Baghdad Burning

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

Saturday, January 31, 2004
A Whole Bunch of Links...
I have a lot of links to share.

There are several new Iraqi bloggers. The first blog to introduce is the Iraqi Agora- a group blog by Iraqis inside and outside of Iraq. It's basically a blog for Iraqis too lazy to begin their own blog. The truth is that 3 of the contributing bloggers (Salam, Liminal and I) have our own blogs. The guy calling himself 'Liminal' is a twenty-something Iraqi living in the US and you'll have to read his personal blog to learn more about him. Hurria is an Iraqi woman who has lived abroad for a long time and has some fantastic opinions about... everything. Torshe is another Iraqi abroad and is new to blogging but you won't want to miss him either. You'll have to be patient with the group blog because we're still getting it on its feet (and Liminal is doing most of the work). I have two other contributors inside of Iraq interested in blogging on it.

Another Iraqi blog is Iraqi's Iraqi Spirit by an Iraqi network engineer in his 30s and he warns you that his blog is not meant to be politically correct.

For those of you who want Iraqi music, check it out at this site: It has some fantastic classics as well as some of the more modern songs, available as downloadable MP3 files.

This link came from B. from North Ireland and it's a link to a site he *insisted* I check out. Physicians for Human Rights. They have a special page devoted to Iraq and have apparently done some extensive work in the region. Check out what they have to say about cluster bombs.

The Big Eid...
We've been cleaning again these last few days. The 'Big Eid' or "Eid Al Kabeer" or "Al Eid Al Adh'ha" is on Sunday and everyone has been hectically taking down curtains for washing, polishing furniture and rearranging sock drawers.

The 'Big Eid' is known as the big one because it lasts a day longer than the other Eid, "Eid Al Futtur". During the Big Eid, Muslims from all over the world go to Mecca in Saudi Arabia and visit 'Bayt Allah' or 'God's House' which was built by the Prophet Abraham. Visiting Mecca is one of the five pillars of Islam which include fasting, 'shahada' or bearing witness to God and the Prophet, prayer, visiting Mecca (at least once during the lifetime), and 'Zekat' or charity.

After visiting Mecca and taking part in certain Islamic rituals, a man becomes a 'Hajji' or 'one who has done the Haj' and a woman becomes a 'Hijjiya'. That is why it is quite common to see people in Muslim countries calling an elder 'Hajji' or 'Hijjiya'. It is assumed that by the time a man or woman reaches a certain age, they have gone to visit Mecca and gained the prestigious and respectful title of Hajji or Hijjiya.

The whole Islamic world celebrates this occasion. In Iraq, the festivities include visiting family and friends, lots of good food and money handed out to the younger kids in the family to spend on candy and other things that will ruin the teeth and complexion.

Like the "Eid Al Fittur", the house has to be very, very clean. For those of you who don't know her, I blogged about the Martha Stewart of Baghdad a few months ago. She has been emotionally terrorizing the area for the last few days by making daily appearances in her garden and in front of her house, washing down windows, wringing out clothes and keeping a hawkish eye on the front doors of all the neighbors.

Yesterday, our street which normally rings with the cries of children playing street football was eerily silent. I stood at our gate, pondering the sudden disappearance of half a dozen rowdy boys. I caught one of our 9-year-old neighbors dodging from his house to the one across the street. He scampered in what I imagine he must have thought a stealthy fashion… he actually looked like a lizard escaping the scorching sun.

"Haydar!" I called out to him before he had a chance to close the gate behind him. He halted in mid-scurry and turned around. His little shoulders sagged with relief as soon as he saw it was me. I waved him over and he rushed towards me with an expression of consternation, looking over his shoulder.

"What are you hiding from?" I asked sternly. It seemed a more diplomatic question than the one that really flashed in my mind: what have you done?

He pushed up the big glasses he wore and pointed to the dreaded house across the street. "I'm hiding from Umm Maha!" Ahhh, I nodded my head sagely and he rushed on, "Yesterday, she made Mahmud pick up allllllllllllll the litter up and down the street… and today she wanted me to sweep the sidewalks of all the houses…"

"Well, just tell her that you won't." I said, not believing I was actually promoting anarchy. He shook his head emphatically as he slipped off the glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose, "I can't do that… I can't. She scares me and…" His voice slipped to a whisper, "… she told Mahmud to take a bath yesterday because she says he smelled like sheep… she scares me." I secretly agreed with him because, well, she terrifies me a little bit too.

