... I'll meet you
'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and
souls can mend...
Friday, April 09, 2004
One Year Later - April 9, 2004
April 9, 2004
Today, the day the Iraqi Puppets hail "National
Day", will mark the day of the "Falloojeh
Bremer has called for a truce and
ceasefire in Falloojeh very recently and claimed that the
bombing will stop, but the bombing continues as I write
this. Over 300 are dead in Falloojeh and they have taken
to burying the dead in the town football field because
they aren't allowed near the cemetery. The bodies are
decomposing in the heat and the people are struggling to
bury them as quickly as they arrive. The football field
that once supported running, youthful feet and cheering
fans has turned into a mass grave holding men, women and
The people in Falloojeh have been trying to get the women
and children out of the town for the last 48 hours but
all the roads out of the city are closed by the Americans
and refugees are being shot at and bombed on a regular
we're watching the television and crying. The
hospital is overflowing with victims
those who have
lost arms and legs
those who have lost loved ones.
There isn't enough medicine or bandages
the Americans doing?! This is collective punishment
is this the solution to the chaos we're living in?
Is this the 'hearts and minds' part of the campaign?
A convoy carrying food, medication, blood and doctors
left for Falloojeh yesterday, hoping to get in and help
the people in there. Some people from our neighborhood
were gathering bags of flour and rice to take into the
town. E. and I rummaged the house from top to bottom and
came up with a big sack of flour, a couple of smaller
bags of rice, a few kilos of assorted dry lentil,
chickpeas, etc. We were really hoping the trucks could
get through to help out in the city. Unfortunately, I
just spoke with an Iraqi doctor who told me that the
whole convoy was denied entry... it seems that now they
are trying to get the women and children out or at least
the very sick and wounded.
The south isn't much better
the casualties are
rising and there's looting and chaos. There's an almost
palpable anger in Baghdad. The faces are grim and sad all
at once and there's a feeling of helplessness that can't
be described in words. It's like being held under water
and struggling for the unattainable surface- seeing all
this destruction and devastation.
Firdaws Square, the place where the statue was brought
down, is off-limits because the Americans fear angry mobs
but it doesn't matter because
people are sticking to their homes. The kids haven't been
to school for several days now and even the universities
are empty. The situation in Baghdad feels very unstable
and the men in the neighborhood are talking of a
neighborhood watch again- just like the early days of
Where are the useless Governing Council? Why isn't anyone
condemning the killings in the south and in Falloojeh?!
Why aren't they sitting down that fool Bremer and telling
him that this is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong??? If one of
them were half a man or even half a human, they would
threaten to resign their posts if there isn't an
the people are enraged. This
latest situation proves that they aren't Iraqi- they
aren't here for the welfare of the Iraqi people.
The American and European news stations don't show the
they don't show the women and children
bandaged and bleeding- the mother looking for some sign
of her son in the middle of a puddle of blood and
dismembered arms and legs
they don't show you the
hospitals overflowing with the dead and dying because
they don't want to hurt American feelings
people *should* see it. You should see the price of your
war and occupation- it's unfair that the Americans are
fighting a war thousands of kilometers from home. They
get their dead in neat, tidy caskets draped with a flag
and we have to gather and scrape our dead off of the
floors and hope the American shrapnel and bullets left
enough to make a definite identification
One year later, and Bush has achieved what he wanted-
this day will go down in history and in the memory of all
Iraqis as one of the bloodiest days ever...
- posted by river @ 4:32
Occupation Day - April 9, 2003
The last few days, I've been sorely trying to avoid a
trip down memory lane. I flip the channel every time they
show shots of Baghdad up in flames, I turn off the radio
as they begin to talk about the first few days of
occupation, and I quietly leave the room as family
members begin, "Remember how
" No, I don't
*want* to remember some of the worst days of my life. I
wish there was some way one could selectively delete
certain memories as one does files on a computer
however, that's impossible.
Today, I'm letting my mind wander back to last April
quite freely. April 9, 2003 in particular. The day our
darling Puppet Council has chosen to represent our
the day the occupation became not a
possibility, but a definite reality.
The day began with heavy bombing. I remember waking up at
5 a.m. to a huge explosion. The hair almost stood on my
head. We were all sleeping in the living room because the
drapes were heavy and offered some small security against
shattering glass. E. instantly jumped up and ran to make
sure the Klashnikov was loaded properly and I tried to
cover my cousin's children better with the heavy
blankets. The weather was already warm, but the blankets
would protect the kids against glass. Their older
daughter was, luckily, still sound asleep- lost in a
dream or nightmare. The younger one lay in the semi-dark,
with eyes wide open. I sensed her trying to read my face
for some small reassurance
I smiled tightly,
"Go back to sleep
After a few more colossal explosions, we all knew sleep
would be useless. It was still too early for breakfast
and no one was in the mood anyway. My mother and I got up
to check the bags we had packed, and waiting, by the
door. We had packed the bags during the first few days of
they contained some sturdy clothes, bottles of
water, important documents (like birth certificates and
ID papers), and some spare money. They were to remain by
the door in case the ceiling came crashing down or the
American tanks came plowing through the neighborhood. In
either case, we were given specific instructions to run
for the door and take out the bags, "Don't wait for
anyone- just run and take the bags with you
came the orders.
Our area was one of the more volatile areas. We had
helicopters hovering above, fighter planes and
explosions. An area just across the main street had been
invaded by tanks and we could hear the gun shots and
tanks all night. My mother stood, unsure, at the window,
trying to see the street. Were we supposed to evacuate?
Were we supposed to stay in the house and wait? What was
going to happen? E. and my cousin volunteered to ask the
neighbors their plans.
They came back 5 minutes later. E. was pale and my cousin
looked grim. Everyone on our street was in the same
quandary- what was to be done? E. said that while there
were a few men in the streets in our immediate area, the
rest of Baghdad seemed almost empty. We negotiated
leaving the house and heading for my uncle's home on the
other side of Baghdad, but my cousin said that that would
be impossible- the roads were all blocked, the bridges
were cut off by American tanks and even if we were lucky
enough to get anywhere near my uncle's area, we risked
being shot by a tank or helicopter. No, we would wait it
out at home.
My cousin's wife was wide awake by then. She sat in the
middle of her two children and held them close on either
side. She hadn't spoken to her parents in almost a week
there were no telephones to contact them and
there was no way to get to their area. She was beyond
terrified at this crucial point
she was certain
that they were all dead or dying and the only thing that
seemed to be keeping her functioning was the presence of
her two young daughters.
At that point, my mind was numb. All I could do was react
to the explosions- flinch when one was particularly
powerful, and automatically say a brief prayer of thanks
when another was further away. Every once in a while, my
brain would clear enough to do some mindless chore, like
fill the water pots or fold the blankets, but otherwise,
I felt numb.
It was almost noon when the explosions calmed somewhat
and I risked going outside for a few moments. The planes
were freely coming and going and, along with the sound of
distant gunshots, only they pierced the eerie silence. My
mother joined me outside a few minutes later and stood
next to me under a small olive tree.
"In case we have to leave, there are some things I
want to be sure you know
" she said, and I
nodded vaguely, studying a particularly annoying plane we
were calling 'buggeh' or 'bug', as it made the sound of a
mosquito while it flew. We later learned it was a
'surveyor' plane that scanned certain areas for
resistance or Iraqi troops.
"The documents in the bag contain the papers for the
house, the car
" I was alert. I turned to her
and asked, "But why are you telling me this- you
know I know. We packed the stuff together
know everything anyway
" She nodded assent but
added, "Well, I just want to be sure
"You mean if we get separated for some reason?"
I finished quickly. "Yes, if we get separated
fine. You have to know where everything is and what it
" By then, I was fighting hard against
tears. I swallowed with difficulty and concentrated
harder on the planes above. I wondered how many parents
and kids were having this very same conversation today.
She continued talking for a few moments and seemed to
introduce a new and terrible possibility that I hadn't
dared to think about all this time- life after death. Not
eternal life after death- that was nothing new- but the
possibility of *our* life, mine and E.'s, after *their*
During the war, the possibility of death was a constant.
There were moments when I was sure we'd all be dead in a
matter of seconds- especially during the horrific 'shock
and awe' period. But I always took it for granted that
we'd all die together- as a family. We'd either survive
together or die together
it was always that simple.
This new possibility was one I refused to think about.
As we sat there, she talking, and I retreating further
and further into the nightmare of words, there was a
colossal explosion that made the windows rattle, and even
seemed to shake the sturdy trees in the little garden. I
jumped, relieved to hear that sound for the very first
time in my life
it was the end of that morbid
conversation and all I could think was, "saved by
We spent the rest of the day listening to the
battery-powered radio and trying to figure out what was
happening around us. We heard stories from the neighbors
about a massacre in A'adhamiya- the Americans were
shooting right and left, deaths and looting in the
The streets were unsafe and the only people
risking them were either the people seeking refuge in
other areas, or the looters who began to descend on
homes, schools, universities, museums and governmental
buildings and institutions like a group of vultures on
the carcass of a freshly dead lion.
Day faded into night
the longest day of my life.
The day we sensed that the struggle in Baghdad was over
and the fear of war was nothing compared to the new fear
we were currently facing. It was the day I saw my first
American tank roll grotesquely down the streets of
Baghdad- through a residential neighborhood.
And that was April 9 for me and millions of others. There
are thousands who weren't so lucky- they lost loved ones
on April 9
to guns, and tanks and Apaches
the current Governing Council want us to remember April 9
fondly and hail it our "National Day"
day of victory
but whose victory? And whose nation?
- posted by river @ 4:28
PM Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Teapots and Kettles...
