“If the Americans are strong, why didn’t they find Al Zarqawi? Why did they destroy my books and games, the children’s toys? Is my teddy bear Zarqawi? What is our fault? We have 5 demands before we will go home.” (Rania, l2, 7th grade)
These two little girls, echoing adults yet determined and articulate, spoke to us at the Baghdad University mosque, next to a large tent camp for Fallujah refugees. Even the mosque is partitioned by blankets into cubicles. The sheikh explained that the people’s decision is to remain in the cold and mud until their demands are met:
1. A U.S. apology for the indiscriminate bombing: a man-made catastrophe
2. Restitution amounting to 5 to 10 billion, a small amount compared to that given to the victims of Lockerbie
3. Departure of U.S. troops
4. No Iraqi militias from other areas
5. An invitation to international organizations and media to observe and report freely
The people remaining in Fallujah have even rejected or burned “charity” associated with the interim government or others seen as collaborators with the U.S. Those attempting to return to their city sometimes wait in line all day, only to have the checkpoints closed at 3 P.M. The soldiers also warn them that the munitions and gas used in the attack poisoned the water and all their belongings.
Each tent holds a story: an 18 year-old son disappeared; a family of nine crowded into a cell-sized tent, the girls trying to study for mid-year exams in the camp school while one washed her hair on the ground; friends unaccounted for; a man hospitalized for a destroyed face. But everyone communicated the determination to take control of their own lives and own city, to rebuild and protect it themselves. And everywhere children were children: playing, hugging, questioning, smiling, asking for a message in their notebooks. Their parents welcomed us more thoughtfully, but distinguished us as friends from our government of enemies.
The sheikh, concerned for our safety after a recent kidnapping, sent the 4 of us home in the university bus with drawn curtains and 3 unarmed escorts. The search for real security in such a volatile mix of memory and loss, anger and fear, can lead either to more conflict, or to the solidarity of a diverse people determined to reclaim their homes and their dignity, to reclaim their own land from a blind and violent occupation.
Christian Peacemaker Teams is an ecumenical violence-reduction program with roots in the historic peace churches. Teams of trained peace workers live in areas of lethal conflict around the world. CPT has been present in Iraq since October, 2002. To learn more about CPT, please visit http://www.cpt.org.
by Anne Montgomery
published by Voices in the Wilderness