Monday, March 24, 2003

The last two days we didn’t have internet access. I thought that was it and started what a friend called a “pblog”, what you will read is what should have been the entries for the 22nd and 23rd.
Blogger and Google have created a mirror to this weblog at [] for those of you who have trouble with the underscore in the URL. There are not enough words to thank the people at Blogger for their help and support.

4:30pm (day3)
half an hour ago the oil filled trenches were put on fire. First watching Al-jazeera they said that these were the places that got hit by bombs from an air raid a few miniutes earlier bit when I went up to the roof to take a look I saw that there were too many of them, we heard only three explosions. I took pictures of the nearest. My cousine came and told me he saw police cars standing by one and setting it on fire. Now you can see the columns of smoke all over the city.
Todat the third in the war, we had quite a number of attacks during daytime. Some without air-raid sirens. They probably just gave up on being able to be on time to sound the sirens. Last night, after waves after waves of attacks, they would sound the all-clear siren only to start another raid siren 30 minutes later.
The images we saw on TV last night (not Iraqi, jazeera-BBC-Arabiya) were terrible. The whole city looked as if it were on fire. The only thing I could think of was “why does this have to happen to Baghdad”. As one of the buildings I really love went up in a huge explosion I was close to tears.
today my father and brother went out to see what happening in the city, they say that it does look that the hits were very precise but when the missiles and bombs explode they wreck havoc in the neighborhood where they fall. Houses near al-salam palace(where the minister Sahaf took journalist) have had all their windows broke, doors blown in and in one case a roof has caved in. I guess that is what is called “collateral damage” and that makes it OK?
We worry about daytime bombing and the next round of attacks tonight with the added extra of the smoke screen in our skies.

8:30pm (day4)
we start counting the hours from the moment one of the news channels report that the B52s have left their airfield. It takes them around 6 hours to get to Iraq. On the first day of the bombing it worked precisely. Yesterday we were a bit surprised that after 6 hours bombs didn’t start falling. The attacks on Baghdad were much less than two days ago. We found out today in the news that the city of Tikrit got the hell bombed out of it. To day the B52s took off at 3pm, on half an hour we will know whether it is Baghdad tonight or another city. Karbala was also hit last night.
Today’s (and last night’s) shock attacks didn’t come from airplanes but rather from the airwaves. The images Al-jazeera is broadcasting are beyond any description. First was the attack on (Ansar el Islam) camp in the north of Iraq. Then the images of civilian casualties in Basra city. What was most disturbing are the images from the hospitals. They are simply not prepared to deal with these things. People were lying on the floor with bandages and blood all over. If this is what “urban warefare” is going to look like we’re in for disaster. And just now the images of US/UK prisoners and dead, we saw these on Iraqi TV earlier. This war is starting to show its ugly ugly face to the world.
The media wars have also started, Al-jazeera accusing the pentagon of not showing how horrific this war is turning out to be and Rumsfeld saying that it is regrettable that some TV stations have shown the images.
Today before noon I went out with my cousin to take a look at the city. Two things. 1) the attacks are precise. 2) they are attacking targets which are just too close to civilian areas in Baghdad. Looked at the Salam palace and the houses around it. Quite scary near it and you can see widows with broken glass till very far off. At another neighborhood I saw a very unexpected “target” it is an officers’ club of some sorts smack in the middle of [………] district. I guess it was not severely hit because it was still standing but the houses around it, and this is next door and across the street, were damaged. One of them is rubble the rest are clearing away glass and rubble. A garbage car stands near the most damaged houses and help with the cleaning up.
Generally the streets are quite busy. Lots of cars but not many shops open. The market near our house is almost empty now. The shop owner says that all the wholesale markets in Shorjah are closed now but the prices of vegetables and fruits have gone down to normal and are available.
While buying groceries the woman who sells the vegetables was talking to another about the approach of American armies to Najaf city and about what is happening at Um Qasar and Basra. If Um Qasar is so difficult to control what will happen when they get to Baghdad? It will turn uglier and this is very worrying. People (and I bet “allied forces”) were expecting things to be mush easier. There are no waving masses of people welcoming the Americans nor are they surrendering by the thousands. People are oing what all of us are, sitting in their homes hoping that a bomb doesn’t fall on them and keeping their doors shut.
The smoke columns have now encircled Baghdad, well almost. The wids blow generally to the east which leaves the western side of Baghdad clear. But when it comes in the way of the sun it covers it totally, it is a very thick cloud. We are going to have some very dark days, literally.
We still have electricity; some areas in Baghdad don’t after last night’s attack. Running water and phones are working.
Yesterday many leaflets were dropped on Baghdad, while going around in the streets I got lucky, I have two. After being so unkind to the people at [] I don’t know whether I should post images or not.
And we have had another email attack, this time I was lucky again and have copies of those, the sender is something called []. I have not checked on that yet. Three of them are to army personnel and two to the general public in those they gave us the radio frequencies we are supposed to listen to. They are calling it “information Radio”.
PS from Diana: before we concluded, I said, “Salam, I just want to say one thing.” And I said, “Fuck Saddam Hussein!” as loud as I could w/o disturbing the neighbors. Now, I’ve got nothing personal against the guy, in fact, it is hard for me to hate him as he strongly resembles my late, dear uncle Artie Feinberg (I tell you, he could be one of those doubles, except he’s dead), but I just wanted to make a point. Which is: now we can say those things without fear of getting relatives or friends dragged off and killed. And Salam said, “Everybody on the street is saying this like a mantra, 'Fuck Saddam, fuck Saddam, fuck Saddam….'" (Well maybe Salam didn't use the word "mantra" but you get the point.) I think we can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be Iraqi. It must be like being in a root cellar for 35 years, and now you are stumbling around in the light, blinking your eyes, wondering if what you see is real, or a dream.
I have internet again will post soon.
but i really have to apologize to the people at [] because the amount of traffic this blog has been getting cause their servers to go down, I am very sorry. I should have been more careful.
looking thri my mail i see that this blog has also been causing blogspot problems. sorry. and Blogger has been generous again with me and allowed this to go and and help. thanks. my mail box is full because of the last two days of internet blackout, going thru them now.

