Thursday, October 30, 2003
I had mentioned in the last entry that he was Syrian. Well, it appeared after questioning him that he is a 22 year old Yemeni who had entered Iraq legally by his Syrian passport two days ago. An Iraqi doctor described him as dressed elegantly and said that the bomber refused to talk at first and alleged that he was mute. He was apparently baffled by the good treatment he had recieved from the Iraqi doctors. Have to say I'm baffled as well.
The IP said that on the attempted attack there were two other passengers with him in the car who fled when they started shooting. Nothing else is known about them. The Yemeni was handed over to coalition investigators.
The attack on Al-Khadhraa' police station was also carried out by an ambulance. The ministry of Health has denied that any of its ambulances were stolen. I wonder where they got them. A policeman from that station was talking about a threat letter they received a week ago signed by a Sheikh Abdullah, the leader of an Assad Allah group (haven't heard of that one). It goes like this: "Repent fast and fight in the name of Allah. Jihad is a duty of every Iraqi citizen today. Do not follow the ignorants who refuse to call for Jihad against the infidels. Whoever kills you instead of the Americans is not to blame. Blame only yourselves. You have entered an alliance with the Americans to kill your Mujahedeen brethren instead of supporting them and fighting the infidels along with them". That together with a bunch of Quran verses that warn believers not to side with their enemies. Typical stuff.
Another incident my Aunt told us about yesterday which I didn't hear about in the news yet. She was at the Iraqi Central Bank in the morning when suddenly all hell broke loose. Police sirens, IP, FPS, and American MP all over the place. They had captured six suicide bombers who turned out to be Morrocans with explosive waist belts trying to enter the bank. Since that area (Al-Rashid street) is closed to traffic, they couldn't use cars to bomb it. I hope they can get some important information out of those desperate bastards. Oh, and don't go asking me for news sources to back this up, if my aunt didn't see that with her own eyes, I wouldn't have written about it.
Coming to think of it now, I realize that the army didn't actually defend Saddam. The heaviest resistance during the war was carried out by Fedayeen, and party members. The bulk of the army simply vanished. This was a good sign. They should have been rewarded for that action not put out of work. We need them now. Just like the IP shattered their previous image under Saddam and turned out to be effective and has been a great help to the coalition, the same would apply to the army. After all the coalition forces can't control the whole of Iraq. The army can speak the local language, can recognize foreigners, knows the country, and there wouldn't be any cultural sensitivities involved.
Part of the Iraqi army could secure our borders, another part could be stationed in the Sunni triangle. Or more practically in joint operations with coalition forces. The current progress in recruiting and training new army members is very slow. I suggest keeping the younger army officers and hand them the job of reappointing former Iraqi soldiers under direct supervision of the coalition. After all they are trained efficiently and would only require about a two week rehabilitation training on modern military techniques. And they would be ready to patrol the borders. The Iraqi Civil Defense army would be installed in checkpoints around major cities and on major highways together with a few coalition elements. And the IP can concentrate on their real job fighting crime. FPS guards key positions and facilities inside the cities. And a large number of coalition forces can pull out of Iraq to reduce the costs. Sounds sensible doesn't it? Or maybe I'm becoming too much of a wishful thinker.
I have yet to see any Iraqi against this. I guess only the Kurds would object to this step. But they aren't experiencing the security problems we are. Its not true that the army was loyal to Saddam. They just carried out direct orders from their superiors. They were rarely used to opress the Iraqi people, and in 91 they were as much a victim from the elite Republican Guard as other Iraqis during the rebellion after the Gulf war. Iraqis do not hate their army as some sources are suggesting. I have heard many military people describe the chemical attacks on the Kurds in Halabja as a dirty trick by the regime. The army was told that they were attacking Iranian forces who infiltrated the area. They had no idea that they were using chemicals against their own people.
Bring back our Army!
To people posting comments. Close the comments window after you post, then open a new one, you can refresh the new one as much as you like until you post another comment. Please do this to avoid resubmitting your comment multiple times.
To fellow Iraqis reading my blog, please participate in the comments section as much as you can and contact me by email as well. I need your voices on the blog.
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
I didn't make up the story. And I would never put propaganda on this blog. You can check it out for yourself on their October 25 edition (if you can read Arabic).
Having said that I must reiterate that I am not a journalist. I'm merely trying to give you an idea on how the average Iraqi think about such events, or what kind of stories are circulated on the streets. And since I hear about these incidents from colleagues at work and people in my neighbourhood I may err sometimes. I don't claim that what I write is the ultimate truth. You should investigate for yourself, follow the news, look at other Iraqi blogs, and then decide for yourself.
Second, some people in the comments section pointed out a blog http://riverSbendblog.blogspot.com, which seems to have been around for a while. I only heard about it yesterday. I am not affiliated with it at all. It looks like an Iraqi or someone from the CPA writing his own perspective on current events. Interesting to read I would say if the author didn't post under Riverbend's name.
And while we are discussing Riverbend I wish that readers wouldn't email me any insulting and inappropriate remarks about her. I won't reply to any of these. I don't want to blindly defend her since I'm sure she wouldn't do the same. Her writing had a huge influence on me. I emailed her before I started this blog commending her effort and asking for her advice and she ignored me. Someone recently forwarded me an email from her in which she expresses her doubts about my Iraqi identity. I was sad to hear it but fine with me.
Nevertheless she has her viewpoint and it shouldn't be disregarded just because it doesn't conform yours. Her anti-american or anti-war tone doesn't make it less important. She is the only Iraqi woman writing a weblog at the moment. I don't know anything about Ishtar or where she is right now, I just hope she is safe and will return to blogging. There was another Iraqi woman Zainab who started a blog at realwomenonline.com a while ago but stopped after people mercilessly attacked her. I'll be trying to get more women to blog from Iraq. But in the meantime you have to read all the Iraqi weblogs you can find to get the whole picture. Remember differing views are normal and not a bad thing. No two Iraqis think the same, but everyone wants a safer, stable, prosperous and democratic Iraq I'm sure.
Third, regarding my links to the ADL or the MEMRI. If you don't like them, don't link to them. I'm getting bored of emails bitching about them. I do not necessarily agree with everything on these sites, but nonetheless they are good sources of information on middle eastern and Arabic media. My linking to them doesn't mean I'm: anti-arab, anti-islam, Mossad agent, CIA psyop, Israeli reporter, Bushie, Zionist conspirator, American conservative,...etc. Whatever. People are reading TOO much in between the lines. Enough of that.
Four, when I started this blog I didn't plan to be anonymous. I have posted a profile of myself as a seperate page to give some background. Note that I am not doing this in order to 'prove' anything to anyone. Just to put an end to the endless questions so we can move on to other important matters.
Five, I don't claim my views or opinions to represent all Iraqis. Iraqis are an extremely diverse people on almost every issue. I can however safely assume that educated Iraqis agree with me on many many things.
