Baghdad Burning

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

Monday, September 29, 2003
Sheikhs and Tribes...
A few people pointed out an article to me titled “Iraqi Family Ties Complicate American Efforts for Change”, by John Tierney. You need to be registered in New York Times to read it, but since registration is free, the articles are sometimes worth the hassle. I could comment for days on the article but I’ll have to make it as brief as possible, and I’ll also have to make it in two parts. Today I’ll blog about tribes and sheikhs and tomorrow I’ll blog about cousins and veils.

Iraqi family ties are complicating things for Americans- true. But not for the reasons Tierney states. He simplifies the whole situation incredibly by stating that because Iraqis tend to marry cousins, they’ll be less likely to turn each other in to American forces for all sorts of reasons that all lead back to nepotism.

First and foremost, in Baghdad, Mosul, Basrah, Kirkuk and various other large cities in Iraq, marrying cousins is out of style, and not very popular, when you have other choices. Most people who get into college end up marrying someone from college or someone they meet at work.

In other areas, cousins marry each other for the simple reason that many smaller cities and provinces are dominated by 4 or 5 huge ‘tribes’ or ‘clans’. So, naturally, everyone who isn’t a parent, grandparent, brother, sister, aunt or uncle is a ‘cousin’. These tribes are led by one or more Sheikhs.

When people hear the word ‘tribe’ or ‘sheikh’, they instantly imagine, I’m sure, Bedouins on camels and scenes from Lawrence of Arabia. Many modern-day Sheikhs in Iraq have college degrees. Many have lived abroad and own property in London, Beirut and various other glamorous capitals… they ride around in Mercedes’ and live in sprawling villas fully furnished with Victorian furniture, Persian carpets, oil paintings, and air conditioners. Some of them have British, German or American wives. A Sheikh is respected highly both by his clan members and by the members of other clans or tribes. He is usually considered the wisest or most influential member of the family. He is often also the wealthiest.

Sheikhs also have many duties. The modern Sheikh acts as a sort of family judge for the larger family disputes. He may have to give verdicts on anything from a land dispute to a marital spat. His word isn’t necessarily law, but any family member who decides to go against it is considered on his own, i.e. without the support and influence of the tribe. They are also responsible for the well-being of many of the poorer members of the tribe who come to them for help. We had relatively few orphans in orphanages in Iraq because the tribe takes in children without parents and they are often under the care of the sheikh’s direct family. The sheikh’s wife is sort of the ‘First Lady’ of the family and has a lot of influence with family members.

Shortly after the occupation, Jay Garner began meeting with the prominent members of Iraqi society- businessmen, religious leaders, academicians and sheikhs. The sheikhs were important because each sheikh basically had influence over hundreds, if not thousands, of ‘family’. The prominent sheikhs from all over Iraq were brought together in a huge conference of sorts. They sat gathered, staring at the representative of the occupation forces who, I think, was British and sat speaking in broken, awkward Arabic. He told the sheikhs that Garner and friends really needed their help to build a democratic Iraq. They were powerful, influential people- they could contribute a lot to society.

A few of the sheikhs were bitter. One of the most prominent had lost 18 family members with one blow when the American forces dropped a cluster bomb on his home, outside of Baghdad, and killed women, children, and grandchildren all gathered together in fear. The only survivor of that massacre was a two-year-old boy who had to have his foot amputated.

Another sheikh was the head of a family in Basrah who lost 8 people to a missile that fell on their home, while they slept. The scenes of the house were beyond horrid- a mess of broken furniture, crumbling walls and severed arms and legs.

Almost every single sheikh had his own woeful story to tell. They were angry and annoyed. And these weren’t people who loved Saddam. Many of them hated the former regime because in a fit of socialism, during the eighties, a law was established that allowed thousands of acres of land to be confiscated from wealthy landowners and sheikhs and divided out between poor farmers. They resented the fact that land they had owned for several generations was being given out to nobody farmers who would no longer be willing to harvest their fields.

So they came to the meeting, wary but willing to listen. Many of them rose to speak. They told the representative right away that the Americans and British were occupiers- that was undeniable, but they were willing to help if it would move the country forward. Their one stipulation was the following: that they be given a timetable that gave a general idea of when the occupation forces would pull out of Iraq.

They told the representative that they couldn’t go back to their ‘3shayir’, or tribes, asking them to ‘please cooperate with the Americans although they killed your families, raided your homes, and detained your sons’ without some promise that, should security prevail, there would be prompt elections and a withdrawal of occupation forces.

Some of them also wanted to contribute politically. They had influence, power and connections… they wanted to be useful in some way. The representative frowned, fumbled and told them that there was no way he was going to promise a withdrawal of occupation forces. They would be in Iraq ‘as long as they were needed’… that might be two years, that might be five years and it might be ten years. There were going to be no promises… there certainly was no ‘timetable’ and the sheikhs had no say in what was going on- they could simply consent.

The whole group, in a storm of indignation and helplessness, rose to leave the meeting. They left the representative looking frustrated and foolish, frowning at the diminishing mass in front of him. When asked to comment on how the meeting went, he smiled, waved a hand and replied, “No comment.” When one of the prominent sheikhs was asked how the meeting went, he angrily said that it wasn’t a conference- they had gathered up the sheikhs to ‘give them orders’ without a willingness to listen to the other side of the story or even to compromise… the representative thought he was talking to his own private army- not the pillars of tribal society in Iraq.

Apparently, the sheikhs were blacklisted because, of late, their houses are being targeted. They are raided in the middle of the night with armored cars, troops and helicopters. The sheikh and his immediate family members are pushed to the ground with a booted foot and held there at gunpoint. The house is searched and often looted and the sheikh and his sons are dragged off with hands behind their backs and bags covering their heads. The whole family is left outraged and incredulous: the most respected member of the tribe is being imprisoned for no particular reason except that they may need him for questioning. In many cases, the sheikh is returned a few days later with an ‘apology’, only to be raided and detained once more!

I would think that publicly humiliating and detaining respected members of society like sheikhs and religious leaders would contribute more to throttling democracy than ‘cousins marrying cousins’. Many of the attacks against the occupying forces are acts of revenge for assaulted family members, or people who were killed during raids, demonstrations or checkpoints. But the author fails to mention that, of course.

He also fails to mention that because many of the provinces are in fact governed by the sheikhs of large tribes, they are much safer than Baghdad and parts of the south. Baghdad is an eclectic mix of Iraqis from all over the country and sheikhs have little influence over members outside of their family. In smaller provinces or towns, on the other hand, looting and abduction are rare because the criminal will have a virtual army to answer to- not a confused, and often careless, occupying army and some frightened Iraqi police.

Iraq is not some backward country overrun by ignorant land sheikhs or oil princes. People have a deep respect for wisdom and ‘origin’. People can trace their families back for hundreds of years and the need to ‘belong’ to a specific family or tribe and have a sheikh doesn’t hinder education, modernization, democracy or culture. Arabs and Kurds in the region have strong tribal ties and it is considered an honor to have a strong family backing- even if you don’t care about tribal law or have strayed far from family influence.

I’m an example of a modern-day, Iraqi female who is a part of a tribe- I’ve never met our sheikh- I’ve never needed to… I have a university degree, I had a job and I have a family who would sacrifice a lot to protect me… and none of this hinders me from having ambition or a sense of obligation towards law and order. I also want democracy, security, and a civil, healthy society… right along with the strong family bonds I'm accustomed to as an Iraqi.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll start a tribal blog and become a virtual sheikh myself…

Saturday, September 27, 2003
Worried in Baghdad...
Aqila Al-Hashimi was buried today in the holy city of Najaf, in the south. Her funeral procession was astounding. Rumor has it that she was supposed to be made Iraq’s ambassadress to the UN. There are still no leads to her attackers’ identities… somehow people seem to think that Al-Chalabi and gang are behind this attack just like they suspect he might have been behind the Jordanian Embassy attack. Al-Chalabi claims it’s Saddam, which is the easy thing to do- pretend that the only figures vying for power are the Governing Council, currently headed by Al-Chalabi, and Saddam and ignore the fundamentalists and any inter-Council hostilities, rivalries and bitterness between members.

What is particularly disturbing is that the UN is pulling out some of its staff for security reasons… they pulled out a third tonight and others will be leaving in the next few days. Things are getting more and more frightening. My heart sinks every time the UN pulls out because that was how we used to gauge the political situation in the past: the UN is pulling out- we’re getting bombed.

Someone brought this to my attention… it’s an interesting piece on some of the companies facilitating the whole shady contract affair in Iraq. The original piece is published by The Guardian Unlimited and discusses contracts, the Bush administration and how Salem Al-Chalabi, Ahmad Al-Chalabi’s nephew fits into the whole situation- Friends of the family.

There’s a shorter, equally good version of the same on Joshua Marshall’s site that is worth reading- Talking Points Memo.

Freedom of the Press
Apparently our leader of the moment, Al-Chalabi, isn’t pleased with the two leading news networks in the region. I can’t really blame him… he has had some of his worst interviews on Al-Arabia and Al-Jazeera. He always ends up looking smug like he’s just done something evil, or conniving like he’s planning something evil. When is he going to learn that there is no network in this wide world that has the technology or capacity to make him look good?

A few days ago, Intifadh Qambar, Ahmad Al-Chalabi’s sidekick, was on-screen, shifty-eyed and stuttering, claiming that the two major Arab news networks, Al-Arabia and Al-Jazeera, were ‘encouraging terrorism’. It gives me chills to hear someone like Qambar talk about terrorism. He sits behind the microphones looking like a would-be mafia king in his pin-striped suits, slicked-back hair and arrogant smile. He seems to have forgotten that the INC, a few months back, were a constant source of terror on the streets of Baghdad while they were ‘confiscating’ cars at gunpoint.