Friday, March 21, 2003

as usual Diane comes to the rescue
please stop sending emails asking if I were for real, don't belive it? then don't read it.
I am not anybody's propaganda ploy, well except my own.
2 more hours untill the B52's get to Iraq.
The most disturbing news today has come from Al-Jazeera, they said that nine B52 bombers have left the airfield in Britain and flying “presumably” towards Iraq, as if they would be doing a spin around the block. Anyway they have 6 hours to get here.
Last night was very quiet in Baghdad. Today in the morning I went out to get bread and groceries. There were no Ba’ath party people stopping us from leaving the area where we live, this apparently happens after the evening prayers. But they are still everywhere. The streets are empty only bakeries are open and some grocery shops charging 4 times the normal prices, while I was buying bread a police car stopped in front of the bakery and asked the baker if they had enough flour and asked when they opened; the baker told me that they have been informed that they must open their shops and they get flour delivered to them daily. Groceries, meat and dairy products are a different story. One dairy product company seems to be still operating, not state owned, and their cars were going around the city distributing butter, cheese and yoghurt to any open markets. Meat is not safe to buy because you wouldn’t know from where and how it got to the shops. Anyway we bought fresh tomatoes and zucchini for 1000 dinar a kilo which would normally be 250. and most amazingly the garbage car came around.
The Iraqi Satellite Channel is not broadcasting anymore. The second youth TV channel (it shows Egyptian soaps in the morning and sports afterwards) also stopped transmitting. This leaves two channels: Iraq TV and Shabab (youth) TV. They are still full of patriotic songs and useless “news”, they love the French here. We also saw the latest Sahaf show on Al-Jazeera and Iraq TV, and the most distressing minister of Interior affairs with his guns. Freaks. Hurling abuse at the world is the only thing left for them to do.
On BBC we are watching scenes of Iraqis surrendering. My youngest cousin was muttering “what shame” to himself, yes it is better for them to do that but still seeing them carrying that white flag makes something deep inside you cringe.
we sit infront of the TV with the mao of Iraq on our laps trying to figure out what is going on in the south.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

the all clear siren just went on.
The bombing aould come and go in waves, nothing too heavy and not yet comparable to what was going on in 91. all radio and TV stations are still on and while the air raid began the Iraqi TV was showing patriotic songs and didn't even bother to inform viewers that we are under attack. at the moment they are re-airing yesterday's interview with the minister of interior affairs. THe sounds of the anti-aircarft artillery is still louder than the booms and bangs which means that they are still far from where we live, but the images we saw on Al Arabia news channel showed a building burning near one of my aunts house, hotel pax was a good idea. we have two safe rooms one with "international media" and the other with the Iraqi TV on. every body is waitingwaitingwaiting. phones are still ok, we called around the city a moment ago to check on friends. Information is what they need. Iraqi TV says nothing, shows nothing. what good are patriotic songs when bombs are dropping
around 6:30 my uncle went out to get bread, he said that all the streets going to the main arterial roads are controlled by Ba'ath people. not curfew but you have to have a reason to leave your neighborhood, and the bakeries are, by instruction of the Party, seeling only a limited amount of bread to each customer. he also says that near the main roads all the yet unfinished houses have been taken by party or army people.
I watched al sahaf on al-jazeera. he said that the US has bombed the Iraqi sattelite channel, but while he was saying that the ISC was broadcasting and if it really did hit the ISC headquarters it would have been right in the middle of baghdad. what was probably hirt were transmiters or something. all TV stations are still working.
Now that was really unexpected. When the sirens went on we thought we will get bombs by the tom load dropped on us but nothing happened, at least in the part of the city where I lived. Air-craft guns could be heard for a while but they stopped too after a while and then the all clear siren came.
Today in the morning I went with my father for a ride around Baghdad and there was nothing different from yesterday. There is no curfew and cars can be seen speeding to places here and there. Shops are closed. Only some bakeries are open and of course the Ba’ath Party Centers. There are more Ba’ath people in the streets and they have more weapons. No army in the streets. We obviously still have electricity, phones are still working and we got to phone calls from abroad so the international lines are still working. water is still runing.
the english speaking radio station on FM is now replaced by the arabic languge state radio program broadcasting on the same wave length. i just say thet because last night just as the BBC was broadcasting from baghdad (yes we have put up the sat dish again) their news ticker (or whatever you call that red band down there) said that the Iraqi state radio has been taken over by US broadcast. We watched saddam’s speech this morning, he’s got verse in it!!
there is still nothing happening im baghdad we can only hear distant expolsions and there still is no all clear siren. someone in the BBC said that the state radio has been overtaken by US broadcast, that didn't happen the 3 state broadcasters still operate.
air raid sirens in baghdad but the only sounds you can here are the anti-aircraft machine guns. will go now.
It is even too late for last minute things to buy, there are too few shops open. We went again for a drive thru Baghdad’s main streets. Too depressing. I have never seen Baghdad like this. Today the Ba’ath party people started taking their places in the trenches and main squares and intersections, fully armed and freshly shaven. They looked too clean and well groomed to defend anything. And the most shocking thing was the number of kids. They couldn’t be older than 20, sitting in trenches sipping Miranda fizzy drinks and eating chocolate (that was at the end of our street) other places you would see them sitting bored in the sun. more cars with guns and loads of Kalashnikovs everywhere.
The worst is seeing and feeling the city come to a halt. Nothing. No buying, no selling, no people running after buses. We drove home quickly. At least inside it did not feel so sad.
The ultimatum ends at 4 in the morning her in Baghdad, and the big question is will the attack be at the same night or not. Stories about the first gulf war are being told for the 100th time.
The Syrian border is now closed to Iraqis. They are being turned back. What is worse is that people wanting to go to Deyala which is in Iraq are being told to drive back to baghdad, there was a runor going around that baghdad will be "closed" no one goes in or out [check the map go from Baghdad in a N/E direction until you reach Baqubah, this is the center of Deyala governerate] people are being turned back at the borders of Baghdad city. There is a checkpoint and they will not let you pass it. there are rumors that many people have taken the path thru Deyala to go to the Iranian border. Maybe, maybe not.
If you remember I told you a while ago that you can get 14 satellite channels sanctioned by the state, retransmitted and decoded by receivers you have to buy from a state company. This service has been suspended. Internet will follow I am sure.

