[Last update: 21 March 2003]

Report by Cathy Breens 20 March 2003

Dear Friends,

You will excuse me if this is somewhat disjointed. Bombing began at 5:35am this morning and I will attempt to tell you something of this. We don't know for how long the Internet center will be open and the servers up and running. So I will be thinking and typing rapidly.

We feel most fortunate that the center is even open as the streets are almost deserted, and stores closed. Everyone is waiting for the next wave of assault. We had heard that the bombing would probably begin after 4:00am. I had had a call at 2:00am from Newsweek, and Kathy Kelly was also awake and on the phone. Being up already, we began to knock on doors to wake folks up. "Where might the safest place be in the hotel" we asked each other. And what items other than the crash kit should we take?

These were not new questions, but somehow it was different now that the hour had arrived. Those of us on the peace team are new to this. It was and is a grace to be together. I can't imagine going through this alone. And I can't imagine a finer group of people to be with. We are a mix of Iraqi and internationals in the hotel. Some of the staff have brought their families here, so we have children around us as well. And then it began. The thunder of bombs and the tremors to the building we were in. It was very strange.

Some of us were gathered in a little tea section of the downstairs lobby which is about 15 yards away from the glass-front of the building. Cynthia handed me a bag of earplugs which I began to hand out to everyone downstairs. Children and adults alike took them and thanked me gratefully. Some of us went back and forth to the shelter in the basement, others of us lingered downstairs or even stepped outside now and then as the sun was coming up. As a couple of us stood outside for a moment wondering when the next onslaught would begin, the call to prayer sounded outside.

One Muslim woman began to weep quietly and another get up to comfort her. An elderly man bent with age walked back and forth with a cane. This CANNOT really be happening I thought. It cannot be MY COUNTRY that is doing this. Dear God in heaven have mercy on us. My prayers joined with the call to prayer that was being sung even as the bombs fell. The bombing went on sporadically in bursts about every 15 minutes and then stopped after a couple of hours. We heard later that a military installation had been hit, a special target attack, and that this was a last minute change of strategy.

Now we can expect, beginning tonight, the "Shock and Awe" tactic that will be massive and non-stop. All the more reason I am so grateful to have this unexpected window of opportunity to write you. Or to get out to visit the hospital this afternoon. Bettejo and I took advantage of our friend, Waleed, the University student and taxi driver who came by the hotel later in the morning.

He was able to take us to the Children's hospital and then on to the nearby water treatment plant where some of our folks have set up two tents. One is a 4-person one for women and another 6-8 person tent for men. This is close to the same hospital, only 5 minutes or so by foot, and the idea is that some of the IPTers will be able to actually stay there and walk over to the hospital.

As we walked into the hospital the image that met us was rows of empty hospital beds made up with white sheets and ready to receive the soon-to-come "war casualties."

On the Pediatric Cancer unit there not a single bed occupied. It was quiet and lifeless. Beds that should have been filled with children needing chemothereapy were emptly. This is because all of the mothers, except for Adra and her 5 year old son Atarid, had taken their children home yesterday. They were afraid they wouldn't be able to get to their other children due to the impending bombings. Atarid had been transfered to the neonatal unit. Adra who has a 4 year old and 1 1/2 boy at home could not bring herself to take Atarid out of the hospital. "He will die if he doesn't get the medicines" she told us. And how long will the treatment take that he needs? I asked her. "Until he dies," she told us.

Mothers in the states can understand what mothers suffer the world over, we said. She agreed to have us take her picture with Adra. And I will include it with this letter. Facinated by the camera which played back the photos, Adra became animated and distracted, and for the first time he was a captivated audience taking pictures himself of ourselves and his mother!

I must go, my time is up. I know you are all praying for us.


I sent you a picture yesterday of Kariima and myself and one of the Kariima's twin daughters, Duah and Hebe. Aren't they beautiful. Today I send you one of Adra and Atarid and one of the empty hospital beds awaiting the wounded. May these photos bring these realities close to those you know

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