Baghdad Burning

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

Friday, November 25, 2005
We woke up yesterday morning to this news: Sunni tribal leader and his sons shot dead.

“Gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms shot dead an aging Sunni tribal leader and three of his sons in their beds on Wednesday, relatives said…”

Except when you read it on the internet, it’s nothing like seeing scenes of it on television. They showed the corpses and the family members- an elderly woman wailing and clawing at her face and hair and screaming that soldiers from the Ministry of Interior had killed her sons. They shot them in front of their mother, wives and children… Even when they slaughter sheep, they take them away from the fold so that the other sheep aren’t terrorized by the scene.

In war, you think the unthinkable. You imagine the unimaginable. When you can’t get to sleep at night, your mind wanders to cover various possibilities. Trying to guess and determine the future of a war-torn nation is nearly impossible, so your mind focuses on the more tangible- friends… Near and distant relations. I think that during these last two and a half years, every single Iraqi inside of Iraq has considered the possibility of losing one or more people in the family. I try to imagine losing the people I love most in the world- whether it’s the possibility of having them buried under the rubble… or the possibility of having them brutally murdered by extremists… or blown to bits by a car bomb… or abducted for ransom… or brutally shot at a checkpoint. All disturbing possibilities.

I try to imagine what would happen to me, personally, should this occur. How long would it take for the need for revenge to settle in? How long would it take to be recruited by someone who looks for people who have nothing to lose? People who lost it all to one blow. What I think the world doesn’t understand is that people don’t become suicide bombers because- like the world is told- they get seventy or however many virgins in paradise. People become suicide bombers because it is a vengeful end to a life no longer worth living- a life probably violently stripped of its humanity by a local terrorist- or a foreign soldier.

I hate suicide bombers. I hate the way my heart beats chaotically every time I pass by a suspicious-looking car- and every car looks suspicious these days. I hate the way Sunni mosques and Shia mosques are being targeted right and left. I hate seeing the bodies pile up in hospitals, teeth clenched in pain, wailing men and women…

But I completely understand how people get there.

One victim was holding his daughter. "The gunmen told the girl to move then shot the father," said a relative.

Would anyone be surprised if the abovementioned daughter grew up with a hate so vicious and a need for revenge so large, it dominated everything else in her life?

Or three days ago when American and Iraqi troops fired at a family traveling from one city to another, killing five members of the family.

"They are all children. They are not terrorists," shouted one relative. "Look at the children," he said as a morgue official carried a small dead child into a refrigeration room.

Who needs Al-Qaeda to recruit 'terrorists' when you have Da’awa, SCIRI and an American occupation?

The Iraqi Ministry of Interior is denying it all, of course. Just like they’ve been denying the whole Jadriya torture house incident and all of their other assassinations and killing sprees. They've gone so far as to claim that the Americans are lying about the Jadriya torture house.

In the last three weeks, at least six different prominent doctors/professors have been assassinated. Some of them were Shia and some of them were Sunni- some were former Ba’athists and others weren’t. The only thing they have in common is the fact that each of them played a prominent role in Iraqi universities prior to the war: Dr. Haykal Al-Musawi, Dr. Ra'ad Al-Mawla (biologist), Dr. Sa'ad Al-Ansari, Dr. Mustafa Al-Heeti (pediatrician), Dr. Amir Al-Khazraji, and Dr.Mohammed Al-Jaza'eri (surgeon).

I don’t know the details of all the slayings. I knew Dr. Ra’ad Al-Mawla- he was a former professor and department head in the science college of Baghdad University- Shia. He was a quiet man- a gentleman one could always approach with a problem. He was gunned down in his office, off campus. What a terrible loss.

Another professor killed earlier this month was the head of the pharmacy college. He had problems with Da’awa students earlier in the year. After Ja’afari et al. won in the elections, their followers in the college wanted to have a celebration in the college. Sensing it would lead to trouble, he wouldn’t allow any festivities besides the usual banners. He told them it was a college for studying and learning and to leave politics out of it. Some students threatened him- there were minor clashes in the college. He was killed around a week ago- maybe more.

Whoever is behind the assassinations, Iraq is quickly losing its educated people. More and more doctors and professors are moving to leave the country.