"So is that why you're all hiding?" I was referring to the little mob we had running our street. On their good days, they would play gently, as little boys tend to do- pushing, shoving, scraping knees and elbows and stubbing toes. On their bad days, they'd end up blocking the road from both ends with broken bricks and tin cans of sand (to represent goal posts) and fighting at the top of shrill voices as to who would get to be Ronaldo or Beckham.

I sympathized with him and he looked up at me for some sort of solution. "Well, next time she catches you, just tell her you're running some errands for me." I offered helpfully. He was dubious, but he silently accepted and I allowed him to scurry back across the street.

This morning, I went out to the roof to hang some clothes that had been washed. I saw Umm Maha on her own roof, across the street. She wasn't hanging clothes, she was hanging out some relatively large rugs that she had washed- by hand of course- just that morning. I balked- no one cleans their rugs until the summer or immediately before putting them away in late spring. You just didn't do that. First, there was every chance it would rain on them and second, you'd just have to clean them AGAIN before putting them away.

I waved at Umm Maha just as she looked up from her task and she smiled and waved back. "I hope it rains…" I muttered and shook out the shirt I had in my hands, knowing that somehow it wouldn't. It didn't dare rain on Umm Maha's rugs.

Other than the cleaning, nothing feels festive. It's just normal- electrical outages, explosions and helicopters. Students now have their mid-year holiday and sometimes you can see them in the street although everyone is at home by 7 or 8 pm, which is a contrast to the past when the fun didn't start until 7 or 8 pm. Anyone who can is spending the holiday in either Syria or Jordan. It's hard to believe that those two countries have become havens to Iraqis… Baghdad was always the place everyone wanted to be.

Monday, January 26, 2004
The Insomniac...
It's 4 a.m. as I write this and will probably be 5 a.m. before I post it. Salam was commenting the other day on my weird blogging hour (it was around 5:30 a.m.). I've been an insomniac since before the war. My sleeping hours are strange and disconnected- rather like a cat. During the war it was almost impossible to sleep. The nights were full of bombing. We'd stay up, huddled together in a room, listening to the planes and explosions, sometimes venturing outside to search the horizon for signs of burning.

After the war, the looting and pillaging kept everyone up. We'd take turns staying up and listening for prowlers or break-ins. My job was always to make the tea. Guns make me very nervous and I'd stand brewing the tea and eying the gun over the cupboard warily. We'd sit, listening to the radio, the sky… waiting for the creak of the gate that would send everyone into a flurry of action- grab the guns, gather the family.

Now, sleep doesn't come very easily. I toss and turn in bed as one thought crowds out the other. And thoughts are like chickens- once one of them starts squawking, the whole bunch of them join in. I've tried every single technique- counting sheep, reciting the periodic table, counting down from 100… none of it works. I end up more alert than ever.

It's often the anxiety that keeps one awake, although we've learned to live with it. There are moments when I'm busy doing something that needs concentration when I can sort of forget about the past and the future and concentrate on the very immediate present. There are other moments when I'll be watching something on tv- a movie or song- and I'll lose myself in the story… but as soon as the commercials begin, so the nagging feeling returns. After a while, the prickly feeling of anxiousness dulls and turns blunt. Have you ever left the house and worried that you didn't turn off the oven or the iron? That's what the feeling turns into- except it lasts all day… and night… and week… and month, after month, after month until you don't notice it except at night.

Sometimes, sleep just seems like a waste of time and electricity. For example, the day before yesterday, our area had no electricity almost the whole day. Friday is our 'laundry day' so it was doubly frustrating. We stood around looking at the pile of clothes that needed washing. My mother deliberated washing them by hand but I convinced her it would be a bad idea- the water was cold, the weather was miserable and the clothes wouldn't even feel clean. We waited all day for the electricity and once or twice, it flashed on for all of 20 minutes. Finally, at 12 p.m., my mother stated, "Tomorrow, if there's no electricity, we'll wash them by hand. That's that."

