Baghdad Burning

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

Friday, April 30, 2004
Those Pictures...
The pictures are horrific. I felt a multitude of things as I saw them... the most prominent feeling was rage, of course. I had this incredible desire to break something- like that would make things somehow better or ease the anger and humiliation. We’ve been hearing terrible stories about Abu Ghraib Prison in Baghdad for a while now, but those pictures somehow spoke like no words could.

Seeing those naked, helpless, hooded men was like being slapped in the face with an ice cold hand. I felt ashamed looking at them- like I was seeing something I shouldn’t be seeing and all I could think was, “I might know one of those faceless men...” I might have passed him in the street or worked with him. I might have bought groceries from one of them or sat through a lecture they gave in college... any of them might be a teacher, gas station attendant or engineer... any one of them might be a father or grandfather... each and every one of them is a son and possibly a brother. And people wonder at what happened in Falloojeh a few weeks ago when those Americans were killed and dragged through the streets...

All anyone can talk about today are those pictures... those terrible pictures. There is so much rage and frustration. I know the dozens of emails I’m going to get claiming that this is an ‘isolated incident’ and that they are ‘ashamed of the people who did this’ but does it matter? What about those people in Abu Ghraib? What about their families and the lives that have been forever damaged by the experience in Abu Ghraib? I know the messages that I’m going to get- the ones that say, “But this happened under Saddam...” Like somehow, that makes what happens now OK... like whatever was suffered in the past should make any mass graves, detentions and torture only minor inconveniences now. I keep thinking of M. and how she was 'lucky' indeed. And you know what? You won't hear half of the atrocities and stories because Iraqis are proud, indignant people and sexual abuse is not a subject anyone is willing to come forward with. The atrocities in Abu Ghraib and other places will be hidden away and buried under all the other dirt the occupation brought with it...

It’s beyond depressing and humiliating... my blood boils at the thought of what must be happening to the female prisoners. To see those smiling soldiers with the Iraqi prisoners is horrible. I hope they are made to suffer... somehow I know they won’t be punished. They’ll be discharged from the army, at best, and made to go back home and join families and cronies who will drink to the pictures and the way “America’s finest” treated those “Dumb I-raki terrorists”. That horrible excuse of a human, Janis Karpinski, will then write a book about how her father molested her as a child and her mother drank herself into an early death- that’s why she did what she did in Abu Ghraib. It makes me sick.

Where is the Governing Council? Where are they hiding now?

I want something done about it and I want it done publicly. I want those horrible soldiers who were responsible for this to be publicly punished and humiliated. I want them to be condemned and identified as the horrible people they are. I want their children and their children’s children to carry on the story of what was done for a long time- as long as those prisoners will carry along with them the humiliation and pain of what was done and as long as the memory of those pictures remains in Iraqi hearts and minds...

Monday, April 26, 2004
Of Chalabi, Flags and Anthems...
There are two different kinds of strain. There's the physical strain of carrying 40 pails of water up and down the stairs to fill the empty water tank on the roof- after the 4th or 5th pail of water, you can literally see your muscles quivering under your skin and without the bucket of water, your arms somehow feel weightless- almost nonexistent. Then there's mental strain… that is when those forty buckets of water are being emptied in your head and there's a huge flow of thoughts and emotions that threaten to overwhelm you.

I think everyone I know is suffering from that mental strain. You can see it in the eyes and hear it in the taut voices that threaten to break with the burden of emotion. We're all watching things carefully and trying to focus on leading semi-normal lives all at once. The situation in the south seems to be deteriorating and we hear of fresh new deaths every day. Fighting has broken out in Falloojeh again and I'm not quite sure what has happened to the ceasefire. It's hard to know just what is going on. There's a sense of collective exhaustion in the air.

