Sunday, November 12, 2006

Iraq: The Lost Generation 

Nearly half of Iraq’s population is under the age of 21. ‘Iraq: The Lost Generation,’ which was shot for Channel 4, opens a window into the hidden lives of Iraqi Youth. I strongly recommend watching it.

It follows the lives of the insurgent, the soldier, the doctor, the militiaman, the prisoner, the salesman and the disabled. All of them young Iraqis who have lost hope and feel they have no future.

Haider, 19, a Shi’ite from Sadr City, lost a leg when American forces opened fire randomly after a bomb targeted their patrol. His father was executed by Saddam’s regime. Now he hates both Saddam and the Americans.

Mazin, 18, joined a Sunni insurgent group in Fallujah after his mother was shot in the head by American troops during the first military campaign against Fallujah. His mother wanted him to complete his studies, but he is obsessed with revenge and continues to fight Americans in Fallujah with a small group of friends.

Ali, 18, is a member of Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

Mohammed, 26, is a doctor working at a hospital in central Baghdad. He is planning to leave the country as soon as possible.

Ahmed, 18, was arrested by American troops two years ago when they stormed into his family’s house in Baghdad. Ahmed, his six brothers and his father were accused of being an insurgent cell. They were imprisoned at Abu Ghraib for twelve months and received no trial.

Kamal, 17, a Shi’ite, was forced to leave a mixed neighbourhood of Baghdad where he lived with his family.

Yousif is a soldier in the new Iraqi army. He was a deserter of the old army.

Watch it here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Iraqi Bloggers React to Saddam's Verdict 

Baghdad Treasure:

Although I am happy that Saddam is going to be executed, I think it's not going to change the real mess in Iraq. It is something like Zarqawi's death, which changed nothing. I think most Iraqis, especially those who lost relatives by Saddam's tyranny, are happy that he is sentenced to death. But at the same time, the same people are still sad and depressed due what is going on there. It is what I call bittersweet.
I also think that executing him is something that is going to make him rest. I believe he should not be dead. He should be tortured like the ones he and his men tortured. He should be humiliated like how he humiliated his people. Then, he should be hanged. Where? In al-Tahrir square, where he once hanged victims in public. This is the kind of justice that should be done.
I think that Iraqis should focus on the present. The past has passed. It is in this critical time that we Iraqis should focus on how to restore our life and our country. It's not an easy task but we should do something. I know most of us are helping our country by continue studying and working. Even our writing is a tool that is going to help Iraq. The government and the occupation seem to be unable to help, if they wanted to help.
Iraqi Konfused Kid:

Most of the Iraqis I've prodded felt oblivious to what could happen to Saddam's neck. A Sunni cousin of mine by the name of Omar in Ghazaliya said, "To the hell," while another Sunni cousin of mine in Egypt said, "To the heck." I for one, felt happy, and congratulated everyone I saw. While having justice done to the tyrant would have been so much better if it were not for the sad state of Iraq today, I only felt good today because this could actually achieve good effects on the ground -I think that the minute Saddam is executed many of the Baathists would stop and reconsider what they are fighting for. The Iraqi Baath party always will be a personality cult. Hell may break loose for the next couple of days but remember, we are already in hell, so bring it on.
Nibras Kazimi - Talisman Gate:

We are witnessing an incredible moment in the history of freedom. I had no idea that the verdict would release such an intense bond of fealty to Saddam among those who reject and fight the new Iraq.

Today, we learn that the insurgency is doomed, and that the insurgents know that they are facing doom. And today, they have come to recognize doom in whatever length of rope is necessary to hang a man—indeed, to hang an era.
AYS - Iraq at a Glance:

I was watching it alone in my flat. Honestly, tears flew from my eyes as the judge announced the ‘death by hanging’ sentence. I don’t know why! Yes, he destroyed my country, killed the people, ruined everything, squandered our fortune, and dispossessed the people in addition to the uncountable crimes. But I feel sorry for him today!
Sami - An Iraqi’s Thoughts:

The decision on Sunday was bittersweet, as an Iraqi Kurd I think this is the day of justice we have all looked forward to and dreamed about, that Saddam would find his fate and that the martyrs and people of Iraq who have suffered due to him would be on the other side of the equation.

The irony is I sincerely hoped he would apologise, it may sound childish but I thought maybe somewhere along the line he would say he was sorry for the harm and pain that he inflicted upon the Iraqi people and that if he could go back in time he would do things differently. That will never happen and for the rest of my lifetime I will be arguing with non-educated liberals and right wing Arabs about how bad he was, with their counter argument of what is happening now is WORSE than Saddam.

What matters is not who killed more or who died, Saddam created a mentality and way of thinking that not only people from Tikrit use.... I was watching Abdul Aziz Hakim and if Saddam thought people deserved to be killed based on sect or ethnicity than there are those people Iraqis suffer from today, who enforce extremism and religion onto the people of Iraq.