Now it seems we are almost literally reliving the first
few days of occupation
I woke up to the sound of
explosions and gunfire last night and for one terrible
moment I thought someone had warped me back a whole year
and we would have to relive this last year of our life
over and over again
We haven't sent the kids to school for 3 days. The
atmosphere is charged and the day before yesterday,
Baghdad was quiet and empty, almost
the calm before
the storm. The area of A'adhamiya in Baghdad is seeing
street fighting: the resistance and Americans are
fighting out in the streets and Al-Sadr city was bombed
by the troops. They say that dozens were killed and
others wounded. They're bringing them in to hospitals in
the center of the city.
Falloojeh has been cut off from the rest of Iraq for the
last three days. It's terrible. They've been bombing it
constantly and there are dozens dead. Yesterday they said
that the only functioning hospital in the city was hit by
the Americans and there's no where to take the wounded
except a meager clinic that can hold up to 10 patients at
a time. There are over a hundred wounded and dying and
there's nowhere to bury the dead because the Americans
control the area surrounding the only graveyard in
Falloojeh; the bodies are beginning to decompose in the
April heat. The troops won't let anyone out of Falloojeh
and they won't let anyone into it either- the people are
going to go hungry in a matter of days because most of
the fresh produce is brought from outside of the city.
We've been trying to call a friend who lives there for
three days and we can't contact him.
This is supposed to be 'retaliation' for what happened
last week with the American contractors- if they were
indeed contractors. Whoever they were, it was gruesome
I feel for their families. Was I
surprised? Hardly. This is an occupation and for those of
you naïve enough to actually believe Chalabi and the
Bush administration when they said the troops were going
to be 'greeted with flowers and candy' then I can only
wish that God will, in the future, grant you wisdom.
This is crazy. This is supposed to be punishment for
violence but it's only going to result in more bloodshed
on both sides
people are outraged everywhere-
Sunnis and Shi'a alike. This constant bombing is only
going to make things worse for everyone. Why do Americans
think that people in Baghdad or the south or north
arent going care what happens in Falloojeh or
Ramadi or Nassriyah or Najaf? Would Americans in New York
disregard bombing and killing in California?
And now Muqtada Al-Sadr's people are also fighting it out
in parts of Baghdad and the south. If the situation
weren't so frightening, it would almost be amusing to see
Al-Hakeem and Bahr Ul Iloom describe Al-Sadr as an
'extremist' and a 'threat'. Muqtada Al-Sadr is no better
and no worse than several extremists we have sitting on
the Governing Council. He's just as willing to ingratiate
himself to Bremer as Al-Hakeem and Bahr Ul Iloom. The
only difference is that he wasn't given the opportunity,
so now he's a revolutionary. Apparently, someone didn't
give Bremer the memo about how when you pander to one
extremist, you have to pander to them all. Hearing Abdul
Aziz Al-Hakeem and Bahr Ul Iloom claim that Al-Sadr is a
threat to security and stability brings about visions of
the teapot and the kettle
Then Bremer makes an appearance on tv and says that armed
militias will *not* be a part of the New Iraq
has that declaration been the last 12 months while
Badir's Brigade has been wreaking havoc all over the
country? Why not just solve the problem of Al-Sadr's
armed militia by having them join the police force and
army, like the Bayshmarga and Badir's Brigade?! Al-Sadr's
militia is old news. No one was bothering them while they
were terrorizing civilians in the south. They wore
badges, carried Klashnikovs and roamed the streets
now that they've become a threat to the
'Coalition', they suddenly become 'terrorists' and
Now theres an arrest warrant with his name on it,
although the Minister of Justice was on tv claiming he
knew nothing about the arrest warrant, etc. He basically
said that he was washing his hands of any move against
Muqtada Al-Sadr. Dont get me wrong- Id love
to see Muqtada behind bars, but it will only cause more
chaos and rage. Its much too late for that... he
has been cultivating support for too long. Its like
a contest now between the prominent Shia clerics.
The people are dissatisfied- especially in the south. The
clerics who werent given due consideration and a
position on the Governing Council, are now looking for
influence and support through the people. You can either
be a good little cleric and get along with Bremer (but
have a lot of dissatisfied people *not* supporting you)
or you can be a firebrand cleric and rally the masses...
It's like the first few days of occupation again
it's a nightmare and everyone is tense. My cousin and his
family are staying with us for a few days because his
wife hates to be alone at home with the kids. It's a
relief to have them with us. We all sit glued to the
television- flipping between Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabia, CNN,
BBC and LBC, trying to figure out what is going on. The
foreign news channels are hardly showing anything. They
punctuate dazzling reportages on football games and
family pets with a couple of minutes worth of footage
from Iraq showing the same faces running around in a
frenzy of bombing and gunfire and then talk about
'Al-Sadr the firebrand cleric', not mentioning the
attacks by the troops in Ramadi, Falloojeh, Nassriyah,
Baghdad, Koufa, etc.
Over the last three days, over 150 Iraqis have been
killed by troops all over Iraq and it's maddening. At
times I feel like a caged animal- there's so much
frustration and anger. The only people still raving about
'liberation' are the Iraqis affiliated with the Governing
Council and the Puppets, and even they are getting
impatient with the mess.
Our foreign minister Hoshyar Zibari was being interviewed
by some British journalist yesterday, making excuses for
Tony Blair and commending him on the war. At one point
someone asked him about the current situation in Iraq. He
mumbled something about how there were 'problems' but it
wasn't a big deal because Iraq was 'stable'
Iraq is he living in?
And as I blog this, all the mosques, Sunni and Shia
alike, are calling for Jihad...
- posted by river @ 3:44
PM Sunday, April 04, 2004
Riots, Star Gazing and Cricket Choirs...
There have been demonstrations by Al-Sadr's followers in
Baghdad and Najaf. In Baghdad they are gathered near the
Green Zone and the Sheraton hotel by the thousands- a
huge angry mob, mostly in black. In Najaf,, they were
just outside of the Spanish troops' camp. The
demonstration in Najaf was shot at by the soldiers and
they say that at least 14 are dead and dozens are
An Iraqi friend in Diwaniya was telling me
that they had to evacuate the CPA building in Najaf
because it was under attack. He says theres talk of
Jihad amongst the Shia.
Let me make it very clear right now that I am *not* a
supporter of Al-Sadr. I do not like clerics who want to
turn Iraq into the next Iran or Saudi Arabia or
but it makes me really, really angry to see
these demonstrations greeted with bullets and tanks by
the troops. Why allow demonstrations if you're going to
shoot at the people? The demonstrators were unarmed but
angry- Al-Sadr's newspaper was shut down recently by
Bremer and Co. and his deputy is said to have been
detained by the Spaniards down south (although the
Spanish troops are denying it). His followers are
outraged, and believe me- he has a healthy number of
followers. His father was practically revered by some of
the Shi'a and he apparently has inherited their respect.
Today Bremer also announced the fact that we now have an
official 'Ministry of Defense'. The irony of the
situation wasn't lost on Iraqis- the head of the
occupation announcing a "Ministry of Defense".
To defend against what? Occupation? Ha, ha
it's to secure the borders from unwelcome foreigners
carrying guns and riding tanks? Or perhaps the Ministry
of Defense should be more concerned with the extremists
coming in from neighboring countries and taking over (but
no- Bremer deals with them on the Puppet Council)
so many things to do for a Ministry of Defense.
There's also a new 'Mukhaberat' or "National Iraqi
Intelligence Organization" (or something to that
effect). The irony is that while the name is new and the
head is Ali Abd Ul Ameer Allawi (a relative of the Puppet
Council President Ayad Allawi), the faces of the new
Mukhaberat promise to be some of the same as the old.
They've been contacting the old members of the Iraqi
Mukhaberat for months and promising them lucrative jobs
should they decide to join the new Iraqi intelligence
(which, we hope, will be an improvement on American
intelligence- Id hate to have us invade a country
on false pretenses).
The weather is quite nice lately (with the exception of
dust every once in a while). We spend the
electricity-less evenings out in the little garden. We
pull out plastic chairs and a little plastic table and
sit around gazing at the sky, which is marvelously clear
on many nights. E. is thinking of starting a count
the stars project. Hes going to allot a
section of the sky to each member of the family and have
them count the number of stars in their designated astral
plot. Im thinking of starting a cricket
choir with some very talented six-legged pests
located under a dried-out rose bush...
In a few days, Ill have to go up and wash out the
roof or sattih. Last year, wed sleep on
top of the roof on the hot nights without electricity. We
lay out thin mattresses on the clean ground and wet some
sheets to cover ourselves with. Its not too bad
until around 6 a.m. when the sun rises high in the sky
and the flies descend upon the sleepers like... well,
These last couple of weeks have been somewhat depressing
for most people. You know how sometimes you look back at
the past year and think to yourself, What was I
doing last year, on this same day? Well weve
been playing that game constantly lately. What was I
doing last year, this very moment? I was listening for
the sirens, listening for the planes and listening to the
bombs fall. Now we just listen for the explosions-
its not the same thing.
I havent been sleeping very well either. Ive
been having disturbing dreams lately... Dreams of being
stuck under rubble or feeling the earth shudder beneath
me as the windows rattle ominously. I know it has to do
with the fact that every day we relive a little bit of
the war- on television, on the radio, on the internet.
Im seeing some of the images for the very first
time because we didnt have electricity last year
during the war and it really is painful. Its hard
to believe that we lived through so much...
- posted by river @ 9:35
PM Monday, March 29, 2004
Tales from Abu Ghraib...
At precisely 5 p.m., yesterday afternoon, my mother
suddenly announced that we were going to go visit a
friend of hers who had recently had a minor operation.
