Baghdad, as you must know, is now under heavy bombardment. We
spoke with our team in Baghdad two hours ago. The team is split up
between three hotels in downtown Baghdad.
Iraq Peace Team member Bettejo Passalaqua managed to get this diary
us between bombings:
"We were prepared for the bombing to begin Thursday at around 4 AM.
congregated together until around midnight when we started hearing that a
sandstorm had grounded the military planes and the invasion would be
called off. Then at 3 AM we received word from the States that the planes
were on the way. Some of us went to the shelter and some remained
together in rooms. At 5:30 AM the opinion was that if it didn't come by
dawn, it wouldn't come tonight. The first explosion came just as Cathy Breen
remarked, 'Well, dawn is here, so I guess we can go back to bed.' The
attack lasted for about 1 1/2 hours. Two explosions rocked our building, but
they were pretty far away, I think.
"There hasn't been any bombing since, so Cathy and I went to the hospital
ward where I had been working. It was entirely emptied. Even the sound of
the children crying as they did when I.V. infusions were given would have
been a welcome sound to drown out the ghastly silence.
"But even this silence was eclipsed by the scene I encountered when
walked into the hospital. The corridor was lined with empty beds (at least
20 beds on either side) awaiting war casualties.
"I spoke with a nurse on the vacant ward and she said she had worked
night in the emergency room of a regular hospital. There were many elders
brought in with heart problems, most of which were a response to the stress
of the situation.
"Thank you all for all you are doing to stop the atrocity of this war
more lives are claimed. I don't know how many people died in today's
bombing. But it is too late to save them. I don't know how many people have
died in wars past. But I know it is too late to save them. I don't know how
many people will die in the days coming from this war, but I know it isn't
too late to save them."
We expect to lose contact with our people in Baghdad for a few days
more. We will continue to share with you any useful information we receive.
Jeff Guntzel, Chicago
for Voices in the Wilderness
Here is what Kathy and Ramzi had to say this morning:
"People in our team here are heartened by news of actions in the United
States to continue antiwar momentum. The bombings last night were
intense for about thirty minutes beginning at 9:10 last night. But,
what people were bracing themselves for, which was the "Shock & Awe"
saturation bombing, these attacks have seemed limited. We're getting
rumors and some hard news, mostly from journalists who tell us what seems
to be going on.
"Today I had a chance to go and visit families in three different
neighborhoods and the neighborhoods were fairly calm. There is still not
much in the way of a military presence on the streets other than sand bags
that are piled up at various intersections.
"I visited the family of a friend who left for Amman a few weeks ago,
is always a wonderful place to be. Her family - all women - are full of
there is no man in the house. They were very welcoming towards us and
didn't want us to go. The grandmother just held on to me, clung to me,
begged me 'Please, please stay and spend the night here with us.' But I
would be no protection. They are quite close to what I think is a military
storage depot. They begged us to come back and eat with them. With their
slim rations I think that is very telling.
"And then there is Kareema's family. They have just now come to visit us at
the hotel. This is the family I am the most worried about. They
are in a
precarious spot, and their neighbors seem to know it. Many of them have
left now. I will get a chance to talk more with them this afternoon when
come here to stay with us. But we haven't received permission from the
hotel owners for them to stay here."
"Wednesday, the day it started, I went around to some of the high schools
that we've been working with to do letter exchanges and diaries. Schools
were in session. About half the students weren't there. Some were staying at
home with their folks but a lot of families did leave Baghdad if they could.
"I talked to the teachers, talked to some students. Everybody seemed
in pretty good spirits. One of the English teachers did break down in front
me afterwards. She was really, really scared. She was scared about the
U.S. possibly using chemical weapons here, she was scared about this new
bomb she heard of - you know, 'the mother of all bombs'. She really just
wanted to vent with somebody. So I listened to what she had to say, tried to
comfort her as much as I could.
"The kids talked about how hard it had been the day before on Tuesday.
That was the last official day of school even though some kids came in on
Wednesday. On Tuesday everybody said good-bye to one another. They
said it was a really emotional experience. They didn't know whether they
were going to see their friends again or how long it might be. Wednesday
had a very strange feel to it. Sort of like a holiday. Not that people were
joyous, but everything was very slow, very easy. Not too much traffic. It
slightly overcast. It was as if you know, you're living somewhere in the
States and the weather reports are saying there's about to be a hurricane
and people are just going about their business preparing for the hurricane.
