Sunday, May 30, 2004

Mi'dan and democracy 

Nothing much has been going on in Basrah, except of course steam
emanating from the ground (I swear) and humidity that is bringing every unfortunate asthmatic in the province to our hospital. There is a shortage of nebulizers though, and physicians have to decide which patients are in most need for them, this of course tends to make other patients a bit aggressive. I was skulking around the emergency hall last night and I saw an angry patient who was just leaving, red in the face, shaking his fist in fury, shouting that he would return and shoot every last @#%$ doctor in the hospital. The FPS guards laughed the whole thing off while puffing at their cigarettes. I suppose it would help if I tried to convince him (if he returns) that I'm actually a mere dentist, and that I'm only unfortunate enough to live here?

This is not to give the impression that everything is dandy at the primary health care clinic where I work. We've been having a shortage of antibiotic pills for almost a week now. Well not quite a shortage, you see my boss has decided to use the weekly medications ration only in the afternoon shifts. It works this way, at Iraqi primary health care clinics there is a system called ta'meen sihi (Health Insurance) which is carried out during the afternoon shifts, according to this system doctors get a fixed share from each treatment ticket, and the more patients they get in the afternoon, the more money goes down in their pockets. And since prescriptions in the morning shift bring them nothing (they're free), they have made a habit of referring
patients to the afternoon shift. Everyone is happy, except of course me since I only work morning shifts and have to do my best to convince patients to purchase their medication from outside pharmacies which are much more expensive and a burden to most villagers. A couple of days ago, when it started to get a bit embarrassing I considered reporting my boss' actions to the Basrah Health Directorate since she has been acting rather nasty with me lately, but Jabbar the old medical aide advised me not to, since corruption goes as high up in the hierarchy to the Health Director himself, and my boss would be told about it and
thus creating endless trouble for me. Sometimes I feel that these
leftovers from the former system will never disappear even though
everyone gets fair salaries now.

Banditry has somewhat ceased over the last few days. A top member of SCIRI (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) was carjacked close to Al-Dayr north of Basrah, and he was reported to be injured by the bandits. A force from Faylaq Badr (Badr Corps, SCIRI's armed wing) entered the town hours later and forcefully deported all the Mi'dan residents. It's a bit ironic that SCIRI which has a history of fighting the former regime's forces from the marsh areas to defend the Mi'dan tribes from forced deportation are now doing the same thing. Shortly afterwards, Badr members started patrolling the main road between Basrah and Amarrah with the help of IP in the area and with the British turning a blind eye to it all (since they couldn't deal with the bandits themselves). There were a couple of incidents in which Badr used mortars last Thursday to force the Mi'dan to leave a few villages near Qurna and Al-I'zair. No one is complaining as long as it keeps the road safe. All attempts to convince the Mi'dan to resettle in their original villages in the marsh areas have failed, I guess they found that banditry and carjacking is a much more profitable
business. A Kurdish smuggler at one of the villages was arrested. His job was to smuggle stolen vehicles to the Kurdish region where new Kurdish registration plates would be issued for them and later sold. This was quite common, in fact most of the former government's looted vehicles ended up one way or another in the Kurdish region.

Also another incident involving Mi'dan. Someone was attacked and carjacked at Tannumah, across the river from Basrah city. He was a Hasawi. Hasawiyah are a wealthy and influential Shia sect (not a tribe) in the Basrah governorate. Their origins are from the Ahsaa region in northeastern Saudi Arabia. They are a bit different from other Iraqi Shia being somewhat closer to the Sunni sect. Their leader in Basrah, Sayyid Ahmed Al-Musawi heard about the incident and ordered a group of armed Hasawiyah to attack the Mi'dan Garamsha and Shaghamba tribes. When they crossed the bridge over Shatt Al-Arab, British troops forced them to turn around but they took a side road through Tannumah and found that the Mi'dan had fled from the villages leaving their women and children. Some clerics tried to mediate and the Hasawiyah left them a warning that next time they would return and burn the villages on their inhabitants.

***

We had an interesting meeting at the clinic a few days ago. The
director asked all employees to her room where we were politely asked to be seated by two people who mentioned that they were from the governorate office, but I suspect they work for the CPA. A middle-aged woman in Hijab and a tall skinny fellow wearing thick glasses. They were supposed to gather information and our opinions on several issues regarding the future Iraqi government, they were touring hospitals, schools, and clinics to meet with people. I don't know why but the situation felt rather awkward and funny, apparently I wasn't the only one because I noticed that everyone else was smiling. They asked us a few questions about democracy, federalism, the form of the government, etc. I also felt that the two people who were lecturing us were in bad
need themselves for someone to lecture and explain a couple of things to them. Toward the end of the meeting, the woman in Hijab progressed more and more into fiery talk until it was all reduced to recycled common rhetoric, that was when I started yawning occasionally glancing at my watch. As soon as I heard her mention "Sayyid Sistani (Allah preserve him)", I began to think that discussion was futile. It was nice however to watch the other employees talk, the discussion went something like this:

"How do you see the future of Iraq?" the woman asked us.
"There's no use in anything" our biologist whined morbidly, "Iraqis don't deserve a democracy. We need a firm ruler to prevent chaos, anything else is useless".
"Yes, a firm and just leader" the registrar added, "We don't want any new mass graves".
"So you are already quite hopeless?" the woman asked them.
My boss was having a hard time trying to conceal her giggles. I was grinning from ear to ear as well.
"Excuse me, but I think what Iraq needs at the moment is martial laws" ,this was one of my colleagues. "Every nation implements martial laws at such times, it might sound violent at first, but there have to be some firm steps taken to put an end to the lawlessness and anarchy".
"But don't you think some innocents would also be caught up in it?" the man in glasses asked her.
"Not quite.. " a medical aide chimed in. "When you catch someone guilty like a looter or a bandit I say HANG HIM on the spot!". The evident glee in which he pronounced the words 'hang him' made me a bit uneasy.
"So what do you think about federalism?"
"No federalism", "No no", "Of course not" seemed to echo from all around the room.
"Do you understand what federalism is?" the fellow in glasses asked them, "Do you think it's a ploy to divide Iraq?" he offered (it looked like that was what he thought).
"Yes yes", the others replied in unison.
This was where I had to enter the discussion. "Do you actually believe the Kurds are going to agree to anything less than federalism?", everyone remained silent. "I mean they have been virtually independent for 13 years. Why would they give that up?". Some of them nodded in agreement.
"Yes, but Dr., they just want to seperate from Iraq" the medical aide said.
"They didn't say so, even though they have that right. The Kurdish leaders have stated on many occasions that they aren't interested in seperation, they just don't want to be second class citizens". This seemed to have convinced them and they let it go at that.
"So what do you think about the Transitional Adminstrative Law? Is it appropriate for the new Iraq? Has anyone read it?".
No one had read it of course. I gave them a brief explanation about the rights and freedoms granted by the document, they seemed impressed but they objected to the article stating that two thirds of the population of any three governorates could annul the permanent constitution. Some heated discussion followed and we agreed in the end that the law was temporary and could be modified by a future sovereign government and that overall it was a very progressive constitution, while keeping in
mind that constitutions are merely ink on paper and that Iraq had some good constitutions in the past, but that proper enforcement of the constitution was the most important issue.

Iraq and the Arab illusion 

(translated article by Dr. Shakir Al-Nabulsi)

During the second half of the 20th century, and after gaining independence, the Arab world lived the illusion of being a great and victorious nation (umma), capable of making history again after the end of colonialism which was purported to be the sole reason for this umma not to play its envisioned historical role.

It was proven later, however, after the end of colonialism, that this umma was extremely weak in its scientific, cultural, economical, and military abilities, incapable of achieving progress in any field, and due to the media blackout, and the absence of vital social statistics and information excluding, of course, the false misleading information regularly released by official governmental circles for appropriate propaganda and political purposes, the Arab society wallowed in their grand illusion.

The Arab world lived the illusion that it would have the power to achieve unity after the end of colonialism. It was proven, however, that the Arab world attempted over 20 unity experiments during the second half of the 20th century all of which were met with failure for several different reasons, the first being the illusion itself of the ability to achieve unity.

The Arab world lived the illusion that it would be able to bring freedom to its peoples after the end of colonialism. It was proven, however, that the Arab world has been ruled for decades by dictatorships and tyrannies which brought even more misery to the Arab people than the rule of colonialists, to the extent that some are now longing for the days of colonialism, wishing they would return.

