Monday, September 19, 2005

From our CPT friend Will who has spent the past two days with us in Amman while on his way back to the U.S.

Subject: Iraq Reflection: In Iraq Without a Gun by William Van WagenenSeptember 14th, 2005This last week we had several meetings in Najaf and Karbala. Both are holy cities for Shiites and have shrines dedicated to the Imam Ali and to the Imam Hussein, who was assassinated in Karbala in the seventh century. Because of these shrines, both Najaf and Karbala are flooded with religious pilgrims each year. A year ago last summer, Moqtada Al-Sadr's private militia, the Mehdi Army, battled U.S. forces during an uprising in Najaf, Sadr City, and Basra. Cindy Sheehan's son Casey was killed by Mehdi Army fighters during this period in Sadr City. Much of the fighting in Najaf took place in a huge graveyard that is almost as big as the city itself. The Shrine of the Imam Ali is at the end of the graveyard and many Mehdi Army fighters ended up seeking refuge in the shrine. There is now an area of the graveyard where 250 Mehdi Army fighters who were killed in those battles are buried. We took some time to visit the site of their graves. Many of the tombstones are adorned with Iraqi flags and pictures of the dead, who were mostly young men, probably in their twenties. While we were there, some of the young men who were around noticed we were foreigners and asked who we were and what we were doing. They began telling us how they had all fought against the Americans in those battles last year as well. One guy finally asked where I was from. I told him I was from America. I was a bit nervous about how he would respond, but he immediately said, "Welcome!" and had a huge smile on his face. After we chatted for awhile I took a few pictures with him and the other young men who were hanging around. By telling this I'm not trying endorse the Mehdi Army, or say that it is good for Iraqis to fight U.S. soldiers. But it was interesting to note that even though these men had fought and killed American soldiers, and had had friends killed by American soldiers, they were still friendly and welcoming to me, an American. That act of kindness illustrated to me the difference between entering other countries as an occupier, bringing guns, tanks, and hummers, and entering as an unarmed guest. If we Americans show Muslims respect and are peaceful to them, they will show us respect and will be peaceful to us. Though such a concept seems at times obvious, it is something we Americans seem to have difficulty understanding.

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