Baghdad Burning

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

Friday, June 18, 2004
Iraqi Civilian War Casualties...
Raed, of Raed in the Middle, has come out with a fantastic site: Iraqi Civilian War Casualties. Check out the 'terrorists' and 'collateral damage' killed and injured during the war. I'm sure many supporters of the "War on Terror" will feel mighty proud.

Excuses, Excuses...
I have had neither the time, nor the inclination, to blog lately. The weather is, quite literally, hellish. The heat begins very early in the morning with a blazing sun that seems unfairly close to our part of the earth. You'd think, after the sun has set, that the weather would be drastically cooler. This is not the case in Baghdad. After the sun has set, the hot sidewalks and streets emanate waves of heat for several hours, as if sighing in relief.

The electricity has been particularly bad these last two weeks in many areas. For every four hours of no electricity, we get two hours of electricity. And while we should be taking advantage of these two hours to do such things as wash clothes, get the water pump going and blog, we find ourselves sitting around in front of the air conditioner for a couple of hours of bliss, procrastinating and making empty promises to no one in particular.

School is out for most of the kids- both in grade school and in college. Everyone is just generally sitting around at home. It’s a huge relief for parents and teachers alike. There was a time when, according to many frazzled parents, sending one’s kids to school was the highlight of the day… now it has come to mean more anxiety and worry. While having them virtually trapped inside of the house is something of a trial on everyone involved, it is also a relief.

The new government isn’t very different from the old Governing Council. Some of the selfsame Puppets, in fact. It’s amusing to watch our Karazai- Ghazi Ajeel Al-Yawer- trying to establish himself. It’s a bit of a predicament for many an Iraqi, and possibly foreigners too. Here he is- your typical Arab- the dark skin, dark hair and traditional ‘dishdasha’ wearing an ‘iggall’ on his head and playing the role of tribal sheikh quite well.

Beyond these minor details, however, he remains an ex-member of the Governing Council and was actually selected by the Puppets, supposedly over the American preference- Adnan Al-Pachichi (who is adamantly claiming he is *not* the American preference at this point). That whole charade is laughable. It has been quite clear from the very start that the Puppets do not breathe unless Bremer asks them, very explicitly, to inhale and exhale. The last time I checked, Puppets do not suddenly come to life and grow a conscience unless a fairy godmother and Jiminy the Cricket are involved.

He is, purportedly, one of the heads of one of the largest tribes in the region- Al-Shummar. This tribe extends over parts of Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. They are largely Sunni but have several Shi’a clans. During and after the war, they were largely responsible for the northern and western borders. They are landowners, farmers, and- occasionally- smugglers of everything from sheep, to people, to arms…

Now, Yawer is our Karazai. He sits exuding all the outward signs of the stereotypical Arab (almost down to the camel) and yet, he seems to support Bremer et al. in almost every decision. Sure, he gives an interview now and then and says he doesn’t agree with this decision or that one, but the first major meeting he attends, he calls for NATO forces inside of the country- as if Americans, Italians, Brits and the rest aren’t already enough. There are also rumors that he is married to a certain lady who is a personal friend and adamant supporter of none other than Ahmad Chalabi... I'm still looking into that.

His image, admittedly, bothers me. I’m getting visions of corrupt Gulf emirs, oil wells, and shady business dealings.

Iyad Allawi is completely America and Britain’s boy. He has been on the CIA’s payroll for quite some time now and I don’t think anyone was particularly surprised when he was made Prime Minister. The cabinet of ministers is an interesting concoction of exiled Iraqis, Kurdish Iraqis who were in the northern region and a few Iraqis who were actually living inside of Iraq. Of the 37 members of the new government, 11 were actually living inside of Iraq. Of those 11, one or two are known to be quite competent. The rest are either unknown or generally infamous.

Several of the new government actually have more than one nationality. Now don’t get me wrong- I hold nothing against people with dual or triple or whatever number of nationalities. I do, however, have something against people with dual nationality being a part of government. It makes one wonder how many Americans would actually agree to having a senator or minister with, say, a French or German passport along with the American one.

While I don’t have any definite numbers, I can assure the world that we have *at least* 20 million Iraqis, both inside and outside of Iraq, who have only a single nationality. I can even go further to assure the world that the majority of those Iraqis with a single nationality actually have lived inside of Iraq for most of their lives. However bizarre the statistics may seem, I do believe that out of those millions of Iraqis, 37 competent ones could have been found. True, they might not have CIA alliances, bank accounts in Switzerland, armed militias or multimillion dollar companies in Saudi Arabia… but many of them actually have a sense of national pride and an anxiety for their country and for the future of their children and their children’s children inside of said country.

