Saturday, September 30, 2006

Curfew in Baghdad Until Sunday (updated)

The Iraqi government declared a curfew in Baghdad Friday affecting both vehicles and pedestrians. The curfew is to run until Sunday morning. The last time the government imposed such a curfew was during the violence that followed the bombing of the Askari shrine in Samarra last February.

Omar reports clashes through the night in several areas of Baghdad.

Earlier at Ghazaliya, west of Baghdad, gunmen murdered the brother-in-law of Judge Mohammed Uraibi Al-Khalifa, the presiding judge on Saddam’s trial, while he was trying to pack his belongings to flee Ghazaliya.

Iranian military communication equipment used by the Mahdi army The Ansar Al-Sunna insurgent group captured a Mahdi army militiaman during a raid by Shia militias against the town of Khan Bani Sa’ad, on the Baghdad-Ba’quba road, northeast of Baghdad. The insurgent group published photos of what they alleged were Iranian military communication equipment, mortars and Katyusha rockets, with the logo of the Iranian Ministry of Defense, used by the militias in the attack. More photos here (link in Arabic).

On Thursday morning, American and Iraqi forces closed down all entrances to the Hurriya district and started a wide house-to-house campaign to search for weapons. Following the bloody sectarian attacks that I mentioned in my last post, the situation at Hurriya almost escalated to all-out war between Sunni and Shi’ite militants in the district after two car bombs exploded near the Hurriya market Wednesday. After the first explosion, Mahdi militiamen dragged two Sunni brothers from the street and shot them in front of Sadr’s local office at Hurriya Al-Uwla. Hours later, the office was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade, sparking violent clashes that lasted about an hour. After the Iftar at sunset, an armed group gunned down 10 Sunni men heading to the Al-Mashahda mosque for the Taraweeh prayers.

At neighbouring Tobchi, a mixed district also known as Hayy Al-Salam, a similar situation is rapidly unfolding. The Washington Post published a profile of the district two days ago, which I strongly recommend. The report - unusually comprehensive for a Western news outlet - details incidents over a full week that turned a tribal dispute into a brutal conflict of sectarian nature, pitting long-time neighbours against each other.

Another Washington Post story on the daily horrors Iraqi citizens are facing at checkpoints of the so-called Iraqi security forces.


The mixed Al-Amin district, east of Baghdad, is also suffering from frequent sectarian attacks by the Mahdi army militia.

The main hideouts of the Mahdi army at Al-Amin district, posted by citizens in the area on an Iraqi message board:

1- The Al-Muhsin hussainiya, controlled by the Al-Shahman clan of the Mayyah tribe, who also run minibus lines between Al-Amin and Baghdad Al-Jedida.
2- The former Ba’ath party headquarters, near Al-Su’ud church.
3- The Muhsin Al-Hakim mosque, near the Amin roundabout. The mosque was raided by American troops and 15 suspects were detained and handed over to the Iraqi police. They were released the next day.
4- The Al-Wa’ili husseiniya at Al-Amin, near the residence of MP Nadim Al-Jabiri, a Fadheela party member. This husseiniya was also raided by American forces weeks ago, but weapons had been smuggled into neighbouring houses before the raid.
5- The Imam Ali husseiniya, near the shelter between the Mu’alimeen and Mashtal districts.

According to Al-Amin residents, Mahdi army militiamen routinely round out Sunnis for interrogation at these 'husseiniyas,' where Shari'a kangaroo courts are set up. One local Mahdi army leader is known as Thamir Al-Mayahhi, and people say he is as brutal as the infamous Abu Dera' of Sadr City, who is wanted by American forces. This satellite image of Al-Amin with locations of the husseiniyas was included in the posts:

Mahdi army hideouts at Al-Amin district
During the day, militiamen guard local fuel stations and sell black market fuel. The Health Ministry has employed a number of those militiamen as security guards at Baghdad’s Medical City. I should remind that the Medical City is where several Sunni patients, medical students, professors and physicians are being kidnapped almost daily and later executed. Baghdad’s Medical City Hospital, Adnan Khairallah Hospital, the Health Ministry, the Medico-legal Institute (Baghdad’s main morgue), and the colleges of medicine and dentistry are all located at the Medical City.