I crawled into bed at 1 a.m., tired with waiting and actually looking forward to maybe sleeping… and it began- first the procession of sheep, then the elements… and just as I found my eyelids getting heavy, I felt it- the electricity was on. I could hear the distant whir of the refrigerator as it adjusted itself to the current. I groped on my bedside table and found my clock, brought it close to my face and peered into the very heart of it- 2 a.m.

Two voices began chattering in my head- the one that was counting sheep was slurred and drowsy… it said, "Go to sleep. You need some sleep- who cares about the electricity?" The other voice, alert and anxious, cried out, "Are you serious?! Think of the possibilities- the computer, the television, the washer…!!" The sleepy voice groaned and cursed as I hauled myself out of bed and into the corridor, fumbling for the light switch. I finally found the light and, after several hours of dark, it assaulted me.

I squinted around for a couple of minutes and listened to the silence… except it was no longer silent. E. had beat me to the television and was switching from channel to channel, trying to find something interesting and my mother had already made her way downstairs to load up the washer. The house was alive.

E. was watching a Lebanese 'reality tv' show where around 20 young people were gathered to train to become singers and dancers. It focused on their daily routine of… singing and dancing. E. scoffed, "That's not reality… are we even living in the same universe?!" No. It's not reality… reality is the washer, clanging away at 2:30 a.m. because you don't know when there'll be electricity again… and imaginary sheep that mock you in the dark, night after night.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Still Brooding...
My head has been spinning these last few days with decision No. 173 on changing Family Law to Shari'a. I've been darkly mulling over the endless possibilities. I'm not the only one- everyone I talk to is shaking their head in dismay. How is this happening? How are we caving in to fundamentalism?

Talabani was saying that the decision wasn't taken or passed because it didn't get enough votes by the GC, but all the signs say that the decision was made and might be implemented as soon as they get Bremer's signature. Nisreen Barwari, the only female minister on the cabinet, was out demonstrating with several of the women's rights parties a few days ago against the decision. Christopher Allbritton over at Back to Iraq 3.0 has written something on the subject and so has the Washington Post.

The question is, even if the personal status laws aren't going to be subjected to change now- immediately- what about the future? What does that say about 6 months from now when Bremer's signature isn't necessary?

Two days ago, there was a conference on women's rights in the elegant Nadi Al-Sayd (or Hunting Club) in Baghdad led by the major women's rights groups and they were condemning decision No. 173 saying that it'll be a blow to women's rights in Iraq. The frightening thing was that one of the more secular members of the GC was championing the decision and claiming that it was going to be a 'great advance' in the rights of Iraqi women. He didn't explain how or why, but he condescendingly sat in front of the angry mob of women and gave them a mysterious Mona Lisa smile that, I assume, was supposed to be reassuring.

Seeing some of the GC members give press conferences these days, reminds me of the time I went to watch my cousin's daughter 'graduate' from kindergarten. They had about 20 kids up on this little stage with their teacher, Miss Basma, standing benevolently in their midst. As long as she was on the stage, they all stood correctly; simultaneously reciting a poem they had learned just for the occasion. The moment Miss Basma stepped down, there was a stampede- 20 students rushed for the only microphone on the stage all at once, grappling to see who could reach it first and drown out the other voices with their own.

Now we face a similar situation. Miss Basma- er, I mean Bremer- has been off the stage (in Washington and New York) and there has been a rush to grab the metaphorical microphone. For example, while the decision on family law seems almost definite, Talabani adamantly denies it… other members only reluctantly discuss it.

A couple of weeks ago, when federalism was all the rage with the GC, Talabani made statements on how the decision was almost final: federalism based on ethnicity was just around the corner. The same week, Ibraheim Al-Ja'affari, head of Al-Da'awa Al-Islamiya Party, also made an appearance on either LBC or Al-Arabia, claiming that there was no chance Iraq was going to be split up. Adnan Al-Pachichi then gave a press conference stating that while federalism was an option, it wasn't going to be immediate or 'loose'.

There is now talk of it being some sort of a tradeoff or compromise- federalism for the Kurds on the GC, and Shari'a for the Shi'a Islamic groups… It doesn't matter in the end- the Iraqi people will be the losers.