Six, about the comments section. I will be asking a trustworthy friend to handle it. Just to filter the spammers and trolls. I'll make sure that he doesn't delete any post however negative it is. The comments will remain open for all and unmoderated. In return for this I only ask posters to try to stay on topic and to follow the most basic rules of civil discourse.
I have been noticing some wonderful and very active posters. Now I'm starting to recognize them by their names and know a bit about each one's opinions. Please continue this. I can't say I can respond to the comments all the time. Since I only get about an hour online every day. So I have to copy and paste the comments on a word file and read them all at home. Also I would like to take this chance to ask Wafa, Omeed, Muthana, Hadi, b d, zumzum45, and Ghaydaa (My Iraqi readers and friends) to post more often, and to try to respond to any questions other people may post in the comments section. I would greatly appreciate that.
Seven, I do try hard to reply to most of the emails I get, but its becoming impossible. Please understand this. Healing Iraq is occupying a significant amount of my life day by day. My family and friends here are complaining. Usually I'm an extremely lazy person 'tanbal'. I am trying not to exhaust myself. At the same time I wouldn't even dream of leaving it. It has become a very addicting habit. And I don't regret that at all.
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Videogames are a huge part of our society. Almost everyone I know, regardless of their socioeconomic status, either owns a console or has regular access to one. Almost every neighbourhood in Baghdad has what you might call a 'videogame cafe' with several consoles where people can play for about a dollar an hour. You could also rent a console for the night and return it in the morning. This is very common. Friends have slumber parties during holidays or weekends, they rent a console with several games and spend the night playing. Iraqis are hardcore gamers. You would find people from 5 to 50 years old at these cafes.
The most popular console in Iraq is the Sony Playstation. Dreamcast and the PS2 also have their devoted fans. The Xbox and Gamecube aren't very popular here. We have a special gamers disctrict at Bab Al-Sharji at the heart of the city where you can find hundreds of videogame vendors. Of course all the games we get are copies and we rarely find originals. There are (thankfully!) no such things as copyrights in Iraq. Which means you are able to buy a PS game for half a dollar. These games reach us the moment they are released in neighbouring countries. Football games are favorites. Winning Eleven(Konami) is a classic in Iraq. First Person Shooters and Adventure games are also highly respected.
Another thing you would find in every neighbourhood is LAN cafes. About 10-20 computers are linked together and gamers play for hours. Sometimes in major streets in Baghdad there are many LAN cafes linked together which make a great source of fun for LAN gamers. Games played on LAN are: Red Alert, Empire Earth, Counter Strike, Unreal Tournament, Medal Of Honour, Fifa,..etc. Friends also meet regularly at someones house bringing their computers throwing in LAN parties. My brother and I have linked our computers and we play Unreal Tournament most of the time.
I remember owning an Atari when I was 4 or 5 back in UK. A little older I got an Acorn Electron, then a Sinclair. In Iraq I had an XT 8086 PC. At that time I had discovered Sierra Adventure games. I spent several hours a day playing games like King Quest, Police Quest, Leisure Suit Larry. I was fascinated with them. These games served a great educational effect on an 11 year old. I was such a geek at that time. I left PC games around 1995 and turned to videogames. About 2 years ago I returned to PC games. My all time favorite has to be Unreal Tournament. I am trying to start my own CTF clan here sometime. My console favorites are Survival Horror games, one game I worship is Silent Hill. I have beat it like 10 times and I never get bored of it. I wish they would make a Silent Hill movie one day.
Monday, October 27, 2003
My brother came home from school very early this morning and told us all about it. His high school is about 200 meters from the targetted site. He told us that blood was all over the place and people from the area were putting injured kids from the school into taxis taking them to hospitals. Parents were panicking trying to find their children among the mess.
I don't know anything else. I saw some footage from the scene on Al-Arabiyah station and as usual they were talking about the f*ing 'resistance' and trying to justify the whole act. I couldn't stand hearing that anymore. Chickens. I can see what they are trying to do. The Red Cross has been working in Iraq since 1980 and it has never been attacked before. So why now? A spokesman from the Red Cross was talking and he said that the organization will consider abandoning all activities in Iraq. Just like the UN. Everyone I talked to today was dismayed. I'll write more about it later. I don't feel like it right now.
A police station at Hay Al-A'lam south of Baghdad was also attacked by a suicide bomber at the exact same time. I don't have any details about that one.
One more thing. You have to close the comments window after you post a comment. If you fail to do so and keep refreshing the window your post will be repeated every time you reload. So close the window and open a new one which you can refresh with no problems until you post a new comment. Thanks to CharlesWT for pointing this out.
Sunday, October 26, 2003
The Oil ministry complex is one of the most heavily guarded buildings in Baghdad. It was the ONLY building protected from the looting and ransacking after April 9 along with a few presidential sites. It now houses 3 ministries together with the Oil ministry and hundreds of Iraqi employees work there. A friend who lives in that area told me what happened that day. The ministry employees were lining up in front of the complex waiting to be searched by IP and americans before entering the building to their offices. This is a daily and common process at all governmental offices, universities, large hospitals, banks, hotels, international NGO's, and public buildings. A necessary step to ensure that no trouble makers sneak inside among employees. I'm very thankful however that this isn't the case at the center I work at.
Anyway, the Americans have recently been using sniffer dogs to do their job, obviously to speed up the security checking. You can imagine how long it would take to search hundreds of civil servants each morning. A woman objected to the idea of a dog sniffing her handbag because she carried a small Quran in it. Not an uncommon thing, many women carry Qurans in their bags which gives them a sense of protection and safety.
At this point, some people say that the American soldier got aggresive and took the Quran from the bag and threw it on the ground and handcuffed the woman. Others say that didn't happen and they simply arrested the woman. Either case it was an unnecessary and irresponsible act. I'm sure even if that really happened, that the soldier was simply an unreligious guy and no other conspiracy theories are involved as some people have been saying. But, and this a big but, he should be more careful about insulting other peoples beliefs however ridiculous they may seem to him. This is a very sensitive issue for Iraqis.
I can only feel sorry for the poor woman. Imagining how she was feeling being handcuffed and humiliated in front of her colleagues. The solution would have been simply to ask the woman to take out her Quran from the bag, and to allow the dog to sniff it. Effective communication is the key here. I mean these people are your allies, why provoke them?
After that scene, the employees were enraged, they refused to be searched and grouped to form an anti-american demonstration in front of the ministry. IP officers threw their badges to the floor, saying we didn't join the force to be insulted this way. People were shouting 'Down America' and 'Down Bush'. The Americans shot a couple of bullets in the air to seperate the demonstrators and that was that. The Americans can thank God that those were educated people and supposedly allies. Otherwise I'm sure it would have been a different case. That was the story from what I've been told by a reliable friend.
By the way, I was at the Health ministry today for some business. I noticed while waiting in the line that there were Iraqi female FPS (I don't know what FPS exactly stands for, but they are security police guarding important facilities and buildings.) searching womens handbags. Now, couldn't they think of something like that before? Anyway, this was the first time for me to see Iraqi female police. I was impressed. We never had female police under Saddam. I imagined they would all be butch women or wearing scarfs or something like that. Actually they were very pretty. And I was wishing that I would get frisked by them as well, heh.
Anyway, back to doggies. What I want to mention as well, is that dogs are NOT considered unclean in Islam. There is nothing in the Quran that says so. There is a weak Hadith(saying) by Mohammed: "A house which has a dog or a picture in it is not entered or blessed by the Angels". By weak, I mean that its attribution to Mohammed is questionable, it has a weak 'Isnad'. Isnad is a term used by Muslim clerics to describe the generations of scholars mentioning the Hadith each from his predecessor. If the Isnad contains an unknown scholar or someone with a questionable authority, the Hadith is a weak one and should be doubted. Hope I made this clear, I'm not sure, these things are a bit hard to explain to non-muslims. Most educated Muslims today do not believe in most Hadiths. If they did, they would have to believe in some absurd ideas like a flat earth, magic, misogyny, stoning adulterers to death,..etc.
So people noticing these inconsistencies have decided to rely solely on the Quran (however they choose to ignore similar contradictions or ideas in it because its supposedly 'flawless'). Okay I know I'm going to be flogged for saying the above. Send your hate mail.
Many Iraqis have dogs as pets. My aunt, a very religious woman, had a cute Pekingese. My grandmother on the other hand was appalled by the poor thing. My cousins have a couple of hunting dogs. A friend of mine has a bulldog. And lets not forget Uday's sadistic fascination with dogs, the ones he used to feed with people. So it's very common actually. And it's not true that we regard them as unclean or anything like that. Maybe some fools do, but I can't say I comprehend their logic.
He stated that "any Iraqi 'caught' publicly not fasting will be arrested and imprisoned for 3 days with a considerable fine to deter anyone who shows 'disrespect' for this holy month. All restaurants inside and outside the cities should close from dawn till sunset, except first class hotels restaurants. Alcohol selling shops should stay closed the whole month".
I wanted to kill someone after reading all that. Yes. Sure. Free country my ass. I never imagined they would come up with something even close to that. What should I do? Hide in a corner so I can smoke a fucking cigarette? Are they trying to force us to fast against our will? Am I supposed to fast just to show 'respect' to others who do? Why don't they show respect to people who don't fast? They can believe whatever the fuck they want, but I don't have to pay the price for their beliefs. Are we slowly reverting to what we were? Are we becoming another Iran or Saudi Arabia? Aren't we supposed to be a secular state? What was Al-Badran smoking when he decided that? What other shit are they planning to put in our Constitution?
We had something similar under Saddam during Ramadans. But there were always a few licensed restaurants open so we 'unbelievers' could have breakfast or lunch. A friend of mine went to jail for 3 days because he was caught smoking a cig in front of his house a couple of years ago. It was just one of thousands of reasons we despised Saddam. But there were people who commended him for that. Apparently our Governing Council are learning a few things from Saddam. I feel like we're living in Orwell's 'Animal Farm'. We the people are the ones to suffer always.
Some background about Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month in the Islamic Hijri calendar. It's the month in which Mohammed wrote the first....Sorry, recieved the first revelation from Allah. Muslims have to fast every Ramadan from sunrise to sunset. Fasting includes abstaining from food, drink, sexual relations, and any unacceptable acts to achieve spiritual purification. After sunset at futur, they can fill up their bellies until the countdown at imsak just before sunrise. Women cannot fast during their periods because they are 'unclean'. A few are exempt from fasting such as the sick, medically compromised, old aged or people in travel.
As a dentist I have to endure the foulest breaths from fasters. I have to help fasters out of diabetic comas due to the normal stress during dental procedures. As a member of society I have to mumble ramadan mubarak and other stuff I don't believe in to everyone. I have to pretend I'm fasting in front of people so as not to hurt their feelings. And I have to explain myself if I'm caught and go through the obligatory discussion about the benefits of fasting both spiritually and naturally. I have to smoke in stinky public toilets. I have to roam the whole city to find some 'illegal' booze. It's a month of hypocricy. Know why? Because the moment Ramadan is over, everyone stops acting pious and reverts to whatever despicable acts they used to do. But surely Allah wills it so, we unbelievers and kafirs should not question His wisdom.
Friday, October 24, 2003
I'm considering adding a comments window to each entry, so readers can post their comments for others to see. I am so excited. Many thanks again, and to anyone who emailed me and offered to pay for upgrading my weblog.
I have to mention that most Iraqis work as taxi drivers on their spare time to get extra dough. This guy was no exception. Regular Baghdadi taxis are either colored yellow, or white and orange (most of them are 80's models of Toyota Crowns, Coronas, Datsuns, and Volkswagens). Part time taxis 'khussusi' could be anything from a 1975 Peugeot to a 1990 Toyota.
You shouldn't be surprised to find college graduates, postgraduate students, engineers, and university proffessors working 'khusussi'. It was impossible to depend on the salary the government gave you. So this was the main means of earning more money. Of course salaries were raised drastically the last few months. But this was still a reliable and widespread method of making more money. The result is that its very easy to hire a cab anytime and anywhere in the city. Taxi fares are relatively higher than before, excuses for this are long queues at petrol stations, or traffic jams. Cabs don't use counters so you have to bargain the driver for an acceptable fare.
Anyway, back to my driver. He was describing the fight to me; The gang were in a black BMW (very fashionable among gangs these days). 4 of them. The police patrol ordered them to stop by loud speakers. The gang tried to flee, and opened fire from their kalashnikovs on the two car police patrol. A policeman was injured. The patrol returned heavy fire and hit one of their tires. After a small chase the gang stopped and surrendered. My driver told me that while they were approaching the criminals, they blurted "Don't touch us", "We want our rights!", "Promise you won't hurt us!". Of course that was too much to ask. They had just shot and killed a police officer. I told my driver that I hope they beat the shit out of them. He relieved me by answering yes.
The whole point of this anecdote is:
1-The new IP and traffic police are doing a great and wonderful job. Iraqis used to describe policemen as lazy, corrupt, and unreliable. Now they are welcomed with cheers by Iraqis everywhere they go. They are efficiently protecting schools, colleges, banks, and public buildings. They are being trained and briefed daily by the coalition on modern police methods, effective communication, and human rights. I'm sure the coalition would be at loss if the IP weren't around. They are giving enormous sacrifices daily. They are a huge part of what makes me optimistic about Iraqs future. I salute them wherever I see them.