At Hayy Al-Mu'alimeen in Dora, the Al-Kadhimain husseiniya at Abu Dshir, south of Dora is used as a base to launch attacks against residential apartment buildings for Sunni citizens. The husseiniya is controlled by a person named Sheikh Falah Al-Sa’di.

Other districts and suburbs of Baghdad that have witnessed sectarian attacks over the last few days: the Fadhl and Kifah neighbourhoods in central Baghdad; Al-Amil district south of Baghdad, near the Baghdad airport highway; the Intisar village near Rashidiya, north of Baghdad; the Fahhama and Gmeira suburbs, north of Baghdad; Jisr Diyala, east of Baghdad; Madain, southeast of Baghdad; and Khan Bani Sa'ad.
Baghdad under curfew
The American military seems to have a good idea on the militias behind the mass sectarian murders in the Baghdad area over the last few months. But since those militas have strong ties to several officials and lawmakers in the current Iraqi government, as high up to Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, and have thouroughly infiltrated security forces, I can't see how these militas can be confronted without alienating a large number of Iraqi officials that the U.S. is counting on, as well as the security forces they have trained to assume control of the country.

I'll post updates as they come in.

UPDATE: The Iraqi governmental Al-Iraqiya channel is strangely off the air. It's almost 10 a.m. in Baghdad now.

Relatives of mine at the Adil district, west of Baghdad, reported that an American force raided MP Adnan Al-Dulaimi's heavily guarded compound last night. They had a list of names and detained one of Dulaimi's bodyguards. They also used dogs to search the compound but did not enter Dulaimi's residence. The curfew was declared after this raid but I'm not sure if there is any relation.

UPDATE:The Buratha News Agency, a Shi’ite news organisation sponsored by SCIRI, just reported that a large number of American armored vehicles have entered the vicinity of sectors 47 and 48 of Sadr City. Their correspondent added that helicopters are circling the area and that flares can be seen burning in the night’s sky with sporadic gunfire.

The Baghdad rumour mill is in full-throttle today. Many Baghdadis are convinced that there was a coup planned in Baghdad and that the curfew was declared to clamp down any attempts by insurgents to topple the Iraqi government. Some have tied that with the detention of one of the bodyguards of MP Adnan Al-Dulaimi, head of the Sunni Accord front in parliament. An Iraqi army spokesman dismissed the rumours as creations of ‘Takfiris’, adding that the curfew had nothing to do with the arrest or a coup attempt, but was in response to intelligence information on wide scale attacks planned in Baghdad to relieve the pressure on terrorist groups in Anbar and Diyala.

Meanwhile, an insurgent website announced that leaders from several clans of the Dulaim tribe met today in Ramadi at an Iftar banquet held at the residence of a tribal leader from the Mahamda clan, known for its strong support for the insurgency. The tribal chiefs decided to excommunicate and ‘shed the blood’ of tribal leaders who had pledged to fight Al-Qaeda fighters in Anbar during meetings with PM Nuri Al-Maliki and American military commanders at Baghdad.

The tribal leaders are: Sheikh Sattar Bizai’ Al-Fitaikhan, leader of the Al-Bu Risha clan; Sheikh Hameed Farhan, of the Al-Bu Dhiyab clan; Sheikh Amer Ali Al-Salman, of the Al-Bu Assaf clan; and Sheikh Khalaf Al-Tarmouz, of the Al-Bu Ghanim clan. All are influential leaders of the Dulaim tribe.

An ultimatum was sent to their family members to disavow them within three days. Their clan members will meet to elect new leaders at a forthcoming meeting in an undisclosed location at Ramadi.

Sheikh Sattar Bizai’ Al-Fitaikhan had announced Friday that his clansmen had captured five Al-Qaeda members, three of whom were Yemeni, between Ramadi and Hit in the Anbar governorate. The 1st and 7th divisions of the Iraqi army backed by American troops are still stationed near entry points to Ramadi.