Meanwhile, there have been huge demonstrations in the south these last few days and in Baghdad, demanding elections. The roads were blocked in Baghdad in the areas around the demonstration and there were helicopters overhead all day. Most of the demonstrators were supporters of Sistani who has made himself a national figure in this mess. He was eerily silent about the occupation in the beginning and now he is probably the most influential challenger of the GC. He fluctuates- one day, he claims that if elections aren't held there'll be a fatwa ordering civil disobedience. On another day, he claims that the decision to hold elections should be made by Kofi Annan. The most significant thing he has said so far is that even if elections are held, people from abroad shouldn't be able to run (i.e. 95% of the GC).

I watched the meeting today between some GC members, Bremer and Kofi Annan on CNN. They didn't seem to come to any conclusion except that *maybe* Kofi would send a delegation to assess the situation in Iraq. Meanwhile, 100,000 Shi'a and Sunnis demonstrated in Baghdad today (although the Shi'a outnumbered the Sunnis by far on this occasion), holding up pictures of Sistani, Al-Sadr and some others. It wasn't violent, but it was angry, forceful and frightening. This has been the largest demonstration since the war.

I'm torn on the topic of elections. While I want elections because it's the 'democratic' thing to do, I'm afraid of the outcome. All the signs lead one to believe that elections will lead to a theocracy (which I dread). The current GC is *not* representative of the Iraqi people- neither Sunnis nor Shi'a approve of them… but will elections bring about a more representative group of would-be leaders? Furthermore, what if the Iraqi 'majority' *do* want a theocracy like the one in Iran? If the choice boils down to a democracy styled like the one in America or a theocracy styled like the one in Iran, how do you think a Muslim country is going to choose?

For more info on Al-Sistani, check out his site- it's in Arabic, Farsi, English, French and Urdu... quite impressive. His biography is here: Sistani's Biography and for those who were *very* interested in temporary marriage, check this out.

Thursday, January 15, 2004
Shari'a and Family Law...
On Wednesday our darling Iraqi Puppet Council decided that secular Iraqi family law would no longer be secular- it is now going to be according to Islamic Shari'a. Shari'a is Islamic law, whether from the Quran or quotes of the Prophet or interpretations of modern Islamic law by clerics and people who have dedicated their lives to studying Islam.

The news has barely been covered by Western or even Arab media and Iraqi media certainly aren't covering it. It is too much to ask of Al-Iraqiya to debate or cover a topic like this one- it would obviously conflict with the Egyptian soap operas and songs. This latest decision is going to be catastrophic for females- we're going backwards.

Don't get me wrong- pure Islamic law according to the Quran and the Prophet gives women certain unalterable, nonnegotiable rights. The problem arises when certain clerics decide to do their own interpretations of these laws (and just about *anyone* can make themselves a cleric these days). The bigger problem is that Shari'a may be drastically different from one cleric to another. There are actually fundamental differences in Shari'a between the different Islamic factions or 'methahib'. Even in the same methahib, there are dozens of different clerics who may have opposing opinions. This is going to mean more chaos than we already have to deal with. We've come to expect chaos in the streets… but chaos in the courts and judicial system too?!

This is completely unfair to women specifically. Under the Iraqi constitution, men and women are equal. Under our past secular family law (which has been in practice since the '50s) women had unalterable divorce, marriage, inheritance, custody, and alimony rights. All of this is going to change.

I'll give an example of what this will mean. One infamous practice brought to Iraq by Iranian clerics was the 'zawaj muta'a', which when translated by the clerics means 'temporary marriage'. The actual translation is 'pleasure marriage'- which is exactly what it is. It works like this: a consenting man and woman go to a cleric who approves of temporary marriage and they agree upon a period of time during which the marriage will last. The man pays the woman a 'mahar' or dowry and during the duration of the marriage (which can be anything from an hour, to a week, a month, etc.) the man has full marital rights. Basically, it's a form of prostitution that often results in illegitimate children and a spread of STDs.

Sunni clerics consider it a sin and many Shi'a clerics also frown upon it… but there are the ones who will tell you it's 'halal' and Shari'a, etc. The same people who approve it or practice it would, of course, rather see their daughters or sisters dead before they allow *them* to practice it- but that's beyond the point.

Anyway, secular Iraqi family law considers it a form of prostitution and doesn't consider a 'pleasure marriage' a legitimate marriage. In other words, the woman wouldn't have any legal rights and if she finds herself pregnant- the child, legally, wouldn't have a father.