I've been reading articles about Chalabi being (very hopefully) on his way out. I can't believe it took this long for Washington to come to the conclusion that he is completely useless. Did anyone there actually believe he was going to be greeted as the leader of a new era? We were watching him carefully during the last few weeks, trying to see what he would do or say during the attacks on Falloojeh and all the fighting in the south. That was a crucial time… we were waiting for some reaction from the Puppets- any reaction. Some condemning words… some solidarity with the Iraqis being killed and left homeless and there was a strange sort of silence. One of them threatened to step down, but that was only after outraged Iraqis showed an inclination to eat them alive if something wasn't done about the situation…

Chalabi has only lately ventured out from under his rock (in the usual flashy tie) to cry out that Lakhdhar Il Braheimi, the special UN representative sent by Kofi to check out the possibility of elections, is completely and totally biased against Shi'a. So now Chalabi seems to consider himself a champion of Shi'a everywhere in Iraq. The amusing thing about this is the fact that, apparently, no one has told Chalabi that he has become the joke of the Shi'a community. We (Sunnis and Shi'a) tease each other with things like, "So… the Shi'a man of the moment is Chalabi, ah?!" and the phrase is usually received with an indignant outcry and a comparison of the man of the moment to… Britney Spears, for example.

I stare at him when he gives his speeches on television and cringe with the thought that someone out there could actually have thought he was representative of any faction of Iraqi society. I can hardly believe that he was supposed to be the one to target the Iraqi intellectuals and secularists. He's the tasteless joke Bush and Co. sent along with the soldiers and tanks to promote democracy- rather like one of those plastic blowup dolls teenage boys practice dancing with before the prom.

I also heard today that the Puppets are changing the flag. It looks nothing like the old one and at first I was angry and upset, but then I realized that it wouldn't make a difference. The Puppets are illegitimate, hence their constitution is null and void and their flag is theirs alone. It is as representative of Iraq as they are- it might as well have "Made in America" stitched along the inside seam. It can be their flag and every time we see it, we'll see Chalabi et al. against its pale white background.

My email buddy and fellow Iraqi S.A. in America said it best in her email, "I am sure we are all terribly excited about the extreme significance of the adoption by the completely illegitimate Iraq Puppet Council of a new national piece of garishly colored cloth. Of course the design of the new national rag was approved by the always tastefully dressed self-declared counter terrorism expert viceroy of Iraq, Paul Bremer, who is well known for wearing expensive hand-stitched combat boots with thousand dollar custom tailored suits and silk designer ties.
The next big piece of news will be the new pledge of allegiance to said national rag, and the empire for which it stands. The American author of said pledge has yet to be announced

For the coming national anthem, may I suggest Chalabi, Allawi, Hakeem and Talbani in a gaudy, Iraqi version of "Lady Marmalade"?

Friday, April 23, 2004
I Just Can't Explain...
I haven't written for the last week or so because I simply haven't felt like it. It sometimes feels like homework and I actually end up feeling guilty when I don't write. I avoid looking at the computer because it sometimes seems to look back at me rebukingly, wondering why I haven't been blogging or at least checking my emails. The truth is that there's so much going on around us that I can't even begin to try to summarize it into a meagre blog. The current situation in the south and the supposed truce in Falloojeh has me worried and angry all at once. There's nothing that can describe the current feeling in the air... it's like that Morrissey song:

Now my heart is full
Now my heart is full
And I just can't explain
So I won't even try to

There's a sort of truce going on in Falloojeh but the problem is that we still here of people being killed on both sides and areas being bombed in the city. The refugees are still in Baghdad and neighboring cities. We heard that, for a couple of days, the troops were letting in around 80 families a day- now that number seems to have dwindled to 15 families a day. The refugees seem anxious to get back to their homes and many of them left behind family members in the city.

The situation in the south, especially Karbala, is also worrisome. There are stories of clashes between troops and the Al-Sadr's militia. There have also been explosions in Basra and Baghdad but they hardly register on the news anymore. Iraqis take it in stride along with dust storms, blackouts and mosquitos. It has become a part of life and one simply has to find away to live around it, just as one finds a way around American road blocks and concrete walls that are rising ever higher.

There is a sort of muggy, heavy heat lately. It's not the usual dry Iraqi heat that we're accustomed to. It's more of a moist, clammy heat that feels almost solid. The electrical situation is still quite bad in many areas. We're on a schedule of 3 hours of electricity and then three hours of darkness. While it was tolerable during the cool winter months, the hellish summer months promise to be torture.

