Saturday, June 28, 2003

I think we are already hot listed as the best distention this summer on the [Bin-Laden Tourism Board] . For those kids who missed Afghanistan and find Chechnya too far away, why not try Iraq?

In an American military hospital in the middle of the desert. Sweet lieutenant Sterling –she has a funny long first name- led us to the ward of the injured, where you could see American GIs, Iraqi “ali babas”, and Iraqi POWs being treated. The last two categories are referred to as “the enemy”.
There I met an 18 years old Syrian boy with good potentials for a real bin laden style beard, who has a right-leg bullet injury. He received the bullet when he was by “coincidence” on the Iraqi side of the Syrian - Iraqi border.
-“I saw the helicopter hovering over my head I tried to hide but the Kafir was fast”
It was the same day the[Americans raided the borders looking for Saddam].
He sounded so hopeful when he said he’ll be leaving in the few coming days, but when he was asked how did the Americans treat you, he said: “good, good…ummm good they are treating me very well, but….” – and here tears started rolling on his cheeks as he removed part of his blanket to show the leather straps tying his leg to the bed “they are treating me like a prisoner”.
I had to go but as I was about to leave he grabbed my hand and asked me if I was an Iraqi, I told him yes, he whispered to me: “god help you Iraqis you have been humiliated but inshaallh god will help you defend your self against the occupiers”. He was so somber when he was telling me these words.

A few minute later he called me

-are you a Muslim?
-Why is that?
-Well I think that is due to some technical reasons related to the fact that my mother and father mated when they were Christians.
-But how come you are not a Muslim? you are smart (!!!!) and you handle two languages easily you should be a Muslim!
-But I always considered my self a member of the Islamic culture.
*he acted a if he didn't hear my answer*
-my friend I m ready to talk to you whenever you want.

He was so nice and in the same time wounded in his pride, he was betrayed. Allah betrayed him he told him to go, cross the border and there he will find all the infidels he wants. He could go and kill as much as he could to purify the land of the Muslims from those filthy animals. Instead he is trapped in this fuckin’ hospital, being taken care of by cute Americans. He was under tremendous pressure; I felt his soul cracking under this pressure.

The last thing he said to me before I left was, could you ask them to bring me a Quraan and if they would let me call my “family”. Hmmm me thinks he wants to ask God ooops “the family” about new instructions.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

One two one two….. test test… one two, test
Perfect my rhetoric channel is working very well
Here in Iraq every citizen was provided -since the early days of the regime- with a whole set of lies that gradually became the foundation on which you would build your perceptions of the world outside.
Consequently you end up with two channels, a “channel reality” that is off the air most of the times and “channel rhetoric” a mixture of self-denial, conspiracy theory [apologia] and propaganda.
Of course we shouldn’t blame Saddam and his lies based tyrannical regime only, this phenomenon has its roots deep in our cultural/religious history.
Nowadays the main question every Iraqi is trying to answer, since the removal of our beloved leader is: (how should I feel towards the Americans?) and (is the American “liberation / occupation” a good or bad thing?).
Don’t expect an answer from me here, until we have our first Gallup poll in Iraq all what you will get is mere speculations-observations gibberish.
Obviously the answer to these questions depends on several factors, it depends on the person answering, whether he benefited from the regime or at least wasn’t abused by it, or whether half of his family perished in the cells and mass graves of the regime.
Whether-and I m sorry to say that- he or she is coming from the northwest Sunni strong holds of the regime or coming from the Shi’at south, and for sure the answers depends on who is asking these questions. If you are a journalist -especially a western one- I’ll switch immediately to rhetoric channel before answering you.
So how for god’s sake we will know the truth? All those Rambo like journalist who came here with their satellite phones, laptops and digital cameras, how will they be able to tell what the Iraqis really think?
Once during the days of the regime I met a very nice BBC correspondent -( it was my first and last exposure to a western journalist during the days of the regime, I spent one week after that half hour chat waiting for the mukhabarat guys to come and pick me )- she told me that Iraq was the most difficult country for a journalist to be in with all the minders, security service people and the ministry of information officials-who demonstrated last week demanding to return to their old jobs-now she is back in the country walking freely interviewing whomever she wants, but but but what she doesn’t know is that every one of us here in Iraq has this small plug in police officer back in his mined which will monitor all our movements and talking even now almost 3 month after the American tanks roared into Baghdad.
Asking a man standing under the sun in the middle of the street what do you think of the Americans? He will answer with a combination of the following:
“They are invaders, they have this big pipe pumping our oil directly to the white house, they haven’t fixed our electricity yet, they are not paying our salaries, they haven’t done anything for us apart from promises, where is the freedom they spoke about? We haven’t seen any yet” not mentioning the real conspiracy theory stuff, like the Americans are steeling money when they search cars at check points or they are using there apache gunships to watch our ladies when they sleep on the roof tops.
Lets cut these things and ask the guy, but they have toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, you don’t have to be terrified of his security apparatus any more, your son wont spend all his days trying to avoid the party members or bribe the army officers to spare him the torture of conscript army service, Saddam and his grandchildren would have stayed here for ever if it wasn’t the Americans
He will answer yes I now but u know…..
I think one of the main issues we have to face, is how to stop using the rhetoric channel, how could we stop this cog mire of stupid conspiracy theories going on and on and on how to liberate our selves from the secret police mechanisms nesting in our brains, this liberation will not be achieved by American tanks, nor by a self-denial flagellation process
Let me tell u this incident that happened 2 weeks ago
It was me, X, Y, and Laurent (a French friend), we were discussing the Americans, Iraq, and the current situation, every one was shouting, waving his hands jumping over the table. After almost 1 hour I went to the kitchen and Laurent to toilet, X and Y have the following conversation:
X: how did the things go in ur neighborhood during the war?
Y: well it was very calm, thanks god those stupid fedayeen didn’t resist, other whys who would know what could have happened
X: alhamdullilah, good for you, and especially now the situation is getting better
Y: yes yes we managed to get rid of that asshole
Bla bla bla (while a couple of minutes ago both of them were vehemently arguing against the war)
When the discussion sessions would end and everyone would go back to [channel reality] and speak about the day-to-day concerns I think this the place were the Americans could make a big difference
The Iraqis are so fed up with wars, suffering, party propaganda, regulations and obnoxious people telling you what to do and where to go. I wouldn’t be very far from the truth if I say that the foremost concern now for the Iraqis is the economical situation/security/services.
Its not that we r desperately waiting to indulge our selves in the global world of Starbucks and MacDonald’s-which I think we are-but for most of the people they just want to live properly without fear, hunger, or secret police

