Iraqis fall silent to honor victims of recent bombings
Baghdad, Iraq ? Iraqis fell silent at noon Wednesday, but the mothers could not.
Motorists stopped their cars. Merchants left their shops. Police and citizens, children and adults, saluted the flag and bowed their heads for three minutes to honor the victims of suicide bombings last week, the country’s first such memorial.
In one Baghdad neighborhood, wails and sobs broke the quiet. Black-veiled women burst out with grief as they crouched around a circle of silk flowers and framed photos – a makeshift shrine marking the site of a car bomb that killed 27 Iraqis, 18 of them teenagers and children.
“Ali, come back home. He is still here. Come back home,” one woman cried. Another mother scooped dirt from the ground and poured it over her face and head.
The Iraqi government called for the nationwide moment of silence to remember the Iraqis and one American soldier killed July 13 in Baghdad and the nearly 100 people killed last Saturday in a massive bombing in Musayyib, 40 miles to the north.
Participation around the country was sporadic. Some people ignored the call, saying it was a futile gesture that would never stop Iraq’s violence. Just three hours before the memorial, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside an army recruiting center in central Baghdad, killing at least 10 people, police said.
Yet for many Iraqis, the silence was a small but symbolic step aimed at telling the world they oppose terrorism.
“To me, participation in the three-minute silence is like taking part in last January’s elections – challenging the terrorists,” said Sheik Jalal al-Saghir, a prominent Shiite cleric in Baghdad.
“They are spreading fear and, in response, we said today `You are threatening to kill me and I am telling you here I am. Come and kill me.”‘
Last Wednesday’s Baghdad bomb exploded in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood near U.S. troops giving candy to children. At the scene, grieving parents and friends gathered to weep and call out the names of the victims. A small impromptu shrine of silk flowers and framed photos marked the spot.
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose staff stood at attention during the memorial, said the moment honored the “innocent victims who gave their souls to show the oppression Iraq’s people were living under now.”
“Let the entire world see and hear who is standing behind these acts, who wants to kill childhood, to kill innocents and worshippers,” he said. “These crimes will encourage our people to keep persevering in their march until the end.”
Some Iraqis found the memorial pointless.
“I didn’t follow this moment of silence, not because I ignored those who were killed but because I don’t believe that this moment of silence will do anything for this tragedy,” said Amer Kudhair, 32, a supermarket owner in Baghdad’s busy commercial district of Karradah.
Traffic and pedestrian movement stopped along the main streets of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city. Some people recited Quranic verses while uniformed police and government employees were silent.
Traffic also stopped in the main square of the northern city of Kirkuk.
But there was no ceremony in the country’s third largest city, Mosul. The deputy provincial governor, Khisru Goran, said officials there had not been told of the moment of silence. He said the north had suffered more than its own share of violence – without any official commemoration for the victims.
“Why is there no three minutes of silence for them? Why just in Musayyib?” he asked. “There are a lot of crimes in Iraq. If we stand silent for three minutes for each one, there will come a day where we will stand for hours.”
Back in Baghdad, Nidras Hassan, 27, a mobile phone shop owner, said he had also not heard about the memorial, although it was announced in advance in newspapers and on state television.
“I didn’t hear about this moment of silence because I don’t follow the news in Iraq. I have to feed my family,” he said. “It’s a hopeless case in Iraq, and we can’t do anything. We just pray to God to put an end to our suffering.”