Things on Iraqi TV today:
- an interview with the minister of interior affairs. Turned the volume down, didn’t want to hear anything.

- demonstrations in Iarqi cities

-yesterday the last 500 prisoners from the Iraq-Iran war were being exchanged. I can’t believe they are still doing this, for fuck’s sake that war ended in 1989. every Iraqi family can tell you a hundred heart braking stories about things that happen when you have thought you brother/father/son is dead and he suddenly appears after 10 years.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003


I would have posted something earlier today but there was a lot to do and my brother reminded me that we have to go refill the car and that was two hours of wasted time waiting. It is not as bad as two days ago but the gas stations are still crowded. A couple of hours after I wrote that two police cars were standing near gas stations to keep things in order we went out again and there were more party members wearing their olive-green uniforms with Kalashnikovs in gas stations but today it is back to the police cars. There is a rumor that they will open the “special” gas stations for the public too, there are four of these in Baghdad used only by “them” or whoever has the right ID.
Before I go into what was going on today I really want to thank all the people who have been sending emails and letting me know that they care and worry about what will happen in Iraq, thank you so much. I hope you understand that it takes a bit of time to answer your questions so please don’t be angry if I don’t reply promptly. I print them out for Raed to read and he is totally baffled. some of them I wish I could publish or print and paste on light poles. Thank you very much.
And as a thank you here is a little web-gem. a true ohmigod moment. This is an image I found on []. It is rather large but worth every second. Below I have posted a color coded thumbpix to give you a little info.

The feature most people would recognize when not seen from the top is the grand festival square (which is not a square at all. It is a semi-circle) it is in light blue. This is the one which has two huge intersecting swords at its entrance. The building below the semi-circle is the grand stand; this is the place that saw the big army marches last winter. The road to the right of it is called the Zaitoon (olive tree) Street, it has lots of olive trees obviously. On the green side of that street (the green area is a residential area called Harthiya) live many big wigs, don’t bother you CIA types reading the blog, they are empty now. The yellow area is the Zawra public garden, you see it here during the renovation period. They have just finished working on the garden. The brown longish thing down the left of the image is the clock tower of Baghdad, a very very hideous building and it houses the museum of Saddam’s presents (the ones he got from everybody, there was an article about a couple of months ago in the guardian I think). The blue square is a building that has been hit twice (desert storm and desert fox) after desert fox they decided to do a redesign since it was hit really bad. It is still unfinished but it does look nice. The red area is something I see with you for the first time. This is off boundaries to Iraqis, the whole area is a “presidential Palace”. The Sijood palace can be seen from the other side of the river and it is one of the most beautiful palaces, I really hope it does not get its “havoc recked”. I see it as a museum or some sort of academy in the future, I really like it.

A couple of weeks ago journalists were exasperated by that fact that Iraqis just went on with their lives and did not panic, well today there is a very different picture. It is actually a bit scary and very disturbing. To start wit the Dinar hit another low 3100 dinars per dollar. There was no exchange place open. If you went and asked they just look at you as if you were crazy. Wherever you go you see closed shops and it is not just doors-locked closed but sheet-metal-welded-on-the-front closed, windows-removed-and-built-with-bricks closed, doors were being welded shut. There were trucks loaded with all sort of stuff being taken from the shops to wherever their owner had a secure place. Houses which are still being built are having huge walls erected in front of them with no doors, to make sure they don’t get used as barracks I guess. Driving thru Mansur, Harthiya or Arrasat is pretty depressing. Still me, Raed and G. went out to have our last lunch together.
The radio plays war songs from the 80’s non-stop. We know them all by heart. Driving thru Baghdad now singing along to songs saying things like “we will be with you till the day we die Saddam” was suddenly a bit too heavy, no one gave that line too much thought but somehow these days it is sounds sinister. Since last night one of the most played old “patriotic” songs is the song of the youth “al-fituuwa”, it is the code that all fidayeen should join their assigned units. And it is still being played.
A couple of hours earlier we were at a shop and a woman said as she was leaving, and this is a very common sentence, “we’ll see you tomorrow if good keeps us alive” – itha allah khalana taibeen – and the whole place just freezes. She laughed nervously and said she didn’t mean that, and we all laughed but these things start having a meaning beyond being figures of speech.
There still is no military presence in the streets but we expect that to happen after the ultimatum. Here and there you see cars with machine guns going around the streets but not too many. But enough to make you nervous.
The prices of things are going higher and higher, not only because of the drop of the Dinar but because there is no more supply. Businesses are shutting down and packing up, only the small stores are open.
Pharmacies are very helpful in getting you the supplies you need but they also have only a limited amount of medication and first aid stuff, so if you have not bought what you need you might have to pay inflated prices.
And if you want to run off to Syria, the trip will cost you $600, it used to be $50. it’s cheaper to stay now. anyway we went past the travel permit issuing offices and they were shut with lock and chain.
Some rumors:
It is being said that Barazan (Saddam’s brother) has suggested to him that he should do the decent thing and surrender, he got himself under house arrest in one of the presidential palaces which is probably going to be one of the first to be hit.
Families of big wigs and “his” own family are being armed to the teeth. More from fear of Iraqis seeking retribution than Americans.

