Baghdad Burning

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

Sunday, November 30, 2003
Iraq's Nuclear Mirage...
I can't believe it- just today I was planning on blogging about Imad Khadduri's book "Iraq's Nuclear Mirage", when I found this article:
Iraqi Scientists: Lied About Nuke Weapons

Imad Khadduri was one of Iraq's leading nuclear scientists. He's a cultured, super-smart man who was born into a Catholic family dedicated to the education of its children. His father was a prominent doctor who practiced in Baghdad and was well-known for his medical abilities, as well as his compassion and dedication.

Imad Khadduri studied physics at the University of Michigan, and then continued to study nuclear reactor technology at the University of Birmingham. He later returned to Iraq and became one of the key scientists working on Iraq's nuclear program.

His book is fantastic. The book takes you through growing up in Baghdad, during the '50s and '60s, to the first experiences of studying abroad and adjusting to a foreign culture, to becoming one of the leading weapons scientists in the country, during the '80s.

"On a brisk autumn evening in 1968, Basil al-Qaisi, a dear friend from high school, sat down next to me while I was playing Backgammon in an open-air café meters away from the Tigris. He had heard that I had returned from the US, where I was studying physics since 1961, via a sojourn in Jordan. Sipping his tea, he dropped a suggestion that changed the course of my life. In his gentle, shyly provocative manner, he asked,'Why don’t you join us at the Nuclear Research Centre? Our friends are already working there, Jafar Dhia Jafar, Nazar Al-Quraishi and others.'

I was thoroughly taken aback. I was not aware that the Russians had built a two Megawatt research reactor at Tuwaitha, 20 kilometers east of Baghdad that went critical a year earlier during November 1967."

The book gives details of the varying nuclear and 'secret' sites that were open to inspections and discusses how the program fell apart after the war in 1991 and what happened to the documents and information gathered by the scientists for over a decade. It also discusses the fakes and the flakes, like Chalabi and Khidhir Hamza, the 'bomb-maker' who helped build the WMD case against Iraq with the help of Chalabi and a very vivid imagination.

Imad Khadduri writes about Khidhir Hamza:

"In the mid-nineties, an Iraqi physicist, Khidir Hamza, managed to escape from Iraq and seek tutelage of the CIA. At the end of 1999, he published a book titled "Saddam's Bomb Maker". It is worth mentioning that at no point in time did Khidir Hamza get involved in any research work related to the nuclear bomb or the effects of a radioactive accident when we dabbled with such research…"

I found the book particularly fascinating, I guess, because Imad Khadduri is a *real* person. He's not one of those exiles who have been outside of Iraq for decades (he left in late 1998) and his words are painfully familiar- especially when he discusses family bonds and life in Iraq during the sanctions. He's very real, and very well-known and respected in Iraq. The author also played a prominent role in rebuilding Iraq after the 1991 war. He was one of the people who helped in restoring the electricity after,

"The power stations' electrical grids were covered with air dropped special nets embedded with graphite pea-sized pellets that caused extensive electrical shorts bringing the whole electrical distribution over Iraq to a halt and hurling the whole country into darkness… [during the Gulf War]"

The book doesn't read like a dry, scientific journal… it is an education in nuclear weapons, reactors and Iraqi culture, all at once.

If you want to know all about Iraq's nuclear program, and its sudden halt in 1991, read the book. If you just want a fascinating, yet true, story- read the book

Some articles by Imad Khadduri:

The Mirage of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction

Mobile Lies

I'll blog tomorrow about how Iraqis felt about WMD... and I'll also update the recipe page.

Two sides to the story...
It has been brought to my attention that there are two different sides of the incident I mentioned in my previous blog- about the 12 and 15 year old girls who were shot in a field while gathering wood. The CPA announced the girls were actually *found* in the field, dead, and were handed over to Iraqi police. Their brother, though, claims that US troops shot them. The first to come out with the story were the AFP (France Press) and Al-Jazeera and several others picked it up afterwards.

This is the modified story on Al-Jazeera.

And a confirmation at News Interactive.

I hope whoever did this is caught and punished *severely*.

Saturday, November 29, 2003
Eid Recap...
And so Eid Al Fittur has come and gone once again. This year was, of course, different from every year. It was more quiet and solemn than usual. The first day we spent at home, welcoming relatives and neighbors who came to say "Eid Mubarek", and have some tea and kilaycha.

On the second day, we went to visit a couple of family friends and a relative who are in mourning. It seems like so many people are in mourning this Eid. When you visit someone during the holidays who is in mourning, you can't say "Eid Mubarek" to them because it, in a way, is an insult to wish them joy during their difficult time. Instead, we say "Akhir il ahzan" which basically means, "May this be the last of your sorrows…" The person will often simply nod their head, fight back the tears and attempt to be civil. I hate making these visits because it really seems like a terrible intrusion.

One of our Eid visits was to a close friend of my mother who lives in Al-A'adhamiya. In April, she lost her husband, son and young daughter when a tank fired at their car as they were trying to evacuate their house. We went to visit her on the second day of Eid. I was dreading the visit because the last time I had seen her, she was only this fragment of a person. It was like she was only a whole person with her husband and kids and now she is only 1/4 of a whole. For the first month after their death, she couldn't eat, sleep or speak. When we saw her in May, she couldn't or wouldn't recognize us.

