Series of Caskets

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
May 14, 2003

Warning Message

There was a warning message.

“Some images in this gallery may be disturbing because of their violent or graphic nature.”

And the warning was well intentioned.

The gloomy images of funeral caskets, series of them, showing an entire family of eight members, from large to small bodies of corpses occupying the wooden boxes, can be “disturbing” to many.

“The family of Amir Madlul weeps as he is buried at the cemetery in Najaf”, another image shows the tears of an elderly man, father of Amir, his cringed skin washed with pain. The last shower of 19-year-old Hashim Jalil shows one more graphic nature of this mucky war. A man was pouring water over lifeless Hashim’s brownish naked body, while his relative was reciting prayers for the dead man’s “liberated” soul. Hashim was shot in the head in Baghdad for his spurious journey to “liberation”.

One U.S. soldier was straightforward in his observation, “For lack of a better word, I feel almost guilty about the massacre. We wasted a lot of people. It makes you wonder how many were innocent. It takes away some of the pride. We won, but at what cost?" [1]

The human cost of war is the matter of selectivity to the victors. They conjure their rhetoric in praise of their “brilliant success”, fighting the “evildoers”, killing those “pesky Iraqis” by mother of all bombs. In war, dehumanization becomes the norm. And the disposability of certain human beings of different race, religion or nationality is termed as the “side effects” of war. These are the people of insignificance. In best-seller history books, their names won’t be mentioned. In the future academic curriculum in Iraq, their agonies will possibly be non-existent by the portrayal of supposed emancipation under the smoking hood of “benevolent” colonization.

Mismatched Bloodletting

In this war, the world has seen a grossly mismatched bloodletting while the “United Nations” was snoring in its presumed slumber. The first United Nations charter still decorates UN’s displaying verbiages: "We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims."

The war has shattered UN’s plump decorum. The war has exposed United Nations, the last refuge of the weak, as the place where scrawny third world nations’ voices are scuttled by not-to-talk-about bribes, intimidation and thuggish manipulation of votes. When the bombs were falling, killing thousands of Iraqis, UN couldn’t even muster to pass a war condemnation.

Facing the mighty opponents, their 21st century weapons and unadulterated candor, “waves of Iraqis armed only with rifles came against U.S. armored divisions in Najaf, the U.S. commander called in an air strike on the factory sheltering the Iraqis rather than have his troops continue the slaughter. Lt. Col. Woody Radcliff at the 3rd Infantry Division Operations Center said, "There were waves and waves of people coming at them, with AK-47s, and they were killing everyone. The commander (in the field) called and said, 'This is not right. This is insane. Let's hit the factory with close air support and take them out all at once.'[1]

And they took them out all at once.

Deceits and Bewitched Clairvoyance

This war was gloated as “one of the greatest military campaigns in history." Wow! The future generation will be indoctrinated with this form of deceits and bewitched clairvoyance. A shackled nation under devastating economic sanction imposed for perceived handling of dictator’s “threat” to the region and beyond, whose military was truncated considerably in last Gulf War, whose defense expenditure was about 0.35 percent comparing to the superpower, thrashing and massacring are now referred to as “one of the greatest military campaigns in history”. Is this a far-fetched imagination?

Anthony B Robinson is a priest. He writes, “On Good Friday, the prayers are repetitive. "God have mercy, Lord have mercy, God have mercy upon us." These are the right prayers for this time when there is reason for reflection and anguish, not elation or self-congratulation.” [1]

But elation or self-congratulation is abundant after this war. Blair is calling for a victorious parade. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are all smile, ear to ear, for profound establishment of might is right doctrine. Massive contracts are awarded to politically well-connected companies, in secret, to preserve the “classified” agenda. Michael Kinsley describes the possible feeling among the victors: “Hey, we paid for the destruction. If it weren't for us, there wouldn't be all these roads and bridges that need rebuilding. So if someone's going to make money rebuilding them, it ought to be us.” [2]

Destroy and rebuild. What a marvelous combination for the profiteers! Bomb and incinerate the poor, their schools, hospitals, refrain from protecting their sense of pride and thousands of years old historical lineages. Robert Darnton asks in his Washington Post article, “how will the Iraqis fuse a national identity out of the diverse cultures that have come apart with the destruction that has robbed them of their common past?”[11]

Is Terrorism Decimated?

From the very beginning the anti-war protesters had flooded the streets around the world. They had shouted their opposition to this ill-conceived war. They had rightfully pointed that this war would only create cycle of violence; the terrorists would be the ultimate beneficiaries since this lopsided war’s humiliation would be used as fuel on their insane terrorism against civilians all over the world. But the anti-war protesters’ warnings and peace resolution were not paid heed to. The leaders were gloating over war victory in Iraq. They were boasting that terrorists are defeated. “Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. "Al Qaeda is on the run," President Bush said last week. "That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. . . . They're not a problem anymore."[13]

And like many other aspects of international events, this administration was completely mistaken in this heart of the issue as well. Terrorists are not decimated. They have regrouped and are continuing their insane murderous acts. May 12 was one of the testaments of their not being destroyed. They have synchronized three or four simultaneous terrorist attacks in Riyadh, targeting specifically the Western communities, their housing complex with powerful suicide bombs. There were dozens of innocent lives lost, hundreds injured.