The allegations are purportedly based on the fact that the two news networks have been showing ‘masked men in black’ as resistors to occupation. This, apparently, promotes terrorism. The truth is that Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia have been black-listed since May, when the first attacks against the troops started getting some real publicity. They were also covering some of the not-so-successful raids that had been carried out by the troops, and the indignant families or victims who suffered them.

Back in May, though, there was no Governing Council and the CPA evidently realized that expelling, or banning, the two major Arabic news networks would look less than diplomatic. They were ‘warned’. Their reporters were yelled at, detained, barred from press conferences, expelled from news sites, and sometimes beaten. The Governing Council have fewer scruples about looking good.

Our media frenzy began in April. Almost immediately after the occupation, political parties began sprouting up everywhere. There were the standard parties that everyone knew- Al-Daawa, SCIRI, INC and PUK- and there were the not-so-famous ones that suddenly found the political vacuum too tempting to pass up. Suddenly, they were all over Baghdad. They scoped out the best areas and took over schools, shops, mosques, recreational clubs, houses and bureaus. The ones who were ahead of the game got to the printing presses, set up headquarters, and instantly began churning out semi-political newspapers that discussed everything from the ‘liberation’ to Jennifer Lopez’s engagement ring.

We would purchase several papers at a time, awed by the sudden torrent of newsprint. Some of them were silly, some of them were amusing and some of them were serious, polished, and constructive; all of them were pushing a specific political agenda. It was confusing and difficult, at first, to decide which newspapers could be taken seriously and which ones were vying for the coveted position of the best scandal paper in Iraq. Regardless of their productivity, their crossword puzzle or their horoscopes, they all ended up either on the floor or on the coffee table, under platters of hot rice, flat bread and ‘marga’.

I don’t know if it’s done in other parts of the Arab world, but when Iraqis don’t feel like gathering around a dinner table, they have a cozier meal on the coffee table in the living room or gathered in a circle on the floor. The table, or ground, is spread with newspapers to keep it clean and the food is set up sort of like an open buffet.

During July and August, when it was particularly hot, we ate on the floor. Houses and apartments in Iraq are rarely ever carpeted during the summer. At the first signs of heat, people roll up their Persian rugs and carpeting and store them away in mothballs for at least 5 months. So before lunch or dinner, we mop the tile floor in the living room with cold, clean water, let it dry and set up the newspapers on the ground. The floor is hard, but cool and somehow the food tastes better and the conversation is lighter.

As plates and forks clash and arms cross to pass a particular food, I keep my eye on the papers. It has become a habit to scan the bold headings under the platters for something interesting. I remember reading the details of UN resolution 1483 for the first time while absently serving rice and ‘bamia’- an okra dish loved by all Iraqis irrespective of religion or ethnicity. It’s funny how although we get most of our information from the internet, the television or the radio, I still associate the smell of a newspaper with… news. When all is said and done, there are just some things you’re not going to get anywhere but an Iraqi newspaper (like the fact that SARS came from a comet that hit Earth a couple of years ago- I’ll wager no one has read *that*).

This media free-for-all lasted for about two months. Then, some newspapers were ‘warned’ that some of their political content was unacceptable- especially when discussing occupation forces. One or two papers were actually shut down, while others were made to retract some of what they had written. The news channels followed suit. The CPA came out with a list of things that weren’t to be discussed- including the number of casualties, the number of attacks on the Coalition and other specifics. And we all began giving each other knowing looks- it’s only ‘freedom of the press’ when you have good things to say... Iraqis know all about *that*.

Then the Governing Council came along and they weren’t at all comfortable with the media. They have their own channel where we hear long-winded descriptions of the wonderful things they are doing for us and how appropriately grateful we should be, but that apparently isn’t enough.

So now, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia are suspended for two weeks from covering the official press conferences held by the CPA and the Puppet Council… which is really no loss- they are becoming predictable. The real news is happening around us.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003
For Sale: Iraq
For Sale: A fertile, wealthy country with a population of around 25 million… plus around 150,000 foreign troops, and a handful of puppets. Conditions of sale: should be either an American or British corporation (forget it if you’re French)… preferably affiliated with Halliburton. Please contact one of the members of the Governing Council in Baghdad, Iraq for more information.

To hear of the first of the economic reforms announced by Kamil Al-Gaylani, the new Iraqi Finance Minister, you’d think Iraq was a Utopia and the economy was perfect only lacking in… foreign investment. As the BBC so wonderfully summarized it: the sale of all state industries except for oil and other natural resources. Basically, that means the privatization of water, electricity, communications, transportation, health… The BBC calls it a ‘surprise’… why were we not surprised?

After all, the Puppets have been bought- why not buy the stage too? Iraq is being sold- piece by piece. People are outraged. The companies are going to start buying chunks of Iraq. Or, rather, they’re going to start buying the chunks the Governing Council and CPA don’t reward to the ‘Supporters of Freedom’.

The irony of the situation is that the oil industry, the one industry that is *not* going to be sold out, is actually being run by foreigners anyway.

The whole neighborhood knows about S. who lives exactly two streets away. He’s what is called a ‘merchant’ or ‘tajir’. He likes to call himself a ‘businessman’. For the last six years, S. has worked with the Ministry of Oil, importing spare parts for oil tankers under the surveillance and guidelines of the “Food for Oil Program”. In early March, all contracts were put ‘on hold’ in expectation of the war. Thousands of contracts with international companies were either cancelled or postponed.

S. was in a frenzy: he had a shipment of engines coming in from a certain country and they were ‘waiting on the border’. Everywhere he went, he chain-smoked one cigarette after another and talked of ‘letters of credit’, ‘comm. numbers’, and nasty truck drivers who were getting impatient.

After the war, the CPA decided that certain contracts would be approved. The contracts that had priority over the rest were the contracts that were going to get the oil pumping again. S. was lucky- his engines were going to find their way through… hopefully.

Unfortunately, every time he tried to get the go-ahead to bring in the engines, he was sent from person to person until he found himself, and his engines, tangled up in a bureaucratic mess in-between the CPA, the Ministry of Oil and the UNOPS. By the time things were somewhat sorted out, and he was communicating directly with the Ministry of Oil, he was given a ‘tip’. He was told that he shouldn’t bother doing anything if he wasn’t known to KBR. If KBR didn’t approve of him, or recommend him, he needn’t bother with anything.

For a week, the whole neighborhood was discussing the KBR. Who were they? What did they do? We all had our own speculations… E. said it was probably some sort of committee like the CPA, but in charge of the contracts or reconstruction of the oil infrastructure. I expected it was probably another company- but where was it from? Was it Russian? Was it French? It didn’t matter so long as it wasn’t Halliburton or Bechtel. It was a fresh new name or, at least, a fresh new set of initials. Well, it was ‘fresh’ for a whole half-hour until curiosity got the better of me and I looked it up on the internet.

KBR stands for Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of… guess who?!... Halliburton. They handle ‘construction and engineering services for the energy community’, amongst other things. Apparently, KBR is famous for more than just its reconstruction efforts. In 1997, KBR was sued $6 million dollars for overcharging the American army on sheets of plywood! You can read something about the whole sordid affair here.

They are currently located in the ‘Conference Palace’. The Conference Palace is a series of large conference rooms, located in front of the Rashid Hotel and was reserved in the past for major international conferences. It is now the headquarters of KBR, or so they say. So foreign companies can’t completely own the oil industry, but they can run it… just like they’ll never own Iraq, but they can run the Governing Council.

Someone sent me an email a couple of weeks back praising Halliburton and Bechtel to the skies. The argument was that we should consider ourselves ‘lucky’ to have such prestigious corporations running the oil industry and heading the reconstruction efforts because a. they are efficient, and b. they employ the ‘locals’.

Ok. Fine. I’ll pretend I never read that article that said it would take at least two years to get the electricity back to pre-war levels. I’ll pretend that it hasn’t been 5 months since the ‘end of the war’ and the very efficient companies are terrified of beginning work because the security situation is so messed up.

As for employing the locals… things are becoming a little bit clearer. Major reconstruction contracts are being given to the huge companies, like Bechtel and Halliburton, for millions of dollars. These companies, in turn, employ the Iraqis in the following way: they first ask for bids on specific projects. The Iraqi company with the lowest bid is selected to do the work. The Iraqi company gets *exactly* what it bid from the huge conglomerate, which is usually only a fraction of the original contract price. Hence, projects that should cost $1,000,000 end up costing $50,000,000.

Now, call me naïve, or daft, or whatever you want, but wouldn’t it be a. more economical and b. more profitable to the Iraqis to hand the work over directly to experienced Iraqi companies? Why not work directly with one of the 87 companies and factories that once worked under the ‘Iraqi Military Council’ and made everything from missiles to electrical components? Why not work directly with one of the 158 factories and companies under the former Ministry of Industry and Minerals that produced everything from candy to steel girders? Why not work with the bridge, housing and building companies under the Ministry of Housing that have been heading the reconstruction efforts ever since 1991?

Some of the best engineers, scientists, architects and technicians are currently out of work because their companies have nothing to do and there are no funds to keep them functioning. The employees get together a couple of days a week and spend several hours brooding over ‘istikans’ of lukewarm tea and ‘finjans’ of Turkish coffee. Instead of spending the endless billions on multinational companies, why not spend only millions on importing spare parts and renovating factories and plants?

