A Post From Baghdad StationNote: Salam Pax sent me this in a Word attachment earlier today. After weeks of silence everything's happening at once: yesterday I received an email from his cousin with his satellite phone number. I called it; Salam’s father decided to play grumpy patriarch and told me to call back in “two minutes," which I did. Salam sounds fine. We discussed as many things as we could in a short amount of time. Without further ado, I present his latest posts. Please excuse any formatting weirdnesses; I've already been warned not to blog at work, so can't take the time to clean anything up. -- Diana Moon
If you are reading this it means that things have gone as I hope and either Diana or my cousin has posted to the blog. One of the funniest things was talking to my boss in Beirut after the war (Thuraya should make an ad saying : “Operation Iraqi Freedom, brought to you in association with Thuraya phones”) and him telling me that someone called Diana Moon is bugging us about a certain Salam Pax. I can’t even remember telling her where I work. Diana you are
the wise oracle of Gotham. [See note at end of post.
Today while going thru Karada street I saw a sign saying “Send and receive e-mail. Affordable prices” I am checking out the place tomorrow. If the price really is affordable I might be able to update the blog every week or two.
Let me tell you one thing first. War sucks big time. Don’t let yourself ever be talked into having one waged in the name of your freedom. Somehow when the bombs start dropping or you hear the sound of machine guns at the end of your street you don’t think about your “imminent liberation” anymore.
But I am sounding now like the Taxi drivers I have fights with whenever I get into one.
Besides asking for outrageous fares (you can’t blame them gas prices have gone up 10 times, if
you can get it) but they start grumbling and mumbling and at a point they would say something like “well it wasn’t like the mess it is now when we had saddam”. This is usually my cue for going into rage-mode. We Iraqis seem to have very short memories, or we simply block the bad times out. I ask them how long it took for us to get the electricity back again after he last war? 2 years until things got to what they are now, after 2 months of war. I ask them how was the water? Bad. Gas for car? None existent. Work? Lots of sitting in street tea shops. And how did everything get back? Hussain Kamel used to literally beat and whip people to do the impossible task of rebuilding. Then the question that would shut them up, so, dear Mr. Taxi driver would you like to have your saddam back? Aren’t we just really glad that we can now at least have hope for a new Iraq? Or are we Iraqis just a bunch of impatient fools who do nothing better than grumble and whine? Patience, you have waited for 35 years for days like these so get to working instead of whining. End of conversation.
The truth is, if it weren’t for intervention this would never have happened. When we were watching the Saddam statue being pulled down, one of my aunts was saying that she never thought she would see this day during her lifetime.
War. No matter what the outcome is. These things leave a trail of destruction behind them. There were days when the Red Crescent was begging for volunteers to help in taking the bodies of dead people off the city street and bury them properly. The hospital grounds have been turned to burial grounds when the electricity went out and there was no way the bodies can be kept until someone comes and identifies.
I confess to the sin of being an escapist. When reality hurts I block it out, unless it comes right up to me and knocks me cold. My mother, after going out once after Baghdad was taken by the US Army, decided she is not going out again, not until I promise it looks kind of normal and OK. So I guess the Ostrich maneuver runs in the family.
looking kind of OK, these days. Life has a way of moving on. Your senses are numbed, things stop shocking you. If there is one thing you should believe in, it is that life will find a way to push on, humans are adaptable, that is the only way to explain how such a foolish species has kept itself on this planet without wiping itself out. Humans are very adaptable, physically and emotionally.
and I also confess that I am going thru massive internet withdrawal symptoms.
So here are what should have been 15 entries to the blog, for whatever it is worth.
Maytag, workers of the world unite. The Iraqi Communist Party and the Iraqi Communist Workers
Party are covering a lot of walls with red posters. I have not heard that Nadia Abdul Majeed of the Communist Workers Party is in Baghdad. I am still offering to volunteer if they do some cosmetic changes to their name. They have their hearts in the right place, unlike most other parties who have their hearts near their wallets. But “Communist”? I will look like a “Communards” fan if I start wearing red stars and buttons with the sickle-and-hammer thing. Nothing against Mr. Sommerville but I’m past that phase, and no one could ever sing along to his falsetto anyway.