I think I'll blog some more tomorrow... just wanted to all those concerned that I'm ok- I'm alive and I definitely have more to say.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Media and Falloojeh...
There has been a lot of criticism about the way Al-Arabia and Al-Jazeera were covering the riots and fighting in Falloojeh and the south this last week. Some American spokesman for the military was ranting about the "spread of anti-Americanism" through networks like the abovementioned.

Actually, both networks did a phenomenal job of covering the attacks on Falloojeh and the southern provinces. Al-Jazeera had their reporter literally embedded in the middle of the chaos- and I don't mean the lame embedded western journalists type of thing they had going at the beginning of the war (you know- embedded in the Green Zone and embedded in Kuwait, etc.). Ahmed Mansur, I believe his name was, was actually standing there, in the middle of the bombing, shouting to be heard over the F-16s and helicopters blasting away at houses and buildings. It brought back the days of 'shock and awe'...

I know it bothers the CPA terribly to have the corpses of dead Iraqis shown on television. They would love for Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia to follow Al-Hurra's example and show endless interviews with pro-occupation Iraqis living abroad and speaking in stilted Arabic. These interviews, of course, are interspersed with translated documentaries on the many marvels of... Hollywood. And while I, personally, am very interested in the custom leather interiors of the latest Audi, I couldn't seem to draw myself away from Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia while 700+ Iraqis were being killed.

To lessen the feelings of anti-Americanism, might I make a few suggestions? Stop the collective punishment. When Mark Kimmett stutters through a press conference babbling about "precision weapons" and "military targets" in Falloojeh, who is he kidding? Falloojeh is a small city made up of low, simple houses, little shops and mosques. Is he implying that the 600 civilians who died during the bombing and the thousands injured and maimed were all "insurgents"? Are houses, shops and mosques now military targets?

What I'm trying to say is that we don't need news networks to make us angry or frustrated. All you need to do is talk to one of the Falloojeh refugees making their way tentatively into Baghdad; look at the tear-stained faces, the eyes glazed over with something like shock. In our neighborhood alone there are at least 4 families from Falloojeh who have come to stay with family and friends in Baghdad. The stories they tell are terrible and grim and it's hard to believe that they've gone through so much.

I think western news networks are far too tame. They show the Hollywood version of war- strong troops in uniform, hostile Iraqis being captured and made to face "justice" and the White House turkey posing with the Thanksgiving turkey... which is just fine. But what about the destruction that comes with war and occupation? What about the death? I don't mean just the images of dead Iraqis scattered all over, but dead Americans too. People should *have* to see those images. Why is it not ok to show dead Iraqis and American troops in Iraq, but it's fine to show the catastrophe of September 11 over and over again? I wish every person who emails me supporting the war, safe behind their computer, secure in their narrow mind and fixed views, could actually come and experience the war live. I wish they could spend just 24 hours in Baghdad today and hear Mark Kimmett talk about the death of 700 "insurgents" like it was a proud day for Americans everywhere...

Still, when I hear talk about "anti-Americanism" it angers me. Why does American identify itself with its military and government? Why is does being anti-Bush and anti-occupation have to mean that a person is anti-American? We watch American movies, listen to everything from Britney Spears to Nirvana and refer to every single brown, fizzy drink as "Pepsi".

I hate American foreign policy and its constant meddling in the region... I hate American tanks in Baghdad and American soldiers on our streets and in our homes on occasion... why does that mean that I hate America and Americans? Are tanks, troops and violence the only face of America? If the Pentagon, Department of Defense and Condi are "America", then yes- I hate America.

Sunday, April 11, 2004
One of Those Countries...
We've taken to sleeping in the living room again. We put up the heavy drapes the day before yesterday and E. and I re-taped the windows looking out into the garden. This time, I made them use the clear tape so that the view wouldn't be marred with long, brown strips of tape. We sleep in the living room because it is the safest room in the house and the only room that will hold the whole family comfortably.

The preparations for sleep begin at around 10 p.m. on days when we have electricity and somewhat earlier on dark nights. E. and I have to drag out the mats, blankets and pillows and arrange them creatively on the floor so that everyone is as far away from the windows as possible, without actually being crowded.