I sincerely thought that Iraq would be liberated from Saddam's style of totalitarian thinking and people would be 'liberated' and free to act and feel the way they do. I am very happy that Saddam has received the ultimate insult but hope that all those who copy his ways in one or another somehow find the same fate as him.
Majed Jarrar – Me vs. Myself:

The imprudent administration of the United States thought that by finishing the play of Saddam’s trial they could appeal to more people that they were finally able to achieve their fake victory in Iraq. One would definitely argue now that ‘evil’ is removed from Iraq and the situation is on its way to be perfect soon. Americans and people of the world are smarter than this. Evil will always remain in Iraq until the US administration completely pulls out all its troops from here.
Elen Ghulam – Ihath:

Goodbye Iraq's butcher;
may you never grow in our dreams.
You were the farce that placed itself
where lives were torn apart.
You called out to our country,
and you tormented those already in pain.
Now you belong to hell,
and in shame we spell out your name.
And it seems to me you lived your life
like a candle in the wind:
fading with the sunset
when the rain set in.
And your footsteps we try to erase,
along Iraq’s bloody path;
your candle's burned out long before
your cowards ever will.
Greatness you've lost;
these empty days without your tyranny.
This torch we'll always carry
for our nation's golden child.
And even though we try,
the truth brings us to tears;
all our words cannot express
the nightmares you brought us through the years.
Goodbye Iraq's butcher,
from a country lost with or without you,
we won't miss your iron fist
not that you ever cared.
Marshmallow – Iraqi Roses:

For me, I am neither against nor with what the court decided yesterday, enough with it … what will get in my pocket if I cheer up or mourn him? NOTHING!! Iraqis are getting killed every day and double or triple what was in the past. We get confused how we are going to burry our dead beloved people and where, we get that fear inside us when we hold the funerals, we get scared and nervous when we go to work and not sure whether we will make it or not!!! This decision will generate a huge controversy amongst Iraqis for a while but it will be kept down by time, because their icon no longer will be alive. Just like what happened when they captured him, the people went crazy, celebrating and fighting, but later every thing went back to its normal status.
Sooni:

Finally, we folded the book of tyranny in Iraq. It was not surprising to hear the death penalty, Saddam killed more than anyone can imagine with his wars and the countless atrocities against his own people, but it was surprising to see a good bunch of whiners grieving upon the tyrant.
Gilgamesh – Into the Sun:

I would have applauded this trail process, later the verdict, whether death penalty or not, if it would have been a solely Iraqi process, coming from the ethos of the Iraqi people and nothing else, I would have applauded this verdict if it was not tailored to suit the interests of foreign occupying forces in my country, and I would have applauded this verdict, if Iraqi people were smart enough to be a unified force, and one voice, and not clashing over a death sentence that has nothing to do with them and quite exogenous to their very wants and desires!
Najma - A Star From Mosul:

What are my reactions on the trial? NONE. I didn't even watch it. I didn't want to. It won't change a thing, not to the better at least.

What's Saddam to me? Once a president who I hated. Now a former president who just "made" things work!!
Omar and Mohammed - Iraq the Model:

I was overwhelmed with joy and relief as I watched the criminals being read their verdicts. For the first time in our region tyrants are being punished for their crimes through a court of law.
Until this moment and while I’m typing these words I’m still receiving words of congratulations in emails, phone calls and text messages from friends inside and outside the country. These were our only means to share our happiness because of the curfew that limits our movement.
This is the day for Saddam’s lovers to weep and I expect their shock and grieve to be huge. They had always thought their master was immortal so let them live in their disappointment while we live for our future.
Riverbend – Baghdad Burning:

When All Else Fails… Execute the dictator. It’s that simple. When American troops are being killed by the dozen, when the country you are occupying is threatening to break up into smaller countries, when you have militias and death squads roaming the streets and you’ve put a group of Mullahs in power- execute the dictator.

Everyone expected this verdict from the very first day of the trial. There was a brief interlude when, with the first judge, it was thought that it might actually be a coherent trial where Iraqis could hear explanations and see what happened. That was soon over with the prosecution’s first false witness. Events that followed were so ridiculous; it’s difficult to believe them even now.
Dr. Nazhad Hawramany – Iraqi Kurdistan:

The verdict of the Iraqi Special Tribunal to execute Saddam Hussein and some of his aides by hanging for crimes against humanity is fair and just. It gives the long yearned justice for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed on his hands and the hands of his cronies over nearly 40 years of dictatorial and brutal rule. His victims were never given the chance of a trial and were killed under torture or buried live in mass graves or fed into mincing machines alive legs first.
The Iraqi people are still suffering the psychological consequences of his republic of fear.
The Iraqi people proved to the entire world that they were civilized and put Saddam and his cronies in a court of law to be tried fairly and openly for his numerous crimes.
Every Iraqi is relieved now that at last justice is delivered.
Khalid Jarrar – Secrets in Baghdad:

Saddam is nothing but a political card American politicians are playing against the American public.

The day of the fall of Baghdad was the day that Saddam stopped being important to me, he lost the power and became history.