We went to see her at her sister's house in the same area. She doesn't live in her old house anymore- she can't stand how suddenly empty it is. She was speaking and moving around this time, but she isn't the same person- not even close to the same person. She speaks politely and tries to follow with the conversation but you can tell that her mind is somewhere else and it's a huge effort to stay focused on what is being said or done.

A part of me knew that being there, sharing Eid with her, was the right thing to do- the proper thing to do. Another part of me felt like we were committing some sort of terrible sin and that it was just unforgivable to be sitting there, talking about rain and explosions when this woman's life had fallen apart on a black day in April. I couldn't decide which was worse- to see the agonized look in her eyes during moments of remembrance, or to see the vague, void look of indifference she'd sometimes wear when she disappeared inside of herself.

As we were leaving, I leaned down and hugged her, whispering "Akhir il ahzan…" and as I pulled away, she simply looked at me, shook her head and said, "Of course it'll be the last of my sorrows- there's nothing else to mourn because nothing else matters…"

And then there was the last day of Eid…

Bush was in Iraq on the 27th. He made a fleeting visit to Baghdad International Airport. Don't let the name fool you- Baghdad Airport is about 20 minutes outside of Baghdad. It's in this empty, desert-like area that no one is allowed to go near. No one knew about it until he was gone and then we were all saying, "Huh? What was that about?!"

Everyone here sees it for what it is- just a lame attempt to try to look good. We actually expected him in Iraq during his Asia tour- he was bound to stop by for a good gloat. I just think the whole thing could have been a little bit less transparent (and I expected it would occur closer to elections).

Seeing him on tv was amusing- so why did he have to sneak into and out of Iraq with such secrecy? Why didn't he walk the streets of the country he helped 'liberate'? Why didn't he at least *hover* above the country he 'liberated'? He constantly claims the situation is much better now than pre-war, so why isn't he taking advantage of our excellent security situation?! We all sat there, watching him garble out the usual stream of words and shook our heads… he's just as much of an ass in Baghdad as he is in Washington.

I am curious about how the troops felt about his presence though… I'm sure the hand-picked group in the airport were elated, but I can't help but wonder about the troops stuck in Tikrit, Najaf, Falloojeh or Mosul… I imagine they'd much rather be at home.

The most amusing thing about his visit was watching Chalabi and Talabani jumping up and down at the airport, cheering and clapping as Bush made the rounds. Muwafaq Al-Rubai'i, also a member of the Governing Council, was just embarrassing- he was standing on tiptoe and clapping like a 5-year-old watching a circus clown. Later, he gushed about how happy the Iraqis were and how delighted the whole country was going to be, like he would know, almost as inaccessible to Iraqis as Bush himself is.

Bush must be proud today- two more 'insurgents' were shot dead in Ba'aquba: two terrorist sisters, one 12 years old and the other 15. They were shot by troops while gathering wood from a field… but nobody bothers to cover that. They are only two Iraqi girls in their teens who were brutally killed by occupation troops- so what? Bush's covert two-hour visit to Baghdad International Airport is infinitely more important…

Note: To all of you who sent me Eid greetings- thank you. The number of emails was unbelievable. I'll try to respond soon- be patient- the electrical situation has been a nightmare.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Eid Mubarek...
The last few days I've had to give up the keyboard and blog for something less glamorous- the bucket and mop.

It started about 3 days ago. I was out on the driveway, struggling with the garden hose and trying to cunningly arrange it to give a maximum trickle of water. My mother was standing at the door, chatting lightly with Umm Maha, from across the street- a stocky, healthy woman in her late forties.

Umm Maha had made us 'kilaycha'- a special Eid desert (and the recipe is a bit too complicated to post). Kilaycha are like… not exactly cookies or bars but something like dry, sweet dumplings. They are, basically, a sort of baked dough filled with either nuts, sesame seeds and sugar, dates or just flat and plain, almost like Christmas cookies- but less brittle and sweet. Every house either makes them or buys them for Eid- they are almost as necessary as lentil soup.

I was vaguely listening to the conversation. They were discussing the blackouts and how they were affecting the water flow in some areas (like ours). My mother was mentioning how she was thawing out the freezer because the intermittent electricity was turning everything to mush and Umm Maha suddenly looked awed, "But isn't your freezer clean? Haven't you began with the Eid cleaning?!" I froze as I heard the words and peered around at my mother. She was looking uncomfortable- no we hadn't started with the 'Eid cleaning', but how do you say that to the Martha Stewart of Baghdad?

Yes, Umm Maha is the Martha Stewart of Baghdad- I defy anyone who can show me a neighbor with a cleaner driveway. Her whole house is spotless… rain, shine or cluster bombs. Her kids are always groomed and ironed. Their car, while old and dented, is spotless. She's always the first one to make the Eid kilaycha. She's the first one who is out of the door and washing down the house, the car, the driveway and the TREES after an infamous Iraqi dust storm. She's the neighbor who will know the latest cleaning fads (like using talcum powder to get out oil stains), and the one who'll be chasing the stray cats away from the garbage bins with (what else?) a broom.

My mother smiled wanly- we all knew Eid was coming up, but no one had the energy or initiative to begin the huge job of making the house spotless before Eid. Eid Il Futtir, as it is called, is the 3 day holiday that comes directly after Ramadhan. In Iraq, we celebrate it by visiting family and friends, and, generally, eating. It's a celebration of the end of fasting (especially if you were able to fast all month).