The Arab world lived the illusion that it would be able to implement socialism after the end of colonialism. It was proven, however, that the Arab world was immersed into a system of state capitalism which dealt with sales and purchases starting from Felafil sandwiches to refrigerators, automobiles, washing machines, and houses. Corruption flourished in industry and commerce, and the 'general sector' was reduced to both a sad and funny example of this economical failure, the Arab world sunk in debts (over 300 billion dollars), when in the past a nation such as Great Britain owed a country such as Egypt over 500 million pounds worth of cotton and other unpaid goods, and now Egypt imports 80% of the ingredients of Felafil as the Egyptian Supply Minister stated days ago!

The Arab world lived the illusion that it would have the power to achieve victory over Israel and return the Palestinian right to its owners after the end of colonialism. It was proven, however, that the Arab world was unable to win not even one battle, or part of one, even though it went through 3 major wars and tens of secondary ones, and that the first half of the 20th century witnessed the loss of a quarter of Palestinian land, whereas the Arabs after gaining independence lost the other three quarters in the second half as we can see now. The Arab world lived the illusion of victory in every one of their lost battles, and to this day we refuse to admit our defeats. We still call the 1967 war the naksa, as we did before in the 1956 Suez war.

The Arab world lived the illusion that it would be able to successfully exploit its vast natural resources after the end of colonialism. It was proven, however, that the Arab world after briefly appearing prosperous during the seventies reverted suddenly to its past poverty due to its flawed financial management, high consumption rates, the explosion of population growth, unemployment, and flourishing of the terrorism market paid in sparkling yellow gold as announced by Bin Laden recently.

Illusion remained the major player of the incredible Arab scene. Illusion remained a drug that allowed us to sleep in delicious numbness until the information revolution exploded and exposed the Arab situation. The Arab world was classified in all fields at the bottom of the list of the world's nations, as revealed in UN reports for 2002-2003. The Arab world was shocked for living under a false illusion.

Religion did not lift us from the bottom.
Pan-Arab nationalism did not lift us from the bottom.
Our glorious ancestors did not appeal to prevent us from falling into the pit.
Our Hamasa and heroism poetry did not save us from falling.
Our Friday prayers sermons which assure us that we are "khaira ummatin ukhrijat lilnas" (the greatest nation brought out to people) did not save us.
The fiery speeches of leaders immortalised in the collective Arab memory did not save us.
Sorcery, magic, djinn, Sufi hymns, Darawish prayers, fatwas, and blessings of saints all did not help save us from falling into the void.

***

Today, the Arab world lives the illusion again in regard to the situation in Iraq, which is an extension to the Pan-Arab, unifying, socialist, democratic, military illusion that Arabs have been living in for over half a century.

A week ago I returned from Beirut where I attended the 'Arab Institution for Intellectual Modernisation' conference in which more than a 150 representatives of the Arab intelligentsia from all over the Arab world participated. I had the opportunity through this conference and my stay in Beirut -which is the mirror of the Arab world- to be closely informed about the different viewpoints of Arab intellectuals on the Iraqi situation. It appeared to me that the Arab world still lives in a huge illusion regarding Iraq, and other Arab issues. The majority of Arab intellectuals still live the illusion of unity, the illusion of freedom, the illusion of democracy that will come from inside on the back of an Arab camel or a white Arab horse, that Saladin will reappear to return the lost glories of the umma, that Al-Mahdi will turn the pitch black night of this umma into shining daylight, and that the destiny of this umma is this bloody conflict with others. It appeared that the rhetoric of the 21st century has not much differed from that of the fifties and sixties of the 20th century, the tongues have changed, but the words remain the same, the masks have changed, but the minds remain the same.

The Arab world, in its entirety, still bets on the return of Ba'athist rule to Iraq, and another part of the Arab world, even more deep in illusion, still bets on the return of Saddam, describing him as the 'the symbol, 'the leader neccessity', or the Shahid who has not died yet. And the Arab world, still living in illusion, believes in the Iraqi muqqawama ('resistance'), which is in fact a terrorist muqqawala (contractors) and not a national resistance, meaning that they are composed of groups of armed contractors, and defeated Arab mercenaries from Afghanistan and the Arab streets, which have lost all hope in the future, and all the bets of the present, dreaming of achieving the myth of the Islamic Khilafa (Caliphate) all of which was oppressive and bloody including the Ottoman Caliphate and the Taliban Emirate. That Arab world believes this terrorist muqqawala will win in Iraq over the will of the Iraqi people, and over the Iraqi future. That same Arab world living in illusion, believed that the army of Muqtada Al-Sadr will join forces with the remnants of the armed 'contractors', posing a significant threat to coalition troops forcing them to pull out from Iraq leaving it to be ruled by these groups. Today the Army of Al-Mahdi is backing and the illusioned Arab world is biting its fingers grieving over its lost hope. That same Arab world living in illusion believed that a scandal caused by a group of sick demented soldiers from the coalition such as the scandal of Abu Ghraib prison will tip the balance in favour of the armed 'contractors' in Iraq which announced recently that it will pay their wages in pure gold, instead of bank notes, fixing the prices of 'necks' in a statement by Bin Laden himself.

The question here is: Why did the Arab world live in all this illusion throughout the last half century?

The answer to this question is that the Arab world acts cowardly with itself, self-delusionary, lacking the neccessary courage to recognise and admit to the facts on the ground as was done in Japan and Germany after WWII, and that the Arab world lacks the necessary courage to admit to its self-insufficiencies, its weakness, poverty, ignorance, and its poor scientific and practical capabilities. Therefore, the Arab world will never advance as long as it regards itself advanced and not behind, it will never learn as long as it regards itself learned and not ignorant, it will never seek power as long as it regards itself powerful and not weak. This neurotic swelling, this pathologic tumour, this nostalgia of submitting in humiliation to the dead glories of the past in the Arab psyche, and this phobia were all reasons that we live such a grand illusion. Since the Arab world believes to this day -as told by its civil and armed religious institutions- that the road to the future passes only through the holy cities, that the past is the nerve of the future, that who has no first has no last, that heritage is better than modernity, that ancestors are better than the inheritors, that the rule of ancestors from the grave is better than the rule of inheritors today. The Arab world believes to this day -as told by its civil and armed Pan-Arab and religious institutions- that Andalus (Spain) will be returned, that Palestine will be liberated from the river to the sea, that Iskenderun will be returned, that Al-Mahdi will reappear, that the rule of Saddam Hussein and mass graves will return to Iraq, and that Saddam as he won before, with the support of Pan-Arab and religious institutions headed by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Ba'ath party- in the first Gulf War from behind trenches, will win again today, from behind bars!

Funny email of the day 

It is not a habit of mine to publish hate mail (death threats are usually my favourite), but this one really made my day and has to be the best I have ever had the pleasure to receive in my inbox since I started blogging. At least, the creative author will now start getting tens of messages titled URGENT BUSINESS PROPOSAL (with the caps) from Mrs. Mariam Abacha of Nigeria, the widow of Abdul (insert name here), the uncles of former Liberian president John Taylor, LOTTERY AWARDS, and of course 31 Kb sized RETURNED MAIL NOTIFICATION emails. Everyone should get spam mail.

From Goekhan.C@t-online.de:


....which asshole you are pretending beeing an iraqi and pushing up a big show, with your legere stories about how you feel and yeah, how you get used to the occupation, o yeah and that saddam was an asshole...of course...
And of course you made up some lists of moderate house-nigger-style-iraqis, none of them a true muslim, but rather concerned about the electricity and the powder on their ass...
shot the fuck up, you jewish-made hollywood-style sitcom fake duck...brainfarting idiot...
ouw how come, you dont post anymore, did you get lost in Baghdad, cia-agent fuckin bitch...



Thursday, May 27, 2004

Justice 

At last, the four soldiers that forced my late cousin into the Tigris at Samarra have been 'REPRIMANDED'. They still insist that no one had died even though Zaydun's DEAD body had been retrieved from the river. Also makes me wonder, if no one died, why did they offer a handsome sum of money to the family in return for their silence? And why did the mentioned Commander (the one who was also 'reprimanded') impede the investigation and LIE to the Army investigators? The stench of cover up is overwhelming. This won't go unpunished.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

On this and that 

I arrived at Basrah Friday afternoon. The moment I wearily stepped out of the bus, I felt like I was slapped in the face. It was like twenty hair dryers blowing on your face and body all at once and I'm not exaggerating. The city had a foggy appearance from the heat and humidity. I started cursing to myself and mumbling to the taxi driver about what it would be like over here in July or August, and whether they were really sane to be living in such a place. That night at the residence I swear the walls were oozing steam onto us, the electricity schedule was also the same as Baghdad now, 3 on, 3 off alternately (a total of 12 hours power a day), with a few minor outages during the 3 hours you are supposed to have it on, and some cheating going on with the 3 hours off which works something like this: it goes out 10 minutes before schedule and it's back 10-15 minutes after the three hours, so you are robbed of about 20 minutes from your luxurious 3 hours of power. I screamed at my cook when he insisted that the sharji (hot humid wind from the sea) hadn't started yet, meaning there is even worse to come, I really wanted to cry after hearing that.

