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MARCH 23, 2003
2:41 PM
CONTACT: Iraq Peace Team
BAGHDAD: Kathy Kelly or Bettejo Passalaqu
(+964-1) 717-7440 or 718-8007
CHICAGO: Jeff Guntzel or Stephanie Schaudel
A Birthday in Baghdad: "What a Day to be Thirteen."
BAGHDAD - March 23 - Amal Shamuri is the fifth child in a family of eight, living in a small apartment off Baghdad's Karrada shopping district. Irrepressable and precocious, Amal joked last January that she wouldn't mind a war if George Bush would only bomb her school.

Today was a different story. Today, Amal celebrated her thirteenth birthday on the fourth day of American air strikes on Baghdad with plumes of black smoke surrounding the city and darkening the sky, reportedly from oil set afire by Iraqi forces defending the capitol.

Her family and friends gathered with members of the Voices in the Wilderness' Iraq Peace Team in a small garden near the Tigris river to mark the occasion. They blew balloons and soap bubbles, strung party streamers, played tag, and ate barbequed chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, and chocolate cake. True to form, the kids ate the cake first, before serving the rest of the meal to the adults present.

Cruise missiles exploding to the south and east occasionally interrupted the party, one powerful enough to rattle tableware and partygoers alike. The explosions only temporarily silenced the festivities; but with moments the garden once again erupted to squeals of laughter and boisterous childhood games, played beneath rising plumes of air-borne debris and smoke in the distance.

"Life is more powerful than death," said Shane Claiborne, age 27, from Philadelphia. "How can George Bush bomb these kids?," he asked.

Lisa Ndejuru, age 32, from Montreal, quietly remarked,"What a day to be thirteen."

Amal's mother, Kareema, sat silently to one side, watching her kids play. Her husband died in a car accident eight years ago, leaving her to raise eight children by herself. To her credit, none of them beg in the streets, and all save the oldest remain in school. Amal herself dreams of becoming a lawyer one day.

When asked what she wanted for her birthday, Amal - who's name means "hope" in Arabic - smiled and simply replied, "All I want is peace."


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