Baghdad Burning

... I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend...

Saturday, May 22, 2004
Back in Iraq...
Chris Albritton is back in Iraq- check out his site. Check out his reporting on the Chalabi debacle.

En Kint Tedri...
Remember your first box of crayons? Probably not. Ok- remember your first box of REAL crayons- you know, not the silly eight colors, but the first real BIG box of crayons with four bewildering rows colors and six different shades of brown that you never needed? Well, can you remember that mysterious color- burnt sienna- that was never brown enough for trees, and never really orange enough for flowers? That was the color of Chalabi's tie yesterday as he gave his phenomenal post-raid interview on Al-Arabia.

He sat, looking smug and supercilious, in a grayish suit with a tie that could only be described as "burnt sienna". During the duration of the interview, a silly little smile played on his thin lips and his eyes flashed with a combination of indignation and impatience at the questions.

I always enjoy a good Chalabi interview. His answers to questions are always so completely antagonistic to Iraqi public opinion that the whole thing makes a delightful show- rather like a vicious Chihuahua in the midst of a dozen bulldogs. There were several amusing moments during the interview. He kept waving around his arms and made numerous flourishing movements with his hands to emphasize some key points. A few interesting things I noted about the interview: he was suddenly using the word 'occupation'. During past interviews, he would never use the word 'occupation'. He used to insist on calling the invading army et al. 'coalition' and the whole fiasco was persistently labeled a 'liberation' by him and his cronies.

He made several insipid comments about the raid and his falling out with Bremer and the rest. My favorite comment was his "I've won the prize! I've won the Iraqi nationality prize…" Followed by a large grin (with several gaps between the teeth). The prize he was so proudly referring to was the disapproval of the CIA and 'occupation'. Apparently, he thinks that now that he has been blacklisted by the CPA, he will be enfolded by the tender arms of the Iraqi public. It's almost exhausting to see his endless optimism. At the same time, it's amazing to see his 'about-face' regarding his American popularity. A few months ago, his value to the Bush administration was the personal achievement he was proudest of- he never failed to flaunt his American connections.

Of course, several things occurred to us, after hearing of the raid. The first thing I thought was, "Well, it's about time…" Then, as the news began to sink in, it made less since. Chalabi was America's lapdog- why is he suddenly unsuitable for the new Iraq? He was convicted in Jordan several years ago and everyone knows he's a crook and a terrible politician… I'm also convinced that the Bush administration knew full well that he was highly unpopular in Iraq. He's not just a puppet- he's a mercenary. He encouraged the sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and maimed the country itself. He supported the war and occupation vehemently and fabricated lies about weapons and threats to further his cause. He's a criminal- and a lousy one at that.

In the end, America had to know that Chalabi was virtually useless. Why this sudden change of heart towards Mercenary #1? People are saying that it is a ploy to help him rise in popularity, but I can hardly believe that. Could the decision-makers currently mulling over the Iraq situation be so ridiculously optimistic? Or could they have really been so wrong in the past? We have a saying in Arabic, "En kint tedri, fe tilk musseeba… in kint la tedri, fa il musseebatu a'adham" which means, "If you knew, then that was a catastrophe… and if you didn't know, then the catastrophe is greater."

Meanwhile, a couple of days ago, 40 people were murdered in western Iraq while they were celebrating a wedding- an American helicopter fired at the civilians, killing women and children. Apparently, the guests at the wedding were shooting klashnikovs into the air. You'd think that the Americans would know by now that shooting klashnikovs into the air is a form of celebration and considering the fact that the party was far from any major town or city, the shots were virtually harmless. No one did anything about the shots being fired when Saddam was caught- in spite of the fact that Baghdad was a virtual firestorm of bullets for several hours. That was ok- that was 'acceptable' and even amusing to the 'authorities'. I can see how dozens of women, children and celebrating men would be a 'threat' though. Yes, it makes perfect sense.

"In a written statement the Pentagon said last night: "Our report is that this was not a wedding party, that these were anti-coalition forces that fired first..."

No. Of course not- it couldn't have been a wedding party. It was a resistance cell of women and children (one deviously dressed in a wedding gown!). It wasn't a wedding party just as mosques aren't mosques and hospitals are never hospitals when they are bombed. Celebrating women and children are not civilians. 'Contractors' traveling with the American army to torture and kill Iraqis ARE civilians. CIA personnel are 'civilians' and the people who planned and executed the war are all civilians. We're not civilians- we are insurgents, criminals and potential collateral damage. Check out to read some thought-provoking commentary on the whole sadistic incident.

In conclusion, some words of advice to Chalabi- you are a mercenary to be bought and sold... it's time to put you up on the market again and hope for bidders. Get the car ready, make the trunk as comfortable as possible and head for the borders.

