As President Bush took the podium to deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday, there were five American families receiving news that has become all too common: Their loved ones had been killed in Iraq. But in this case, the slain were neither "civilians," as the news reports proclaimed, nor were they U.S. soldiers. They were highly trained mercenaries deployed to Iraq by a secretive private military company based in North Carolina — Blackwater USA.
The company made headlines in early 2004 when four of its troops were ambushed and burned in the Sunni hotbed of Fallouja — two charred, lifeless bodies left to dangle for hours from a bridge. That incident marked a turning point in the war, sparked multiple U.S. sieges of Fallouja and helped fuel the Iraqi resistance that haunts the occupation to this day.
Now, Blackwater is back in the news, providing a reminder of just how privatized the war has become. On Tuesday, one of the company's helicopters was brought down in one of Baghdad's most violent areas. The men who were killed were providing diplomatic security under Blackwater's $300-million State Department contract, which dates to 2003 and the company's initial no-bid contract to guard administrator L. Paul Bremer III in Iraq. Current U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who is also protected by Blackwater, said he had gone to the morgue to view the men's bodies, asserting the circumstances of their deaths were unclear because of "the fog of war."
Bush made no mention of the downing of the helicopter during his State of the Union speech. But he did address the very issue that has made the war's privatization a linchpin of his Iraq policy — the need for more troops. The president called on Congress to authorize an increase of about 92,000 active-duty troops over the next five years. He then slipped in a mention of a major initiative that would represent a significant development in the U.S. disaster response/reconstruction/war machine: a Civilian Reserve Corps.
"Such a corps would function much like our military Reserve. It would ease the burden on the armed forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them," Bush declared. This is precisely what the administration has already done, largely behind the backs of the American people and with little congressional input, with its revolution in military affairs. Bush and his political allies are using taxpayer dollars to run an outsourcing laboratory. Iraq is its Frankenstein monster.
Already, private contractors constitute the second-largest "force" in Iraq. At last count, there were about 100,000 contractors in Iraq, of which 48,000 work as private soldiers, according to a Government Accountability Office report. These soldiers have operated with almost no oversight or effective legal constraints and are an undeclared expansion of the scope of the occupation. Many of these contractors make up to $1,000 a day, far more than active-duty soldiers. What's more, these forces are politically expedient, as contractor deaths go uncounted in the official toll.
The president's proposed Civilian Reserve Corps was not his idea alone. A privatized version of it was floated two years ago by Erik Prince, the secretive, mega-millionaire, conservative owner of Blackwater USA and a man who for years has served as the Pied Piper of a campaign to repackage mercenaries as legitimate forces. In early 2005, Prince — a major bankroller of the president and his allies — pitched the idea at a military conference of a "contractor brigade" to supplement the official military. "There's consternation in the [Pentagon] about increasing the permanent size of the Army," Prince declared. Officials "want to add 30,000 people, and they talked about costs of anywhere from $3.6 billion to $4 billion to do that. Well, by my math, that comes out to about $135,000 per soldier." He added: "We could do it certainly cheaper."
And Prince is not just a man with an idea; he is a man with his own army. Blackwater began in 1996 with a private military training camp "to fulfill the anticipated demand for government outsourcing." Today, its contacts run from deep inside the military and intelligence agencies to the upper echelons of the White House. It has secured a status as the elite Praetorian Guard for the global war on terror, with the largest private military base in the world, a fleet of 20 aircraft and 20,000 soldiers at the ready.
From Iraq and Afghanistan to the hurricane-ravaged streets of New Orleans to meetings with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about responding to disasters in California, Blackwater now envisions itself as the FedEx of defense and homeland security operations. Such power in the hands of one company, run by a neo-crusader bankroller of the president, embodies the "military-industrial complex" President Eisenhower warned against in 1961.
Further privatizing the country's war machine — or inventing new back doors for military expansion with fancy names like the Civilian Reserve Corps — will represent a devastating blow to the future of American democracy.