So what happens if a married man decides to arrange a pleasure marriage on the side? In the past, his legitimate wife could haul him off to court, and ask for a divorce because the man would be committing adultery under Iraqi family law. That won't be the case now. Under certain clerics, a pleasure marriage will be considered legal and the woman won't have a case for divorce. Under other clerics, he'll be committing adultery- so who gets to judge? The cleric she chooses, or the cleric he chooses?

Another example is in marriage itself. By tribal law and Shari'a, a woman, no matter how old, would have to have her family's consent to marry a man. By Iraqi law, as long as the woman is over 18, she doesn't need her family's consent. She can marry in a court, legally, without her parents. It rarely happened in Iraq, but it *was* possible.

According to Iraqi secular law, a woman has grounds to divorce her husband if he beats her. According to Shari'a, it would be much more difficult to prove abuse.

Other questions pose themselves- Shari'a doesn’t outlaw the marriage of minors (on condition they've hit puberty). Iraqi secular law won't allow minors to marry until the age of at least 16 (I think) for women and the age of 18 for men.

By Iraqi civil law, parents are required to send their children to complete at least primary school. According to Shari'a, a father can make his son or daughter quit school and either work or remain at home. So what happens when and if he decides to do that? Does Shari'a apply or does civil law apply?

There are hundreds of other examples that I can think of and that make me feel outrage. I practice Islam, but do I want an Islamic government? No. I feel that because we have so many different methahib and religions, any religious government is bound to oppress some faction of society. It's already happening in the south where fundamentalist Shi'a are attacking Christian families and shops.

Juan Cole had something to say about the subject and he referred to an article written in Financial Times appropriately titled, "Iraqi plan for Sharia law 'a sop to clerics', say women". Unfortunately, the writers of the article apparently have no background on secular Iraqi law beyond what the GC members have told them. The fundamentalist GC members claim that civil Iraqi law forced people to go against their doctrine, which isn't true because a large part of civil law was based on Shari'a or the parts of Shari'a that were agreed upon by all the differing Islamic factions (like the right to divorce) and taking into consideration the different religious groups in Iraq.

Women are outraged… this is going to open new doors for repression in the most advanced country on women's rights in the Arab world! Men are also against this (although they certainly have the upper-hand in the situation) because it's going to mean more confusion and conflict all around.

What happens when all the clerics agree that a hijab isn't 'preferred' but necessary? According to this new change in the 'ahwal shakhsiya' laws or 'personal circumstances' laws, all women will have to cover their heads and according to Shari'a, if a woman's husband decides that she can't continue her education or work, she'll have to remain a house-wife.

Please don't misunderstand- any oppression to women isn't a reflection on Islam. It's a reflection on certain narrow minds, ignorance and the politicization of religion. Islam is a progressive religion and no religion is clearer on the rights of women- it came during a time when women had no rights at all.

During the sanctions and all the instability, we used to hear fantastic stories about certain Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar, to name a few. We heard about their luxurious lifestyles- the high monthly wages, the elegant cars, sprawling homes and malls… and while I always wanted to visit, I never once remember yearning to live there or even feeling envy. When I analyzed my feelings, it always led back to the fact that I cherished the rights I had as an Iraqi Muslim woman. During the hard times, it was always a comfort that I could drive, learn, work for equal pay, dress the way I wanted and practice Islam according to my values and beliefs, without worrying whether I was too devout or not devout enough.

I usually ignore the emails I receive telling me to 'embrace' my new-found freedom and be happy that the circumstances of all Iraqi women are going to 'improve drastically' from what we had before. They quote Bush (which in itself speaks volumes) saying things about how repressed the Iraqi women were and how, now, they are going to be able to live free lives.

The people who write those emails often lob Iraq together with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan and I shake my head at their ignorance but think to myself, "Well, they really need to believe their country has the best of intentions- I won't burst their bubble." But I'm telling everyone now- if I get any more emails about how free and liberated the Iraqi women are *now* thanks to America, they can expect a very nasty answer.

Darkness and Dust...
The last few days we've sort of been on an electricity schedule- for every four hours of no electricity, we get two hours of electricity. It's not much, but it's an improvement on one or two hours for every fourteen of darkness.