Baghdad is calm and relatively quiet if you don't count the frequent explosions. Actually, when we don't hear explosions, it gets a bit worrying. I know that sounds strange but it's like this- you know how you see someone holding a rifle or gun and aiming at something, ready to fire? You cringe and tense up while waiting for the gunshot and keep thinking, "It's coming, it's coming...". That's how it feels on a morning without explosions. Somehow, you just *know* there are going to be explosions... it's only a matter of time. Hearing them is a relief and you can loosen up after they occur and hope that they'll be the last of the day.

The hostage situations are a mess. I watch television and it feels like I'm watching another country. All I can think is, "We've become one of *those* countries..." You know- the ones where hostages are taken on a daily basis and governments warn their civilians of visiting or entering the country. It's especially sad because even during those long years during the blockade and in between wars and bombings, there were never any attacks on foreigners. Iraqis are hospitable, friendly people who always used to treat foreigners with care... now, everyone is treated like a potential enemy.

The case of the Japanese hostages is especially sad- I'm so sorry for their families and friends specifically, and the Japanese people in general. We keep hearing conflicting reports about their situation. This morning I heard that the kidnappers agreed to free them but someone else told me that it was just a rumor... it's so hard to tell. It's heart-breaking to see them on television and I wish there was something that could be done. Will the Japanese government pull out the troops? Not likely... three people won't matter to them. I hope they come out of this alive and well and I hope they don't hold a grudge against Iraqis. There's hostility towards Japan because of the fact that they sent soldiers... Japan became one of 'them' when they decided to send over troops and these are the consequences. I'm so sorry... in spite of the fact that dozens of Iraqis are abducted and killed each day, I'm really sorry.

They say around 600 Iraqis were killed in Falloojeh- 120 children and 200 women... it's an atrocity and horribly sad. They have let one or two convoys in and the rest were sent back. The refugees from the area are flowing into Baghdad and it's horrible to see them. Women and children with tear-stained faces, mostly in black, carrying bundles of clothes and bottles of water. The mosques are gathering food and clothes for them... one of the storage areas for the refugee stuff was hit by an American tank today in A'adhamiya and the scene is chaotic... scattered food, medication, bandages, blankets, etc.

The south is a bit calmer because of the 'Arba'een' of the Imam Hussein which will last for a couple of days... no one knows what will happen after.

Friday, April 09, 2004
One Year Later - April 9, 2004
April 9, 2004

Today, the day the Iraqi Puppets hail "National Day", will mark the day of the "Falloojeh Massacre"… Bremer has called for a truce and ceasefire in Falloojeh very recently and claimed that the bombing will stop, but the bombing continues as I write this. Over 300 are dead in Falloojeh and they have taken to burying the dead in the town football field because they aren't allowed near the cemetery. The bodies are decomposing in the heat and the people are struggling to bury them as quickly as they arrive. The football field that once supported running, youthful feet and cheering fans has turned into a mass grave holding men, women and children.

The people in Falloojeh have been trying to get the women and children out of the town for the last 48 hours but all the roads out of the city are closed by the Americans and refugees are being shot at and bombed on a regular basis… we're watching the television and crying. The hospital is overflowing with victims… those who have lost arms and legs… those who have lost loved ones. There isn't enough medicine or bandages… what are the Americans doing?! This is collective punishment … is this the solution to the chaos we're living in? Is this the 'hearts and minds' part of the campaign?

A convoy carrying food, medication, blood and doctors left for Falloojeh yesterday, hoping to get in and help the people in there. Some people from our neighborhood were gathering bags of flour and rice to take into the town. E. and I rummaged the house from top to bottom and came up with a big sack of flour, a couple of smaller bags of rice, a few kilos of assorted dry lentil, chickpeas, etc. We were really hoping the trucks could get through to help out in the city. Unfortunately, I just spoke with an Iraqi doctor who told me that the whole convoy was denied entry... it seems that now they are trying to get the women and children out or at least the very sick and wounded.

The south isn't much better… the casualties are rising and there's looting and chaos. There's an almost palpable anger in Baghdad. The faces are grim and sad all at once and there's a feeling of helplessness that can't be described in words. It's like being held under water and struggling for the unattainable surface- seeing all this destruction and devastation.

