Monday, April 25, 2005

A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS

It was a gorgeous summer night and a slight breeze provided the needed escape from the heat. We were out in the garden behind our office, waiting for dinner to be served. It was a special occasion, as one of my American colleagues wanted to bring a piece of home to Iraq. She is Jewish and as part of Passover, she decided to have a seder ceremony and included some of our Iraqi friends. She told ancient stories of oppression and liberation. We had roasted lamb and everyone’s glass of red wine was continually topped off. It was definitely a unique experience in Iraq and it made me feel hopeful that this kind of event could take place in an Arab, Muslim country.

Then I got a call from my husband. After a few minutes of catching up with each other, he told me the news. A good friend of his, his former squad leader, was shot in the neck by sniper fire on Sunday evening. He was stabilized enough that he could be flown to Germany for further treatment. My husband was with him when he was shot as they were all on patrol together. Just before the sniper fire, my husband’s friend was talking to him about his stepdaughter’s birthday party. He also has a small son, who is a toddler. His wife was told the news through a phone call and she was making arrangements to fly to Germany.

The last two weeks have not been good in all of Iraq: more than 50 bodies found floating in the Tigris River, 19 bodies found in a stadium in Haditha, 11 dead as a helicopter is shot down, explosions in Tikrit, Basra, Baghdad, an Associated Press cameraman killed in Mosul. One foreigner I know who has been working in Iraq for a long time keeps talking about the inevitable civil war.

My husband called me this morning before he went out on patrol because he knew I needed to hear from him, and I think he wanted to hear a friendly voice, too. But what also provided me with comfort was my Iraqi friends who, after hearing the news of my husband’s friend, told me they were there for me if I needed anything. They also expressed disgust at the recent violence and one of my Iraqi friends, who is not religious, said he would pray for my husband’s friend. I guess we all get by with a little help from our friends.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A NEW BEGINNING

Work has prevented me from updating the blog for a while. But I had to write today to talk about the celebration on the streets here. Today, Iraq has a new president and it is a Kurd. Jalal Talabani’s ascendancy from a freedom fighter whose people had been oppressed for decades to leader of a new, democratic Iraq is truly inspiring. On the streets here, the party began in the late morning with residents honking their car horns, displaying pictures of Mam Jalal and waving the Kurdish/Iraqi flags. After two months of political deadlock and negotiations, Iraq is finally moving forward with its democratic experiment. With a satisfactory grin, my co-workers this morning talked about how Saddam was allowed to watch the parliamentary proceedings today that anointed Talabani.

Despite the jovial mood, my Iraqi friends also warned me that the real fight is still ahead: the Constitution. Indeed, the formation over a government was held up by disagreements between the Kurds and Shias over the status of Kirkuk and other issues that will now have to be dealt with in the Constitution. There are also questions of whether Islamic law will be included in the Constitution and other possible contentious issues. And of course, the violence continues.

But tonight after work, I plan to join the celebration on the streets with my Iraqi friends. One of them said “We will tell our children about how we suffered under Saddam, the first Gulf War, the uprisings that followed, the fall of the Saddam regime and the democratic elections. And now we will tell them about the day a Kurd became president of an Arab country. Things are changing.”