Letters from a War Zone

compiled by Rebecca Nellenbach

“…But those leaving will not be leaving IPT (Iraq Peace Team). IPT is more than the physical presence here. We will take everyone here with us, in our hearts, in our advocacy, in the practice of our active love.”

-Ramzi Kysia and Lisa Ndejuru, IPT

In February, local peace-worker Ed Kinane joined fellow CNY activist Cynthia Banas, a member of the IPT since October 2002, in Iraq. The IPT has been in Iraq since September 2002 and remained alongside Iraqi families in solidarity during the US attack. At press time, Ed has returned home safely, and Cynthia remains in Baghdad. Following are excerpts from messages that IPT members sent out since late March.

March 25, 2003
Shane Claiborne
I have grown especially close to one of the “shoeshine boys,” a homeless boy (about ten years old) named Mussef…
One day Mussef joined our group on a walk into the center of town, carrying pictures of Iraqi children and families suffering from the war and sanctions. Press and journalists took pictures and talked to us as we stood in one of Baghdad’s busiest intersections, and Mussef began to internalize what was happening. His shining face became bleak. Nothing I could do made him smile. As the group went home, and the cameras left, we continued to sit. He motioned with his hand the falling bombs, and made the sound of explosions, as tears welled up in his eyes.

Suddenly, he turned, and latched onto my neck. He began to weep; his body shook as he gasped for each breath of air. I began to cry. Somehow I was glad all the cameras were gone. We wept as friends, as brothers, not as a peacemaker and victim. Afterwards I took him to eat, banquet style…Every five minutes he would ask me, “Are you okay?” I would nod, and ask, “Are you okay?” And he would nod.

April 5, 2003
Cynthia Banas
Our Iraq Peace Team has had discussions on the matter of how to meet our fellow Americans as they invade Baghdad to “liberate” the Iraqi people. If I happen to have the opportunity to talk with them, this is what I would say: I am grateful that you were not killed or wounded but I am sorrowful that many young people serving in the military of the United States and Iraq and Britain have been killed or wounded. Every young person in every country should have the opportunity to grow old naturally and not be murdered in his youth by war.

Most American civilians have never experienced being bombed. We, the members of the Iraq Peace Team have spent more than two weeks under constant bombardment from the United States and British pilots, and technicians of death. Bombing is the worst kind of terror and should be outlawed by all “civilized” people. Death, destruction and maiming, and lifetime trauma are the consequences of war. We have witnessed children frightened beyond their years, and have seen their mangled bodies in the hospital. War for them will never end.

April 11, 2003
Cathy Breen
…an hour later the US-led troops in tanks, APCs (armored personnel carriers), and other vehicles arrived a block from our hotel. We watched as they turned the corner and came in a caravan toward us. I write this so matter-of-factly when in fact my emotions were raging at the time. I was speechless, literally paralyzed as to how to react to these soldiers. I know that I felt anger, but relief as well. Imagine – relief. Maybe the bombing will cease…

The next day, Thursday, the mood has definitely shifted from one of relief to one of resignation and deep sadness. It is written in the faces of almost everyone I see. The regime has fallen and for that they are grateful, also that the bombing has for the most part pretty much ceased. But the reality that their beloved country is now an occupied one is settling over them like a gray ominous cloud. Massive looting is taking place throughout the city, even government hospitals are not spared…
Yesterday I went in the afternoon to sit and vigil on the beautiful Korean peace canvas…(Kathy Kelly describes the canvas this way: “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.”) It was smack dab in the middle of tanks, bulldozers, APCs, jeeps and other military machinery. One by one the soldiers approached us. Some curious and quiet. Others wanting to talk, but all very respectful. One soldier nervous to be speaking with us, said that he didn’t want to be there but that he didn’t know what to do. He was grateful that he hadn’t had to kill anyone. He’s afraid. He doesn’t believe in killing. He’s seen some pretty bad things. An unarmed father and mother were killed in a car and their child wounded in the leg. “They could have shot the tires out,” he said. He too is a father. He asked if I would pray with him and stepped boldly forward. I stood and he reached out his hands for me to take them. There in the middle of the canvas of the world we prayed for God’s help.

April 16, 2003
Kathy Kelly
I’m sitting in Amman (Jordan) now because of Sattar. Yesterday morning, he drove me here, from Baghdad.
When the war began, he took his family to live with relatives outside of Baghdad. After several days, he returned to check on the family home. A missile had hit a house nearby, and two brothers were missing. Sattar went to the Saddam Hospital in the impoverished and dangerous Al Thawra neighborhood to look for them. “I found it terrible,” he said. “Many, many people were asking for help. One family with five injured people had gone from place to place, seeking help, and by the time they came to this hospital, five of the family members were dead. I was coming to ask about two, but I thought, here there are so many, all needing help, so I asked a doctor if he could use me.”

Some Western press came to the hospital and talked with Sattar. An interviewer pressed the idea that Iraqis should be grateful for liberation. Sattar attempted to explain how much suffering he’d seen, but the reporter insisted on a positive spin. Sattar said, “Leave now.”

“Sattar,” I asked, “what will you do now?” “Tomorrow,” he said, “I will go to Jordan and start driving again.”

I winced. A talented, courageous and kindly man, a well-educated civil engineer aching to use his skills, one who never joined the Baath party, who strove for over a decade to preserve the simple values of his faith and culture, must return to work as a driver, fetching more westerners to rebuild his war-torn country.

“Well, Sattar,” said Cathy Breen forlornly, “now you won’t have so many problems helping Americans to cross the border.”

“You are right,” said Sattar. “This is your country now.” Shortly after Sattar left, Cathy Breen and I decided to pack our bags.