My father has a friend with a wife and 3 children who is currently working for an Italian internet company. He communicates online with his ‘boss’ who sits thousands of kilometers away, in Rome, safe and sure that there are people who need to feed their families doing the work in Baghdad. This friend, and a crew of male techies, work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. They travel all over Baghdad, setting up networks. They travel in a beat-up SUV armed with cables, wires, pliers, network cards, installation CDs, and a Klashnikov for… you know… technical emergencies.

Each of the 20 guys who work with this company get $100/month. A hundred dollars for 260 hours a month comes to… $0.38/hour. My 16-year-old babysitter used to get more. The Italian company, like many other foreign companies, seems to think that $100 is appropriate for the present situation. One wonders the price of the original contract the Italian company got… how many countless millions are being spent so 20 guys can make $100/month to set up networks?

John Snow, US Treasury Secretary, claimed that the reforms were the “proposals, ideas, and concepts of the Governing Council" with no pressure from the American administration. If that’s true, then Bush can pull out the troops any time he wants because he’ll be leaving behind a Governing Council that is obviously more solicitous of Halliburton and Co. than he and Cheney can ever hope to be…

Sunday, September 21, 2003
There was an attempt yesterday on Akila Al-Hashimi's life. We heard about yesterday morning and have been listening for news ever since. She lives in Jihad Quarter and was leaving for work yesterday when two pick-up trucks with armed men cut off her car and opened fire on her and her 'bodyguards'- her brothers. Neighbors heard the commotion, armed themselves and went out to see what it was. The neighbors and the gang began shooting at eachother.

Akila was taken to Al-Yarmuk hospital where her stomach was operated upon and then shipped off in an American army ambulance to no one knows where, but people say it was probably the hospital they have set up in Baghdad Airport. They say she was wounded in the foot, the shoulder and the stomach- her condition is critical, but stable.

It's depressing because she was actually one of the decent members on the council. She was living in Iraq and worked extensively in foreign affairs in the past. It's also depressing because of what it signifies- that no female is safe, no matter how high up she is...

Everyone has their own conjectures on who it could have been. Ahmad Al-Chalabi, of course, right off, before they even started investigations said, "It was Saddam and his loyalists!"- he's beginning to sound like a broken record... but no one listens to him anyway. The FBI in Iraq who examined the site said they had no idea yet who it could be. Why would it be Ba'athists if Akila herself was once a Ba'athist and handled relations with international organizations in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before the occupation? Choosing her was one of the smartest thing the CPA did since they got here. It was through her contacts and extensive knowledge of current Iraqi foreign affairs that Al-Chalabi and Al-Pachichi were received at the UN as 'representatives' of the Iraqi people. She was recently chosen as one of three from the Governing Council, along with Al-Pachichi, to work as a sort of political buffer between the Governing Council and the new cabinet of ministers.

But there has been bitterness towards her by some of the more extreme members of the Governing Council- not only is she female, wears no hijab and was the first actual 'foreign representative' of the new government, but she was also a prominent part of the former government. The technique used sounds like the same used with those school principals who were killed and the same used with that brilliant female electrician who was assassinated... I wonder if Akila got a 'warning letter'. She should have had better protection. If they are not going to protect one of only 3 female members of the Governing Council, then who are they going to protect? Who is deemed worthy of protection?

Yeah, Baghdad is real safe when armed men can ride around in SUVs and pick-ups throwing grenades and opening fire on the Governing Council, of all people.

I really hope they find whoever did this, and I hope the punishment is severe.

Friday, September 19, 2003
The weather has 'broken' these last few days. It's still intolerably hot, but there's a wind. It's a heavy, dusty wind more reminiscent of a gust from a blow-dryer than an actual breeze. But it is none-the-less a wind, and we are properly grateful.

The electrical situation is bizarre. For every 6 hours of electricity, three hours of darkness. I wish they would give us electricity all night and cut it off during the day. During the day it's hotter, but at least you can keep busy with something like housework or a book. At night the darkness brings along all the fears, the doubts and… the mosquitoes. All the sounds are amplified. It's strange how when you can see, you can't hear so many things… or maybe you just stop listening.

Everyone is worried about raids lately. We hear about them from friends and relatives, we watch them on tv, outraged, and try to guess where the next set of raids are going to occur.

Anything can happen. Some raids are no more than seemingly standard weapons checks. Three or four troops knock on the door and march in. One of them keeps an eye of the 'family' while the rest take a look around the house. They check bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms and gardens. They look under beds, behind curtains, inside closets and cupboards. All you have to do is stifle your feelings of humiliation, anger and resentment at having foreign troops from an occupying army search your home.

Some raids are, quite simply, raids. The door is broken down in the middle of the night, troops swarm in by the dozens. Families are marched outside, hands behind their backs and bags upon their heads. Fathers and sons are pushed down on to the ground, a booted foot on their head or back.

Other raids go horribly wrong. We constantly hear about families who are raided in the small hours of the morning. The father, or son, picks up a weapon- thinking they are being attacked by looters- and all hell breaks loose. Family members are shot, others are detained and often women and children are left behind wailing.

I first witnessed a raid back in May. The heat was just starting to become unbearable and we were spending the whole night without electricity. I remember lying in my bed, falling in and out of a light sleep. We still weren't sleeping on the roof because the whole night you could hear gunshots and machinegun fire not very far away- the looters still hadn't organized themselves into gangs and mafias.

At around 3 am, I distinctly heard the sound of helicopters hovering not far above the area. I ran out of the room and into the kitchen and found E. pressing his face to the kitchen window, trying to get a glimpse of the black sky.

"What's going on?!" I asked, running to stand next to him.
"I don't know… a raid? But it's not an ordinary raid… there are helicopters and cars, I think…"

I stopped focusing on the helicopters long enough to listen to the cars. No, not cars- big, heavy vehicles that made a humming, whining sound. E. and I looked at one another, speechless- tanks?! E. turned on his heel and ran upstairs, taking the steps two at a time. I followed him clumsily, feeling for the banister all the way up, my mind a jumble of thoughts and conjectures.

Out on the roof, the sky was black streaked with light. Helicopters were hovering above, circling the area. E. was leaning over the railing, trying to see into the street below. I approached tentatively and he turned back to me, "It's a raid… on Abu A.'s house!" He pointed three houses down the road.

Abu A. was an old, respected army general who had retired in the mid '80s. He lived a quiet life in his two-storey house on our street. All I knew about him was that he had four kids- two daughters and two sons. The daughters were both married. One of them was living in London with her husband and the other one was somewhere in Baghdad. The one in Baghdad had a 3-year-old son we'll call L. I know this because, without fail, ever since L. was six months old, Abu A. would proudly parade him up and down our street in a blue and white striped stroller.

It was a scene I came to expect every Friday evening: the tall, worn, old man pushing the small blue stroller holding the round, pink, drooling L.

I had never talked to Abu A. until last year. I was watering the little patch of grass in front of the wall around our garden and trying not to stare at the tall old man walking alongside the tottering toddler. Everything my mother had taught me about how impolite it was to ogle people ran around in my brain. I turned my back to the twosome as they came down the street and casually drowned the flowers growing on the edge of the plot of grass.

Suddenly, a voice asked, "Can we wash ourselves?" I turned around, stupefied. Abu A. and L. stood there, smeared with enough chocolate to qualify for a detergent commercial. I handed over the hose, almost drenching them in the process, and watched as the old man washed L.'s sticky, little fingers and wiped clean the pursed lips while saying, "His mother can't see him like this!"

And after handing back the hose, they were off on their way, once again… I watched them go down the remainder of the street to Abu A.'s home- stopping every few steps so L. could look down at some insect that had caught his attention.

That was last year… or maybe 9 months ago… or maybe a 100 years ago. Tonight, the armored cars were pulling up to Abu A.'s house, the helicopters were circling above, and the whole area was suddenly a mess of noise and lights.

E. and I went back downstairs. My mother stood anxiously by the open kitchen door, looking out at my father who was standing at the gate. E. and I ran outside to join him and watch the scene unfolding only 3 houses away. There was shouting and screaming- the deep, angry tones of the troops mixed with the shriller voices of the family and neighbors- the whole symphony boding of calamity and fear.

"What are they doing? Who are they taking?!" I asked no one in particular, gripping the warm, iron gate and searching the street for some clue. The area was awash with the glaring white of headlights and spotlights and dozens of troops stood in front of the house, weapons pointed- tense and ready. It wasn't long before they started coming out: first it was his son, the 20-year-old translation student. His hands were behind his back and he was gripped by two troops, one on either side. His head kept twisting back anxiously as they marched him out of the house, barefoot. Next, Umm A., Abu A.'s wife, was brought out, sobbing, begging them not to hurt anyone, pleading for an answer… I couldn't hear what she was saying, but I saw her looking left and right in confusion and I said the words instead of her, "What's going on? Why are they doing this?! Who are they here for?"

Abu A. was out next. He stood tall and erect, looking around him in anger. His voice resonated in the street, above all the other sounds. He was barking out questions- demanding answers from the troops, and the bystanders. His oldest son A. followed behind with some more escorts. The last family member out of the house was Reem, A.'s wife of only 4 months. She was being led firmly out into the street by two troops, one gripping each thin arm.

I'll never forget that scene. She stood, 22 years old, shivering in the warm, black night. The sleeveless nightgown that hung just below her knees exposed trembling limbs- you got the sense that the troops were holding her by the arms because if they let go for just a moment, she would fall senseless to the ground. I couldn't see her face because her head was bent and her hair fell down around it. It was the first time I had seen her hair… under normal circumstances, she wore a hijab.

