The Iraqi Army lost some men, including a Brigadier, during the recent fighting around Basrah. Yesterday began a three day period where a memorial/rememberance would be held for a portion of the day. I was invited to attend, and was allowed, even encouraged, to photograph any part of the event.
We came to the place it was held, where banners were hung announcing the mourning.
We entered with a group of Iraqi officers and sat along the walls of the room, with more chairs in the middle.
At that point, one of the officers spoke, briefly. He was preparing the room to hear a selected passage from the Koran. Passages were playing from the loudspeakers, and some of the soldiers would also recite aloud themselves. The people in the room held their hands open and palms up, to receive the recitation. Afterward everyone greeted the newcomers and each other with "allah bil Khair" (God bless/welcome). A server came by and gave each person a glass of cool water. Then, the platter of cigarettes. The packs were arranged quite artfully in two concentric circles, a few individual cigarettes pulled out in various spots to facilitate easy extraction. I gave a polite refusal (you place your right hand over your heart)
And then the coffee. A server with two cups, Turkish coffee and if you didn't waggle your cup side to side (Iraqi gesture for "no more, thank you") you got a second splash of the stuff.
Iraqi tea (the bottom 20% of the glass is sugar) was then served to everyone as well. After a bit of reflection time, another group entered. Repeat all of the above, with extra "allah bil Khair" for good measure. Once the place was full groups of soldiers or NCOs and officers would go and salute or speak to the two Major Generals; the incoming commander, and the outgoing division commander.
I was the American-on-the-scene. I stayed for some time before following the British contingent and expressing my condolences to the outgoing commander, through our interpreter (my Arabic isn't quite up to that level yet). When I also spoke to the incoming commander, the interpreter was silent. Just as I turned to look at him and find out what the problem was, the new commander replied in perfect English that on behalf of the soldiers, NCOs and officers of his division he was honored to have me here. Whoah.
We left the room as replacements for us were ready to come in.
Different than the way we do things, but not so alien as to be totally unrecognizable as to what I would have called "a visitation".
Post script: I failed to mention that I watched the incoming commander, every so often, during the time I was there. I can only describe the look on his face as one of deep thought about his situation. I could almost feel the sober reflection radiating off him, and I shan't ever forget that look.