2-What we need instead of peacekeeping forces (Yes, I mean Turkey), or extra coalition deployments is MORE Iraqi police. There are about 70 thousand of them now. 16 thousand police in Baghdad alone. Where Baghdad used to have at least 50 thousand prior to the war. We don't need to send new police recruits to Hungary or Jordan for training. We need them now on the streets.
3-On several occasions police officers have been complaining that they work hard to capture criminals and the next day the Americans simply release them. Many conspiracy theories are circulating in the country because of these actions. Some people are saying that the Americans are deliberately encouraging crime and unrest in the city, to provide an excuse that the security situation is still bad and that they are still needed. However, the explanation for these acts is very simple. We do not have enough jails to accomodate a large number of criminals. Hundreds of which are arrested daily. We need more jails opened, and we need the CPA to trust Iraqi police more to handle the situation. In my opinion they are qualified to do so.
4-The death penalty should return and be implemented immediately. This isn't an issue of morals, human rights, and ethics..blah, blah, blah. We need it badly to deter criminals, terrorists and gangs. Iraqis were horrified when Bremer abolished the death penalty. That may be possible in the US or Europe, but in Iraq the results would be devastating. A hundred thousand dangerous criminals released by the regime before the war are loose on the streets killing innocent people, abducting children, women, and businessmen, carrying out daily armed robberies, and carjackings (an average of 20 carjacking incidents occur in Baghdad daily). And since those criminals know they won't be executed for it, they act extremely. Hence your regular murderer kills a policeman and then asks for his rights. Killing a person remorselessly in Iraq has become so easy because of this. The necessity and the consequences of reactivating the death penalty cannot be underestimated to resolve the security problems. Crime will simply diminish today if say a hundred deadly criminals were hanged publicly. This may sound barbaric to people in the west, but in Iraq its a MUST to put an end to the chaos. So we can safely move on to reconstruction.
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Oh no, not again, I thought. They didn't allow the taxi to pass, so I got out and asked some bystanders what was going on. They said a team was trying to dismantle a bomb placed on the road about 3 blocks away. Uh oh.
Our street was literally swarming with soldiers and police. I stood by expecting an explosion any second and ogling a beautiful blonde thinking how sexy she looked in that military outfit. I asked a sergeant if it was okay for me to walk home and I pointed out our house to him. He motioned to the others and said okay. I treaded slowly and carefully hoping I wouldn't get shot by some scared idiot. I got to the house and went in, checking if everything was okay, opening the windows just in case the bomb went off.
I later went out again to find everyone in the street grinning foolishly. What the f*ck is this? I thought. The guy who runs a store across the street beckoned me. He told me that the bomb was actually a couple of bricks wrapped in aluminum foil in a black nylon bag.
I wasn't as amused as the others by this fact. What could it mean? I suspected that we would suddenly hear a large explosion somewhere nearby and that this was just a decoy or something. But nothing happened.
Today the same scene took place again just a few hours ago. A similar bag was found at the exact same location.
I was asleep but my brother told me all about it because he was so stupidly standing there, chatting with some of the younger Americans about wrestling and sports stuff. I always warn him not to do this, it's still very dangerous to hang around them and shite happens. It also brings him unwanted attention. But it's no talking.
There have been reported incidents like this at some schools and colleges in Baghdad. I'm just hoping that some jokers are behind it and nothing more serious than that. We'll see.
Are these people sane? I mean what are they thinking? Is this our latest form of 'resistance'? Threatening our own children for getting some shiny new schoolbags. I am trying very hard to understand. This so called resistance is getting hated more and more by Iraqis everywhere. I'm sure this will only add to that scorn exponentially. They are losing any sympathy they may have had earlier. The terrorists have turned out to be MUCH dumber than I thought.
Three or four weeks ago, the minister of electricity(we didn't have that one before) announced that electric power stations have finally been fixed, reaching pre-war production levels. The following days we were delighted to have 10, 12 hours (or even a full day!) of continous electricity. It was a convenience we had forgot for months.
However the outage scheduling returned about a week ago. We had either 3 hours of alternating blackouts for every 3, or 2 hours of blackouts after every 4. This we were able to cope with, especially that the heat is endurable now, not anything even close to the nightmares of last July and August. And we are having some cool nights.
But the last two days something apparently went wrong. There isn't any official statement about it yet, but we heard that Al Musayab power substation south of Baghdad was down and they are trying hard to fix things. Someone from the ministry of electricity stated yesterday that outage scheduling will remain in effect through the whole of winter. Bad news I guess. I just hope it will be fully restored until next summer. I'm not very enthusiastic about spending another summer like the last one. It was like Hell.
Iraq had the most sophisticated power grid in the middle east during the eighties. It was damaged heavily during the first Gulf war. After which Saddam ordered that electricity be restored in Baghdad before his birthday on April 28. Which it was. However high-pressure cables throughout Iraq were beyond any repair. They worked around this by linking the two largest Power stations in Baiji and Nasiriyah to supply Baghdad's substations. And Baghdad's problem was solved. Other provinces had to suffer 12-16 hours of outage just to supply the capital. It remained that way throughout the whole of the nineties. A few minor fixes and maintenances were done here and there, but it was mainly still the same. The regime simply refused to maintain or upgrade the power grid and blamed the UN embargo on this. Although it was allowable for Iraq to import necessary supplies and spare parts for restoring power according to the Oil-For-Food program. The regime alleged otherwise to Iraqis.
After April 9. The coalition authority attempted to balance the situation. They ordered that power be supplied to all provinces even if doing so on the expense of the capital. Which resulted in the electricity problems you have all probably heard about and the widespread indignation among Baghdadi's. The looting of copper used in high-pressure cables and attacks against stations didn't help too. A friend of mine who is an electric engineer explained all this to me. A large number of Iraqis however do not believe that this is the case. They say that its all just a plot by Americans, some sort of psychological warfare to wear them down. This is accepted as wisdom in Iraq, and anyone who argues with this logic might be accused as a 'collaborator'. Many attacks against substations in Baghdad followed. A woman who was the manager of Baghdad's electricity was shot and killed in cold blood at her house in front of her two daughters three months ago.
Monday, October 20, 2003
Wow. And how pray do you intend to do that Muqtada? Armed militia members raiding and searching houses? Seems like an excuse for civil war to me. He might as well make his own version of the WANTED OFFICIALS deck of cards.
This juvenile is getting so desperate. He is obviously trying hard to appeal to most Iraqis. This just isn't working Muqty. F*ck off.
He also blatantly denied having anything to do with the recent unrest in Najaf, he referred to the accusations as being spread "by ignorant fools and lackeys of the west and the US". Does this sound familiar to anyone? Hello? Iran?
Here's the biggest laugh of all, by one of his 'agents': "We intend to build an Islamic democracy in Iraq, not an Islamic theocracy".
Sure, like the Taliban for instance. This egocentric looney is starting to sound like Al-Sahaf. I am now seriously considering making a 'We Love Muqty' website like this one We Love MSS. That would be such a blast. Anyone creative taking notes?
What bugs me most is that he keeps on insisting that his actions are peaceful and do not instigate violence. Yes, I agree. Veiled threats, calling for insurgence, armed demonstrations, and assaulting rival religious figures is very very peaceful. In fact it is also democratic as well.
And he is employing a curious mix of blackmailing and threatening tactics to try and get himself an established place in the Governing Council.
Catfish and Cod has arranged and compiled an interesting and very accurate timeline for all Al-Sadr related trouble in Iraq since September 29. Read it here
However I wish to point out to him that Grand Ayatollah Ali Taqi Al-Sistani is not a leader of SCIRI nor is he affiliated with them. SCIRI's current leader is Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim (a brother of the late Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir Al-Sadr who was killed in the Najaf bombing). Abdul Aziz is also a member of the Governing Council and part of it's nine rotating chairmen council.
Al-Sistani is a prominent independent Iranian Iraqi Shi'ite Hawza marji' with a significant following inside both Iraq and Iran. He is not anti-american although he does call for American forces to leave Iraq immediately. His fatwas are controversial. He described a Women organization meeting in Hilla as 'a disgrace'. He also issued a fatwa a week ago that it was prohibited to appoint women judges in Iraq. He is supposed to have a large role in preparing our Constitution. A fact which does not appeal to me at all.
A marji' is an influential religious figure (usually a Sayed which means his ancestry goes back to Ali bin Abi talib, the prophet's cousin) to whom Shi'ites from all over the world turn to, and follow fatwas issued by him. There are tens of thousand of Sayeds in Iraq and Iran who are regarded as 'holy figures', but only a handful are marji's. Sometimes these marji's run huge beneficial corporations and are very wealthy. Some operate offices and branches in many countries including in Europe and the US, and have agents there representing them.
Al Hawza Al-Ilmiyah is a politico-religious Islamic school in Najaf, which teaches Shi'ite Islamic Laws and science. It played an important part in Iraqi politics early in the last century. Students mainly come from Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, and other countries with Shi'ite populations. The late Ayatollah Khomeini is a sample graduate. Some of them literally spend ten or twenty years of their life studying hundreds of volumes of Islamic Jurisprudence. After which they graduate at 40 or 50 years old to become marji's. Muqty is apparently still a sophomore.
There is another Hawza university in Qum, Iran. Which competes with the original in Najaf.
The four cornerstone marji's in Najaf's Hawza are Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, Ishaq Al-Fayadh, Mohammad Hussein Al-Hakim, and Bashir Al-Najafi. I've also heard some Shi'ites referring to Ayatollah Kazim Al-Ha'iri (residing in Meshed, Iran) to be a part also. There are in addition to these a few less known marji's.
Shi'a are known in Islamic history as Ithney Asharia, Imamia, or Ja'ffaria Shia. There are other minor Sh'ite factions as Ishmaeliya (followers of Agha Khan), Baha'ia (many of them live in Israel), Babia, Nassiriya, and Alawiyah (Syria).
Ithney Asharia Shi'a are estimated to comprise 65-70 percent of Iraq's poplulation (we can't be sure of that with the absence of reliable statistics). And about 85 percent of Iran's. There are sizeable Sh'ite communities in Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Some in Saudi Arabia, Gulf countries, and Yemen as well.
Shi'ites are passionate followers and avid supporters of 'Al Al Bayt', or the prophet Mohammad's Household who, according to them, are Ali bin Abi Talib, his wife Fatima Al-Zahraa (Muhammad's daughter), and their sons Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein. They believe that those, together with nine others of their grandsons and grandsons grandsons are "Al A'ima Alma'sumin Al ithney Ashar", the Twelve Infallible Imams. The last of these Imams is Al-Mahdi, who is thought to have dissapeared in a cave at Samarrah about a 1000 years ago, they believe that Al-Mahdi lives and will return from his cave one day to bring justice to the world. In other words he is their Messiah.
I have seen many banners and signs around Baghdad the last 6 months carrying Al-Mahdi's name. One of these was put on Al-Sadr city council building by Muqty's thugs. Some examples of these I have noticed lately are black banners all over Baghdad that go like this:
"Our consolations to Al Imam Al-Mahdi (may Allah speed his return) on the anniversary of the death of Imam Al-Kazim (peace be upon him),...", or another: "We congratulate Al Imam Al-Mahdi...on Fatima Al-Zahraa's birth anniversary". There are scores more of these anniversaries that I have been trying hard to keep up with.
One one occasion, about 5 weeks ago, an American Black hawk was trying to remove one of those holy black flags from a communications tower at Al-Sadr city, when all hell broke loose. Hundreds of indignant people and Al-Mahdi militia members gathered and some started shooting at the helicopter. Which responded by killing two militia. This caused such a fuss and angry anti-american protests marched to the Republican Palace(CPA Hq.) hours later. Muqtada demanded an official apology from the White House not just from the CPA. I believe this was the incident that started all the unrest in Al-Sadr city and Najaf.
It's at times like these that I start worrying and get pessimistic about the future of freedom in this country. I see many people reject it, because 'its an American and zionist plot to spread immorality and degradation in our virtous society'. Then they give me all the holy crap. The problem with their logic is that they are not even holy themselves. I don't want to believe in their scriptures. I don't want to be forced to fast in Ramadan. I want to be able to freely criticize them without being burnt at a stake. I want to be able to buy my vodka without having to look left and right. I want to be able to walk with my girlfriend in the street while holding hands together without people glaring at me. Is this TOO MUCH to ask? Do I have to immigrate and leave my country for wanting to do all that?
Friederich Nietzsche once wrote:
"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster himself."
Sunday, October 19, 2003
Someone asked me:
All our reporters will tell us is that x number of American soldiers were killed in this roadside bombing or that RPG attack and never anymore detail. Did the soldiers shoot back? Did they capture or kill the attackers? If so did this lead to more arrests? And
who was the attacker? Where did he come from? Baghdad? or even outside of Iraq?
How many Iraqies support attacks? How many don't? What else besides attacks is
going on? Are things improving?
I will try to give an idea about all of that.
Almost all of these attacks are carried out in an area of Iraq described by Pentagon officials as the "Sunni triangle" which is less than %10 of the country's total area, in other words it's an area slightly larger than Kuwait. It lies north and west of Baghdad. This area is predominately inhabited by Sunni Arabs with a Shi'ite minority. Many of the inhabitants maintain strong tribal ties with each other. A large majority of them are peasants, most of them illiterate. Islamic extremism is not uncommon there. High ranking army generals, state and special security agents, military intelligence, and Republican Guards were almost exclusively from there. And they are accused by people to be behind the attacks. The reason everyone here thinks so, is because those people had a lot to lose after the fall of the regime. They are simply out of work now. They can't seem to accept the fact that Saddam is gone forever. Their logic goes this way: 1)The Americans will leave the country. 2)Saddam or one of his sidekicks will regain power. 3)They will be back to their old jobs. As simple as that.
