It was with great relief that we received an update from Kathy today. Only
through unreliable satellite connection have we received sporadic word
from our team still in Baghdad. We think Kathy’s letter which follows, speaks
volumes to the current tragedy playing itself out on the streets of Baghdad
and undoubtedly, throughout Iraq.
Please bear with us as we discern next steps, not just with our team in Iraq
but here at home as well. As government and media pundits alike insist that
this war is “ending,” we urge the doubling of efforts to call attention to the fact
that war doesn’t end for those who have lost limbs, loved ones, homes, and
precious sense of security to blind greed.
Hello Friends, April 10, 2003
Early this morning, Umm Zainab sat quietly in the Al Fanar lobby staring at
the parade of tanks, APCs and Humvees that slowly rolled into position
along Abu Nuwas Street. Tears streamed down her face. “I am very sad,”
she told me. “Never I thought this would happen to my country. Now, I think,
my sadness will never go away.”
Wanting to give Umm Zainab some quiet time, I took her two toddlers,
Zainab and Miladh, outside to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. Several
soldiers stood guard not far from me and the children. I wanted to bring the
children over to them, to let them behold these tiny beauties. But, no, too
much of a risk-what if it would add to Umm Zaineb’s pain?
Eun Ha Yoo, our Korean Peace Team friend, unrolled a huge artwork
created by a Korean artist, Chae Pyong Doh, and sweetly laid it out in the
intersection just outside the Al Fanar. As I write, Neville Watson and Cathy
Breen are taking their turns sitting in the middle of it.
A map of the world covers the top third; grieving victims of war fill the middle
third; piles of ugly weapons with various flags scattered over them bulge out
of the bottom third. Neville has set up his prayer stool and a small wooden
cross where he sits. Cathy is wearing her “War Is Not The Answer” t-shirt.
At least a dozen soldiers have stopped to talk with us since we began the
vigil at 3 this afternoon. “OK, can you tell us your side of the story?” asked
one young man. “Can I sit there with you for awhile?” asked another. Each
of them has assured us that they didn’t want to kill anyone. One young man
said he was desperate for financial aid to care for his wife and child while
struggling to complete college studies and work full time. He felt he could
gain some respect in this world and also help his family by joining the
Marines. He’s relieved that he was stationed at the rear of a line coming up
from the south. His role was to guard prisoners. He didn’t shoot anyone.
But he saw US soldiers shoot at a civilian car with three passengers as it
approached. The child in the car survived – both of his parents were
immediately killed. “They could have shot the tires,” said the soldier.
“Some just want to kill.”
One soldier offered earnest concern for us, saying “You’re sitting in a
dangerous place.” We smiled. “Thanks,” I said, “But we’ve been in a
dangerous place for the past three weeks.” He was puzzled. “What do
they mean,” said a soldier standing next to him, “is that they’ve been here all
through three weeks of bombing.”
“Do you try to put yourselves in our shoes?” asked one soldier after he’d
respectfully listened to me explain major contradictions between US rhetoric
and practice regarding Iraq. “Well, yes,” I said, “We try. We’re taking the
same risk as you by being here, and perhaps an even greater risk since
we’re unarmed and unprotected. Actually, just now we’re lucky not to be
burdened by all that heavy gear.”
“Yeah,” said the soldier, “It’s really hot. I don’t have much of an appetite. I
just give away most of my rations, – give ’em to these people.”
Hassan, one of the shoeshine boys, came over to join us, carrying a ration
packet. He opened it, came across processed apple spread, and a few
other curious items, then decided to donate it to us. Now the flies have
It looks like we’re on “lock-down” for a while longer. Iraqi minders are gone,
–US soldiers are here. They’re uncoiling barbed wire at the intersection.
Anyone wanting to walk across the street is stopped, questioned and
searched. Since I began this letter, there have been four huge explosions
nearby. Looting and burning continue, here in Baghdad. I’m sick of
war-disgusted to the point of nausea. I think all of us at this intersection,
residents of the Al Fanar, journalists in the Palestine Hotel next door, and
soldiers on patrol, share the same queasy ill feeling. The line, “War is the
health of the state” makes no sense whatsoever here.
We hope Kathy’s words have moved you as much as they have us. There is
not a single person who partakes in or experiences this war, these acts of
violence, who is not profoundly effected, be they a soldier or a civilian. War,
and all the misery that it brings, is truly our common enemy.
Peace and hope,
Stephanie Schaudel, for Voices in the Wilderness