Sa’ad al-Bazaz and his newspaper “Az zaman” [azzaman.net] have launched their attack on Baghdad. It is quite good compared to the
newspapers the various parties are printing and distributing. Az zaman looks like it has big money behind it and there is very little advertising. It has a very good culture section called “Alef yaa” [alefyaa.com]. But people are reading everything they get their hands on.
With the exception of a newspaper called “new Iraq”, a weekly at the moment because it is privately funded by a number of Iraqi journalists, the rest is tripe. They could be one of the old Iraqi papers: a picture of the leader of X party “amongst his people”, news of the great achievements of that party. Bla bla bla. Good for the peanuts vendors on the street, makes good paper cones.
Sa’ad al-Bazaz is an example of how it is nonsense to say “throw all the Ba’athists out”. He was the editor of one of the “regime’s” big newspapers. He left the country in a mission to write a book about saddam or something like that and never came back. If you are going to “de-ba’athify”- as Chalabi is calling it – then I guess you will have to throw him out, but that would be a mistake. The newspaper coming out in his name shows that he might be helpful in licking Iraqi media into shape. And there are many like him. There are of course unforgivable atrocities committed by a number of Ba’athists but there is no need to get every single Iraqi who was one into house arrest. That would mean we would have no teachers in schools, no professors in universities and everybody who worked in a state company will be made to quit his job. G, would kill me for saying this, he is still waiting for the masses to rise. He believes in something he calls “the Red Mullahs”. The Islamic Dawa Party and the Communist Party should be in a coalition, he says. Tsk tsk, this coming from a Christian. Maybe I should give him
my “Communards” tapes. The people are doing their own filtering anyway. After many have been called to go back to their jobs some are refusing to work under certain people whom they know are too Ba’athist to tolerate now. A friend was telling me when the bus came to take him to his work place one of them turned around to one of the Ba’athists who worked there telling him that if he is coming in the bus he will have shoes thrown at him and kicked out of it, there were other Ba’ath party members on the bus but everybody knows who was the bad apple. Generalizations, like al-Chalabi’s deba’athification plans don’t solve problems.
There are stories in southern governorates of Ba’athists making “pre-emptive strikes” at people they are scared might come and kill them.
And the looting goes on. A week ago the hottest items to steal were number plates from cars. People started putting them inside
the car to make sure they don’t get stolen. You see, after a bazillion cars were stolen many without any numbers on them they had to find a way to make them look legal because some cars were being stopped in the street if they didn’t have a number. There are three different numbers you can get. The worst are the plates stolen from the number-plate factory because there is no way you can get papers for that, they simply did not exist but they are cheap 15,000 Dinars only (exchange rate these days is 2000 dinar for a US dollar. The second best are the numbers found for sale on the street, stolen from cars parked right there but with no papers. The best are numbers with all the necessary papers. You’ll pay for that quite a bit, and if you are lucky you will find papers for a car just like the one you have “liberated”, no one looks at things like chassis numbers anyway.
But that is old now; if you are an enterprising looter you go to the weapons factories around Baghdad. The huge empty cannon shells you find there are very desirable items; the metal is melted and used. And there is an endless supply of these shells. There are big battles being raged around the qa’qah (al qa3qa3) factory every night to control it. There are until now around 30 dead people and a number of wounded. The coalition forces is enjoying the scene and keeping its distance.
They are like that in most of the cases, they sit looking a bit bored watching the looting. Sometimes, if it is not too troublesome, they will go check on what is happening if you jump in front of their tanks shouting “Ali Baba, Ali Baba!!”. Cute, isn’t it? We have found common ground in the stories of 1001 nights. Everybody knows the story of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, but not everybody speaks English. So if you are lucky the Americans will come to check what Ali Baba is doing, sometimes they care sometimes they don’t.
