American mothers of war dead find solace in embrace of Iraq's grieving women
SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq – SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq (AP) — Nine American mothers whose children died fighting in Iraq were embraced Sunday by dozens of Iraqi women who lost their own children during decades of war and violence in a meeting participants said brought them a measure of peace.
The gathering in Iraq's mostly peaceful northern Kurdish region was far from the sites of the roadside bombings or battlefields that accounted for the vast majority of the more than 4,400 U.S. military deaths since the 2003 invasion, but it was still a powerful experience for some mothers to even step foot in Iraq.
Some kissed the ground during their arrival Saturday.
"I was overwhelmed at touch down. We were really on the ground in Iraq. I was almost in disbelief that it was real. This is where my son spent the last days of his life, and now, I was there," said a blog entry by Amy Galvez of Salt Lake City, whose son, Cpl. Adam Galvez, was killed in 2006.
In another web post she said she would return home a "different person."
"I will be in the country where my son spent the last days of his life," she wrote. "I'll have visited the land where a piece of my heart will remain forever."
The beginning of the Americans' three-day trip — organized by a Virginia-based women's aid group, Families United Toward Universal Respect — was attended by officials from State Department and Kurdish regional government.
Nawal Akhil, deputy chief of the group's Baghdad office, said the goal was to "talk about their suffering to find a way to ease it."
"We share the same ordeals and suffering — the American mothers who lost their children and the Iraqi mothers who lost their loved ones during the Saddam Hussein-era and in the violence since 2003," said Akhil.
Elaine Johnson, of Cordova, South Carolina, said the trip allowed her to come to terms with the loss of her son, Spc. Darius Jennings, killed in November 2003 in Fallujah as the insurgency that went on to rip the country apart gained strength.
"Before making this trip, I was angry for my child's death," she said. "But after making this trip, I feel peace, peace, peace."
The dozens of Iraqi mothers included Kurds whose family members were killed in Saddam's 1980s scorched-earth campaign to wipe out a Kurdish rebellion in the north that claimed at least 100,000 lives, including thousands in poison gas attacks.
"When I hugged an American woman we couldn't express ourselves in words, but what helped us to express our feelings and understand each other were our tears. We found them as a true expression to our grief and suffering," said Peroz Nasser, a 55-year-old Kurdish woman who lost her parents and two brothers and two sisters during Saddam's attacks.
While the mothers met in northern Iraq, other parts of the country were hit by violence as insurgents attempt to regain lost footholds near Baghdad and continue to pursue an ongoing campaign against public servants in effort to undermine government institutions.
Near the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, a car packed with explosives blew up, killing four policemen including a lieutenant colonel, Iraqi officials said.
In Baghdad, militants flagged down the car of an employee of the country's anti-corruption commission and shot him dead. A Culture Ministry employee died of wounds in a separate shooting.
Later, an Iraqi police captain and an army brigadier general were killed in separate Baghdad shootings by assailants using weapons fitted with silencers, officials said.
Another blast killed a passer-by and wounded seven others in Baghdad's mixed Sunni-Shiite Karradah neighborhood. Officials said the bomb appeared to be targeting a police patrol.
In the northern city of Mosul, gunman killed two brothers in a drive-by shooting, police officials said. The motive for the attack was not immediately known.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
Iraqi and U.S. officials fear that insurgents are trying to exploit the political vacuum in the wake of inconclusive March elections in an attempt to re-ignite sectarian tensions.
Associated Press Writers Hamid Ahmed and Lara Jakes in Baghdad contributed to this report.