WHILE HUNDREDS OF BOMBS POURED DOWN BAGHDAD over the weekend, an Iraqi child celebrated her birthday in a small garden party by the Tigris river.
Cruise missiles were exploding all over the city, the sky was dark with black smoke, and the tableware were rattling from the tremors but the party for Amal Shamuri, who just turned 13, went on in the midst of war.

This was the story shared by Kathy Kelly, an American who is part of the Iraqi Peace Team (IPT), to members of the Asian Peace Mission whom she met and worked with while they were in Baghdad last week.

Headed by Akbayan! party-list representative Loretta Ann Rosales, the mission was composed of civil society leaders and parliamentarians from the Philippines, Pakistan, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Kelly, along with a few dozen peace activists from all over the world have chosen to remain in the Iraqi capital to be with the Iraqi people in their hour of need, to monitor the conduct of war, and to document possible war crimes committed by the coalition forces.

Amal celebrated her birthday with her family, her friends, and members of the IPT. As though it were just another birthday party, the children played parlor games, blew balloons and soap bubbles, and ate the usual party foods such as barbecued chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, and chocolate cake.

And as what usually happens, the kids ate the cake first before the rest of the dishes could be served to the adult guests.

Greeting bombs with laughter

“The explosions only temporarily silenced the festivities,” shared the IPT members who were there. “But with moments the garden once again erupted to squeals of laughter and boisterous childhood games, played beneath rising plumes of air-borne debris and smoke in the distance.”

“Life is more powerful than death,” remarked Shane Claiborne, age 27, an IPT member from Philadelphia. “How can George Bush bomb these kids?” he asked.

The Asian Peace Mission returned from Baghdad last week warning that the Iraqi children, who constitute half of the country’s population, will suffer most from this war.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 100,000 Iraqis will be killed in the invasion; another 400,000 will die as indirect casualties. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) predicts that up to 900,000 Iraqis will be rendered refugees. Most of these casualties and refugees will be children.

Amal once joked that she wants war – but only if George Bush would bomb her school. Asked what her birthday wish is, Amal – whose name means ‘hope’ in Arabic beamed and said, “All I want is peace.”

Holes on the Ground, Shattered Windows

If they’re not ducking for cover in their hotels’ bomb shelters, members of the IPT have been driving around Baghdad, visiting their Iraqi friends’ houses, and going to hospitals.

They report seeing large and deep craters on the road as well as small homes with all of their front windows shattered from the impact of explosions.

Sick children had reportedly been evacuated from hospitals either because their parents were afraid of flying shards of glass from the hospital’s big windows or because the parents also had to go home to comfort their healthy children.

Nurses in the hospitals said that aside from treating those injured by the bomb explosions, they were also treating many of the elderly who were having cardiac problems because of the stress and trauma resulting from the bombardment.

Make Tea, Not War

Members of the IPT expressed surprise that they could even walk around freely in “enemy” territory.

“If the United States were being bombed by a foreign country,” asked Bettejo Passalaqua, “what chance do you think there would be that those of the aggressing nation would be allowed to walk around so freely and made so welcome?”

On their way back to the hotel, Wade Hudson recounts how they passed by two groups of soldiers who initially eyed them suspiciously. But the IPT members wished them peace and the soldiers smiled back sincerely.

“If Chicago was under attack – and people known to be from the attacking country were in Chicago – it’s hard for me to imagine that they’d be sitting in a pleasant hotel tea room together,” noted Kelly.

“So when I think of Baghdad and Chicago in that light, I love Chicago, I miss it – I think it’s a city that’s full of a terrific diversity of people – but I often think: What would be happening in Chicago if
what’s happening here were happening there?”

Kelly also thanked the Asian Peace Mission for coming to Baghdad. “On behalf of Iraq Peace Team members here in Baghdad, I want to thank you for coming here with your persuasive message,” Kelly wrote. “Your tenacity and commitment will undoubtedly help invigorate numerous groups to sustain nonviolent resistance to the cruel days ahead.”