And by the smell of it we are going to have a sand storm today, which means that the people on the borders are already covered in sand. Crazy weather. Yesterday it rains and today sand.

Monday, March 17, 2003

impossibly long lines in front of gas stations last night, some even had two police cars in front of them to make sure to no "incidents" occur.
the price of bottled water jumped up 3 fold.
on "shabab TV- youth TV" there were announcements that the NUIS (national union of iraqi students) is selling. water pumps and tanks, hard helmets, small electrical generators and most surreally Chemical-biological attack protection chambers, in the picture they showed it looked like an octogonal barrel layed on its side with two bunks in it and some starnge equipment on the outside. no prices just a phone number.
rumors of defaced picturs of Saddam in Dorah and Thawra Districts (maybe maybe not)
and the cities of Rawa and Anna are so full of people now you wouldn't find a hut to rent, it was pretty safe to be there during the first war and people who have the money are renting placed there hoping that it will be safe this time.
the dinar is hovering around the 2700 per dollar and the hottest items after the "particle-masks" are earplugs, they can't be found in shops and you have to pre-order.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

No one inside Iraq is for war (note I said war not a change of regime), no human being in his right mind will ask you to give him the beating of his life, unless you are a member of fight club that is, and if you do hear Iraqi (in Iraq, not expat) saying “come on bomb us” it is the exasperation and 10 years of sanctions and hardship talking. There is no person inside Iraq (and this is a bold, blinking and underlined inside) who will be jumping up and down asking for the bombs to drop. We are not suicidal you know, not all of us in any case.
I think that the coming war is not justified (and it is very near now, we hear the war drums loud and clear if you don’t then take those earplugs off!). The excuses for it have been stretched to their limits they will almost snap. A decision has been made sometime ago that “regime change” in Baghdad is needed and excuses for the forceful change have to be made. I do think war could have been avoided, not by running back and forth the last two months, that’s silly. But the whole issue of Iraq should have been dealt with differently since the first day after GW I.
The entities that call themselves “the international community” should have assumed their responsibilities a long time ago, should have thought about what the sanctions they have imposed really meant, should have looked at reports about weapons and human rights abuses a long time before having them thrown in their faces as excuses for war five minutes before midnight.
What is bringing on this rant is the question that has been bugging for days now: how could “support democracy in Iraq” become to mean “bomb the hell out of Iraq”? why did it end up that democracy won’t happen unless we go thru war? Nobody minded an un-democratic Iraq for a very long time, now people have decided to bomb us to democracy? Well, thank you! how thoughtful.
The situation in Iraq could have been solved in other ways than what the world will be going thru the next couple of weeks. It can’t have been that impossible. Look at the northern parts of Iraq, that is a model that has worked quite well, why wasn’t anybody interested in doing that in the south. Just like the US/UK UN created a protected area there why couldn’t the model be tried in the south. It would have cut off the regimes arms and legs. And once the people see what they have been deprived off they will not be willing to go back, just ask any Iraqi from the Kurdish areas. Instead the world watched while after the war the Shias were crushed by Saddam’s army in a manner that really didn’t happen before the Gulf War. Does anyone else see the words (Iran/not in the US interest) floating or is it me hallucinating?
And there is the matter of Sanctions. Now that Iraq has been thru a decade of these sanctions I can only hope that their effects are clear enough for them not to be tried upon another nation. Sanctions which allegedly should have kept a potentially dangerous situation in Iraq in check brought a whole nation to its knees instead. And who ultimately benefited from the sanctions? Neither the international community nor the Iraqi people, he who was in power and control still is. These sanctions made the Iraqi people hostages in the hands of this regime, tightened an already tight noose around our necks. A whole nation, a proud and learned nation, was devastated not by the war but by sanctions. Our brightest and most creative minds fled the country not because of oppression alone but because no one inside Iraq could make a living, survive. And can anyone tell me what the sanctions really did about weapons? Get real, there are always willing nations who will help, there are always organizations which will find his money sweet. Oil-for-Food? Smart Sanctions? Get a clue. Who do you think is getting all those contracts to supply the people with “food”? who do you think is heaping money in bank accounts abroad? It is his people, his family and the people who play his game. Abroad and in Iraq, Iraqis and non-Iraqis.
What I mean to say is that things could have been different; I can’t help look at the Northern parts of Iraq with envy and wonder why.
Do support democracy in Iraq. But don’t equate it with war. What will happen is something that could/should have been avoided. Don’t expect me to wear a [I heart bush] t-shirt. Support democracy in Iraq not by bombing us to hell and then trying to build it up again (well that is going to happen any way) not by sending human shields (let’s be real the war is going to happen and Saddam will use you as hostages), but by keeping an eye on what will happen after the war.
To end this rant, a word about Islamic fundis/wahabisim/qaeda and all that.
Do you know when the sight of women veiled from top to bottom became common in cities in Iraq? Do you know when the question of segregation between boys and girls became red hot? When tribal law replaced THE LAW? When Wahabi became part of our vocabulary?
It only happened after the Gulf War. I think it was Cheney or Albright who said they will bomb Iraq back to the stone age, well you did. Iraqis have never accepted religious extremism in their lives. They still don’t. Wahabis in their short dishdasha are still looked upon as sheep who have strayed from the herd. But they are spreading. The combination of poverty/no work/low self esteem and the bitterness of seeing people who rose to riches and power without any real merit but having the right family name or connection shook the whole social fabric. Situations which would have been unacceptable in the past are being tolerated today.
They call it “al hamla al imania – the religious campaign” of course it was supported by the government, pumping them with words like “poor in this life, rich in heaven” kept the people quiet. Or the other side of the coin is getting paid by Wahabi organizations. Come pray and get paid, no joke, dead serious. If the government can’t give you a job run to the nearest mosque and they will pay and support you. This never happened before, it is outrageous. But what are people supposed to do? thir government is denied funds to pay proper wages and what they get is funneled into their pockets. So please stop telling me about the fundis, never knew what they are never would have seen them in my streets.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