Firdaws Square, the place where the statue was brought down, is off-limits because the Americans fear angry mobs and demonstrations… but it doesn't matter because people are sticking to their homes. The kids haven't been to school for several days now and even the universities are empty. The situation in Baghdad feels very unstable and the men in the neighborhood are talking of a neighborhood watch again- just like the early days of occupation.

Where are the useless Governing Council? Why isn't anyone condemning the killings in the south and in Falloojeh?! Why aren't they sitting down that fool Bremer and telling him that this is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong??? If one of them were half a man or even half a human, they would threaten to resign their posts if there isn't an immediate ceasefire… the people are enraged. This latest situation proves that they aren't Iraqi- they aren't here for the welfare of the Iraqi people.

The American and European news stations don't show the dying Iraqis… they don't show the women and children bandaged and bleeding- the mother looking for some sign of her son in the middle of a puddle of blood and dismembered arms and legs… they don't show you the hospitals overflowing with the dead and dying because they don't want to hurt American feelings… but people *should* see it. You should see the price of your war and occupation- it's unfair that the Americans are fighting a war thousands of kilometers from home. They get their dead in neat, tidy caskets draped with a flag and we have to gather and scrape our dead off of the floors and hope the American shrapnel and bullets left enough to make a definite identification…

One year later, and Bush has achieved what he wanted- this day will go down in history and in the memory of all Iraqis as one of the bloodiest days ever...

Occupation Day - April 9, 2003
The last few days, I've been sorely trying to avoid a trip down memory lane. I flip the channel every time they show shots of Baghdad up in flames, I turn off the radio as they begin to talk about the first few days of occupation, and I quietly leave the room as family members begin, "Remember how…" No, I don't *want* to remember some of the worst days of my life. I wish there was some way one could selectively delete certain memories as one does files on a computer… however, that's impossible.

Today, I'm letting my mind wander back to last April quite freely. April 9, 2003 in particular. The day our darling Puppet Council has chosen to represent our 'National Day'… the day the occupation became not a possibility, but a definite reality.

The day began with heavy bombing. I remember waking up at 5 a.m. to a huge explosion. The hair almost stood on my head. We were all sleeping in the living room because the drapes were heavy and offered some small security against shattering glass. E. instantly jumped up and ran to make sure the Klashnikov was loaded properly and I tried to cover my cousin's children better with the heavy blankets. The weather was already warm, but the blankets would protect the kids against glass. Their older daughter was, luckily, still sound asleep- lost in a dream or nightmare. The younger one lay in the semi-dark, with eyes wide open. I sensed her trying to read my face for some small reassurance… I smiled tightly, "Go back to sleep…"

After a few more colossal explosions, we all knew sleep would be useless. It was still too early for breakfast and no one was in the mood anyway. My mother and I got up to check the bags we had packed, and waiting, by the door. We had packed the bags during the first few days of war… they contained some sturdy clothes, bottles of water, important documents (like birth certificates and ID papers), and some spare money. They were to remain by the door in case the ceiling came crashing down or the American tanks came plowing through the neighborhood. In either case, we were given specific instructions to run for the door and take out the bags, "Don't wait for anyone- just run and take the bags with you…" came the orders.

Our area was one of the more volatile areas. We had helicopters hovering above, fighter planes and explosions. An area just across the main street had been invaded by tanks and we could hear the gun shots and tanks all night. My mother stood, unsure, at the window, trying to see the street. Were we supposed to evacuate? Were we supposed to stay in the house and wait? What was going to happen? E. and my cousin volunteered to ask the neighbors their plans.

They came back 5 minutes later. E. was pale and my cousin looked grim. Everyone on our street was in the same quandary- what was to be done? E. said that while there were a few men in the streets in our immediate area, the rest of Baghdad seemed almost empty. We negotiated leaving the house and heading for my uncle's home on the other side of Baghdad, but my cousin said that that would be impossible- the roads were all blocked, the bridges were cut off by American tanks and even if we were lucky enough to get anywhere near my uncle's area, we risked being shot by a tank or helicopter. No, we would wait it out at home.

My cousin's wife was wide awake by then. She sat in the middle of her two children and held them close on either side. She hadn't spoken to her parents in almost a week now… there were no telephones to contact them and there was no way to get to their area. She was beyond terrified at this crucial point… she was certain that they were all dead or dying and the only thing that seemed to be keeping her functioning was the presence of her two young daughters.