Friday, January 19, 2007
Corrections Corporation of America issues this press release:
Corrections Corporation of America (NYSE: CXW), the nation's largest provider of corrections management services to government agencies, announced that it has received a contract award from the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") to house up to 1,558 federal inmates at the Company's Eden Detention Center in Eden, Texas.
The Company currently houses approximately 1,300 BOP inmates at the Eden facility, under an existing Inter-Governmental Services Agreement ("IGSA") between the BOP and the City of Eden. The award was pursuant to a Request for Proposal ("RFP") for approximately 7,000 beds that were contracted under four IGSA's, including the Company's Eden Detention Center.
The contract requires a renovation of the Eden facility, which will result in an additional 129 beds. Upon completion, the Eden facility will have a rated capacity of 1,354 beds. Renovation of the Eden facility is expected to be completed in February 2008 at an estimated cost of $20.1 million.
The contract, awarded as part of the Criminal Alien Requirement Phase 6 Solicitation ("CAR 6"), becomes effective May 1, 2007 and has an initial four-year term with three two-year renewal options. Under the new CAR 6 contract, the Company will receive a fixed monthly payment based on a guaranteed population equal to 90% of the current rated capacity and a per diem payment for each additional inmate thereafter. Following completion of the renovation, the fixed monthly payment will be adjusted to 90% of the new rated capacity beds and a per diem payment for each additional inmate thereafter. Under the provisions of the award, the Company could earn revenues of up to approximately $119.6 million during the initial four-year term of the contract.
The Company intends to provide earnings guidance for the first quarter and full-year 2007 in its fourth quarter 2006 earnings press release on February 8, 2007.
"We are pleased that the Federal Bureau of Prisons, one of the Company's largest and long-standing customers, continues to place confidence in CCA and is expanding its existing relationship with CCA," stated John Ferguson, President and CEO. "We believe our commitment to providing consistent quality service was an important factor in obtaining this award."
The Company is the nation's largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities and one of the largest prison operators in the United States, behind only the federal government and three states. The Company currently operates 64 facilities, including 40 company-owned facilities, with a total design capacity of approximately 72,000 beds in 19 states and the District of Columbia. The Company specializes in owning, operating and managing prisons and other correctional facilities and providing inmate residential and prisoner transportation services for governmental agencies. In addition to providing the fundamental residential services relating to inmates, the Company's facilities offer a variety of rehabilitation and educational programs, including basic education, religious services, life skills and employment training and substance abuse treatment. These services are intended to reduce recidivism and to prepare inmates for their successful re-entry into society upon their release. The Company also provides health care (including medical, dental and psychiatric services), food services and work and recreational programs.
This press release contains statements as to the Company's beliefs and expectations of the outcome of future events that are forward-looking statements as defined within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from the statements made. These include, but are not limited to, the risks and uncertainties associated with: (i) fluctuations in the Company's operating results because of, among other things, changes in occupancy levels, competition, increases in cost of operations, fluctuations in interest rates and risks of operations; (ii) changes in the privatization of the corrections and detention industry, the public acceptance of the Company's services, the timing of the opening of and demand for new prison facilities and the commencement of new management contracts; (iii) the Company's ability to obtain and maintain correctional facility management contracts, including as a result of sufficient governmental appropriations and as a result of inmate disturbances; (iv) increases in costs to construct or expand correctional facilities that exceed original estimates, or the inability to complete such projects on schedule as a result of various factors, many of which are beyond the Company's control, such as weather, labor conditions and material shortages, resulting in increased construction costs; and (v) general economic and market conditions. Other factors that could cause operating and financial results to differ are described in the filings made from time to time by the Company with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
NBC news reports:
The San Diego-based aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan will leave its home port in a few weeks for a mission related to President George W. Bush's plan to send a surge of new troops to Iraq, sources told our NBC station in San Diego.
According to The Associated Press, the Navy plans to send the Reagan to the Western Pacific instead of the USS John Stennis, which has been ordered to the Middle East.
The wire service quoted an unnamed Navy official, who said the Navy had considered sending the Stennis to the Asian region to fill in for the Japan-based USS Kitty Hawk, which is due to undergo maintenance, but officials decided to deploy the Stennis to the Gulf area instead.