A couple of days ago I was walking down al-rasheed Street when the Americans seemed to be interested in an “Ali Baba” situation, a bit too interested. Two small armored vehicles were coming down the street with a couple of soldiers running after the vehicles with their guns pointed to the front. The gods, enjoying another one of their sick jokes, put me right in front of the door of the building they were checking at the exact moment they decide to go in. the two cars come in real fast, one in front one behind me, the soldiers start running faster. I almost pee in my pants with my hands up saying “don’t shoot don’t shoot”. They didn’t. The next day I walk by the same building the entrance looks burned. Almost a statistic. G also had such a near death experience while standing near a barbwire fence somewhere in the north. He was standing there when a man came out of a car, wearing a dishdasha with his hands in his pockets and walking toward the fence. A soldier standing near G. starts humming to himself “get your hands out of your pockets” in a sing-song way and pointed his gun at the man. Thankfully the man decides to stop scratching his balls and starts scratching his nose. Gun goes down.
Someone apparently decided that it was time the US Army does some public relations work and is sending the soldiers around the city for a walk and talk mission. The Ameriyah street, a couple of days ago, had 4 tanks parked along the streets and soldiers in groups of 5 strolling along the street talking to shop owners and grocers. Flak vest and guns in front of them but they were trying to look amiable. Laughing and asking for prices of stuff. One of them was holding a huge sack full of candy and the kids were on him like anything. Bought bottles of Pepsi and were offered Iraqi bread. This scene I saw later in other places.
Some of the most dangerous places to be at these days are gas stations, too many accidents. And with all the long lines and people waiting their turn the number of casualties is high. I generally avoid crowds these days; no one knows what might happen.
G and I went to the Meridian to do an errand.
The day we went to the Meridian most of the media was checking out, if they were staying for long periods it makes more sense to get a house for yourself.
After we left the hotel we stood for a while looking a “demonstration” in front of the Meridian, Iraqi army officers were doing something in the “Alwiyah Club” building and everybody is selling photocopied papers which are supposed to be job applications or something.
A whole market has emerged right there in front of the two hotels, Meridian and Sheraton. Thuraya [thuraya.com] phone owners standing in front of their cars offering you phone calls abroad for $5 a minute (it actually costs less than a dollar). Photocopy shops to make copies of whatever the coalition is throwing at the people today. People with foldable chairs and cardboard boxes in front of them offering to exchange your dollars, no idea why the cardboard box. Maybe to make it look like an office. Cigarette vendors, various sandwiches are at offer but they don’t look too safe to eat. The atmosphere is like a festival. We only needed live music and a beer stand.
Whatever….. G. had a falafel sandwich and we drank “ZamZam Cola”. Baghdad is flooded with “ZamZam Cola” – named after the “holy” well in Mecca. Iranian product and tastes too sweet. But since it is called ZamZam it must have some divine qualities. I have been drinking ZamZam Cola for a while now; I am expecting to grow angel wings any day.
Yesterday I almost died of thirst in front of 30 bottles of pure water. I had 30,000 Dinars in my pockets but couldn’t buy a 2,000 Dinar bottle. (2000 in itself is a crime you used to get 4 bottles for that price, but what to do, the war and all). 30k Dinars in 10,000 bills which now have the stigma of being stolen on them. There is no way to plead and swear on all that is holy that these are pre-invasion 10k bills. The story goes as follows:
The money printing works have been looted just as everything else. Al-Jazeera showed the 10k bill press wrecked and showed an Iraqi who was not identified, he could be one of the looters for all we knew, that guy said that printed but unnumbered 10k bills were stolen and the printing templates (or whatever they are called, we call them ‘kalisha’) as well. Paper and the shiny stripes too. Al Jazeera said that what is on the market now are the printed bills with counterfeit numbers on them. Havoc rules the street. Your 10k bills are not accepted at stores. and there are people who buy your 10,000 for 8,000 Dinar. And what does Mr. Zubaidi, who knows fuck-all, say? His “financial adviser” – another self appointed ex-thief befriended with al-chalabi – told him that the Iraqi Central Bank is able to cover the money so it should not be a problem. Ho-humbug. Who are you to say anything about the central bank? A little aside here before I get back to the 10k bills. Do you know what the new scepter and crown of this state is? A THURAYA phone and an ‘Iraqi National Conference’ flag – Chalabi’s people. Makes you wonder. Anyway, anything al-zubaidi says can be taken with a ton of salt, we be listenin’ to what the Americans say. I would rather look at the puppet master than the puppet.
Back home I find uncle M. who is a banker type, actually the executive director of a bank, after telling him what happened he says that they have been having meetings with the “puppet masters” and they are going to issue a statement concerning the 10k bill problem, but this will be more directed at the banks until there is a way to get this to the street level because there is still no TV or radio and
no electricity, he kept banging on about those vultures who are trying to make a quick dinar and making matters worse, uncle M. riding his high moral horse and galloping off to the horizon. I actually only wanted to know what to do with my 10k bills, burn? Make paper airplanes? Shred to confetti? He gave me the answer I wanted to hear: “give here, will get you your 250 dinar bills tomorrow”. He was annoyed with me and I was too happy to have banker people in the family.
The last couple of days I have been having the vilest thoughts about Chalabi, Zubaidi et al. I can’t stop myself muttering filthybad things about them whenever one of these names gets mentioned. Oh and the hideous flag they have.
Who gave them permission to camp at the grounds of the ***** Social Club and
the Iraqi ***** Club. What am I supposed to do with my membership? Where do I find another big indoor swimming pool? No, seriously. What is this thing with these foreign political parties who have suddenly invaded Baghdad? Do they have no respect for public property? Or since it is the “season of the loot” they think they can just camp out wherever they like and, ahem, “liberate” public buildings. PUK at the National Engineering Consultants’ building. PDK at the Mukhabarat building in Mansour. INC taking an army conscription center. Islamic Dawa at the children’s public library. Another Islamic-something taking a bank. Outoutout. Liberate your own backyard; you have no right to sit in these buildings. There is only one “liberated” building I did find worth applauding because it was only symbolic; on the side entrance to the Central Mukhabarat building in Harthiya you will find written in red spray paint “The Iraqi Communist Party”. In a twisted macabre upside-down way this is the center of the Iraqi commies, these buildings have been filled with Iraqi communist party members who were imprisoned, tortured and killed there.
The “Iraqi Media Network” started broadcasting yesterday. Nothing to go crazy about, they are apparently recording one single hour and broadcasting it for 24 hours. They are using it for announcements by the coalition forces mainly, beside the coalition radio station “information radio”. They have brought Ahmad al-Rikabi from (Radio Free Iraq/Radio Free Europe). Yesterday also, the Iraqi media people (journalists, TV and radio people) were demonstrating in front of the Meridian Hotel asking for their jobs back, wait in line, we all are.
The irony, during the last couple of weeks in this big media festival called ‘Iraq War’ there is not a single Iraqi voice.
A conversation overheard by G. while in the Meridian Hotel – the Iraqi media center :
Female journalist 1: oh honey how are
you? I haven’t seen you for ages.
Female journalist 2: I think the last time was in Kabul.
Bla bla bla
Bla bla bla
Female journalist 1: have to run now, see you in Pyongyang then, eh?
Female journalist 2: absolutely.
Iraq is taken out of the headlines. The search for the next conflict is on. Maybe if it turns out to be Syria the news networks won’t have to pay too much in travel costs.
Too much has happened the last couple of days but my head is as heavy as a lead boulder. Hay fever time. The sexual life of palm trees makes me weep.
I still can’t bring myself to sleep upstairs, not that anything too serious happened after that night but I rather sleep under as many walls and roofs as possible, fist size shrapnel gets thru the first wall but might be stopped by the next, seen that and learned my lesson. So the million dollar question is of course “what the fuck happened?”. (Syrian/Lebanese/Iraqi) Fedayeen were somewhere in the area.
It has become a swear word, dirtyfilthy and always followed by a barrage of verbal abuse. Syrian, Lebanese and of course Iraqi sickos who are stupid enough to believe the Jennah-under-martyrs-feet rubbish. They want to die in the name of Allah, so what do they do? Do they stand in front of “kafeer infidel aggressor”? No they don’t because they are chicken shit. They go hide in civilian districts to shoot a single useless mortar shell or a couple of Kalashnikov shots which bounce without any effect on the armored vehicles. But the answer they get to that single shot is a hell of mortars or whatever on all the houses in the area from where the shot came. This has been happening all over Baghdad, and in many places people were not as lucky as we have been here in our block.
Sometimes you didn’t even know that those creepy fucks have moved into your street for the night. All over Baghdad you see the black cloth with the names of people killed during these things. It is even worse when the Americans decide to go into full battle mode on these fedayeen, right there between the houses. I have seen what has happened in Jamia and Adhamiya districts. One woman was too afraid to go out of her house hours after the attack because she had pieces of one of these fedayeen on her lawn.
