1941 - Qal'at Saleh

Moonlight, Bombs, and Palms

It was a night in May or June and they were all sleeping on the roof. Only the four years old boy was awake. The moonlight rendered the night serene and silent; all sounds were mute. Was it earlier on that night, during the day or on another night that his father related of British planes, from A-Shieaba base near Basrah, bombing Iraqi soldiers hiding in the date-palm groves around Al-Imara, not far away from where they lived.

It must have been on another day that his father told the family that many soldiers were killed during Al-Imara bombings, that one bomb ripped off the arm of an officer and tossed it up on a palm where it remained hanging. The soldiers saw the bleeding arm with the watch still attached to the wrist. "The agonizing officer murmured 'I am dying for my country'", his father said.

The British succeeded in breaking the resistance of Iraqi troops, and brought back the ousted monarchic government. "Senior government officials, officers and soldiers are leaving", his father added "They are gathering at cafes on the Iraqi bank of Shat Al-Arab waiting for boats and ferries to take them to Khoramshahr on the Iranian side, and into exile."

At that night on the roof, he didn't perceive by some sense that the dead were there, in Al-Imara, where his grandmother, aunt and uncle lived. He felt vaguely that life might come to a standstill; a danger was there and even a threat to him, undefined yet accepted as if it belonged to them all, the whole family. Certainly, the dead where there; but for him, they were somewhere else, in a remote time in the future, at remote places, where people will die in solitude within a noisy milieu; and there will be no fathers telling stories.

Published in: Iraq-L, Oct. 15, 1997