The battle for the neighbourhoods of Baghdad is raging on. Most of the fighting in Baghdad last night was near the entrance to the Sulaikh district, north of Baghdad. Sulaikh, a mixed district but leaning towards a Sunni majority, is entrenched behind the Army Canal, which separates it from the Shi’ite majority districts of Sha’ab, Ur and Binouk. About 20 mortar rounds were fired at Sulaikh during the day, killing 5 people and injuring 25 others. Police forces taunted residents with loudspeakers from the direction of the bridge on the canal, calling them ‘Nawasib,’ ‘Wahhabis,’ ‘dogs, sons of dogs,’ and ‘enemies of the prophet’s household,’ and that they were ‘coming soon to kill the Nawasib and rape their women.’ A firefight followed and lasted well until midnight when American helicopters fired flares above the canal intersection.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Meanwhile in Baghdad

In a very disturbing development at the Hurriya district, west of Baghdad, two women from the Sunni Al-Bu Khalifa clan were kidnapped from their residence by an armed group last Thursday. They were found dead later and their corpses are still at the Medico-legal Institute of Baghdad.

Residents of Hurriya have mentioned on several Iraqi websites that the two women, Hadiya Ibrahim Abd and her daughter, Karima Dawud Mutlag, attempted to resist the attackers but the house was broken into and the women were taken away. Some Sunnis in Hurriya claim that the attackers were members of the Mahdi Army, adding they were accompanied by several unmarked vehicles belonging to the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

It should be noted that the Hurriya district has been plagued by dozens of violent sectarian incidents over the last few weeks, with many Sunni families asserting that they are the victims of an ongoing campaign of assassinations and kidnappings by armed groups associated with the Office of the Martyr Al-Sadr (which maintains four branches in the Hurriya district), and that local police forces are heavily involved in many of these incidents.

An inside source at the Hurriya police station stated that sympathetic policemen would notify the local Sadr offices during unannounced visits by American forces so that they would have time to hide their weapons and any hostages held at the offices. He added that Sadr’s offices routinely collect information on Sunni families residing at Hurriya.

Hurriya is a Shia majority district of western Baghdad, located between Kadhimiya and Shu’la. Its population is mostly Shia but the first and third sections of the district (Hurriya Al-Uwla and Hurriya Al-Thaltha) contain sizeable Sunni communities, most of which hail from the Anbar governorate, west of Iraq. There have been countless tit-for-tat assassinations going on in the district and surrounding areas since the Samarra shrine bombing last February. Several husseiniyas and mosques have been attacked and there were a couple of suicide attacks over the last few months. A large number of Sunni families have been forced to leave the district.

The two victims were from the Al-Bu Khalifa clan, part of the powerful Dulaim tribe in western Iraq. Several members of the clan were kidnapped and assassinated in the vicinity of Hurriya. The two women were the widow and daughter of Dawud Mutlag Al-Dulaimi, who was assassinated earlier this year among several other relatives. The Al-Bu Khalifa clan, like most clans of the Dulaim, strongly supports the insurgency.

Not surprisingly, the Dulaim tribe has refused to reclaim the corpses from the Baghdad morgue until they have taken vengeance. Killing women is considered a major crime in tribal code. Friday sermons at Ramadi have mentioned the murders of the two women and have called on “the resistance to swiftly respond to this crime and to put an end to the criminal activities of these militias, at a time when the state is powerless to protect its citizens.” They specifically appealed to the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the Islamic Army and the Mujahideen Army to take revenge for this “crime against the honour of Iraqi women.”

You can bet that the response will be in the form of more suicide attacks, like today’s bombing at Sadr City, and random assassinations of Shi’ite civilians in western Baghdad, since it’s virtually impossible to identify the killers.

Meanwhile, Muqtada’s influence on the ragtag army he created is waning, the same as his grip on reality. Yesterday, at the Kufa mosque, he was babbling that the Pentagon has a large file on Imam Al-Mahdi, complete save for mug shots of the 9th century Hidden Imam. “America has been preparing rapid intervention forces against the awaited Imam Al-Mahdi for the last ten years,” he told his audience. “They incited the Gulf War to fill the region with warships for just that purpose.”

UPDATE: The reprisals and counter-reprisals were sooner than I imagined. A Sunni insurgent group claimed responsibility for the bombing in Sadr City that targeted civilians stocking up fuel in preparation for Ramadhan, adding that it was to avenge the Sunnis that were killed in Hurriya, Thursday.

In return, nine Sunnis were arrested at a wedding feast in eastern Baghdad by gunmen in uniform. They were all found later executed. All nine men were members of the Dulaim.


Another alarming trend that continues is the kidnappings and assassinations of top Iraqi surgeons and physicians. Seven of Iraq’s finest specialists were found killed over the last two months, according to Iraqi health sources.

ENT surgeon at the Medical City Hospital in Baghdad, Dr. Mudhar Al-Ani, was kidnapped from his residence by an armed group in Interior Ministry forces uniform. He was found unconscious at a waste disposal location and survived.

Dr. Shukur Arsalan, a respected Maxillofacial surgeon from a Shi’ite Turkmen family in Kirkuk, and professor at the Medicine College of Baghdad University, was not so lucky. He was assassinated while leaving his clinic at Harthiya by unknown gunmen.

Dr. Adil Al-Mansouri, also a professor of Maxillofacial surgery at Baghdad University, was kidnapped by gunmen in uniform near the Ibn Al-Nafis Hospital in Baghdad. His mutilated corpse was found at the outskirts of Sadr City.

Oncoplastic surgeon, Dr. Ahmed Abdul Qadir Al-Rifa’I was kidnapped from his clinic, and the police discovered his corpse at the Al-Sadda, north of Sadr City.

Neurologist Dr. Lu’ay Mas’ud, also kidnapped weeks ago by men in uniform, was found killed in the same area.

Dr. Uday Al-Beiruti, ENT specialist and professor at Al-Nahrain University, was kidnapped from the garage of the University’s hospital at Kadhimiya by gunmen in Interior Ministry uniform. His battered corpse turned up behind Al-Sadda, north of Sadr City.

Internal Medicine specialist, Dr. Tawfiq Al-Khishali, was kidnapped from his clinic and his corpse was located at western Baghdad.

Five of the assassinated doctors were Sunni and two were Shia.

A large part of the corpses that are surfacing in Baghdad these days have been recovered from the area known as Al-Sadda (the levee), which separates districts northeast of Baghdad (Sha’ab, Ur, Sadr City, Ubaidi) from the vast waste disposal area. People in the area speak of dozens of tattered corpses amid piles of rubbish and fetid swamps, and they recount harrowing tales of gunmen, often described as Mahdi militiamen, dumping new corpses every night.


I just received word from friends back in Baghdad that two people on our street were assassinated yesterday. They were about my age and I knew them very well. Also, two Internet café owners were killed. One of them was my wireless internet provider until he was threatened by gunmen, who were collecting donations for ‘the resistance,’ and had to close down his café. The other guy I also knew closely because I used to frequent his café to post updates for this blog during 2003 and 2004.

As expected, things have deteriorated again in my neighbourhood despite a brief lull when American and Iraqi army forces closed down the area for a week to search for weapons. Not a day goes by now without someone I know getting killed. I feel tormented because my family is going back home from Jordan in a week or so. I fear the worst, and over the last few days I’ve been suffering tremendous guilt because I’m here and not there with them. They tell me that there’s nothing I can change anyway, but still. It’s starting to get in the way and I’m almost always distracted and thinking about this.

I had a bad dream last night. I was issued some sort of an ID card by the Health Ministry (I actually did have such a card when I was back in Iraq but I lost it somewhere), and I was showing it to my family. My father was not happy with it and said that there was no way I’m going out anywhere with that card. There was nothing wrong with it, except that it had my tribal surname. I was arguing with them that it was much more neutral than my national ID card because that one had the name of my district and anyone could get killed just for that.

I woke up in tears and realised that I had that dream because my brother, Nabil, had our home address on his student ID. Over two weeks ago, in Amman, I was yelling and strongly urging him to remove that detail if he is to go back. I don’t know what I would do if anything happened to my younger brother. The nightmares are still haunting me.

Friday, September 15, 2006

New York

First night at New York I finally made it to New York. Arriving last week at JFK, the 13-hour trip was uneventful: leaving a sunny Amman at 10:30 am, sleeping through most of the flight, waking up and asked by a flight attendant to fill out a couple of forms for “non-citizens” (my first taste of the ton of paperwork that was to follow later) and arriving at a rainy and chilly New York at 4 pm.

When it was my turn to pass through customs, the indifferent immigration officer took one look at my passport, quickly flipped through its pages and uneasily asked, “Where are you from, Sir?”

I had the sense that he was not quite sure what to do with me when I told him I was Iraqi. He looked around for a while then he slipped my passport into a file and asked me to follow him to another room.

“This won’t take long, Sir,” he reassured me.

Indeed, it did not. I left JFK five hours later.

I was ushered into a back room where dozens of South Asian, Indian, Pakistani and Arab visitors were waiting. They were discussing the case of a Pakistani fellow who refused to get back on a flight, opting instead to go to a hospital because he was not feeling well. They informed him, through an interpreter, that he would still be detained after seeing a doctor, unless he agrees to go back on that flight. He stubbornly refused again.

I started to feel uneasy being held in such company. 30 minutes later, it was my turn. I was asked whether this was my first time to the U.S., then I was handed another form to fill out. My passport and documents were put into another file and I was told to go to another booth and wait for my name to be called.

Another 3 hours passed and my name was called. An aggressive female customs officer was incensed because I didn’t have a form that I was supposed to fill (not my fault). So I was given the form and had to wait for another hour or so.

I had not smoked for 17 hours now, and my lungs were crying from withdrawal. I ventured into a restroom and ran into Bob, a senior customs officer, who was very sympathetic to my plight and immediately offered me a lighter and told me to smoke inside a toilet stall, as long as I didn’t tell anyone about it! Bob and I shared three more smokes by the time my name was called again. He badmouthed the abovementioned female officer and offered to expedite the screening process (there were only two officers processing about thirty people, with each interview taking about twenty minutes.) Bob kept muttering that this “isn’t the way it should be done.”

Anyway, to my disappointment, the interview consisted of entering basic information -most of which I had already submitted to CUNY months ago, and the U.S. embassy recently- into a computer by the same indifferent immigration officer. Unlike Jordanian immigration officers, he did not ask about my sectarian or tribal background. It took a while, so he casually asked if things in Iraq were getting better or worse, and we had a short chitchat while he entered the endless stream of information into his database. Strangely enough, the computer kept freezing and he had to restart several times.

“That’s it?” I asked with disbelief when I was finally handed my passport and documents. Even though I expected the screening in advance and was fully cooperative, I was just so frustrated that I was held for five hours just to give information that they should already know by now. Jeff and Steve Shepard, the school’s dean, had agreed to greet me at the airport and I was so embarrassed that they had to leave after waiting four hours without even knowing whether I had made it or not.

I felt so lost when I stepped outside JFK and I had absolutely no idea where to go first. There was an endless queue for the yellow taxis so I ventured further and got in with the first guy who offered a ride. I was warned beforehand not to take an unauthorized cab, but I told myself that it couldn’t be worse than a taxi ride in Baghdad. Fortunately, I had a friend’s address so that’s where I headed.

I checked in at school the next day and was greeted with a ton of paperwork to fill out. Everyone there was very concerned and relieved that I had finally made it, and I was sincerely touched by how kind and hospitable they all were.

Now that I’m a week late for school I really have to plunge right into assignments and homework. It’s difficult to catch up, especially when the last time I was at school was over four years ago, and at this stage I’m seriously worried that I won’t be able to live up to it.

One problem is that the school’s programme is very orientated toward local issues, most of which I have no clue about, and that the assignments I am to cover appear so mundane to me. For example, I was assigned to cover a neighbourhood in Brooklyn called Cobble Hill. I went there and circled the place for hours just wondering what kind of story could possibly be written about it. I was interested to learn that there was a small Arab community living there, but they were extremely distrustful and suspicious when I tried to ask about their issues.

Anyway, there will be more about that later. For now, I’d like to thank everyone for the generous support and encouragement over the last few months. I acknowledge that I would not have made it here to school in NY without it.

My first impression about America? It’s not at all what it appears like through Hollywood (well, perhaps just a little bit!).

Monday, September 04, 2006

Gunman Shoots Tourists in Amman

A lone Jordanian gunman opened fire against tourists near the Roman amphitheatre at downtown Amman. He managed to kill a British tourist and wound six others, before Iraqi exiles and Jordanian Tourist Policemen captured him.

Again, Al-Jazeera's first newsflash on the incident announced that Iraqis were behind the attack. It's almost as if it's a case of wishful thinking on the part of
Al-Jazeera. However, it turned out the gunman was a Jordanian of Palestinian origin from the town of Al-Rusayfa, near Al-Zarqa (the hometown of slain Zarqawi). He reportedly shouted Allahu Akbar before opening fire.

More on the incident from the Jordanian blogosphere.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Preeminent Egyptian Novelist Naguib Mahfouz Dies

Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz (Najeeb Mahfoudh), arguably the Arab world’s greatest novelist, and the only Arab to be awarded a Nobel prize in literature, at 1988, died yesterday at a hospital in Cairo. He was 94.

Mahfouz was a distinguished, prolific writer, a humanist, a free thinker, and a unique example of the rare breed of Arab intellectuals managing to break free of the constraints of Arab society to preach a universal message of tolerance.

It is no wonder that Islamists condemned him for this very reason. In 1994, he was stabbed in the neck by extremists while he was taking his daily walk to a favourite café in Cairo. He survived the assault but lived under constant protection by the authorities ever since.

In addition to the hostility he faced from the religious establishment, he was also criticized by so-called intellectuals in the Arab world for his moderate stance toward Israel and his outspoken support for President Anwar Al-Sadat and the Camp David peace accords. Before that, he was branded a reactionary because of his well-hidden disapproval of the destructive policies of President Gamal Abdul Nasser and the coup that brought him to power in 1952. Many of his novels were banned in Arab countries.

Mahfouz is most celebrated for his epic work, The Cairo Trilogy, a novel in three volumes (Bain Al-Qasrain, Qasr Al-Shawq, Al-Sukkariya) published in 1955, which follows the fortunes of a middle-class Egyptian family through three generations during British colonial rule, independence under the monarchy and the coup that brought Arab nationalists to power. The last installment was significant because it depicted the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt around WWII and the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) movement, which later produced people like Sayyid Qutb and Ayman Al-Zawahiri. The trilogy shares many similarities with The Brothers Karamazov (not surprising since Fiodor Dostoevsky was a huge influence on the Egyptian novelist), both in its underlying philosophical questions, and its portrayal of the author’s own struggle with spiritual and social issues.

His stellar novel, Children of Gebelaawi (Awlad Haritna), also known as Children of Our Alley, first published in a serialised version in the Egyptian Al-Ahram newspaper in 1959, brought him unwanted attention from Islamists. It was banned in Egypt on the request of Al-Azhar University because of its allegorical portrayal of God and the lives of the prophets Adam, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.

Children of Gebalaawi is divided into five episodes. The first four represent the stories of Adam (Adham), Moses (Gebel), Jesus (Rifa’a), and Mohammed (Qasim), while the last embodies modern man, or science (in the character of Arafa), on a quest to reinstate the rights of the poor and the oppressed inhabitants of the alley, also killing the enigmatic Gebelaawi (God) in the way.

Al-Azhar University, and later the fundamentalist Jihad group, condemned the work as blasphemous, since it depicted the Islamic prophet Mohammed as a womaniser, and an alcohol-drinking, hashish-smoking ruffian; the death of God (in the character of Gebelaawi); and the alleged ridicule of the Quran because the novel had 114 chapters (which, incidentally, is the number of suras or chapters in the Quran).

During the furor in the Islamic world following the publishing of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, and the subsequent fatwa for apostasy, blind Egyptian cleric Omar Abdul Rahman stated that if Mahfouz was punished for his novel, Rushdie would not have dared write his. It didn’t help that Mahfouz publicly defended Rushdie’s right to publish his novel.

Naguib Mahfouz maintained that Children of Gebalaawi was a religious work that represented man’s search for spiritual values, and that he actually portrayed skewed ideas that man have made of God and religion.

Mahfouz was buried at Al-Hussein mosque near his birthplace in Cairo, according to his will. His funeral was attended by a few friends and relatives and a score of Egyptian officials, but the people of Cairo who made the characters of Mahfouz's novels were absent.

It is regrettable that funerals of great men, such as Mahfouz, in our Arab world are not attended by the Arab masses that were the main body of their work. Our people prefer to march in thousands at the funerals of their oppressors and dictators.

Big Pharaoh and Sandmonkey on Mahfouz.