That moment I wanted to cry… to scream… to throw something at the chaos down the street. I could feel Reem's humiliation as she stood there, head hanging with shame- exposed to the world, in the middle of the night.

One of the neighbors, closer to the scene, moved forward timidly and tried to communicate with one of the soldiers. The soldier immediately pointed his gun at the man and yelled at him to keep back. The man held up an 'abaya', a black cloak-like garment some females choose to wear, and pointed at the shivering girl. The soldier nodded curtly and told him to, "Move back!". "Please," came the tentative reply, "Cover her…" He gently put the abaya on the ground and went back to stand at his gate. The soldier looking unsure, walked over, picked it up and awkwardly put it on the girl's shoulders.

I gripped at the gate as my knees weakened, crying… trying to make sense of the mess. I could see many of the neighbors, standing around, looking on in dismay. Abu A.'s neighbor, Abu Ali, was trying to communicate with one of the troops. He was waving his arm at Umm A. and Reem, and pointing to his own house, obviously trying to allow them to take the women inside his home. The troop waved over another soldier who, apparently, was a translator. During raids, a translator hovers in the background inconspicuously- they don't bring him forward right away to communicate with terrified people because they are hoping someone will accidentally say something vital, in Arabic, thinking the troops won't understand, like, "Honey, did you bury the nuclear bomb in the garden like I told you?!"

Finally, Umm A. and Reem were allowed inside of Abu Ali's house, escorted by troops. Reem walked automatically, as if dazed, while Umm A. was hectic. She stood her ground, begging to know what was going to happen… wondering where they were taking her husband and boys… Abu Ali urged her inside.

The house was ransacked… searched thoroughly for no one knows what- vases were broken, tables overturned, clothes emptied from closets…

By 6 am the last cars had pulled out. The area was once more calm and quiet. I didn't sleep that night, that day or the night after. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw Abu A. and his grandson L. and Reem… I saw Umm A., crying with terror, begging for an explanation.

Abu A. hasn't come back yet. The Red Cross facilitates communication between him and his family… L. no longer walks down our street on Fridays, covered in chocolate, and I'm wondering how old he will be before he ever sees his grandfather again…

Thursday, September 18, 2003
Feeling much better today... but the thing that cheered me up the most was some 'fanmail' from George W. 'hisself' so I thought I would share it with y'all ...
(Thank you Bob Fredrick- you know how to make a girl smile)


Dear Iraqi Person,

Could y'all please stop killin' each other? The folks over here are startin' to
git madder than a feller in a canoe what done forgot his paddle! Wuts worse,
the more y'all keep tellin' folks on that com-putter thing-a-ma-bob wuts goin'
on down there, the more they don't pay no attention to my TV reporter guys on
Fox to tell 'em wut they need to know! Next thing ya know, I'll be out on my
butt come next eleckshun an' Daddy'll hafta start me another oil company so I
can look like I'm an important guy who is reely smart!

At the last meetin' I got to go to with Daddy & all his friends, Mr. Ashcroft
said wut we need to do is git Iraq some of them "Patriot Act" freedoms so we can
start lockin' more people up, but Mr. Powell told him to "keep it in his pants"
wut ever that means. Daddy & Mr. Cheney wuz laughin' an' havin a good ole time
cuz they just read some kind of profit paper fer Mr. Cheney's company that he
ain't sposed to work for anymore . uh.Halyberton or sumptin like that..Then they
wuz about to go inta whut we're gonna do in Iraq, but Mr. Cheney reminded Daddy
that it was my bed time, so I had to leave.

So, if ya'll could do me a favor, please stop all that killin' and when ya see
camera or reporter guys, just smile and tell'em just how much yer lives have
gotten better since us 'mericans came and liverated ya'll! Keep it up and Daddy
tells me after I'm re-elektid, we can liverate Iran & Syria next! Ain't that

Yer Bestest Buddy,

George W. Bush,

Pres. Of Texas & 'Merica

(Note: All spelling errors are original to the soon-to-be-unemployed chimp that
wrote them.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Girl Power and Post-War Iraq
I've been a bit sick these last few days. I seem to have come down with something similar to the flu that has left me red-eyed, runny-nosed and feverish. I didn't actually realize I was sick until the electricity went off the day before yesterday: there was a collective groan as the heat instantly settled down upon us like a wool blanket and all I could say was, "What heat?!"

The family looked at me like maybe I was crazy- or feverish- and it finally hit me why the room took to dancing around before my eyes every few minutes... why the sunlight made me wince and squint in pain, rather like a bat.

So I spent yesterday on a couch in the living room, surrounded by tissues and Flu-Out (a favorite Iraqi flu medication). I watched tv whenever it was available and even managed to drag myself to the computer two or three times. The screen would move in waves in front of my bleary eyes so I'd give up trying to make sense of the dancing letters after a few minutes.

At night I focused enough to watch "For Females Only", a weekly program on Al-Jazeera. It left me feeling enraged and depressed. The subject was, as usual, Iraq. The program was hosting three Iraqi females: Dr. Shatha Jaffar, Yanar Mohammed and Iman Abdul Jabar.

Yanar Mohammed is an architect who has been living in Canada ever since 1993, as far as I know. She is the founder of the "Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq" which was based in Canada until a couple of months ago. Dr. Shatha Jaffar I haven't heard of. I think she left Iraq at the age of 15 (she is now in her 40s) and is also heading some sort of Iraqi women's movement, although the caption under her name said, "Women's Rights Activist". Iman Abdul Jabar was apparently representative of some sort of Islamic women's movement and was, as far as I could tell, living in Iraq the whole time.

Iman and Yanar both had a distinctive advantage over Shatha because they were both actually living in Iraq. The discussion was regarding how much women's rights in Iraq had been affected after the occupation- how females were being abducted, raped and forced into a certain form of dress or action.

Yanar claimed that women's equality couldn't be achieved except through a secular government because an Islamic government would definitely hurt women's rights. I don't necessarily agree with that. If there were an Islamic government based purely on the teachings of Islam, women would be ensured of certain nonnegotiable rights like inheritance, the right to an education, the right to work and earn money, the right to marry according to her will and the right to divorce her husband. Of course, there would be limitations in the way females dress and other restrictions.

Islamic government doesn't work because the people running the show usually implement certain laws and rules that have nothing to do with Islam and more to do with certain chauvinistic ideas in the name of Islam- like in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Iman Abdul Jabar was taking Rumsfeld's attitude to the situation- see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. She claimed that she knew nothing about any extremists belonging to Al-Sadr and Al-Hakim coming into schools during the exams, pulling 'safirat' (girls without hijab) out of tests and threatening that they wouldn't be allowed to come to school anymore if they didn't wear a hijab. She says she has heard nothing of all the signs and banners hanging all over colleges and universities in Baghdad condemning females who didn't wear what is considered the traditional Islamic dress. I say 'considered' because there is nothing specifying exactly what is Islamic dress. Some people feel that a hijab is more than enough, while others claim that a burka or pushi are necessary…

Shatha was full of self-righteous blabbering. She instantly lost any point she was trying to make by claiming that girls in Iraq were largely ignorant and illiterate due to the last 30 years. She said that Iraqis began pulling their daughters out of school because non-Ba'athists weren't allowed an education.

Strangely enough, I wasn't a Ba'athist and I got accepted into one of the best colleges in the country based solely on my grades in my final year of high school. None of my friends were Ba'athists and they ended up pharmacists, doctors, dentists, translators and lawyers… I must have been living somewhere else.

Every time Shatha was onscreen, I threw used tissues at her. She feeds into the usual pre-war/post-occupation propaganda that if you weren't a Ba'athist, you weren't allowed to learn. After 35 years that would mean that the only literate, sophisticated and educated people in Iraq are Ba'athists.

Something you probably don't know about Iraq: We have 18 public universities and over 10 private universities, plus 28 technical schools and workshops. The difference between private and public colleges is that the public colleges and universities (like Baghdad University) are free, without tuition. The private colleges ask for a yearly tuition which is a pittance compared to colleges abroad. Public colleges are preferred because they are considered more educationally sound.

Arab students come from all over the region to study in our colleges and universities because they are the best. Europeans interested in learning about Islamic culture and religion come to study in the Islamic colleges. Our medical students make the brightest doctors and our engineers are the most creative…

In 6th year secondary school (12th grade), Iraqi students are made to take a standardized test known as the Bakaloriah. The students are assigned 9-digit numbers and taken to a different school with random examination supervisors to watch over the testing process. For 'science students' the subjects required for examination are math, physics, English, Arabic, chemistry, Islam (for Muslim students only), French (for students taking French), and biology. For non-science students, the subjects are Arabic, English, history, geography, Islam (for Muslims), math, and economics - I think.

As soon as we get our averages, we fill out forms that go to the Ministry of Higher Education. In these forms, you list the colleges and universities you would like to end up in, the first being the one you want most. I recall nothing on the form asking me if I was a Ba'athist or loyalist, but maybe I filled out the wrong form…

Anyway, according to the student's average, and the averages of the people applying to other colleges, the student is 'placed'. You don't even meet the dean or department head until after classes have begun. Ironically, the illiterate females Shatha mentions have higher averages than the males. A guy can get into an engineering college with a 92% while for females, the average is around 96% because the competition between females is so high.

What Shatha doesn't mention is that in engineering, science and medical colleges over half of the students in various departments are females- literate females, by the way. Our male and female graduates are some of the best in the region and many public universities arrange for scholarships and fellowships in Europe and America. But Shatha wouldn't know that…or I must be wrong. Either way, excuse me please, I am after all, illiterate and unlearned.