The friend lived two streets away and in Iraqi culture,
it is obligatory to visit a sick or healing friend or
relative. I tried to get out of the social call with a
variety of tired excuses. It was useless- my mother was
We left the house at around 5:40, with me holding a box
of chocolate and arrived at the friend's house less than
five minutes later. After the initial greetings and words
of sympathy and relief, we all filed into the living
room. The living room was almost dark; the electricity
was out and the drapes were open to let in the fading
rays of sun. "The electricity should be back at
" my mother's friend said apologetically,
"That's why we haven't lighted the kerosene
Just as we were settling down, a figure sitting at the
other end of the living room rose in a hurry. "Where
are you going?!" cried out my mother's friend, Umm
Hassen. She then turned to us and made a hasty
introduction, "This is M.- she's a friend of the
she's here to see Abu Hassen
peered hard across the darkening room to get a better
look at the slight figure, but I couldn't make out her
features. I could barely hear her voice as she said,
"I really have to be going
" Umm Hassen shook her head and firmly
declared, "No- you're staying. Abu Hassen will drive
you home later."
The figure sat down and an awkward silence ensued as Umm
Hassen left the living room to bring tea from the
kitchen. My mother broke the silence with a question,
"Do you live nearby?" She asked the figure.
I live outside of Baghdad
the southern edges, but I'm staying with some relatives a
few streets away." I listened to the voice carefully
and could tell that the girl was young- no more than 20
Just as Umm Hassen walked into the room with the tea
tray, the lights in the house flickered back to life and
we all murmured a prayer of thanks. As soon as my eyes
adjusted to the glaring yellow lights, I turned to get a
better look at Umm Hassen's guest. I had been right- she
was young. She couldn't have been more than 20. She was
wearing a black shawl, thrown carelessly over dark brown
hair which was slipping out from under the head cover.
She clutched at a black handbag and as the lights came
back on, she shrank into herself at the far end of the
"Why are you sitting all the way over there?"
Scolded Umm Hassen fondly, "Come over here and
sit." She nodded towards a large armchair next to
our couch. The girl rose and I noticed for the first time
just how slight her figure was- the long skirt and shirt
hung off of her thin body like they belonged to someone
else. She settled stiffly in the big chair and managed to
look even smaller and younger.
"How old are you,M. ?" My mother asked kindly.
"Nineteen." Came the reply. "And are you
studying? Which college are you in?" The girl
blushed furiously as she explained that she was studying
Arabic literature but postponed the year because
"Because she was detained by the Americans."
Umm Hassen finished angrily, shaking her head.
"She's here to see Abu Hassen because her mother and
three brothers are still in prison."
Abu Hassen is lawyer who has taken on very few cases
since the end of the war. He explained once that the
current Iraqi legal system was like a jungle with no
rules, a hundred lions, and thousands of hyenas. No one
was sure which laws were applicable and which weren't;
nothing could be done about corrupt judges and police and
it was useless taking on criminal cases because if you
won, the murderer/thief/looter's family would surely put
you in your grave
or the criminal himself could do
it personally after he was let out in a few weeks.
This case was an exception. M. was the daughter of a
deceased friend and she had come to Abu Hassen because
she didn't know anyone else who was willing to get
On a cold night in November, M., her mother, and four
brothers had been sleeping when their door suddenly came
crashing down during the early hours of the morning. The
scene that followed was one of chaos and confusion
screaming, shouting, cursing, pushing and pulling
followed. The family were all gathered into the living
room and the four sons- one of them only 15- were dragged
away with bags over their heads. The mother and daughter
were questioned- who was the man in the picture hanging
on the wall? He was M.'s father who had died 6 years ago
of a stroke. You're lying, they were told- wasn't he a
part of some secret underground resistance cell? M.'s
mother was hysterical by then- he was her dead husband
and why were they taking away her sons? What had they
done? They were supporting the resistance, came the
answer through the interpreter.
How were they supporting the resistance, their mother
wanted to know? "You are contributing large sums of
money to terrorists." The interpreter explained. The
troops had received an anonymous tip that M.'s family
were giving funds to support attacks on the troops.
It was useless trying to explain that the family didn't
have any 'funds'- ever since two of her sons lost their
jobs at a factory that had closed down after the war, the
family had been living off of the little money they got
from a 'kushuk' or little shop that sold cigarettes,
biscuits and candy to people in the neighborhood. They
barely made enough to cover the cost of food! Nothing
mattered. The mother and daughter were also taken away,
with bags over their heads.
Umm Hassen had been telling the story up until that
moment, M. was only nodding her head in agreement and
listening raptly, like it was someone else's story. She
continued it from there
M. and her mother were
taken to the airport for interrogation. M. remembers
being in a room, with a bag over her head and bright
lights above. She claimed she could see the shapes of
figures through the little holes in the bag. She was made
to sit on her knees, in the interrogation room while her
mother was kicked and beaten to the ground.
M.'s hands trembled as she held the cup of tea Umm Hassen
had given her. Her face was very pale as she said,
"I heard my mother begging them to please let me go
and not hurt me
she told them she'd do anything-
say anything- if they just let me go." After a
couple hours of general abuse, the mother and daughter
were divided, each one thrown into a seperate room for
questioning. M. was questioned about everything
concerning their family life- who came to visit them, who
they were related to and when and under what
circumstances her father had died. Hours later, the
mother and daughter were taken to the infamous Abu Ghraib
prison- home to thousands of criminals and innocents
In Abu Ghraib, they were seperated and M. suspected that
her mother was taken to another prison outside of
Baghdad. A couple of terrible months later- after
witnessing several beatings and the rape of a male
prisoner by one of the jailors- in mid-January, M. was
suddenly set free and taken to her uncle's home where she
found her youngest brother waiting for her. Her uncle,
through some lawyers and contacts, had managed to extract
M. and her 15-year-old brother from two different
prisons. M. also learned that her mother was still in Abu
Ghraib but they weren't sure about her three brothers.
M. and her uncle later learned that a certain neighbor
had made the false accusation against her family. The
neighbor's 20-year-old son was still bitter over a fight
he had several years ago with one of M.'s brothers. All
he had to do was contact a certain translator who worked
for the troops and give M.'s address. It was that easy.
Abu Hassen was contacted by M. and her uncle because he
was an old family friend and was willing to do the work
free of charge. They have been trying to get her brothers
and mother out ever since. I was enraged- why don't they
contact the press? Why don't they contact the Red Cross?!
What were they waiting for?! She shook her head sadly and
said that they *had* contacted the Red Cross but they
were just one case in thousands upon thousands- it would
take forever to get to them. As for the press- was I
crazy? How could she contact the press and risk the wrath
of the American authorities while her mother and brothers
were still imprisoned?! There were prisoners who had
already gotten up to 15 years of prison for 'acting
against the coallition'... she couldn't risk that. They
would just have to be patient and do a lot of praying.
By the end of her tale, M. was crying silently and my
mother and Umm Hassen were hastily wiping away tears. All
I could do was repeat, "I'm so sorry... I'm really
sorry..." and a lot of other useless words. She
shook her head and waved away my words of sympathy,
"It's ok- really- I'm one of the lucky ones... all
they did was beat me."
- posted by river @ 11:35
PM Saturday, March 27, 2004
Raed in the Middle...
Raed of Where is Raed? has started his own
blog! You can check out Raed's independent views at Raed in the Middle...
- posted by river @ 3:08
The telephone wasn't working these last few days. It will
do that every once in a while- disappear coyly. We pick
up the receiver and instead of a dial tone, hear nothing
but a strange sort of silence laced with static. It
almost drove me crazy because I couldn't connect to the
internet. I spent the days hovering anxiously around the
telephone, picking it up every few minutes and calling
out "Allooo? Allooooooo?" E. asked around and
learned that the lines in the whole area were down.
I was in Karrada yesterday- a popular area in central
Baghdad. It's a mercantile district where you can find
everything from butchers to ice cream shops. The stores
are close together and it's the ideal area to go looking
for something you're not sure you'll find. You'll find it
in Karrada- whether it's a gold bracelet or fuzzy
slippers or the complete, unabridged collection of the
late Al-Hakeem's religious lectures on CD.
My uncle is planning a trip to Jordan so we had to buy
him some luggage. I had been looking forward to the
shopping trip for at least 4 days which is how long it
takes to get the routine familial permission these days.
First, I have to make a declaration of intent; I have to
tell the parents that I intend to go out and purchase
something. Then, I have to specify the area where I
intend to make the purchase, after which comes locating a
free male relative with some extra time on his hands to
join me in the adventure. The final step is setting the
date and time and getting the final household
For those of you wondering, YES, it annoys me beyond
anything that, at my age, I have to get parental
permission to leave the house. It's a trend that started
after the war and doesn't look like it's going to abate
any time soon. I comfort myself with the thought that
it's not specific to my household or even my gender- all
parents seem to be doing it lately
where are you
going? To do what? Who is going with you? What time will
you be back? Is it absolutely necessary?
If E. and I are half an hour late, we can come home
expecting to see one of the parents standing outside, in
the driveway, pacing anxiously and peering out into the
street every once in a while. I can't really blame them-
with all the abductions, explosions and detentions. On
the other hand, if one of the parents are late, E. and I
also end up in the driveway, squinting into the night and
mumbling about people who never phone to say theyre
going to be late.
Karrada was quite crowded with people coming and going.
Women, of course, were a startling minority. Karrada used
to be full of women- mothers, daughters and wives
sometimes alone and sometimes dragging along a weary
male. As we got out of the car, my confidence and
enthusiasm began to wane. I was one of the few women on
the street not wearing a hijab, or head-cover. One, two,
three women passed by with the hijab covering their
the fourth one had gone a step further and was
wearing an abbaya or black cloak
I tugged gently at
the sleeves of my shirt which were cuffed almost to my
elbows. They slid down once more to my wrists and I was
suddenly grateful that I had decided to wear a long denim
We walked the few meters to the display of suitcases on
the sidewalk. The suitcases were mostly new but some were
used and a little faded around the edges. I wondered if
they had been hijacked from some unfortunate Iraqi who
had come from abroad. E. and my cousin stood haggling
with the suitcase man. He was showing them a Korean
knockoff of Samsonite and swearing it was the original.