Saturday, May 15, 2004
Last Few Days...
That video of Nick Berg is beyond horrible. I haven't been able to watch it whole. It makes me sick to my stomach and I can hardly believe it happened. His family must be devastated and I can't even imagine what they must have felt. With all of this going on- first Abu Ghraib and now this, I haven't felt like writing anything.

Ansar Al Islam are a fundamentalist militant group- mostly Kurdish- based in the north of Iraq. They made a name for themselves recently and chose the Kurdish autonomous region as 'home' with the full knowledge of the CIA, who had more control over the region than the former regime. Since the beginning of the war, they have been responsible for various explosions and attacks- or so they say. The beheading has nothing to do with Islam. I'm still hoping- albeit irrationally- that the whole thing was some sort of grotesque setup.

I was sick to my stomach when I first saw the video on some news channel and stood petrified, watching the screen and praying that they wouldn't show it whole because for some reason, I couldn't take my eyes off of it. I feel horrible. Was I shocked? Was I surprised? Hardly. We've been expecting this since the first pictures of the torture of Iraqi prisoners broke out. There's a certain rage in many people that is frightening. There's a certain hunger and need for revenge that lame apologies from Bush and surprise visits from Rumsfeld won't appease.

I think beheading was the chosen method of 'execution' because the group wanted to shock Americans and westerners in the worst possible way. The torturers at Abu Ghraib and other prisons chose sexual degradation because they knew that nothing would hurt and appall Iraqis and Muslims more than those horrible, sadistic acts. To Iraqis, death is infinitely better than being raped or sexually abused. There are things worse than death itself and those pictures portrayed them.

Foreigners in Iraq are being very, very careful and with good reason. Many of the companies have pulled out their staff and are asking the remaining workers and contractors to be extra careful and as inconspicuous as possible.

The assumption that Al Zarqawi himself was doing the beheading seems a little far-fetched. So now the heads of terrorism in the world seem to be Ossama Bin Ladin, Aimen Al Dhawahiri and Abu Mussa'ab Al Zarqawi. Here's some food for thought- Ossama is from Saudi Arabia, Al Dhawahiri is Egyptian and Al Zarqawi is Jordanian. Which countries in the region are America's best allies? Let's see now… did you guess Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt?! Fantastic! You win a trip to… Falloojeh!! (And no- it doesn't count if you give Saudi Arabia a little slap on the wrists and poke Egypt in the ribs- you're still buddies).

They let out around 300+ prisoners today while that sadistic fiend Rumsfeld was in town. Apparently, setting 300 prisoners free of the thousands currently detained is supposed to mollify Iraqis- quite like Bush's lame half-apology to King Abdallah of Jordan. What is King Abdallah to us? What does it matter if Bush gets down and begs him for forgiveness? What in God's name does he represent to the Iraqi people?

Karbala and Najaf in the south are war zones. There are Shi'a fighters in the streets and American tanks and helicopters are bombing certain areas. Today they bombed the oldest cemetery in Najaf (and one of the holiest in Iraq). It has caused quite an uproar and Al Sadr is currently calling for people to join him in the south. We are seeing another inflow of refugees into Baghdad… this time from the southern region. They are using the same tactics they used in Falloojeh on the 'insurgency'. So why was it an intifadhah, or popular uprising, in 1991 and now suddenly it's an insurgency? The people fighting in the streets of Najaf and Karbala aren't trained warriors or former regime members… they are simply people who are tired of empty promises and hollow assurances.

There are rumors that Badir's Brigade have been fighting alongside the Americans against Sadr's group and that doesn't bode well for SCIRI. The Puppets and spokespeople for the group have issued disclaimers but people sense that the Hakeems and Al-Da'awa leaders are eager to see Muqtada et al. crushed as soon as possible.

The end-of-the-year examinations have started in most of the schools. The school administrations are trying to get them over with as soon as humanly possible. It's already unbearably hot and dusty and the heat gets worse as summer progresses. Last year examinations were held in June and July and children were fainting in the summer heat in schools with no electricity. We're hoping to avoid that this year.

We're all donating money to the school in the area so they can remain hooked up to the local power generator during the day while the kids are being tested. You can see them in the streets and trapped behind car windows looking flushed and wilted. We're all praying that they'll be able to finish the year without anything drastic happening (well, relatively drastic).

The air feels stale and stagnant in Baghdad lately. There's disappointment and exhaustion and a certain resignation to the anger and fear that seem to have taken over during recent weeks.

Friday, May 07, 2004
Just Go...
People are seething with anger- the pictures of Abu Ghraib and the Brits in Basrah are everywhere. Every newspaper you pick up in Baghdad has pictures of some American or British atrocity or another. It's like a nightmare that has come to life.

Everyone knew this was happening in Abu Ghraib and other places… seeing the pictures simply made it all more real and tangible somehow. American and British politicians have the audacity to come on television with words like, "True the people in Abu Ghraib are criminals, but…" Everyone here in Iraq knows that there are thousands of innocent people detained. Some were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, while others were detained 'under suspicion'. In the New Iraq, it's "guilty until proven innocent by some miracle of God".