Preparations for Eid often begin a week ahead of the holiday. Kids have to have new clothes, pajamas and haircuts. The kitchen has to be stocked with good things to eat for visiting family, friends and neighbors. The family has to be prepared to have guests every minute of the 3 days of Eid. The house has to be spotlessly clean.

It's traditional for households to begin 'tandheef il eid' a few days before Ramadhan ends. On Arafat, or the eve of Eid, many people stay at home to get things organized. It is believed that Eid isn't complete and the holiday 'spirit' won't enter the home if the house is unclean or messy.

So Martha Stewart, aka Umm Maha, reminded my mother of the coming event a few days ago. That moment, I tried to subtly drop the hose and disappear behind a shrub, knowing my involvement in the cleaning process was going to be extensive. It didn't help. As soon as Umm Maha left the house, clucking disapprovingly, my mother got into 'cleaning mode' and began "Operation Spotless Eid".

Major General "Riverbend's Mother" instantly gathered her army of cleaners together and began giving orders. Riverbend would get to do the closets, father would have to attack that pile of 'valuable' junk in the driveway, and E. would move around heavy furniture to wipe beneath- dust bunnies must be abolished and dirt must be demolished.

That's what I've been doing the last few days- scrubbing, folding, polishing and flushing. It has been difficult because of the constant blackouts. Vacuuming is next to impossible and most of the clothes have to be washed by hand because the water tank on top of the roof is never full enough.

For some Sunnis, Eid began yesterday (as it did in Jordan and Egypt). For the rest, Eid is tomorrow. For families like mine, with a combination of Sunnis and Shi'a, we follow Saudi Arabia and they have declared Eid to be today- the 25th of November. It bothers me that we didn't begin Eid 'together' this year because that's what Eid is really about- togetherness.

Mosques are being watched carefully and most people are safely in their homes by 8 pm. We're not quite sure how our families are going to meet- who will go where? Not everyone has telephone access and many people, in certain areas, are somewhat hesitant to gather together in large groups for fear of being mistaken for 'terrorists'. It's a strange sort of Eid this year- with helicopters and tanks… and possibly raids.

To those who began Eid yesterday, and to those who begin it today- Happy Eid, or Eid Mubarek…

Saturday, November 22, 2003
Donkeys and Guerillas...
Ok, todays blog is going to look like something straight out of The Onion.

Donkeys Could Be the Missing Link?

Baghdad, Iraq- At around a quarter past 7 this morning, residents in downtown Baghdad awoke to the sound of explosions. Many inhabitants claimed that they assumed the sounds were the result of Operation Iron Hammer- the latest military tactic designed to send a message to Iraqi insurgents.

Upon turning on their televisions, Baghdadis realized that two prominent hotels and the Ministry of Oil had recently been attacked. The two hotels assailed with missiles were the Sheraton and Palestine Hotel, both situated in a busy, commercial locale in the Iraqi capital. The hotels are home to the reporters and journalists of many major news networks, including the CNN, as well as foreign contractors. While there seem to be no casualties in either of the hotels, or the Ministry, witnesses confirmed there were injuries.

The assailants? Donkeys. Yes, donkeys were found in various locations in Baghdad, leading colorful carts with missile launchers and missiles camouflaged with hay. The donkeys, looking guilty and morose, were promptly taken into custody for questioning and were not available for a statement.

"He looks just like the purple donkey in Winnie Dab-Doob!" gasped one, young Baghdad resident, related to the reporter, in reference to one of the terrorists.

The First Real Link

Could this be the first real tie to Al-Qaeda? After months of trying to connect Iraq to terrorist activities, this latest attack could prove to be the Pentagon's 'missing link' . After all, donkeys and mules are very widely used in Afghanistan to travel through the rocky, mountainous region- their presence in Baghdad is highly suspicious. It is, as yet, unclear whether the donkeys are foreign guerillas who crossed into Iraq from one of the neighboring countries, or are actually a part of a local Al-Qaeda cell.

Baghdad residents are wondering: could these culprits be the first donkeys sent to Guantanamo?

By Riverbend, Baghdad Burning

It's true... it's all we've been talking about all day.

Thank You...
A very special thanks to three people. The first is Frank Tobin who got Blogger to upgrade my blog so that the advertisements are gone and I can do a lot of things I couldn't do before. The second person is Jeff Reed who has registered – Riverbend is a dot com now! The third person is Diana over at Letter from Gotham for… well, she knows why!

BTW, I've updated Is Something Burning...

Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Difficult Days...
They've been bombing houses in Tikrit and other areas! Unbelievable… I'm so angry it makes me want to break something!!!! What the hell is going on?! What do the Americans think Tikrit is?! Some sort of city of monsters or beasts? The people there are simple people. Most of them make a living off of their land and their livestock- the rest are teachers, professors and merchants- they have lives and families… Tikrit is nothing more than a bunch of low buildings and a palace that was as inaccessible to the Tikritis as it was to everyone else!

People in Al Awja suffered as much as anyone, if not more- they weren't all related to Saddam and even those who were, suffered under his direct relatives. Granted, his bodyguards and others close to him were from Tikrit, but they aren't currently in Tikrit- the majority have struck up deals with the CPA and are bargaining for their safety and the safety of their families with information. The people currently in Tikrit are just ordinary people whose homes and children are as precious to them as American homes and children are precious to Americans! This is contemptible and everyone thinks so- Sunnis and Shi'a alike are shaking their heads incredulously.