The problem with this situation is not just major brain drain- it's the fact that this diminishing educated class is also Iraq's secular class…

Friday, November 18, 2005
House of Horrors...
The talk of the town is the torture house they recently found in Jadriya.

The whole world heard about the one in Jadriya, recently raided by the Americans. Jadriya was once one of the best areas in Baghdad. It's an area on the river and is special in that it's greener, and cleaner, than most areas. Baghdads largest university, Baghdad University, is located in Jadriya (with a campus in another area). Jadriya had some of the best shops and restaurants- not to mention some of Baghdad's most elegant homes...… and apparently, now, a torture house.

We hear constantly about these torture dungeons. Right after the war, certain areas became infamous for them. The world knows them as 'torture houses' for the obvious reasons- they were once ordinary homes, and now they've become torture centers for suspects and innocents alike. The Iraqi government conveniently calls them 'detention centers' and the Iraqi Ministry of Interior oversees and funds them.

One area which was well-known for its torture houses immediately after the war was Sadir City in Baghdad. Except they weren't called torture houses back then. The people who ran them called them 'ma7akim' or 'courts'. They would bring 'suspects' in for interrogation- often ordinary citizens- and beat and whip them for various confessions involving accusations and alleged crimes. A 'Sayid' would then come in and sentence the culprit- the sentence would sometimes involve cutting off a hand or a foot and at other times it might be death. We heard this from an aunts neighbor who was mistakenly taken in and beaten as a suspected former security agent. His family connections with influential Shia clerics in the area were the only things that got him out alive- bruised and broken- but alive.

These torture houses have existed since the beginning of the occupation. While it is generally known that SCIRI is behind them, other religious parties are not innocent. The Americans know they exist- why the sudden shock and outrage? This is hardly news for Americans in the Green Zone. The timing is quite interesting- it shouldn't matter that this raid came immediately after the whole white phosphorous story came out, but the Pentagon and American military have proven to be the ultimate masters of diversion.

Only last year in an area called Ghazaliya, one such house was discovered. It was on a smaller scale though. My cousin lives in Ghazaliya and he said that when the Americans got inside, they found several corpses and a man hanging from the ceiling on a makeshift noose. The neighbors had tried to get the Americans to check the house for months- no one bothered. They finally raided it because they got information from someone in the area that it was an insurgents hiding place. I read once that in New York, if a woman is being raped, she should scream 'fire' instead of 'rape' because no one would come to save her if she was screaming 'rape'. That's the way it is with Iraqi torture houses- the only way they'll check it is if you tell them it's a terrorist cell.

And another thing- you know when they say 'men dressed in Ministry of Interior uniforms' or 'men in official cars claiming to be from the Ministry of Interior', etc. when describing some horror committed by the new Iraqi security forces in the news? Here's a thought: they aren't 'claiming' and they aren't in costume- they actually ARE from the Ministry of Interior! One would think they'd do this covertly so as not to enrage Iraqis or humanitarian organisations, except that it doesn't matter to them because SCIRI and Da'awa aren't out to win hearts and minds. They have American favor- what more does one need in the New Iraq?

For over a year corpses have been turning up all over Baghdad. Corpses of people who are taken from their homes in the middle of the night (lately they've been more brazen- they just do everything in the light of day), and turn up dead somewhere. That isn't as disturbing as the reports about the bodies- the one I can't get out of my head is that many of the corpses are found with holes in the skull left by an electric drill.

I guess the lucky ones go to Abu Ghraib...…

And it's not only 'suspected insurgents' who disappear- Iraqi security forces have been known to raid complete areas and detain any males from the ages of 12 to 60- especially in Sunni areas. Those 'suspected terrorists' that are rounded up and taken away- you know where they disappear to now.

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr (SCIRI Thug-Made-Government-Official-In-Italian-Suits) is mollifying Iraqis with this little gem,

...the group included Shiites as well as Sunnis...…

I'm sure we can all sleep better at night with the knowledge that SCIRI/Da'awa torturers don't discriminate according to religious sect- under the new constitution, American military guidance, and the blessings of the Pentagon- all Iraqis will be tortured equally.

Thursday, November 17, 2005
Conventional Terror...
It sat on my PC desktop for five days.