the big momma of all demonstrations is going on and I will be stuck in the office for ever. maybe i will take a walk and watch the show. Operation "Office Evac" is now in its final phase. any day now.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Today is a public holiday, in the Muslim calendar it is the 10th of Muharam, or Ashura (3ashura2) for Shia Muslims. A pivotal date in the history of Shia. Today is the day Imam Hussein was killed in Karbala/Iraq. Which in the words of Shiapundit “is a time for grief, reflection, and ibadat . Nothing else.
My mother is Shia from Karbala, so each year we wake up in the morning (it is 1am as I write this) to the sound of the “3azah al 7ussain – the lament of Hussein” from the radio, not very pleasant. And after that we hear the stories of the public laments that used to take place in Karbala, now they are banned. The last three days of the Imam’s life are acted out throughout the whole city of Karbala. I’ll give you an idea of these last few days, I hope the Shia readers will excuse me if I don’t get it fully right:
Basically it is the story of the battle between Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Mohammed, and Caliph Yazid on the Kerbala desert in 680 A.D.
Imam Hussein is to return to Kufa/Iraq after he has been reassured that the people there will help him in his struggle after he had fled to Mecca under the threat of being assassinated by Yazid’s people. On his way back the horse he is riding stops at a certain place near the Euphrates and doesn’t move. When the Imam asks the name of this place he is told it is the desert of Karbala (karrun wa bala2) which roughly means harm and calamity. He tells his followers that this is the place where he will be killed as prophesied. Tents are put up and they are very soon after that surrounded by Yazid’s army. The Imam does not have many people with him and most of them are family members with women and children. We’ll move a bit quickly thru the events now. First their water supply is cut off for three days, and then the battle starts, family members of the Imam die one after the other trying to protect Imam Hussein including his young sons. After all the men have been killed, Yazid’s army moves thru the camp and burns the tents down. Imam Hussein’s head is then taken to Damascus to prove to Yazid that al-Hussein has been killed.
Now imagine this being enacted in real life thru the whole city, to this day there is a district in Karbala called “Mukhayam – the camp” which actually used to be the site of the tents for the play. The most hated role that had to be played is the role of the soldier who will kill Imam al-Hussein, my aunt tells me it usually ends with the people running after him throwing stones until he hides in one of the houses. Groups of lamenters would then move thru the city, from the scary – groups of people hitting themselves with whips on their backs for not being there to help al-Hussein in his tragedy, to the poetry reading groups of students, to the solemn lawyers. People would come from all over Iraq, and from as far as Pakistan to join with their own lamenters. In houses and mosques you would see loads of men and women listening to the “maqtal – the killing of Hussein” beating their chests and crying. There is even special food for these days cooked in the streets.
I have seen nothing of this ever. It has been banned as long as I can remember; it is considered a public unauthorized demonstration. Laments can be held in houses but not the big play in the streets of Karbala. Lately even the cooking of (qima - minced meat with chickpeas) and (Harissa - something which looks a bit like gruel actually) in public has been banned. My aunt just came from Karbala today said that the army is all around Karbala, which happens every year.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

here is something fun to read, unlike the comments down there where we engage in index-finger wagging at each other. this i got from Douglas who has always been thoughtful and sends me artcles from french magazines or newspapers translated. thanks douglas, this one is exceptionally good.It is about events before the first Gulf War.
if vous parlez francais then go to this link:
[Un après-midi avec Saddam]
if you are no-french-please then go to this link, I hope i have not done a faux-pas by posting your translation douglas:
[An Afternoon with Saddam]
it is on an abandoned blog.
my favourite bits:
......blablabla........“You can tell comrade Fidel Castro,” he (Saddam Hussein) said getting up, “that I thank him for his solicitude. If the troops of the United States invade Iraq, we shall crush them like that,” he concluded resoundingly, stamping the carpet several times with his shining military boots... The audience had ended...........blablabla........Without asking us to repeat what happened again, he (Fidel Castro) only asked the Gallego to imitate with his own feet the gesture with which Saddam had shown how he would crush the Americans.
It's like watching two kids talking about a fight in the playground, me crush you lika cock-a-roach, youyou.
We'd rather not talk about who crushed who. As for the next "Mother of all Battles".... one word (shock'n'awe). learn it in arabic: al-ithara wa al-faza. that's like putting stones in the middle of mud-cakes and throwing them at me, cheater.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