And NO- I'm not Tikriti- I'm not even from the 'triangle'- but I know simple, decent people who ARE from there and just the thought that this is being done is so outrageous it makes me want to scream. How can that ass of a president say things are getting better in Iraq when his troops have stooped to destroying homes?! Is that a sign that things are getting better? When you destroy someone's home and detain their family, why would they want to go on with life? Why wouldn't they want to lob a bomb at some 19-year-old soldier from Missouri?!

The troops were pushing women and children shivering with fear out the door in the middle of the night. What do you think these children think to themselves- being dragged out of their homes, having their possessions and houses damaged and burned?! Who do you think is creating the 'terrorists'?!! Do you think these kids think to themselves, "Oh well- we learned our lesson. That's that. Yay troops!" It's like a vicious, moronic circle and people are outraged…

The troops are claiming that the attacks originate from these areas- the people in the areas claim the attacks are coming from somewhere else… I really am frightened of what this is going to turn into. People seem to think that Iraq is broken into zones and areas- ethnically and religiously divided. That's just not true- the majority of people have relatives all over Iraq. My relatives extend from Mosul, all the way down to Basrah- we all feel for each other and it makes decent people crazy to see this happening.

There have also been a string of raids all over Baghdad, but especially in Al-A'adhamiya. They've detained dozens of people with the excuse that they own more than one weapon. Who owns less than two weapons? Everyone has at least one Klashnikov and a couple of guns. Every male in the house is usually armed and sometimes the females are too. It's not because we love turning our homes into arsenals, but because the situation was so dangerous (and in some areas still is) that no one wants to take any risks. Imagine the scene: a blue mini-van pulls up… 10 dirty, long-haired men clamber out with Klashnikovs, pistols and grenades and demand all the gold and the kids (for ransom). Now imagine trying to face them all with a single handgun… if Baghdad were SECURE people would give up their weapons. I hate having weapons in the house.

I'm so tired. These last few days have been a strain on every single nerve in my body. The electricity has been out for the last three days and while the weather is pleasant, it really is depressing.

No one knows why the electricity is out- there are murmurings of storms and damage to generators and sabotage and punishment… no one knows exactly what's going on. There are explosions everywhere. Yesterday it was especially heavy. Today there was a huge explosion that felt like it was nearby but we can't really tell. How do you define a war? This sure as hell feels like war to me… no electricity, water at a trickle, planes, helicopters and explosions.

We didn't send the kids to school today. My cousin's wife spent last night talking about horrible premonitions and it didn't take much to convince my cousin that they would be better off at home.

It's hard for adults without electricity, but it's a torment for the kids. They refuse to leave the little pool of light provided by the kerosene lamps. We watch them nervously as they flit from candlelight to lamplight, trying to avoid the dark as much as possible. I have flashes of the children knocking down a candle, hot, burning wax, flames… I asked the 7-year-old the other night if she was afraid of 'monsters' when she shied away from a dark room. She looked at me like I was crazy- monsters are for losers who don't need to fear war, abductions and explosions.

We (5 houses in the neighborhood) all chipped in and bought a generator immediately after the war. What we do now is 2 houses get enough electricity for some neon lights, a television, a refrigerator and a freezer. We asked them to 'save our electricity up' and give us a couple of hours after futtoor and that's how I'm typing now. But my time is almost up and I'm afraid if the electricity goes off suddenly, it'll damage my computer.

E. and I hang out on the roof after futtoor and only duck inside when the helicopters begin hovering above. We watch the main street from the roof. One of the merchants has a little generator and he sets up chairs outside of his shop, in front of a small black and white tv. The guys in the neighborhood all stream towards the lights like ants towards a sticky spot. They sit around drinking tea, and chatting.

You really can't appreciate light until you look down upon a blackened city and your eyes are automatically drawn to the pinpoints of brightness provided by generators… it looks like the heavens have fallen and the stars are wandering the streets of Baghdad, lost and alone.

I have to go now. Hope the electricity is back tomorrow, at least.

Sunday, November 16, 2003
Some Links...
People have been asking about the casualties in Iraq. Check out this report: Continuing Collateral Damage: The health and environmental costs of war on Iraq.

As for the deaths of troops in Iraq, the best page that summarizes these is Today in Iraq- I know nothing about the page beyond the fact that it gives a daily summary of the main newsworthy events and gives links, brief commentary and occasional rants. It is worth checking daily.

I updated the recipes page.

Danny Schechter has a new page called "Dissectorville".

These last few days have been tense- gunshots, helicopters, and explosions. A couple of days ago, we counted around 23 explosions. My cousin, his wife and their two daughters were at our house when the commotion began. A few explosions were so loud, the windows began to rattle with each impact and I had flashbacks of March and April.

The kids reacted differently- the older one, ran to sit beside her mother, as far away from the living-room window as possible. She once confided to me that the glass terrified her; four of the windows at her grandparents' home cracked during the 'shock and awe' phase of the bombing and she still remembers the incident. The younger one was silent and stoic. You can hardly tell she's scared except that if you sit particularly close, you can hear her grinding her little teeth, which is what she does when she's frightened. It drives my cousin crazy because the kid loses herself in a sort of trance when she does that and it's all we can do to keep her mind off of whatever she's brooding about. At one point she asked, "Is it war again?" No, it isn't war, dear… the helicopters, tanks, missiles, rattling windows and explosions aren't war- they are 'protection': they are Operation Iron Hammer, not to be confused with war.

