Remembering the Amariyah Shelter Massacre in Iraq

by Art Laffin, Teacher of Peace
 
Today marks the 26th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of the Amariyah Shelter in Iraq. There is no indication that the U.S. government and military will ever repent for this unspeakable war crime. And it is unlikely few, if any religious, political or military leader, will ever decry this mortal sin! But on this day the people of Amariyah and Iraq remember and continue to mourn and grieve, and still ask why? 
 
Today’s reading from the Book of Genesis recounts the story of Cain killing his brother Abel. When the Lord confronts Cain about what he had done, the Lord declares: “Listen: your brother’s blood cries out from the soil!” (GN 4:1-15) Yes, today the blood of far too many Iraqi’s cry out from the soil! Jesus reminds his followers–then and now–of the command: “Thou shall not kill!” “Love one another.”  
God forgive the U.S. for defying these divine commands. Let us pray that our nation will truly repent for this crime, part of a much larger crime of 26 years of U.S. war-making in Iraq, which has resulted in over several million Iraqi deaths from bombings and sanctions, social upheaval, over four million refugees, immeasurable trauma for an entire society, political instability, and a seemingly endless cycle of violence. All of these factors have served to create the conditions for the rise of the Islamic State. Every effort must be made to resist U.S. plans to continue the cycle of violence by waging war against ISIS. If there is any hope to make true peace with Iraq, the U.S. must express forgiveness and make reparations to the Iraqi people for its war-making, withdraw all troops, CIA and private contractors from Iraq, and seek a path of genuine dialogue and diplomacy. 
 
Early this morning, I held a sign at the weekly Dorothy Day Catholic Worker-sponsored Pentagon peace vigil, calling on Pentagon workers streaming into the center of warmaking on our planet to remember and repent for the war crime of Amariyah.  In the name of all victims, we continue to call for the abolition of war and all weapons of war, including killer drones and nuclear weapons, for an end to all U.S. military intervention worldwide, as well as for an end to torture, racial hatred and violence, and all forms of oppression as we seek to create the Beloved Community.
 
The following was written by Art Laffin during his visit to the Amariyah Shelter in Iraq on Feb. 13, 1998, the 7th anniversary of the bombing. Art went to Iraq with a Voices in the Wilderness delegation.

Amariyah
by Art Laffin

February 13, 1991, 4:00 a.m.

Over 1,000 Iraqis, mostly women and children still sleeping, take refuge from the terror of U.S. bombs at a shelter in Amariyah, just outside Baghdad.
For several days a surveillance plane had flown over the shelter. U.S. officials say they think Saddam Hussein is there. The U.S. military knows different. A decision is made in secret by President George Bush, Defense (War) Secretary Dick Cheney and General Colin Powell — bomb the shelter, massacre the innocents!
First one “smart” bomb is dropped to make an opening in the roof, killing scores of people.
Then, through the opening, another bomb falls, reaching deep into the shelter basement, killing everyone in its path.
In total, nearly a thousand Iraqis are murdered, women and children burned alive. No more than 17 survive.
I see flesh still seared on a wall under the basement stairway. People, reduced to mere shadows, form a human silhouette on the stone wall.
A replay of Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Vietnam, El Salvador, Panama.
The crime, premeditated and barbarous.
The sin, mortal.
The perpetrators unrepentant!
Seven years later, eight peacemakers from the U.S. and the U.K. come to pay homage to the victims at this shelter,
turned inferno,
turned shrine.
Photos and drawings of the dead adorn the walls of the shelter.
We repent, we mourn, we witness
the ongoing nightmare of the survivors.
We eight do what we can –
to console the mourners,
offering love and solidarity to the Iraqi people, already crucified to a cross of economic sanctions.
We stand with the victims, the children, seeking to stay the death-dealing hand of the U.S. empire.

2 responses to “Remembering the Amariyah Shelter Massacre in Iraq

  1. Thanks to Art Laffin for reminding us of this horror. Americans don’t like to hear or read of our atrocities. This month is Black History Month and thankfully, many quotes of Martin Luther King fill news journals and are in students text books, easily memorized by kids. Yet, MLK’s most striking quote of our violent American culture is often omitted: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world. My own government. I cannot be silent.”
    Are teachers silent about this perhaps most important quote?
    We need to teach as MLK did and as Art Laffin does….we are a violent society…when will we ever learn…when will we teach our children the truth?

  2. As an Iraqi immigrant and American citizen, I have watched what was my country of birth be decimated by my countries ignorance and arrogance. Not only have we lay waste to over a million people. We have destroyed their families, buildings, jobs, and if I can say, most importantly their culture. A culture that took a thousand years to develop has been removed from the hearts and memories of the survivors. Thank you for this tribute to them and to also remind us Americans of our lost morality.

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