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Making Peace Between Families — How it Happened in Northern Iraq

June 22, 2012

We lived on a street in Northern Iraq where every neighbor knew all the others and there was a sense of belonging to a neighborhood. My son, at that time nine years old, was playing outside with his Kurdish friends when a teenage boy, a stranger, walked down our street wearing an attitude and a gun.

He stopped to bother the younger boys. “I need to kill someone today,” said the stranger, “Should I kill you?” My son and his friends backed up, but the stranger came toward them until they were up against a wall. “No, don’t kill us,” replied the children. “Should I kill your friend?” “No, don’t kill any of us.” This bullying was brought to an end when a woman in the house next door looked over her wall and said, “Leave us, you don’t belong here.” And with a smirk the teenager sauntered off our street.

I was angry when I heard what had happened. I asked my landlord and another neighbor to come and give me advice. “Oh,” they said, “There’s nothing you can do because that was Mohammad Simo’s son.” There was fear at the mention of this name, for Mohammad Simo had four wives and was a highway robber who had a reputation like Jesse James. He controlled one of the roads leading to our town, and travelers coming by car would perchance be stopped and robbed by his gang. Mohammad Simo lived in a big house by the river and he himself respected no man. He reminded me of Lamech, the murderer in the Bible who married two women and who killed a man for injuring him and who threatened to avenge any insult that others might make against him (Genesis 4:23-24).

Grenade Launcher and Genesis 4:23

When you’ve asked your guest to check his grenade launcher at the door, dinner conversation proceeds in a delicate manner.

But I said this threat must never be allowed to happen again. “What if I invite Mohammad Simo and his son to my house for supper?” I asked my two Kurdish friends. This had a wondrous effect on my friends’ faces; they lit up and said it was a brilliant idea. And that is what we did. Mohammad Simo accepted my invitation, and we prepared a feast. He came with a lot of armed men; I made them stay outside because we have a rule in our home: no rocket-propelled grenade launchers allowed in the house. We ferried the food out to the front yard where Mohammad Simo’s storm troopers could eat.

Inside, over dinner, Mohammad Simo and I and my Kurdish friends talked about where we had lived and we enjoyed the feast. Then, drinking chai after dinner, we agreed that our families would live in peace. And with that, we kissed each other on the cheek and poured out a stream of blessings on one another. And that was the last I saw of the Jesse James of northern Iraq.

It was not long after when news came down that he had been captured by the Kurdish government at a checkpoint. He was quickly separated from his guards and jailed. Whether there was ever a trial I don’t recall, but Mohammad Simo was executed and his wives had to flee from the house by the river, for there was no one to protect them. His house was ransacked of all its possessions. Its derelict walls were all that remained as a cautionary tale for all who would live the life of Lamech.

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