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we are going to kill you
From: Marcela Gaviria · Re: Kirkuk · Date: Nov. 24, 2003

 
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Iraq's Peoples and Politics
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Introduction: A Long Road

The elevator opens onto a trail of blood: dark red beads that have not yet dried.

It is the first night of Eid, the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Actually it might be the first night of Eid. In Mosul it was. In Erbil it wasn't. In Kirkuk they don't know. Eid is celebrated just after new moon, when the first sliver of light appears in the sky. Perhaps because it's cloudy this year the moon is fickle.

I've been trying to write these dispatches, but every few paragraphs the sound of gunfire disrupts my train of thought. I find myself looking out the window more than writing. My ear is not yet trained to distinguish between an AK-47 fired at close range or one fired at a distance. The gunfire might not even be the sound of fighting, but the sound of Iraqis firing their Kalashnikovs as they celebrate the end of Ramadan.

At about 8 p.m. I hear a loud thud and get up to look out once again. I notice a glowing fire at a distance. I hadn't seen it before and wonder if it's a fresh attack or simply the slow burning of the pipeline that was blown up yesterday about an hour north of Kirkuk.

Then, a few minutes past nine, I hear an incredibly loud explosion. I race to the window and notice that a group of pigeons have been startled from their roost. The attack had to be close. I pull a pair of black pants and a jacket over my pajamas and rush over to Scott's room. "I heard it," he yells. "Meet you at the elevator in a second. Martin's down there already."

I then knock on our driver's door thinking we might have to travel a few blocks to find the site of the attack, but there is no answer. [Name withheld], our driver, must be buying pistachios and bananas at the market.

Scott and I make it to the elevator at the same time. We are silent as we ride down to the first floor, where the elevator opens onto a trail of blood: dark red beads that have not yet dried. A half-smoked cigarette has been extinguished by one of the droplets.

We turn the corner to find broken glass strewn all over the lobby and more drops of blood. The surly waiter, who hours earlier had served us rotisserie chicken on a bed of rice, is now holding a wad of cotton against his bloody face. His leg is bleeding profusely. A guard in a state of shock stands in his underwear, his legs pierced by shrapnel. Another man, perhaps a receptionist, looks like he's lost his ear. He is looking for something to stop the bleeding.

Martin is standing next to the front door assessing the damage to the building. I worry that the broken glass above him will fall on his head. I stand back as Scott walks toward him with the camera.

"Apparently a grenade has been thrown at the hotel," Martin says into the camera. "There is glass everywhere and some people are injured."

A crowd soon gathers outside. The Iraqi police have arrived on the scene, but it's chaos. We stand at the doorway trying to figure out what is happening. The police seem to be having a fight with the hotel security. We don't know what is said, but there are a lot of angry men shouting. The police seem intent on stopping us from filming. Suddenly someone fires in our direction. We run back toward the elevator as the whole glass faĦade of the hotel comes crashing down. Apparently someone shot three rounds at the entrance lights hoping to scare us back into our rooms.

[Our driver] arrives with a bag of bananas. "What happened? They told me the hotel was bombed. I went crazy."

Martin asks if anyone has cigarettes to calm his nerves. [Our driver] offers some strawberry flavored cigarettes.

The next day, an Australian newspaper reports that the offices of CARE have received a threat from a group called Islamic Resistance. The note said, "We are going to kill you and attack your places without any further notice. We are issuing this communique after we attacked the CARE office and we are letting you know that the deadline for all such places, hotels, houses, oil companies, will be the third and the last day of Eid. Otherwise these buildings will be totally destroyed."

[Editor's Note: The name of the Iraqi driver has been removed from this dispatch for security reasons.]

 

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posted february 12, 2004

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