New York Times’ columnist Maureen Dowd writes, "This was the big game for them — you put up or shut up, and they have failed," Cofer Black, who heads the State Department's counterterrorism office, told The Washington Post last week. Of course, the other way of looking at it is that Al Qaeda works at its own pace and knows how to conduct operations on the run.” [13]

This attack was on the eve of US Secretary of State Collin Powel’s visit to Saudi Arabia. The terrorists wanted to derail any peace initiatives. They wanted to create provocation for further wars so that the cycle of violence continues unabated.

The undemocratic Saudi Government was under pressure both from internal repressed dissents and from abroad due to its inability in dealing effectively with Osama’s offspring. There are unemployed youths and hard-core Wahabbites who are the prime targets for Osama’s secretive human resource department. And Osama uses this suppressed anger among the voiceless and disenfranchised Saudis in his murderous causes.

What Saudi Arabia needs is a complete reform, starting from the top checkerboard to the bottom, eradicating entrenched corruption in the Princely state, and its eventual establishment of a democratic government where the Royal family could only be given the status of an honorable position, no power sharing at all with the people’s elected government. To defeat Osama and his offspring, perhaps there are no other alternatives than replacing the Saudi Monarchs with a fair democratic political system where foreign interventions and religious zealots are both get checked from destabilizing the region once more.

New York Times Editorial stress on this urgent reform process, “it is the best current chance for a way out, toward a future in which suicide attacks on innocent civilians will be understood by Muslims around the world not as a form of political protest, but as utter insanity.”[14] So do the needs are there for reform on neo-cons infested superpowers’ endless war agendas. When the both sides realize that this senseless cycle of violence must be stopped, insanity could be replaced by sane humanity.

Series of Caskets

In Iraq they are now unearthing mass gravesites where Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime buried the dissenters just after the 1991 Gulf War. The skulls and bony parts of murdered Iraqis wrapped in transparent plastics, their tattered old identification cards still visible that reveal their name, and the victims’ living relatives searching for trace of their loved ones among the heap of skeletal remains. There are reports that the aggrieved relatives are taking away the remaining bony parts of their loved ones so that they could be provided a decent burial, could be placed in wooden caskets for showing the last respects.

In Najaf, Nasiriyah, and many other bombed and devastated parts of Iraq, the victims’ families are still gathering around the grave sites of their beloved family members buried in graves, resting peacefully in brownish caskets.

They will need more caskets for the atrocities in Riyadh this week. More innocent bodies will be washed. Christians will be provided the best suits or magenta colored coats with a bow tie, resting in a soothing pillow in long dark coffins in respectful funeral services leaded by priests. Muslim victims will be enwrapped with their last white peace of cloth that is called shroud. Imam will recite prayers in the mosque for the departed souls.

When everyone leaves the graveyards, when the advertising lights are off, the cold lifeless bodies buried in a grave inside caskets away from all modern invasive intrusions, there remains only the decaying flesh on calcium oozing bones.

In the end, in series of caskets, we are the same.


1. Anthony B Robinson, “War in Iraq a Reason for Shame”, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 18, 2003.

2. Michael Kinsley, “Spoils to the Victor”, Washington Post, April 18, 2003.

3. Jonathan Glancey, “Our Last Occupation”, The Guardian, April 19, 2003.

4. Ben Okri, “The New Dark Age”, The Guardian, April 19, 2003.

5. David Edwards, “Moral Meltdown”, Media Lens, April 18, 2003.

6. Ignacio Ramonet, “Lawless War”, Le Monde Diplomatique, April 2003 issue.

7. Peter Ford and Scott Peterson, “Baghdad’s Unexploded Bombs”, Christian Science Monitor, April 16, 2003.

8. Edward Said, “Give Us Back Our Democracy”, The Observer, April 20, 2003.

9. Pervez Hoodbhoy, “Islamabad Express”, Prospect, May 2003 issue.

10. Mary Riddell, “Blinded by the Myths of Victory”, The Observer, April 20, 2003.

11. Robert Darnton, “Burn a Country’s Past and Your Torch Its Future”, Washington Post, April 20, 2003.

12. Peter Preston, “The World won’t Forgive or Forget”, The Guardian, May 5, 2003.

13. Maureen Dowd, “Osama’s Offspring”, The New York Times, May 14, 2003.

14. “Death in Riyadh”, New York Times Editorial, May 14, 2003.


Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: