Wednesday, May 31, 2006

7th Century Baghdad

Baghdadis are reporting that radical Islamists have taken control over the Dora, Amiriya and Ghazaliya districts of Baghdad, where they operate in broad daylight. They have near full control of Saidiya, Jihad, Jami’a, Khadhraa’ and Adil. And their area of influence has spread over the last few weeks to Mansour, Yarmouk, Harthiya, and very recently, to Adhamiya.

All of these districts, with the exception of Adhamiya, are more or less mixed or Sunni majority areas. They make up the western part of the capital, or what is known as the Karkh sector (the eastern half of Baghdad is called Rusafa). These areas also witnessed an influx of families displaced by the violence in the Anbar governorate, since many residents of the western part of Baghdad have roots in western areas of the country, such as Fallujah and Ramadi.

People who live in the mentioned districts claim that unknown groups have distributed leaflets (often handwritten), warning residents of several practices, ranging from instructions on dress codes to the prohibition of selling or dealing with certain goods.

The instructions vary between neighbourhoods. Amiriya and Ghazaliya have the full menu, while others stress only 2 or more of them. So far, enforcing the hijab for women and a ban on shorts for men are consistent in most districts of western Baghdad. In other areas, women are not allowed to drive, to go out without a chaperone, and to use cell phones in public; men are not allowed to dress in jeans, shave their beards, wear goatees, put styling hair gel, or to wear necklaces; it is forbidden to sell ice, to sell cigarettes at street stands, to sell Iranian merchandise, to sell newspapers, and to sell ring tones, CDs, and DVDs. Butchers are not allowed to slaughter during certain religious anniversaries. Municipality workers will be killed if they try to collect garbage from certain areas. Private neighbourhood generators are banned in a few areas. And the last I heard is that they are threatening Internet cafés and wireless providers.

As a result, the remaining Iraqi women who haven’t yet covered their heads are now buying veils and more moderate dress. My sister now covers her head when she goes out to college, as do most of my female relatives. Trousers and short skirts have long been abandoned. Guys are now either wearing Bermuda shorts that cover their knees or just plain trousers. Me? I have insisted so far to keep my hairy legs exposed.

Other Iraqi bloggers who have posted about this phenomenon: here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I will try to get hold of one of these fliers, but so far no one has produced any.
And while the fliers may be a rumour, the killings of those who failed to observe the guidelines are not.

The capital is rife with all kinds of morbid rumours. Some examples below:

- An armed group stopped a minibus full of high school female students. 2 girls, who had their hair exposed, had their heads shaven clean as an example for others.

- 4 young men wearing shorts near a local bakery at Mansour were all shot in the legs.

- A young high school student at Ma’moun was shot twice in the head with a notice saying that he was killed for wearing jeans.

- A lady was forced out of her car and stripped naked near the Nida’ mosque in Adhamiya.

Why don’t they just blow up the city and erect tents instead? It would make life much easier. We could go to school or work riding on camels. We could sit at the mosque all day, stroking and scratching our filthy beards and waiving flies away, while our women recline in their harems.

In short, they are trying to take us back to the 7th century, so we can experience the simple life of the prophet and his pious companions. We should abandon everything and anything that was not available at the time of the prophet in order to be true Muslims.

Yet the followers of this simplistic, backwards ideology have no problem with using hi-tech explosives, IEDs, machine guns and RPGs. According to their sick creed, it is not against Islam to detonate a car bomb at a bustling market or to shoot a kid twice in the head because he had gel on his hair. No, that is okay in Islam.

Day to Day in Iraq

I am posting again at the NY Times 'Day to Day in Iraq' blog. Excerpts from my most recent posts below. They're behind the Times Select firewall, and I can't repost them in full until another month has passed.

The Emirate Strikes Back:

Abu Hassan is the generator owner. I had a vague notion of what might have taken place, but I hoped I was wrong. I found myself rushing across to the spot that people were still pointing at. There was a body indeed, lying face down, in a pool of blood, and it was Abu Hassan.

I crouched next to him and tried to check his pulse, but my hands were shaking and I couldn’t feel a thing. His neck was still warm and moist with sweat. Some familiar faces from the area cautiously approached me. “Is he still alive?” they asked. “I don’t know.. I don’t know,” I nervously shot back. “But do something. Take him to the hospital. Now.”

They tried to find a car, but it seemed that no one wanted anything to do with it, or were trying to make excuses. Someone stopped a taxi but the driver said no when he saw the corpse. I was still next to Abu Hassan’s body, trying to make sense of what just happened. Even now, when I try to remember those traumatic moments, I get a hazy picture, as if the whole incident was taking place in a dream, and that I would suddenly wake up and go out to find Abu Hassan in his mechanic’s overall, smiling under his big gray moustache as he pours gas oil into the generator.

When I tried to turn him over so they could carry him into a car, my hands touched his blood soaked shirt. I could now see that he was shot four times in the chest. There was also a bag nearby with a box of peaches, medication and a Pepsi bottle; he was obviously going to take that home to his kids. I stared in his anguished face again, then at my bloody hands. And that was when I momentarily lost it.

Reading Iraqis' 'Horrorscopes':

Gemini: Your parents have been nagging you to lay low and leave the country. Yet you are worried about an imminent death squad attack against your area. Plan your escape route carefully and keep a spare grenade for emergencies.
Attack day: Thursday.
Grenade No.: 5

Leo: A tip from one of your friends wrongfully ends you up in an
occupation detention camp. Learn to distinguish friend from foe. Avoid female American jail wardens, unless you like to explore
the arts of exhibitionism and BDSM.
Arrest day: Friday.
Prison cell No.: 26

Libra: Things are slowing down in your neighborhood. Your fellow watch-team members have nothing to do but smoke and trade mobile ring tones all night. It would probably not be a bad idea to take some time off from your guard duties and pay more attention to your love life.
Lucky day: Monday.
Street No.: 27

Monday, May 08, 2006

Sorry for the unannounced absence. I had some troubles getting online (still have actually) and, now that summer is here, the electricity situation is worse than ever with less than 4 hours of power a day - and only 2 per day for the last 3 days or so. The deteriorating situation in my neighbourhood is always a very convenient excuse for local generator owners to provide less hours of power (but heaven forbid if someone is late on paying their monthly subscription fee).

It hasn't been very pretty in Adhamiya since my last post. The district looks deserted most of the time, with random gunfire here and there. American Apache helicopters circle the area almost non-stop, and residents are whispering to each other about an imminent assault, as part of the American plan to 'liberate' Baghdad again. But to liberate it from whom? Its residents?

I'm on the verge of quitting my job. I haven't been to work for about a month now and I told my boss flat out on the phone that I wouldn't dare make the 20-30 kms trip to work for the time being. I can't even put my nose out of my doorstep for fuck's sake. Sometimes I'm really amazed that the state still continues to function at all.

Here is a nice shot of yesterday's car bomb explosion between the Ibn Al-Haitham college and Saddam's former palace in Adhamiya:

And this is a blurry shot of the Oil ministry fire that broke out about a week ago. Funny that the event did not even register in the news. The fire actually engulfed two floors, the accounts and records floors to be exact. Rumour among Oil ministry employees is that the fire - which went on for over 2 hours - was intentional, apparently to cover up some major corruption scandal. Hardly surprising to hear that. The employees were also told that they should not expect their salaries for some time, since all records were puff, gone.

This is just a quick 'I'm ok' post. I'll try to get back soon with more posts. Have to run and take another shower (5th one for today).