So now after three years of the shameful situation Iraq is in now, all what Bush's administration has to offer the public to gain some voted is Saddam's death.

And what exactly is his death gonna do to improve Iraq or life in Iraq? The sectarian tension or the security situation? The electricity or water? The curfews or the blocked streets? The puppet government or the dirty politicians? The loans of the billions stolen from Iraq as cash or oil since the invasion by Iraqi or Americans politicians?

Nothing at all.

Here is what I think will happen: Saddam is not gonna be executed now, this small play is just for the current small elections. Now of course the appeal story will start, more and more episodes of Saddam's trial on TV, and then finally on the important elections of 2008, when also the miserable American administration won't have anything to offer to Americans as a shadow of success in Iraq, they will decide that the court decided again that he should be executed, right before the elections, the audience applause, curtain is down.
Truth About Iraqis:

Saddam was not brought to justice by the Iraqis. He did not face an impartial Iraqi court. His sentence was not handed down by Iraqis.

Therefore, because justice has been so raped, and because the new Iraq is a bastardized version of the old, Saddam will likely be referred to as a martyr.

And nothing will be solved with his execution. Tyrants and saviors come and go. Birds leave their residue on their statues - if any are left.

The Iraqi resistance will not fade.
They do not fight for Saddam.
They fight for Iraq.
Salam Adil – Asterism:

Historic is probably the only word to describe the death penalty passed to Saddam today. I would say good riddance to him for too many reasons which you can read in other Iraqi blogs. But American politicians will not be celebrating. The biggest victor from this will be the Mehdi Army.
Neurotic Iraqi Wife:

If it makes all those he tortured happy and satisfied then yes, I will be glad too. If it makes all those mothers that lost their sons smile, then yes I will smile too. If it makes all the kids he orphaned have hope again, then yes I will have hope too...But Only If....
Hala - In Love With Iraq:

A Mockery of Justice So what! This is what he deserves. A theatrical court! Again so what isn’t it better than no court at all?

A lot are worried about the injustice the trial reflected.

A simple Iraqi man had the best answer and said on TV, “Those who think of it this way have never been ruled by a dictator and simply have no idea what dictatorship means”.
Hammorabi:

The sentence of Saddam is a step forward for the end of a dark period on the life of Iraq and the world. This may give more hope for the Iraqis and stability in the region.
No Pain, No Gain:

I know iraqis can lack trust in things until it happens. I wont believe it till it really happens. In several parts of history for example, attempts of success in overthrowing saddam brought an extreme amount of emotion to the setting at the time but didn't succeed in the end. In 2003, Iraqis were taken away from Saddam's rule for the time being but were extremely fearful of his comeback and aftermath such as now. Neither is there a difference for doubting this verdict of the court.... can we believe it will happen...to have the rope hung over his neck? Thats only for time to tell.
Iraq Pundit:

During the years that Saddam ruled Iraq and killed countless Iraqis without the benefit of a trial, how often did the supposedly principled voices of Ramsey Clark, Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch speak out against the Baathists? Saddam never gave anyone a fair trial -- if he gave them a trial at all.
Ishtar - Iraqi Screen:

He said, “ I began to envy the people who were considered as martyrs in time of Saddam, at least, he used to grant them permanent salary, car and piece of land and a salary for their parents, what did Dawa party give me for my son? only car bombs and IEDS.
Fatima - Thoughts From Baghdad:

How do I feel about it? I remember watching Saddam on TV when he was still in power, and to me he epitomized the Arabic word jabbar- arrogant, powerful tyrant- more than any other dictator ruler out there. Seeing him when he was caught and through out his trials, and today, was just so humbling. Going from so high up, from such power and arrogance and jabaroot to such an end, subhanaAllah, very humbling.
What else am I feeling? I'm seeing people turn this into a Sunni/Shiite clash, and that is not right. Like I mentioned before, everyone, Sunni/Shiite/Kurd, were affected by the former regime. But things have not gotten better since Saddam's days, to say the least, and many people here are just not celebrating.
Chikitita - First Words, First Walk, First... in Iraq:

As for my other friend, in the early days of the trial, she was happy that Saddam was finally humiliated, though not for the crime perpetrated against her late husband, who was not recognized as a martyr by the current government, who happened to have similar feelings towards communists. I rang her to see what she had to say. She was in tears.

"Get outta here don't tell me you feel bad?" I teased, though I know she's such a softie, cries over anything that ranges from sappy Egyptian movies to religious sermons to crappy ballads to Shia songs to Mills& Boon types of books.

"Well I do! My neighbour lost her sons. The militia killed the four of them and wrote Wahabis on their door! I've known them for 30 years, for God's sake!" she said.

"So not feeling good about the verdict, eh?" I asked.

"He killed my husband, but I have never been as scared for my son as I am now," she said.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Saddam Sentenced to Hang; Iraqis Divided over the Verdict 

So the tyrant will be hanged. A moment that Iraqis awaited for years, but now that it's here, it seems to be tasteless. Not that it will fail to bring a much-deserved sense of justice to the families of his victims, but because of the unprofessional and highly politicised manner with which it was handled.