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Baghdad now is the most boring place u to be in
the rhythm of life is returning slowly to normal but the landscape of destruction still is vast. The mornings belong to the commerce that is much more in evidence than just two weeks ago as consumer goods flood a market where the lack of tariffs or customs duties have led to an explosion of imports.
The streets are filled with schoolchildren, and the universities are in session though many buildings remain stripped of equipment and windows. Politics and religion, too, are day occupations, for when the sun begins to set, Baghdad reverts to a war zone, where looters, bandits and hundreds of army patrols own the streets. Gunfire still punctuates the night and few Baghdadis venture out to the fish restaurants that are opening to empty tables in a town where a dinner of river carp called masgouf is a staple of life

If we were in Beirut, grozny or Tehran with the same set of events we just had in Baghdad, We would have half of the politicians around us assassinated by rival factions, at least 10 suicide bombers, half of the American journalists here taken as hostages and sectarian / ethnic fighting’s in the streets.
Instead of that what we see around us, is a city going back to life some times grudgingly but other times with fast speed.
Electricity is almost as normal as in the days of Saddam, the markets are just beautiful, people are going out shopping for clothes, satellite dishes, or just buying cokes, you have families in the streets, Americans in humviees surrounded by kids, security is much better and people are still selling beer on the side walks in some districts of Baghdad in spite of all the fiery sermons by Shi’a / Sunni clerics calling for a virtuous – read alcohol free - society).
I don’t want to give the impression here that every thing is all right and there is no crisis in Iraq, I just want to say that the Americans had - and still have - a perfect opportunity in Iraq, an opportunity they won’t have anywhere else, they could have won the hearts and minds of the Iraqis from the first week after the toppling of the regime, but instead they just provided the extremists with all the pretexts they need - as if they needed any- to attack the Americans they have wasted a good deal of good intensions and hope.
please stop and start doing your homework properly, I don’t want my country to be another breeding place for Osamas and lunatic terrorists.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

A great day for freedom.
BBC world service on FM in Baghdad,
u cant imagine how it feels to drive through Baghdad listening to “arts in action” it sounded so clear that ur ear start itching looking for the usual noise, oh god all these repeated trips to bab al sharji -a second hand market place- desperately trying to find a good short wave receiver, all the hours I spent listening to the static with some interruptions from the BBC, its just great.
for almost 5 years BBC were my only connection with the world, they were the place where I would go and hide during the long boring hours of CAD-labor it was a world totally different from the one I was living in, actually I have to do a small confession here I haven’t been outside Iraq in my life, and during these years I was desperately trying to leave this big prison called Iraq….but no way habibi. So the beeb was my window to all the cultures and places I wanted to visit, it was where I could go and listen to African music or the life story of an Indian taxi driver, well that doesn’t mean they didn’t piss me off with their coverage of the War or the life in Baghdad or Iraq but this is another story for another day.

Thursday 6-5-2003
A banner in Baghdad " import Indonesian servants ".

Good lord
First please don't use the word "import" when talking about people and Second who would " import" servants in these days when most of the people are desperately trying to find a job.
I mean apart from the “fat cats” -a term used by Saddam himself to describe his royal social class “the old guards”- members of the old regime or corrupted people deeply associated with its day to day life (businessmen, high ranking technocrats, service providers….etc) -who could still be seen in the lavish western style supermarkets shopping for French shampoos or American pringles.
You could add to them all “ the new guards " -the yet to be regime- a thugocrasy -as described by one western journalist- a wide spectrum of political parties and groups, ranging from the monarchists to the fundamental Islamists passing through liberal democrats, free officers, commies, all share the same distinctive characteristics:
-Badly tailored suits.
-Lots of AK47s.
-The resanctifications of old government buildings into party HQs.
-Condemning the American “ invasion of Iraq “ and declaring “if it wasn’t for the Americans, Saddam and some other factors we could have liberated Iraq long time ago”.
-Bragging about how they suffered during the days of exile in London, Washington, Tehran…..
-The distinctive obnoxious look of “ the old guard ” – see above.