For those who have never shopped in Iraq- nothing costs
as much as the first price they give you. If the man says
10,000 Iraqi Dinars, you can instantly challenge him
with, "I'll buy it for 7,000" and be quite
confident that he'll give in the end with some minor
I studied the streets and surrounding shops while I
waited. The street was crowded with cars- mostly old
ones. Few people dare to drive around in decent vehicles.
The traffic flow kept stopping every few minutes and a
choir of honking and swearing would instantly start up.
Heads would pop out of car windows and eyes would strain
to see what could possibly be keeping the long line of
cars in front.
There were some strange-looking people in the street-
heads covered in turbans, black and white
shrouded from top to bottom in black cloth
long beards and abbayas. I was getting quite a few
critical stares- why wasn't this girl wearing a hijab?
The rational person in me was asking the same question- why
aren't you wearing one? Is it too much to ask for you to
throw something on top of your head when you leave the
house? Everyone else is doing it
most of the women
you know are just flinging on a head-cover to avoid those
disapproving glares and harsh words. Ever since the war,
even some Christian women have been pressured into hiding
their hair- especially in the south. And on and on
went the rational voice
The stubborn voice- the one
that blogs- tried to drown out common sense with,
"Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah... we won't be
I focused my attention on the shops around me, staring
hard at the displays in the windows. Many of the windows
showed posters of the Imam Hussein, Al-Sadr, one or more
of the Hakeems and there were so many pictures of Sistani
both outside and inside of shops that I decided the area
should change its name from Karrada to 'Sistanistan'.
After almost 10 minutes of selecting and bartering, E.
and my cousin had decided on one large black suitcase and
a smaller one. E. counted out the money patiently as the
suitcase man swore he was being robbed by selling the
suitcases for such a meager sum. My cousin went to open
the trunk of the car and I helped the suitcase man wrap
the luggage in a large plastic bag.
Before we got into the car to go home, E. asked me if
there was anything else I wanted to get- did I want to
see the shops? A part of me *did* want to take a more
thorough look around, but another part of me was both
physically and mentally exhausted with the rare outing. I
just wanted to get back to the safety of our home where I
didn't have to feel like some sort of strange outcast.
This time of year is the closest we get to spring. April
promises to be hot and sticky... I used to constantly
yearn to be outside- not just on the roof or in the
garden- but on a street or sidewalk with people coming
and going around me. That need hits me less and less of
- posted by river @ 2:54
PM Saturday, March 20, 2004
The War on Terror...
I'm feeling irritable and angry today. It's exactly a
year since the war on Iraq began and it seems to be
weighing heavily on everyone.
Last year, on this day, the war started during the early
hours of the morning. I wasn't asleep
slept since Bush's ultimatum a couple of days before. It
wasn't because I was scared but because I didn't want to
be asleep when the bombs started falling. The tears
started falling with the first few thuds. I'm not very
prone to tears, but that moment, a year ago today, I felt
such sorrow at the sound of those bombs. It was a
familiar feeling because it wasn't, after all, the first
time America was bombing us. It didnt seem fair
that it was such a familiar feeling.
I felt horrible that Baghdad was being reduced to rubble.
With every explosion, I knew that some vital part of it
was going up in flames. It was terrible and I don't think
I'd wish it on my worst enemy. That was the beginning of
a liberation from sovereignty, a
certain sort of peace, a certain measure of dignity.
We've been liberated from our jobs, and our streets and
the sanctity of our homes
some of us have even been
liberated from the members of our family and friends.
A year later and our electricity is intermittent, at
best, there constantly seems to be a fuel shortage and
the streets aren't safe. When we walk down those streets,
on rare occasions, the faces are haggard and creased with
concern over family members under
detention, homes raided by Americans, hungry mouths to
feed, and family members to keep safe from abduction,
rape and death.
And where are we now, a year from the war? Sure- we own
satellite dishes and the more prosperous own mobile
but where are we *really*? Where are the
We're trying to fight against the extremism that seems to
be upon us like a black wave; we're wondering, on an
hourly basis, how long it will take for some semblance of
normality to creep back into our lives; we're hoping and
praying against civil war
We're watching with disbelief as American troops roam the
streets of our towns and cities and break violently into
our homes... we're watching with anger as the completely
useless Puppet Council sits giving out fat contracts to
foreigners and getting richer by the day- the same people
who cared so little for their country, that they begged
Bush and his cronies to wage a war that cost thousands of
lives and is certain to cost thousands more.
We're watching sardonically as an Iranian cleric in the
south turns a once secular country into America's worst
nightmare- a carbon copy of Iran. We're watching as the
lies unravel slowly in front of the world- the WMD farce
and the Al-Qaeda mockery.
And where are we now? Well, our governmental facilities
have been burned to the ground by a combination of
'liberators' and 'Free Iraqi Fighters'; 50% of the
working population is jobless and hungry; summer is
looming close and our electrical situation is a joke; the
streets are dirty and overflowing with sewage; our jails
are fuller than ever with thousands of innocent people;
we've seen more explosions, tanks, fighter planes and
troops in the last year than almost a decade of war with
Iran brought; our homes are being raided and our cars are
stopped in the streets for inspections
are being killed 'accidentally' and the seeds of a civil
war are being sown by those who find it most useful; the
hospitals overflow with patients but are short on just
about everything else- medical supplies, medicine and
doctors; and all the while, the oil is flowing.
But we've learned a lot. We've learned that terrorism
isn't actually the act of creating terror. It isn't the
act of killing innocent people and frightening
no, you see, that's called a 'liberation'.
It doesn't matter what you burn or who you kill- if you
wear khaki, ride a tank or Apache or fighter plane and
drop missiles and bombs, then you're not a terrorist-
you're a liberator.
The war on terror is a joke
Madrid was proof of
that last week
Iraq is proof of that everyday.
I hope someone feels safer, because we certainly don't.
- posted by river @ 11:02
PM Friday, March 19, 2004
The explosion two days ago was a colossal one. Our area
isn't very close to the area that got bombed, but we
heard it loud and clear. It was one of several explosions
during this last week
but it was the biggest. The
moment it happened, E. and I started trying to guess
where the noise was coming from. It has become a sort of
Al-Jazeera almost instantly began covering the explosion
and we found out that E. was right- it was in Karada (I
get the direction wrong 90% of the time and E.
chauvinistically assures me that a warped sense of
direction is quite common to most females). A hotel in
the middle of a residential area was bombed and the
stories vary in a strange sort of way. People in the area
claim they heard the hissing of a rocket and then an
explosion. Others say that it was an instant explosion.
One news network is claiming that 32 bodies have been
taken out of the rubble
another mentioned 17 and
the Iraqi police are saying that only 6 were found.
Reports on the nationalities of the deceased also vary-
the Iraqi police are claiming all the residents of the
hotel were Iraqi and the Americans are saying that there
were some Americans and Brits among the dead. Who to
Last Saturday and Sunday there were demonstrations in
Baghdad. Students weren't allowed into Baghdad University
because the university guards (ironically appointed by
the Americans) wouldn't let anyone in. They are part of
Sistani's gang and since Sistani's followers have
diligently been objecting the TAL document signed by the
Puppet Council, the guards decided that college would be
closed for a couple of days. The students had to watch
the dean of the engineering college beg to be let in, and
I found out about the demonstrations because I was
supposed to have a job interview on Saturday and my
potential employers called me postponing it until further
notice because their guards- avid Sistani fans- had
decided to take the day off to join the demonstration
objecting the TAL. Sistani's followers would not be out
protesting the transitional law document if they didn't
have explicit directions from him- so
Mustansiryia University (another major university in
Baghdad) is full of student protests because the dean of
the college of science requested that after the arba'een
(40th day after the death of Imam Al-Hussein), the
students take down the black flags and pictures of
Al-Sadr and Sistani. The more conservative Shi'a students
immediately took offence and decided that they wouldn't
attend classes until the dean was fired. In retaliation,
Sunni students decided they would organize a *protest* to
the strike organized by the Shi'a students
We also heard that one of the assistant deans of the
college of engineering in Baghdad University was
assassinated recently. It's terrible news and the subject
has been on my mind a lot lately. I don't know why no one
focuses on this topic in the news. It's like Iraq is
suffering from intellectual hemorrhaging. Professors and
scientists are being assassinated right and left- decent
intelligent people who are necessary for the future of
Iraq. Other scientists are being detained by the
Americans and questioned about- of all things- Al-Qaeda.
The stories they tell after being let go are incredible.
Most of the scientists are college professors and have
dedicated their lives to teaching and research. Many are
detained only because they specialize in a certain field,
like heredity, for example. One man who was recently let
go told about the ridiculous interrogation that lasted 3
days and involved CIA and military police. They showed
him picture after picture of his family, confiscated from
the family home during a raid, and kept pointing at his
two teenage sons and their friends and asking,
"Aren't they a part of Al-Qaeda?!"
And it doesn't stop with the scientists. Doctors are also
being assassinated by some mysterious group. It started
during the summer and has been continuing since then.
Iraq has some of the finest doctors in the region. Since
June, we've heard of at least 15 who were killed in cold
blood. The stories are similar- a car pulls up to the
clinic or office, a group of men in black step down and
the doctor is gunned down- sometimes in front of the
patients and sometimes all alone, after hours. One doctor
was shot brutally in his house, in front of his family.
There was a rumor that Badir's Brigade (the SCIRI militia
led by Al-Hakeem) had a list out of 72 doctors that had
to be killed for one reason or another. They include
Sunni, Shi'a and Christian doctors.