At that point, my mind was numb. All I could do was react to the explosions- flinch when one was particularly powerful, and automatically say a brief prayer of thanks when another was further away. Every once in a while, my brain would clear enough to do some mindless chore, like fill the water pots or fold the blankets, but otherwise, I felt numb.

It was almost noon when the explosions calmed somewhat and I risked going outside for a few moments. The planes were freely coming and going and, along with the sound of distant gunshots, only they pierced the eerie silence. My mother joined me outside a few minutes later and stood next to me under a small olive tree.

"In case we have to leave, there are some things I want to be sure you know…" she said, and I nodded vaguely, studying a particularly annoying plane we were calling 'buggeh' or 'bug', as it made the sound of a mosquito while it flew. We later learned it was a 'surveyor' plane that scanned certain areas for resistance or Iraqi troops.

"The documents in the bag contain the papers for the house, the car…" I was alert. I turned to her and asked, "But why are you telling me this- you know I know. We packed the stuff together… and *you* know everything anyway…" She nodded assent but added, "Well, I just want to be sure… in case something happens… if we…"

"You mean if we get separated for some reason?" I finished quickly. "Yes, if we get separated… fine. You have to know where everything is and what it is…" By then, I was fighting hard against tears. I swallowed with difficulty and concentrated harder on the planes above. I wondered how many parents and kids were having this very same conversation today. She continued talking for a few moments and seemed to introduce a new and terrible possibility that I hadn't dared to think about all this time- life after death. Not eternal life after death- that was nothing new- but the possibility of *our* life, mine and E.'s, after *their* death.

During the war, the possibility of death was a constant. There were moments when I was sure we'd all be dead in a matter of seconds- especially during the horrific 'shock and awe' period. But I always took it for granted that we'd all die together- as a family. We'd either survive together or die together… it was always that simple. This new possibility was one I refused to think about.

As we sat there, she talking, and I retreating further and further into the nightmare of words, there was a colossal explosion that made the windows rattle, and even seemed to shake the sturdy trees in the little garden. I jumped, relieved to hear that sound for the very first time in my life… it was the end of that morbid conversation and all I could think was, "saved by the bomb".

We spent the rest of the day listening to the battery-powered radio and trying to figure out what was happening around us. We heard stories from the neighbors about a massacre in A'adhamiya- the Americans were shooting right and left, deaths and looting in the south… The streets were unsafe and the only people risking them were either the people seeking refuge in other areas, or the looters who began to descend on homes, schools, universities, museums and governmental buildings and institutions like a group of vultures on the carcass of a freshly dead lion.

Day faded into night… the longest day of my life. The day we sensed that the struggle in Baghdad was over and the fear of war was nothing compared to the new fear we were currently facing. It was the day I saw my first American tank roll grotesquely down the streets of Baghdad- through a residential neighborhood.

And that was April 9 for me and millions of others. There are thousands who weren't so lucky- they lost loved ones on April 9… to guns, and tanks and Apaches… and the current Governing Council want us to remember April 9 fondly and hail it our "National Day"… a day of victory… but whose victory? And whose nation?

Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Teapots and Kettles...
Now it seems we are almost literally reliving the first few days of occupation… I woke up to the sound of explosions and gunfire last night and for one terrible moment I thought someone had warped me back a whole year and we would have to relive this last year of our life over and over again…

We haven't sent the kids to school for 3 days. The atmosphere is charged and the day before yesterday, Baghdad was quiet and empty, almost… the calm before the storm. The area of A'adhamiya in Baghdad is seeing street fighting: the resistance and Americans are fighting out in the streets and Al-Sadr city was bombed by the troops. They say that dozens were killed and others wounded. They're bringing them in to hospitals in the center of the city.

Falloojeh has been cut off from the rest of Iraq for the last three days. It's terrible. They've been bombing it constantly and there are dozens dead. Yesterday they said that the only functioning hospital in the city was hit by the Americans and there's no where to take the wounded except a meager clinic that can hold up to 10 patients at a time. There are over a hundred wounded and dying and there's nowhere to bury the dead because the Americans control the area surrounding the only graveyard in Falloojeh; the bodies are beginning to decompose in the April heat. The troops won't let anyone out of Falloojeh and they won't let anyone into it either- the people are going to go hungry in a matter of days because most of the fresh produce is brought from outside of the city. We've been trying to call a friend who lives there for three days and we can't contact him.