The first day I read about it on the internet, on some site, my heart sank. White phosphorous in Falloojeh. I knew nothing about white phosphorous, of course, and a part of me didn’t want to know the details. I tried downloading the film four times and was almost relieved when I got disconnected all four times.

E. had heard about the film too and one of his friends S. finally brought it by on CD. He and E. shut themselves up in the room with the computer to watch the brief documentary. E. came out half an hour later looking pale- his lips tightened in a straight line, which is the way he looks when he’s pensive... thinking about something he'd rather not discuss.

“Hey- I want to see it too…” I half-heartedly called out after him, as he walked S. to the door.

“It’s on the desktop- but you really don’t want to see it.” E. said.

I avoided the computer for five days because every time I switched it on, the file would catch my eye and call out to me… now plaintively- begging to be watched, now angrily- condemning my indifference.

Except that it was never indifference… it was a sort of dread that sat deep in my stomach, making me feel like I had swallowed a dozen small stones. I didn’t want to see it because I knew it contained the images of the dead civilians I had in my head.

Few Iraqis ever doubted the American use of chemical weapons in Falloojeh. We’ve been hearing the terrifying stories of people burnt to the bone for well over a year now. I just didn’t want it confirmed.

I didn’t want it confirmed because confirming the atrocities that occurred in Falloojeh means verifying how really lost we are as Iraqis under American occupation and how incredibly useless the world is in general- the UN, Kofi Annan, humanitarian organizations, clerics, the Pope, journalists… you name it- we’ve lost faith in it.

I finally worked up enough courage to watch it and it has lived up to my worst fears. Watching it was almost an invasive experience, because I felt like someone had crawled into my mind and brought my nightmares to life. Image after image of men, women and children so burnt and scarred that the only way you could tell the males apart from the females, and the children apart from the adults, was by the clothes they are wearing… the clothes which were eerily intact- like each corpse had been burnt to the bone, and then dressed up lovingly in their everyday attire- the polka dot nightgown with a lace collar… the baby girl in her cotton pajamas- little earrings dangling from little ears.

Some of them look like they died almost peacefully, in their sleep… others look like they suffered a great deal- skin burnt completely black and falling away from scorched bones.

I imagine what it must have been like for some of them. They were probably huddled in their houses- some of them- tens of thousands of them- couldn’t leave the city. They didn’t have transport or they simply didn’t have a place to go. They sat in their homes, hoping that what people said about Americans was actually true- that in spite of their huge machines and endless weapons, they were human too.

And then the rain of bombs would begin… the wooooosh of the missiles as they fell and the sound of the explosion as it hit its target… and no matter how prepared you think you are for that explosion- it always makes you flinch. I imagine their children covering their ears and some of them crying, trying to cover up the mechanical sounds of war with their more human wails. I imagine that as the tanks got closer, and the planes got lower- the fear increased- and parents searched each other’s faces for a solution, for a way out of the horror. Some of them probably decided to wait it out in their homes, and others must have been desperate to get out- fearing the rain of concrete and steel and thinking their chances were better in the open air, than confined in the homes that could at any moment turn into their tombs.

That’s what we were told before the Americans came- it’s safer to be outside of the house during an air strike than it is to be inside of the house. Inside of the house, a missile nearby would turn the windows into millions of little daggers and walls might come crashing down. In the garden, or even the street, you’d only have to worry about shrapnel and debris if the bomb was very close- but what were the chances of that?

That was before 2003… and certainly before Falloojeh.

That was before men, women and children left their homes only to be engulfed in a rain of fire.

Last year I blogged about Falloojeh and said:

“There is talk of the use of cluster bombs and other forbidden weaponry.”

I was immediately attacked with a barrage of emails from Americans telling me I was a liar and that there was no proof and that there was no way Americans would ever do something so appalling! I wonder how those same people justify this now. Are they shocked? Or do they tell themselves that Iraqis aren’t people? Or are they simply in denial?

The Pentagon spokesman recently said:

"It's part of our conventional-weapons inventory and we use it like we use any other conventional weapon,"

This war has redefined ‘conventional’. It has taken atrocity to another level. Everything we learned before has become obsolete. ‘Conventional’ has become synonymous with horrifying. Conventional weapons are those that eat away the skin in a white blaze; conventional interrogation methods are like those practiced in Abu Ghraib and other occupation prisons…

Quite simply… conventional terror.