Scientists, professors and doctors who aren't detained or
assassinated all seem to be looking for a way out. It
seems like everyone you talk to is keeping their eyes
open for a job opportunity outside of the country. It
depresses me. When I hear someone talking about how they
intend to leave to Dubai or Lebanon or London, I want to
beg them to stay
a part of me wants to scream,
"But we need you here! You belong here!"
Another more rational part of me knows that some of them
have no options. Many have lost their jobs and don't know
how to feed their families. Others just can't stand the
constant worrying about their children or spouse. Many of
the female doctors and scientists want to leave because
it's no longer safe for women to work like before. For
some, the option is becoming a housewife or leaving
abroad to look for the security to work.
Whatever the reason, the brains are slowly seeping out of
Iraq. It's no longer a place for learning or studying or
it's a place for wealthy contractors
looking to get wealthier, extremists, thieves (of all
ranks and origins) and troops
- posted by river @ 10:22
AM Friday, March 12, 2004
Discussions around the dinner table mainly focus on the
Transitional Law these days. I asked a friend to print
out the whole thing for me and have been looking it over
these last two days. I watched only a part of the
ceremony because the electricity went out in the middle
of it and I didn't bother watching a recap of it later
The words look good on paper- as words often do. Some
parts of it sound hauntingly like our last constitution.
The discussions about the Transitional Law all focus on
the legitimacy of this document. Basically, an occupying
power brought in a group of exiles, declared Iraq
'liberated', declared the constitution we've been using
since the monarchy annulled and set up a group of puppets
as a Governing Council. Can these laws be considered
Furthermore, just how sincere are these puppets about
this new Transitional Law? For example, there's a lovely
clause that reads, "No one may be unlawfully
arrested or detained, and no one may be detained by
reason of political or religious beliefs." Will the
American troops discontinue the raids and arbitrary
detentions (which are still quite common) come June 30?
Or is the Transitional Law binding only to Iraqis?
One example of an arbitrary detention we heard about the
other day was of a man who was arrested in Tikrit. They
raided his home and gathered the 25-year-old man, two
brothers and an elderly uncle. They got the usual
treatment: a bag on the head, and hands behind their
backs. They were taken to a place outside of Tikrit and
thrown into a barn-like area with bags on their heads-
still tied up. For 3 days, they were kicked and cursed by
the troops. In between the kicking and cursing, a hefty
soldier would scream questions at them and an interpreter
would translate, "Are you part of Al-Qaeda?! Do you
know Osama bin Laden?!" On the third day, one of the
young men struck up a deal with who he gathered was their
'head'- the man who gave all the orders. They agreed that
one of the soldiers would accompany the man back to the
city and wait while he came up with $300/detainee. The
rest of the men would be freed a couple of days later.
And it worked. Two days later, his three relatives came
walking home after being dropped off on the side of the
road. Basically, they paid a ransom for their freedom.
Just one of the many stories about life in the 'New
Iraq'- no wonder Chalabi was so jubilant while signing
the Transitional Law document. The country is currently
like an unguarded bank- especially for those who bear
The general attitude towards the document is a certain
weariness. Iraqis are weary of everything 'transitional'
and 'temporary'. I guess, after almost a year of
instability and strife, we just crave something more
definite and substantial.
Spring is in the air- and that means dust storms and a
mellow sun for Iraqis. We're enjoying the weather because
by the end of April, summer will be in full swing and the
heat will come in almost palpable waves. The mornings are
slightly cool and by noon we've shed the jackets. We no
longer need the 'sopas' or kerosene heaters at home-
which is a relief to E. who has been designated the job
of filling them up and making sure the kerosene tank in
the yard is always full (the kerosene man has become a
These last few days have brought back memories of the
same dates, last year. What were we doing in early March?
We were preparing for the war
digging wells, taping
up windows, stocking up on candles, matches, kerosene,
rice, flour, bandages, and medicine
and what are we
doing now? Using them.
- posted by river @ 11:02
PM Saturday, March 06, 2004
Sistani and the Green Zone...
Today was a mess. It feels like half of Baghdad was
off-limits. We were trying to get from one end to the
other to visit a relative and my cousin kept having to
take an alternate route. There's a huge section cut off
to accomodate the "Green Zone" which seems to
be expanding. We joke sometimes saying that they're just
going to put a huge wall around Baghdad, kick out the
inhabitants and call it the "Green City". It is
incredibly annoying to know that parts of your city are
inaccessible in order to accomodate an occupation army.
Another section was cut off because there was some sort
of crisis unfolding in or around the Ministry of Health.
We later learned that former employees- some fired before
the war and others fired during the occupation- had
invaded the ministry and were trying to break into the
minister's office. They were demanding work and some
channels even mentioned a hostage situation. All we know
is that there was a huge, angry mob outside of the
ministry and tanks, cars and angry soldiers facing them.
They say almost 1,300 employees working with the Ministry
of Health have been fired since the end of the war. This
includes doctors, nurses, hospital guards, etc.
Today the Iraqi Puppet Council was attempting to sign the
Basic Law document which is sort of a prelude to a
permanent constitution. I want to read it and see what
it's about. They had everything set up in an elegant
conference room- chrome and gray chairs with name tags on
them, expensive pens ready for the GC members, a podium,
a bunch of little kids ready to sing and a little
orchestra to play music. They didn't sign the
long-awaited document. Some of the Shi'a members of the
council refused to sign it because, apparently, there had
been disagreements to the presidency, women's rights,
federalism and, generally, the constitution- should they
ever decide to draft one.
Al-Sistani appears to be running the show, along with
Bremer. I don't know why they don't just set up an office
for him in the Green Zone- it would make things much
easier for the GC members. They wouldn't have to keep
running down to Karbala to beg for his approval. It's
unbelievable. Sistani is a respectable cleric. He has
millions of followers both inside and outside of Iraq...
but when you get down to it, he is Iranian. How is it
that an Iranian cleric is moulding the future of Iraq?
His opinion is important in many ways- but he seems to
have some sort of invisible veto within the Council. All
he has to do is murmur disapproval in the ears of one of
his followers and it is immediate dissent with his
followers. It is so frustrating. How is Iraq going to be
secular and, well, *Iraqi* if we have a cleric of Iranian
origin making conditions and rules?!
You can read more about the constitutional mess over at Juan Cole and Back to Iraq.
- posted by river @ 11:53
PM Wednesday, March 03, 2004
The explosions in Karbala and Kadhimiya were horrible. We
heard the ones in Kadhimiya from a distance. There were a
couple of dull thuds and we didn't know what it was. We
found out later on the news and everyone has been
horrified ever since. It's so hard to believe this has
happened. The shots on Al-Arabia and the other channels
were terrible- body parts everywhere- people burning
alive... who could do this? We've all been asking each
other that... who would have anything to gain from this?
Fingers are being pointed everywhere. Everyone has been
afraid that this will be the metaphorical straw that
breaks the camels back- except it's not a straw... it's
more like an iron anchor that is just to heavy to carry.
Fortunately, the reactions have been sane, yet sorrowful.
Sunnis and Shi'a are sticking together... more now than
ever before. It's like this catastrophe somehow made
everyone realize that there are outside forces trying to
drive us all apart and cause unrest or 'fitna'. People
are refusing to believe that this was done by Iraqis.
It's impossible. It's inexcusable and there is nothing
that can justify it.
We were extremely worried because we have some relatives
who make the annual trip to Karbala every year. They live
in an area with no working telephones so E. and my cousin
had to go over there and check things out for themselves.
We found out that they had decided against going this
year because the situation was so unstable. I'm worried
now about Salam- he wrote on his blog that he
was going to Karbala this year with his family. I hope
I guess we've all been expecting some sort of attack or
riots or something... this tragedy was still unexpected.
You sometimes think that you've seen all the violence
there is- every single type- and there is nothing that
will shock you anymore. This was a shock, and a painful
one too. Today was an official day of mourning over the
victims who died in Karbala and Kadhimiya. The mosques
have been offering prayers for the victims and the mosque
sheikhs have been condemning the bombings.
Before Ashoura, there was a lot of talk about civil war.
We talk about it like it concerns a different set of
people, in another country. I guess that is because none
of us can believe that anyone we know could be capable of
senseless violence. After this massacre, and after seeing
the reactions of Sunnis and Shi'a alike, my faith in the
sense and strength of Iraqis has been reaffirmed. It has
been like a large family- with many serious differences-
reuniting after a terrible tragedy to comfort eachother
and support one another.
- posted by river @ 10:10
PM Sunday, February 29, 2004
The tension in the air is almost electric. Everyone feels
it. It is the beginning of the Islamic year or Muharam,
the first month of the Hijri year. This time of the Hijri
year is important because of certain historical events
that occurred hundreds of years ago. The Prophet
Mohammed's remaining family were killed, and some
captured, in Karbala, in south-east Iraq. It's a long,
sad and involved story.
The Prophet Mohammed's grandchildren, their children,
wives and entourage all came to Iraq because they were
encouraged by the people in the region to receive the
leadership of the Islamic nation, or Khilafah. Before
they could get to Karbala- more near the area of Kouffa-
they were surrounded by Yazeed's army. Yazeed was a
distant relative of the Prophet and wanted to become the
Khalifa- or leader of the Islamic world. Yazeed was also
believed he had a right to be the Khalifah because his
father, Ma'awiya, had claimed his right as Khalifah in
opposition to the Imam Ali- the Prophet's cousin and also
The Khilafah (or caliph-hood) was not hereditary. The
Prophet Mohammed, upon his deathbed, ordered that the
Khilafah would always be through general agreement of the
'Sahhaba' who were a group of select respected, devout
and influential people in Mecca. Three Khalifas after the
Prophet's death, when the third Khalifah Othman bin Affan
was killed, the problems began.
