Yesterday I took a drive around the green zone, snapping photographs like a tourist. The Crossing Swords, July 14th Bridge, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, some smiling footballers all imprinted onto my memory card and shared with the world on my blog. Today I sit pondering the images, shaken but not stirred.
Ahmed and I had popped out of the classroom this morning to have a cigarette when a huge explosion shook the ground. It was the biggest one I have heard (and I have heard a few) and rattled every porta-kabin on the whole compound and left my ears ringing for a while afterwards. We kept hold of our fags and joined three others as we did a heads-down scuttle into a bomb shelter [There is something so undignified about seeing non-sporty adults running]. We began to speculate straight away. Was it a mortar? No, too loud. Why hadn’t the alarms gone off? A car? A person? We stayed in our sweaty hole for a while (the shrapnel from a bomb can continue to land up to three minutes after an explosion).
The story quickly began to emerge from our security team and from Iraqi news channels as they sprung into action and broadcast the carnage live into our classroom. Mobiles started buzzing around the room and humorous ring tones took on a sense of the macabre – as the Iraqis I was with unravelled the whereabouts of loved ones. I tweeted a message of safety to loved ones and spoke to my husband briefly to let him know I was ok. I thought better of explaining the networking opportunities afforded by Twitter to my students – for I know in those moments I stopped being teacher and started being a good friend. Then my phone started buzzing. Other Iraqi friends checking I was safe. I was touched.
The attack was very close to the Green Zone and there were reports that “a barrage of mortars” had been fired into this supposedly safe area. We heard none however. The five coordinated bombs struck on the 6th anniversary of the bombing of the UN Headquarters. Truck bombs used again. The target – Iraqi institutions, not international ones this time. The crater left behind by one of the bombs is 10 foot deep. My friend J, although safe, was even closer than I was – in that plush Rashid Hotel I was bragging about earlier this week – now minus a few windows I’ll wager. And my favourite blogger’s home has been wrecked.
I wonder how they are over at the UN camp today? I was there last night – bizarrely committing Murder on the Dance Floor to the tunes of “I will survive” with a merry bunch from all around the world (ok…. as one would expect from the United-Nations). The UN bar (wittily named “UNdercover”) is nestled amidst sandbags and twelve foot tall Maori security guards at the heart of their compound. Their DFAC (dining room) served air-conditioned international delicacies to a bustling, lively staff. We passed neat gardens edged by white picket fences, sipping Mexican beer as we breathed in the sweet night air, it was an idyllic evening. It even crossed my mind as I starred up at the blackness, how nice it was to be outside at night in Iraq and not to be afraid of the sky as I was in Basra several years hence. Today I imagine the scene was a little more glum.
You might think that this experience would lead me to stray from my mission of recording some of the recovery here in this country. As a friend in Basra used to say (with irksome frequency) – “I remain a stubborn optimist”. No-one has stepped forward yet to claim responsibility for the worst terrorist attack for months. Speculation is flying around the city. Was it Iran? (unlikely as the Iranian Embassy was damaged). Was it “other neighbours” ? (said in a whisper). Iraqis have told me that this doesn’t have the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda attack (actually they said “thumb nail, not hallmark, which made me inappropriately smile). The mortars, the trucks, the coordination many have said means this is an inside job. Political infighting. The people behind it, some say are those in opposition to Maliki – wanting his government to fail and for Iraq not to flourish. With the election not due until maybe February, it seems a little early to be pre-election violence (unless they got the country wrong – god bless Afghanistan tomorrow as it goes to the polls).
But someone made a good point to me this afternoon. Despite many saying the infrastructure is weak, Iraq is Iraq is Iraq. No-one can take that away. Bombs go off in Spain, in London, in India and it doesn’t stop the government from operating. These bombs will only really make a difference to the poor innocent souls caught up in the nonsense. And without an ideological declaration – it’s just cold blooded murder, with no purpose.
Iraq WILL recover. Just as other countries have (Nazi Germany springing to mind here). It is full of sensitive, poetic, clever, peace-loving people. And by the power of Greyskull (and the mass media) they will overcome. These past few days have revealed to me, not just barbarism, but resilience, strength, good humour and initiative. And although I climbed the look-out tower to snap a photo of the rising plume of smoke from the bomb, I chose to illustrate this post with my favourite photo from yesterday’s photo-shoot to remind me. Take another look at all the pictures. This is Iraq.