The exiles who returned to Iraq after the war and proclaimed themselves as victors and new rulers also came with a strong desire for revenge. Starting from the disbanding of the Iraqi army, de-Ba'athification, and a long series of developments, ending with Maliki's pressure on the U.S. to lift the siege on Sadr City, the U.S. has, knowingly or unknowingly, catered to that revenge.

The death sentence against Saddam Sunday - even though no one denies that Saddam deserves the most gruesome death - is the latest chapter in that series.

The following is from PM Maliki’s address to Iraqis today:
“The sentence against Saddam does not mean much to us. His execution does not equal a drop of the blood of the martyr Sayyid Mohammed Baqir Al-Sadr, the martyr Sayyid Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr, or the martyrs of the Al-Hakim family, the martyrs of the Islamic Da’wa [Party], the martyred clerics Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Badri, Sheikh Nadhum Al-Asi, or any other martyr from the Iraqi people, Kurds, Turkomen and Chaldo-Assyrians.”
PM Maliki is not speaking for all Iraqis here, even though he tries to. He is speaking for the returning exiles and the new rulers of Iraq.

This is the best video I could find of the moment when the verdict was given. This is the translation of Saddam’s tirade:
“Long live the people. Long live the Ummah (nation). Down with the collaborators. Down with the invaders … Allahu Akbar (God is great). Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar … Long live the people. Long live the Ummah. Down with the collaborators. Down with the invaders … (addressing the judge) Tuzz (to hell) with you and the court … We are up to it. We are up to it. Down with the villains … We are the people of humanity, and the criminal invaders are the enemies of humanity, and their collaborators are the enemies of humanity … Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar, and down with the villains … I entrust to the great Iraqi people to pardon all of those who deviated and those who retract from their stance. And I entrust to our great people not to take revenge from the peoples of the countries that attacked Iraq … (addressing the judge) You do not decide. You are servants to colonialism, to the invaders. You are servants … Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar … Life is for us and death is for our enemies. Life is for the people and death to its enemies. Life is for the glorious Ummah and death to its enemies.”
Pitiful.

Bush hailed the conviction of the dictator as a milestone. The question really is: a milestone for whom? “It is a major achievement for Iraq’s young democracy and its constitutional government,” he said. I say it’s sad that a majority of Americans are still unaware that Iraq’s “constitutional government” is a joke, and there is nothing that resembles democracy in Iraq today. Warring factions control different parts of the country while the government is imprisoned in the Green Zone. U.S. and Iraqi forces are confined to their bases. Militias, gangs and death squads prowl at day and night unchallenged, if not abetted by Iraqi security forces. The tortured corpses of dozens of unfortunate Iraqis turn up in mass graves every morning. Services are in shambles. Reconstruction is nonexistent, not even in safe regions of Iraq, even though hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent. Administrative corruption, smuggling, nepotism and cronyism are rampant. Local councils and religious parties have become entrenched in their positions and elections in the governorates have been suspended. The government threatens the press with prosecution if they dare criticise officials. Iraqi professionals and the middle class have almost entirely left the country. 3,000 Iraqis flee to Jordan and Syria every day. 1.6 million Iraqis are refugees in their own country. Health conditions are worse than ever. The educational system has been interrupted by violence and corruption. All the previous “milestones” in Iraq were rushed to suit the purposes of American domestic politics.

Some Iraqis are saying that the timing of the sentence was intended to influence the mid-term elections in the U.S. Republicans say that’s a preposterous charge, and point to the “impartiality” and “independence” of the Iraqi court. I can’t attest to the former, but I know for a fact that describing the court as independent and impartial is preposterous. The Iraqi government has interfered with the court proceedings from day one. The first presiding judge resigned, citing “interference from governmental officials.” Another was replaced because he turned out to be a member of the Ba’ath party under Saddam, and a third was kicked out because some officials were outraged when he appeared to be a bit sympathetic to the dictator. Two members of Saddam’s defense team were assassinated by sectarian militias aligned with parties close to the government, and the court failed to provide them with the necessary documents on time over and over again. A video of the prosecutor general wearing a turban and sitting in a reception for SCIRI at Dujail was leaked to the court by Saddam’s defense team but was dismissed. One witness was shown on tape contradicting his testimony to the court at the same reception, and so on.

Anyone can point out the problems with the court, but that is not my issue here. I want to ask my American readers: will the death sentence against Saddam influence your voting choice Tuesday?

Take a look at the celebrating Iraqis on the streets: whose posters are they carrying? This is not as much a celebration of the death of Saddam as much as it’s a celebration of the birth of new tyrants and warlords. The tide has turned forever. The new victors in Iraq are the followers of Sadr and Hakim, and as the Ba’athists and Sunni insurgents and jihadists become more localised and irrelevant, the next conflict will be between those two. The way I see it now, the breakup of Iraqi is inevitable. It is already a fact on the ground and there will be nothing but bloodshed in the near future. Is that a milestone for Iraq?