No panic. But you saw people taping up their windows, getting supplies, just
trying to get ready for what was about to happen.
"Thank God we haven't had saturation bombing here in Baghdad for the
couple days. The life here has been very normal. People are out on the
street. The markets were open. I think though that its not going to stay
this. We hear there are several American armored divisions approaching
Baghdad, the B-52s in Britain are being fueled up and are ready to go for
saturation bombing, maybe tonight. And you know, there is an air of bravado
among people here. They tell you that the United States has bombing them
for the last 12 years and they're still here. But I think underneath that
everybody is very scared. I know I'm very scared.
"Personally, I thought that the United States wasn't going to being
last night until after midnight, wait until people had settled in, in order
minimize civilian casualties. That was the time frame that I was going on.
And I went upstairs to my room to take a shower and I heard the air raid
sirens. And then the sirens cut off after a minute. I brushed my teeth and
waited a little bit - nothing happened for about 10 minutes so I figured
was a false alarm. Then I got into the shower. I was all lathered up and
BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM! they started bombing. I very quickly rinsed, put
on my clothes and went downstairs. Everybody had gathered in the tea
room here at the Al Fanar, and I think I was the most nervous of everybody
here. The team seemed fine. They were playing chess, people were
drinking tea, journaling. The Iraqis here were all talking and laughing.
hit a couple buildings across the river. We've heard conflicting reports.
buildings behind the Ministry of Planning, some people have said it was the
old National Assembly, others said it was the building that housed Deputy
Prime Minister Tariq Aziz's office.
"There's a little bit more military out on the street than you usually
but there is in no way an overwhelming presence. In fact when I was in
Lebanon, 3 or 4 years ago, I saw much, much more military on the streets
there. Its really kind of eerie. To look at Baghdad it does not seem to be a
nation that is at war. But I do know that things are much worse in other
"Were talking about the possibility of doing several things if there
heavy bombing. One is to do war crimes monitoring. Curtis Doebbler, who is
an international lawyer has been in touch with us and he has a sheet that he
prepared for the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] in Bosnia
to do monitoring of violations of humanitarian law. So were going to see if
were going to be able to go to hospital emergency rooms and to bombing
sites to interview people in order to provide that information to groups
are going to be looking at what the United States does here. We've also
been talking to relief agencies and if its at all possible were going to try
volunteer with them to provide direct assistance to people. And of course to
do journaling and writing and to be a presence in the city to visit with the
people that we've come to love - to be a voice in the wilderness for them.
"The group mourns what is happening to Iraq and what has been happening
the last 13 years. Its really horrendous. Hundreds of thousands of people in
this country have been killed because of greed and short-sightedness on
the part of politicians on all sides. Millions of people now are risk. And
knows what's going to happen in this war. If they do saturation bombing here
thousands of people are going to die. I don't know how many have died
already in the campaign. And I think the long-term consequences really
could be horrendous.
"So we mourn. We really do mourn for what's happening to this country.
think at the same time though, were trying to not let George Bush or Tony
Blair or Saddam Hussein depress us. You hear the phrase: life is a joy. It
should be a joy. The reason that we work so hard here in Iraq is because
that choice for life to be a joy has been taken away from so many people.
Violently taken away from them. And I don't think we can let that happen to
"It is almost impossible for me to imagine that bombings to the extent
I heard here last night and the previous morning - if they happened in
Chicago - would result in people carrying on with ordinary days. Part of it
people having been inured to warfare and its also a sign of a really
particular kind of courage and dignity within the population here. Its
very, very amazing to me.
"If Chicago was under attack - and people known to be from the attacking
country were in Chicago - it's hard for me to imagine that they'd be sitting
pleasant hotel tea room together. So when I think of Baghdad and Chicago
in that light,I love Chicago, I miss it - I think it's a city that's full of
diversity of people - but I often think: What would be happening in Chicago
what's happening here were happening there?