Now whenever fedayeen are seen they are being chased away. Sometimes with rocks and stones if not guns. If you have them in your neighborhood you will not be able to sleep peacefully. The stupid fucks. For some reason the argument that if he wants to die then he should do it alone and not take a whole block down with him does not hit home.
As if the crazy loonies from Syria are not enough Iraqis are doing quite the damage themselves. Looters. How to explain this? Does anyone believe those who go on TV and say no-not-us, must-be-from-abroad (they mean Kuwaitis but they are scared to say it) explain all the looting that has been going on. How much can we blame on “the systematic destruction of Iraq by foreigners” and how much on the Iraqis themselves. I heard the following on TV don’t know who said it: “if Jengis Khan turned the Tigris blue from the ink of the manuscripts thrown in it, today sky has been turned black by the smoke rising from the burning books”. Try to rationalize and fail. The same crowd who jumped up and down shouting “long live saddam” now shouts in cameras “thank you Mr. Bush” while carrying whatever they could carry. Thank you indeed. This is not the people reclaiming what is theirs, these are criminal elements on the loose.
So how clean are the hands of the US forces? Can they say “well we couldn’t do anything” and be let off the hook? Hell no. If I open the doors for you and watch you steel am I not an accomplice? They did open doors. Not to freedom but to chaos while they kept what they wanted closed. They decided to turn and look at the other side. And systematically did don’t show up with their tanks until all was gone and there was nothing left.
We sealed ourselves away. There is nothing a voice calling for restraint can do in front of a mob. Oh and thanks for the tank in front of the national museum. And the couple of soldiers on it lounging in the sun while the looting goes on from the back door.
Since we’re talking about looting, Do you know who was the biggest smuggler in recent years was? Arshad, Saddam’s personal guard for a very long time. He even tried once to get the head of one of the winged minotaur in Nineveh out of the country some years ago but it turned to a fiasco and he had to get back to the smaller things, and a Tikriti officer offered G. 70 pieces from the National Museum a couple of days after the reported looting, he and his other Tikriti friends had 150 pieces plus other pieces from a much later period. (They turned out to be not the real thing but copies, at least that is what the Americans told G. when he showed them photos of the stolen pieces but that is another story).
A ten minute walk from the National Museum, the Saddam Arts Center is showing now white stains on its walls instead of the collection of modern art it used to have. Some of the paintings were not stolen, they were slashed or shot. Now that is a nice concept for you, hate a painting? Go shoot it. Strange thing. There are places where if you are seen with a weapon these days and
shoot it you end up dead, but it seems that if you are shooting paintings or blowing up vaults no one minds the weapons. The worst is of course that idiot Al-Zubaidi and his so called Civil Administration. Did you see on TV those police cars and police men he supposedly got to work. I saw them on TV too, that is about the only place I have seen them. People in districts with a strong social fabric took over the police stations themselves and were stopping and arresting the criminals themselves. Police, don’t make me laugh.
I see Raed and G. every couple of days. G in one of his impossible and crazy adventures ended up working with a Guardian team. I am just too glad that I see them again. The whole issue of American presence and Iraqi government makes us argue until we are too tired to talk. Usually Raed ends up calling me and G. pragmatic pigs with no morals and principles. He wants to stick a sign on my forehead saying “Beware! a Pragma-pig”. He talks of Invading forces and foolish loonies (me) who believe that the US will help us build a democracy. But what we all agree upon is that if the Americans pull out now we will be eaten by the crazy mullahs and imams, G. has decided that this might be a good time to sell our souls to the (US) Devil.
Last night at around 11pm we turned off the electricity generator, I and my brother went upstairs. Minutes later there was a huge blast just behind our house, followed by the next and the next. So close my brother started muttering “they want us
, they want us
” absurdly. We ran downstairs hearing glass breaking and things falling on the roof. The nine of us were quickly together in the safe room huddled together. There were 20 blasts in all; with each one we would think the next will be a direct hit at the house. This lasted for about 20 minutes. No one dared move. Someone outside was shouting, “Civilians! Civilians! Don’t shoot”. After another 30 minutes when nothing more happened we went outside to check on the house and the neighbors. Everybody was on the street, for some reason we didn’t have as much smashed glass as the people next door and there were flames and smoke coming from the next street. Too scared to walk in the open street that night we waited until day broke.