This is supposed to be 'retaliation' for what happened last week with the American contractors- if they were indeed contractors. Whoever they were, it was gruesome and wrong… I feel for their families. Was I surprised? Hardly. This is an occupation and for those of you naïve enough to actually believe Chalabi and the Bush administration when they said the troops were going to be 'greeted with flowers and candy' then I can only wish that God will, in the future, grant you wisdom.

This is crazy. This is supposed to be punishment for violence but it's only going to result in more bloodshed on both sides… people are outraged everywhere- Sunnis and Shi'a alike. This constant bombing is only going to make things worse for everyone. Why do Americans think that people in Baghdad or the south or north aren’t going care what happens in Falloojeh or Ramadi or Nassriyah or Najaf? Would Americans in New York disregard bombing and killing in California?

And now Muqtada Al-Sadr's people are also fighting it out in parts of Baghdad and the south. If the situation weren't so frightening, it would almost be amusing to see Al-Hakeem and Bahr Ul Iloom describe Al-Sadr as an 'extremist' and a 'threat'. Muqtada Al-Sadr is no better and no worse than several extremists we have sitting on the Governing Council. He's just as willing to ingratiate himself to Bremer as Al-Hakeem and Bahr Ul Iloom. The only difference is that he wasn't given the opportunity, so now he's a revolutionary. Apparently, someone didn't give Bremer the memo about how when you pander to one extremist, you have to pander to them all. Hearing Abdul Aziz Al-Hakeem and Bahr Ul Iloom claim that Al-Sadr is a threat to security and stability brings about visions of the teapot and the kettle…

Then Bremer makes an appearance on tv and says that armed militias will *not* be a part of the New Iraq… where has that declaration been the last 12 months while Badir's Brigade has been wreaking havoc all over the country? Why not just solve the problem of Al-Sadr's armed militia by having them join the police force and army, like the Bayshmarga and Badir's Brigade?! Al-Sadr's militia is old news. No one was bothering them while they were terrorizing civilians in the south. They wore badges, carried Klashnikovs and roamed the streets freely… now that they've become a threat to the 'Coalition', they suddenly become 'terrorists' and 'agitators'.

Now there’s an arrest warrant with his name on it, although the Minister of Justice was on tv claiming he knew nothing about the arrest warrant, etc. He basically said that he was washing his hands of any move against Muqtada Al-Sadr. Don’t get me wrong- I’d love to see Muqtada behind bars, but it will only cause more chaos and rage. It’s much too late for that... he has been cultivating support for too long. It’s like a contest now between the prominent Shi’a clerics. The people are dissatisfied- especially in the south. The clerics who weren’t given due consideration and a position on the Governing Council, are now looking for influence and support through the people. You can either be a good little cleric and get along with Bremer (but have a lot of dissatisfied people *not* supporting you) or you can be a firebrand cleric and rally the masses...

It's like the first few days of occupation again… it's a nightmare and everyone is tense. My cousin and his family are staying with us for a few days because his wife hates to be alone at home with the kids. It's a relief to have them with us. We all sit glued to the television- flipping between Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabia, CNN, BBC and LBC, trying to figure out what is going on. The foreign news channels are hardly showing anything. They punctuate dazzling reportages on football games and family pets with a couple of minutes worth of footage from Iraq showing the same faces running around in a frenzy of bombing and gunfire and then talk about 'Al-Sadr the firebrand cleric', not mentioning the attacks by the troops in Ramadi, Falloojeh, Nassriyah, Baghdad, Koufa, etc.

Over the last three days, over 150 Iraqis have been killed by troops all over Iraq and it's maddening. At times I feel like a caged animal- there's so much frustration and anger. The only people still raving about 'liberation' are the Iraqis affiliated with the Governing Council and the Puppets, and even they are getting impatient with the mess.