This demonstrator in Sadr City brandishes a Glock handgun that was issued by Americans to Iraqi security forces. Now we know where those thousands of weapons have disappeared to:







When will we see the trial for Maliki, Sadr, Hakim and all the other exiles who are making millions from Iraq's misery today, and are part of the problem, not the solution? I hope I live to see that day.

On the other hand, I'm glad this farce is over.

***

While Saddam’s sentence was given, several mortar rounds were fired against Adhamiya from across the river in Kadhimiya. Most of them targeted the vicinity of shrine of Imam Abu Hanifa, a Muslim jurist buried in Adhamiya and revered by Sunni Muslims. Moments later, a patrol of 4wd vehicles arriving from Kasra attempted to enter the district from Antar Square and Raghiba Khatoun. Gunmen from the district immediately took to the streets and repelled the patrol. Clashes raged on for the rest of the day and well into the night, while American helicopters circled the area.

A similar development took place in Fadhl, central Baghdad. Both areas have been under constant mortar fire from neighbouring Shi’ite districts for the last few days.

These are maps of the reactions to Saddam's death sentence in Baghdad and countrywide:
Reactions to Saddam's verdict in Iraq

Reactions to Saddam's verdict in Baghdad
Just hours following the verdict, the Iraqi government decided to close the Al-Zawra and Salah Al-Din channels for “inciting violence and terrorism.” A spokesman for the Interior Ministry confirmed and added that this was part of the government’s “anti-terror legislation to take legal action against media outlets that incite and call for violence.” The Iraq News Network reported that police forces arrested both engineer Abdul Rahman Al-Dahash, the manager of Salah Al-Din, and Hassan Al-Jubouri, the programme editor.

The local channels, which are based in the volatile Salah Al-Din governorate north of Baghdad, had aired scenes from the protests in Tikrit against Saddam’s sentence, as part of the “Iraqi Street” programme, as well as interviews with protestors.

Salah Al-Din channel is owned and operated by two businessmen from Tikrit and most of its programmes are entertainment, while Al-Zawra is owned by MP Mish’an Al-Jubouri, head of the Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc, a Sunni bloc that has a few seats in Iraqi parliament.

The Al-Furat channel, operated by the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Shi’ite), had called on the Interior Ministry to close the two channels for broadcasting the pro-Saddam demonstrations today. Al-Furat, as well as a score of other local channels operated by Shi’ite political parties, often broadcasts religious hymns and songs that call for “revenge against the enemies of the Prophet’s household,” but it seems those channels are immune from the scrutiny of the Iraqi government, just as their militias are immune from prosecution and military action.

The government had also closed Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, and there are increasing calls from Shi’ite MPs to close the Al-Sharqiya channel, which some argue is the only remaining Iraqi channel that does not align itself with any political party or sectarian group. The government has also prohibited the display of images of the violence in Iraq on TV stations, and has threatened media outlets and journalists with prosecution and legal action if they “criticise” Iraqi governmental officials (by reporting on corruption cases, for example).

Do any of these actions ring a bell?

***

I'll end with Shalash Al-Iraqi's reaction to the verdict, and I wholeheartedly agree with him:
This is Not the Problem
Shalash Al-Iraqi

Al-Salam Alaikum. The court decided to execute Saddam, and I think that you, dear readers, have conflicting emotions toward this event. I am like you. I have extremely conflicting emotions, as if I’m standing in a huge rubbish dump, and they want me to smell old rubbish. I’ve forgotten Saddam’s crimes when faced with the atrocities of brutal crimes we experience today. I am choking with death and they want me to remember the deaths of my grandfathers.

Frankly, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of the opportunists and the makers of imaginary victories. Saddam was toppled by America, captured by America, and tried and sentenced under the protection, desire and timing of America. Neither Maliki is the hero of our liberation from Saddam, nor has Hakim carried the banner of the armies that toppled his regime. If Maliki wants to become a true hero, there are other criminals that he can try and send to justice, and they are closer to him than his jugular vein.

We do not want the enemies of national unity to exploit this event by killing our people in the name of revenge for Saddam Hussein, when they are far from being his supporters, or for others to dance with joy for the sentence, when they are liars. Because there is nothing we have gained from his fall except death, death and death, and fear, fear and fear.

I do not deny that Saddam was a dictator. Show me one person in the Green Zone who is democratic, even on TV.

I do not deny that Saddam was brutal, terrifying and mystifying. Are the brothers in the Green Zone angels of mercy?

Saddam used to appoint his relatives and party members. Do you want me to bang on my head?

Saddam stole the people’s riches. Do you want me to tear off my clothes?

Saddam was a traitor. Do you want me to hurl myself on the floor?

Saddam was sectarian. No … I have to laugh at this one.

