Living with the Enemy

Editor’s Note: Cathy Breen is an American working with the Iraq Peace Team of the nonviolent activist organization Voices in the Wilderness. Despite KtB’s attempts to contact the author for more information about the nature of her daily life and work in pre-war Iraq, nothing more than her name remains known. Her letter is published here without written permission, but it is done so in the spirit in which it was sent.
Monday, March 23, 2003
Dear Friends,

Bagdhad, before the war.

Bagdhad, before the war.

Am so anxious to get some word off to you while there is still time. Even as I write you there is a bomb exploding threatening to blow out the glass door/window in my room. While I am not getting less fearful of the bombs, I think I am getting more used to them. Or maybe it is the overall lack of sleep that has me moving more slowly. I slept in my room last night with Bettejo in the bed next to me. Despite the periodic bomb blasts through the night that caused the building to strongly quake, only once did we actually flee downstairs to be closer to the ground floor. This waiting to be hit is a terrible thing. But then this war is a terrible thing — too horrible to describe.

I just returned from visiting the Yermuke hospital where a few of us were able to go to see some of the wounded. A sad sight as I moved from one bed to another and saw some of the victims of this senseless massacre. The hospital received 108 patients in a three-hour period on Friday evening, last night (Sunday) another 40. Dr. Rajab Karim related the case of a 26-year-old mother who came in with massive injuries Saturday night. She was taken immediately to surgery and is presently in intensive care. Her 2-year-old child, however, was killed instantly as the “rocket” went directly through the door of their home.

I stood helpless at the bedside of a little 8-year-old boy, Ali, his head and abdomen completely wrapped in gauze. Three people died in his family, including his father, when his home was destroyed yesterday. Fatima, a 10-year-old girl, was trying to escape from her home during the bombing but wasn’t quick enough. The walls collapsed on her. She suffered multiple fractures to her left leg. Living outside of the city, there was no telephone nor transportation available, so she couldn’t be transported until the following day. Having looked at the bone breaks on her X-rays, I could only imagine the pain she must have suffered. We hear conflicting accounts of both U.S./U.K. and Iraq casualties and deaths. Prisoners have been taken on both sides we understand. Some of our IPT folks saw U.S. soldiers on Iraq TV last night looking terribly frightened. My heart goes out to each of them. One said, “I didn’t come here to kill anyone; I was only following orders.” I heard that the U.S. has taken over a thousand Iraqi prisoners in the south?

One thing seems clear. The U.S. is meeting with a resistance that they’ve not counted on. And this as they move from the south toward Baghdad, a city of five million people. Here the skies are filled with gray billowing smoke, and the sirens and bombs are becoming constant companions. I couldn’t help but think as I lay in bed last night, or was it in the early morning hours between bombs?, that every bomb which drives fear and terror into the heart, or takes a life or maims a loved one can only serve to ignite anger in each Iraqi. God knows how angry and distraught I am. How can they not respond accordingly when faced with advancing U.S. soldiers? How could we ever think that the soldiers would be welcomed triumphantly as liberators? Oh misguided country that we are? Today in the hospital family members and the wounded asked me: “Why is this happening to us? Why? Why?” In the five months that I have been here I have only met with people who want peace and who pray for peace. They do not want war. They have done nothing wrong. We must be clear about the fact that we have forced them to go to war. We have forced their young men and women to take up arms and to kill just as surely as if we had put the guns into their hands. Neville Watson’s words moved me so the other morning: “Can somebody tell me what is the purpose of this bombing? If it is to generate fear, then it is certainly working. But isn’t that what terrorists do? Create fear through violence? In opposing terrorism we have become the terrorists.” Yesterday we held a little birthday party for Kariima’s daughter, Amal, who turned 13. You know her by now as I’ve referred to her and her family so often in my letters. She is my Arabic teacher. She and her family and a bunch of us from IPT, the hotel staff, taxi drivers, and other friends) went across the street to a grassy area (not easy to find in Baghdad) to have cake, play volleyball with blown-up balloons, and just have a good time of celebrating life in the face of adversity. A proclamation that no government or power can separate the bonds of human friendship!

From my journal: “The party for Amal was wonderful. Everything fell into place. The blue balloons we used as volleyballs, the peace-crane chain, the cake and chicken! Amal was radiant. As the kids and ourselves were playing and running around, the bombs began to fall — heavy and shaking the earth and all of us to the core. There were startled screams at first as they were so close. But we remained outside. It seemed safer than being inside. Children, energy, running playfully, laughing together, embracing. A new year of life for Amal. What youthful exuberance and joy! Interspersed — the terrifying thunder of planes and the blast of the bombs. Screams, death, trembling, fear, and clinging together. But the celebration went on. A testimony to the power of love and life.”

I will close with a little story. It was the fourth day of bombing, about 2:30 a.m. I couldn’t sleep as the bombs kept coming. I was just milling around the lobby area and decided to head up the stairs to my room. Maybe I’ll try again to sleep? Hamed, a young fellow who works here at the hotel, called after me, “Cathy, a cup of tea? Iraqi tea?” And so I sat in a quiet area and had tea. It was a good tea. But then Hamed is good. These people are good. You can tell when a cup of tea, or anything for that matter, is made with love. Julian of Norwich’s words rang in my ears: “All will be well again I know.” I remembered the words that came so strongly as we knelt by the Iraq/Kuwait border a few weeks ago, our faces towards the 90,000 U.S. troops amassed in Kuwait. “Straighten up your back for what is to come. But don’t be afraid. All will be well.”

I pray together with you that all will be well again. If ever there is a time to resist it is now. Keep up the good work.

Love Cathy
P.S. — This early morning in between the terrible assault of bombs I thought about these dear folks here, so quick to smile and to assure. Do you know how much you call forth hope in my own sad heart? You are tired, so tired. But you haven’t given up. You stand straight and tall despite the heavy burden that you bear — maybe because of the burden. You are gentle and kind to me despite the crushing cruelty of my country. Tonight we are all afraid, but I can feel your peace. Tonight I will let myself be enveloped in your peace. Tonight the bombs are falling over your city destroying your loved ones and the work of your hands. And yet you still do not accuse me.