Anyway, after the Prophet's family were trapped in
Kouffa, they were systematically killed and some taken as
prisoner during the first ten days of Muharam. On the
tenth day, Imam Al-Hussein, the Prophet's grandson was
killed in the most gruesome way during a battle in
Kouffa. He was beheaded and his head was taken to Yazeed.
The people of Kouffa and Karbala have always felt guilty
for not helping Al-Hussein and his family and followers-
for sending for them and then abandoning them when
Yazeed's army attacked. This guilt is 'remembered' every
year by doing certain things- like cooking huge pots of
steaming porridge for the poor and making special foods
for neighbors and family. Sunnis and Shi'a alike do this,
usually. My mother makes 'harrisa', the porridge, for the
whole family every year- it's the best part of Muharam.
Sometimes people have a 'qirraya' at their house. This is
often a women's affair. Women from all over the
neighborhood gather at one of the houses and they send
for a specialized group of women who sort of sing out the
story of the 'Maqtal' or the killing of Imam Al-Hussein
and his family. I attended one of these qirrayas a few
years ago and it was emotional and charged. The qirrayas
often end in tears because the story of the 'Maqtal' is
so terrible, that it is difficult to stay dry-eyed when
hearing about it.
This year, another ritual has been added to the ones
mentioned above- the 'Latmiya'. This is done strictly by
Shi'a- and not all Shi'a. Many moderate Shi'a frown upon
the process of beating oneself with chains because the
sight of it is just so
terrible. E. and I watched
from the rooftop a couple of days ago as a procession of
about 50 black-clad men passed down the main road. It was
frightening. They had beards, wore head-to-toe black,
with the exception of a green bandanna or piece of cloth
tied around the wrist and they held up green and black
flags and banners and pictures of Imam Al-Hussein on a
green background. They were beating their chests to a
certain beat and chanting something incoherent. These
processions were banned before and, quite frankly, I wish
they could be confined to certain areas now. The sight of
so much violence (even if it is towards oneself) is just
a little bit unnerving.
On tv, we saw much bigger Latmiyas in the south-
especially Karbala where Imam Al-Hussein is buried. The
men hold chains and beat their backs with them, sometimes
to the point where their clothes tear and their bodies
are bloodied. I don't like the ritual. It doesn't feel
sacred or religious and many Muslims consider it a wrong,
since it is considered 'haram', or a sin, to disfigure
the body. This year, Karbala is going to be especially
crowded because, in addition to Iraqis, there are going
to be thousands and thousands of Iranians who have
somehow gotten into Iraq.
Ashoura, or the tenth day of Muharam, is in a couple of
days and everyone is really worried about what might
happen on this day. Dozens of buildings all over Baghdad
are shrouded in black cloth. It is a depressing and
sobering sight. E. was in Baghdad University a few days
ago and he says that someone draped black cloth all over
the buildings there and even over the department
balconies. There were even signs offering 'Latmiya'
lessons and some of the more religiously bent Shi'a have
given orders to the department cafeterias that there will
be no music allowed and the only stuff they can play are
The electrical situation is almost stable at around 10
hours of electricity a day at this point. Everything is a
little bit frightening right now and I can't help but
wish we could remain without electricity during the day
and have it as soon as it gets dark. There have been a
string of assassinations these last couple of weeks and
some of them are just inexplicable
teachers, professors, religious figures
quite depressing and all this black cloth isn't helping
- posted by river @ 2:19
AM Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Angry Arabs and American Media...
We were all watching Al-Itijah Al-Mu'akis or "The
Opposite Direction" on Al-Jazeera. It was pretty
good today. We had just cleared the dinner table and were
settling down to watch some film when E. turned the
channel to Al-Jazeera expecting a news brief. I instantly
recognized the man in the lemon yellow shirt with his
longish curly hair pulled back in a ponytail- Asa'ad Abu
Khalil. I remembered him from an interview he did on
Al-Arabiya or Al-Jazeera- I can't remember which-
immediately after the war, slamming Radio Sawa. Tonight,
"The Opposite Direction" was hosting Asa'ad Abu
Khalil, better known as The
Angry Arab, and Ibraheim Al-Ariss, a writer for
Al-Hayat newspaper which is based in Lebanon but is
funded by some rich Saudi.
The subject was American propaganda in Arab media. Asa'ad
Abu Khalil was brilliant. He discussed the effects of
American propaganda on current Arab media and the way the
current American government was pressuring certain Arab
publications and networks into a pro-America stance.
Unfortunately, his argument was way above Al-Ariss's
head. Al-Ariss apparently thinks that pro-American
propaganda is nothing less than a front-page headline
saying, "WE LOVE AMERICA!!!"
Asa'ad Abu Khalil was discussing the more subtle changes
taking place in some newspapers- the change in
terminology, the fact that some newspapers have stopped
covering the news and taken to translating articles
directly from New York Times or some other American news
outlet. He almost gave Ibraheim Al-Iriss, a reddish,
portly man, an apoplectic fit. Poor Ibraheim fell short
of pounding the table with his fists and throwing
crumpled papers at Abu Khalil, who kept admirably cool.
In other words, Asa'ad Abu Khalil ibarid il gallub.
(Iraqi phrase alert: ibarid il gallub, translated to
'cools the heart' is basically used to refer to something
or someone who eases the mind- and heart- by saying or
doing something satisfactory)
I get really tired of the emails deriding Al-Jazeera and
Al-Arabiya for their news coverage, telling me they're
too biased towards Arabs, etc. Why is it ok for CNN to be
completely biased towards Americans and BBC to be biased
towards the British but Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya have to
objective and unprejudiced and, preferably, pander to
American public opinion? They are Arab news networks-
they SHOULD be biased towards Arabs. I agree that there
is quite a bit of anti-America propaganda in some Arabic
media, but there is an equal, if not more potent, amount
of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim propaganda in American media.
The annoying thing is that your average Arab knows much
more about American culture and history than the average
American knows about Arabs and Islam.
I wish everyone could see Al-Hurra- the new 'unbiased'
news network started by the Pentagon and currently being
broadcast all over the Arab world. It is the visual
equivalent of Sawa- the American radio station which was
previously the Voice of America. The news and reports are
so completely biased, they only lack George Bush and
Condi Rice as anchors. We watch the reports and news
briefs and snicker
it is far from subtle.
Interestingly enough, Asa'ad Abu Khalil said that Sawa
and Al-Hurra are banned inside of America due to some
sort of law that doesn't allow the broadcast of blatant
political propaganda or something to that effect. I'd
love to know more about that.
A channel like Al-Hurra may be able to convince
Egyptians, for example, that everything is going great
inside of Iraq, but how are you supposed to convince
Iraqis of that? Just because they broadcast it hourly, it
doesn't make it true. I sometimes wonder how Americans
would feel if the Saudi government, for example, suddenly
decided to start broadcasting an English channel with
Islamic propaganda to Americans.
Important note to those of you who are going to email me:
The last few days, I have received at least 3 emails
saying, "I read your blog and don't agree with what
you say but we have a famous saying in America- I don't
agree with what you say but I'll die for your right to
say it." Just a note- it's not your famous American
saying, it is French and it is Voltaire's famous
saying:"I do not agree with a word you say, but I
will fight to the death for your right to say it."
- posted by river @ 1:23
AM Friday, February 20, 2004
Dumb and Dumber...
Ok, I just read this article in the New York Times and I
had to share. Actually, someone sent it to me and they
seem highly satisfied with it. The title is: Arabs in U.S. Raising Money to Back Bush and
it is written by a Leslie Wayne who, apparently, knows
very little about geography. I just love when articles
like this find their way into the New York Times.
The article basically states that a substantial sum of
the money supporting Bush's presidential campaign is
coming from affluent Arab-Americans who support the war
on Iraq. The fun part about the article is that it goes
on and on about "Arab"-Americans- not
Muslim-Americans or even Asian-Americans but specifies
Arab-Americans giving you the impression that the article
is going to be about people who were originally from
Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, the
United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Tunisia,
Morocco, Palestine, Lebanon
you know- an Arab
country where the national language is Arabic and the
people are generally known as Arabs.
The article is dumb, but apparently the author thinks
that the readers are even dumber. Of the 5 prominent
"Arabs" the author gives as examples in the
article (supporters of Bush), two are Iranian and the
third is a Pakistani! Now this is highly amusing to an
Arab because Pakistanis aren't Arabs and while Iran is
our neighbor, Iranians are, generally speaking, not Arabs
and I'm sure you can confirm that with Iranian
One of the Iranian contributors is a Mr. Mori Hosseini
who claims to know all about the region because he was
born in Iran and lived there before moving to the US at
the tender, prepubescent age of 13. He must be Iran's
Chalabi- keep an eye on him. I predict he'll either be
given contracts to build homes in Iraq or suddenly have
important information on Iranian WMD he has been hiding
since the age of 13.
I just wish all those prominent Arabs who supported the
war- you know, the ones living in Washington and London
who attend State dinners and parties at the White House
holding silk handkerchiefs in one hand (to wipe away the
tears for the 'homeland') and cocktails in the other
hand- would pack their Louis Vuitton bags, and bring all
that money they are contributing to that war-hungry
imbecile in the White House to Iraq or Iran or wherever
they wish the spread of democracy and help 'reconstruct'
and 'develop' their own countries. One wonders with that
$200,000 how many homes Mr.Hosseini could have rebuilt in
Bam, for example
but then again, if they don't bomb
Iran into the pre-industrial era, how will Mr.Hosseini
get all those huge contracts in the future?
- posted by river @ 1:08
AM Sunday, February 15, 2004
Dedicated to the Memory of L.A.S.
So Happy Valentine's Day
although it's the 15th. It
still feels like the 14th here because I'm not
it's the extension of yesterday.
Do you know what yesterday marked? It marked the 13th
anniversary of the Amiriyah Shelter massacre- February
13, 1991. Can you really call it an 'anniversary'?
