Thursday, May 22, 2003

Good news :
Any Iraqis reading this? Spread the word. If you have family, relatives, friends in Baghdad and their phone number starts with [555] [556] [557] you can call them form wherever you are. Normal international call. An ingenious Iraqi communication engineer put up a dish on top of the Dawoodi exchange and set up a number of phone booths for people to make phone calls abroad. Cheaper than the Thuraya sharks. They have banners on the Dawoodi exchange building saying “communication with the outside world possible here”.
The happy side-effect is that when there isn’t too much traffic the calls get directed as usual to your phone at home if you are on that particular exchange. He is making the south-western district of Baghdad very happy. Anyway. If you are an Iraqi or know one, spread the word. Start dialing.
Update : the Dawoodi exchange has been linked to the exchanges in Baghdad-al-jadeeda, Amin and Zayoona areas. These are numbers starting with [77X], I guess you should try anything within Baghdad that does not start with [541 or 542]. We can’t call you from home but you can call us.

The Iraqi dinar is having the roller-coaster ride of a life time. 2000 for a dollar today, 950 the next, 1350 ten hours later. And down again. There is no logical explanation, at least an explanation an ignoramus like me would get.
If you were me these days you would be meeting very interesting people. There was a very long talk with mark from [] who was on a two-day trip in Iraq. I met him after he was in one of the presidential palaces looting. He had a stainless steel teapot hidden under his t-shirt when he came into the hotel where we were supposed to meet. Pah, amateur amrikaan! At least choose something that looks like it could be gold or something.
Don’t ask how we met, pure coincidence. We sat there for about two hours, talktalktalk. He was strangely gadget free; he only had a nifty digital camera and showed me the pictures he had taken inside the palace including the obligatory picture of a bathroom. Everybody has a fixation on bathrooms. The first images they showed of one of the palaces had shots of not-so-significant bathrooms. I am sure there will be a (Saddam bathrooms) special on one of the shows soon. Anyway. Great guy. mark not saddam.

A day before that I sold my soul to the devil. I talked to Rory from the Guardian.
Look, he paid for a great lunch in a place which had air-conditioning and lots of people from foreign. It was fun talking to him but when Raed saw me after “the talk” he said I looked like someone had violated me. So there is a bit of guilt. But that was washed away with the cool air-conditioning. Yeah, I am cheap like that. I would sell my parents for a nice bottle of wine.
You know how much you would pay for a pizza before [attack of the media types II] started? 2500 dinars, a bit more than one dollar.
Do you know how much it costs now? 6000 dinars, a little less than 6 US dollars. Plus the exchange rate is totally fucked up and the real estate market is getting bizarre. You can follow the trail of the foreigners by how much things cost in a certain district. Of course Rory didn’t buy me the 6000 dinar pizza, that would have been too cheap, he paid an extra 3 dollars.

So the “interim Iraqi government” got screwed. Quelle surprise!!
Not too hot about any of them anyway and this way we get to blame the Americans for the screwing up of our future. They have been involved in creating the mess we are in now, they should take responsibility in helping us clear it up. Ummm, let’s put it this way so no one gets pissed off: Pretty please with sugar on top, don’t leave now and let the loony mullahs stick me on a pole and leave me in the sun to think about my “Sins”.
Postponing the handover of government to Iraqis is a “good thing”, it gives everybody time to think and cool down. US army patrols going together with Iraqi police patrols is a very “good thing”. Another “good thing” is the move on militias. There are now serious talks with the PUK and PDK about the Peshmergah and with the FIF (free Iraqi forces – what a pretentious name for a couple of amateurs who ended up stealing cars in Baghdad). The FIF are now saying that they have nothing to do with Chalabi’s INC (Yeah right, and my name is Mickey Mouse) just so that the INC doesn’t get a smack on its butt.
Note to self: Really should think about doing an Iraqi cover of “smack my bitch up”, I would call it “smack the INC up”. The video would have a Chalabi double swimming naked in the dollars he stole from Petra Bank.
To the 100 political parties we already have a new one was added and I just realized that one has disappeared. We now have something calling itself (Liberal Democratic Front) and the (Iraqi Intellectuals something-or-other) just left the show after its leader Bustam was arrested by the Americans. He was released but you never heard a peep from them again, Bustam is a character who has a lot of question marks floating about him like flies on shit, he probably thought he’ll just pack it in before the stink got out.
Where are those “Democracy for dummies” books I asked you to bring along?
I tell you, life these days is like watching things in a kaleidoscope. Whenever you turn it you see something interesting.