When it got particularly heavy, and the helicopters began hovering above, E. wanted to go out to the roof and see what was happening and what exactly was being bombed. My mother declared NO ONE would go up to the roof- the helicopters were flying low and the troops haven't been too discriminating lately when it came to civilians- especially the ones in helicopters and tanks.

At one point, the helicopters got so loud, it felt like they were going to land on the roof. E. was restless, pacing between the house and garden, trying to catch a glimpse of the commotion. We found out later an old Republican Guard facility had been bombed- though no one understands why: who would use *that* as a meeting place?! Other areas were bombed and one of the areas was evacuated- although some people preferred staying in their homes.

The 14th of July Bridge was closed again. The 14th of July Bridge is also known as the "Mu'alaq Bridge", or the suspended bridge. It's the bridge I described in one of my earlier posts. The bridge was closed to civilians during the war (after the 9th of April, I think) and was re-opened about two weeks ago. I haven't been on the bridge since late March. I dread having to cross it again because it was the scene of many horrible deaths- many civilian cars were burned on that bridge. A friend of ours lost his wife and dog on that bridge when a tank fired at his SUV in April. It was 5 days before he was allowed to remove her corpse from the burnt vehicle and give her a proper burial.

I heard about the new 'acceleration to transfer power' to the GC. I'm not sure how it's going to work. Chalabi gave his speech in English today with Talbani on his right and Pachachi peering over his shoulder on the left. I read Juan Cole's blog and he describes a report given by ABC, which didn't sound like the speech. From the speech, I gathered that by June, the GC would nominate and elect a 'sovereign government'. But, again, who elected the GC? Someone asked Talabani, I think, whether the same GC members would actually be in the 'elected' government, the answer was "Yes, if our parties still want us as their representatives". I'll have to look into it more. I'm still not sure what this means. There's still some confusion here as to how this whole new government will be chosen by June...

Thursday, November 13, 2003
Iraqi Governing Council...
I have to post this fast. The electrical situation has been hellish today. There's no schedule… in our area the electricity is on 30 minutes for every two hours of no electricity. People suspect it's a sort of punishment for what happened in Nassiryah this morning and the bombings in Baghdad this last week. There were also some huge explosions today- the troops got hit by mortars, I think, and retaliated by bombing something.

Also, Mohammed Bahr Ul Iloom was shot at today. Bahr Ul Iloom is one of the Shia clerics (a 'rotating president') and the father of the Minister of Oil. He was unharmed, it seems, but his driver is wounded. While I'm sure Bahr Ul Iloom would love to blame it on loyalists, Ba'athists and Al-Qaeda, the shots actually came from American troops- it was a 'mistake'. Oops.

Bremer is currently in Washington, explaining why the Governing Council are completely useless. The Washington Post article on the diminishing popularity of the Governing Council came as no surprise:

"The United States is deeply frustrated with its hand-picked council members because they have spent more time on their own political or economic interests than in planning for Iraq's political future, especially selecting a committee to write a new constitution, the officials added."

I think it's safe to say that when you put a bunch of power-hungry people together on a single council (some who have been at war with each other), they're going to try to promote their own interests. They are going to push forward their party members, militias and relatives in an attempt to root themselves in Iraq's future.

"Bremer noted that at least half the council is out of the country at any given time and that at some meetings, only four or five members showed up."

Of course they're outside of the country- many of them don't have ties in it. They have to visit their families and businesses in Europe and North America. For some of them, it sometimes seems like the "Governing Council" is something of an interesting hobby- a nice little diversion in the monthly routine: golf on Saturdays, a movie with the family in London on Fridays, a massage at the spa on Tuesdays, and, oh yes- nation-building for 5 minutes with Bremer on the Xth of each month.

People here never see them. Most live in guarded compounds and one never knows what country they are currently in. For example, Chalabi is presently missing. I haven't seen him on the news for… I don't know how long. If anyone has seen him, please send an email- I'm dying to know what he's up to.

I can imagine Bremer preparing for a meeting with the pioneers of Iraqi democracy, the pillars of liberty… the Iraqi Puppet Council. He strides in with his chic suit, flowing hair and polished shoes (the yellow nation-building boots are only for press conferences and photo shoots in Iraqi provinces). He is all anticipation and eagerness: today will be the day. *This* meeting will be the productive meeting which will make headlines.

He strides into the lavish room, Italian heels clicking on the marble floor- there will be 25 faces today. Twenty-five pairs of adoring eyes will follow him around the room. Twenty-five pairs of eager ears will strain to hear his words of wisdom. Twenty-five faces will light up with… but where are the 25? He stops in the middle of the room, heart sinking, ire rising in leaps and bounds. Why are there only 5 unsure faces? Did he have the schedule wrong? Was this the wrong conference room?!