Today at 7 went out to check what happened. Three houses were turned to rubble, two more burned. Miraculously the three houses were empty. Their owners have moved out of Baghdad, the burned houses just kept burning the whole night and are still burning today. Three people got seriously injured. Couples with minor injuries were treated by people in the block. Smashed glass all over two cars caught fire but miraculously did not explode. The scene is not describable. Everybody in shock. Someone from further down asked “what? Did you have saddam as a house guest here?”. You can follow the trace of the shrapnel, it moves in a straight line across two streets. And what sort of a shell is that which blasts in mid air and sends big bits of shrapnel all over.
My uncle lives on the main street this is what they saw: A tank standing in front of their house, so close they could hear the soldiers speak. Started shelling in the direction of our block and went back. It is a miracle that no one was killed.
Raed came by. He and his family returned to their house today. He says tat their house is a mess because all the bombing on Furat district.
After having a house full of people for a while it feels pretty empty now. Most of the family has decided t go back to their houses. We had an amazing couple of days, 4/4 the Americans in the Airport, 7/4 they move into Baghdad, 9/4 troops are in Firdaws square (Firdaws means heaven) with no Iraqi military presence in the streets whatsoever. They just disappeared, Puff, into thin air. The big disappearing act. Army shoes and uniforms are thrown about in every street, army cars abandoned in the middle of the road. An act of the almighty made every army member disappear at exactly the same time, fairy-tale-like “……and the golden carriage was turned back to a pumpkin at the strike of 12”.
At around 6pm yesterday we turned on the electricity generator to check the news. Lo-and-behold, holy cow in the sky, what do we see? Iraqis trying to pull down the Saddam statue in Al-Firdaws square. That the American troops are so deep in the city was not as much surprising as the bunch of people trying to pull that thing down. By now any relatives and friends have told us that they saw a lot of American soldiers in the city, even before the 9th of April. Not only the presidential palaces, but also in many residential districts. The news does not tell you everything, they quickly mentioned the “Saddam bridge” not saying that this was right beside the university of Baghdad and a stone’s throw from the main presidential complex.
On the 9th we saw on TV the images of looting. The Iranian news channel (Al-Alam) showed the images and since this channel can be picked up by a normal antenna everybody who had an electricity generator got news that the lawless phase of this attack has reached Baghdad. Farhud has started in Baghdad. Farhud. The first one was the Farhud of the jews of Baghdad after they have been driven out of their homes, don’t ask me about dates. Diana told me about that one, I never knew that the word was used to describe the plunder that happened to the homes of the Iraqi jews – Farhud al yahood. Then an organized Farhud in Kuwait, that one was very systematic and state organized. Today I tell you History does only repeat itself once but it hits you a third time in the eye. To see your city destroyed before your own eyes is not a pain that can be described and put to words. It turns you sour or was that bitter, it makes something snap in you and you lose whatever hope you had. Undone by your own hands. Close your doors. Shut your eyes. Hope the black clouds of this ugliness do not reach you.
At the moment only what could be described as the government’s prosperity is being looted and destroyed, actually public property and they are only destroying what is theirs but who is going to listen to that argument. There has been very little attacks up till now on private property. Government stores full of cars imported cars to be distributed as “presents” by Saddam have been opened and cars are being pushed out and are there for the taking. Sorry, no keys. You’ll have to solve that problem by yourselves.
What I am sure of is that this could have been stopped at a snap of an American finger. The ministry of interior affairs was kept off limits to the looters by the simple presence of a couple American army cars and soldiers. Doors were shut, no one went in. at the moment we wish there was an American tank at the corner of every street.