NAguib Mahfouz. August, 2006

From the Lebanese Scene to the Iraqi Scene

The following is an op-ed that appeared in the Jordanian Al-Rai newspaper last Friday, by columnist Khalid Mahadin and which serves as a classic example of Arab state-controlled media reinforcing and catering to the self-delusion of the Arab masses. Al-Rai newspaper is partially owned by the government. It is published by the Jordanian Press Foundation, but it often strays far from the official stand of the Jordanian government as this op-ed demonstrates.

Read for yourself [my translation and emphasis].

From the Lebanese Scene to the Iraqi Scene

Khalid Mahadin

As much satisfaction and relief that one can feel over the present and the future of Lebanon, by following how the Lebanese were able to abort yet another chapter of conspiracy against their national unity, as a principal goal of the Zionist aggression, one also wishes that such unity and concern would lead the way in brotherly Iraq in its quest to liberate that nation from occupiers and to expel the invaders who continue to wreak havoc, murder and destruction.

In the face of the Zionist enemy, the Sunnis and Shia of Lebanon stood together, under the banner of national affiliation, in the trenches of confrontation and resistance. They were able to withstand thirty-three days in the face of the Zionist war machine and the American war arsenal – wide open to supply this machine with all the necessary needs of murder and destruction. And when [U.N.] Resolution 1701 came out to save the Zionist entity from further fragmentation and political, military and psychological collapse, the Lebanese people – Sunni and Shia – had started a large-scale operation to rebuild what the bombing and the aggression had destroyed. The world stood in awe to witness the experience of a people that did not waste a minute in waiting for the reconstruction, whether in Beirut or in any Lebanese town or village targeted by the planned destruction from the enemy’s land, aerial and naval weaponry. We followed the continuous meetings between Sunni and Shia leaders and their joint participation in touring the scenes of aggression, and in speaking in one language, stressing that a strike on their national unity is not as easy as the Zionist enemy and its allies wagered.

This Lebanese scene prompts us to ask: Why does it not create an incentive for the brothers in Iraq to stand in one trench, on one frontline in the face of the American and British occupation of their country? For it is this unity, which the occupation works to undermine, that is needed by Iraqis to put an end to the brutal infighting that is reaping lives, robbing tranquility and sowing hatred more than ever.

Any gamble on sectarianism in Iraq winning its war against the common enemy of all Iraqis is what has caused the daily tragedies perpetrated by the enemies of Iraq’s Arab and Islamic identity. It has made it more difficult to count the many parties scheming against the unity of Iraq, as a country and a people. Some of these parties are from the inside and some the extension of foreign powers and some are under the sponsorship of the occupation. All so that Iraq does not catch its breath and enter the confrontation against this occupation to drive it out and liberate the nation from its crimes and consequences.

The Iraqi scene, when compared to the Lebanese scene, is distressing. And if all the interests of the Lebanese people have been confirmed and consolidated by the unity of the Lebanese, Sunni and Shia, Muslims and Christians, the scene is the exact opposite in the wounded Iraq. Unless Iraqis realise that Islam is one and that the multiplicity of sects and ethnicities is a source of strength, not of weakness and division, the Iraqi scene will remain prey to sectarian and ethnic hatred, prolonging the occupation and offering it all the reasons to remain, to destroy Iraq and isolate it from its ummah and plunder its wealth, as a fierce enemy of all its sects and ethnicities and its ambitions and aspirations to return to its ummah, and to achieve for it a victory against its enemies in the size of the Lebanese victory or greater.

The writer insistently depicts a sense of national unity and consensus in Lebanon among the different political groups and factions in regard to the last war that is really hard to discern on the ground, whether from the statements of Lebanese officials or from the reactions of the Lebanese press (which enjoys a long history of being far more free and liberal than the press in most Arab countries) or even from Lebanese citizens. The writer chooses instead to parrot Nasrallah by declaring grand victories for Lebanon and the ‘ummah’ against its enemies (namely the ‘Zionist entity’ and the US, as its backer.)

Note that the columnist is careful not to overstep his boundaries by decrying the stand of certain Arab governments that chose to remain neutral during the conflict (Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to name a few), or by mentioning Syria or Iran. Instead, he shifts the view to Iraq - a subject that the Jordanian population feels strongly about - and laments the fact that the Iraqis are now at each other’s throats, instead of uniting under the Islamic banner (or the pan-Arab – the writer seems to have a difficulty deciding which) and turning their attention to the ‘common enemy’.

