Excerpted from Americans Travel to Iraq: “Your Visit Changes Everything”
- February 22, 2001
by Kristine Swenson
They heard we were coming the day before. We rode through the countryside on dirt roads, soaking in the beauty of the fields and palm trees through the windows on the bus, escorted by an entourage of vehicles carrying soldiers and government officials. As we entered the village, curious faces turned toward us, following us with their expressionless eyes, and then their bodies.
Mark and I were invited to enter the one-room home, dark on this day as the electricity was out, to meet other members of the family. They told us their story…
|Omran Harbi Jawair,
a thirteen year old
killed last May
when American planes
bombed his herd of sheep
in the southern no-fly zone
On May 17, 2000, eight boys were harvesting rice in the field next to their village. An old small tractor was churning the ground, loosening the grains, tempting a flock of sheep to follow its tracks. Two boys were in charge of herding them back to the edge of the field. This was their world - the field, the sheep, the rice, and each other. At 11 a.m., everything changed. From the sky, a bomb dropped from a United States warplane into their midst. Omran, Falah’s 13-year old brother, was facing the place of impact, a few feet away. He was killed instantly. Shrapnel hit five of his friends, two of them remember nothing other than waking up in a hospital hours later. Thirty of their sheep were killed.
We asked to speak with Omran’s mother, and a young woman pulled a straw mat and pillows from the shelf for us to sit on the floor. The three of us faced each other, with a photograph of Omran on the ground in front of us. His mother placed her hand on her heart and explained that since Omran’s death, her heart was filled with pain, and she could no longer speak. Then she picked up the photo of Omran, kissed it, and gave it to us to keep.
It was her only photograph of her son.
As we emerged from the dark mud walls of the home into the courtyard, the crowd of villagers gathered together suddenly pointed to the sky. I could hear a distant roar, and my eyes found the outline of a U.S. warplane flying overhead. They told us this happened every day.
Mark and I followed about a dozen men and boys from the village across a narrow foot-bridge over an irrigation canal, and 500 meters further into the field, now planted with barley. They pointed to the exact spot where the missile had landed, saying there were no visible pieces of the bomb, as everything had been tilled into the ground with the new crop. Across the field, we could see another herd of sheep being tended by a group of boys. Falah and the others said the same field was bombed just weeks after Omran’s death, and they gestured to the surrounding fields, saying the bombs have continued to drop periodically throughout the area. In a neighboring village, two parents and six children were killed as they walked across a road.
As we walked back into the village, looking back at the green fields, it was obvious that there were no military installations and no anti-aircraft facilities in this place. The planes flying overhead have the technology to differentiate between a goat and a human being from 30 miles away. This place was not a threat. These people were not our enemies. This tragedy was not an accident.
Kristine Swenson is a student at the University of Seattle who was a delegate on the Conscience International trip to Iraq this past January.