Friday, May 09, 2003

5 US Dollars for a single hour of browsing. Talk about someone milking it, I wonder if they would let me pay for only half an hour.
I am not complaining; I would not have believed anyone who would have told me a week ago that I will be able to browse at all. There are more of these centers popping up here and there so the prices will go down. Besides I have heard today that a NGO called [Communication sans frontiers] has arrived in Iraq and will help. They will probably be doing what the Red Cross is doing, a center in Baghdad and a team moving around Iraq. The Red Cross has been moving its phone service, if you can call it that, around Baghdad. Two days for each district and they depend on the word of mouth to spread the news, usually they end up with huge lines and waiting lists but everybody is grateful. Many people have no way telling their relatives abroad how they are doing. A couple of Arabic TV stations, mainly Jazeera, has been putting their cameras in the street and allowing people to send regards to their relatives abroad, tell them they are OK hoping that they would be watching at the time. So what the Red Cross has been doing, and I think what Communication sans frontiers would ultimately be doing is much appreciated. The only way to communicate with the world otherwise is to go buy a Thuraya phone, very expensive by any standard ($700 down from $1500 two weeks ago, that is not counting the call charges). I don’t know how long it will take until a network can be put up. Since the one we had is now reduced to ruble.

I have made a very un-salam decision today. I let Raed talk me into going along with him on his next two day trip to the south. I am a bit of a coward; I am not dealing too well with all the bad things around me in Baghdad. I move thru the city with a wince. And what he has been telling me about his trip last week made me just want to crawl deeper into my cocoon. So what is Raed up to? Raed has been working for the last two weeks with a small outfit that is calling itself Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict [CIVIC], they think about the acronyms before the name, don’t they? They are a very small team of volunteers and almost-volunteers (I mean they are getting paid much less than their effort deserves) who are going around residential districts that have seen military action with these forms and trying to get as much information as they can about civilian deaths and injuries. They are also collecting hospital records in order to come to an estimation of the number of civilian casualties. Until now they have around 5000 injuries and deaths in Baghdad and they are starting to form teams in other Iraqi cities. This is what he wants to drag me into. We will go to Karbala, Samaweh, Naseriyah then basrah. And back thru Kut. These names should be familiar they have been thru quite a bit during the war. Raed has already been to these places, with the exception of Kut, and has put together teams there. In Samaweh we will meet one of our university friends and spend the night at his place because our driver abu-saif does not like the idea of arriving in Naseriyah late and spending the night there. He also says that the only unsafe bit of the trip will be the way thru Kut. Did you know we have a Hizbullah now in a Iraq? Rigt there in Kut an Amarah (do you know what Hizbullah means? It means God’s faction, allah’s party). This hizbulla is calling itself [hizbullah al iraqi] and is anti-Iranian. We will be going thru Hizbullah territory and this makes abu-saif uneasy. We’ll see. We will leave early Saturday and should be back on Monday, wish us a safe trip.

Prices of weapons on the market have been going up. At one point you could get a hand grenade for 500 dinars, that’s a quarter of a dollar. A Kalashnikov for $200 and a brand new Uzi for a bit more. These are on display on the roads. In Baghdad-al-Jadida and al-baya districts but the cheapest could be found in Thawra (revolution) district (It used to be caleed Thawra then Saddam now they are calling it al-Sadir district). It is like a militarized zone in Thawra. If you don’t live there you better not go.
The streets markets look like something out of a William Gibson novel. Heaps of cheap RAM (stolen of course) is being sold beside broken monitors beside falafel stands and weapons are all available. Fights break out justlikethat and knives come out from nowhere, knives just bought 5 minutes ago. There are army sighting thingys, Weird looking things with lenses. And people selling you computer cases who tell you these are electric warmers, never having seen a computer case before. Really truly surreal. Software CDs, Movie CDs and cheap porn. And a set of 5 CDs called [the crimes of saddam] it has things from halabja, the footage they have taped during 91 while squishing the uprising after the war and other stuff about Uday, there is one whole CD about Uday. Have not seen any of them yet. They say there is some gruesome footage on them but the Uday CD is not as juicy as you’d think.
Back to the weapons. The prices have been going up because they are being bought from the market in big quantities. One of the very few bright ideas our new American administration has been having was if the looters want money for the stolen weapons let’s pay them for bringing them to us. Outside Baghdad it is said people are being paid a fixed price for each piece of weaponry they bring in. In Baghdad it is being bought off the market at street prices. But still no one is going into the Thawra District.
American civil administration in Iraq is having a shortage of Bright ideas. I keep wondering what happened to the months of “preparation” for a “post-saddam” Iraq. What happened to all these 100-page reports, where is that Dick Cheney report? Why is every single issue treated like they have never thought it would come up? What’s with the juggling of people and ideas about how to form that “interim government”? Why does it feel like they are using the [lets-try-this-lets-try-that] strategy? Trial and error on a whole country?
The various bodies that have been installed here don’t seem to have much coordination between them. We all need to feel that big sure and confident strides forward are being taken; it is not like this at all. And how about stopping empty pointless gestures and focusing on things that are real problems? Can anyone tell me what the return of children to schools really means? Other than it makes nice 6 o’clock news footage.
Schools have been looted; there are schools that have cluster bombs thrown in them when fedayeen were still there, no one bothered to clean that mess up before issuing the call on [Information Radio] that all students should go back to schools. How about clearing the mess created by the sudden disappearing of the ration distribution centers? How about getting the Hospitals back in shape? How about making it safe to walk in the street?
I mean there are a million more pressing issues for these committees meeting daily than getting children back to unsafe schools.
Yes yes I know. Patience. God needed seven days to finish his work and all that.
Living in my headphones. The best place to be these days.