It is amusing to note that Al-Rai boasted last year that it was planning to start a 'reform' section in their newspaper to "achieve a clarity of vision against the various forms of extremism and bigotry and takfir, and to raise the flag of enlightenment in the Arab world, allowing reason to be the judge and reference.., and to make moderation the prevailing feature in thought, politics and society."

The Arab media is in such a sad state these days.

Belligerent Taxi Drivers in Jordan

Longtime readers know that I’m quite fascinated with taxi drivers. A couple of days ago I was in a taxi on my way to the U.S. embassy in Amman. What follows are tidbits from the conversation that went between the taxi driver and myself.

Taxi driver: What business might you have at the American embassy? I swear that I would never ever want to set foot in that country. In fact, a former American consul once offered my whole family citizenship. I have no need for it.

Me: Really? How come?

He then recounted an implausible story about the American consul renting or vacationing in a property that belongs to his family, and how he was so grateful for their services in the end that he offered green cards for the whole family, or something to that effect.

T: Now, two of my sons own businesses in America. We’re planning to visit them in about four months. They always speak of Niagara Falls. I really want to see those Niagara Falls. I want to see what the fuss is about. Do you know what they say about them? I heard that the water falls in a shape that resembles an arc. Allah be praised.

Z: So you are planning to go, after all.

T (ignoring the remark): It’s ridiculous the way they treat us at their embassy here. So many questions and so many investigations. They think we’re all Osama bin Ladens. No, my friend, we’re not like that at all.

Z: …

T (changing tone and peering at me strangely): You’re Iraqi?

Z: Yep.

T (complimenting me): ’Ala rasi.

[Long pause.]

T: So from which of the Iraqi governorates are you from?

Z (fully realising the intent of the question): Baghdad.

T: Baghdad. Oh, Baghdad. The capital of Al-Rashid.

[Another pause.]

T (peering at me again and predictably asking): Are you a follower of the Imamiya?

Z: No, I’m not.

T (with evident relief and a trace of a smile): So you’re Sunni? You’re not Shi’ite?

Z: Yes, you can say so.

The man looked happy now. He started bashing the Shia and their beliefs, lecturing me on how the Shia detest the companions (Sahaba) of the prophet, on how they loathed A’isha, one of the prophet’s wives (the one he married when she was just 9), and on how evil they all are.

T: So do they openly disparage the prophet’s companions in their mosques? Do they condemn Omar through loudspeakers?

Z: No, they don’t. It’s only in their literature.

T: I see. And how is it in Baghdad these days?

Z: Not very pretty, as you can see from the news.

T: I guess it isn’t. If only the lion Saddam was free. He would crush those ragtag militias in a few hours. Heh. We’ll watch how that wannabe Nuri Al-Maliki would flee for his life, that son of a bitch.

Z: …

I usually try not to get into an argument with such people. It would be counter-productive. Most of the time, I try to get them comfortable enough to reveal more of their opinions, unless I’m dead bored and I just sit back and listen to their monologues.

T: You know, when Saddam’s daughters sought refuge in Jordan, his majesty the king offered them one of his palaces and 50 million Dinars [about $70 million]. I think two of them are still here, while the third is in Qatar.

Z (nodding): …

T: One of my relatives used to work as a truck driver between Jordan and Iraq. He was once near the Iraqi Central Bank in Baghdad, and there was an enormous explosion that targeted an American patrol there. You know what the media reported? They said that 20 Iraqis were killed and dozens injured. But I swear that 45 American soldiers were killed in that explosion. This is always the case. The Mujahideen never miss their target. Do you see their videos on Al-Jazeera? They never miss.

It’s a common belief among Arabs who are sympathetic to the insurgency in Iraq that the media does not report real numbers of American casualties, or that American soldiers who are not yet naturalised U.S. citizens are not counted among them. This was most evident in the case of the Jordanian family at Al-Salt, which celebrated the martyrdom of their son in Iraq. It was reported that he detonated himself near a police station in Hilla, where dozens of Iraqis were lining up as volunteers to join the police. The blast also killed and wounded civilians at a crowded market nearby. When the martyrdom celebration caused a diplomatic crisis with the Iraqi government and embarrassed Jordan, the terrorist’s family stated that they were informed that their son had actually killed dozens of American soldiers, not Iraqi civilians.