Sunday, November 06, 2005
Movies and Dreams...
My parents, like many Iraqis of their generation and educational background, discouraged too much tv. When E. and I were younger, they were vigilant about the type of shows and movies we were allowed to watch. They didn’t like for us to be exposed to propaganda- Arab or Western- and any programs containing excessive violence, foul language or sexual content were prohibited. On the other hand, all types of books were encouraged. I grew up reading books by authors ranging from Jane Austen to John LeCarre, from Emily Bronte to Maxim Gorky to Simone de Beauvoir… nothing was ever off-limits.

Where movies and television were concerned, there were times when something would slip through their censorship- or rather, there were times when WE would slip through their censorship and watch something at a friend’s house or at a relative’s house, etc.

I believe everyone remembers a movie or two, seen during childhood, that remained ingrained in their memory for years. For me, there were two such events. One was a movie, the other was a recording or documentary- I can’t remember which.

In my memory, neither of them have a name and neither of them have a place- I don’t remember where I saw either one. The images, however, play themselves over in my head with the clarity of an original DVD being shown at the highest resolution.

The first one, I remember, was a movie about the Holocaust. It was fictional but obviously based on actual events. I saw that film sometime in the mid-eighties. The image that horrified me most was of a little girl, no more than six or seven years of age, being made to run by Nazi guards and try to scale a very high wall. She was told that if she could scale that wall, she would be free. As soon as she started running towards the wall, her little feet stumbling in the rush to cover the distance between her captors and freedom, the guards set free three large, ferocious, black dogs on her. I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but I remember a symphony of terror- her screams, the barking dogs and laughing guards.

The second movie/film/actual footage had no actors- they were real people acting out atrocities. We were visiting Iraq and I was around 8 years old. I walked in on someone, somewhere, watching what I thought at first was news footage because of the picture quality. It showed what I later learned was an Iraqi POW in Iran. I watched as Iranian guards tied each arm of the helpless man to a different vehicle. I was young, but even I knew what was going to happen the next moment. I wanted to run away or close my eyes- but I couldn’t move. I was rooted to the spot, almost as if I too had been chained there. A moment later, the cars began driving off in opposite directions- and the man was in agony as his arm was torn off at the socket.

I never forgot that video. Millions of Iraqis still remember it. Every time I hear the word “aseer” which is Arabic for POW, that video plays itself in my head. For weeks, I’d see it in my mind before I fell asleep at night, and wake up to it in the morning. It haunted me and I’d wonder how long it took the man to die after that atrocity- I didn’t even know human arms came off that way.

The horrors of what happened to the POWs in Iran lived with us even after the war. The rumors of torture- mental and physical- came back so often and were confirmed so much, that mothers would pray their sons were dead instead of taken prisoner in Iran- especially after that video that came out in either 1984 or 1986. Every Iraqi who had a missing relative from that war, saw them in the agonized face of that POW who lost his arm. SCIRI head Abdul Aziz Al Hakim and his dead brother Mohammed Baqir Al Hakim were both well-known interrogators and torturers of Iraqi POWs in Iran.

There isn’t a single Iraqi family, I believe, that didn’t lose a loved one, or several, to that war. There isn’t a single family that didn’t have horror stories to tell about the POW that came home. They were giving back our POWs up until 2003. In our family alone, we lost four men to that war- three were confirmed dead- one Shia and two Sunnis- and the fourth, S., has been missing since 1983.

When he left for the war, S. was 24 and engaged to be married within the year- the house was even furnished and the wedding date set. He never came back. His mother, my mothers cousin, finally gave up hope that he’d come back in 2003. With every new group of POWs returning from Iran, she’d make phone calls and beg for news of her darling S. Had anyone seen him? Had anyone heard of him? Was he dead? With every fresh disappointment, we’d tell her that in spite of the long years, it was possible he was still alive- there was hope he’d come back. In 2002, she confessed to my mother that she wished someone would come along and crush the hope once and for all- confirm he was dead. In her heart, a mothers heart, she knew he was dead- but she needed the confirmation because without it, giving up hope completely would be a form of betrayal.