In one of the posts down there I wrote that I seem to have only one Iraqi reader, well i was wrong. I have two and a half (half Iraqi half Chinese). what is really exciting is that the second reader is a girl here in baghdad, she's 23 years old and is a computer geek (well, engineer), and she agreed to write something for the blog. she will go by the name "riverbend". pleae give her a warm welcome, i hope she decides to join the weblog and write as often as she can in the next couple of weeks, without further ado i give you "Riverbend"
Salam, you've reminded me that we have to get to duct-taping the windows (did you use an 'X' pattern or the traditional '*'?). [Salam: the * star is good but with particularly big windows I have been using a plus and Xs in each quadrant].We've all been talking about the war, discussing the possibilities, implications, etc. but it really hit me yesterday when I got home and 'lo and behold! There were no pictures or paintings on the walls! So I asked, stupidly, "Where are all the pictures?" I was told that they've been 'put away' because who knew what might come tumbling down if a bomb fell particularly close... I then pointed to a funky black steel chandelier that no one seems to pay any attention to and reminded them that it should be a more immediate worry, not the pictures... It is beginning to look like a Gothic death trap. I have visions of it coming down on my head...
Otherwise, yes, we are living normally- going to work, cleaning house, eating, drinking. Life doesn't stand still every time America threatens war. It gets more difficult, true enough, but it goes on- which, by the way, is driving the foreign journalists crazy. They want some action here and seeing people go about their daily lives is just a waste of time and film, it seems.
Be careful with the gasoline, Salam, a whole family burned to death the other day because their gasoline storing facilities weren't adequate (is that considered 'friendly fire'?)- hope you’ve got it stored in a safe place.[Salam:yeah we saw that on TV, pretty nasty, my mother freaked ofcourse] We’ve stocked up on candles (dozens of ‘em) but my mother is starting to eye my collection of scented candles anyway. So you can anticipate the scene- hundreds of bombs flying overhead, the deafening sound of planes, blended with murmured prayers, in a semi-dark room smelling faintly of… lavender. And that smell will forever be consecrated in my mind along with the rest of the ‘war memories’- candles, duct tape, kerosene lamps and lavender…
On a not-quite-completely-different subject- I had a flash of déjà vu this morning while reading the news- did you read this ? *sigh* Aren’t the Americans *ever* going to get tired of war?
the next time,if riverbend decides to join she will be part of this group blog (yes it was supposed to be a group blog but raed is such a lazy bastard). I'll be happy to forward ant mail to her until she makes up her mind whether to put her addy here or not.
sometime ago I promised to show you the new 10,000 Dinar bill, it has been issued around 4 months ago and might become a part of this country's history soon.

please excuse the quality i don't have the scanner at home, if you click on the image you'll see the backside of the bill. what you see beside the picture of the prez is the unknown soldier monument in baghdad.
the dinar hit a new low tonight, $1=2700 dinars. the wholesale markets in Shorjah stopped buying and selling today to see which way the dinar will move next.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

A BBC reporter walking thru the Mutanabi Friday book market (again) ends his report with :
“It looks like Iraqis are putting on an air of normality”
Look, what are you supposed to do then? Run around in the streets wailing? War is at the door eeeeeeeeeeeee! Besides, this “normality” doesn’t go very deep. Almost everything is more expensive than it was a couple of months ago, people are digging wells in their gardens, on the radio yesterday after playing a million songs from the time of the war with Iran (these are like cartoon theme songs for people my age, we know them all by heart) they read out instructions on how to make a trench and prepare for war, that is after president saddam advised Iraqis to make these trenches in their gardens.
But in order not to disappoint the BBC; me, Raed and G. put on our “normal” faces and went to buy CDs from Arassat Street in a demonstration of normality. After going first into Sandra’s fruit juice shop and getting what people from foreign would probably call a poor imitation of a banana and apple smoothie, we spent half an hour contemplating the CD racks at music shop. Raed being the master of talk-and-slurp-at-the-same-time technique was trying to steal away my “normality” by reminding me that I will be wasting my 10,000 Dinars because there will be no electricity for the CD player. I explained to him that I am planning on operating a pirate radio station and need to stock on music for the masses I plan to entertain, said in a matter of fact voice and Raed didn’t even blink which made Mr. music_shop_owner look at us very suspiciously at this point so we moved to the next rack. But since I buy the stuff that would otherwise sit and collect dust he didn’t say much and was very happy to take away 12,500 Dinars. I bought five instead of the planned 4 CDs, many thanks to Malaysian bootleggers for providing us with cheap CDs. The deftones, black rebel motorcycle club, erykah badu and the new amr diab (here for audio clips if you are interested) have joined the Pax Radio CD racks.

Other normal stuff we did this week:
- Finished taping all the windows in the house, actually a very relaxing exercise if you forget why you are doing it in the first place.
- installed a manual pump on the well we have dug because up till now we had an electrical pump on it.
- bought 60 liters of gasoline to run the small electricity generator we have, bought two nifty kerosene cookers and stocked loads of kerosene and dug holes in the garden to bury the stuff so that the house doesn’t turn into a bomb.
- prepared one room for emergency nasty attacks and bought “particle masks” - that’s what it says on the box – for use if they light those oil trenches, the masks just might stop our lungs from becoming tar pits. They are very hot items since the word on the trenches spread, you can buy one for 250 Dinars and they are selling faster than the hot cakes of bab-al-agha.
- got two rooms in our house ready to welcome our first IDPs - internally displaced persons – my youngest aunt who is a single mom with three kids because she lives farthest away from the rest of us and another aunt from Karbala in the south. Hotel Pax is officially open for the season, no need to make reservations but you might need to bring a mattress if you come too late.

