Sophia's Peace Work

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

There were seven of us, five Americans and two Iraqi translators, going for a send-off meal for one of the photojournalists (my travel partner Lorna!) at a nearby pizza joint. It was a busy night and the restaurant was full of Iraqis having a nice meal out. The remains of three pizzas were spread before us when a loud, thudding boom flexed the windows of the restaurant and made our hearts skip a beat. The Americans were out of there seats and out the door in seconds. I looked back and noticed that our two translators hadn’t budged. This was just more of the same to them.
Two of our party rushed off to get their cameras. But the rest of us went back to finish our meal. To me, the attention that these big bomb attacks receive by the press, when there are so many pressing problems here in Iraq that never get covered, is discouraging. This had been a big bomb though … one account suggested that 1000 pounds of plastic explosive had been used and it was only about five blocks from the Central Baghdad hotel where my friends were staying. When the rest of us returned home, we noticed as we drew closer that nearly all of the lower windows within a five to six block radius of the bomb had shattered.
We walked over to the site, the Mount Lebanon Hotel … a soft target since its clientele was mostly foreign Arab businessmen and westerners. I arrived on the scene after the American soldiers had cordoned off the area and pushed everyone back. We, Westerns and Iraqis together, stood in a vacant lot used as a trash dump, staring past the Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers at the smoking remains. One Iraqi arriving on the scene pleaded to be let in to see if family members were O.K. but was told to wait. Another man, one legged and on crutches, yelled, "Apache, Apache!" and claimed that the Americans had fired a missile at the hotel. The press pushed to be allowed in and a soldier lost his temper and threatened with his machine gun to scatter the crowd. Standing around, kicking at bits of refuse and sludge, we could only wait in the dark and flashing lights.
Come the light of day, I returned to the site and wondered at the terrible mess of it all. I walked through the flooded street with my translator and friend, Alaa Kamel, to the crater where the car bomb had exploded … now a pool of water surrounded by broken concrete, shattered buildings, clueless reporters, and disgusted Iraqis. Alaa just cried. "You see," she said sadly, "This is why some people say it was better under Saddam."


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