Stories from people who do have an army tank at the corner of their street :
M. lives near one of the highways coming into Baghdad from the west. The American army has decided to put a control point at the end of their street. That was on the 7th. Some of the troops spent the night on the roof of his two story house, too scared to make a sound he kept to the ground floor and didn’t move. In the morning he heard them smashing a window and moving into the house. He ran out and made enough noise to attract their attention. He speaks good English and asked not to do anything to his home. They said they have knocked the night before but when no one answered they assumed no one was in. the previous night they were attacked from behind one of the cars in the street and they decided to take position on top of one of the houses. After being shot at again from behind another car the American tanks at the end of the street just shot every car in sight to pieces and killed a number of fedayeen types hiding in the gardens of these houses. M. explained that the 20 or so houses were mostly empty, the people moving out as fast as they can when the news of the advance from the west came. He was lucky he didn’t get shot when he came out of the house. The Americans changed their outlook post to the roof of another house. Today he came over to my place to say hi with a white handkerchief tied to his car antenna (it is foolish these days to drive or even walk around without a piece of white cloth, too many bad “incidents”). He came over and told me about the pictures he has been taking with the marines and their tanks in his street. They have been trying to be extra nice after turning the neighborhood to a battle field, and the troops have been invited to lunch by a couple of people there, nice, isinit?
11:30am (day 19)
The Americans called it “a show of force” and NOT the anticipated invasion of Baghdad. Well it defiantly was a great show for anyone watching it from a high orbit. Added to the constant whooshes of missiles going over our heads and the following explosions another sand-storm decided to make our life even more difficult than it already is, I mean your, ahem, boogers come out red because of all the sand you inhale. Closing the windows is madness it is safer to open the windows when the explosions start.
Since the day the Airport was seized we have no electricity and water is not reliable, at times if you have a tap that is higher than 50cm you won’t get water from it. We turn on the generator for 4 hours during the day and 4 at night mainly to watch the news. Today my father wanted to turn on the generator at 8 in the morning because of news of an attack on the center of Baghdad. We sat for two hours watching the same images until Kuwait TV showed footage taken from Fox News of American soldiers in Al-sijood Palace. Totally dumbstruck. Right after that we saw Al-Sahaf denying once again what we have just seen minutes ago. He kept insisting that there are no American troops in Baghdad and for some reason kept insisting that Al-Jazeera has become “a tool of American media”, idiot, Jazeera has been obviously very critical of the amrican “invasion” they insist on calling it that and what does the super smart information minister do: ostracize them some more.
I have not been out of the house for the last 3 days. We are now 15 people at “Hotel Pax” although it is not so safe here everybody expects the next move to be on the west/ southwest parts of Baghdad and are telling us we will be
the front line. I can only hope when push comes to shove the Americans will not be met with too much resistance and we don’t end up in the cross fire.
Iraqi TV is still transmitting but you need to put up your antennae way up to get the signal. I did a quick search for the TV broadcast which the “coalition forces” are supposed to be broadcasting but couldn’t find it. On BBC a couple of hours earlier I heard Rageh Omar say that he saw a lot of people buying antennas, he said that people told him that is because they want to watch the Iraqi TV broadcast, not entirely true. Since the war started an Iranian news channel called Al-Alam (the world) started broadcasting in Arabic and if you have a good anntena you can get it, actually quite informative considering the only thing you would get otherwise is Al-Sahaf on Iraqi TV telling us that the US army has been crushed and defeated.
OK, having moved around a bit and met people from different parts of Baghdad, all running away to other parts this is what it looks like. The push did not come from the west where the airport is but from other parts of the city, more from an east direction. Al-Saydia district was bedlam. It did become a front line. Which means Mahmudia in the suburbs if Baghdad and Latifiyah have also had it bad. There is a highway which we call the “airport road” this goes from Saydia all the way to the airport in one big sweep around the city and all the areas adjacent to that highway have seen fighting including Qahtan square. Cutting thru the Karkh part of Baghdad just like that. I guess the Iraqi government will self destruct in humiliation. Excuse me but where are you friggin republican guards?
I still worry about Raed and his family, G. would be safer now since the attacks are now more on the fringes of the city than the central parts.
no sleep last night. If it is true that the US army is in the Saddam International Airport they would be a 30 minutes drive fro where Raed lives. No phones, and I am a bit too scared about driving down to his house. The phones are a bit funny the last couple of days, it is more like a neighborhood wide intercom system than a telephone; you can call me if you are on the same telephone exchange.