My brothers, I truly wished to see Saddam tried for his crimes. But I also wished to see him tried while the country is rebuilt, while freedom is spreading, while joy is overflowing the streets, while Iraqis stay up until morning on the banks of the Tigris, while our schools compete with those of Japan, while our streets are cleaner than a plate of cream, while our riches are evident on our faces, while our displaced brothers under God’s stars return to their families and loved ones, and while joy, joy, joy is everywhere.

Come see our schools. They are ruins and animal barns. Come see our streets. Even though there is a curfew, I don’t know who urinates on them at night. Our people are roaming on the face of earth, some in impoverished countries, and others in tattered tents that break the spirit. Beggars fill the street, and poverty has nested in ruined homes. Depression, disease, drought and horror prevail. I’m left in this wilderness alone after all my friends and relatives have left. A childish fool who doesn’t know how to write his name comes and screams at me, “Shalash! Are you not happy? Yallah, go out in the demonstration.” Wallah, I swear I’m happy, but I’m afraid I would go out and then people would envy me.

We came out of Saddam’s night, but we fell into a well … when will we come out?

Our problem is not Saddam, Barzan, or Taha Yassin Ramadan. Our problem is who is going to be dragged in the night from among his children and family to be found next morning a headless corpse. Inshallah it won’t be you, dear reader or me. Inshallah the fire of sectarians will eat their wood.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Fadhil Al-Dulaimi 

Fadhil Al-Dulaimi with students at the Baghdad College Preparatory School in BaghdadFadhil Al-Dulaimi was one of my most memorable teachers at the Baghdad College Preparatory School in Baghdad. He was deputy dean and physics teacher for the last three years I spent there before I went to Dentistry School. I will never forget him because I still have a small fading scar on the back of my right hand from the time he hit me and another friend with a bamboo stick for skipping classes.

Despite his acting more like a military officer with conscripts, rather than a teacher with students, everyone respected and loved him. Students used to call him Arnoob (rabbit) because he was bald and the remaining hair he had was always up like rabbit ears. A mischievous student once brought a small rabbit to school and everyone was running after it, yelling Arnoob, Arnoob, while Dulaimi chased us with his stick with a slight smirk on his face. Long after I graduated, I would still come across Dulaimi in Adhamiya from time to time. I last saw him in early 2006.

Fadhil Al-Dulaimi was killed three days ago when a mortar round hit his bedroom while he was sleeping. His body was torn in half.

Adhamiya, a largely Sunni district of Baghdad, has been under random mortar fire coming from northern areas in the Shaab and Sadr City districts for the last few days. 27 people were killed and injured today in another round of mortar attacks on Adhamiya, the Interior Ministry said.

I'm at loss on what to do or say. I have only words left for the carnage back home.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Shalash Al-Iraqi 

Shalash Al-Iraqi (Shalash the Iraqi) is the nom de plume of an Iraqi citizen living in Sadr City, Baghdad. For Iraqis reading Arabic language websites, Shalash has been both a controversial and a most welcome online phenomenon, but for some reason he has escaped the radar of Western media coverage.

His columns first appeared on the Iraqi online opinion website Kitabat in December 2005. They were written from the perspective of an everyday Iraqi living in Sadr City - or Al-Thawra, as he calls it, using the pre-Saddam name of the district. Shalash’s style was gritty, streetwise, brutally honest but extremely humourous. He uses colloquial and slang terms in his writing, which appealed to a wide section of Iraqi readers who identified with him.

The characters of his short stories ranged from his opportunistic uncle, Haji Shnawa, who danced for both Saddam in the past and now Sadr; the former sergeant in the Iraqi army on his street who became a corrupt Sadrist cleric; Khanjar, the local troublemaker; Khadija, the young teacher that he often daydreams about her paying attention to his romantic moves; the old lady who sells groceries and campaigns for the Shi’ite electoral list; pickpockets; porters; Mahdi Army thugs; and so on.

No one is spared of his sharp criticism. He persistently jabs Iraqi governmental officials, revered clerics, insurgents, militias, Arab leaders and Americans. Even Madonna has been a subject for one of his recent stories, in which he asks her to adopt him so he can be saved from the Mahdi Army and instead become neighbours with Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz.

His early columns were upbeat and he immediately garnered a huge following of Iraqis transcending religious, sectarian, regional and ethnic differences, mostly because he refused to align himself with any particular Iraqi group. Other writers desperately attempted to duplicate his style, but failed. Iraqi officials wrote to him and promised him rewards for writing certain stories but he turned them down, while militias and religious fundamentalists sent him death threats.

Shalash’s columns suddenly underwent a change in mid 2005 as a result of the murder of a friend. His writings turned darker and darker and there was increasing desperation and pessimism in his tone. His fans declared him dead and wildly speculated that some one else was publishing under his name. Shalash then disappeared for a few months, but has since returned and is now blogging here (Arabic).

For many Iraqis, Shalash is a sign that gives them hope.