People are so angry. There’s no way to explain the reactions- even pro-occupation Iraqis find themselves silenced by this latest horror. I can’t explain how people feel- or even how I personally feel. Somehow, pictures of dead Iraqis are easier to bear than this grotesque show of American military technique. People would rather be dead than sexually abused and degraded by the animals running Abu Ghraib prison.

There was a time when people here felt sorry for the troops. No matter what one's attitude was towards the occupation, there were moments of pity towards the troops, regardless of their nationality. We would see them suffering the Iraqi sun, obviously wishing they were somewhere else and somehow, that vulnerability made them seem less monstrous and more human. That time has passed. People look at troops now and see the pictures of Abu Ghraib… and we burn with shame and anger and frustration at not being able to do something. Now that the world knows that the torture has been going on since the very beginning, do people finally understand what happened in Falloojeh?

I'm avoiding the internet because it feels like the pictures are somehow available on every site I visit. I'm torn between wishing they weren't there and feeling, somehow, that it's important that the whole world sees them. The thing, I guess, that bothers me most is that the children can see it all. How do you explain the face of the American soldier, leering over the faceless, naked bodies to a child? How do you explain the sick, twisted minds? How do you explain what is happening to a seven-year-old?

There have been demonstrations in Baghdad and other places. There was a large demonstration outside of the Abu Ghraib prison itself. The families of some of the inmates of the prison were out there protesting the detentions and the atrocities… faces streaked with tears of rage and brows furrowed with anxiety. Each and every one of those people was wondering what their loved ones had suffered inside the walls of the hell that makes Guantanamo look like a health spa.

And through all this, Bush gives his repulsive speeches. He makes an appearance on Arabic tv channels looking sheepish and attempting to look sincere, babbling on about how this 'incident' wasn't representative of the American people or even the army, regardless of the fact that it's been going on for so long. He asks Iraqis to not let these pictures reflect on their attitude towards the American people… and yet when the bodies were dragged through the streets of Falloojeh, the American troops took it upon themselves to punish the whole city.

He's claiming it's a "stain on our country's honor"... I think not. The stain on your country's honor, Bush dear, was the one on the infamous blue dress that made headlines while Clinton was in the White House... this isn't a 'stain' this is a catastrophe. Your credibility was gone the moment you stepped into Iraq and couldn't find the WMD... your reputation never existed.

So are the atrocities being committed in Abu Ghraib really not characteristic of the American army? What about the atrocities committed by Americans in Guantanamo? And Afghanistan? I won't bother bringing up the sordid past, let's just focus on the present. It seems that torture and humiliation are common techniques used in countries blessed with the American presence. The most pathetic excuse I heard so far was that the American troops weren't taught the fundamentals of human rights mentioned in the Geneva Convention… Right- morals, values and compassion have to be taught.

All I can think about is the universal outrage when the former government showed pictures of American POWs on television, looking frightened and unsure about their fate. I remember the outcries from American citizens, claiming that Iraqis were animals for showing 'America's finest' fully clothed and unharmed. So what does this make Americans now?

We heard about it all… we heard stories since the very beginning of the occupation about prisoners being made to sit for several hours on their knees… being deprived of sleep for days at a time by being splashed with cold water or kicked or slapped… about the infamous 'red rooms' where prisoners are kept for prolonged periods of time… about the rape, the degradations, the emotional and physical torture… and there were moments when I actually wanted to believe that what we heard was exaggerated. I realize now that it was only a small fragment of the truth. There is nothing that is going to make this 'better'. Nothing.

Through all of this, where is the Governing Council? Under what rock are the Puppets hiding? Why is no one condemning this? What does Bremer have to say for himself and for the Americans? Why this unbearable silence?

I don't understand the 'shock' Americans claim to feel at the lurid pictures. You've seen the troops break down doors and terrify women and children… curse, scream, push, pull and throw people to the ground with a boot over their head. You've seen troops shoot civilians in cold blood. You've seen them bomb cities and towns. You've seen them burn cars and humans using tanks and helicopters. Is this latest debacle so very shocking or appalling?

The number of killings in the south has also risen. The Americans and British are saying that they are 'insurgents' and people who are a part of Al-Sadir's militia, but people from Najaf are claiming that innocent civilians are being killed on a daily basis. Today the troops entered Najaf and there was fighting in the streets. This is going to cause a commotion because Najaf is considered a holy city and is especially valuable to Shi'a all over the world. The current situation in the south makes one wonder who, now, is going to implement a no-fly zone over areas like Falloojeh and Najaf to 'protect' the people this time around?

I sometimes get emails asking me to propose solutions or make suggestions. Fine. Today's lesson: don't rape, don't torture, don't kill and get out while you can- while it still looks like you have a choice... Chaos? Civil war? Bloodshed? We’ll take our chances- just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.

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