THE LAND OF PEACE
A graveyard, too, can be a strategic asset.
Enter southern Iraq, August 2004. Then
the U.S. force in the area sought
to destroy the local, rag-tag Mahdi Army, loyal
to the Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. Which in turn
required taking control of the Najaf cemetery,
ard al-salam (“Land of Peace”)—
a dry brown expanse, a maze of two million graves,
mausoleums for the indispensable, ancestral souls that thought
they’d remain quiet, powder of bones and secrets and dialects,
wilted eyes and flowers, prayers and alms for the poor,
new tenants, silence and too much sky.
And the imperial eye locked horns with the local eye.
And the graveyard became a killing field.
And the horizon was jagged with the streaks
of missiles and premonitions. And the fighter planes
did what they were made to do, shock and awe,
and level arguments. And the soldiers startled
the bats out of their crypts. And the graves
yielded beneath the invading boots.
"Wives, daughters, husbands,"
said a sergeant from Houston, Texas,
"You just know you're destroying that tomb."
His buddy adds, “These guys really make us work
to kill them, but in the end, they're dead."
The day after— the women came and wailed
and pulled their hair under the gaze of the sun,
and men beat their chests, like holy drums.
The flat desert had no ears.
May, 2018, Moqtada Sadr’s list “Moving Forward” won the largest number of seats in Iraq’s parliamentary election.