A quick update on Raed’s work with CIVIC. Nasiriyah is worse than they have imagined, 1500 casualty forms filled in less than a week. The group there has been expanded to 25. The volunteers are met with all sorts of reactions. In small communities where the people have not seen anybody yet asking them how they were and if everything is OK, the volunteers are being treated like local gods and saviors. In other places they have been accused of being Wahabis (very bad. Being accused of being Sunni extremist in a Shia area these days is as bad for your health as a bullet in the head – if I am quoting Ice Cube in reverse does he become Cube Ice?). In other areas they were accused of being conspirators in the Western-Zionist plot to annihilate Islam (ok, that was only one guy and he probably was not in possession of all his marbles).
Raed said that this week’s trip was more dispiriting than the week before. Something in the Nasiriyah electricity station exploded, this station feeds most of the southern areas with the exception of Basra. Between Karbala and Diwaniya the grid is down. Nasiriayh does not have drinking water at all and people are drinking untreated river water, you can imagine what that will do. An hour and a half down the road is Basra where the RO Water is now more than they need but no one is driving water tanks to Nasiriyah.
The type of “humanitarian aid” reaching the southern governorates turns the situation into a sick comedy. Nasiriayh Hospital got 20 boxes; six of them had only shampoo in them.
Need a blood transfusion? Have shampoo, it smells nice.
Another four or five were full of past-use-date stitching thread. In Basra the trucks of “humanitarian aid” coming from Saudi Arabia have crates of Pepsi in them. The Pediatric ward there is running out of medicine to suppress a fever, but they do have Pepsi. If this was in a movie it would be hilarious.

CIVIC is also trying to work with [Human Rights Watch] and [Handicap] since CIVIC already has the network of young Iraqis all over getting the help to where it is needed will be a bit more efficient.
Look, I had this long talk with a number of people about what CIVIC is doing, where the money is coming from and all. Not even Raed, who has been very enthusiastic about what Marla is trying to do and has done in Afghanistan with Global Exchange, he is not very sure about how Marla is going to secure the funds for the huge job they want to do. I saw her today and she said that they will be getting a grant, but from whom?
The reason why we finally decided that it is good and OK is because no other organization has shown any interest until now to check on the number of civilian casualties in this war. The US administration in Baghdad flatly refused to do that. CIVIC people (this means Marla and Raed, plus 150 Iraqi volunteers) are, for the moment at least, the only people you can go to ask about civilian casualties and maybe later, after the information has been gathered something more meaningful can be done with it, more than just a statistic on paper.

One tiny bit of interesting news before I end this post.
The CIA is contacting Mukhabarat agents for possible cooperation. I swear I am not making this up. Officially there is something called a black list and gray list and pick-ur-color list, but what is happening behind the scenes is that they want to get three different groups.
The agents who were involved in work concerning the USA, they get shaken down for whatever they know and probably will be put on trial for various crimes.
The people who were involved in work concerning Russia, they are being called to interviews selectively.
And the people whose specialty was Iran, they are welcomed, asked if they would be kind enough to contact their colleagues and would they be interested in coming aboard the groovy train?
Sorry this is just wrong, Mukhabarat? You wouldn’t get your Mukhabarat ID if they didn’t know you were a sick fuck who would slit his mother’s throat to get up the party ladder. Or does Bremer’s “de-baathification plan” not include the secret service types?

So do I have the CIA on my trail now? They would have to stand in line behind the INC, FIF, Hawza and every other Islamist party in Iraq.