Iman Abdul Jabar brought up a good point- she said that during the examinations in June and July, the people who were working in the mosques were protecting many of the local schools in Baghdad- which is very true. She doesn't, however, mention that those people aren't likely interested in running for president or any other political position in the country- the people currently mixing religion and politics are Al-Hakim and SCIRI who were terrorizing girls and Al-Sadr and his thugs (who met with Powell this time around and was promised a marvelous political career).

Yanar was outraged during the whole conference. She is currently in Baghdad and they say that there have been attempts made on her life. She read my mind when she said that the story of police in Baghdad was a farce- they weren't nearly enough and the Americans were doing nothing about the security of the people. She said that the theory of females contributing to post-war Iraq politically or socially was a joke. How are females supposed to be out there helping to build society or even make a decent contribution when they suddenly seem to be a #1 target? She talked about a "Women's Conference" arranged by the CPA where she wasn't allowed to enter because the 'women representatives of Iraqi females' were all selected by the feminist extraordinaire L. Paul Bremer.

More and more females are being made to quit work or school or college. I spent last month trying to talk a neighbor's mother into letting her 19-year-old daughter take her retests in a leading pharmaceutical college. Her mother was adamant and demanded to know what she was supposed to do with her daughter's college degree if anything happened to her daughter, "Hang it on her tombstone with the consolation that my daughter died for a pharmaceutical degree??? She can sit this year out."

The worst part of the whole show was when they showed a mortician in Baghdad claiming he hardly ever saw any rape victims! What rape victim is going to go, in our current situation, file a complaint? Who do you complain to? Besides that, women are too ashamed to make rape public, and why bother when you just *know* the person will never be caught- when no one is going to bother to look for the aggressor?

They showed a girl who was around 15 talking about how she was abducted. She went out one morning to buy groceries with a brother who looked around 5 or 6. Suddenly, a red Volkswagen screeched to a stop in front of her. She was pulled inside of the car and the headscarf on her head was used to tie up her mouth. They took her and her little brother to a mud hut far away from A'adhamiya (the area she lives in). She was kept in the hut for 4 days and systematically beaten and questioned- how much money do your parents have? Do you have any valuables in your home? She wasn't allowed to sleep… the only sleep anyone got was her little brother while she held him in her arms. They gave them no food for four days.

Finally, one of the abductors took pity on her. He told her that the rest of the tattooed gang were going to leave somewhere and he would leave the door of the hut open. She should meet him behind a little 'kushuk', or shop, made of straw, down the street. She left the hut with her little brother as soon as the coast was clear. She left the door unlocked because inside the same hut were 15 other girls abducted from a secondary school in Zayoona- a nice residential area in Baghdad where many Christians choose to settle. The man dropped her and her brother off near a hospital far away from her house.

The interview with the girl ended when the reporter asked her if she was still scared… the girl looked incredulous at the question and said, "Of course I'm still scared." The reporter then asked if she was going to go back to school that year… the girl shook her head 'no' as her eyes welled up with tears and the screen faded back to the show.

I spent last night tossing, turning and wondering if they ever found the 15 girls from Zayoona and praying for the sanity of their families…

Friday, September 12, 2003
A Modern-Day Fairy Tale
Someone asked me why I didn’t write anything yesterday mentioning September 11. I’ll be perfectly honest- I had forgotten about it until around 2 pm. I woke up to no electricity, washed up and went into the kitchen to help out with breakfast.

I found my mother struggling with the gas cylinder, trying to roll it around on the ground in front of the stove. The cylinder was almost empty and the bright blue flames were orange at the tips, threatening to go out any minute. I stood nervously in the doorway of the kitchen- gas cylinders make me very nervous. After the war, when there wasn’t enough cooking gas to go around, people who sell the gas began mixing kerosene with the cooking gas which resulted in some horrific explosions. Every time we change cylinders, I have a crazy urge to run out of the kitchen and wait to see if it explodes.

My mother looked at me helplessly as the flames began dying away. “E. will have to go see if they’re selling cooking gas at the station.”
“But E. was up until 4 am yesterday…” I remonstrated.
“Ok then- you guys don’t need to drink tea or coffee.”

And that was the beginning of a series of difficulties: almost no water, relatives who dropped by for a lunch that couldn’t be cooked and a wasp’s nest that was terrorizing anyone who ventured into the garden.

By 2 pm, the electricity was back on and I was sitting in front of the tv watching one of the Arabic stations. Suddenly, they showed American troops standing solemnly in a 9/11 Memorial Service being held in… Tikrit (where Saddam was born)!!

I sat watching, confused. I assume it was done in that specific place so some oblivious person can, five years down the line, hold it up as testimony to the world that this whole war was, indeed, about terror and Osama bin Laden and 9/11 and WMD. It was done in that particular place so that someone, a week from now, can write to me and say, “Of course there was a link between Osama and Saddam and that’s why we attacked you. The proof is this: the 9/11 Memorial Service was held in Tikrit.”

This famous ‘missing link’ between Iraq and the war on terror is like, how I imagine, a fairy might look- small, flighty, almost transparent and… nonexistent. Shortly after 9/11, this fairy was caught by the Pentagon and stashed in a cage for all the world to see.

Almost like the Emperor’s new clothes, anyone who could not see this enigmatic creature was accused of being an Enemy of Freedom, a Saddam sympathizer or- horror of horrors!- unpatriotic. They were promptly indicted and burned at the metaphorical stake.

So most people chose to see the fairy. Some people, in fact, really thought they *could* see it. Everyone certainly tried. Unfortunately, the fairy soon began growing smaller and paler under the burning scrutiny of millions of curious eyes.

So what did they decide to do? Bush, Rumsfeld and the rest made a critical decision: the fairy must be protected by a great wall. Plans were drawn up, the toughest bricks were selected and contractors from Fox News, CNN and others were assigned. And with every fresh news story, a brick was laid, until the wall was so high and strong, it became a fortress… and everyone forgot what lay behind it… which was the alleged fairy… who may, or may not have, existed. But it no longer mattered anymore, anyway- the wall itself was there…

And the fairy? The fairy dug an escape tunnel to Iran… or perhaps Syria… or maybe North Korea. Time will tell- she will be caught again.

I haven’t been writing these last few days because I simply haven’t felt inspired. There’s so much happening on a country-wide scale and so little happening personally. Everything feels chaotic. Seeing what we're supposed to be living on television, differs drastically from actually living it. The moment you hear about something terrible happening somewhere, you let it sink in, then 'take stock' and try to figure out who you have living there and how you can contact them.

Three days ago there was a huge explosion in Arbil (one of the northern Kurdish areas). They say it was a suicide bomber in a car in front of the American intelligence headquarters. The number of casualties varied from news network to news network, but one thing is sure- a child in a house across from the headquarters was killed. Horrible.

There was also an attack on Mosul Hotel in central Mosul where American troops are staying. This was yesterday and no one is giving the number of casualties.

There were attacks on troops in Ramadi and Falloojeh yesterday. In fact, in Khaldiah (an area between Ramadi and Falloojeh) they say there was actual fighting and gunfire lasted over an hour and a half.

In Falloojeh, the police were shot at by American troops this morning. I’m not sure how many died but the whole ‘accident’ was atrocious. They say up to 7 Iraqi policemen were killed in some ‘mistake’ made by the troops. This is going to be horrible for Falloojeh- there’s already so much bitterness against the Americans there because of the shooting incidents in April and May.

There’s still some fighting in Kirkuk (the Turkomen dominated area). The reason is because the Bayshmarga (Kurdish militia) have been assigned to that area. There has always been a sort of hostility between Turkomen and Kurds and having the Bayshmarga running the show isn’t making things any better. Turkey wants to send in ‘peace-keeping’ troops to help secure Kirkuk, but the Kurds are refusing adamantly.

And then there’s Baghdad. What is there to say about Baghdad? Baghdad is a mess. In Zayunah, an elegant area in east Baghdad, there was gang fighting yesterday. People were being shot in the streets, caught between gang crossfire. The scene was frightening and terrible.

We see Iraqi police every once in a while, but their numbers are ridiculous compared to the situation. They wear light blue shirts, dark pants and these black arm badges with IP written on them and the flag. They get to carry around these little 7 mm Berettas that look tiny in their hands. And the guns are always drawn- they try to guide traffic waving a gun, try to stop cars waving a gun, try to stop fights waving a gun- it’s the best means of communication these days- a tank works even better (but you can’t wave it around).

In another area, a 12-year-old boy was shot in his garden while playing. The Americans say he was caught in the crossfire between them and someone else. His mother was almost tearing her hair out and his father was beating the ground and moaning. He looked ready to kill.

People talk about the future and how five years from now, ten years from now, fifty years from now things are going to be better. Some people no longer have a ‘future’. The parents of that boy no longer care about the future of Iraq or the future of America or anything else. They buried their ‘future’ last night. I’m sure the future means as much to them as it does to the parents of the soldiers dying in Iraq on a daily basis.

When Bush 'brought the war to the terrorists', he failed to mention he wouldn't be fighting it in some distant mountains or barren deserts: the frontline is our homes... the 'collateral damage' are our friends and families.

Turning Tables...
I've been following TurningTables ever since someone pointed it out to me two weeks ago. 'Moja' somehow puts a human face on the troops in Iraq. I read his blogs and look at the troops and wonder, could that be him? It's strange to read stories from the 'other side'...

I'm glad he's going to be able to go home, safely.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003
Friends, Americans, Countrymen...
I heard/read Bush's speech yesterday. I can't watch him for more than a minute at a time- I hate him that much. He makes me sick. He stands there, squinting his eyes and pursing his lips, going on and on with such blatant lies. And he looks just plain stupid.