Anyway, it wasn't just the heat, I was also greeted with bullets. As soon as I had entered the hospital, suitcase in hand, the sinister familiar sound of AK-47's ringed all around me. I charged for the doctors residence and for a moment I thought the hospital was under attack. FPS guards hurriedly closed the gates while others were running back and forth in the hospital yard shouting to each other obviously in panic. From the sound of it I gathered that a fierce battle was taking place just outside and I started considering whether I should just flee from behind. A few injured people caught in the cross fire were brought into the emergency hall, and some women were wailing. The shooting calmed down a little bit and sounded relatively distant after about 20 minutes, that was when I plucked up some courage to go take a look. It seemed that a gang of 20 armed thugs in 2 pickup trucks had attacked the main police station in the village which is just across the street from the hospital, they were Mi'dan (former marsh Arabs) from the militant Garamsha tribes. Some of their relatives were arrested for carjacking and banditry, so the assailants were practicing their democratic rights to protest against that. Brits showed up to backup the police, and 9 of the attackers were arrested according to the locals, the rest of them had fled. Overall it was a jolly welcome home party for me.

The Mi'dan tribes are a big problem in these parts, as most Basrawis tell me. When the marshes were dried years ago, they migrated from their original habitat and most of them settled in the Basrah governorate along the main Amarah-Basrah road, some even went as far south into the Faw peninsula. They are largely uneducated and simple folks and also the most impoverished in the country, however they are notorious for being outlaws. In fact most carjacking incidents in the south are attributed to them, and they are pretty open about it too from what I have seen so far. They are also actively involved in smuggling and looting high-voltage power cables. At my village in Basrah, pylons have been replaced about ten times during the last few months, and they keep coming back. At Al-Der which is a small town about 30 miles north of Basrah city, an Iraqi journalist accompanied by a friend stopped to replace a flat tire, the mechanic told him to run with his life because he was attracting attention and a lot of people were eying them like vultures awaiting their prey. The journalist didn't take the warning seriously because an IP checkpoint was in sight. Just as he was about to leave though he was intercepted almost immediately by 2 pickup trucks and was forced to get out of his car at gun point. He ran to the IP checkpoint asking for help, the policemen apologised heartily and told him that they couldn't interfere for tribal reasons. The bewildered journalist was pointed to the house of the Sheikh by some locals, and shortly later he was face to face with relatives of the carjackers who asked for 3 million Dinars in return for his own car, funny thing his host insisted that he stay for lunch. I don't know if he payed them or not but he has been publishing his story in the papers and he went to see the Basrah governor Wa'el Abdul Latif (also a GC member). Carjacking and banditry on the road continues however and in daylight. I was advised at the garage to take the bus to Basrah instead of a taxi as I usually do. Two of our colleagues were also robbed of all their possessions on their way back to Baghdad and left stranded on the road. Between Basrah and Amarrah I have counted about 15 IP checkpoints but it appears that they are in fact all useless.

Basrah has been largely quiet for the last two weeks, an occasional mortar is fired randomly and a roadside bomb explosion every now and then, but other than these 'normal' incidents nothing much has been going on. What attracted my attention was that posters of Muqtada Al-Sadr which used to be all over the place are now mostly gone, I could even recognise some which were half torn off the walls. Abdul Sattar Al-Bahadili (Sadr's representative in Basrah) has reportedly been recruiting suicide bombers, a few people here say that 20 of Sadr's followers signed up, and there is news of an anonymous group in Iran that has been doing the same. People also say that Al-Bahadili (who now poses as a pious cleric seeking British slaves) used to be a comedian before the war, and that he once acted in a theatre play in the role of Khomeini. Interesting. Other than that, Basrawis are now pretty open in their criticism of Sadr, I believe the latest statements from Al-Sistani and the Marji'iyah in Najaf (which have been intentionally downplayed by the media) have a lot to do with that. A couple of months ago nobody would even dare to speak out against Sadr, but today for example, a medical aide at my hospital announced in front of a whole room of people, and to my greatest surprise, that 'Muqtada is a huge source of embarrassment for us'.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Senior clerics of Najaf respond to Hassan Nasrallah  

Muqtada's followers intimidate civilians and their movement is illegal

(Najaf - Azzaman)

The Marji'iyah (senior Shia clerics) of the Najaf Hawza gave a joint response to what Hassan Nasrallah, the General Secretary of Lebanese Hezbollah, had said in his Friday sermon with regard to the situation in Najaf and Karbala. The statement was signed with the collective name of Ulemma of the Hawza Al-Ilmiyyah of Najaf and Karbala and excerpts from it were given to Azzaman (Translation courtesy of Michael Subotin):


1. It is the movement of Sayyid Muqtada Al-Sadr that is losing legitimacy in the strictest sense, and not the one led by Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Al-Sistani, the overall, most learned and assidious Marji' of Iraq and not the rest of the Marji's, not even Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Kadhum Al-Ha'eri, nor other people of fortitude and experience in the field of politics who are seared by the fire of the Iraqi crisis and its complications wrought by Muslim brethren from well-known Islamic political movements and organizations, nor others besides them, people of judgement, experience and education, engaged in political affairs.

2. It is the movement of Sayyid Muqtada that has encouraged the occupiers to cross the red lines. And as aside from that, the American occupiers while storming into Iraq and marching towards Baghdad through Najaf and Karbala did not commit the stupidities and insolence with regard to the sanctities in the two holy cities they have committed now.

3. And it is clear that the organization of Sayyid Muqtada - and whoever follows the Sadrist movement - were the first to violate the sanctity of the yard of Haydari Shareef (Imam Ali's shrine in Najaf) when they fired shots inside it at Sayyid Abdul Majeed Al-Kho'ei and killed Sayyid Yasiri within it and wounded Sayyid Majeed and killed Sayyid Hayder Al-Kelidar afterwards. And they are the very same who ignited the fuse of the bloody fight, whose victims among gathered believers were sacrificed over control of the shrine of Imam Hussein (peace be upon him), and it is possible for our lord [Nasrallah] to verify the former by asking his Excellence the Marji' Ayatollah Sheikh Ishaq Al-Fayyadh and from the sons of his Excellence the Marji' Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Sa'eed Al-Hakim and the latter with the help of his Excellence Sheikh 'Abdul Mahdi Al-Karbala'i, the representative of the Marji'iyah in Karbala and from his Excellence Sayyid Muhammad Ridha Al-Sistani [the son of Grand Ayatollah Sistani] in person.

4. The organization of Sayyid Muqtada is now carrying out intimidation of the general public and arrests of citizens, not only those whom they call collaborators with the occupation, the police, owners of stores selling foodstuffs to occupiers and others, but also students of religious sciences opposed to them and some of the members of the Badr organization [SCIRI], in addition to raiding offices of the Da'wa party in Kufa, and you can verify the former by asking his Excellence Sheikh Muhammad Mahdi Al-Asifi, his Excellence Sheikh Muhammad Hadi Al Radhi, and his Excellence Sheikh Muhammad Al-Yaqubi, and the latter by asking his Excellence Sayyid Omar Al-Hakim and Dr. Ibrahim Al-Ja'fari [GC member].

5. The firing of shots at the great dome of the shrine of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) [in Najaf], according to some specialists was most likely from the weapons of Sayyid Muqtada's followers and not from the weapons of others, inasmuch as the time of shooting was the day fighting flared up in the Valley of Peace cemetery, and there wasn't any fighting from the side of Alnabi street, whereas you claimed in your important sermon that the direction of the shooting was from the side of the Qibla gate [to the shrine], which is the side of Alnabi street.

6. The strike on the home and office of his Excellence Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani happened within the security perimeter whose every span was controlled by the organization of Sayyid Muqtada, and the office of Marji' Ali [Sistani] was in the immediate proximity to the center of the security perimeter of Sayyid Muqtada's organization [office], well guarded, and especially so in the vicinity of both of their offices, and so how can it be conceived - and you being an expert in these matters - that this stringent security perimeter was breached by an unknown organization, which carried out a protracted strike on the home of the Sayyid Marji' [Sistani] and then retreated without the cognizance of the organization of Sayyid Muqtada.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

On security 

Yesterday's assassination of Abdul Zahra Othman (Izzildin Selim), head of the GC, the highest authority in the country, should be regarded as a serious development, and one that raises some hard questions on current security measures and the manner in which Iraqi security forces (counting over 200,000 IP, FPS, ICDC, and Army members) will deal with the challenge in the near future.

It looks more like the death of the GC president was a mere coincidence, and that he was not the primary target of the attack, IP investigation officers seem to agree with this explanation. 2 other checkpoint entries into the Green Zone were attacked by suicide bombers previously, the first one close to the Jumhuriya bridge, then the second close to the 17th of July bridge a couple of weeks ago. And according to IP officers, coalition forces reacted by closing the attacked entry points to Iraqi employees leaving only checkpoint 12 at the end of Al-Kindi street in Harthiya as their daily entry route to the Green Zone. The logical consequence is that checkpoint 12 would be the next one to attack, so painfully plain and simple. How no one could predict this is beyond me.

This leads one to wonder, why would GC members wait in a long queue along with everyone else like sitting ducks? Shouldn't they have their own special entry points? Adnan Al-Pachachi and Ahmed Al-Chalabi barely escaped death since their vehicles were a little farther behind, this means the invisible attackers were very close to scoring 3 points in one easy hit.

So after Aqila Al-Hashimi, Ayatollah Muhammed Baqir Al-Hakim, and Abdul Zahra Othman, who is next? Is it just a coincidence that all 3 were Shi'ite? Abdul Zahra Othman was a leading Da'wa party figure, closely affiliated to the late Ayatollah Muhammed Baqir Al-Sadr (executed by the regime in 1980), founder of the Islamic Da'wa party during the late fifties. He later split from the Da'wa party because of some ideological differences and formed the Da'wa party movement. Exiled in Iran and later in Kuwait, he returned to Iraq following the fall of Saddam's regime.

A new comedic army claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement published on the Internet, this time 'The Arabic resistance movement', 'Al-Rashid brigades', naming Mohammed Al-Samarrai, and Ali Al-Juboori as the perpetrators, both are Iraqi Sunnis in case you were wondering. Up till now I never believed an Iraqi would carry out a suicide attack, although it is still disputable whether or not the attack was suicidal, but if proven true it would be an unprecedented development indicating that foreign terrorists have infiltrated enough to be able to recruit Iraqis with a predisposition for such acts.

The solution is not to erect higher concrete barriers, nor is it to place a checkpoint for the checkpoint for the entry gates. Experienced Iraqi intelligence officers swarming the country is the solution. The new Mukhabarat should be put to the test. Also, effective disarmament of the population (not attempted till now) starting with militias is an important and necessary step.

Further attacks, probably deadlier, are to be expected in the near future. Iraqi security forces have confidently announced on several occasions that they would do better if handed full security responsibilities. I fail to see so, especially when we have had examples of IP and ICDC cutting and running in the face of Al-Mahdi army in the south when Al-sadr decided to stir trouble. IP have not even defended their own stations when they came under attack in many cities, IP joining Al-Mahdi militiamen in looting at Basrah, gangs with elements of IP in Ammarah, and the cases of ICDC refusing to participate in restoring order at Fallujah and Kut with the feeble excuse that they would 'not attack fellow Iraqis'. Okay then, please try convincing insurgents, militias, foreign Jihadis, bandits, kidnappers, looters, criminals, and gangsters NOT to attack fellow Iraqis, maybe then we can see some real progress, Inshallah as they say in this corner of the world.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Celebrating Iraqi style 

An American patrol entered the Abu Hanifa mosque in Adhamiyah just an hour ago, a sergeant told the mosque Imam that they were searching for weapons and fighters whom had taken refuge inside the mosque. Nothing was found and no arrests were made as far as I know. Short fighting broke after the force was leaving the area, a couple of mortar rounds were fired, an American vehicle came under an RPG attack, and people from the area say it was damaged badly.

I could hear the fighting, since I was fairly close to the area at that time, but I didn't venture any closer. Adhamiyah is still considered a war zone, and surprises are bound to happen over there as it's the most anti-American district in Baghdad. Iraqi flags (with the Allahu Akbar sign) are pasted on almost every store, graffiti praising the 'valiant resistance' are all over the place, some prasing Saddam openly, and recently there have been a few shyly saluting Muqtada Al-Sadr and Al-Mahdi army.

Two days ago, Adhamiyah residents talked about clashes with American troops following the celebrations on the Iraqi Olympic football team's qualification to the Athens Olympics. Baghdad's night sky was red with celebratory gun fire at that day. Apparently, American patrols were bewildered and had mistaken the gun fire as attacks against them, possibly returning fire at foolish Iraqi football enthusiasts.

***

Contrary to what many people may imagine, celebrating by shooting in the air is not quite a recent tradition of Iraqi society. I've heard many Iraqis claim that this practice is alien to Iraqis, and that it had only been introduced during the rule of the Ba'ath, a reader emailed me once confused about the whole thing and wrote: "You can't
exactly say this a cultural thing, since AK-47's have only been around for a few decades,". They could never be more wrong. In fact, it dates back to at least a couple of centuries, since firearms were first introduced to the country during the 18th century. Almost every militant tribe at that time possessed fire power, the musket readily replaced the sword as a weapon used in raids against neighbouring trides and trade caravans. Tribesmen would celebrate victory by firing their spare bullets in the air while performing special dances and chanting hossat (tribal battle cry) fit for the occasion. And that's how it all originated. The practice also exists in similar societes throughout the Arab world, so it is not exclusive to Iraqis.

Many tribal leaders today still keep weapons used by their ancestors, they regard them with extreme care and pride, and they are passed over to successive generations and future Sheikhs. In rural Iraqi areas tribesmen and farmers use certain firing methods as signals, for example a call for help, to announce a newborn, a marriage, or the death of a significant person. Each signal has its own unique style, like 3 bullets fired in quick succession followed by 2 with a short pause in between. I remember once when we were teenagers and were partying at a friend's ranch north of Baghdad. A friend of ours wanted to impress us and he fired a few shots in the air from his pistol, and while others were filing up to take a try, shooting started suddenly from all around us, shortly afterwards some farmers passed by and offered our friend their condolences for his father's death, asking him how he met his unfortunate end! We didn't know anything about signals and all that stuff, so we were immensely surprised and the friend freaked out thinking his father had an accident or something. Of course our friend had coincidentally fired the death of a family member signal.

However, the tradition had only lately become common in urban areas. The capital (and other governorate centers) experienced a huge rate of growth and population following the 1958 coup, and due to poverty, dryness, and low opportunities for employment, a large number of peasant familes (sometimes whole clans) came to settle on the borders
of Baghdad mostly from the south (Sadr city is an excellent example of this migration phenomenon) creating huge slums areas. One cannot deny the fact that this brought great benefits to Baghdad in terms of man power and workers, but it has also brought along rural and tribal values and traditions in a direct conflict with urban civilised values
thus creating endless social problems and flourishing of crime and tribal traditions, new waves of migration continue to this day. The new settlers have to undergo drastic social changes in a very short period of time in order to adapt to their new environment, and just as their social circumstances rapidly evolved by the effect of urban Baghdadi society, they also integrated their own values brought from the rural
village into it, influencing urban dwellers. Celebratory gun fire is one of these products. Today, for example it is not uncommon to find a doctor or a university professor celebrate an event by shooting in the air.

The practice almost disappeared during the sixties until the nineties, when the former regime had controlled arms possession, and strongly prohibited any use of them. It returned again with a vengeance in the mid nineties after the regime implemented his controversial tribal policy and removed restrictions on tribal laws, but it was still mostly limited to rural parts, except when the regime granted permission for a specific event (such as Saddam's birthday or the Zahf Al-Kabir), or after the Iraqi football team wins a critical match. I remember my father (a man educated in the west) shooting in the air like crazy when the first Gulf War ended, that was the first and last time he ever did it.

Now, on Thursdays (the usual wedding day for Iraqis) you will have to remain indoors because of the ridiculous amount of gun fire in the air, the same for funerals, football events, and some creative instances such as getting your ancient car fixed! Yes, they do know that 'what goes up, comes down', but that won't change it. It is a bad habit indeed but if you lived here rest assured that you would be doing the same. Every individual is a product of his society.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Nicholas Berg 

I tried downloading the Nicholas Berg video, but it was too large for this unstable dial-up internet account. I guess part of me didn't want to watch it anyway. I remember a similar 500kB video that was sent to my email account about two years ago. I didn't know what it was, so I opened it and almost got sick to my stomach. The camera was focused on a man lying on the ground with a boot on his neck, his face down to the earth. Out of nowhere, a large knife is shown to the camera, then slowly it sinks into his neck just below the jaw line. The hand holding the knife moves it back and forth in a sawing motion while the victim screams in agony until his voice is reduced to a gurgle like sound. Eyes popping out and blood pouring from his neck. It was extremely graphic, although it was in black and white.

