Letter from Baghdad: my first car bomb

 (Joe recently joined the Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq) At about 9.45am, we heard a loud explosion that shook our windows and echoed through our halls. We immediately looked at the clock to see if it was on the hour, as that is when US troops destroy unexploded ordinances. Since it wasn't, we knew it must be a car bomb. Emergency vehicles rushed passed our apartment as we headed to the roof to look for smoke. Our landlord's wife told us that it looked like the smoke was coming from Firdos Square, one of the major intersections at a bridge going across the Tigris into the Green Zone. We were planning to go through that intersection and over that bridge to the Green Zone today to meet with a UN human rights worker, and we worried we wouldn't be able to. We decided to try the visit anyway. Turns out, the car bomb targeted a military convoy on Saddone Street. We heard that seven were confirmed dead (the number always rises with time), all civilian bystanders, no military personnel. They say more than forty were injured, and the bomb entirely missed the convoy and only hit civilians. There are always more attacks when the Iraqi National Assembly is meeting. Get this, every time the Iraqi National Assembly meets, the Iraqi National Guard shuts down the major bridge connecting north and south Baghdad. Can you imagine the US military shutting down major highways every time Congress is in session? We began walking across the bridge as Iraqis are forced to, and quickly learned that it isn't closed to all traffic; military, contractors, and Iraqi National Guard (ING) vehicles whiz by, often at dangerously high speeds considering all the walkers. To get to the UN office, we had to go through six checkpoints and deal with five different security forces. We met with the one in charge of the entire UN human rights mission in Iraq. In fact, he's it. He's the ONLY representative from the UN Human Rights Commission, and one of only 100 UN workers in the entire country, which includes the Fijian security forces. This is all the workers the UN has to staff all of their projects for the entire country, including administration, construction, humanitarian aid, governance, constitution-writing, refugees, children, and lastly, human rights; and none may leave the Green Zone. The UN representative is frustrated that he's forbidden to leave, even with an armed convoy. He said he longed to live like us, or to even just go for a walk down the streets of Iraq. How is he supposed to monitor human rights in Iraq if he can't ever meet, visit, or interview Iraqis in their homes and workplaces? We decided we might as well walk home from the Green Zone because it takes so long to drive and it wouldn't be too dangerous if we stayed along the riverside. However, we were delayed as we approached the Palestine Hotel compound. Private Iraqi security guards were very confused to see us. They couldn't believe we were really internationals walking outside the Green Zone with no armour or guards. Can you believe that CPT is the only international NGO working and living in Iraqi communities? Where is the world? For more information about Christian Peacemaker Teams visit: www.cpt.org.

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