I listened for as long as I could tolerate his inane features and grating voice, then turned off the television. Then turned it back on. Then turned the channel. Then turned it back. Then almost threw a cushion at the screen. Then thought better and decided he wasn’t worth it. Is it possible that someone like that is practically running the world? Is it possible he might see another term in the White House? God forbid…

His whole speech was just an idiotic repetition of what he’s been saying ever since Afghanistan, “Give me more money, give me more power- I’m doing this for you. Bechtel and Halliburton have nothing to do with it.” Doesn’t he ever get tired of saying the same words? Don’t people ever get tired of hearing them?

The one thing I agreed with was this: there are terrorists in Iraq. It’s true. Ever since the occupation, they’ve been here by the hundreds and thousands. They are seeping in from neighboring countries through the borders the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ could not protect and would not let the Iraqi army protect. Some of them are even a part of the Governing Council now. Al-Daawa Party is responsible for some of the most terrible bombings in Iraq and other countries in the region.

Yes. I blame America for that. We never had Al-Qaeda or even links to Al-Qaeda. Ansar Al-Islam are supposed to be linked to Al-Qaeda, but they were functioning in the northern territory with the two Kurdish leaders’ knowledge and blessings.

Then there’s this:

“The attacks you have heard and read about in the last few weeks have occurred predominantly in the central region of Iraq, between Baghdad and Tikrit -- Saddam Hussein's former stronghold. The north of Iraq is generally stable and is moving forward with reconstruction and self-government. The same trends are evident in the south, despite recent attacks by terrorist groups.”

Is he serious? Only yesterday an American armored vehicle was burned in front of the University of Mosul in the north. There have been an increasing number of attacks on British troops in the south- we hear about them everyday. As for Baghdad… it has become a common occurrence. Baghdad Airport is constantly under missile attack and we hear of similar attacks all over Baghdad… or maybe the person who gave him that little fact is the same one who told him where to find the WMD…

“Since the end of major combat operations, we have conducted raids seizing many caches of enemy weapons and massive amounts of ammunition, and we have captured or killed hundreds of Saddam loyalists and terrorists.”

Yes, we know all about the ‘raids’. I wish I had statistics on the raids. The ‘loyalists and terrorists’ must include Mohammed Al-Kubeisi of Jihad Quarter in Baghdad who was 11. He went outside on the second floor balcony of his house to see what the commotion was all about in their garden. The commotion was an American raid. Mohammed was shot on the spot. I remember another little terrorist who was killed four days ago in Baquba, a province north-east of Baghdad. This terrorist was 10… no one knows why or how he was shot by one of the troops while they were raiding his family’s house. They found no weapons, they found no Ba’athists, they found no WMD. I hope America feels safer now.

On top of it all, the borders between Iraq and Iran have been given to Badir’s Brigade to guard. Badir’s Brigade. Unbelievable. I thought the borders needed guarding to prevent armed militias like Badir’s Brigade from entering the country. We have a proverb in Arabic: “Emin il bezooneh lahmeh” which means “Entrust a cat with meat.” Yes, give the Iranian borders to Badir’s Brigade. Right on.

Just a couple of days ago, two female school principals were ‘executed’ by Badir’s Brigade in Al-Belidiyat area in Baghdad. They were warned to resign their posts so that a ‘sympathetic’ principal could replace them. They ignored the threat, they were shot. It’s that simple these days. Of course, that’s not terrorism because the targets are Iraqi people. Terrorism is when the Coalition of the Willing are targeted.

Everyone is asking, ‘What should be done?’. Pull out the American troops. Take them home. Bring in UN peace-keeping troops under the Security Council- not led by America.

Let real Iraqis be involved in governing Iraq. Let Iraqis who actually have *families* living in Iraq be involved in governing their country. Let Iraqis who have something to lose govern the country. They aren’t being given a chance. As long as any Iraqi isn’t affiliated with one of the political groups on the Governing Council, no one bothers to listen.

We have thousands of competent, intelligent, innovative people who are eager to move forward but it’s impossible under these circumstances. There’s no security, there’s no work and there’s no incentive. AND THERE’S NO ONE WHO WILL LISTEN. If you’re not a part of the CPA or one of Ahmad Al-Chalabi’s thugs, then you’re worthless. You can’t be trusted.

I read Bush’s speech… just like I’ve read/heard what feels like a thousand different speeches these last few months. Empty words, meaningless phrases.

The abridged version of the speech…

“Friends, Americans, Countrymen, lend me your ears… lend me your sons and daughters, lend me your tax dollars… so we can wage war in the name of American national security (people worldwide are willing to die for it)… so I can cover up my incompetence in failing to protect you… so I can add to the Bush and Cheney family coffers at your expense and the expense of the Iraqi people. I don’t know what I’m doing, but if you spend enough money, you’ll want to believe that I do."

Monday, September 08, 2003
Under the Palm Leaves
The water was off and on again today. We filled all the bottles and containers. The water pressure was really low and evidently, our super-low garden faucet is one of the only ones in the area dribbling water at intervals. The neighbors have all sent buckets, pots and messages of love and gratitude… perhaps I have found a job.

The sun was just beginning to set and the sky was a combination of blue, orange and gray. I was standing, in the warm, dry grass, waiting for a pot to fill with water, when I heard someone knocking the garden gate. It was Ihsan, our ten-year-old neighbor across the street. He was holding freshly made ‘khubz’ (something like whole-wheat pita bread) and squinting across the street at his next-door-neighbor’s house.

Ihsan: They found Abu Ra’ad…
Me: What?! Did they? Is he…
Ihsan: He’s dead. Ra’ad and his sisters are at my house.

I looked at the house across the street and saw that three cars were lined up in front of it, as if in a funeral procession. Ihsan followed my gaze and shook his head solemnly, “They didn’t bring him home- they’ll bury him tomorrow at dawn.” He handed me the bread and turned to run back home. As he darted away to cross the street, he lost a flip-flop. He squealed as his foot hit the hot asphalt and hopped around on one leg like some bizarre stork.

I continued watching the late Abu Ra’ad’s beige, stucco house with sadness and relief. The once green creeper all along the sides was yellow and decaying. The curtains were drawn on dusty windows and the whole house looked almost abandoned. The only signs of life were the shiny tiles of the driveway, washed daily by well-meaning neighbors.

They had finally found Abu Ra’ad.

Abu Ra’ad (meaning ‘father of Ra’ad’) was a lawyer with his own private practice… if it could be called that. It was an office in a crowded, mercantile area in Baghdad large enough for three desks: one secretary and a partner.

On April 10, in the middle of the chaos, Abu Ra’ad left his house, his wife and three children to go check on his parents, whom he had lost contact with a week earlier. At 10 am, he got into an old Toyota, said a prayer and headed out to seek his family. He never came back.

For 3 days, Umm Ra’ad (mother of ‘Ra’ad’) thought he was held up at his parents’ house for some reason. Perhaps her husband had found his family hurt? Maybe he had found a parent dead- after all, his father was very sick and old… Maybe the fighting was so heavy, he couldn’t make it out of their area? The possibilities were endless. Finally, one of the other neighbors delivered a note to Umm Ra’ad’s brother asking him to please visit Abu Ra’ad’s family and find out if he was okay. After a long day, Umm Ra’ad’s brother visited her home, grim- Abu Ra’ad wasn’t at his parents’ home. He never made it and no one knew where he was.

For 7 days, everyone thought he was being detained by the Americans. We heard that hundreds of civilians were taken prisoner simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Abu Ra’ad’s younger brother, and his brother-in-law, visited authorities every day. They went to the various hotels, they visited the two or three remaining hospitals, and went over endless lists of detainees and POWs in search of Abu Ra’ad.

By the end of April, his family had resigned themselves to Abu Ra’ad’s death. His 35-year-old wife was wearing black from head-to-toe in anticipation of the news she knew she was bound, sooner or later, to receive.

I remember visiting her for the first time in early May. It was an awkward visit because we wanted to hold out hope, yet we knew there was none to give. She sat, very small and dark, on a couch in the living room, shredding tissues listlessly and listening vaguely to the words of commiseration and sympathy that, obviously, brought little or no comfort. Her 3 children, aged 1, 4 and 10 sat near her, unbearably quiet and calm. They sat gauging the situation by their mother’s expression. She knew he was dead, but she couldn’t bring herself to cry.

And still, they didn’t give up the search. They traced his route from his home to Al-Jami’a Quarter, where his parents lived, pausing at every burnt vehicle to examine it and asking the people in the surrounding areas whether they had seen a white 1985 Toyota being driven by a 40-year-old man? Maybe it had been fired at by a tank? Maybe it was hit by an Apache? People were sympathetic, but helpless. No white Toyota- a blue Kia with 6 passengers, a red Volkswagen with a mother, father and two kids… but no white Toyota. Every single time, they were referred to the makeshift graves along the main roads and highways. The temporary graves, for several weeks, lined the main roads of Baghdad.

As the tanks and Apaches invaded the city, they shot left and right at any vehicle in their path. The areas that got it worst were Al-Dawra and Al-A’adhamia. People in residential areas didn’t know what to do with the corpses in the burnt vehicles that had come from other parts of the city. They were the corpses of people and families who were trying to get away from the heavy fighting in their own areas, some of them had been officially evacuated.

The corpses sat decomposing in the heat, beyond identification. Some people tried asking the troops to help deal with them, but the reaction was mainly, “That’s not my job.” Of course not, how silly… your job is to burn the cars, we bury the corpses.

Finally, the people began to bury the corpses along the roadside- near the burnt vehicles so that family members looking for the car would find their loved ones not very far off.

