Three of them boarded the bus rifles pointed aggressively bayonets fixed and furious glinting brightly in the stippled morning sun.
Spiders’ webs caught the light in the tattered grass that flowed down to the shark-sliced Shatt al Arab.
The others milled around outside snarling smoking slouching, staring through the windows at us. They no more than teenage soldiers and we in primary school.
Were we impressed?
How could we not be?
They were armed, in battledress, authoritative, festooned with unearned import; almost John Wayne in stature to those of us barely a metre tall.
What did they expect to find in the school-run bus?
Grenades? Rocket launchers? Israeli spies?
But they – or others like them – had just killed the king and dragged Abdul Ilah’s corpse down Rashid Street.
Perhaps these lads were frightened.
We five-year-olds weren’t.
Don’t giggle, hissed my mother
as the soldiers searched the bus.
This is very very serious.
So we shut up, and watched in silence as they found nothing. Disappointed, but feigning indifference, they descended and waved us on our way. Yallah!
At break, later that morning, the older children chased after us with jam jars full of leeches, trying to drop them on our cringing arms and legs.
That was far more frightening than Abdul Karim Qasim’s teenage thugs.