LETTER FROM IRAQ:

Words from an Iraqi Just Before the Attack

by Ellen Barfield

Ellen Barfield and Iraqi friend
Abdullah Al-Samaraie of Baghdad, Iraq and Ellen Barfield of Hampden, Baltimore City, Maryland, USA, during more peaceful times in Iraq.

Monday, March 17, just two days before the attack began on Iraq, I received a card from one of my friends in Baghdad. His name is Abdullah Al-Samaraie, and he works at the Andalus Hotel and Apartments, where I stayed for much of the five weeks I spent in Iraq in December and January with the Iraq Peace Team of Voices in the Wilderness.

Abdullah has a degree in Animal Science, the same degree I have. He would much rather be running a chicken farm, but in the destroyed civilian economy of Iraq under sanctions, he must take any job he can find.

Abdullah is one of two people I met in Iraq who expressed their sentiments of nonviolence to me. He and I were running around the Andalus one day moving things between rooms after one of the temporary delegations the Iraq Peace Team helped coordinate had left. While we waited for the slow elevator, somehow we got to chatting about US films, particularly cowboy films.

Abdullah gestured to his head to indicate the hats, his feet to indicate the boots, and then his hips to indicate the six-shooters. I grimaced and said I didn't like guns, and he said, "Yes, guns make people stupid." Then he told me his military history.

He had served during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980's, and was still in the military in 1991. His unit had been in Basra in the south in late 1990, but was moved to Baghdad before the Coalition attack on Iraq in January 1991. His voice expressed profound relief that he had never had to shoot, or be shot at.

The day I left Iraq I wanted to say goodbye to Abdullah, but he was late arriving for his shift at the Andalus, and I had to leave a bit earlier than I had told him, so I missed him. He had promised to write me with his new P.O. Box.

I here exactly transcribe Abdullah's note to me:

Baghdad in 27-2-2003

Dear Ellen,

Best wishes with love and asking forever about you and your good health, I wish to you nice times and good days. I am very sorry and please forgive me for the late in writing because I'm right now have the new p.o. Box and here the address:

Iraq-Baghdad
Alwiya p.o. Box xxxx (I omit the number to protect his privacy.)

I'm so sorry again because I never seen you before leaving and I have your lovely nice cart with words, I think in you all time so I miss your lovly smile. Please my dear send for me fotos with your words and I hope to see you again. I shall send to you in next letter with Iraqi magazin that you have interviwe with named Alef-Ba'a, my regards and love to you and you dearest husband, be safe and well.

love,
Abdullah

It is just heart-wrending that he asked after my welfare and never mentioned his own, and told me to be safe and well. I phoned the hotel Tuesday morning and got through, but he had not arrived for his shift yet. I tried later that day and got repeated busy signals. Since the attack has begun, I understand from the Voices in the Wilderness office in Chicago that the telephone land lines are still functioning at times, so I will try again to call him.

I made so many good friends in Iraq on this trip, since I was able to sit still and just live there, instead of always dashing from meeting to meeting as delegations do. I am so sickened with worry for my friends, and shame for what my government is doing.


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This story was published on April 5, 2003.