Strange coincidence that the Nick Berg video was released almost
simultaneously with the video of Palestinian 'freedom fighters'
displaying the severed head of an Israeli soldier on a table.
Al-Jazeera had the head blurred out, and the Nick Berg video was
casually mentioned near the end of their news bulletin, and that was
that. No extensive discussions with Arab 'intelligentsia' followed, no replaying of the video over and over again for days (as the Abu Ghraib images), no talk shows with enraged, fist shaking, name-calling Arab figures discussing the effect of these videos on the 'image' of the Islamic or Arab world. Just shame and guilty silence. Apparently, pictures of an American female soldier taunting a naked man with underwear on his head is much much more gruesome to Arabs. I guess not everyone is perfect.

So, to distance myself from the shameful hypocritical Arab and Muslim masses. I wish to denounce this barbaric act and the pathetic ideology that fueled it, to disown any person from my part of the world who would justify it, and to offer my sincere condolences and sympathy to the family and countrymen of Nicholas Berg.

And for Muslims, who are definitely going to say 'this isn't the real Islam':

"When you meet the unbelievers, strike off their heads; then when you have made wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives." Surat Mohammed:4

Grow up, and leave the 7th century.

Update:
Some angry readers have interpreted the above last statement as an
attack against fellow Muslims. That was not what I had intended. I
usually do my best to avoid theological debates on Islam for safety
considerations but I'll indulge them just this once. My purpose was to point out that Islam indeed excuses such barbaric acts. This is not the same as saying that all Muslims believe in such acts or commit them, moderate Muslims exist, but Islam is not moderate. Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists have not deviated from Islam, in fact all their practices are derived from the Quran and Hadith.

So yes, Islam is the problem here. Poverty, economic conditions, abuse by so called colonialism, and political frustration are not. Similar conditions elsewhere in the world have not prompted non-Muslims to commit suicide bombings or fly planes into towers. Islam, along with favourable cultural, tribal, and social values existing in the Arab world has prompted that drive. Islam and the Quran alone are not the root cause.

The solution is not however to alienate all Muslims, or to expel them, or annihilate them. It is up to 'moderate' Muslims and their clerics to carefully examine their scriptures and to reform, the same way Jews and Christians did. The Quran is a book, and its tenets were appropriate for a certain era in history. Most of it does not apply today, so it is not 'untouchable'. You either believe in the whole book, together with its violent verses, or you should stop claiming to be a consistent believer. You cannot select verses which appeal to your argument and ignore the rest.

How would you explain these, for instance:

"The just retribution for those who fight Allah and His messenger, and commit horrendous crimes, is to be killed, or crucified, or to have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or to be banished from the land. This is to humiliate them in this life, then they suffer a far worse retribution in the hereafter." Surat Al-Ma'ida:33

"O believers, do not take Jews and Christians as allies, they are
allies of one another. Those among you who ally themselves with these belong with them."
Surat Al-Ma'ida:51

I can go on and on, but I would rather not. I have intensively examined the Quran and Sunna, and I might have a few things that would scare some pious believers. Maybe, some other time, when I'm in a safer environment, I would devote a website or a book to the subject.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Abu Hadi has a new post about his adventures in Amman, Jordan. Be sure to check it out.

By the way, I 'liberated' the comments section. I went back through comments on some recent posts, and a large number of commentors, many of them old time posters, have been banned from commenting on this blog site anymore. From now on anyone posting (or responding to) off-topic posts will be banned immediately, and it won't help if he/she has been posting here for months.

The myth of sectarian unity 

Last Friday, the Abu Hanifa mosque at Adhamiyah (the largest Sunni district in Baghdad and a center of anti-American sentiment) witnessed a 'unified' Friday's prayer in which thousands of Shi'ite Sadr followers from all over Baghdad attended along with residents of Adhamiyah. Clerics from both sects condemned the US in their sermons. The Abu Hanifa Imam said that "Sharia impels us to use all means in order to drive the occupiers out of our country". Abdul Hadi Al-Darraji, a senior aide of Al-Sadr mentioned that this Friday prayer is to stress Islamic unity in Iraq, and a proof that all attempts to drive a wedge between different Islamic sects in Iraq have failed. He added that this unified prayer was encouraged by instructions from Muqtada Al-Sadr.

Saturday witnessed the formation of Hai'yat Al-Ulemma almuwaheda with clerics from both the Shi'ite and Sunni sects. Members include Sunni clerics most of whom represent the self-appointed Sunni Hai'yat Al-Ulemma and had dubious relations with the former regime lead by Harith Al-Dhari, together with a lethal mix of undistinguished Shi'ite clerics and Pan-Arab nationalists. The conference proclaimed that Islamic Sharia should be the basic source of legislation (of course), and that the Palestinian cause is the primary and central Arab and Muslim issue. Central issue? Please, not again. Don't we have enough of our own problems?

So, are we supposed to view this as a great 'achievement'? I guess those people have never read their history. Following WWI and the British mandate over Iraq, there were similar moves aiming for 'sectarian unity' most of which did not survive more than a couple of years. Sunni and Shi'ite clerics would both make sensational speeches at unified Friday prayers, then they would embrace and kiss each other as a sign of their unity while spectators cheered and praised Allah and Mohammed. Processions would march from Shia neighbourhoods to Sunni ones, pretentious stories would be circulated claiming that there was no schism in Islam at all, and that there were just a few doctrinal differences that had no significance at all.

Iraqis certainly don't need hypocritical clerics who have much more points of difference than agreement to unite them. As soon as the occupation ends and their 'common enemy' leaves, they (the clerics) will be back at each other's throats again. This has been the case each and every time throughout our history, and this time won't be any different.

***

Of course, this is in regard to 'sectarian unity' on the theological and political level. I do not want to give out the impression that different Iraqi sects are having problems with each other. True, sectarian tensions exist (they have for centuries), sometimes in certain areas of Iraq more than others (e.g. Kirkuk), but not to the extent that some might imagine.


Iraqi doctors ask: "What about us?" 

A number of renown Iraqi specialist doctors have expressed their outrage over the Iraqi, Arab, and international public reaction to the images of abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib. This following an alarming increase in the number of assassinations and abductions of Iraqi intellectuals and top medical professionals recently in Baghdad.

"They scream and whine about abuse of prisoners, most of who are criminals, but I don't recall anyone mentioning what we have gone through let alone condemning it, which was much worse. Now they are openly calling the Americans to release thousands of those criminals from Abu Ghraib.", a relative of ours told us a couple of days ago. He was kidnapped months ago and held for 2 weeks, after which his family paid a large ransom. Now he is considering leaving Iraq after he had recieved threats. He has already been offered a job as a professor in a Medical college in Europe.

Dr. Jawad Al-Shakarchi, a famous ophthalmologist was beaten together with his wife in front of his own house by armed assailants and was then forced to pay a ransom of $30,000. He left Iraq shortly following his release. Dr. Walid Al-Khayyal, a world famous Iraqi nephrologist specialised in kidney surgery and implantation immigrated to the UK immediately after his release a few weeks ago. He mentioned that his kidnappers tortured him and urinated in his mouth several times in an attempt to break his will. He refused to disclose the sum he paid for ransom. Dr. Abdul Hadi Al-Khalili, a specialist in brain surgery, is still suffering from severe psychological trauma and depression because of the humiliation he experienced by his captors and the large sum he paid in order to save his life. Dr. Raysan Al-Fayyadh, a general surgeon, was kidnapped by 15 gunmen in 3 cars. His family paid his captors $50,000 after he had sustained fractures in his nose and left arm after a whole week of torture.

Other gangs have resorted to blackmailing doctors monthly in return for their personal safety. The target is often threatened with death or abduction of a family member in case he doesn't comply with their demands. Eventually, this lead to rivalry and disputes between gangs competing for wealthier targets, often settled by assigning 'areas of influence' to each gang

A long list of specialists and doctors whom had immigrated abroad to escape the hegemony of organised crime groups was released by several concerned specialists. The list includes names such as Sarmad Al-Fahad, Riyadh Al-Sakini, Mudhaffar Karkachi, Mizhir Al-Douri, Mudhaffar Habboush, Talib Khairallah, Sinan Al-Azawi, Adil Al-Qaisi, Ayad Shafiq, and Hussam Jarmuqli. The Iraqi Medical Association organised a sit-in Saturday protesting the public's silence to the dangers they were confronting everyday, and calling upon the GC, Ministry of Interior, religious, tribal, and political groups to put an end to it, warning them of the grave consequences to the country if the immigration of Iraqi specialists and intellectuals abroad continues.