Other news/rumors:
- Party members are going around the city telling people to stay in their homes if anything happens. Do not go out in the street. Everything will be brought to you, they have dug wells in many places with generators beside them to pump the water out and they will be distributing the water. If there is a need to move out of the house wait until the party car comes to take you. They have gone around and asked which households own more than one car, taken down names and numbers, rumor has it that they are going to appropriate any extra car if the need arises. Anyway you will not be able to drive your car around, people like doctors in state hospitals have been given badges to stick on their cars and so have party members, you will have to have some sort of permission to move around when the curfew takes place the moment an attack starts. Because of that we have issued our own curfew from last Friday, headcount at 10:30 pm. with so many people in the house a roll call is the only way to make sure everybody is here. And we are counting on the Americans to attack at night. If they start the attack during the day they would have mayhem on the streets.
Tips on how to become super popular in the office:
Listen to what everybody is talking about and then surprise with cool info from the web. It helps if Google is still blocked and no one has yet figured out that there is life after Google. Today the million dollar question was who the hell is Barbara Bodine? well the ones who listen to BBCworldservice were asking the rest were just going whatwhatwhat?
The plan calls for a northern and southern sector to be administered by two retired U.S. Army generals, sources said.
A central sector, including Baghdad, will be administered by Barbara Bodine, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, the sources said.
We will for the moment try to ignore whether this means a divided Iraq or federalism thrust down our throats or a redraw of the Iraqi map because this will be after all the decision of the invaders liberators, we have the right to remain silent otherwise we get smacked upside the head.
Anyway, Dogpile came to the rescue and I was the internet super hero when I showed them THIS and more ooh’s and aaah’s when I showed the THIS, I should have charged 250 Dinars for each viewing, actually thr biggest surprise was finding out that she was in Iraq in 1983 as Deputy Principal Officer in the US embassy here. General reactions? You can imagine the fear of castration the Iraqi males are going thru at the moment, don’t expect this to be swallowed very easily, and to divert this unease they would just say something along the lines: “she doesn’t look very pretty does she?”. One person who doesn’t actually work here but was dragged by a colleague to see the picture said: “ you know it is their intention to destroy the pride of the muslim man” . Tread carefully is what I say; change shouldn’t be plunked on people’s heads like this, especially when there already is an atmosphere of mistrust and unfriendliness. Someone said this will be like having another Gertrude Bell, I am not sure this is good. [two interesting links: The female Lawrence of Arabia and the Gertrude Bell Project with an amazing photo library, thanks a million for the link A., he is the only Iraqi reader I have apparently].

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Article in the
you see that woman on the right [piclink] her name is not Janon as the article says, it is Jinan (the name means heavens) and she is the evil witch of the department of architecture. You can see it in her smile. The woman on the left makes the whole engineering college march to her whistle, really very strong and well known women in the college of engineering. One of them has a very eloquent daughter apparently:
"I hope they see us as people," says the increasingly anxious Nihal, in a separate interview. "It's a feeling you can't describe: You worry about yourself, and your family, and aunts and uncles in their houses - it's like your heart is in a million pieces all over the place, and you don't know how to keep it together."
and Jinan kicks ass too:
"It's funny," she says of the cultural disconnect. "Why should we be sitting here trying to convince you that we are OK? Why should I have to make you feel like we are people worth living?"

The dinar is miraculously keeping its cool and still around the 2360 for a dollar, the lowest it ever got during the last 10 years was 2500 for a dollar but I think we will hit that bottom in the next couple of weeks. A relative of mine who works at a bank says that everybody who comes into the bank is complaining that “al suq waguf – the market is at a standstill”. They are a “private bank” - there is no such thing as a private bank really, they are all partially owned by the state - they have been told to stock on biscuits, dates and water, can’t imagine why, as if anyone is going to come to work when things start dropping on our heads. But to be fair, after GW I the banks opened pretty fast, people who lived near their work place and could walk to work did just that, the banks limited the amount you are allowed to take from your account to 100 dinars which was around $200 or so at the time, today 100 dinars buys me a pack of local chemical-flavor bubble gum. Since we are talking about money today was payday. It is amazing what the sentence “we’re sorry but you know how things are at the moment blablabla” can do to your paycheck, in one single year I have gone down from $200 to $100 and hit rock bottom at $50, in retrospect deciding to go back to living with my parents was the wisest decision I have made for quite a while. My friend G. is getting half his salary in money and the rest in alcohol, really no joke, but good imported stuff which we wouldn’t buy anyway. His fatcat-filthyrich boss turned seriously Muslim and is giving away his stash of the devil’s beverages. Good for us, I say.

Human Shields Bashing #124
"Basically, they said we are not going to feed you any longer," said John Ross, an American who has been active in radical causes since he tore up his draft card in 1964.
Excuse while I wipe the tears from my eyes. Outoutout. He could have at least say something more in line with his “radical cause”. This is a bit insulting actually for some reason I feel offended. FEED YOU? Why does the Iraqi government have to friggin’ feed you, you have volunteered to “help” in country which can’t feed its own population properly (well it could if it spent a bit less on itself and on people like you). There is another good bit:
The activists accused the Iraqi authorities of trying to use them as pawns in the war with America.
oh, shockhorror, what a surprise. Back to where you came from. Don’t wait for thank you speeches, outoutout.
The bitter flight from Iraq follows a showdown with the Iraqi authorities who demanded that they decamp from their hotels in central Baghdad and take up their self-assigned roles as civilian protectors.
No no, just stay in your hotels, buy souvenirs and make fun of the backward ways of these Iraqis, hope you sent all your friends postcards telling them about the pita and tahini you have been eating while strolling around Baghdad, you tourists. Did you take enough pictures of children begging in the streets to show your friends back home how much you care about the plight of the poor in the third world. Bet they were all shaking hands and promising to see each other at the next “worthy cause” party.