The last few minutes of electricity, we run around the house switching off lights, and appliances so that nothing is ruined. Sometimes the electricity doesn't go out immediately- it sort of dims, flashes back on and then stutters to a close. We're getting less generator time because there's still a gasoline problem and everyone is being really careful about the type of fuel they're using because the gas being sold on black market is sometimes mixed with kerosene.

A couple of days ago there was a lot of dust. Iraq is famous for its dust storms. Within a matter of hours, the horizon turns orange and everything looks slightly faded. The stucco houses take on a pale, peach hue and even the people look a little bit dull. It becomes difficult to breathe and it's almost catastrophic for people with allergies.

We've been dusting the last 24 hours because we found everything covered with a light film of dust. The kids spent the day drawing stick figures in the dust on the furniture which drove my mother just a little bit crazy- she rushed about the house wielding a rag and attacking everything with a smooth surface.

Everyone is feeling somewhat depressed these days. The weather isn't particularly good and the air feels charged with a combination of disappointment and impatience.

People are asking what the reaction is to the claims of the former American treasurer about Bush planning regime-change before September 11. Why is that such a shock to Americans? I haven't met a single Iraqi who thinks Iraq had ANYTHING to do with September 11. The claims were ridiculous and so blatantly contrived that it was embarrassing to see people actually believed them.

I sometimes wonder how the American people feel. After these last two wars with Afghanistan and Iraq, do the American people feel any safer? We watch the 'terror alerts' announced on television- politicians with somber faces and dramatic pauses alerting the population that at any minute, there might be an explosion or an attack. It's amusing because Iraq has been at the red level for the last 9 months. Why is it a drama when collective America experiences some strain for a couple of weeks during the holiday, but it's ok for Iraqis to experience five times the strain and apprehension for the next five years? Apparently, we are more tolerant- our blood pressures don't go up, our hearts don't palpitate and our kids can't be traumatized.

We heard about the American embassies being closed and secured all over the world… diplomats being withdrawn from countries or asked to remain locked indoors. Is that part of the 'war on terror'? Are Americans worldwide any safer? Do they sleep better at night now knowing that they are definitely safe from the fabled Iraqi WMD? We've forgotten what it feels like to feel completely safe.

Thursday, January 08, 2004
Splitting Iraq...
Salam blogged about a subject close to every Iraqi's heart these last few days- the issue of federalism in Iraq and the Kurdish plan to embrace Kirkuk and parts of Mosul into the autonomous region in the north.

I can sum it up in two words: bad idea. First off, Kirkuk doesn't have a Kurdish majority as Talabani implies in every statement he makes. The Arabs and Turkomen in Kirkuk make up the majority. After the war and occupation, the KDP (led by Berazani) and PUK (led by Talabani) began paying party members to set up camp in Kirkuk and its outskirts to give the impression that there was a Kurdish majority in the oil-rich area. The weeks of May saw fighting between Kurdish Bayshmarga and Turkomen civilians because in some selected areas, the Turkomen were being attacked and forced to leave their homes and farms.

While Kurds and Turkomen generally get along in Iraq, there is some bitterness between them. Making Kirkuk a part of 'Kurdistan', as some are fond of calling it, would result in bloodshed and revolt. The Arabs in Kirkuk would refuse and the Turkomen wouldn't tolerate it. To understand some of the bitterness between Turkomen and Kurds, one only has to look back at what happened in 1959 in the northern part of Iraq. During that time, the Iraqi communist party had control and was backing Abdul Kareem Qassim, who was president back then.

Many die-hard communists decided that the best way to promote communism in the region would be to attack religious figures, nationalists and socialists- especially in Mosul, a conservative, dominantly Sunni Arab city and Kirkuk. For several weeks in 1959, there were massacres in both areas. During this time, communist Kurds from Suleimaniyah and Arbil were given orders to control the rebellious region. For days, there were assassinations of innocents… people were shot, dragged in the streets, maimed and hung on lampposts as an 'example' to those unwilling to support the communist revolution. Naturally, the people in Mosul and Kirkuk never forgot that- anyone over the age of 50 from that region will have at least six woeful stories to tell.

Mosul, on the other hand, is about 90% Sunni Arab, with around 5% Christian Arab and the rest a mix of Kurds, Yezidis, and some other Christian factions. Masslawis (people from Mosul) would *not* take kindly to a Kurdish rule.

