Saturday, October 18, 2003

A little something about the war

This blog wouldn't be complete if I didn't talk about my experience of the war. I'm sure everyone agrees that war, any war, is horrible and is certainly not a fun experience. But this war was different, not in it's form, but in what it was about. I was somehow convinced that this will be our final war, our mother of all battles. Even Saddam correctly described it as 'hawassim', The Decisive. During the months before the war, I was very nervous that Bush would suddenly decide not to go to war. I had endless debates with friends about it and at work. Of course there was always someone against it, either out of fear of losing his position or previleges, those were mainly Baa'thists, or out of genuine concern over his family, friends,.. But I was for it. I also had a friend who's father was on top of the Americans WANTED list. I was deeply concerned for his safety, because no matter what his father did, he didn't have anything to do with it. He is in Amman now. But I have lost all contact with him since the war.

Anyway, I was at that time considering fleeing the country because I was soon to be called upon in a few months for mandatory military service in the Iraqi army.
I had always daydreamt of studying for a Masters degree at a British, American or Canadian university, but I thought that might wait until we saw what the future will bring us. I had my own fears about the coming war. The worst scenario would be the use of chemicals against coalition forces, who would retaliate against us with even deadlier weapons. But I tried to shove that thought aside. I had already researched all the weapons that would be used by the US. And I had faith in their smart bombs and surgical strikes. Two of my uncles used to be army generals, so I had extensive knowledge of the military. I knew our army wouldn't fight back, they would never defend Saddam. So I was very optimistic,I (incorrectly) estimated that the war wouldn't last a week. I was ready to put up with anything that might happen. Yes, I was such an evil person at that time.

The first raid sirens on thursday 20/3 were music to my ears. A few hours later, I was wondering when would the 500 cruise missiles (that were planned to drop on the first strike) reach us. I began worrying again, I went out the next day to see party members to my surprise still on our street. The next night however changed this, suddenly at about 9pm bombs were literally showering on us. It was Shock and Awe. That was when I started to freak out and wonder if I was really sane to be wanting this. For a couple of hours we were huddled in front of the tv watching aljazeera. At least it was a relief to actually SEE where the bombs where falling, they were mostly hitting the Republican Palace area. I regained my composure. The nights following were mainly like this one, during the day we go out normally, and at night we regroup in front of the tv and wait for the bombings. It sounds crazy, but we are a people accustomed to war, so it wasn't something new to us, except perhaps the intensity of the strikes. People were especially freaked whenever they saw the B52's on tv on their way to Iraq. I kept telling them that these would not be used to bomb cities, because they drop containers of unguided bombs which are mainly used against military facilities which were far from us. I only succeeded in making them even more nervous.

Anyway, I kept myself busy during the war. I had some maps of Baghdad on my computer and I developed a daily habit of marking the bombed targets and the ones about to be bombed on the maps. Also large maps of Iraq on which I marked the paths of the advancing coalition forces. I was so proud to discover after the war that my handiwork was very accurate.
I also spent endless nights playing videogames on my Playstation, Crash Bandicoot was a favorite, and I experience deja vu whenever I play it now. I also rented an enormous amount of horror movies (I'm a huge horror fan) prior to the war. My brother and I watched The Evil Dead almost daily. It was quite a method to get away from all the craziness. I also spent endless hours of debate with my uncle which usually ended with shouting and shaking fists. He is a retired Air Force colonel, so I could understand why he was so against the whole war thing.
Watching Al-Sahaf Show was also one of the few fun things the war brought us. I admired him greatly, and I am to this day a massive Sahaf fan. I just hope he would still give us some entertaining shows every now and then to bring a smile to our faces.

However things got a little gloomy and depressive when Americans reached the airport area. Electric power went off, and we had some problems with water supply. One night my brother was almost accidentally killed by the same party members in our neighbourhood who missed me by inches last October. I was at our neigbour's across the street, chatting about the war in their garden with young neighbours and their wives, which became a daily habit to this day, and is a very reliable source of news. My brother crossed the street from our house, calling for me and pointing his flashlight at my neighbour's house (it was very dark). When suddenly we heard a couple of kalashnikov shots, then I heard my brother pleading and shouting. I sprang up and ran out to find my brother held by two of those lowlifes by his shirt and they were accusing him of being a spy. I wanted to smash their skulls with the heavy flashlight I carried, but I thought better of it, there were tens more at both ends of our street. I tried to reason with them, they looked deadly and eager to kill. Flashlights were forbidden they said, they are used to guide American aircraft to targets. That was absurd, I told them we didn't know about that. They released him reluctantly, and of course my brother started to get aggressive the moment they let go of him and he was trying to punch one of them, I immediately dragged him home before one of us would get killed. I mentally vowed revenge. The strange thing is that those lowlifes got more and more aggressive towards the end of the war, and after 9/4 they were all suddenly so friendly. The party members I mentioned are still a source of trouble, the Americans twice raided their house in the last few months, but nothing incriminating was found.

