Commentary: Baghdad, Free Iraq

By Ken Joseph Jr.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, January 18, 2004 -- It is a regular Sunday morning in Baghdad. - just minutes ago. We were all getting ready for Church when there was a sudden `boom` and our whole house shook and glass began flying all over the place.

We immediately ran downstairs to check on the children and they were all ok but the first floor was even worse with pieces of the building everywhere.

Looking outside we could see the flames and heavy, black smoke rising up from the front entrance to the CPA - Coalition Provisional Authority.

We check and everybody is ok. The kids were a bit scared but otherwise fine.

Looking outside the street is suddenly full of people - all the neighbors trying to see what happened and one lone American tank blocking the road with two very scared American soldiers frantically talking on their radios

We hear loud shooting and the flames continue. Then the sound of ambulances, fire engines and the Iraqi police begin to arrive to find out what has happened.

A speaker blares $1500 for any information on the bombing` and a sheet is passed around urging Iraqis to turn in whoever did it

We go to the roof of our house and can see the situation better now. There has been a car bombing. Apparently one vehicle and a large number of injuries and deaths from those waiting to go into the headquarters to work.

Who did it? `Bin Ladin` they all say. Nobody knows, but clearly people are embarassed as they so desperately want Iraq to get back to normalcy.

The crow grows, the Americans in the tank get very, very edgy but then the Iraqi police begin to get things back and cordon off the area `Go home. Everything is over!` they say and finally the media begin to arrive.

Us? We check the house. Suddenly the electricity kicks in again - just as we are ready to leave this time almost as if the bombing got the lines working again and wading through the broken glass and pieces of wood and walls carrying kids and bags out the door and down the steps to our car to - a bit later than usual - but to Church!

As an Assyrian, the Assyrians are the original people of Iraq - remember Jonah and the whale and Nineveh? Nineveh is Mosul and the Assyrians we are still around - all six million of us - 2.5 million in Iraq and 3.5 outside.

We are resilient people! The first to repent of our sins when Jonah showed up, then the first to repent again at the message of Jesus to become the first Christian Nation and then nearly wiped out in the 1919 Assyrian Massacre where we lost nearly 2/3 of our people and the the long suffering under Sadaam.

The bombing that happened just now illustrates the life of the Assyrians and the Iraqis in general. While the world panics at a bombing or shooting they go on with their lives.

A bit later than usual, a bit harried as the streets are crowded but none the worse for the wear. After all my Uncle says `We have been in war for the past 35 years. A bombing, a shooting - we are used to it! The world makes it news - to us it is every day.`

But in spite of the bombing an similar ones - people are quick to say it is the first since November - things are looking up in Iraq.

The stores are full, it is a daily traffic jam, day and night, cellphones are now on sale, school is in full session and the strong, hardy, resilient Assyrians and their cousins the Iraqis finally have a future.

No problems in Iraq you ask? I am reminded of the day in a meeting in the Coalition Provisional Authority offices when a British lady went on and on and on about all that wasnt working in Iraq from the Electricity to the water and more.

After she sat down one of the Iraqi men stood up and said `With all due respect, Maam, all of those things you mentioned didnt work before the war either!`

No problems, are you sure? Well, yes there is one. A big one.

The current plan is to hand over the government on June 30. The original plan called for a handover after a constitution had been written, elections held and a government in place.

The purpose of the bomb minutes ago was to wreck the future for the Iraqis.

Is it time to pull out? To throw in the towel? To cut and run? No way!

If there is a problem it is handing over power too early. Speaking to US Officials it is clear they expect a civil war and chaos if the schedule goes forward as planned.

The best advice from the ground from one with no illusions that everything is fine - after all I just survived a bombing - it is `stay the course`.

Don`t give in to terror! Exactly what the terrorists wanted this morning was precisely what we must not do. The best way to honor those who died minutes ago and the thousands that have given their lives so far is to ensure that Iraq succeeds and can serve as an example to the rest of the Middle East and the world that Democracy, freedom, the rule of law is possible in the Middle East and that people are created equal and all deserve to be free.

Keep to the original plan - a secular, democratic constitution with local autonomy, free and fair elections, a sitting parliament - then and only then as we did in Japan a half century ago when my Parents came to help rebuild postwar Japan - can Iraq succeed and truly be the shining example of freedom and the rule of law that it was intended to be when it was the cradle of civilization as the Assyrian Empire.

The Assyrians? The Iraqis? They are just fine! It is fully 15 minutes after we have left home - halfway to Church when one of the children finally cries - just a bit!

Even the Children of Iraq are strong. The Assyrians, the original people of Iraq deserve their autonomy, the Iraqis deserve their freedom and a chance to be great once again.

Stay the course! Cancel the July 1 handover as the people want and together help the Iraqi people rebuild their country destroyed by 35 years of terror.

Rev. Ken Joseph Jr. directs and is writing a book about his experience in Iraq entitled `I Was Wrong`

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