Anniversary brings to mind such happy things and yet is
there any other word? Please send it along if you know
February 12, 1991, marked one of the days of the small
Eid or 'Eid Al-Fitr'. Of course it also marked one of the
heaviest days of bombing during the Gulf War. No one was
in the mood for celebration. Most families remained at
home because there wasn't even gasoline to travel from
one area to the next. The more fortunate areas had bomb
shelters and people from all over the neighborhood would
get together inside of the shelter during the bombing.
That year, they also got together inside of the shelters
to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr with their neighbors and
Iraqis don't go to shelters for safety reasons so much as
for social reasons. It's a great place to be during a
bombing. There's water, electricity and a feeling of
serenity and safety that is provided as much by the solid
structure as by the congregation of smiling friends and
family. Being with a large group of people helps make
things easier during war- it's like courage and stamina
travel from one person to the next and increase
exponentially with the number of people collected.
So the families in the Amiriyah area decided they'd join
up in the shelter to have a nice Eid dinner and then the
men and boys over the age of 15 would leave to give the
women and children some privacy. Little did they know,
leaving them behind, that it would be the last time they
would see the
I can imagine the scene after the men left at around
midnight- women sat around, pouring out steaming istikans
of tea, passing out Eid kilaycha and chocolate. Kids
would run around the shelter shrieking and laughing like
they owned the huge playground under the earth. Teenage
girls would sit around gossiping about guys or clothes or
music or the latest rumor about Sara or Lina or Fatima.
The smells would mingle- tea, baked goods, rice
comfortable smells that made one imagine, for a few
seconds, that they were actually at home.
The sirens would begin shrieking- the women and children
would pause in the midst of eating or scolding, say a
brief prayer in their heart and worry about their loved
ones above the ground- the men who refused to remain
inside of the shelter in order to make room for their
wives and kids.
The bombs fell hard and fast at around 4 a.m. The first
smart bomb went through the ventilation, through the
first floor of the shelter- leaving a gaping hole- and to
the bottom 'basement' of the shelter where there were
water tanks and propane tanks for heating water and food.
The second missile came immediately after and finished
off what the first missile missed. The doors of the
advanced shelter immediately shut automatically- locking
over 400 women and children inside.
It turned from a shelter into an inferno; explosions and
fire rose from the lower level up to the level that held
the women and children and the water rose with it,
boiling and simmering. Those who did not burn to death
immediately or die of the impact of the explosions,
boiled to death or were steamed in the 900+ º F heat.
We woke in the morning to see the horrors on the news. We
watched as the Iraqi rescue workers walked inside of the
shelter and came out crying and screaming- dragging out
bodies so charred, they didn't look human. We saw the
people in the area- men, women and children- clinging to
the fence surrounding the shelter and screaming with
terror; calling out name after name
searching for a
familiar face in the middle of the horror.
The bodies were laid out one beside the other- all the
same size- shrunk with heat and charred beyond
recognition. Some were in the fetal position, curled up,
as if trying to escape within themselves. Others were
stretched out and rigid, like the victims were trying to
reach out a hand to save a loved one or reach for safety.
Most remained unrecognizable to their families- only the
size and fragments of clothing or jewelry indicating the
gender and the general age.
Amiriyah itself is an area full of school teachers,
college professors, doctors and ordinary employees- a
middle-class neighborhood with low houses, friendly
people and a growing mercantile population. It was a
mélange of Sunnis and Shi'a and Christians- all living
together peacefully and happily. After the 13th of
February, it became the area everyone avoided. For weeks
and weeks the whole area stank of charred flesh and the
air was thick and gray with ash. The beige stucco houses
were suddenly all covered with black pieces of cloth
scrolled with the names of dead loved ones. "Ali
Jabbar mourns the loss of his wife, daughter, and two
"; "Muna Rahim mourns the loss of her
mother, sisters, brothers and son
Within days, the streets were shut with black cloth tents
set up by the grief-stricken families to receive mourners
from all over Iraq who came to weep and ease some of the
shock and horror. And it was horrible. Everyone lost
someone- or knew someone who lost several people.
My first visit to the shelter came several years after it
was bombed. We were in the neighborhood visiting a friend
of my mother. She was a retired schoolteacher who quit
after the Amiriyah bombing. She had no thoughts of
quitting but after schools resumed in April of 1991, she
went on the first day to greet her class of 2nd graders.
She walked into the classroom and found only 11 of her 23
students. "I thought they had decided not to
" I remember her saying to my mother in
hushed tones, later that year,"
but when I
took attendance, they told me the rest of the children
had died in the shelter
" She quit soon after
that because she claimed her heart had broken that day
and she couldn't look at the children anymore without
remembering the tragedy.
I decided to pay my respects to the shelter and the
victims. It was October and I asked the retired teacher
if the shelter was open (hoping in my heart of hearts
she'd say 'no'). She nodded her head and said that it was
indeed open- it was always open. I walked the two short
blocks to the shelter and found it in the midst of
houses- the only separation being a wide street. There
were children playing in the street and we stopped one of
them who was kicking around a ball. Is there anyone in
the shelter? He nodded his head solemnly- yes the shelter
Now the word 'maskoon' can mean two different things in
Arabic. It can mean 'lived in' and it can also mean
'haunted'. My imagination immediately carried me away-
could the child mean haunted? I'm not one who believes in
ghosts and monsters- the worst monsters are people and if
you survive war and bombs, ghosts are a piece of
yet something inside of me knew that a place
where 400 people had lost their lives so terribly- almost
simultaneously- had to be 'haunted' somehow by their
We walked inside and the place was dark and cold, even
for the warm October weather. The only light filtering in
came from the gaping hole in the roof of the shelter
where the American missiles had fallen. I wanted to hold
my breath- expecting to smell something I didn't want
but you can only do that for so long. The air
didn't smell stale at all; it simply smelled sad- like
the winds that passed through this place were sorrowful
winds. The far corners of the shelter were so dark, it
was almost easy to imagine real people crouching in them.
The walls were covered with pictures. Hundreds of
pictures of smiling women and children- toothy grins,
large, gazelle eyes and the gummy smiles of babies. Face
after face after face stared back at us from the dull
gray walls and it felt endless and hopeless. I wondered
what had happened to their families, or rather their
remaining families after the catastrophe. We knew one man
who had lost his mind after losing his wife and children
inside of the shelter. I wondered how many others had met
the same fate
and I wondered how much life was
worth after you lost the people most precious to you.
At the far end of the shelter we heard voices. I strained
my ears to listen and we searched them out- there were 4
or 5 Japanese tourists and a small, slight woman who was
speaking haltingly in English. She was trying to explain
how the bomb had fallen and how the people had died. She
used elaborate hand gestures and the Japanese tourists
nodded their heads, clicked away with their cameras and
"Who is she?" I whispered to my mother's
"She takes care of the place
" she replied
in a low voice.
"Why don't they bring in someone who can speak
fluently- this is frustrating to see
whispered back, watching the Japanese men shake hands
with the woman before turning to go.
My mother's friend shook her head sadly, "They
tried, but she just refuses to leave. She has been taking
care of the place since the rescue teams finished
cleaning it out
she lost 8 of her children
here." I was horrified with that fact as the woman
approached us. Her face was stern, yet gentle- like that
of a school principal or
like that of a mother of 8
children. She shook hands with us and took us around to
see the shelter. This is where we were. This is where the
missiles came in
this is where the water rose up
this is where the people stuck to the walls.
Her voice was strong and solid in Arabic. We didn't know
what to answer. She continued to tell us how she had been
in the shelter with 8 of her 9 children and how she had
left minutes before the missiles hit to get some food and
a change of clothes for one of the toddlers. She was in
the house when the missiles struck and her first thoughts
were, "Thank God the kids are in the
" When she ran back to the shelter from
her house across the street, she found it had been struck
and the horror had begun. She had watched the corpses
dragged out for days and days and refused to believe they
were all gone for months after. She hadn't left the
shelter since- it had become her home.
She pointed to the vague ghosts of bodies stuck to the
concrete on the walls and ground and the worst one to
look at was that of a mother, holding a child to her
breast, like she was trying to protect it or save it.
"That should have been me
" the woman who
lost her children said and we didn't know what to answer.
It was then that I knew that the place was indeed
'maskoon' or haunted
since February 13, 1991 it has
been haunted by the living who were cursed with their own
Important Side Note:For those of you
with the audacity to write to me claiming it was a
legitimate target because "American officials
assumed it was for military purposes" just remember Protocol
1 of the 1977 Geneva Conventions, Part IV, Section 1,
Chapter III, Article 52: ... 3. In case of
doubt whether an object which is normally dedicated to
civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or
other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an
effective contribution to military action, it shall be
presumed not to be so used. (Like that would matter
to you anyway)
- posted by river @ 4:15
AM Friday, February 13, 2004
I haven't been blogging for several reasons. The main
reason is that since the fourth day of Eid of we've been
coping with a family crisis.
Eid started out normal enough, under the circumstances.
The first day consisted of explosions, and a few family
members and neighbors, interspersed with bouts
electricity. We spent the first two days at home, so
thoroughly exhausted with Eid preparations, we didn't
enjoy Eid itself very much.
On the fourth day of Eid, one of my uncles absolutely
insisted on a family reunion of sorts at his house. His
wife had been slaving over the stove all day and anyone
who couldn't come had better have a good excuse.
And so we went. We packed ourselves off to his house,
across Baghdad, at 4 p.m. and he promised dinner would be
served promptly at 7 (which is an obscene hour to eat
dinner for Iraqis, but everyone wanted to be home early).
The house was crowded with uncles and aunts,
grandparents, nieces, nephews, and shrieking children
(two of whom I didn't recognize).