***

Translations of some of Shalash's posts:

- Displaying strong nationalistic zeal:
I’m Iraqi, from Anbar. Believe me, I’m from Anbar, but I never allowed Takfiri Mujahideen into our house, waiting in line to blow themselves up in the midst of our elderly and children.

I’m Iraqi, from Diyala. Believe me. But I don’t behead my countrymen and put their heads in banana boxes.

I’m Iraqi, from Salah Al-Din. Yes, I’m from Tikrit, Samarra and Baiji, but I don’t blow up electric power stations and oil pipelines.

I’m Iraqi, from Erbil, but my beloved Baghdad will remain my capital and the Iraqi flag will fly from my rooftop.

I’m Iraqi, from Thawra, but I don’t form gangs to kidnap and kill people for vile sectarian reasons.

I’m Iraqi from Shu’la, but I don’t attack Ghazaliya and kill people for no reason.

I’m Iraqi, from Dora, but I don’t wear half a dishdasha and deport my people to Rusafa because they are of a different sect.

I’m Iraqi, from Basrah, but if Cyrus, Rustum, Bahshati, Balshati, Isfahani and the likes of them try to enter Ashar without invitation, I’ll break their legs and the legs of those who brought them.

- Regarding the missing American soldier in Baghdad:
Americans are everywhere. They lost someone and they’re looking for him. He’s just one soldier. What’s wrong with you? Haven’t you seen soldiers? If you lose a country, like we have, what would you do? Maybe you’ll be digging on Mars. Anyway, the problem is the lost soldier is one of ours. Poor guy. He fled to America and even there he didn’t stay put. He went and volunteered for the army. Such bad luck. In America and serving in the army. Why didn’t you go to Hollywood? Go and be a popular artist like our coloured brothers. There’s nothing easier than singing in America. Wear half trousers, tear your clothes and bring a few dark girls from Al-Gayyara and just shout “I Love You.” They’ll immediately put you in the 50 Cents band. If you don’t like 50 Cents, form your own band and call it 50 Fils. If they don’t accept Iraqi currency, call it “Half a $100 bill” You found nothing else except to be a deputy sergeant? And then you go and get lost here and we have to suffer for it. Baghdad has been besieged for a week and people are sitting home. Even the reconciliation conference has been moved to London because of you. They say the roads are open there. But isn’t this grand? We fight at Abu Al-Saifain and Al-Fadhl and then we go reconcile in London. We went to the Ka’aba and didn’t find a solution. Are we going to solve our problems in London?

- At one of his desperate moments:
We hate the fall [of Baghdad], we hate the liberation, we hate the Sunni, and we hate the Shia, we hate turbans and sidaras and we hate Jihad and the Mujahideen, we hate the resistance and the resistors, we hate concrete [blocks], we hate the streets, we hate the pavements, we hate the ministries, we hate the institutions, we hate radio and TV stations, we hate news, we hate statements, we hate the parliament that has become a venue for oaths and nothing else, we hate songs, we hate advertisements, we hate newspapers, we hate cars, we hate garages, we hate conferences, we hate surprise visits, we hate neighbouring countries, we hate multinational forces, we hate the night, we hate the day, we hate the summer, we hate the sun that sends us hell, we hate sleep, we hate water, we hate electricity, we hate petrol and administrative corruption and theft, we hate sectarianism and sectarian quotas, we hate national accord, we hate the government of national unity, we hate the committees of integrity and absurdity and stupidity, we hate political parties and organisations, we hate gatherings and demonstrations and banners, we hate laughing, we hate crying, we hate work, we hate study, we hate each other, we hate ourselves, but – and this is a problem – we still love something that was called Iraq.

Will you save what has remained of this Iraq?

- Addressing Ammar Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim (SCIRI):
If the people of the centre, as you refer to them, want federalism, we, the people of the south, will not allow ourselves to be ruled again by the dynasty of treachery. And Ammar, if your grandfather was a supreme cleric, it was my grandfather who died diseased under the whips of feudal lords, who were the allies of your grandfather in the Khums and religious taxes. My grandfather died with his shovel in his hand and after deprivation and misery bent his back and delivered him to death, coughing a diseased Iraq. The illiterate man died and they found his body floating on the waters of the marshes. The poor man died and there was not enough money in his house to bury him beside the Prince of Believers [Imam Ali]. And here you come, as a mockery of fate, to deliver his land to Ettela'at. No, you Za’tout (childish fool), a thousand nos, you foster child of Ettela'at. I swear by God and the soul of my grandfather that you will not get one inch of a land that our grandfathers have plowed for centuries, and that we will plow until the day they are resurrected.

- On Iraqis in Eid:
I feel happy when I come across weddings in Karrada, and I see young people with their heads out of the windows, dancing and shouting. I can see a sort of revenge in their faces for the miserable conditions we live in. I’m happier when my friend Salim comes by and tells me he has a date with his girlfriend. I’m even happier when I see Hamoudi sitting in the Internet café, searching for porn sites, even though a sign above his head reads “Immoral websites are forbidden.” I feel happy not because I agree with Hamoudi, but because life goes on and it contains all this diversity.