And Bremer roars and rages- where are the Puppets? Where are the marionettes?! How dare they miss yet another meeting! But they all have their reasons, Mr.Bremer: Talbani is suffering from indigestion after an ample meal last night; Iyad Allawi is scheduled for a pedicure in Switzerland this afternoon; Al-Hakim is jetting around making covert threats to the Gulf countries, and Chalabi says he's not attending meetings anymore, he's left the country and will be back when it's time for the elections…

People have been expecting this for some time now. There's a complete and total lack of communication between the Council members and the people- they are as inaccessible as Bremer or Bush. Their speeches are often in English and hardly ever to the Iraqi public. We hear about new decisions and political and economical maneuverings through the voice-overs of translators while the Council members are simpering at some meeting thousands of miles away.

We need *real* Iraqis- and while many may argue that the Council members are actually real Iraqis, it is important to keep in mind that fine, old adage: not everyone born in a stable is a horse. We need people who aren't just tied to Iraq by some hazy, political ambition. We need people who have histories inside of the country that the population can relate to. People who don't have to be hidden behind cement barriers, barbed wire and an army.

Their failure has nothing to do with attacks on troops or terrorism. It has to do with the fact that many of them are only recommendable because they were apparently very good at running away from a difficult situation- and running into the right arms. Another problem is the fact that decent, intelligent people with political ambition refuse to be a part of this fiasco because everyone senses that the Governing Council cannot do anything on its own. Bremer is the head and he's only the tip of the iceberg- he represents Washington.

A national conference is a good idea, but it will fail as miserably as the Puppet Council, unless… there's a timetable. The occupation forces need to set a definite date saying, "We're going to begin pulling out on *this* month, next year- let's get organized before that." A timetable is vital to any progress, if any is going to be made. Only then, will things begin to move forward.

Prominent, popular politicians and public figures don't want to be tied to American apron strings- this includes lawyers, political scientists, writers, and other well-known people. Not because they are American apron-strings per se, but because this is an occupation (by American admission, no less). No matter how much CNN and the rest try to dress it up as a liberation, the tanks, the troops, the raids, the shootings (accidental or otherwise), and the Puppet Council all scream occupation. If it were French, it'd get the same resistance… just as if it were a Saudi, Egyptian or Iranian occupation.

It is also vital that all interested political parties be allowed to be a part of the national conference. Any political conferences in the past have been limited to American-approved political and religious parties which have left a large number of political groups outside of the circle- groups that have more popular support. Furthermore, the conference can't be run and organized by occupation forces (troops and the CPA). If there's one thing Iraqis are good at- it's organizing conferences. Why should vital political decisions critical to Iraq's independence be made under the watchful eyeball of an American Lieutenant or General? Everyone wants a democratic Iraq, but that just isn't going to happen if people constantly associate the government with occupation.

Why should any Iraqi government have to be christened and blessed by Bremer? He wasn't Iraqi, last time I checked…

Juan Cole and Joshua Marshall both have some interesting things to say on the subject (they both give some good links too).

Sunday, November 09, 2003
I updated the Is Something Burning?! page and have added it to my sidebar -->

Galub Memdeshen...
These last few days have been a bit tiring- a few visitors (relatives) and a couple of friends who we haven’t seen since July. It’s ridiculous- we live in the same city but it feels like we’re all worlds apart. Everyone is so consumed with their own set of trials and tribulations these days- the son that lost a job, the daughter that lost a husband… the problems feel endless and everyone has their own story to tell. As my mother constantly says, “Kul wahid yihtajleh galub memdeshen”, or “every person [you listen to] requires an brand new heart”. This is usually said when anticipating a sad, frustrating story. Every story begins with a deep *sigh* and ends with an “Allah kareem”.

Our latest visitor has left us more than perturbed. A friend of E. passed by, a junior in the electrical engineering department at Baghdad University. He sat, for an hour, describing an incident that occurred last week at the university which we had heard about, but didn’t know the details. It has been the biggest problem yet in Baghdad University.

Just some information on Baghdad University: Baghdad University was established in the ‘30s, I think. It is Iraq’s oldest, contemporary university and its most famous. It started out small and kept on expanding until it became one of the largest universities in the region. There are 6 different campuses spread all over Baghdad and I’m not sure just how many colleges there are. The main campus is the one located in the leafy, elegant area of Jadriya, in the center of Baghdad. The colleges of engineering, science, political science, physical education, and women’s education are all located on the Jadriya campus, as is the university president’s office.

The Jadriya campus was designed in 1961 by Walter Adolph Gropius, a German who emigrated to America in 1937. The campus is huge, and beautiful. The buildings are sprawling and punctuated with little gardens planted with palms and other trees and grass. There are also several dormitories that provide living quarters for out-of-town students, and in the physical education college, there are football fields, basketball courts and a pool.

My favorite feature on the Jadriya campus is the arc framing the entrance. The arcs, which look like a pale, elongated rainbow that doesn’t quite meet in the middle, symbolize Arabic architecture. The opening in the middle of the arcs symbolizes open minds, allowing for the entrance of knowledge. Or that’s what they say it symbolizes. The whole campus is a wonderful contrast of green trees, and beige buildings swarming with busy students. Even during difficult times, it was an oasis.

Up until the early 1990s, the majority of the teaching staff had gotten their post-graduate degrees from abroad. The College of Medicine leaned towards an English curriculum because most of the doctors were graduates of British medical schools, the College of Engineering leaned towards an American curriculum because the majority of the professors and teachers were graduates of American colleges. The College of Science was a combination of American/British-taught teachers and professors, and most of the syllabuses were in English.