Dinner was served at seven. It consisted of 'timen ala
quzi' or rice and lamb garnished with sultanas, almonds
and all sorts of spices, a Lebanese salad, chicken soup
and two different kinds of bread. For a brief 30 minutes,
we forgot politics and occupation and sat concentrating
on the steaming array of food piled before us. Even the
children calmed down enough to enjoy the feast. The local
generator was humming in the background and we sat
enjoying the food and light and feeling that it really
was Eid. After all, we were family and gathered
what could be more Eid-like than that?
After sweet tea and fresh fruit, the family began to
disperse. At nine, we sat around with my uncle, his wife,
my cousin and her husband and her husband's parents. The
children had fallen into a sort of lethargic stupor in
front of the television, watching a children's song in
Arabic with a bunch of crazy rabbits bouncing about on
The elders soon began the usual discussion- politics.
Politics in Iraq isn't discussed like in any other place.
You see, we don't sit around with lit cigars and cups of
tea debating this politician or that one- that's much too
tame and boring. That is left for Brits in wood-paneled
studies, surrounded by leather-bound books. No. We have
to do it the Iraqi way- mobile expressions, erratic hand
signals, and an occasional table- pounding to emphasize a
particularly salient point.
The younger generation (E., a couple of cousins, and I)
instantly backed out of the conversation. Old/new names
were suddenly being dragged into the limelight of the
dispute and I, personally, was lost at the Iraqi
monarchy. They left me behind during the '50s and I got
up to help clear the tea cups which were beginning to
rattle ominously as the conversation got more heated.
My uncle and his daughter's father-in-law were soon deep
into an argument over some conspiracy dealing with the
monarchy. I saw a smile hovering on the lips of my cousin
as her father-in-law began to light the wrong end of the
cigarette. She winked covertly at her husband and he
gracefully rose with the words, "Well, dad- should
we drop you and mom off at home? It's getting late and I
don't want to have to drive back alone
children and I are spending the night here tonight."
And they were off in a matter of minutes. The argument
was soon forgotten, adults bundled in coats and
cigarettes properly lit. My cousin's husband, A., hustled
his parents outside and into his battered old
Brazilian-made Volkswagen. We stayed behind to help clear
up the mess- which was considerable. Rice was strewn
everywhere, little fingers had made little marks up and
down the walls, the tables and across the television
screen. Ashtrays had to be emptied, cups washed and
children undressed and put to bed.
By the time the initial mess was cleared, it was almost
10 pm. Where was A., my cousin's husband? He had left
over an hour earlier and his parents' house was only 15
minutes away. My mother suggested that his parents had
maybe insisted he step down for a cup of tea or something
else to eat
my cousin, L., shook her head
emphatically- he wouldn't do that because he knew she'd
worry. His parents didn't have a working telephone and
any delay simply meant additional worry. Her brow
puckered and I suddenly felt queasy.
We went over the possibilities- perhaps the road to his
parents' house was blocked and he had to take an
alternate route? Maybe they needed to purchase something
on the way home? There *must* be a logical, rational
reason. A. was a logical, rational, and- above all-
careful man. We were supposed to be on our way home by
10:30. In modern-day Iraq, you just don't stay out longer
than that. We couldn't leave my uncle and his family in
the mess they were in. We sat around longer.
My father and uncle couldn't take it anymore- they got
into our car and went to A.'s parents' house to see what
had happened- and drag A. home by his ear if necessary.
L. was angry by then, convinced that A. was OK and that
he was simply dallying around at his mother's house. I
was dubious, but supported the theory because it seemed
like the easiest one to accept.
We sat around quietly for 30 minutes while my father and
uncle went to look for A. L. was furiously polishing the
coffee table and I sat channel-surfing, trying to find
something to take my mind off of the possibilities.
Half an hour later, the men came home- trying not to look
grim and worried. A.'s parents were safe at home- had, in
fact, been home for over an hour. A. dropped them off at
the door, watched them walk inside, honked his horn twice
and left. L. went paler than she normally is and sat down
dully on the couch. She was suddenly sure he was dead.
What could have happened? Where had he gone? Someone
mentioned a flat tire but L.'s father said that they
hadn't seen his car along the way
And so we reviewed the possibilities. He had been
detained by Americans. His car had been hijacked. He had
been abducted. He had been killed. He had a car accident
and his beat-up old vehicle was overturned in some
the possibilities were endless and each one
was worse than the one before.
Going home was no longer an option. We sat around in the
living room with my uncle's family, watching the seconds
creep by on the clock and willing A. to walk through the
door. E. spent the night pacing the driveway and peering
out into the dark, silent street. I joined him outdoors a
couple of times and he confessed that he was very
worried- any disappearance at this time of night couldn't
We spent the night making conjectures and trying to find
logical reasons for A.'s disappearance. In the end, we
agreed that if he wasn't back by 10 a.m., we'd go to the
police and the family would start a separate search.
At 8 a.m., I was putting the kettle on in preparation for
morning tea. The house was silent but no one was asleep.
No one had slept all night. E. was still pacing; my
father and uncle were closed up in the living room,
trying to decide on a course of action and L. was trying
not to cry. Suddenly, just as I lit the stove, the phone
rang. It never sounded so shrill. I ran to the living
room and found that my uncle had already jumped to answer
it and was barking, "Elloo?" L. ran into the
room and stood wringing her hands nervously.
It was A.'s best friend and business partner, S. He had
heard from A. just a few minutes before
he had been
abducted and was being held for a ransom of $15,000. A.
and S. are partners and share a small shop in a
mercantile neighborhood in Baghdad. They sell everything
from Korean electrical ovens to fluorescent light bulbs
and make just enough money to support their respective
families. We'd be given 3 days to get the money- a place
would be agreed upon where we'd give them the money and
they'd release A. later on.
We panicked. The whole house broke down. L. fell to the
floor crying and shouting that they'll kill him- she just
knew they'd kill him like they were killing others. We
tried to calm her down and finally decided to give her a
couple of valiums to ease the stress. We sat debating on
what to do- go to the police? No way. In some areas, the
police were actually working with abductors for a certain
amount of money and there was nothing they were willing
to do anyway.
We spent the rest of the day rushing to sell gold,
collect money and my uncle took a broken L. to the bank
to empty the account- they've been saving up to build or
buy a house. A.'s parents were soon at my uncle's house
and we had a difficult time breaking the news to them.
His mother cried and wanted to rush home for her few
pieces of gold and his father sat, stunned, chain-smoking
and trying to make sense of the situation. S., A.'s
friend, came over with money- looking harrowed and tired.
To make a long, terrible story short- we had the money by
the middle of the next day. L. had almost lost her wits
and the only way the rest of us stayed sane was with the
hope that A. would soon be back at home, with us.
The money was handed over on the third day after his
abduction. But no A. came back. They told my uncle and
S., who had gone with him, that A. would be set free in
the next couple of days. My uncle and S. came home almost
in tears- like we had sent them on a mission and they had
I can't even begin to describe the next couple of days.
If it was bad before- it suddenly became worse. We hear
about abductions ALL THE TIME
but to actually
experience it is something else. It's like having a part
of you torn away. To think that A. might not come back
was more horrible than anything we'd experienced so far.
Watching his parents deteriorate from one minute to the
next and knowing his wife was dying a little bit inside
every hour that passed by was so nerve-wracking that I'd
run outside every hour to breathe in some fresh air- not
the stale stuff inside of the house contaminated with
depression, frustration and fear.
On the fifth day after A.'s abduction, we were all
sitting in the living room. There was no electricity and
L. had fallen into a valium-induced sort of calm. We
suddenly heard a feeble clang of the gate- like someone
was knocking, but not very hard. E. jumped up, ran to the
door and called out, "Who is it?!" A moment
later he ran back- it was A
he had come home.
I won't describe the crying, screaming, shouting,
jumping, hobbling (A. was limping) and general chaos that
followed A.s entrance. Apparently, his abductors had been
watching the house for the last couple of weeks. As soon
as A. dropped off his parents, they had followed with two
cars and forced him to the side of the road on a secluded
street. Four armed men forced him out of the car, put a
bag over his head after kicking him around and threw him
into a minivan with some more men.
After several hours of abuse and interrogation about his
assets (which they seemed to have thought much more than
he actually had), they let him make a call to his
business partner who was supposed to call his family for
(And if you could have seen him the moment he described
this- you'd know ALL about the tenacity of the Iraqi
sense of humor- here was A., with a gash on his head, a
bluish bruise on the side of his face, a back bruised
with kicks and punches, feet bleeding after walking over
one kilometer barefoot and he was cracking jokes:
"They actually only wanted $5,000," he said at
one point, "but I was outraged- told them I was
worth ATLEAST $20,000 five is just an insult to my
we agreed on $15,000 in the
They had kept him in slum on the outskirts of Baghdad
where police and troops don't dare set up camp. He was
transferred from one hovel to the next and at each one he
says there were abducted people. Some of the abductions
were political- some religious and many were for the
money. He says the worst part was not being able to see
anything around him, but being able to hear the others
and anticipating another kick or punch
from any random direction.
I saw him again yesterday and he still looks haggard and
tired. L. says he can't sleep all night- he keeps waking
in the middle of the night with a nightmare or some sort
of hallucination- thinking he's still caught.
And so that's how we've been spending our last few days.
It has been a nightmare and I've had to examine a lot.
Everything has felt so trivial and ridiculous
blog, the electrical situation, the insomnia, the
'reconstruction', the elections, the fictional WMD
politics and politicians
I've been wondering about
all those families who can't pay the ransom or the ones
whose sons and daughters come home on a stretcher instead
of on foot or in a garbage bag, as we heard about one
and I've also realized how grateful we
should be just being able to make the transition from one
day to the next in a situation like ours
- posted by river @ 4:16
PM Girl Blog from Iraq... let's talk war, politics