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Birthday and Bombs in Baghdad

by Jeff Guntzel Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2003 at 5:52 AM

Jeff Guntzel's latest on the ground information from Baghdad. March 23, 2003.

Dear Friends,

Tonight, as we mourn the mounting casualties on both sides of the

battle in

Iraq, I wanted to share this excerpt from a statement against war

issued by a

group of women peacemakers during World War One:

"Whoever may be the enemy, our sons are bidden to fight in the next


We know their lives will be sacrificed in vain. War settles nothing.


victory has within its womb the seeds of future war. No country is ever


in the right or wholly in the wrong. In every nation there are good

and bad.

You cannot punish the pride of an Emperor by killing numbers of his

peasants. We are not willing to go through the long months of


and labor merely to produce more cannon fodder."

One of the first U.S. casualties in Iraq was Kendall Waters-Bey, a

29-year-old Marine from Baltimore, Maryland. He died, along with 11


when his helicopter crashed near Umm Qasr.

Michelle Waters, the Marine's oldest sister, spoke to a reporter for


Baltimore Sun shortly after hearing news of her brother's death, "It's

all for

nothing, that war could have been prevented," she lamented. "Now, we're

out of a brother. [President] Bush is not out of a brother. We are."

Similar despair must grip the family members of the two dead Iraqi

soldiers I

saw in a photograph today. Their lifeless bodies were collapsed in a

trench, one soldier still gripping his white flag of surrender.

In the face of such overwhelming tragedy, we offer up an unusual story.

It is

the story of a young girl and a birthday party in Baghdad. We hope you


find some glimmer of hope in this parable of the human spirit:

"Amal Shamuri is the fifth child in a family of eight, living in a

small apartment

off Baghdad's Karrada shopping district. Irrepressible and precocious,

Amal joked last January that she wouldn't mind a war if George Bush


only bomb her school.

"Today was a different story. Today, Amal celebrated her thirteenth


on the fourth day of American air strikes on Baghdad with plumes of


smoke surrounding the city and darkening the sky, reportedly from oil


afire by Iraqi forces defending the capitol.

"Her family and friends gathered with members of the Iraq Peace Team in


small garden near the Tigris river to mark the occasion. They blew


and soap bubbles, strung party streamers, played tag, and ate barbecued

chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, and chocolate cake. True to form,


kids ate the cake first, before serving the rest of the meal to the



"Cruise missiles exploding to the south and east occasionally


the party, one powerful enough to rattle tableware and partygoers

alike. The

explosions only temporarily silenced the festivities; but with moments


garden once again erupted to squeals of laughter and boisterous


games, played beneath rising plumes of air-borne debris and smoke in



"'Life is more powerful than death,' said Shane Claiborne, age 27, from

Philadelphia. 'How can George Bush bomb these kids?,' he asked.

"Lisa Ndejuru, age 32, from Montreal, quietly remarked, 'What a day to



"Amal's mother, Kareema, sat silently to one side, watching her kids


Her husband died in a car accident eight years ago, leaving her to


eight children by herself. To her credit, none of them beg in the

streets, and

all save the oldest remain in school. Amal herself dreams of becoming a

lawyer one day.

"When asked what she wanted for her birthday, Amal - whose name means

'hope' in Arabic - smiled and simply replied, 'All I want is peace.'"

For photos of the party, visit:>

Members of the Iraq Peace Team have begun visiting hospitals in Baghdad

to interview the wounded. We hope to have something to share with you

from those visits soon.


Jeff Guntzel, for Voices in the Wilderness

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