Another reason, is that you rarely hear about suicide attacks in that area as opposed to Baghdad. Simply because Iraqis don't believe in that. Attacks in that area range from mortar shelling, RPG attacks, to bombs planted on roads but NEVER suicide bombings.
A very common misconception is that Saddam is behind or ordering the attacks. Saddam is too busy trying to save his butt, he wouldn't dare contact anyone outside of his handful of trusted guards. Remember the fate of Uday and Qusay? A relative who they stupidly trusted enough to hide in his house informed on them. Saddam on the other hand is an incredibly careful person, who wouldn't even trust his own son. So I would highly doubt that Saddam is giving direct orders to attack Americans except by the occasional tapes he sends to Al-Arabiyah station of course.
Another thing is that this resistance the Americans are facing is not ascribed to one group. There are already about 20 of them we hear about daily. Jaish Mohammad, Saraya Al-Faruq, Saraya Al-Jihad, Kataib Al-Hussein, Kataib Ali, Ashab Alrayat Alsud, Ashab Alrayat Albidh,...etc. Notice the similarity of some of the names with Palestinian militant groups, they have obviously took it upon themselves to make Iraq another Palestine.
And of course we have fingerprints of Al-Qaeda: The Jordanian Embassy and the UN compound bombings, and lately Baghdad Hotel's attack. So it's an unpleasant mix we're dealing with here.
One thing is certain. The attacks are less frequent than say two months ago. The attacks lately have been harming more Iraqis than Americans. Mortar shells in Ba'quba three weeks ago took 12 innocent lives at a grocery market. A bomb planted beside the sidewalk in Adhamiya exploded when a bus stopped next to it killing 7 people. This has made people very bitter and critical whenever they hear about attacks. More and more people are informing against others they know involved with attacks. Large numbers of Arab infiltrators have been arrested. Of course they came from Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
A serious problem with attacks is that on many occasions American soldiers start to shoot randomly in all directions after they are attacked. This leads to deaths and injuries among many innocent bystanders. When I'm driving and I spot an American patrol I usually stop or slow down until they are far away so I wouldn't be caught in any cross fire. Obviously they are being briefed to shoot and ask questions later.
Most of the attacks are overrated. I know this. The following story is an example:
One afternoon I had just got back from work and was going to change my clothes when suddenly *BOOM* The windows shattered all around me in pieces, there was a smell of something like gunpowder. I looked out but there was dust everywhere. I remembered that my brother was outside. I carefully opened the door, and to my surprise found 4 American soldiers in our garden, they were knocking on my grandmothers house door, I worriedly asked them what happened. They told me to stay away. I offered to open the door for them, which I did. They entered and went upstairs all the way to the roof, I stood in the hall with one of them who informed me that a bomb exploded behind their humvee just in front of the house, no one was hurt. They were suspecting someone attacked them from this house. The others came down, apologized to me and my grandmother (who didn't understand what was going on anyway) then left the house.
I went out to find a crater in front of the house. My god that was close. By a miracle nobody in the street was hurt. The idiots who planted that bomb were dumb enough to put it inside a sewers drainage which absorbed the shock of the blast. The only damage was the sound it made. Most of our windows were shattered.
After a while the soldiers left the place. Suddenly a reporter and a cameraman from Al-Arabiyah station appeared, they were so fast. I crossed the street to take a look. They were talking to some bearded guy who I hadn't seen before in the neighbourhood. He was enthusiastically talking about the humvee that flew in the air, and the 4 injured soldiers. I didn't see any of that. I was bewildered. Someone next to me told me that nothing like that happened at all. My brother and a couple of friends of his started to chant in front of the camera: LIAR, LIAR,... Everyone laughed at this, but the bearded guy started to swear by Allah. Someone pointed out that the bearded guy wasn't even in the area when the bomb exploded. Uh oh, I thought, he seemed to know about it before it happened. The cameraman violently shoved my brother and his friend aside telling them to shut up. I stepped forward and gave hime a push from behind. He almost fell over. I warned him that the camera he was holding would be in a thousand pieces if he dared touch my brother again. He backed up. A neighbour of ours hollered them to come and see the damage in their house. They refused to do so and left.
In the evening, Al-Arabiyah reported the following: 3 Americans badly injured and one Jeep damaged at .... in Baghdad. They showed the bearded guy talking and edited the rest of it.
Thats the way media in present day Iraq works.
Saturday, October 18, 2003
I'm sure the unrest that Baghdad is witnessing today will simply end if the Americans and Iraqi police would surround and extensively search that neighbourhood. They wouldn't believe what surprises would be waiting for them if they did. But the Americans won't listen. They fear they would invoke a revolt. They have good reason to think so. Especially since they have been attacked over there with no apparent reason, and because its clerics have stated it as a 'holy city', although there isn't anything there that would be regarded 'holy'. I'm suspecting its more because they wouldn't want the Americans finding out whatever dirty tricks they're planning there. But something should be done. Maybe the Americans could send in a large force of Iraqi police along with the new Civil Defence Army.
Al-Sadr has recently declared the city as 'American free'. And claimed that he wouldn't be responsible for any attacks against Americans if they entered that area. But he IS responsible for the most anti-American/western rhetoric we have ever heard since Khomeini. Their 'fatwas' are always so fun to listen to. One of these fatwas stated that unveiled women were prohibited to enter 'their' city and might 'face extreme punishment' if they did. Some of their earlier fatwas following the war warned cinema owners and booze shops to close within a week or face the consequences. Many violent attacks against both followed and are still to this day. Another fatwa warned CD and video rental shops to close,..etc. You get the picture.
What is troubling us is that Al-Sadr regards himself as a 'legitimate' leader of the Iraqi people. He keeps blabbering daily that he is more legitimate than the Governing Council, and that the Americans should leave Iraq immediately so he can have his way. He announced a few days ago a 'shadow government' without disclosing its members names, with himself as head of it. He said that the government would include ministries that were not included in the Governing Council's cabinet such as Defence, Information, and Religous Affairs ministries.
The problem is he is too young to be making such a fuss, he is 21 or 22. And he receives instructions from Kazim Al-Ha'iri who lives in -of all places Iran. Kazim Al-Ha'iri issued the 'deadly fatwa' a few months ago that calls for all Iraqis to kill any foreigners, especially jewish intending to buy property in Iraq. Thats just so wonderful, sitting in Iran and telling us what to do in OUR country.
