Destruction by Design: Iraq's Unnatural Demise

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We have been frantically trying to find a safe place for him and his family to escape to. If they could go to Kurdistan they would join the ranks of the already three million IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) within Iraq. If they could get to Turkey, they might eventually get refugee status. But it is expensive there, they don’t speak the language, are not allowed to work and resettlement could take years.
Our friend emailed that his wife decided to send their second oldest son, 16 years, to her mother’s house due to kidnapping cases. “Two kids were kidnapped two days ago.” Ali, I will call the son, has exams and his grandmother’s house is closer to the school. When I stayed with this family for two weeks in 2013, one of Ali’s twelve year old friends was kidnapped and was never found.

The grandmother takes her grandson each day to school and sits against a wall under its shadow until Ali finishes his exam. She is “old and weak,” Ali’s father writes, “and honestly it is meaningless to think she could protect Ali as she can’t really protect herself. But I do appreciate her efforts.” Ali told his dad that his grandmother was causing him “too much embarrassment as she doesn’t understand the rules of the exams.” 
 
She always tries to enter the exam class to give Ali cold water because it is very hot. The first day the director of the exam allowed her to do this, but another day during the exam she tried again. This time it was not to give him water. She had cooked a rooster and told the staff that he had to eat well to do good on the exam! Ali was a little bit angry but his love for her “let him forget the embarrassing feeling!” He is “crazy in love” with his grandmother as she is the only grandparent left.

Ali was complaining to his father about the insufferable heat and lack of air cooling system, as well as the terrible mosquitoes. He uses a kerosene lamp for studying at night. The father was trying to encourage him by phone to overcome the difficulties saying: No pain, no gain. Ali responded “Dad, since we opened our eyes in this life, we have only known pain.”

Just yesterday two civilians were killed as Ali and his grandmother approached the school. This happened right in front of their eyes. His father emailed: 
 
“Ali couldn’t answer exam well as he saw the accident. Let us pray for his safety.”
 
Our friend and his wife worry excessively about their oldest boy, 18 years, as militia come to the houses seeking young men to fight ISIS, and they “will take young guys by force to do battle.” Although this son is needed to guard the house at night and help his mother, the mother felt compelled to send this son away too.

My friend concluded: “Cathy, It’s hard to sleep. Don’t worry. The family is still fine.”


Cathy Breen has represented Voices for Creative Nonviolence in many visits to Iraq. She lived in Baghdad throughout the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing and the initial weeks of the U.S. invasion. She lives and works at Maryhouse Catholic Worker in NYC.

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