On 9/4 my mother woke me up with a grin on her face, telling me to go down and see what is on tv. I usually sleeped till the afternoon those days. I reluctantly went down to look and I was shocked! They were trying to pull down Saddam's statue in Fardus square. My jaws literally hit the floor. I didn't expect it to be this easy. We knew the Americans were deep inside Baghdad, but I expected a fierce fight to be waged in the streets. I immediately went out to see people everywhere congratulating each other, some party members were still around, but there were no Americans in sight. Strangely enough I didn't feel overjoyed. I still don't know why. We heard that 'Farhud' or looting started in some areas of Baghdad, so we were greatly worried.

The next morning, I got my 'fierce fight'. We woke up on heavy bombings and helicopter sounds in our neighbourhood. The Americans were here! Explosions were all around us, our windows were shaking violently, we heard bullets everywhere. We didn't have any idea about what was going on. It didn't sound like a few party members resisting, it was a very organized resistance. This went on for 6 hours which were the most terrible I have ever experienced in my life. They went on forever. After it all ended we heard that some Arab Mujahedeen and Iraqi Fedayeen had took refuge in our area and were responsible for the heavy resistance. Their bodies were all over the place. Our neighbourhood looked terrible. It was a warzone. We thought our area would be the safest, but we were wrong. Our area was one of three areas in Baghdad that witnessed the bloodiest resistance against American forces. My uncle was so proud of that fact. But there were still no Americans to be seen, only a couple of helicopters. The next day however, a long convoy of American vehicles stormed through our street. I stood in front of the house watching, M1 Bradleys, Humvees, Abrams tanks, APC's. I was impressed. Most of the Americans were so so young. They waved at us, and I waved back. Everyone in the street looked happy.
After they left, I was surprised to find my uncle standing at the door, his face violet red with rage, he was plucking his hair from his head and shouting, I didn't at first realize what he was saying, his mouth was frothy and he was shaking his fists at me, he was so ashamed and enraged about the fact that I was waving to the 'invading' Americans. I thought he was having a fit or something, because he looked like someone losing it. 'Wait and see tommorrow when they will come into our houses and rape our women! You wouldn't wave then, would you', 'How could you dare to wave to zionist imperialists in front of my house?!', something like that. We almost got into a fight, but people seperated us. I felt so humiliated for being shouted at in front of everyone from our neighbourhood. I haven't talked to him to this day, although he lives next door.

The following days were awful. The lawless and chaotic phase was next. I couldn't stand to go out and watch those ignorants stealing everything they could and literally destroying public buildings. What would the world think of us now? Some of the strangest things I witnessed, a pickup truck filled with school desks, the desks that their children use. A child dragging a Canon laser printer on the floor. Computers, hundreds of them loaded on carts pulled by donkeys. Police and army vehicles. And most important of all weapons, kalashnikovs, RPG's, hand grenades, stockpiles of ammunition. I wanted to bury my head in dirt. I hated myself for being an Iraqi, for sharing the same nationality with those strange people. I was deeply ashamed, watching this helplessly. People consciously destroying their own infrastructure, people setting fire to buildings we are proud of, stealing their history from museums, burning their public libraries. They are not Iraqis, they are aliens from Mars. I just couldn't take it. I cried, I admit it. I didn't know who to blame. I NEEDED someone to blame. I couldn't possibly blame the Americans, after all it isn't THEIR country, it's ours. We were the ones destroying ourselves. We are a self-destructive people. It only took me now to realize that. It wasn't Saddam that was the problem, it wasn't the Ba'ath, it wasn't the Ottoman empire, it wasn't the monarchy, it wasn't colonialism, it wasn't anything. It was us. We simply destroyed Iraq, and now we are sitting and wailing because the Americans aren't rebuilding it for us.


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