Already, we've been hearing news of riots, demonstrations and assassinations in Kirkuk ever since Talabani suggested expanding the autonomous region. Turkomen and Arabs in Kirkuk are promising revolt and civil war if the Kurdish plan goes through.

How do I stand? I'm against splitting Iraq into areas that identify themselves ethnically or religiously. It won't work. It's almost every Iraqi's fear that Iraq will be torn into several pieces and the plan for an enlarged Kurdish region is just the first step to an independent Kurdish state or- Kurdistan- as they like to call it.

I believe that Kurds have the right to live equally as well as Arabs and people of other ethnicities- there is no argument to that. I have many Kurdish friends and we get along beautifully. I even have Kurdish relatives (through a cousin's marriage) and there's nothing nicer than an ethnically diverse family. In other words, I'm a champion of Kurdish rights.

Do I believe Kurds should have an independent Kurdish state? No. If every ethnic group in Iraq were to call for an independent state, we would have to split the country into more than 5 groups- the autonomous Kurdish region, the Sunni Arab region (including Mosul), the independent state of Kirkuk, the Republic of Baghdad, and the south would have to be split into 3 different states: one for Al-Hakim's supporters, one for Al-Sadr's supporters and another for Al-Sistani's supporters.

What is it that the Kurds can get in an independent 'Kurdistan' that they can't get in a democratic, united Iraq? Some would say that they had complete rights even before the war. There were tens of thousands of Kurds living in Baghdad. In fact, some of Baghdad's most affluent families prior to the occupation were Kurdish families with several sprawling palaces in Baghdad and other palaces in Suleimaniyah and Arbil. The irony is that some of these wealthy Kurds, much to the scorn of their less fortunate brothers, made their fortunes off of smuggling weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. Now, after the war, the arms smugglers are speaking the loudest against war atrocities (you learn this in occupation: the incredibly rich and powerful suddenly grow consciences like our garden grows weeds). Their kids drove the fastest cars, went to the best schools (there was no law banning Kurds from any school or college) and spent their summers in Switzerland, Germany and England.

Kurds also had a couple of exclusive clubs based in Baghdad, like Nadi Salah Al-Din, where they held weddings, parties and social events and while Arabs were welcome to attend as guests, they weren't allowed as members. On the other hand, Kurds were allowed as members into any club in Iraq- which is their right, as a minority. A definite advantage Kurds had over Arabs was the fact that they weren't drafted into the army.

To say that all Kurds want an independent Kurdistan would be a lie. Many Kurds are afraid of expanding the autonomous region because they know it will lead to a lot of bloodshed and strife. The Kurds who've always lived in Baghdad, as opposed to those living in the north, are afraid that this step by the ambitious Kurdish leaders will lead to a 'reaction' against Kurds outside of the autonomous zone. It's happening already- many people are bitter against Kurds because they feel that the splitting of Iraq will be at the hands of the Kurdish leaders.

Another thing Kurds seem to be worrying about of late is the fact that 'there is blood', as they say, between Berazani and Talabani. For the time being, they are presenting a united front for the CPA and Washington, pretending that they couldn't get along better if they were brothers. The reality is that before the war, they were constantly wrangling for power in the north with supporters of one attacking the supporters of the other, with innocent people, all the while, falling victim to the power struggle… and that was before oil was involved. Imagine what happens if they get Kirkuk.

We all lived together before- we can live together in the future. Iraqis are proud of their different ethnicities, but in the end, we all identify ourselves as "Iraqi". Every Iraqi's nightmare is to wake up one morning and find Iraq split into several parts based on ethnicity and religion. Salam said it best when he said, "There are no lines and none should exist…"

(By the way, Salam, did you hear Muwafaq Al-Rubai'i suggest that he wasn't satisfied with splitting Iraq into 3 parts? He's suggesting five… 3ud dai ka7ilheh, 3maha- sorry but that's just not translatable)

Monday, January 05, 2004
Happy New Year...
Technically, I haven't blogged for a year- not since 2003. We've been phone-less for the last few days. The line suddenly went dead on us around 4 days ago and came back only this afternoon.

