I arose at 2.30am after a reasonable night's sleep about four and a half hours with an interlude of heavy bombing around midnight. It was, in my book, some of the most dangerous we have encountered because they kept operating throughout a ferocious dust storm and the bombs could have, and probably did, land anywhere.
The dust storms here have to be experienced to be believed. The post dust storm scene in front of me can be described as a snow scene in dust. The cars are covered with so much dust that that the windows and body merge together to make a shape rather than a vehicle. The closest parallel is the after effects of a volcanic eruption. The difference is that these storms occur with monotonous regularity at this time of the year. They are whipped up by a screaming wind off the desert and at times visibility is reduced to a few metres. At other time the sun reflects off the dust particles and it results in a surrealist type landscape.
Yesterday as we drove through the eerie lighting to see a farmhouse that had been demolished by a rocket, I commented that it would make good footage for a film entitled "The Last Days". Along with the dust was mixed a thick black smoke from deliberately lit oil fires around the perimeter of Baghdad. The theory is that the carbon molecules affect the passage of laser beams and so affect the accuracy of laser guided rockets which is cold comfort for those among whom the rocket lands! This to me highlights the rational irrationality of war. Stupidity is after all a rational process. The demolished farmhouse we visited, whose fault was it? Was it those who fired the rocket or those who lit the oil fires? Neither as far as I am concerned. The fault for me lies fairly and squarely with the mythmakers in the Administration the group of old men whose collective perspicacity wouldn't cover a pinhead and who never have experienced the horrors of war. Where you stand does determine what you see. Every viewpoint is from a point of view, and this is the advantage of being here. You don't see it on a television screen. You see it with your own eyes and the smell lingers in your nostrils. To most people this will be a war without death. To those of us who are here the sight and smell of it will never leave us.
It must not be thought, however, that the Peace Team is simply about on-site reporting. There are all too many of those kind of reporters around. Their task is to report what they see so that their corporate masters can decide what others should see. With a few exceptions (and I would include the Australian Broadcasting Commission in this category) they are interested only in sound bites and superficial selective reporting. It is left to the "little ones" like Voices in the Wilderness and the Iraq Peace Team to report it as it is. War remains for us the prime cause of human suffering, not only in acts done but in budgets spent. The initial cost of waging this war was set yesterday at seventy four billion dollars and this is the down payment. We see war as stupid. There is nothing on this planet that does more to create human misery than war.
But back to yesterday! We learned of the bombing of the farmhouse from the hospital that one of our groups had visited. Our aim in going to the hospital was not to get some quick pictures and a few details. It was to offer comfort and to apologise on behalf of the compassionate ones within our aggressive society back home. The father of one child remonstrated with us: "In the name of democracy you kill and injure our children!" All we could say, all anyone could say, was "I am sorry," and in our eyes there would be the hope of reconciliation. In the casualty department, as the medico in our team observed the carnage, the staff vented their anger against her and understandably so. "See what your country is doing to our people!" Through the visits we learned that three families had been decimated in a farmhouse on the outskirts of Baghdad. Two families (one of them seven day newly weds) left Baghdad to seek safety with the household of Ajmi Abdullah Ahmed. On the eighth day of her marriage, the newly wed wife was dead along with two others. Another eight were severely injured. Yesterday we went to see the destroyed house, located in an idyllic farmyard setting. I took some photos of the ghastly damage. They show a hole punched through eight inches of reinforced concrete, the reinforcing bars snaking into a twisted scene of anguish. I also took a photo of the second story concrete roof sandwiched on the floor below. Out of the edge protruded a piece of carpet. While others of the team talked to the locals and absorbed their anger, I scoured the ruins for what I was after. Eventually, I found it under some rubble - a piece of the offending rocket which when analysed would identify its origin. As a lawyer, I am well aware that one piece of hard evidence is worth all the words in the world. That afternoon I was interviewed by a commercial radio station back in Perth. I mentioned the visits to the hospital and farm house and the presenter asked, "How can you be sure that the injuries were caused by the bombing?" I sighed and patiently tried to state the facts again, but in my heart of hearts I know that "there are none so blind as those who will not see." This was the same guy who at the end of a previous interview asked his talk back audience: "Is this guy for real or is he a traitor?" Sometimes I wonder whether the effort is worth it. At other times I recognise that our society is manipulated and massaged by commercial radio and hope springs eternal once again.
It is now 4.55am and bombs are dropping in the vicinity. They are probably making the most of a relatively clear sky. My reaction to the last one was simply "That's a big one." No great surprise or anxiety just a judgment as to size. As I have said so many times before, the ability of the human body and persona to adapt is really amazing. The fact that B52s are overhead does, however, cause me concern as I think of the thousands of Iraqi soldiers being carpet bombed into oblivion.
The candle I use for my time of contemplation slowly burned itself out this morning. Not an omen, I hope!
Neville Watson is an ordained Methodist Minister and a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Western Australia. He is currently in Iraq with the Voices in the Wilderness' (www.vitw.org) Iraq Peace Team (www.iraqpeaceteam.org), a group of international peaceworkers pledging to remain in Iraq through a US bombing and invasion, in order to be a voice for the Iraqi people in the West. The Iraq Peace Team can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org