"I really think it is not overstating the case, because we are hearing
kind of news from all over the world, that we are approaching what would be
near critical mass for stopping war-makers. I hope with all my heart that
the Bush administration doesn't go ahead with this shock and awe. I think
that if they don't do it there probably will be more of a tapering off. If
they do it, I think that the momentum is going to be very steady and
every long day everybody puts in, it can be worth it now for a long, long
Thank you again for all that you are doing for peace.
Jeff Guntzel...and everybody at the Chicago office: Danny Muller, Bitta
Mostofi, Stephanie Schaudel, Joe Proulx, Laurie Hasbrook, Laurel Severns,
Sue Mackley, Angela Garcia, Ceylon and Amy Mooney, Heidi Holliday,
Tom Walsh, Lindsay Foreman, and Nick Savage
March 20, 2003
You will excuse me if this is somewhat disjointed.
Bombing began at 5:35am this morning and I will
attempt to tell you something of this. We don't know
for how long the Internet center will be open and the
servers up and running. So I will be thinking and
typing rapidly. We feel most fortunate that the center
is even open as the streets are almost deserted, and
stores closed. Everyone is waiting for the next wave
of assault. We had heard that the bombing would
probably begin after 4:00am. I had had a call at
2:00am from Newsweek, and Kathy Kelly was also awake
and on the phone. Being up already, we began to knock
on doors to wake folks up. "Where might the safest
place be in the hotel" we asked each other. And what
items other than the crash kit should we take? These
were not new questions, but somehow it was different
now that the hour had arrived. Those of us on the
peace team are new to this. It was and is a grace to
be together. I can't imagine going through this alone.
And I can't imagine a finer group of people to be
with. We are a mix of Iraqi and internationals in the
hotel. Some of the staff have brought their families
here, so we have children around us as well. And then
it began. The thunder of bombs and the tremors to the
building we were in. It was very strange. Some of us
were gathered in a little tea section of the
downstairs lobby which is about 15 yards away from the
glass-front of the building. Cynthia handed me a bag
of earplugs which I began to hand out to everyone
downstairs. Children and adults alike took them and
thanked me gratefully.Some of us went back and forth
to the shelter in the basement, others of us lingered
downstairs or even stepped outside now and then as the
sun was coming up. As a couple of us stood outside for
a moment wondering when the next onslaught would
begin, the call to prayer sounded outside. One Muslim
woman becan to weep quietly and another get up to
comfort her. An elderly man bent with age walked back
and forth with a cane. This CANNOT really be happening
I thought. It cannot be MY COUNTRY that is doing this.
Dear God in heaven have mercy on us. My prayers joined
with the call to prayer that was being sung even as
the bombs fell. The bombing went on sporadically in
bursts about every 15 minutes and then stopped after a
couple of hours. later that a military installation
had been hit, a special target attack, and that this
was a last minute change of strategy. Now we can
expect, beginning tonight, the "Shocik and Awe" tactic
that will be massive and non-stop. All the more reason
I am so grateful to have this unexpected window of
opportunity to write you. Or to get out to visit the
hospital this afternoon. Bettejo and I took advantage
of our friend, Waleed, the University student and taxi
driver who came by the hotel later in the morning. He
was able to take us to the Children's hospital and
then on to the nearby water treatment plant where some
of our folks have set up two tents. One is a 4-person
one for women and another 6-8 person tent for men.
This is close to the same hospital, only 5 minutes or
so by foot, and the idea is that some of the IPTers
will be able to actually stay there and walk over to
the hospital. As we walked into the hospital the image
that met us was rows of empty hospital beds made up
with white sheets and ready to receive the
soon-to-come "war casualties."On the Pediatric Cancer
unit there not a single bed occupied. It was quiet and
lifeless. Beds that should have been filled with
children needing chemothereapy were emptly. This is
because alll of the mothers, except for Adra and her 5
year old son Atarid, had taken their children home
yesterday. They were afraid they wouldn't be able to
get to their other children due to the impending
bombings. Atarid had been transfered to the neonatal
unit. Adra who has a 4 year old and 1 1/2 boy at home
could not bring herself to take Atarid out of the
hospital. "He will die if he doesn't get the
medicines" she told us. And how long will the
treatment take that he needs? I asked her. "Until he
dies," she told us. Mothers in the states can
understand what mothers suffer the world over, we
said. I must go, my time is up.
. I know you are all praying for us.