- His most recent post, a tale full of metaphors. "Elephants flying" is an Iraqi idiom that is similar to "pigs flying":
When Naima’s elephant came out on the street for the first time, people believed what Nuwayra, Ghurab’s wife, used to say: that the reason for the annoying noise on their rooftops was a small elephant that she recently purchased. But Nuwayra, despite her efficiently detailed intelligence reports, was unable to find a plausible explanation for why Naima purchased this elephant. She was also confused when people would ask her where this elephant came from. And since we live in an area where facts are often confused with fantasies, some believed what Rahi bin Hanoon mentioned, that he saw a small elephant with wooden wings landing on Naima’s rooftop a year and half ago. Others believed the account of Bargouth Al-Fahad in which he says that because Bachai, Naima’s husband, had a habit of excessively swearing by the Prophet and the Imams, God morphed him into an elephant, and that he did not really travel to Syria, as Naima claims.

There are many stories about Naima’s elephant. Personally, I am not bothered by any of them. What is important to me is the pleasure brought by the presence of an elephant in Thawra. Deprived children can crowd around it, joyfully singing and clapping and cracking jokes. The elephant is their mobile zoo.

As to Naima, despite the relatively high expenses for the elephant, she insists on providing care for it, even with her difficult circumstances. And if we learn that Naima’s elephant is armored and cannot be affected by the largest car bomb in the world, we would excuse Naima for keeping this huge animal. The elephant wanders in Thawra from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and then it goes out again from 6 p.m. until the curfew hour, and sometimes even after that by an hour or so, because the police fear it and no one can stop it.

Naima was seen in her Hawdaj (a curtained seat) on the back of her elephant during the last Sha’bani ziyara ritual, in the midst of the crowds walking to the shrine. The elephant extending its trunk and pushing forward while Naima was dozing on his comfortable back as if it was a bed. That was why the clashes between the pilgrims and the terrorists were named the “Battle of the Elephant” because people protected themselves from the heavy fire exchange by hiding behind Naima’s elephant.

Naima was also seen several times riding her elephant for shopping excursions, visiting friends and relatives, and for her trips to the health centre. Many eyewitnesses talk of the explosion of roadside bombs under the giant feet of the elephant, but Naima was never hurt. Even her elephant is unaware that it has stepped on roadside bombs that can destroy American Hummer vehicles.

The government heard about the elephant and sent a delegation to negotiate with Naima to use the elephant’s services for the transport of officials who are deprived of meeting with their people. Naima repeats the same thing for anyone who tries to open this subject, that this elephant is a form of divine care to protect her from the danger of terrorism that is reaping the lives of everyone. The cunning Talibani offered for Naima and her family to reside at his luxury resort in Dokan in return for his using the elephant for a month, because he wanted to go out to see his people as their elected president. Naima agreed and she moved to the resort. The elephant entered the Green Zone amid the jealousy and envy of the speaker of parliament, the prime minister and other officials who wondered how foxy Talibani got this armored elephant. The prime minister visited Talibani’s house and begged to be taken with him on a tour of the streets of Baghdad on the elephant’s back. Mashhadani heard about it and went to ask Mam Jalal [Talibani] for the same thing. Since Talibani was always known to be generous, he agreed and the three hopped on the elephant’s back. As the elephant was crossing the Jadriya Bridge, Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim saw it and his heart was full of envy. He offered to give up his plans for a federal southern and central region in return for riding with them. The three agreed and he boarded the elephant, surrounded by a bulletproof glass cage, and the elephant rushed ahead.

The four toured the Rusafa side of Baghdad. People were shocked and confused by this strange scene. They were not surprised by the elephant on the streets of Baghdad, but by witnessing the four promised officials leaving the Green Zone.

During the tour, Mashhadani asked Talibani where he got the elephant. Talibani laughed and said it was a Kurdish elephant flying above the mountains of Kurdistan, captured by the Peshmerga. Mashhadani laughed, and Maliki laughed. Hakim heard it and also laughed in a manner that deeply disturbed and disgusted the elephant. It lifted its trunk and let out a high roar. Then it spread its wooden wings and flew in the sky. The crowds watched this strange scene until the elephant disappeared in the thick clouds that suddenly gathered in the city’s sky. They only left after a thunderstorm of the scale that Baghdad had never witnessed before.

The next morning, when the rain had stopped and the sun had shined again, the spokesman for the Iraqi government, Ali Al-Dabbagh, appeared on Iraqiya TV to announce the flying of the elephant and the disappearance of four symbols of the nation. He opened his statement with the Quranic verse “Hast thou not seen how thy Lord dealt with the owners of the Elephant?” He concluded by stating that joint forces were interrogating the suspect, Naima, on charges of planning a military coup against the democratically elected government.

Iraqi Policemen Dancing on Duty in Baghdad 

I first found this video to be amusing, but then those are policemen on duty in Baghdad, where the tortured corpses of dozens of Iraqis turn up every day.


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