As much as 500 Iraqi intellectuals and specialists have been reportedly assassinated since April 2003, and a much larger number have been abducted. Several groups have been accused. Insurgents, criminals, fundamental religious groups, foreign terrorists, even Israelis. GC member Muhsin Abdul Hamid mentioned the phenomenon a week ago for the first time in public, decribing it as an "international plot against Iraq". However, the reluctance of the IP to assume their duties and the spread of lawlessness is to blame. Several gangs have been captured only to be released after a few days because of threats against the police force. In Tannuma, Basrah, an IP station was surrounded by an armed group related to several prisoners detained at the station. A tribal sheikh leading the group talked to the IP officer and told him to release his 'boys'. When the officer tried to explain to him that the prisoners they were holding were looters and bandits, the sheikh responded "So what? You know they're only trying to support their families". The officer was forced to release the prisoners when the sheikh threatened to return with heavier weapons. The reason the officer relented is because he also lives in the same area, and he or his family might be later harmed by relatives of the criminals.

Some tribal sheikhs have condemned other tribes for this behaviour, and several have vowed upon themselves to disown or punish any of their tribesmen connected with banditry or criminal behaviour, and to lose the protection and sanctuary of one's tribe is the worst kind of punishment that can be inflicted on an individual in rural parts of Iraq. That is why the former regime relied on tribal leaders rather than the police force to maintain order in the country.

Tribal laws sometimes border on the surreal. For example, when a thief breaks into your house and you succeed in injuring or killing him, his tribe would contact you asking for a diyya (a specific sum of money to be payed to a tribe for it's reputation and esteem to be restored) otherwise you would have to face the consequences. There are some ridiculous stories related to this practice, like a few months ago, this incident at the Basrah university; a herd of bulls was passing through an area of campus where some powerlines construction work was going on, a bull was electrocuted when it tripped over and damaged a power cable. The bull belonged to a tribe of former Marsh Arabs who had settled in the area recently. An angry sheikh came to the dean demanding a diyya for the dead bull. The dean was at a loss. He couldn't convince the sheikh that he had nothing to do with the accident. The university ended up paying the tribe for their dead bull.

I suppose I will have to write a post some time about tribes and their controversial role in Iraqi society.


Wednesday, May 05, 2004

New blogs 

Baghdadi is an Iraqi who lives in the US, his blog is called Iraqi American. He writes about different issues, from the gruesome images of tortured Iraqis, to Muqtada Al-Sadr.

Baghdad Update is a blog written by a female Iraqi exile who has been in Baghdad recently, describing her experience as the adminstrator for a group of companies involved in training Iraqi media staff.

This and that 

Not much has been going on in Basrah lately. Traffic and movement has returned to 'normal', a few streets where IP stations are located are still blocked. Explosives were found near a primary school which caused some panic among concerned Basrawis, another small bomb was dismantled close to a primary health care clinic which caused me to panic since I work at one. Basrah IP said the bombs were amateurish and wouldn't cause much damage anyway, so I'm a bit relieved!

There are signs, graffiti, and banners all over town against returning former Ba'athists to governmental institutions. Other signs strongly condemned the appointment of General Jassim Mohammed over the Fallujah brigade. One sign reads "Basrah residents demand a trial for Saddam's new cowboy in Fallujah". Another said "The return of Ba'athists is a return of Nazism and mass graves." Shi'ite clerics have also been making a fuss over it. There is a widespread belief that the US is turning toward Sunnis to take over Iraq again. One doctor at the residence said "This is just the first step, wait and see. Gradually, everything will return to what is was like under Saddam." Other Shia are comparing the US moves with the situation in 91, when the US allowed Saddam's regime to suppress the Shi'ite uprising following the Gulf war.

Electricity hasn't been very good this week at Basrah, but it still remains significantly better than Baghdad. The old medical aide was cursing his luck yesterday morning at the clinic. He had purchased a new air conditioner and a refrigerator but still did not have a chance to enjoy them because of the unstable electricity. He turned to me with a wicked toothless grin "Ah Dr., but there is an area just about 100 meters from where I live, and it has an alternate power schedule. I'm going to draw a power line from it." Other employees taunted him. One said "Hah, who would have imagined Jabar talking about air conditioning. Tell us Jabar, how much is your salary now?" But the old man always succeeds in shutting them up. I like the man, he often comes over to my room and chats about politics. What amuses me is his
constant criticism of Iraqis. He says things like "There's no use in anything. Iraqis are all thieves and murderers.", or "Iraqis don't deserve democracy, they only deserve Saddam."

He was ranting like crazy this morning. Recently, there was a MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) immunisation campaign. Primary health care clinic employees are divided into as much as 10 teams, they start making rounds at primary schools and villages, each clinic in it's surrounding area, immunising children under 12 years old. The campaign is funded by Save The Children and other humanitarian organisations. Each team member is paid 10 dollars a day for a two weeks period. It is their duty to ensure that every child in their area is immunised. The campaign ended two months ago and they still haven't been paid, although the funds were paid in advance to the Basrah Health Directorate. Someone told them lately thay they will be only be paid 5 dollars a day, instead of 10. Corruption at the higher levels is still
at large it seems.

We've had 3 sleepless nights lately because of power outages. The bedroom is the only room in the residence with air conditioning. The hospital director has promised us another one for the living room ages ago, but he is a man who is known to 'keep' his promises, just like the promised new computers (that are still stored), and the promised Internet connection (that ended up in his office only). The heat over here is intolerable, this is actually just a sample of what is to come in July and August. There is a hot sharji (Eastern wind) which brings dust, however they call this a 'cold' sharji, and as you may have guessed, I can't wait to experience the 'hot' one.

Bandits and looters continue to bring down pylons carrying high voltage cables out in the desert road. Our cook says the pylons are replaced periodically, but they are brought down by looters periodically as well.

Abu Ghraib 

It appears that Abu Ghraib is destined to remain a dreaded name by the majority of Iraqis. In the middle of the small suburb west of Baghdad stands the largest prison compound in Iraq for decades. When you hear someone mention Abu Ghraib, you don't think of the many palm groves gracefully shading simple scattered houses and green meadows, you don't think of the main vegetables marketplace (Alwah) which provides over 5 million residents of Baghdad with most of their daily meals, you don't think of the second largest graveyard in Iraq which lies on its main road, you don't think of Khan Dhari, you don't think of Baghdad university's colleges of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, you don't think of the numerous archealogical and historical sites. Instead, what immediately jumps to your mind is the image of the tall sinister double walls, surrounded with barbed wires and several guard towers, housing at least a hundred thousand people at a time.

The name 'Abu Ghraib' has always been associated with regular summary executions, systematic torture, endless periods of detention, and the worst living conditions ever imaginable. Former Abu Ghraib inmates have lovingly nicknamed the prison 'Abu Geneve' (Geneva), some choose to call it 'Sweesra' (
Switzerland), so it was not an uncommon thing to hear someone say "When I was in Abu Geneve, I did so and so.." It is disputed how the nickname originated, but the explanation that makes most sense is mocking Uday Saddam Hussein when he was 'punished' and detained in Switzerland for murdering Kamil Hanna, his daddy's bodyguard, in the late eighties. The old prison was expanded when Saddam came to power, and divided into three seperate compounds, all within the main prison borders. A compound for extremely dangerous criminals which was called 'Thaqila', one for the rest of the convicts, and the other 'Alahkam Alsiyasiya' for political prisoners, and any other Iraqi convicted with crimes against the state and the regime. Prisoners placed into the third compound were most often held indefinitely with no trial or conviction of any kind.

I once visited the prison in 1998 with a couple of friends at the monthly 'Muwajaha' visit. We had two friends who were held in the political convictions compound, they had forged high school degrees in order to be accepted into Medicine colleges, and they were eventually caught after one year of college. They just disappeared mysteriously one day without a trace, and it took two months of search, mediations by tribal sheikhs, and bribery of security officials to locate them.

We hesitated much before deciding to visit our two friends, but their families had asked us and we couldn't possibly say no. The procedure, as far as I can remember, works thus; a prison guard dressed in khaki announces the names of the prisoners one by one at a side gate which is the visitors entrance, when the name of your relative (or friend) is announced you step forward, get frisked by another guard and enter. Once you're inside, you head over to a small building (which is the only place behind the first wall) where they take your name and the name of the person you are visiting, get searched again (more efficiently this time), someone stamps a 'visitor' sign in red ink on your forearm, and then you board a small bus on the other end of the building which takes you through the inside gate of the prison and drives you to the final destination on closely guarded paved roads. You enter the main political convictions compound this time, where you are herded by guards along with the rest of the visitors through long dimly lit hallways with jail cells on both side (when you pass by the cells you would hear inmates excitedly calling names of relatives and friends who are visiting while crowding at the small openings of jail doors), at the end they check your arm for the red sign, quickly frisk you again, and you exit into what is supposed to be a football field which is where you meet prisoners. The field also surrounded by high walls and guard towers. After a few minutes, the inmates are released to the field and you can spend two hours with whoever you are visiting, have a meal with them, and hand them money, food, and supplies.