After 1991, the university began deteriorating, like all other universities. Chemicals weren’t purchased for the science labs because many of the basic experimental materials were ‘banned’ according to the sanctions resolution. The physics labs suffered the same fate. Engineering departments complained of a lack of equipment and books. Because curriculums were American or British, the books also originated from these countries. Major publishing houses refused to sell books to Iraqi universities because their governments considered it illegal (apparently, you can make WMD using a calculus book…). We had to wait until someone brought a copy of the necessary book in, by chance, and make dozens of photocopies of it, which would be sold in little ‘makatib’ or bookshops all over Baghdad.

Many of the professors started emigrating after 1991 because the economic situation was so bad, they could barely afford to support themselves, let alone their families. They started leaving to places like Jordan, Yemen, Libya, Syria and the Emirates, hoping to find a decent position in a university or research center. The ones who remained were highly appreciated… we still talk of the mathematician from MIT, or the programmer from Berkeley.

In spite of all this, Baghdad University remained one of the best universities in the region. It was well-known throughout the Arab world and its graduates were welcome almost anywhere. It’s reputation, more or less, remained in tact. About 90% of the college applicants always put Baghdad University at the top of their application form. It accepts the highest grades because, as a total, it accepts only around 10,000 students a year and every year, 75,000 students graduate from Iraqi high schools and apply for college. So, in addition to some of the best teachers in Iraq, they also get the smartest students.

The University was looted heavily during the days immediately after April 9. Some campuses were worse off than others. The Jadriya campus was looted, the first few days, but because American troops were posted nearby, the looting was lighter than in other places. Many professors quit working after the occupation, while others were fired. The ones remaining in the university got together and had a ‘democratic’ vote, choosing specific staff to head the departments, colleges and they even chose a university president.

The problem was that many of the professors were former Ba’athists… some of the best teachers were Ba’athists (we had over 6 million). Sami Mudhafar, who was chosen as university president, was respected, competent and… anti-Ba’athist. A few weeks into the occupation, Chalabi started insisting on the implementation of his ‘de-Ba’athification plan. The first place it began in was the universities. Any Ba’athists, with administrative positions, were asked to step down and hand over the reigns. The next step the CPA insisted upon, was that any Ba’athists professors should be made to quit. That was too much. Sami Mudhafar realized that making all the ex-Ba’athist teachers and employees quit would mean that he’d have too big a shortage of academicians to continue classes. Things were already tough before the war, this would make things impossible. So, he refused. He told the representative for the Ministry of Higher Education that it was a mistake and he couldn’t be responsible for the result of an action like that…

Sami Mudhafar was promptly changed. He was asked to resign his post and the Minister of Higher Education, appointed by the Governing Council, chose someone else to fill his post. The Jadriya campus was in an uproar. Students and teachers protested, holding signs that said things like, “The Minister of Higher Education was appointed- Sami was elected.” And it was a good point: one of the first buds of democracy was promptly squelched by a minister appointed by the CPA and the Puppet Council.

The problems started after that. It seemed like every day brought a new story of some minor dissent or some major disagreement between the staff, the students and the new administration- and sometimes, even the American troops at the university got involved.

Before the troops pulled out of the Jadriya campus, they assigned ‘campus security’, which some say were trained by the soldiers. The campus security are a bunch of men between the ages of 20 and 40 (the majority, they say, are in their twenties). Students have been annoyed because the campus security seem to be there not so much to ensure safety, but to watch the students. Almost every day, there has been a new skirmish with the campus security, and any time someone tried to take the matter to higher authorities, they had to go through even more security to make an official complaint.

A few days ago, one of the students got into an argument with one of the security members over a parking space. The student apparently pulled in to a ‘reserved’ parking spot and was rushing off to class when one of the security members asked him to remove his car. The computer engineering student argued, the campus security guy yelled, angry words were spoken, another security guard joined in- and suddenly the three were fighting. Friends of the student joined in the scuffle, and the security people suddenly pulled out knives… more students joined in- everyone was enraged- and the security people asked for back up. The back up came in the form of several security guys in two pick-up truck. They pulled up to the road leading to the department of computer and electrical engineering, pulled out their Klashnikovs and opened fire on the department building!

Students began dropping to the ground, windows were broken, chunks of beige plaster were dropping from the balconies and teachers rushed to herd students out of classes and into the corridors (to avoid windows). One of the students got into his car, and went to get the dean of the college and some Iraqi Police. A few minutes later, the police pulled up yelled and yelled at the security people to stop shooting. The security people then turned and began shooting in the direction of the police. The police pulled out their guns and began firing threatening shots to get the campus security to stop. The dean came along- a small, earnest man, pale and bewildered, wondering what the problem was and was instantly greeted by terrified students, angry security guards and the IP.

The students went home that day, enraged and disoriented, unable to continue classes. Luckily, injuries were minor. A few scrapes from the knives, a few bruises, and some mental scars, probably, but nothing else. Since that day, they have been on a strike- demanding an official apology from the campus security and a limit to their power, i.e. they shouldn’t get to fire at a bunch of students over a parking space…

Today (well, yesterday, technically- it’s almost dawn here) there were some more explosions in the city center… not sure where it’s coming from but someone said it was near the Green Zone again. Nothing on the internet about it.

