Securing The Iraqi Homeland: The Differing Faces Of Security | General News & Politics | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Securing The Iraqi Homeland: The Differing Faces Of Security 

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 4:20 pm

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Under a blazing sun in 130 degree heat, over 10,000 Shi'ite heed the call to friday prayers and carpet the street in Sadr City.

We are led to the mosque's roof where two other journalists are perched.  Amal and I are female, so our group is not allowed below where the men have gathered.  The sight is breathtaking.  Numbering well over 10,000 strong, their prayer rugs touch edge to edge lining the wide street in front of the mosque from curb to curb and stretching out for many blocks, as far as the eye can see.  Young men carrying water tanks on their backs walk through the crowd, spraying as they go.  The women, far fewer in number, are sequestered in the inner courtyard of the mosque and are visible from one side of the roof which male journalists are not allowed access.  All of the women wear abayas; some have their entire faces covered.  Three are covered from head to toe in black and wear the bright green headband of the militia.  An Iraqi flag stands behind them.

Prayers begin and the crowd acts in unison responding to the words of the clerics.  One tells the crowd, "Your women must not leave the home, not even to go to religious school.  They must not pray to God, only to their husbands."

It is hot under the mid-day sun, unlike anything I have ever experienced.  Moving back and forth across the roof photographing, the heat rises from the ground as if it were fire itself, seeping through the thick black soles of my Chaco sandals, the only western clothing I allow myself to wear.  The sun burns the top of my feet, which have become blackened by dirt and its rays, and I find that my skirt shades my feet if turn in just the right direction.  A consistent breeze throws the furnaced heat around over my wet body - there has never been sweating like this.  Just a few seconds out in the air produces rivers of water from all pores.  I am living proof of the miracle of the body's ability to cool itself.  Reminded of time spent in sweat lodges, I concentrate on breathing in the heat deeply so as to balance the body's internal heat with the external heat.  It is a short matter of time before our frozen water bottles are liquefied and drank.

All know I am a foreigner but do not know from where.  When asked, not daring to say I am American, I respond, "Belgium."  But they all know I am a journalist and most are acutely aware of my presence - even the women in the courtyard.  As I spy through my long lens scanning the crowd, I see them - men, women, and children - look up and gaze into my eyes as if they understand the eyes of the world are on them.

Amal and I come back the following Friday without David.  It is much the same as before but we stay on the ground this time.  We are still not allowed into the men's area but I am able to photograph the front lines.  Once prayers are over the crowd quickly disperses.  Our guard keeps an eye on us as we linger, taking photos of the women emerging from the mosque and the parades of young boys in white shirts and green headbands marching through the dusty emptying street.  They chant, "Moq-ta-da.  Moq-ta-da.  We will give our lives for you Moqtada.  For Allah, we are here to serve you."  A few women approach and talk of the bombings and violence they have witnessed.  Others smile for the camera and attempt to get other women to stop and have their photo snapped as well.  I feel a sharp pain on my thigh and look down to see a boy of about 10 glaring at me.  In his hand is the thick wire that he has just struck me with.  He starts to admonish the women who shoo him away.  I stare him down.  I am in Rome, am willing to wear the hijab and be kept out of the men's area.  But violence against women will not be tolerated.

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