Today is “mumarasa - practice” day in Baghdad (maybe tomorrow too nope I checked it was a one day thing), all the security forces, police, civil defense units and the like excluding the army are going thru the motions. Besides parading up and down all over the country all units were supposed to go thru the events of an “emergency situation”. The funniest were the policemen; they have been issued army helmets with green camouflage fluff on it. All the main squares and intersections had at least 12 people wearing their full gear, carrying Kalashnikovs and a couple of extra ammunition magazines. There were also firefighting guys with big red cars and Kalashnikovs, everybody gets to carry guns (I don’t get where the myth that firefighters are sexy came from). And other assorted killing machines mounted on cars, some were going around the city some were stationed. They all looked a bit self-conscious and hot because of the helmets. It was around 24C at noon today, pretty warm to be wearing all the stuff they had on.
People in Basra are saying that for them it does feel like war already, lots of raids down there. A couple of days ago in the 7 o’clock local news bulletin they showed a number of Ba’ath party members overseeing the burning of leaflets (the ones which look like $100 bills) they only said it was in the southern parts of Iraq. I wish someone can bring me one of them, imagine the ebay potential it would have in a couple of months time.
There is an incredibly strong rumor that Uday is in Russia (Belarusia), what makes it even more suspicious is this; I wrote that google was blocked from last night, well now it is open but type a search for anything in Russia and you get the “access denied” page on the search results.
And have you seen the speech by Izat Ibrahim in the Islamic Summit today, was that diplomacy in action or what? Calling the Kuwaiti foreign minister a monkey, he actually called him a monkey, and insulting his “moustache” – a very serious offence in Bedouin code, like insulting his manly pride – we have a master in abuse hurling in our government. Although Libya and Saudi Arabia did quite well a couple of days earlier. And they ask why the Arab nations are such a farce; it is because we have kings and presidents who behave like kids in a sandpit.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

bigger, better, faster. so stop harassing me about the font size.
and I promise i will have a proper post later today. I have been a bit lazy, my mind is full of fuzz and number 18s, that's your fault. it is a super cool idea really, and will fit with so many conspiracy theories type of stuff, but you'll have to make her tell you about it on the 19th.
since last night [] and [] are blocked. all the usual news sites are still accessible even google news only the search gets you the "your access has been denied" page.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

I wasn’t going to write about this, but since the guardian has mentioned it I won’t be giving away any state secrets.
Have you read this article on The Guardian’s website:
The big match unites a country of two halves
Luke Harding, in Irbil, sees a top Baghdad soccer team take on Kurdish
It’s just a filler, nothing really interesting and if you did read it you probably just skimmed over this paragraph:
To reach Irbil, the Baghdad players had to travel across a reinforced Iraqi frontline, past freshly dug army trenches filled with oil, and up into the mountains of Kurdistan.
blink and you miss it. You still didn’t see it? listen: Freshly. Dug. Army. Trenches. filled with oil.
Story time:
A week ago on the way to work I saw a huge column of blackest-black smoke coming from the direction of Dorah refinery which is within Baghdad city limits, thought nothing of it really. A couple of weeks earlier to that a fuel tank near the Rasheed army camp exploded and it looked the same, stuff like that happens. My father was driving thru the area later and he said it looked like they were burning excess or wasted oil. Eh, they were never the environmentalists to start with; if they didn’t burn it they would have dumped it in the river or something. The smoke was there for three days the column could be seen from all over Baghdad being dragged in a line across the sky by the winds. During the same time and on the same road I take to work I see two HUGE trenches being dug, it looked like they were going to put some sort of machinery in it, wide enough for a truck to drive thru and would easily take three big trucks.
A couple of days after the smoke-show over Baghdad I and my father are going past these trenches and we see oil being dumped into the trenches, you could hear my brain going into action, my father gave me the (shutup-u-nutty-paranoid-freak) look, but I knew it was true. The last two days everybody talks about it, they are planning to make a smoke screen of some sorts using black crude oil, actually rumor has it that they have been experimenting with various fuel mixtures to see what would produce the blackest vilest smoke and the three days of smoke from Dorah was the final test. Around Baghdad they would probably go roughly along the green belt which was conceived to stop the sandstorms coming from the western deserts. I have no idea how a smoke screen can be of any use except make sure that the people in Baghdad die of asphyxiation and covered in soot. I think I will be getting those gas masks after all.
Funfact: after the oil wells in Kuwait were set on fire and the whole region covered in the blackest and ugliest cloud it rained for days on Baghdad washing everything with black water from the sky, the marks took a year to wash out. I think Salman Rushdie would have found this very amusing, characters in his novels are always haunted by things past in the strangest ways, the shame of your actions following you and then washing you with it’s black water, no ablutions for you Mr. H watch your city covered with the shame of your actions. We have an expression which roughly translates to "face covered with soot" (skham wijih) which is used to describe someone who has done something utterly disgraceful. Getting your city covered with “skham” once has to haunt you for the rest of your life, now we get “skham from the sky II – the return of the evil cloud”. The world is just a re-run of bad movies, but Mr. W. Bush already beat me to that expression.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

It is nice to see the Office of the Iraq Oil-for-Food program rise to the occasion and redo their site. with all the attention it is going to get if the program stays intact after an "invasion" they really needed a better image, their site looked hideous, now they have this nifty map and even pictures go take a look. here is the old site cached, don't you just love google for doing this.