Back to Al-Sadr. He speaks Arabic with an Iranian accent. And I'm sure he was living in Iran before the war, simply because we never heard of him before. Another problem is that he has formed an armed militia called 'Jaish Al-Mahdi' or Al-Mahdi's Army, they dress in black, and wear bands on their foreheads, and have creepy resemblance to Saddam's Fedayeen. I can spot a tyrannt miles away. And this is one. Many moderate Shi'ites accuse him of being responsible for Abdul Majid Al-Khui's assasination in Najaf during the war. And some even go far to accuse him of being behind the Najaf bombing which took 120 innocent lives. A few days ago, a fight broke out in Najaf between his militia and Al-Sistani's followers (Al-Sistani is a widely respected Iranian Iraqi cleric at Najaf). Al-Sadr militants were trying to take over the two holy shrines in the city, so they could use their profits in financing Al-Mahdi's Army. But they were surrounded in a mosque and other parties and clerics from the city intervened to cease the fighting. I heard that at least ten people were dead that day.
I saw those Al-Sadr militants marching along to the Kazimain shrine in Kazimiya a few weeks ago on the anniversary of Al-Kazim's death 1300 years ago! They looked deadly. They were armed and marching along the tens of thousands of Shi'ites who poured from all over Iraq to this shrine. They walk for days because somehow they think they would be rewarded more by Allah if they did it this way. They beat on their chests all the time while they walk and lament the poor Kazim for dying centuries ago. I'm sure everyone has seen them do that on tv. Don't get me wrong, I don't care whatever they believe in, and if they want to beat their chests, I'd be happy to accomodate them and supply them with chains and whips to do that, but the problem is that they want to force their belief on all Iraqis. And they are content just to be able to practice their beliefs, and to hell with everything else that is going on in this country. I blame Saddam. If he would have let them do whatever they pleased in the past, they wouldn't be so passionate about it now.
I just need someone to tell me why the Americans aren't doing anything about this guy? I understand that they are trying to avoid religious figures but he is dangerous and needs to be shut up, so that no one in the new Iraq would be giving us this bullsh*t again. No one wants to replace a dictatorial secular government with a tyrannical religious one, with Iranian-like Mullahs ruling us and telling us how to live so Allah would be proud of us.
Are you listening Mr. Bremer?
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.
Friday, October 17, 2003
Unfortunately, there haven't been enough Iraqis running weblogs lately. There are only five of them as far as I know. I took it upon myself to start a weblog and introduce other Iraqis to this new (to us at least) and exciting world. Internet use in Iraq is very low, compared to other countries in the region. But it is growing daily. And more and more Iraqis will be able to post what they think about whatever is happening in their country and the rest of the world. Their voice will be heard at last, now that they have nothing to fear from doing so.
I point out Salam Pax, Riverbend, Gee, and Ishtar as my inspiration in doing this. I also wish to thank Jeff Jarvis for his very much appreciated help and advice.
Now on to blogging!
Below are a couple of posts that I have prepared the last few days. I also have to mention that I may not be able to post on a daily basis. I can't use my PC at home to get online due to damage in the tellecommunication infrastructure of my neighbourhood, so I have to use Internet cafes to post. Mainly I will be posting every two days or so depending on the circumstances and my available free time. Thats about all.
Today was the first day 250 banks all over Iraq commenced the exchange of the old Iraqi currency(ies) with new unified notes recently printed abroad, in Britain I guess. It was surprisingly a peaceful and quiet day, contrary to all expectations and rumours circulating in Baghdad that banks would be targetted the first day they started the exchange process. Many Rafidain bank divisions across Baghdad received warnings and threat letters. My aunt works as a bank manager, and she found a letter on her desk a few days ago signed by a group called The Army Of Mohammed 'Jaish Mohammed' asking her how she would like to die. This group had appeared many times mainly on Al Arabiyah station threatening Americans, coalition forces, governing council members, and any Iraqis 'collaborating with occupying forces'. Of course collaborators range widely (in their definition) from translators working with American patrols or international organizations and foreign companies, local UN workers, to normal civil servants and employees working at governmental offices. Needless to say, my aunt was freaked out and she visited us that day panicking and it was until she calmed down a bit that we got the story out of her, of course everyone wanted her to quit and stay home but she wouldn't hear of it. I still think it was a practical joke by some prankster at her office.
Anyway, banks witnessed extreme security measures by both Iraqi police and American forces to thwart any attempted attacks. Barbed wire, large concrete barriers had been placed around the larger divisions, and checkpoints in the streets leading to the banks, this caused some traffic jams, especially in the busiest areas of the city, but it was neccessary. 80 bank divisions in Baghdad were involved in the exchange, which started at 8 in the morning and closed at 4 in the afternoon. The exchange process will continue as such for three months till the 15th of January which will be enough for the new Dinar to circulate and to get rid of the old ones.
People were happy, I talked to some people in my neighbourhood who had been fortunate to be the first to see the new notes. They showed them to me, the notes were beautiful and obviously of a very high quality, shiny and crispy. They come in 50, 100, 250, 1000, 5000, 10,000, and 25,000 Dinar bills. The 25,000 D note sounds extreme and unneccessary, and might create a few problems when dealing with such large a note. But most importantly they looked impossible to forge, which was the reason they were made in the first place.
People have been having a lot of trouble with their money the last 6 months. First the problem of the 10,000 dinar bills, billions worth of these notes were looted from banks and banks' printing storages, and a large majority of these were without printed serial numbers. But the looters cleverly solved this little annoyance, they simply stole the whole bank press and machinery along with the ink used and other details, and started to print their own numbers and notes. So the greedy idiots at Al Kifah street (which is the Wall street of Baghdad) decided not to deal with the 10,000 bills at all and bought them at prices ranging from 6500 to 8000 per note. Of course merchants followed and that was that. No matter how genuine your notes were, nobody would take them at their real value. Add to this problem that most Iraqi merchants, businessmen, and families had exchanged their smaller notes with 10k notes before the war, and you get the picture. And in the first month the CPA decided to give salaries in 10k bills which didn't help at all. Central Bank and CPA officials stated all the time that 10k bills were valid and that there was no truth in the rumours that indicated otherwise, but people wouldn't listen.
Another problem which surfaced in the last 2 months was the 250 dinar bill. We have two kinds of these, the old one which was used during the 90's and the new one which started circulating last year. Both have Saddam on them, but the second is smaller. Anyway, AL Kifah st. financial 'experts' were out of ideas how to make more money, so they decided to spread a rumour that most of the small 250 D bill were forged, and so they wouldn't deal with them anymore, except of course they would gladly buy them at lower prices. I couldn't imagine people would be so stupid to believe this, but sadly they bought it. In present day Iraq, rumours work better than official statements, people for some reason always believe the rumour and think that any official statement is just a cover up or some sort of conspiracy to fool them. Iraqis never trust their governments, and they don't believe what they say due to obvious reasons from their late history. The American adminstration in Iraq should know that by heart and they should act accordingly to gain the peoples trust.