Our foreign minister Hoshyar Zibari was being interviewed by some British journalist yesterday, making excuses for Tony Blair and commending him on the war. At one point someone asked him about the current situation in Iraq. He mumbled something about how there were 'problems' but it wasn't a big deal because Iraq was 'stable'… what Iraq is he living in?

And as I blog this, all the mosques, Sunni and Shi’a alike, are calling for Jihad...

Sunday, April 04, 2004
Riots, Star Gazing and Cricket Choirs...
There have been demonstrations by Al-Sadr's followers in Baghdad and Najaf. In Baghdad they are gathered near the Green Zone and the Sheraton hotel by the thousands- a huge angry mob, mostly in black. In Najaf,, they were just outside of the Spanish troops' camp. The demonstration in Najaf was shot at by the soldiers and they say that at least 14 are dead and dozens are wounded… An Iraqi friend in Diwaniya was telling me that they had to evacuate the CPA building in Najaf because it was under attack. He says there’s talk of Jihad amongst the Shi’a.

Let me make it very clear right now that I am *not* a supporter of Al-Sadr. I do not like clerics who want to turn Iraq into the next Iran or Saudi Arabia or Kuwait… but it makes me really, really angry to see these demonstrations greeted with bullets and tanks by the troops. Why allow demonstrations if you're going to shoot at the people? The demonstrators were unarmed but angry- Al-Sadr's newspaper was shut down recently by Bremer and Co. and his deputy is said to have been detained by the Spaniards down south (although the Spanish troops are denying it). His followers are outraged, and believe me- he has a healthy number of followers. His father was practically revered by some of the Shi'a and he apparently has inherited their respect.

Today Bremer also announced the fact that we now have an official 'Ministry of Defense'. The irony of the situation wasn't lost on Iraqis- the head of the occupation announcing a "Ministry of Defense". To defend against what? Occupation? Ha, ha… or maybe it's to secure the borders from unwelcome foreigners carrying guns and riding tanks? Or perhaps the Ministry of Defense should be more concerned with the extremists coming in from neighboring countries and taking over (but no- Bremer deals with them on the Puppet Council)… so many things to do for a Ministry of Defense.

There's also a new 'Mukhaberat' or "National Iraqi Intelligence Organization" (or something to that effect). The irony is that while the name is new and the head is Ali Abd Ul Ameer Allawi (a relative of the Puppet Council President Ayad Allawi), the faces of the new Mukhaberat promise to be some of the same as the old. They've been contacting the old members of the Iraqi Mukhaberat for months and promising them lucrative jobs should they decide to join the new Iraqi intelligence (which, we hope, will be an improvement on American intelligence- I’d hate to have us invade a country on false pretenses).

The weather is quite nice lately (with the exception of dust every once in a while). We spend the electricity-less evenings out in the little garden. We pull out plastic chairs and a little plastic table and sit around gazing at the sky, which is marvelously clear on many nights. E. is thinking of starting a ‘count the stars’ project. He’s going to allot a section of the sky to each member of the family and have them count the number of stars in their designated astral plot. I’m thinking of starting a ‘cricket choir’ with some very talented six-legged pests located under a dried-out rose bush...

In a few days, I’ll have to go up and wash out the roof or ‘sattih’. Last year, we’d sleep on top of the roof on the hot nights without electricity. We lay out thin mattresses on the clean ground and wet some sheets to cover ourselves with. It’s not too bad until around 6 a.m. when the sun rises high in the sky and the flies descend upon the sleepers like... well, like flies.

These last couple of weeks have been somewhat depressing for most people. You know how sometimes you look back at the past year and think to yourself, “What was I doing last year, on this same day?” Well we’ve been playing that game constantly lately. What was I doing last year, this very moment? I was listening for the sirens, listening for the planes and listening to the bombs fall. Now we just listen for the explosions- it’s not the same thing.

I haven’t been sleeping very well either. I’ve been having disturbing dreams lately... Dreams of being stuck under rubble or feeling the earth shudder beneath me as the windows rattle ominously. I know it has to do with the fact that every day we relive a little bit of the war- on television, on the radio, on the internet. I’m seeing some of the images for the very first time because we didn’t have electricity last year during the war and it really is painful. It’s hard to believe that we lived through so much...

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