William Graham
Irish News
1 August 2004

Turn your radio on and hear the words – "a bomb has exploded".

Even this far along into our imperfect peace process people living
here, at least those who were around at the height of the troubles,
still experience a short, sharp intake of breath.

The first reaction is – my God, what is this?

A split second is a long time when all kinds of images tumble about
in the mind. Where? How many killed and injured? Why?

Then, just as suddenly as this awful news bursts upon the conscious-
ness, the announcer gives out the details that it was in Baquba, some
65km north-east of Baghdad, or in Ramadi, west of the capital; or in
the northern city of Kirkut; or in the holy city of Najaf.

A sigh of relief – that the bomb was not north of Belfast.

But this relief is momentary and sort of guilt-laden in considering
we are "lucky".

A sickening feeling comes now in the pit of the stomach about how it
is today on the bloody pavements of Baquba, or Baghdad, in
remembering what it was like once, on a different scale but just as
horrific, on the bloody streets of Belfast or Dublin or Omagh.

Yes, I remember as a news journalist in the seventies rushing out to
cover bomb explosions in Belfast and sometimes arriving on the scene
just minutes afterwards.

The strange smell of a bomb, the smell of scorched human flesh and
burning buildings. It must be the same in Baghdad as in Belfast.

I don't think I could go out now onto the street in 2004 and report
on a bomb explosion minutes after the blast. Maybe I could?

Perhaps this is just post-conflict nervousness, the feeling of once
being in a building when a bomb exploded underneath, or a recognition
that the past must not ever become the future.

But it is not an unusual feeling amongst journalists who were out and
about in 'Northern Ireland, the six counties, the north of Ireland,
or Ulster' during the period of 'the troubles, the conflict, the

A feeling of uncertainty, of privately guarded inner dread.

The announcement – "a bomb has exploded" – brings back all the
nightmares of the past in this part of the world.

What was it like on the streets of Baquba this week?

News agency reports indicated that as many as 70 people were killed
when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive-packed vehicle on a busy

The attack happened outside a police recruiting centre.

There was a heavy roaring sound as the explosion ripped through a
passing commuter bus and killed 21 people inside.

The street was filled with charred vehicles, pieces of glass, twisted
metal and abandoned shoes, all covered in blood and human remains.

Dead bodies lay scattered about – in the middle of the road, under
cars, up against nearby buildings.

In the darkness of this terrible horror there is an echo between
Belfast and Baghdad – that heavy thud, or roar, as a bomb goes off.

No-one would argue that what happened in Belfast during our troubles,
or conflict, was the same as what is happening in Iraq today, but
there are similarities.

Of course, the scale is different, as is the background, and the
politics of what has happened and is going on in Iraq.

The number of civilian deaths in Iraq is unknown but is put by some
sources as between 11,336 and 13,305; while the number of coalit-ion
forces deaths is 1,029 including 908 American and 61 British.

Suicide bombers have killed civilians and civilians have been killed
in coalition bombings. Kidnappings are increasing and captives have
been beheaded.

Mass graves have been discovered from the days of the old regime.

Torture in prisons has been exposed and a test case is before
London's High Court brought by families of six dead Iraqi civilians.
The allegations are that British soldiers beat and kicked detainees.

Relatives of the Iraqi civilians who died are demanding judges force
the British government to open independent inquiries.

During conflict the north of Ireland also experienced bombings,
shootings, assassinations, kidnappings, all kinds of paramilitary and
military violence, torture, black propaganda, censorship, internment,
political division, sectarianism and demands to open inquiries.

We now have a peace process in Northern Ireland and hopefully it will
evolve into a more perfect peace.

There are, however, no guarantees in peace processes anywhere.

No-one can say with 100% certainty that the north will never slip
back to the darkness of the past.

Unforeseen circumstances can disrupt peacemaking and the process of
trying to make politics work.

That is why it is crucial the British and Irish governments and all
the parties buckle down this September to ensure that the fragile
political and peace processes do work.

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