Back to the Dinar. In the last 30 years we have experienced so many changes in currency that I would need a whole book just to mention them and state the differences between each.
The ones that are currently in circulation fall in two groups:
First, the 'swisry' Dinar which means Swiss (where they were usually printed) which were in use during the 80's up to a couple of years following the first Gulf war. It was a very stable currency and it's exchange rate with the dollar was 0.33 Dinars. It remained in use in the autonomous Kurdish territories till this day. it comes in 0.25, 0.5, 1, 5, 10, and 25 Dinar notes. Today one swisry Dinar equals 250 new Dinars, so one Dollar would equal 7-8 Swiss Dinars. This version was used as the template of the new Iraqi Dinar which would look the same except colored differently.
Second, the tabu' Dinar (tabu' means printed) which falls into 3 subgroups:
A) locally printed versions of the swisry Dinar with some minor changes. They are no longer in use today.
B) locally printed new Dinars with Saddam's picture on all of them. They come in 25, 50, 100, and 250 Dinar notes. This was at the time the value of the Dinar started to fall against the Dollar. These are the ones mainly used today in Iraq.
C) locally printed smaller Dinars, also with Saddam's picture on them. They come in 25, 50, 100, 250, and the infamous 10,000 Dinar notes. These were at first favoured because of the 10k bill which would allow people to store their money in smaller amounts of notes, whereas they usually had to deal with the problem of carrying large sacks of money in 250 D notes which would bring unwanted attention. But this last version of the Dinar faced problems in post Saddam Iraq, so they are less used today.
So all this mess would obviously highlight the importance of a new currency in Iraq today. If it were only to get rid of Saddam's picture from our money which seems to mock us everyday smiling back at us. it was enough for that reason alone. Some people marked this day , 15/10, as the 'second fall of Saddam', I agree with that. 'His' face will now be forever erased from our memory. It's a great day for Iraqis.
You can see the new notes here
I'm not sure if the American adminstration deliberately chose this day , October 15th, to start circulating the new Dinar or if it was purely coincidental. Nevertheless the timing is wonderful and so symbolic. Iraqis know this day to be 'thikra al-zahf al-kabir' or the anniversary of The Great March, it can also be translated as The Great Crawl which is more accurate. Saddam's version of elections. It was in October 15th 1995 that Saddam decided to show the world how Iraqis want him and only him to be president 'for life'. So he set up voting centers all over Iraq, so that the people would vote for their 'beloved leader'. Of course it was absurd, there were no other candidates, no political parties, no nothing. Mukhabarat and security agents had already started spreading rumours on the street that the paper you would submit had some kind of watermark that you could be traced by. Of course there was nothing like that, but it was a message to Iraqis that no one could even dream of saying no. The paper ran something like this (I don't recall the exact wording): 'Do you vote for president Saddam Hussein (Allah preserve him), Yes, or No'. It was actually a poll. And it was creepy enough for everyone to say Yes. Of course the voting procedure was carried out in a democratic fashion, armed Baath members hanging around the centers, and sometimes even voting for you, nobody simply could secretly write no and fold the paper and submit it. It was all scrutinized by party members. But some people somehow DID write no, but it didn't change anything. It was all prearranged. It was just a farce. The next day Izzat Ibrahim AlDori (revolutionary council vice president) announced the results proudly to the world: %99.9. And that was it. Each following year after 1995, October 15th was a day for celebration. Last year Saddam pathetically realized the need for another show, seeing how things looked bad for him. It was pretty much the same thing, but this time the results were %100! I clearly remember it because I was almost killed that day. The party announced that people can celebrate that day in any way they see fit; which really meant that they were allowed to celebrate by shooting in the air. After a few hours everyone who owned a kalashnikov started frantically shooting. In the evening the dark sky became red with the glow of bullets. The streets were filled with young party members celebrating. I was standing in front of my house watching crazy teenagers shooting in the air while driving by in cars when *CLANG* a stray bullet hit the metallic door I was leaning against just inches from me. I stood there dumbstruck for a few moments. Obviously someone thought it would be more fun to shoot at people instead of in the air, since he was practicing his right in celebrating for his leader and it was impossible that he would be punished for that even if he killed someone in the process. I remember stifling my anger then storming into the house shouting at everyone and threatening to tie every party member I know in the neigbourhood by their feet to my car with a rope and drag them through town as soon as we were 'liberated'. Of course I was told to shut the f*ck up. The method I mentioned above is called 'sahel' in Iraqi slang, and its part of our political heritage. About 50 years ago when the monarchy was overthrown, the Iraqi prime minister then Nouri Alsaeed and the crown prince Abdul Illah were dragged around baghdad this way after they were killed. I have a picture of it but its too graphic to be posted. And during General Kassem's reign after that, Communists used to kill their opponents this way, which ironically enough were either Baathists or Arab nationalists. Kirkuk and Mosul witnessed the bloodiest of these events during the late fifties. I am digressing. What I meant to say, is that most people expected 'sahel' to return after the fall of Saddam's regime. But it didn't. Actually people were very tolerant towards Baathists in general following the war, which to tell the truth surprised me. They even protected them from angry people who wanted revenge in some neighbourhoods. They forgot and chose to forgive them for all the blackmailing, harrassment, and secret reports most of them were guilty of. Talk about tolerance. Of course there were incidental cases of revenge that happened and are still to this day. A friend of mine always tell me that if Baathists were 'sahel'ed at that time, they wouldn't have dared to carry out attacks against Americans and Iraqis today. I'm not sure if I agree with him or not. But I AM sure that they wouldn't have dared to openly go out in armed demonstrations calling for the return of Saddam to power, and insultingly carrying his pictures and shouting Baathist slogans. As we have witnessed today in Adhamiya and Hay
Al Tikarta in Baghdad. And in Ba'quba and Faluja.
I actually expected that Saddam would broadcast a message to Iraqis today, reminding them of the fact that he is still legally their 'elected president', as he has occasionally done in the past few months. But he has been mysteriously silent for a while. Maybe the Americans are really closing in on him as they say. I want to live long enough to see him caught ALIVE. the possibilities would be endless. I'm sure it would be a great day for some real celebration in Iraq. I just hope the Americans won't make the stupid mistake of killing him like they did with his sons. Some might ask 'but wouldn't you like to see him killed?'. Believe me I would. But I would rather see him alive and humiliated for all he has done to this country and to humanity. I'm not even sure a trial would satisfy me. I want him to be put in a large glass cage at Fardus square where his statue once stood. It should be bulletproof so that no idiot would simply come and shoot him. He would sit in rags and be fed garbage once a day. People from all over Iraq and the world would come to watch him until he rots. It would be our national zoo, our primary tourists attraction. I would give 20 years of my life just to see that. And I'm sure 30 million Iraqis would do the same. I just hope someone from the Pentagon is listening.