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Update: The Picnic 21-March-2004

The Picnic

Last Friday, a 'weekend' day, we went back to the mosque site with one last time to witness a remarkable transformation of the landscape. Instead of green fields and hills dotted with the occasional sheep or team of deminers at work, we found thousands of families arriving in cars, buses, pick-up trucks, and motorbikes to picnic. Apparently 'picnicking' (sp?) is a national pastime, a very serious activity in which you bring music, food, tea, chairs, cooking pots, and wear your best outfit. The site had the atmosphere of a music festival, only without the liquor and drugs and with some mad Iraqi tunes…

Mine Risk Education

We went in with the Mines Advisory Group's mine risk education teams who were leafleting vehicles and shoo'ing people away from the minefields, which are marked with red warning signs, but not fenced off. We filmed a group of men dancing in a line just in front of a minefield, apparently ignorant of how close they were to danger. One had thrown his suit jacket over the warning sign. Another was standing in the minefield smoking a cigarette. But for the most part, people seemed to listen to MAG and stayed away from the dangerous parts.

Qadr Karaam Mosque

The area around the Qadr Karaam mosque only became accessible twelve months ago, when the government soldiers withdrew from the area (leaving thousands of mines stocked to the ceiling of the mosque). Now people from Kirkuk and surrounding areas are finally able, after 16 years, to visit the site again. We had visited three MAG demining teams at work in the area during the week, but their job is massive and will take some time to complete. The picnic visitors knew very little of the mine danger, hence the need to inform them to keep their kids and soccer balls well away.

Thank You MAG!

As we returned to Erbil, we saw thousands more people holding their own picnics; some groups of small families and others involving wedding parties. It was cool to see so many people out on such a beautiful day – a great way to remember our final days here. The Iraqis we have met—Kurd, Assyrian, Arab—have been exceedingly hospitable and interested in our work making the documentary film. MAG has also been a generous and kind host and we are grateful for their support of our visit. Sure we have seen a lot of soldiers and guns and appreciate the messages of concern you have sent about our safety, but we are glad to be taking home some fond memories and quality footage from this incredible country.

For more information, please check out:

Mines Advisory Group

Human Rights Watch press release on mines in the mosque at Qadr Karaam