But, other than irate security guards, explosions in the capital, bombing in Tikrit, strikes in Nassriya over the security situation, a few assassinations, some abductions, car bombs, frightened humanitarian organizations, and exhausted people- everything is just rosy… *sigh*… Allah Kareem.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003
Is Something Burning?!
Due to the overwhelming number of requests that I post some Iraqi Ramadhan recipes, I'm going to start posting recipes on this page: Is Something Burning?!. I'm still trying it out and I think I'll change the links to link to recipe pages (especially Middle Eastern food). We'll see how it goes. I'd love to hear some feedback if anyone tries the recipes.

Between a Hammer and an Anvil...
I haven’t written these last few days for several reasons. I could barely get an internet connection and when I did connect, it was very slow. I gave up yesterday. I’ve also been a bit tired with Ramadhan. It’s not the fasting that makes me tired, but the preparing for breaking the fast in the evening. There’s always so much to do. After we’ve eaten, I’m just to exhausted to do anything besides sit around with the family, drinking tea, abusing the smokers and discussing the usual topics families discuss while gathered together these days- the occupation and politics.

Even the kids are involved with the news and current situation, but in a smaller way. My cousin’s younger daughter is infatuated with one of the anchors on Al-Arabia. Every time he’s on tv, the usually loud 7-year-old stands, bedazzled, in front of the television, absorbing every word of the dry, detached commentary. Her mother, who can be impressively conniving, is tricking the poor kid into being good simply by saying things like, “But what would that nice man on Al-Arabia say if he saw you didn’t eat your potatoes?!”

So many things have been happening this last week. The various UN organizations began pulling out their volunteers and employees. The Red Cross is currently doing the same. Someone asked me why Iraqis seemed to have so much faith in UN organizations. It’s not that we have unrealistic views about the capabilities of the UN or humanitarian organizations; it’s simply that when organizations begin to pull out their people, you know things are going downhill. While being threatened with war, we used to watch the UN people very carefully and when they’d start packing up and leaving in helicopters, we’d know things are going to get difficult.

People started going back to work today. Saturday, Sunday and Monday everyone was basically stuck at home because of the fliers going around talking about 3 days of resistance. Some say the fliers have no definite threat- just a vague order for people to stay at home for three days in protest of the occupation, others claim that there’s an underlying ‘warning’ in the words.

Baghdad was eerily quiet, besides the occasional explosion (yesterday near the CPA headquarters and tonight within the ‘Green Zone’). Everything seemed to be at a stand-still- relatively few cars in the streets, hardly any children in the schools and even government employees deciding to remain safe in their homes. Colleges were also practically empty, although the students started going back today. There are troops just about every where- check points, road blocks and soldiers waving the cars back, back, back, “Take another road…”

My cousin and his wife spent the last two days with us. They had kept the girls home from school just to be on the safe side. My cousin’s wife was more relieved than I had seen her since the academic year began. She’d just as soon have the girls under her watchful eye than at school and this is a perfect excuse for her. The other day she was debating the sanity of keeping them at home the whole year and tutoring them. We told her she was crazy because our educational system doesn’t allow for that in elementary school. Unless there’s a great reason, the child is required to actually be at the school. I told her they would lose a year, and considering her older daughter is an excellent student, it would be a shame. She doesn’t seem to care- all she wants is to sense that they are safe. I think many parents had to have that debate this year. Young girls, especially, have been prone to kidnappings and abductions.

I don’t envy parents during this crisis.

Unviersities are facing their own set of problems. We heard there was some sort of student demonstration because the situation in the universities isn’t much better than on the street. Students complain of being made to miss classes because of the long lines while cars and people are being checked before being allowed to enter the university. There are also complaints that the deans and presidents of certain universities are so concerned with their physical safety, they refuse to see students, hear complaints or tour the facilities to find out about certain problems. University faculty complain of everything from receiving death threats from students for giving bad grades, to bad attendance by students due to the security situation.

The latest today is that missiles were fired inside of the Green Zone (the press says it could be mortar). We heard the explosions which were LOUD, but I think the majority have gotten used to hearing them. Even the kids hardly flinch any more. The moment we hear explosions, there’s a rush to get to the roof and try to determine the general direction of the smoke (there is usually smoke). Then there’s a rush to check the news, if there’s electricity. If it’s in a residential area, we immediately think of all our relatives and acquaintances in the area and wonder if everyone is alright, how close it was to a specific home/person/shop/school. Almost everyone has relatives living all over Baghdad- there’s always someone to worry about. We then try to contact someone from the bombed area and if there’s no telephone, we try to contact someone who might have extra information. The process has become too familiar.

There have also been a number of assassinations these last few days. The ones that are making headlines are the judges. Yesterday, a judge was kidnapped and killed in Najaf. Today, a judge was killed outside of his home in Mosul and another judge was shot twice in the head in his car in Kirkuk. It seems, these days, that judges in Iraq are caught ‘bayn il mattraqa wil sindan’, as one Arab reporter said, which means ‘between a hammer and an anvil’. This is because while the judge in Najaf was killed by loyalists, it seems, the one in Kirkuk was killed by American troops who said he got caught in 'cross fire'. The one in Mosul is still a mystery.

These last few days have been particularly difficult. There’s a strain on everybody. People are tense and worried. They’re worried about their children, worried about their jobs or lack of employment, worried about the security situation, worried about jumpy troops. The attacks are becoming more sophisticated and the troops are becoming more brutal in some areas... It’s like we graduate from one phase to another. Everyone is so tired.

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