Note: This story was originally published in Al-Daffla Blog, a joint media venture between Duffel Blog and Al Jazeera.
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Mourners have descended upon the Martyrs Mosque to pay their respects to more than 42 dead following a reunion of Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans on Thursday.
The reunion event — which brought OIF veterans from as far as Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Minneapolis, Minn. — began as a dinner and drinking celebration of shared combat experiences, but took a tragic turn after one veteran attended the event in his uniform, which exploded shortly after he arrived.
“We were all kicking back chai, laughing and having a good time just telling war stories,” said Ahmed Habibi, a veteran who completed two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. “Then suddenly it was like Ramadi all over again.”
While the bombing provided a temporary setback to the night’s entertainment — a dozen goats were blown to pieces — the group continued its party unabated, later holding a celebratory gunfire circle to honor fallen brothers.
Sadly, at least eight veterans were injured with negligent discharges or weapons malfunctions. Another 12 were killed after one threw a celebratory Iranian grenade in the air.
Most of the bodies were dumped into a mass grave near an Iraqi police station “for old times’ sake,” one source said.
Despite deaths at the celebration, the Iraqi government dismissed reports that this may be indicative of a wider trend of violence in the region.
“That is simply not the case, as safety in Baghdad has never been better. We are a free and independent Iraq. Allah Akbar!” screamed Col. Mohammed Karim of the Iraqi Army, as he donned his flak jacket for yet another assault on the compound where the party was being held.