U.S. officers believe that having an aircraft carrier in the Pacific is an important part of the U.S. deterrent against North Korea and overall U.S. military presence in the region.
The San Diego-based Reagan will leave its home port in a few weeks for the mission, said the official who asked not to be named because the deployment hasn't officially been announced.
NBC in San Diego, quoting different Navy sources in the San Diego area, reported that the Navy was expected to announce the deployment of the Reagan and its San Diego-based support ships on Friday.
The Kitty Hawk is forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, making it the only U.S. aircraft carrier effectively based overseas.
The Stennis's arrival in the Middle East will mark the first time since the U.S.-led Iraq invasion in 2003 that the United States has had two carrier battle groups in the region.
The ship, which is based in Bremerton, Wash., is expected to arrive in the Middle East in about one month.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated in Brussels Monday that Iran's perception of U.S. vulnerability in the region was part of the reason the Pentagon decided last week to send a second aircraft carrier battle group and a Patriot anti-missile battalion to the Gulf area.
Patriots defend against shorter-range missiles of the type that Iran could use to hit U.S. bases in the area.
The Stennis will stop off in San Diego on its way to the Gulf to pick up an air wing of more than 80 planes, including F/A-18 Hornet and Superhornet fighter-bombers.
The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is already in the Gulf region.
Tuesday, January 9, 2007
The United Nations estimates two million Iraqis have fled to neighbouring countries to escape sectarian violence. It's estimated that 50,000 Iraqis flee the country every month. Many of them choose Syria and Jordan, where they often face extreme hardship. Their refugee status gives them no automatic benefits.
With help from the charity, Refugees International, the BBC spoke to four Iraqis about fleeing religious and professional persecution in their country:
Fatima is a single woman working as a hairdresser in Damascus.
She fled Baghdad three years ago after armed militants attacked the salon where she worked.
They disapproved of women having their hair cut in a public place.
They had also threatened to attack the building where she lived with several other women. The militiamen disapprove of women living alone.
"It's impossible to live as a single woman in Iraq; you are treated very badly and it's dangerous," says Fatima, a Shia Muslim.
She sold her jewellery to raise cash, and together with three other women, headed for Damascus.
"In Syria it's OK. Nobody interferes with my life if I just do my job and go home."
Fatima styles hair for women in their own homes; most of her customers are Iraqi. But she says her earnings barely cover the rent.
Every six months she has to leave Syria to renew her tourist visa. She hires a taxi to take her to the border.
"One taxi driver wanted to charge me 25,000 Syrian Lira (about US $480) for the journey. I said that was too much.
"He said that I must be making lots of money, that as an Iraqi woman in Syria, I must be working in a nightclub."
Some Iraqi women in Damascus have turned to prostitution to make ends meet.
"People judge me because of what they see in clubs in Syria, they assume every Iraqi woman is doing the same thing."
Fatima has no family to help her out so she feels isolated - especially in a society which is sceptical of single women.
"I want to be independent. I don't want to be judged badly; I don't want to be humiliated by anything.
"I just want to feel settled and to know I can survive."
KHALIL AND DALAL, DAMASCUS
Only Dalal agreed to be photographed. Khalil, a painter, was afraid the people who attacked him would find out he is now in Syria.
In 2004 he began to receive anonymous threats from someone who objected to his painting of a woman, calling it blasphemous.
He was also threatened because he had been asked to paint portraits for American troops in Baghdad.
Three weeks after the first threat, his gallery was burned to the ground. Shortly afterwards, someone threw a firebomb into the couple's living room in the middle of the night, while they slept upstairs.
It took them two months to raise the money to leave.
The couple have three grown up children. Their youngest son lives with them and their daughter lives in Canada.
Their oldest son, Ziad, lives in Sweden. He was visiting his parents for the first time in five years and explained, from Damascus, their situation:
"They can't work and they don't have much money. They have a little from what they brought over from Iraq, but there's not much left because they have to pay for their food and rent out of it."
The couple know a few Iraqi families in Damascus and Ziad says his 19-year-old brother plays football in the street with some Iraqi friends.
