March 19, 2003
IRAQ REFLECTION: Caught
The people of Iraq are caught in a trap. Two overwhelming powers approach
from opposite sides. Like an animal in a steel trap, they gnaw at their own
leg, hoping somehow for freedom, even at the cost of a limb. They watch as
the smiling hunter approaches, singing songs of freedom, singing songs of
righteousness. They hear the words, “In God we trust,” and “God bless
The clerk looks up and welcomes me “home” with graciousness and a smile
each time I enter the hotel. Since we have arrived in Baghdad, this man
has been kind to me, patient with my inability to speak Arabic, concerned
whether I had a good day or a bad day. He has a deep and abiding sadness
in his eyes.
Tonight, he asks, “John, what do you think about this war?” I explain that I
think it is immoral and a tragedy of enormous proportions. “Why did you
come?” he asks. I tell him I want to support my Iraqi friends and stand in
opposition to my government. I came to Iraq because he is not my enemy, but
my brother. He says, “You are better even than us. We do nothing. You come
here to help. We can do nothing, do you understand?”
“My family is here in Baghdad. My father, my brothers. Do you know I go home
each night and I just sit. I only think of one thing: ‘What am I to do? War
is coming, What am I to do?’ That’s it. Tomorrow, the next day, I can do
nothing. I just sit. My brothers, my father, the same.”
I look deeply into his eyes. Days, months, years, in this trap. “Why this
war?” he asks. I cannot answer. I want to console him, but I cannot. I want
to hold him like my child, and tell him it will be all right, but it will
not be all right.
“Thank you and your friends for being here, you have good hearts”, he says.
He puts his hand over his heart–a common gesture here in Iraq. It is a
reminder for me. For a moment we stand across from each other, holding our
hearts, holding our anguish. We both begin to cry. When I can bear it no
longer, I turn and head for the lift.
The people of Iraq are caught in a trap. They watch as the smiling hunter
approaches, singing songs of freedom, and singing songs of righteousness.
Then they notice the look in the eye. The smile is not for them. The hunter
merely appreciates the prey. He is thinking he will end it quickly and go
home with his prize. The songs are not for them. In the eyes of the
approaching power freedom, democracy, and security is only for a select
group. As the prey looks up in a final plea for mercy, this truth becomes
Barber was a member of CPT’s February 1-15 delegation to Iraq.