Damn Rocket …

By Ehsan Sharifi

December 26: Camp Liberty under missile attack by Iraqi forces for the fourth time in 2013
December 26: Camp Liberty under missile attack by Iraqi forces for the fourth time in 2013

The evening was still warm and the sun, which had shined through the day, was beginning to lose strength. The white trailers in Camp Liberty, Baghdad, Iraq started to cool down. For those who ignore the political pages in a newspaper, I have to add that this camp is “home” to nearly 2,800 Iranian dissidents. We used to live in Camp Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad, but thanks to the “commitments” of the U.S. administration and the U.N., we voluntarily agreed to be relocated by the Iraqi government. I still remember that very day… A slow breeze from the north brought a somewhat cool weather to the dusty camp. I stood beside the football field and was drowned in my own thoughts, until I figured out an unexpected movement of a thin form between two crutches, walking shaky towards myself. I soon realized that he still isn’t able to maintain his balance, which showed the lack of experience working with the crutches.

But when he came nearer, I recognized his lovely face. It was Hassan. But… he has become so shrunken … Three months ago, during the last rocket attack at Camp Liberty, he was struck by a dozen shrapnel, causing many injuries in his abdomen and legs. Thereafter he lost a leg and a part of his smaller intestines… But now, as he came toward me, I felt so nervous. When I heard of the accident, I broke down. It was as if I had lost both of my own legs because, Hassan and me, we have been friends for so long… We grew up together in Canada. Only the Lord knows what we had been through all these years. So many bets we made for a single Toronto Raptors’ match ticket. So many times we fought and reconciled… Therefore, when I heard the news about his injury, I was the only person who didn’t go to visit him in the medical clinic. That was because I felt I didn’t have the guts to do it. I feared of bursting down in tears or saying something horrible and ruining his mood. But this time, Hassan didn’t give me the initiative and he came to me. He walked, or better say, staggered slowly but surely… The sound of the stick-ends, pressing on the gravel beneath was so nerve wracking… I just waited and watched him come near… Those seconds dragged for so long and were so embarrassing … And I desperately stood there and watched.

As he closed the distance, I could see his injured leg. Or… actually I couldn’t, because it wasn’t there anymore.. But as he came closer, the bitter truth became apparent. And finally, there he was. Right in front of me. He welcomed me with a pleasant smile; his shiny eyes were full of joy. My reaction was nothing, just silence…

I had nothing to say. First I wished this deafening silence would continue forever. I wished this hadn’t taken place. Here, next to the football field, where he used to be such a good defense player. And now, he could only sit aside and watch his friends enjoy the health they take for granted. What was he thinking, by seeing all this? What were his thoughts? How could he be taking all this burden? Those questions all rained down on me so quickly…

But Hassan, after clearing his breath, didn’t give me the chance and started as always with his ironic sense of humor: “Hey, you coward! Why didn’t you come and visit me?” And this triggered the conversation that I was fleeing from. His mentality was so solid and so joyful that it truly moved me. I inevitably tried to adjust. With obvious and ashamed questions, I tried to hide my real feelings and not to show him any compassion. That damn rocket…

Hassan told me about that night, about the rocket that landed outside their trailer and despite his fast reaction in going prone he was hit by shrapnel because the trailers here are all 1.5 feet above the ground. Just 1.5 feet… Disgusting… 1.5 feet that can change one’s future.

If the Iraqi forces hadn’t removed those T-walls around our trailers, and had the UN representatives been doing something about this, now Hassan’s destiny would be different and many of my friends would still be alive. This was the fourth assault on our camp.

Hassan told me about his time in the hospital, about a friend that took care of him, the surgery room and the saw… which I’d already heard about from others. Everyone spoke about his high motivation. I was literally hearing about someone I didn’t know. And now I was looking at this strange phenomenon: someone that apparently had lost everything, but was behaving as if nothing had changed. He had an unbelievable sense of humor and would joke around with everyone, like one of the guys that he’s going to buy shoes for every 2 years! One for a year, the second for the other. He uttered to another friend that he still is going to beat him in sprinting. He joked with another guy that he has plans to start practicing tennis. I really was struck be this spirit. I think, those who planned the rocket attack, those who commanded and those who performed it did not know who they are up against. Or just the opposite, maybe they knew firsthand.

At last, when we wanted to part, I had to promise him to go and visit him more often. Even I knew that his room in the clinic was full of gifts that everyone had brought for him, I asked him what he wanted me to bring. He smiled again and with his funny Canadian dialect that was still easy to detect after all these years, he answered: Only 2 meters of small intestines and a left leg, please…

There, I was left with a bunch of question circling in my mind on and on… Is this our destiny? Is this the end of the story? Are Iranian asylum seekers surrendered in the hands of their foes? With the UN flag hoisted in this camp, most definitely such atrocities would not occur in the future, and I, or any other resident in the camp, wouldn’t have to witness another friend die or …

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