IRAQ REFLECTION: Baghdad at Prayer

in:

CPTnet
March 31, 2003
IRAQ REFLECTION: Baghdad at Prayer

by Jim Douglass

(The following has been edited for length. People wishing to see the
original piece may send their request to guest.445947@MennoLink.org. The
author is a member of the CPT delegation that remains in Baghdad after the
Iraqi government expelled other members on March 29, 2003. He lives in
Birmingham, AL and has made major contributions to the work of peace as a
writer, organizer and activist.)

Four of us from the Iraq Peace Team are camping in two tents and a little
house in the midst of Al Wathab Water Treatment Plant. Hanging nearby is a
large banner that reads in English and in Arabic:

To Bomb This Site is a War Crime
Geneva Convention, Article 54

The tents sit beside a large pool of water. Across a little road is the
house, beside a second pool. I am in the house lying in bed, writing before
I retire for the night. I can hear the sound of water flowing gently
outside the door.

A mullah is chanting prayers over the loudspeaker of a mosque. As dusk
falls, I can hear across the city my government's bombs marching to the drum
of a Pentagon computer. I saw some of the terrible consequences of
yesterday's bombs. Who is under the bombs tonight? The prayers from the
mosque continue, punctuated by explosions.

The prayers end. Air raid sirens sound. I wonder if the sirens are an
"all-clear" signal and ask Cynthia Banas, an Iraq Peace Team volunteer lying
in a bed across the room. She says she doesn't know and keeps on reading.
The peace of Iraqis in the midst of war is contagious.

I remember the man I sat down beside in the hotel lobby to talk with this
afternoon. He had responded thoughtfully in conversation, then excused
himself to continue his reading from the Koran. One often sees Iraqis
fingering prayer beads. This is a people that prays openly all the time--one
reason, perhaps, why so many of them speak warmly and gently to citizens of
a country bombing them night and day.

But I saw angry faces this morning as witnesses in the Al-Shaab district of
Baghdad described the bombing they experienced yesterday. At 11:30am, March
26th, two missiles struck the opposite sides of the main street through Al
Shaab. Separated by an interval of five seconds, the missiles blasted the
holes we saw in shops, a restaurant, and second-floor family flats, killing
at least fifteen people and injuring over fifty. The missiles made an
inferno of the cars whose twisted remnants we saw. The people said there
were no military sites or government buildings in the area.

Their anger was expressed by an elderly man in a kaffiyeh who looked at me
intently and shouted, "God is protecting the Iraqi people! We'll keep on
fighting the Americans, the British, and the Australians! If necessary,
we'll fight them with our shoes!"

A second bombed neighborhood we visited was less heavily damaged but in a
more obviously criminal way. In the Altujjaar neighborhood in the northern
part of Baghdad, we walked through a partially destroyed home. From its
wrecked second floor patio, we looked down into the adjoining playground of
the Balquis Secondary School for Girls.

Residents on the ground floor of the duplex told us that at 11:30pm, March
25, the Haamid family had been bombed while watching television in their
second floor apartment. Muneeb Abid Haamid, 25, his wife, Sahhar, 23, and
their six-year-old son, Qaiser Muneeb, were seriously injured from the
flying glass of the window.

However, we puzzled over why there wasn't more damage done to the house.
Then Scott Kerr, an IPT member from Chicago, began digging into a few of
the hundreds of little holes in the patio walls. He pulled out four tiny
metal cubes. I looked at them in the palm of his hand and felt a shock of
recognition.

The explosion had made relatively little impact on the house because the
bomb was designed for another purpose. The minuscule, carefully cut cubes
we found embedded in the walls had been created to maim people in horrible
ways--fragmentation bombs. In my mind's eye, I saw all over again the faces
and bodies of Vietnamese children pock-marked by fragmentation bombs.

As I complete this journal entry at midnight, many more bombs have fallen
across Baghdad, shaking the earth at Al Wathab Water Treatment Plant. Who
was under the bombs tonight? Beneath even that question remains the the
certitude that the hours of prayer will continue, no matter what happens...

We awake at dawn to a series of thunderous blasts from nearby strikes on the
city. Almost immediately we hear the mullah chanting prayers from the
mosque. Through the open door I can see birds flying across a light blue
Baghdad sky.