But, he says his mother misses having her wider family around her and "feels lonely inside".
The couple appear to have taken on the informal role of community activists in Damascus. Khalil teaches art at the local church and Dalal helps orient new arrivals from Iraq to life in Syria.
Ziad says his parents cannot return to Iraq and are trying to move either to Canada, or Sweden, to join one of their other children.
AHMED and MAYYADA ABDEL SALAM, AMMAN
Ahmed is a doctor and his wife Mayyada is a pharmacist. They belong to the Sabian faith, a monotheistic non-Muslim minority in Iraq.
They left Baghdad in 2005 after Mayyada's pharmacy was attacked when she refused to wear a headscarf.
Ahmed explains: "One of the radical Muslims came into the pharmacy and asked Mayyada why she was unveiled. She explained she was not Muslim and that there was no hijab in her religion.
"He told her she was an infidel and that she should leave Iraq."
A few days later the radicals targeted the pharmacy in a drive-by shooting. Ahmed says they had a lucky escape.
"I, my wife and children were in the pharmacy when the attack happened. They shot several rounds, smashing the shop window and the shelves of drugs.
"We were terrified. My wife was injured in the leg, but only superficially."
The family didn't return to the pharmacy, but stayed at home preparing to leave Iraq.
They arrived in Jordan less than two months later. Ahmed says they chose Jordan because it was close and at the time it was easy to get to.
But life is difficult in Amman.
"We arrived as refugees; we have no rights. We can't work and we can't send the children to school. We have three daughters, aged six, three and one. We are considered illegal residents in Amman, although we are refugees."
They arrived with their life savings which Ahmed reckons will last another four or five months. After that, they will have to ask for help from relatives abroad.
Ahmed's parents are living in their family home in Baghdad.
"We speak to them on the phone, we are very anxious about them because it is so dangerous."
They family is renting a two-bedroom apartment in Amman and educating their six-year-old at home.
They are in touch with other Iraqis in the city and they also know a few Jordanians.
"We do have some contact with them, but it's usually superficial. There's no time for anything deeper and we are not in the right frame of mind to reach out to others.
"We keep it superficial because we are depressed and we don't know what the future holds."
Ahmed and his wife want to move to Australia. They have already had one application rejected, but they are putting in another.
"We want to start a new life for our children. They are more important than us."
SAAD MOHAMED AND FAMILY, AMMAN
Saad brought his family to Jordan in June 2006, after narrowly escaping two direct attempts on his life.
Under Saddam's regime Saad, a Sunni, was a soldier in the army and his ID card identifies him as a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war. He is therefore considered a "Saddamist".
"I received letters at my house, telling me to leave within 24 hours or be killed.
"One time, I was driving the car - with our three young children - and somebody started shooting at us. I managed to drive away quickly and we escaped. That was in Baghdad."
The family fled with no possessions. They had money sent from home after they arrived in Amman - but it was stolen within 24 hours.
Saad believes someone followed them from Iraq and stole the money as soon as it was safe to do so.
He has no work permit and was unemployed for the first five months in Jordan.
"About three weeks ago someone gave me a job. I'm working as a porter, guarding a building. The pay barely covers the rent, food and water. It's hardly enough to live on."
After Saddam's regime was toppled, Saad used to work in a shop, selling electric cables and lighting equipment.
He has no friends or family in Jordan. He says he chose Amman because it was the only place he could escape to.
"Our children are aged seven, six and four. They need to go to school, but I can't afford to send them."
Saad is applying for asylum in Europe. He says he has contacted the Spanish embassy, but he hasn't heard from them yet.
One of his children was born with a disability and has already had several operations. Saad has applied to children's organisations to see if his son can be offered a place in school.
He says he has no idea what happened to his house in Baghdad.
"All I know is that the Mehdi Army have now got hold of many houses in the area where I used to live."
Would he ever think of going back?
"I don't even think about it. It's highly unlikely. I have a psychological block about it.
"Five of my cousins were killed in front of my eyes immediately before I left."
Saad says he conjures up the memory of Iraq to try to get his children to behave: "If they're playing up, I threaten them with moving back to Iraq."