Hania: one woman's story from Baghdad

 Jane MacKay Wright, a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, has sent this personal account from Baghdad. Hania wants the US military to return her car. She has six children and needs to get into town. There are many chores to be done. Hania is alone now with the children. At night she shuts the door and hopes that morning will come quickly and without incident. Her husband Kamil was taken away, handcuffed and hooded, by US soldiers in the dark rainy night of December 16, 2003. Her fervent hope is to open the door and see him again. The slow brown Tigris river lined with sprays of tall, reedy grass runs alongside the farm community of Abu Sifa, located outside of Balad, a city of 90,000 fifty miles north of Baghdad. Lush citrus groves, with several varieties of oranges, grapefruits and both sweet and sour lemons extend behind the collection of beige brick homes. Abu Sifa is a community of sisters and brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts and at least thirty children. Some of the men are lawyers, some police, and some teachers. Most are farmers. Mohammed, Hania's cousin and one of only two men left living in the area, describes the December 16 raid. At 2am, the villagers were wakened and their homes surrounded by military vehicles. Helicopters roared overhead while tanks chewed up the fields and destroyed fences. Soldiers kicked in the doors of houses and bedrooms, and herded people outside as they conducted their searches. About twelve heavily armed soldiers circled Hania's home. They gathered the men together and beat them. A soldier asked Hania for the key to her car and broke her finger when she refused. Her 70 year-old uncle suffocated and died when soldiers put a plastic bag down over his head. Another old man's glasses were smashed, leaving him helpless. The equivalent of $17,000 in dinars was taken by the soldiers. The children were in shock. On December 31, US soldiers returned. They told everyone to get out of a two-story brick home and blasted massive holes in its front wall. A tank crushed the car parked in the yard. Two days later, US soldiers positioned a tank in a farm lane and shelled a one-story farmhouse. The building was punched with holes and the interior walls sprayed with bullets. A brick outhouse was flattened. According to Mohammed, one US soldier said: "We will make this area like the land of the moon, so it will be no good for planting." US Colonel Nate Sassaman, the area military commander, says the December 16 raid on Abu Sifa was justified. "When Saddam Hussein was arrested he was found with documents linking him directly to Kais Hattam [a high-ranking Baath official from Tikrit known to be in the area]. We found a weapons cache and 1.9 million dollars." Sassaman says his command only acts on intelligence from several sources. "We aren't rookies, and national security is at stake." Mohammed says: "Because of this one man, the US detained 83 men, including three children and 15 secondary school teachers. They warned us to give them all the weapons we had and to give them the factories for the weapons. But you know this is an agricultural area so we have no factories." The community did not resist the US raids. Hania wants to see her husband who is now in Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad. She went twice to visit him and twice was refused permission. No one gave Hania any reason why she could not visit her husband. Each time she returned home crying. The 14, 15 and 16 year-olds being held in Baghdad's Al Karkh prison are the only detainees who have been allowed visitors. Only two family members have been allowed to visit the children and they were required to stand a distance of 10 metres away from them. Hania asks, can we not help her get her husband released? He has no charges against him. He is a lawyer and a member of Balad's Organization for Human Rights. He is a respected member of the community. And she needs her car. Christian Peacemaker Teams are an initiative of the historic peace churches (Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Quakers) with support and membership from Catholic and Protestant churches.

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