For several weeks, you could see little piles of dirt all over Baghdad, and along the highways leading outside of the city, marked with bricks, or stones, or signs and, always, with palm leaves. The drying, wilting palm leaves were buried, standing up, to mark the graves. Some of the graves had little cardboard placards stuck carefully under a pile of stones to help family members: Adult male, adult female, 2 children in black Mercedes. Adult male, small boy in a white pick-up.

Sometimes the graves were marked by the license plate of the car the victims were in. But most of them were marked with the palm leaves.

For several weeks, there would be people stooping, all along the way, trying to decide if they knew, or recognized, any of the dead. That’s what Abu Ra’ad’s family did, all through May, June, July and August.

Finally, 3 days ago, an old man in his Abu Ra’ad’s parents’ neighborhood told them how the roads were blocked to their area for a couple of days, and people coming from the other end of the city had had to detour. There were several burnt cars in an area on the suburbs, in their own makeshift graveyard. They should look there; maybe they would find their son.

They finally found him, this morning, in an area outside his expected course. One of the several burnt cars, dragged into a dusty field, was a white 1985 Toyota with the skeleton of a car-seat in the back. Not far off were the graves. They located the ‘adult male in the white Toyota’ and with the help of some sympathetic men in the neighborhood, unearthed Abu Ra’ad for identification.

We went to give our condolences to Umm Ra’ad. The children were at Ihsan’s house and she was surrounded by relatives and family members, grieving. Kerosene lamps and candles were lit in the darkened living room; they threw light all over the drawn, grief-stricken faces. She was finally crying.

Tomorrow, at dawn, he will be exhumed by his family and officially buried in the over-crowded family graveyard, under one of the dozens of palm trees, in the place reserved for his father.

Sunday, September 07, 2003
This Just In...
I just heard some interesting news! Apparently as Rumsfeld's plane was leaving Baghdad Airport to take him to Kuwait, missiles were fired at his plane and they missed! Hoping to hear more about it- but I just had to share.

The puppet-master met with Bremer and the puppets but the picture wasn't complete- Bush wasn't there.

I *love* Donald Rumsfeld's latest comment on Iraq... "...It's like Chicago."
Wow. This guy is funny.

You know what? I agree with him- he just didn't finish the statement properly. What he actually should have said was, "It's like Chicago... during the 1920s, when Al Capone was running it: gangs, militias, fighting, looting, vendettas, dubious business dealings and shady figures in dark corners."

Except instead of Al Capone, we have Al-Jaffari, Al-Chalabi, Al-Hakim and L. Paul Bremer.

There were several attacks on the American forces today. The most prominent ones were in Baquba and Mosul and a couple of hours ago, there were two in Baghdad. We haven't seen the Baghdad ones on tv, but we heard a dull explosion and one of the neighbors told E. about an armored car burned.

Another comment: of the dozens of emails I got sympathizing with my feelings towards Rumsfeld, the *only* one I got defending him had a few choice sentences in it I thought I would share...

Basically it tells me that Rumsfeld is a heroic and very compassionate man and then continues to say that we ungrateful Iraqis should be ashamed of ourselves, etc. It also claims that I must be a Ba'athist because, of course, who else *except* a Ba'athist would be against this noble war?! (Sad, sad, *old* arguement.)

Another fun line:
"You should be thanking your lucky stars that Rumsfeld, and not Saddam, was in the Pentagon when your asshole buddies flew into it. Otherwise you and your whole family would be radioactive dust right now."

Apparently, I should be grateful Little Dougie, as I am fond of calling him, wasn't in the Pentagon either, because he finishes his compassionate email with the following:

"If it were up to me I would have vaporized you ten minutes after the Trade center attacks."

The whole thing cheered me up because it simply confirmed my suspicions of Rumsfeld and his followers. His emails, compared to more intelligent emails, work to remind me of the diversity of blog readers. I am honored that people like Little Dougie take time off of watching Fox News to check out my blog. Thank you Little Dougie, *you* have made my day!

On the other hand, it could have been Rumsfeld personally emailing me... either way, I'm flattered- keep reading the blog!

Saturday, September 06, 2003
Bad, Bad, Bad Day...
Bad #1: Mosque shooting.
Bad #2: No water.
Bad #3: Rumsfeld.

Today in Al-Sha’ab area, a highly populated area of Baghdad, armed men pulled up to a mosque during morning prayer and opened fire on the people. It was horrific and chilling. Someone said 3 people died, but someone else said it was more… no one knows who they are or where they’re from, but it’s said that they were using semiautomatic machineguns (not a part of the army arsenal, as far as I know). And these were just ordinary people. It’s incomprehensible and nightmarish… if you are no longer safe in a shrine or a mosque, where *are* you safe?

No running water all day today. Horrible. Usually there are at least a few hours of running water, today there’s none. E. went out and asked if there was perhaps a pipe broken? The neighbors have no idea. Everyone is annoyed beyond reason.

A word of advice: never take water for granted. Every time you wash your hands in cold, clean, clear water- say a prayer of thanks to whatever deity you revere. Every time you drink fresh, odorless water- say the same prayer. Never throw out the clean water remaining in your glass- water a plant, give it to the cat, throw it out into the garden… whatever. Never take it for granted.

Luckily, yesterday I filled all the water bottles. We have dozens of water bottles, both glass and plastic. Every time there’s even a semblance of running water, we put something under the faucet to catch the precious drops. We fill bottles, pots, thermoses, buckets- anything that will hold water. Some days are better than others.

The problem is this: when the electricity is off, the municipal water pumps don’t work- the water pressure is so low, the water won’t go up the faucet. When there *is* electricity, everyone starts up their own, personal, water pumps to fill the water tanks on the roof and the water pressure drops again.

Washing clothes is a trial. Automatic washers are obsolete- useless. The best washers to use are those little ‘National’ washers. They look like small garbage bins. You fill them with water and detergent and throw the clothes in. The clothes rotate and swish for about 10 minutes (there has to be electricity). We pull them out, rinse them in clean water and wring out the excess water. The excess water goes back into the washer. After the washing is done, the dirty soap water is used to wash the tiled driveway.

Washing dishes is another problem. We try to limit the use of dishes to what is absolutely necessary. Most of the water we store in buckets and tubs is used to wash people. We wash using the old-fashioned way- a smallish tub full of water, a ladle, a loofah, soap and shampoo. The problem is that because of the heat, everyone wants to wash at least twice a day. The best time to wash is right before going to bed because for a few heavenly minutes after you wash, you feel cool enough to try to sleep. I have forgotten the delights of a shower...

Before the war, many people dug wells in their gardens. These wells don’t look like your traditional well- a circular, stone wall with a bucket hanging in the middle. They are merely small, unpretentious holes in the ground to which mechanical pumps are attached. They provide a more or less decent water supply. The water has to be boiled or chlorinated to be used for drinking.

To make matters worse, Rumsfeld is in Iraq. It’s awful to see him strutting all over the place. I hate the hard, smug look that seems plastered on his face… some people just have cruel features. The reaction to seeing him on tv differs from the reaction to seeing Bremer or one of the puppets. The latter are greeted with jeers and scorn. Seeing Rumsfeld is something else- there’s resentment and disgust. It feels like he’s here to add insult to injury… you know, just in case anyone forgets we’re an occupied country.

And now he’s going to go back to America and give a speech about how he doesn’t know what anyone is talking about when they say ‘chaos’ (*he* was safe in the middle of all his bodyguards)… how electricity and water are functioning (after all, his air-conditioner was working *fine*)… how the people are gloriously happy and traffic is frequently at a stand-still because the Iraqis are dancing in the streets… how the ‘armed forces’ are cheerful and *grateful* to be on this heroic, historical mission… how kids wave at him, troops cheer him, dogs wag their tails in welcome and doves hover above his head…

To hell with him.

And no. I'm not whining- I'm ranting. You can't see me right now, but I'm shaking my fist at the computer screen, shaking my fist at the television, and heaping colorful, bilingual insults on Rumsfeld's head (hope the doves crap on him)... I'm angry.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003
The New Cabinet
Two days ago, the Governing Council declared that the new Iraqi Cabinet had been selected. The composition of the Iraqi cabinet is identical to that of the Governing Council: 13 Shi’a Muslims, 5 Sunni Muslims, 5 Kurds, 1 Christian, and 1 Turkoman.

After a long, tedious speech given this morning by Ibraheim Al-Jaffari, the ministers were ‘sworn in’. Correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t there supposed to be a constitution the ministers should swear to uphold? Apparently not.

Only 16 of the ministers were sworn in today because 9 of them couldn’t be there for ‘technical reasons’ (i.e. they’re still outside of the country). I don’t know how the ministries are going to function when the majority of the ‘ministers’ were living abroad for most of their lives. There’s going to be an American ‘advisor’ for each of the ministries, which is supposed to help. I hope the American advisors are better than the ones Bush stocks the White House with…

Some points of interest…

- Ahmad Al-Chalabi, Jalal Talabani, and Ibraheim Al-Jaffari were swearing in the ministers.

- There is one female minister- Nisreen Mustafa Bawari. After she was sworn in, she started shaking the hands of Al-Chalabi, Talabani and Al-Jaffari, like her male counterparts. Al-Jaffari refused to shake her hand because Al-Da’awa consider it a ‘sin’ to touch a female who isn’t a direct relation.

- Mohammed Jassim Khudhair (Minister of Expatriates and Immigration) wasn’t wearing a tie. Many Muslim fundamentalists (like the ones in Iran) don’t wear ties because they believe that along with the head, and arms, there’s symbolism of a ‘cross’ and a cross symbolizes Christianity and… well, you get the picture.

