Monday, September 19, 2005

From a CPT friend in Baghdad that we will join tomorrow:
Glimpses of Iraq by Sheila Provencher 17 September 2005
***What happens when car bombs become normal? One hundred fifty-two people die in your city in one day and you feel sad but then you go about cooking supper, and you laugh with your family and watch some music videos. This past Wednesday, ten car bombs exploded throughout the city, and I went and played with Noor’s* little baby and forgot until I read the news again.
Maybe you don’t forget inside. I see it in the faces of friends, shopkeepers, and neighbors. People feel tired, worn out, like the layer of dust and plastic bags littering every surface of the city. Numb. At night you wonder: Whose family was changed forever that day?
***Refugees from Tal Afar, the northern city alternatively occupied by foreign fighters and bombed by U.S. and Iraqi military, told me and CPT colleagues some stories of their suffering. We met them in an abandoned hotel-turned-refugee-camp in Kerbala, where they had been living there since June 2005.
“If you take my picture and the wrong people see it, my house could get burned down,” said one man. He told of foreign fighters who came and forced people from their homes. “U.S. and Iraqi soldiers did not help the citizens,” he added. “They only secured the main road so that convoys could pass through.”
Since that time, of course, Tal Afar has been thoroughly bombed by U.S. and Iraqi forces. Maybe this man would be happy that the U.S. military used such force against foreign fighters. Maybe he wouldn’t care, as his home is gone anyway. But I remembered: Were foreign fighters flooding Iraq and setting off car bombs before “Operation Iraqi Freedom”? President Bush does not want the war on terrorism to be fought on American soil. Why are Iraqi soil and Iraqi lives less precious?
***Muslim Peacemaker Team (MPT) in Kerbala continues to offer hope. During the Tal Afar testimonies, a Shi’ite refugee from a Baghdad neighborhood made an insulting comment about Sunni people. Sami, a leader of MPT, invited the man to come forward and sit down next to Omar,* a Sunni man from Ramadi. The refugee kissed Omar on the cheek (a traditional Iraqi greeting), and proceeded to share his anger and pain about the Sunnis who had forced him from his home in Baghdad. Omar listened and asked, “How many people are in your family? I have a farm in Ramadi, and you are all welcome to come live there.” The refugee stood and publicly apologized for his comments while everyone smiled their approval.
***Checkpoints manned by Iraqi Police holding machine guns dot the city of Baghdad. Their goal is to reduce terrorist attacks, I assume. But a few days ago, I and CPT colleagues found ourselves looking down the barrel of the machine gun pointed at our car or the one behind us. In that moment, everything froze. When the officer then raised the gun and waved us on, we laughed it off. But I wonder­-how many innocent civilians have died because police officers or U.S. soldiers were afraid that they were terrorists? And how are the policemen and soldiers dealing with the trauma of taking innocent life? The only son of a friend of a friend just killed himself after returning home from military service in Iraq. What is happening to our young people sent to war?
***A light moment. Last week I helped Riga* and her family, as they moved from their house to a nearby apartment. Together we loaded their things onto a truck that the men then drove to the new address. In the meantime, we women, draped in scarves, pushed a cart full of remaining possessions up a sewage-strewn, deeply rutted street. Halfway there, the cart got jammed in the mud, and we all dissolved into laughter as we tried to un-stick it from slimy, smelly sludge.
These are all random strands of stories, I suppose. It’s like a giant puzzle, and there is no clear answer. When I try to figure it out, it is beyond me. But after living in a war zone for almost two years, I am sure of two things:
One: Violence simply does not work, no matter who uses it. And two: We are all together in this. Noor’s baby is your own child, and the death of that only son of a friend of a friend creates a vacuum in your heart just as it does in the hearts of his family. We are all in this together.
*Name has been changed
Sheila Provencher Christian Peacemaker Teams Baghdad, Iraq

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