The agony of the long war with Iran is what makes the current situation in Iraq so difficult to bear- especially this last year. The occupation has ceased to be American. It is American in face, and militarily, but in essence it has metamorphosed slowly but surely into an Iranian one.

It began, of course, with Badir’s Brigade and the several Iran-based political parties which followed behind the American tanks in April 2003. It continues today with a skewed referendum, and a constitution that will guarantee a southern Iraqi state modeled on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The referendum results were so disappointing and there have been so many stories of fraud and shady dealings (especially in Mosul), that there’s already talk of boycotting the December elections. This was the Puppets’ shining chance to show that there is that modicum of democracy they claim the Iraqi people are enjoying under occupation- that chance was terribly botched up.

As for the December elections- Sistani has, up until now, coyly abstained from blatantly supporting any one specific political group. This will probably continue until late November / early December during which he will be persistently asked by his followers to please issue a Fatwa about the elections. Eventually, he’ll give his support to one of the parties and declare a vote for said party a divine obligation. I wager he’ll support the United Iraqi Alliance - like last elections.

Interestingly enough, this time around the UIA will be composed of not just SCIRI and Da’awa- but also of the Sadrists (Jaysh il Mahdi)- Muqtada’s followers! For those who followed the situation in Iraq last year, many will recognize Muqtada as the ‘firebrand cleric’, the ‘radical’ and ‘terrorist’. Last year, there was even a warrant for Muqtada’s arrest from the Ministry of Interior and supported by the Americans who repeatedly said they were either going to detain the ‘radical cleric’ or kill him.

Well, today he’s very much alive and involved in the ‘political process’ American politicians and their puppets hail so energetically. Sadr and his followers have been responsible for activities such as terrorizing hairdressers, bombing liquor stores, and abductions of women not dressed properly, etc. because all these things are considered anti-Islamic (according to Iranian-style Islam). Read more about Sadr’s militia here- who dares to say the Americans, Brits and Puppets don’t have everything under control?!

Americans constantly tell me, “What do you think will happen if we pull out of Iraq- those same radicals you fear will take over.” The reality is that most Iraqis don’t like fundamentalists and only want stability- most Iraqis wouldn’t stand for an Iran-influenced Iraq. The American military presence is working hand in hand with Badir, etc. because only together with Iran can they suppress anti-occupation Iraqis all over the country. If and when the Americans leave, their Puppets and militias will have to pack up and return to wherever they came from because without American protection and guidance they don’t stand a chance.

We literally laugh when we hear the much subdued threats American politicians make towards Iran. The US can no longer afford to threaten Iran because they know that should the followers of Sadr, Iranian cleric Sistani and Badir’s Brigade people rise up against the Americans, they’d have to be out of Iraq within a month. Iran can do what it wants- enrich uranium? Of course! If Tehran declared tomorrow that it was currently in negotiations for a nuclear bomb, Bush would have to don his fake pilot suit again, gush enthusiastically about the War on Terror and then threaten Syria some more.

Congratulations Americans- not only are the hardliner Iranian clerics running the show in Iran- they are also running the show in Iraq. This shift of power should have been obvious to the world when My-Loyalty-to-the-Highest-Bidder-Chalabi sold his allegiance to Iran last year. American and British sons and daughters and husbands and wives are dying so that this coming December, Iraqis can go out and vote for Iran influenced clerics to knock us back a good four hundred years.

What happened to the dream of a democratic Iraq?

Iraq has been the land of dreams for everyone except Iraqis- the Persian dream of a Shia controlled Islamic state modeled upon Iran and inclusive of the holy shrines in Najaf, the pan-Arab nationalist dream of a united Arab region with Iraq acting as its protective eastern border, the American dream of controlling the region by installing permanent bases and a Puppet government in one of its wealthiest countries, the Kurdish dream of an independent Kurdish state financed by the oil wealth in Kirkuk…

The Puppets the Americans empowered are advocates of every dream except the Iraqi one: The dream of Iraqi Muslims, Christians, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen… the dream of a united, stable, prosperous Iraq which has, over the last two years, gone up in the smoke of car bombs, military raids and a foreign occupation.

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