- The Minister of Oil is… Ibraheim Mohammed Bahr Ul-Iloom- the son of Mohammed Bahr Ul-Iloom of the Governing Council (the one who suspended his membership in the 9-member rotating presidency). Can anyone say nepotism? Brilliance must run in the family…

Have You Forgotten?
September 11 was a tragedy. Not because 3,000 Americans died… but because 3,000 humans died. I was reading about the recorded telephone conversations of victims and their families on September 11. I thought it was… awful, and perfectly timed. Just when people are starting to question the results and incentives behind this occupation, they are immediately bombarded with reminders of September 11. Never mind Iraq had nothing to do with it.

I get emails constantly reminding me of the tragedy of September 11 and telling me how the “Arabs” brought all of this upon themselves. Never mind it was originally blamed on Afghanistan (who, for your information, aren’t Arabs).

I am constantly reminded of the 3,000 Americans who died that day… and asked to put behind me the 8,000 worthless Iraqis we lost to missiles, tanks and guns.

People marvel that we’re not out in the streets, decking the monstrous, khaki tanks with roses and jasmine. They wonder why we don’t crown the hard, ugly helmets of the troops with wreaths of laurel. They question why we mourn our dead instead of gratefully offering them as sacrifices to the Gods of Democracy and Liberty. They wonder why we’re bitter.

But, I *haven’t* forgotten…

I remember February 13, 1991. I remember the missiles dropped on Al-Amriyah shelter- a civilian bomb shelter in a populated, residential area in Baghdad. Bombs so sophisticated, that the first one drilled through to the heart of the shelter and the second one exploded inside. The shelter was full of women and children- boys over the age of 15 weren’t allowed. I remember watching images of horrified people clinging to the fence circling the shelter, crying, screaming, begging to know what had happened to a daughter, a mother, a son, a family that had been seeking protection within the shelter’s walls.

I remember watching them drag out bodies so charred, you couldn’t tell they were human. I remember frantic people, running from corpse to corpse, trying to identify a loved-one… I remember seeing Iraqi aid workers, cleaning out the shelter, fainting with the unbearable scenes inside. I remember the whole area reeked with the smell of burnt flesh for weeks and weeks after.

I remember visiting the shelter, years later, to pay my respects to the 400+ people who died a horrible death during the small hours of the morning and seeing the ghostly outlines of humans plastered on the walls and ceilings.

I remember a family friend who lost his wife, his five-year-old daughter, his two-year-old son and his mind on February 13.

I remember the day the Pentagon, after making various excuses, claimed it had been a ‘mistake’.

I remember 13 years of sanctions, backed firmly by the US and UK, in the name of WMD nobody ever found. Sanctions so rigid, we had basic necessities, like medicine, on waiting lists for months and months, before they were refused. I remember chemicals like chlorine, necessary for water purification, being scrutinized and delayed at the expense of millions of people.

I remember having to ask aid workers, and visiting activists, to ‘please bring a book’ because publishing companies refused to sell scientific books and journals to Iraq. I remember having to ‘share’ books with other students in college, in an attempt to make the most of the limited resources.

I remember wasted, little bodies in huge hospital beds- dying of hunger and of disease; diseases that could easily be treated with medications that were ‘forbidden’. I remember parents with drawn faces peering anxiously into doctors’ eyes, searching for a miracle.

I remember the depleted uranium. How many have heard of depleted uranium? Those are household words to Iraqi people. The depleted uranium weapons used in 1991 (and possibly this time too) have resulted in a damaged environment and an astronomical rise in the cancer rate in Iraq. I remember seeing babies born with a single eye, 3 legs or no face- a result of DU poisoning.

I remember dozens of dead in the ‘no fly zones’, bombed by British and American planes claiming to ‘protect’ the north and south of Iraq. I remember the mother, living on the outskirts of Mosul, who lost her husband and 5 kids when an American plane bombed the father and his sons in the middle of a field of peaceful, grazing sheep.

And we are to believe that this is all being done for the sake of the people.

“Have you forgotten how it felt that day
To see your homeland under fire
And her people blown away?”

No… we haven’t forgotten- the tanks are still here to remind us.

A friend of E.’s, who lives in Amiriyah, was telling us about an American soldier he had been talking to in the area. E’s friend pointed to the shelter and told him of the atrocity committed in 1991. The soldier turned with the words, “Don’t blame me- I was only 9!” And I was only 11.

American long-term memory is exclusive to American traumas. The rest of the world should simply ‘put the past behind’, ‘move forward’, ‘be pragmatic’ and ‘get over it’.

Someone asked me whether it was true that the ‘Iraqi people were dancing in the streets of Baghdad’ when the World Trade Center fell. Of course it’s not true. I was watching the tv screen in disbelief- looking at the reactions of the horrified people. I wasn’t dancing because the terrified faces on the screen, could have been the same faces in front of the Amiriyah shelter on February 13… it’s strange how horror obliterates ethnic differences- all faces look the same when they are witnessing the death of loved ones.

Monday, September 01, 2003
Puppet of the Month
Today, September 1, 2003, is an important day. Ahmad Al-Chalabi has finally achieved the epitome of his political aspirations. All the years of embezzlement, conniving, and scheming have paid off: he is the current rotating president. He has officially begun his ‘presidential term’.

To be quite honest, I’ve been waiting for this. I watch all his interviews and read any article I can get, in an attempt to comprehend what hidden charms, or buried astuteness, made the Pentagon decide to so diligently push him forth as a potential leader. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was some sort of elaborate, inside joke in Washington: “We’re blighted with Bush- you deserve no better.”

So I sat around waiting for an interview on Al-Jazeera. They said it would be on at 6:05 Baghdad time- I began watching at 6:00. I had to wait, impatiently, a full 20 minutes before he made his appearance, but it was worth it. He sat, wearing a black suit, striped shirt and black tie. He was polished, and smug.

The interview, like most of his interviews, began well. He showed appropriate solemnity when asked about his views on the assassination of Al-Hakim. The smug look vanished from his face momentarily. When the reporter asked him who he thought was behind the assassination, he shrewdly narrowed it down to: extremists, loyalists, terrorists, Ba’athists and people from neighboring countries.

The Governing Council, though, was a touchy subject. When asked about just how much power the Governing Council actually had, he immediately began foaming and spluttering- claiming they had all the power to govern Iraq. So the wily reporter asked about the American presence in Iraq- how long would it take for them to leave? Al-Chalabi instantaneously stated that the American presence in Iraq was completely in the hands of the Iraqis, like himself, and that Bremer had told them that if they wanted the Americans out, they would be out tomorrow!

When asked if he would nominate himself for “president” come elections, he denied having any political ambition and claimed he was there “to help the Iraqi people” (like he helped the Jordanian people?!).

He blamed the neighboring countries for any terrorism going on in Iraq. He said they should ‘close all the borders’ because the Iraqi army couldn’t currently secure its own border (apparently someone forgot to send him the memo about dissolving the army). I wish the reporter had posed the following question: Mr. Chalabi, if the neighboring countries close their borders, how will you make your stunning, historical flight in the trunk of a car when it becomes necessary?

I was a bit disappointed with it all. For the last week, I was anticipating some sort of… I don’t know- elaborate inauguration ceremony? No, not really… maybe more of a festivity, worthy of the solemn occasion, marking his ascent to power. A circus-themed gala, perhaps, where Bremer can play the ring-master and Chalabi can jump through red, white and blue hoops to mark this historical day. Qambar can serve the cocktails…

Blog Fights...
Sorry to disappoint, but it’s not going to be much of a blog fight because I agree with most of what you say, Salam, though not all of it.

Al-Hakim’s assassination is very significant, you're right. It will be used as an excuse for vendettas, faction fighting and more violence between Shi’a and Shi’a and Sunnis and Shi’a. Already his followers are swearing to avenge his death and I shudder to think of the next group of victims. It is extremely frightening to think of what the consequences of this will be.

People are blaming America because a. America is responsible for the security of this country- when you dissolve the army and pull down the police force, *you* become responsible and, b. there is a sense that the CPA is furthering the divide between Iraqis by encouraging, and emphasizing, religious, factional and ethnic differences. I know more about the different factions after this war than I ever knew and it’s the same thing with everyone else. This heightened awareness is the result of labeling people as either ‘Arab Sunni’ or ‘Shi’a Turkoman’, or ‘Assyrian Christian’… you *have* to belong somewhere now- you can’t just be a Kurd or Christian or Muslim or simply an *Iraqi*.

People believe that the ancient “divide and conquer” is being employed. Instead of having Iraqis, Shi’a and Sunnis and Christians, united in a struggle (peaceful or otherwise) against occupation, it’s easier to have Iraqis fighting each other. The resulting sentiment will be that occupation forces are not only desirable, but that they are vital for ‘keeping the peace’. I’m not blaming Americans, specifically- it’s the oldest trick in the book. The British attempted it before them (factional differences), and the Ottomans practiced it for hundreds of years (ethnical differences).

And no, people- don’t bother writing that email telling me to ‘stop blaming America’ and why can’t ‘…you mozlem freaks get your act together and stop killin’ eachother…’ Every society has its extremists and every nation has its potential for civil war. When there’s no law and order, people will do strange and horrible things.

You don’t know how hard I pray that we, as a people, are above religious differences. I seriously hope that this was done, as they are claiming, by Al-Qaeda or some outside forces because it will be horribly disappointing to see that after hundreds of years of putting religious differences aside, various groups of thugs and fanatics will be able to reap the benefits of even more chaos and killing.

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