So this is 2004. Not surprisingly, it feels much like 2003. We spent the transition from last year into this one at my aunt's house. She dropped by on the 30th and said that since no one was going anywhere this year, we should spend it together at her house. If there's one advantage to war, then it's the fact that families somehow find themselves closer together. Every year, we'd all be in a different place: parents at a gathering somewhere and E. and I with our friends… other people would spend it at one of the dozens of restaurants or clubs holding New Year parties.

This year, New Year's Eve was a virtual family reunion. We decided we'd gather at my aunt's house but it couldn't be too big a gathering otherwise we'd be mistaken for a 'terrorist cell' – women, children, dishes of food and all.

We got there at around 6 pm and found out that the power had been coming and going all day and that the generator had just enough gasoline for around 3 hours of electricity. We decided we'd save it up for the last two hours of the year which turned out to be a wise decision because the electricity went out at around 8 pm and didn't come back until noon the next day! We're lucky we left our house early because E. found out that roadblocks were later set up in several areas that had the people trapped well into the next day.

Almost an hour after we got Aunt K.'s house, a blast shook the whole area. I was preparing to light a bunch of candles set up in the middle of the table, when suddenly a huge 'BOOM' shook the room, the windows and the family. E. and I ran outside to see what was happening and we found my aunt's neighbors standing around at their gates, looking as perplexed as we felt. We later found out that a bomb had exploded near a small fast-food place a few kilometers away. 'Tea Time' is a little two-storey restaurant in Harthiya that sells hamburgers and other sandwiches full of fries and mayonnaise.

We sat around from 8 until 11 in the dark, munching on popcorn, trying to remember the latest jokes (most about the Governing Council) and trying to pretend that the candles were festive candles, not necessary candles.

While many people consider 2003 a 'year', for us it has felt more like a decade. We started the year preparing for war. While the rest of the world was making a list of resolutions, we were making lists of necessary items for the coming battle. We spent the first two and a half months of 2003 taping windows, securing homes, stocking up on food, water and medication, digging wells and wondering if we would make it through the year.

March brought the war and the horror. The scenes we witnessed made every single day feel more like a week… some days felt like a year. There were days where we lost track of time and began counting not hours and minutes, but explosions. We stopped referring to the date and began saying things like, "The last time we saw my uncle was… the day the Americans bombed that market in Al Shu'la and dozens were killed."

They say the war ended in April, but it didn't end in April. April was just the beginning of another set of horrors… watching Baghdad burned and looted by criminals… seeing the carcasses of burnt cars and the corpses of charred humans on the roadside… watching the tanks and Apaches shoot right and left… realizing that it had turned from a war into a full-fledged occupation.

So we sat, the last few hours, thinking about the last few months and making conjectures about the future. In the background you could hear a few explosions, some gunfire, helicopters and planes. I kept thinking something terrible was going to happen and we'd never see the beginning of a new year.

At around 10 pm, they turned on the generator and we gathered around the television to watch the rest of the world celebrate their way into the New Year. The kids fell asleep on the living-room floor, in front of the kerosene heater, before the clock struck 12 and the thuds around us began getting heavier. Immediately after twelve, the sounds of warplanes and explosions got so heavy, we could hardly hear the television. There was nothing on the news, as usual. Al-Iraqiya was showing some lame fading in and out of its motto on a blue background while all hell was breaking loose outside. We found out the next day that a restaurant in A'arassat, a wealthy area in Karrada, had explosives planted in front of it.

What have the first few days of 2004 felt like? Exactly like the last few months of 2003. The last few days have been a series of bombs and explosions. A couple of nights ago they were using cluster bombs to bomb some area. Before the bomb drops, you can hear this horrible screaming sound. We call it 'the elephant' because it sounds like an elephant shrieking in anger. I'm not sure what it is or what its purpose is. Someone said it's supposed to be some sort of warning signal to the troops on the ground to take cover in their tanks before the bomb hits. It's usually followed by a series of horrific explosions and then the earth shudders.

It's strange what you can get used to hearing or seeing. The first time is always the worst: the first time you experience cluster bombs, the first time you feel the earth shudder beneath you with the impact of an explosion, the first tanks firing at houses in your neighborhood, the first check-point... the first broken windows, crumbling walls, unhinged doors… the first embassy being bombed, the first restaurant… It's not that you no longer feel rage or sadness, it just becomes a part of life and you grow to expect it like you expect rain in March and sun in July.

May 2004 be better than 2003.

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