I remember the look on my friends' faces, they just stared gratefuly at us, begging us to tell them about Baghdad and other friends, and refusing to tell us anything about the treatment they were receiving. They were bruised and looked exhausted. We learned later from them (after they were released) that if you had enough money (plus appropriate connections) you could avoid mistreatment, and that most of the abuse came from fellow inmates, some of whom had hidden razors in their teeth, used psychotic drugs, and were extremely aggressive to other inmates. They had endless interesting stories to tell about the year and a half they spent, for instance one of my friends had a small radio that he used at night to listen to music and he had it hidden at ingenious places, which caused much frustration to the guards (radios were prohibited). Of course my friends were fortunate, their time would be considered a holiday in 'Geneve' when compared to others.

When we were leaving the field I remember freaking out while the prison guard paused to check my 'visitor' stamp on my forearm, evidently suspicious, it was incredibly hot and sweat had caused it to fade. He grabbed my arm and stared at it for some time while I was thinking "That's it, he's definitely going to mistake me for a prisoner attempting to sneak out among the visitors". My thoughts raced, and I
had resigned to my fate and started to turn my mind to planning how to give up all the money I carried just to make a phone call, to try to remain as composed as possible, imagining what the toilet may look like, where to sleep. The guard suddenly let go of my arm and shoved me through the door. When I was finally outside the prison I impressed upon myself never to visit my friends again despite promising them to do so.

***

Now, regarding the disgusting images from Abu Ghraib that the whole world had witnessed in the last few days. They didn't come as a surprise at all, we have been hearing stories about the abuse of prisoners for a long time from released detainees and from humanitarian organisations. It doesn't shock me at all that some American soldiers are so sick and devoid from any humanity. You need to have a cousin pushed off from a dam by some in order to learn that. What surprises me
though are people saying "Saddam did worse", or the soldiers responsible claiming they were 'never taught anything about running a prison', and 'No one gave us a copy of the Geneva conventions'. We have a saying for that over here, "An excuse uglier than the guilt".

The fact that the soldiers were merely relieved from duty and reprimanded wasn't surprising either. In fact it is to be expected. The outcome of the investigation indicated that systematic psychological and physical torture, mistreatment, or abuse (whatever) was indeed routine in US detention centers throughout Iraq. Military Intelligence officers had encouraged it, referring to it as 'setting the conditions for subsequent interrogation', and of course soldiers follow orders without questioning. Keep in mind, though, that former Iraqi Security and Mukhabarat officers also employed appropriate measures to 'set the conditions', and we thought we were over that now.

While Saddam Hussein sits safely in his comfortable cell in Qatar or wherever else he is being held, Iraqi detainees are being put into the most humiliating and degrading conditions that can be imagined. While the guilty are free to wreak havoc, and take refuge in holy cities, the innocent are detained and mistreated for months without charges. But it seems like that is life.

They may be just a few soldiers, it may be an isolated case, but what's the difference? The effect has been done, and the Hearts and Minds campaign is a joke that isn't funny any more.

Fox News and free speech 

This is a fascinating spin of my last post on Al-Jazeera. I have to say that I am not very much familiar with Fox News' coverage of the conflict in Iraq, so judge for yourself. (contributed by Allen Booth):

What is with this worldwide liberal conspiracy against Fox News? I fail to comprehend it. Is it because it dares to speak the 'truth'? You should know that the 'truth' hurts.

Is it because it dares to 'twist' the facts just a little bit in order to please and satisfy the conservative American masses? You should know by now that Americans are fond of rhetoric and of being cast in the role of victors.

Is it because of its highly successful coverage of the US war against Iraq? You should know that Fox News was right and that there were stockpiles of WMDs in Baghdad on April 9.

Is it because of its exclusive privileges to air videotapes and messages from every Bush administration flunky and sick neo-con in the Western world? You should be proud of Fox News' cosy relationship with the Bush administration.

Is it because it keeps complaining about the foreign terrorists in Iraq while not mentioning a single word about US aggression in other countries around the world? You should know that George Bush is always right.

Is it because of its self-describing motto which says 'Fair and Balanced' which is never ever the case? Is it because it claims to be objective and unbiased when it clearly refers to mercenaries in Iraq as 'contractors'?

Is it because it tends to describe Iraqis killed by US forces as terrorists, whereas hundreds of Iraqis killed are just innocent civilians? You should know that the life of a Iraqi civilian is cheap when it is taken by an American as long as it is in the name of promoting US interests.

Is it because it calls cluster bombing in Iraq 'precise' operations, whereas all violence against US forces are acts of 'terrorism'? You should know that Fox News has employed renowned neo-con pundits who can issue instant judgements to distinguish killing in the name of good from terrorism.

Is it because it reports US military briefings and White House statements as facts without bothering to offer proof or explanation afterwards? You should know that isn't necessary as long as it achieves the desired effect.

Is it because of the tendency of its talk show hosts to quickly shut up every guest or participator in its programs who mentions or criticises a right-wing leader, and to say "Shut up you moron"? You should know that Bush administration leaders are flawless and beyond any reproach.

Please Mr. Liberal, you should encourage our Fox News' blossoming attempts of free speech not suppress them.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Al-Jazeera and free speech 

What is with this worldwide Zionist imperialist conspiracy against Al-Jazeera station? I fail to comprehend it. Is it because it dares to speak the 'truth'? You should know that the 'truth' hurts.

Is it because it dares to 'twist' the facts just a little bit in order to please and satisfy the raging Arab masses? You should know by now that Arabs are fond of rhetoric and of being cast in the role of victims.
Is it because of its highly successful coverage of the US war against Iraq? You should know that Al-Sahaf was right and that there was not one tank in Baghdad on April 9.

Is it because of its exclusive privileges to air videotapes and messages from every criminal and sick organisation in the Arab and Muslim world? You should be proud of Al-Jazeera's cosy relationship with terrorists.

Is it because it keeps complaining about the US occupation of Iraq while not mentioning a single word about US bases in Qatar (the very country it is broadcasting from) and other Arab countries? You should know that Arab regimes are always right.

Is it because of its self-describing motto which says 'Opinion, and the other opinion' which is never ever the case? Is it because it claims to be objective and unbiased when it clearly refers to thugs and criminals in Iraq as 'resistance fighters'?

Is it because it tends to describe Iraqis killed by US forces as Shahids, whereas those hundreds of Iraqis killed by suicide bombers and insurgents are just 'killed'? You should know that the life of a Muslim is cheap when it is taken by another Muslim as long as it is in the name of Allah.

Is it because it calls suicide bombings in Iraq and Israel as Shahada operations, whereas those in other Arab countries are acts of 'terrorism'? You should know that Al-Jazeera has employed renowned clerics who can issue instant fatwas to distinguish Jihad from terrorism.

Is it because it reports rumours and eye witness accounts as facts without bothering to offer proof or explanation afterwards? You should know that isn't necessary as long as it achieves the desired effect.

Is it because of the tendency of its anchors to quickly shut up every guest or participator in its programs who mentions or criticises an Arab leader, and to say "Please please, let's not mention names"? You should know that Arab leaders are flawless and beyond any reproach.

Please Mr. Imperialist Zionist, you should encourage our blossoming attempts of free speech not suppress them.

'Terrorism' in Syria 

I found it really interesting to watch the official Arab reaction to the shootout in the Syrian capital a few days ago. Syrian authorities vaguely reporting the incident at first, denying it after a little while, then announcing afterwards that a 'terrorist' attack had taken place. Syria definitely has a distorted definition of the word 'terrorism', which is actually a term misused by many other countries besides Syria.

Then we had the Arab [Dictators] League strongly (it has to be strongly) condemning the act, and several Arab leaders racing to make phone calls to check with Assad. Why all this fuss? It turned out later that it was an attack against a building owned by Rif'at Al-Assad. The Syrian news agency (which happens to be state controlled if you did not know) had mentioned earlier that the building was uninhabited and had been used by the UN in the past. So there it is, yes, that definitely should be listed under terrorism.

Bashar Al-Assad described the incident as a 'terrorist' attack, and in the same breath referred to all acts of violence in Iraq, with no exceptions of any kind, as acts of 'legitimate resistance' against occupying forces. This I am sure leaves no doubt as to where Syria stands regarding the conflict in Iraq. Yes, Bashar. I am totally confident now that you are keeping a good eye on the borders with Iraq. I can now turn my back safely.