My favorite minister, by far, is the Defense Minister, Sha’alan Hazim. According to American newspaper Al-Sabah, Mr. Sha’lan Hazim “received a Masters degree in business administration from the UK before returning to Iraq to run a Kuwaiti bank. After being forced to leave Iraq by the former regime, Mr.Sha’alan became the head of a real-estate company in London until he returned to Iraq last June and has since worked as the governor of Qadisiya”.

Now this is highly amusing. I must have missed something. If anyone has any information about just *how* Mr. Sha’alan Hazim qualifies as a Defense Minister, please do send it along. At a point when we need secure borders and a strong army, our new Defense Minister was given the job because he… what? Played with toy soldiers as a child? Read Tolstoy’s War and Peace six times? Was regional champion of the game Commandos?

Beyond the unsure political situation, I have spent the last few days helping a relative sort things out to leave abroad. It is a depressing situation. My mother's cousin is renting out his house, selling his car and heading out to Amman with his three kids where, he hopes, he will be able to find work. He is a university professor who has had enough of the current situation. He claims that he's tired of worrying about his family and the varying political and security crises every minute of the day. It's a common story these days. It feels like anyone who can, is trying to find a way out before June 30. Last summer, people who hadn't been inside of Iraq for years were clamoring to visit the dear homeland that had been 'liberated' (after which they would clamor to leave the dear homeland). This summer, it is the other way around.

The Syrian and Jordanian borders are packed. A friend who was returned at the Jordanian border said that they were only allowing 20 cars to pass per day... people were being made to wait on the borders for days at a time and risked being rejected at the border guard's whim. People are simply tired of waiting for normality and security. It was difficult enough during the year... this summer promises to be a particularly long one.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004
The Roof...
Hot. It's hot, hot, hot, hot.

The weather is almost stifling now. The air is heavy and dry with heat. By early noon, it's almost too hot to go outside. For every two hours of electricity, we have four hours of no electricity in our area- and several other areas. The problem now is that the generators in many areas are starting to break down due to constant use and the bad quality of the fuel. It's a big problem and it promises to grow as the summer progresses.

I have spent the last two days ruminating the political situation and... washing the roof. While the two activities are very different, they do share one thing in common- the roof, and political situation, are both a mess.

The roof of an Iraqi home is a sacred place. As much planning goes into it as almost anything else. The roofs are flat and often surrounded by a low wall on which one can lean and look out into the city. During this last year, a certain sort of special bond has formed between your typical Iraqi and the roof of his or her home. We run out to the roof to see where the smoke is coming from after an explosion; we gather on the roof to watch the helicopters flying over head; we reluctantly drag ourselves out to the roof to fill the water tanks when the water is low; we hang clothes to dry on the clotheslines strung out haphazardly across the roof; we sleep on the roof during the endless, powerless nights.

That last one, sleeping on the roof, was a tradition my parents once fondly talked about. They used to tell us endless stories about how, as children, they used to put out mats and low beds on the roof to sleep. There were no air-conditioners back then... sometimes not even ceiling fans. People had to be content with the hot Baghdad air and the energetic Baghdad mosquitos. Now my parents get to relive their childhood memories like never before because we've gone back a good fifty years. It's impossible to sleep inside of the house while the electricity is off. The darkness and heat descend upon you like a heavy black cloak and the mosquitos suddenly make a rush for any exposed bits of skin.

And so Riverbend and E. were sent to the roof a few days ago to do some cleaning.

We agreed to begin the cleaning process at dusk, half an hour after the harsh sun began it's trip west. I met E. up on the roof, he holding a pail of luke-warm water and me armed with a broom and mop. The roof, upon examination, was a disaster. Dust everywhere. We had several dust storms these last few weeks and all the particles of dust that were swirling around Baghdad seemed to have agreed to rendez vous upon our roof.

It took almost 2 hours, 600 sneezes and around 15 buckets of water... but the roof is finally ready to sleep on. In an hour, we will drag out the mattresses and pillows. We were supposed to be out there, asleep, a couple of hours ago but the electricity came back on suddenly and I refuse to leave the computer.

The new governmental set is quite interesting. Some of the ministers are from inside of the country (not exiles) and the rest are from abroad and affiliated with different political parties. This will, naturally, determine the types of employees in the various ministries. You can't get a job these days without the proper 'tazkiyeh' or words of approval from somebody who knows somebody who knows someone who knows someone else who has a friend who has a relative who... well, you get the picture.

I'll discuss the whole situation tomorrow... and this time I mean tomorrow. I haven't felt like blogging lately. The heat has been heavy and oppressive and I find myself reluctant to spend the few hours of electricity staring at the monitor.

Powered by Blogger