During the War, specifically on the last week I was arrested by members of the “Special Security Apparatus” because I looked suspicious and I was carrying a back-pack containing a camera a Swiss army knife…..etc, two weeks after that I was arrested by “al-Hussien force” -a vigilante Shia militia in Karbala 150 km to the south of Baghdad. After another week I was arrested by the “Pieshmergha” -the Kurdish militia- this time because I tried to photograph one of their men in the middle of a street in Baghdad.
I think they all red the same -Russian made- instruction manuals of “ how to arrest a spy every 20 minutes”.
I swear sometimes I get into their offices, and I wonder whether I m in a ba’ath party HQ just missed what happened in Baghdad during the past 10 weeks.
So for sure Mr. Chalabi/Talabani/Hakiem/[put your favorite here] - will need lots of people to clean his newly resanctified residence -which by mere coincidence only, used to belong to the late head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.

Another announcement in the streets of Baghdad, Bassrah, Najaf:
“tribal sheik for hire, perfect hypocrite, a know-nothing in politics, with
a whole set of praising poems – already proved its effectiveness during the days of the regime-
24 hours stand by crew of tribal people ready to welcome any politician willing to run for election/claim himself a mayor/new beloved leader/sun and wisdom of the Iraqi people. just name it and we will act upon it.

I swear, this is not blog-talk. These r true things.
A grand ayatullah comes and u a have a full set of trible leaders with their chorus of followers chanting and jumping, then arrives the“king” with the same set performing the same ritual dancing movements, while in the same time they r discussing with our dear Chalabi their share in the pie

Some times I used to whisper to my self I want to have a revolution in this country- actually even the word whisper is bit exaggerated- I used to think about the revolution whenever I saw a “fat cat” or an ugly idontknowwho’swife shopping for imported stuffed chicken breasts, now when I turn my head and look at all those thugs around me, I wonder if a revolution is still needed to achieve justice in this society.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Monday 6-2-2003
it was the first day of a "weapons controlling program" the Americans decided to do a sweep on one of the poor neighborhoods on the south tip of Baghdad, they rounded an area of 3500-4000 houses using a force of over than 400 men of the 82nd airborne division.
they did house to house search for weapons and guess how they were doing it ?
they divided themselves into squads of 30 men with one translator for every squad or at least the peopel i was with had one -we will speak about him later-they would go into the street start with the first house, knock at the door politely telling the peopel of the house that they r here to search for weapons asking them if they have any, and trying to explain for them that its allowed to keep only 2 pieces of arms ( a klashnikove and a pistol ),
then they would wait for a few moments while the women move to a different part of the house, the soldiers would go into the house usually two or three working there way very gently through the chickens, pots, boxes, children and bundles of blankets. they would ask the family member accompanying them to open the bedroom wardrops or any locked boxes shying away from the women and making sure they dont look at them.
to cut the story short they were professionals genteel and culturally sensitive.
so in the end of the day every one was happy, the Americans who did there job easily (apart from the hundreds of thousands kids chasing them), the Iraqis who were allowed to keep 2 pieces of arms which is more than the need of a normal household and they were treated extremely nice, it was a perfect day, or was it ?
of course it wasn't the iraqi who would smile to the America soldier standing at his door step or bending under the bed searching for grenades between dirty towels and underwear's would let the Bedouin inside him indulge immediately after that in a series of accusations of atrocities committed against his honor, religion and his poor little chickens.
why is that when something started as a perfect lesson in cultural understanding it ended in a boiling tense situation were the translator had to shout every 5 seconds the justifications of the American invasion of Iraq and how good it feels when a group of armed strangers from another part of the world who u have never met -apart from being "infidels" who never wash after going to the toilet -would come and search ur house.
i think its an old case as old as Babylon and its called communication, for some reason Allah decided to do his linguistic homework, hokus-pokus and there u go: languages everywhere. 5000 years after that it was up to a short man covered up to his ears with military gadget to save the world.
in the beginning he was doing a very good job explaining to the locals what they should and what they shouldn't do in a half complicit way using the Arabic codes of winking whispering and arm rubbing. at one point he even used the neighborhood kids as gospels spreading the word of god to the 4 directions, it started to get wrong when the people discovered that he is actually an iraqi collaborating with occupation forces "why do u allow them to come here and dishonor ure country" said one of the young men, as if the poor guy had control on anything.
so after 8 long hours.....
the Americans left, confiscating 6 antiaircraft heavy machine gun bullets form over than 40 houses.
the Iraqis were furiously talking of Americans searching our women, confiscating our protection weapons, and stealing our poor little chickens.

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