Is it not amusing how Arab regimes constantly accuse others, particularly the US, of double standards when dealing with Arab and ME issues? As we say here, it's like a crow pointing to another, saying "Look, you're black". They can never realise how pathetic and ridiculous this looks to the rest of the world. I hope Assad and his privileged family suffer many many more of these 'terrorist' attacks. That is what you get when you turn a blind eye to common borders, freely allowing foreign terrorists (sorry, I mean freedom fighters) and aid to enter Iraq. I'm afraid to say that I will not feel any pity if it backfires upon them and they get a taste of their own medicine, and I certainly don't like to feel that way.

Unbelievable Internet cafe stories 

I was chatting with a close friend of mine a couple of days ago. He has a degree in software engineering but he works at an Internet cafe owned by relatives of his until he runs across better career opportunities. As some of you may know, Internet usage in Iraq prior to the war was the lowest in the region. SCIS (State company for Internet Services) which was the sole Internet provider in Iraq estimated Internet users as less than 15,000 in late 2002, this is in a country of over 25 million. And before 1999, Iraq was the only country in West Asia with no Internet connection at all.

Computer parts and fibre optics imports to Iraq were prohibited under UN sanctions because they were 'dual use'. The regime once described the Internet as an 'American globalist plot to enter into every house', plus the severely damaged telecommunications infrastructure all made it look quite impossible. That was until the year 1999 when we started to hear that the Internet was being slowly and cautiously introduced to high ups in the government and to facilities closely controlled by the regime such as the Military of Defense, Mukhabarat, Special Security, and the Military Intelligence. After a while it was suddenly and unexpectedly implemented into most governmental facilities and to Baghdad University. The regime had obviously recognised by then that the Internet could be used as a convenient propaganda tool, provided it would have central and strict control to be ensured it was used properly. The first Iraqi website on the net was launched by the Iraqi News Agency and Al-Zawraa newspaper (owned by Uday) was the first online Iraqi paper.

The first Internet center was opened to the public in early 2000 at Alawi Al-Hilla near the central Baghdad train station. I vividly recall visiting it a few days after it had opened. I had no background information on the Internet or how it was supposed to be used back then, I had intended to find some resources for a college report and I remember myself roaring at the polite employees in rage because nothing had appeared in the web browser when I typed 'prosthetic dentistry' in the address bar. When word had spread, Baghdadis started to wait in long lines for a vacant computer in order to browse at that center. People were thirsty for any link to the outside world. More Internet centers were opened in Baghdad, and later in governorate centers. By 2003 we had 42 centers all over the country with a total of 546 computers (still not enough). It was illegal to own a modem back then unless you had special authorization from the government, the ban was suddenly lifted and SCIS announced that email (only) account subscriptions were now available for home users. Of course it was still expensive for the majority of Iraqis, and you had to sign under a long list of conditions and commitments which included brief passages from the Iraqi criminal law and warnings of up to 20 years imprisonment if they were breached, something like that. I admit the list was scary but the temptation was overwhelming.

I signed up. After a few days I had figured out how to access Usenet, Yahoo Groups, and the Internet Movie Database by email. A couple of months more and I discovered a fascinating method to access the web by email!! There were a few archaic services, one called www4mail (I think), and another by the University of Vancouver. A few days more and I had my hands on tons of similar 'useful' services. You can imagine the excitement of a deprived soul over that discovery, and what was even better is that it was (we thought it was) uncensored. And like the generous young chap that I am, I started to pass out these services to friends and family. In less than a week the whole country had mastered the trick! Of course when I look back at the situation now I think that I was most probably insane to spread that kind of information. After a few days my email account (along with thousands others) were discontinued. I remember waiting in panic for some time for the dreaded knock on the door, but much to my relief it didn't come. We were lucky, but also foolish enough to actually visit the Ministry of Information later to ask what had happened to our accounts. We were presented with a roll of paper with hundreds of names on it and told that if our names were on the list then our accounts were cancelled because of 'misuse'. Our names were there all right, so we resigned and went back home. The next day I opened another account in my mother's name. I acted like a good boy after that, and the aforementioned services got blocked anyway.

Internet home accounts were finally allowed to the public in 2002. We all subscribed even though it was heavily monitored and filtered, and we continued using them until after a few days of the war.

This post is getting super long and it seems I have digressed. I wanted to share a few amusing stories about some new and first-time Iraqi Internet users that my friend was telling me the other day. Sooo here we go; first story. My friend was helping an elderly lady open a webmail account, he left her slowly typing an email message to a relative. She asked him later to send the message for her. My friend, always so kind and helpful, just went over and hit the send button. "What did you dooooo?!!" the woman shrieked at him. He told her that he did what she asked for. "Didn't you write thanks at the end of the letter??" she asked him, obviously insulted about that fact. "Errr, no. Didn't you finish writing?". She said that she did but that it was awfully rude of him not to remind her to say thanks. My friend was confused at this point and he offered to send another email of thanks to her relative. "No, too late. I want my letter back. Bring it back please". A senseless laugh was emitted from the guy on the computer next to them who was overhearing their conversation, the woman glared at him and he cut it short. S told her that he couldn't possibly do that since he had already sent it. The woman looked bitter so my friend humourously said that if he could run fast enough up to the roof to the main Internet satellite dish he might be able to retrieve the email message just before it was transmitted into space. "Why are you still standing here?!" She screamed at him, "What are you waiting for?!".

Another amusing incident was when a solemn middle aged man entered the cafe and asked to check his Yahoo email account. My friend (who I will call S) opened up the Yahoo Mail main page and left the man to his business. After what seemed like ages, the man called for him complaining of a problem with his account. "Oh, you're still here? What's the problem?". The man said that Yahoo wasn't accepting his password. S asked him for his user ID and password. "My user ID is www.iraq.com and my password is baghdad" the man replied in all seriousness. My friend was significantly surprised and told hin that wasn't possible at all, but the man sweared that he used that account all the time at other Internet cafes and that it worked, he then proceeded to rant about the cafe's poor connection and how he had spent a couple of hours achieving nothing at all. S let him leave without paying of course after this exchange. He said the man was elegantly dressed and looked respectable and that it is was no way he was playing any tricks just to browse for free.

There was another guy who had just opened a new webmail account with the assistance of my friend, and then out of the blue said that he was waiting for an urgent reply from an acquaintance of his and that he wanted it sent specifically to this account. S told him that he can't possibly do that if the other party didn't know about this new account. "Oh damn, this happens all the time" the guy said, evidently disturbed. It turned out later that the poor fellow was under the false impression that he couldn't use the same email account from two different Internet cafes, and that he had to open a new one every time he visits a new cafe. He showed my friend a long list of email accounts and passwords on a scrap of paper each with the name of an Internet cafe in front of it. S told him that he was wrong, but he wouldn't listen and insisted that it worked that way. S says there was no use trying to convince him otherwise.

Some tribal sheikhs once entered the cafe and asked my friend to contact some sheikh in Syria by MSN messenger for them. S asked them for an address or an ID but they didn't have any. "Oh no need for that" they told him, "Just say we are from the Albu----- tribe. Everyone knows us". S tried to make some sense from their statements but to no avail. They were convinced that just typing their name somewhere would get their relative sheikh to find them. He inquired if they had a website or an email address or even a phone number, but they didn't know what he was talking about and they also looked insulted by his questions as if he was implying that 'they didn't know anything about the Internet'. My friend resigned and pointed outside in the direction of another Internet cafe and told them that they would find a center not far from here which is specialised in tribes and that they would probably have better luck over there since he was not very experienced in such matters. The sheikhs were very pleased to hear this, and they thanked my friend wholeheartedly with crushing handshakes and left. Thankfully he never heard of them again.

The greatest laugh of all was when someone hurriedly came to the center with a box in his hand and told S that he had to send this box immediately to a contact in Jordan. My friend told him that this was an Internet center not a delivery service. The guy impatiently explained that it was urgent and that he'd rather send it on the Internet because he tried a telecommunications center and they couldn't help him. The package contained a pair of high heels, lipstick, and some cosmetics. My friend was dumbfound and started to wonder whether he was being put on or something, so as usual he pointed the fellow to another center across the street. Shortly later, the guy returned and breathlessly gave S a photo. It was a photo of the box contents. Someone at the other center had took it, printed it out and handed it to the guy with the box for some indiscernible reason. S asked him what he intended to do with the photo, and the guy just broke down in hysterics cursing everything and everyone from Saddam Hussein to Paul Bremer. Before my friend could say anything, the guy had left.

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