Many people in the Jihad, Furat and along the Amiriyah Road are moving out of their homes because of fear they will end up as the front line. While we were helping one of my uncles move their water and food supplies to our place it felt for 30 minutes like we were in the middle of no-mans-land. We were there just as the “battle for the airport” started. There was another push from a more westerly direction too and this is where we got caught. In 10 minutes the whole area started moving, cars down the road moving out of Baghdad to the west started backing up and driving down the wrong sides fast as hell. The rumble of artillery was very close. As we drove in two cars to our place, which isn’t too far away, we could see the Hizbis (party members), army and fedayeen taking their places around the entrances to the highway heading west out of Baghdad and we crossed the ghazalia bridge minutes before they decided to block it off. Everybody was moving frantically.
Two hours later the whole city was blacked out, no electricity (at least in the western parts of Baghdad), water stopped also but came back a couple of hours later. Iraqis or Americans cutting the electricity off the city?
the bombardment and artillery fire went on from 6 to 9 or 10 that night it started again at 2 past midnight with three huge explosions. Some idiots started firing their Kalashnikovs and guns and made my paranoid aunt totally believe that the American troops are in the street. That night there was a car with a mounted gun patrolling the pitch black streets. My uncle who lives on the main street phoned and said the street looks like a battle field wit all the troops. They have Hizbis stationed right in front of their door. In the morning they gave them tea and cake and packed their bags, they were the only people left on that street who have not moved out.
Things on TV:
-Diar al omari and tayseer ……, two Jazeera reporters have been asked to leave the country (Diar is Iraqi and this might mean he’s in trouble). They were probably seen with Thuraya phones and were accused of spying, which is happening a lot these days.
- Footage of people in Najaf stopping the US army from entering the shrines of Imam ali. The troops held their guns pointed down and crouched on their knees, their commander or something was shouting “smile, smile!” and he went to shake hands with some of the Iraqis who have also sat down in font of the Americans. An Iraqi shouting into the cameras: “City OK, Imam Ali No”. The question was whether to allow the Americans to enter the shrines to look for Iraqi Army hiding in there.
- The fight for fatwas and who-said-what concerning the invading army, and whether to fight them or assist them. All Imams here and abroad are saying that no Muslim should help the invading army. But it was reported that al-khoei issued a fatwa saying that people should not “hinder” the Americans.
Actually too tired, scared and burnt out to write anything. Yes we did go out again to see what was hit. Yes everything just hurts. Conversations invariably use the sentence “what’s wrong with them? Have they gone mad?”. I can’t stand the TV or the lies on the news any more. No good news wherever you look.
Baghdad is looking scarier by the minute. There are now army people everywhere. My uncle will have to move out of his house because there is going to be an anti aircraft battery installed too close to it, the area where we live does not look too good either, we are surrounded by every sort of military outfit there is. Every school in the area is now an army or party center. I avoid walking in front of the school in our neighborhood, I try the ostrich maneuver; see no evil = evil has vamoosed out of existence.
The news programs drive me crazy but they are all we are watching. I specially like the Pentagon Show, him with the distracting facial expressions and her with her loud costumes. But still the best entertainment value you get these days is from the briefings, Iraqi and American. Al sahaf is outdoing himself each time he is on TV, and I know no one who can tell me what “oolouj” means. Best way to hide from the news is to live in your headphones.
Two hours ago we could hear the rumbling of the planes over us and it took them ages to pass. Afraid is not the right word. Nervous, edgy, sometimes you just want to shout out at someone, angry. I wish the Iraqi and the American governments would stop saying they are doing this for the people. I also want to hold a “not in my name” sign.
Pachechi was on all the Arabic news stations with interviews and talk shows. If it is a choice between him and Chalabi. I go for Pachechi.
Non stop bombing. At the moment the US/UK are not winning any battle to “win the heart and mind” of this individual. No matter which way this will go my life will end up more difficult. You see the news anchors on BBC, Jazeera and Arabiya so often you start dreaming of them, noticing when they get a hair cut and in one case on Jazeera a bad dye job.
There is one item which I have not thought I would need a big supply of: antacids. Air raid sirens start wailing or the heavy bombs start falling; five minutes later I go for the drawer with the antacids. Now every time the bombing starts my brother starts humming Nirvana’s “Pennyroyal Tea” :
”I'm on warm milk and laxatives
But these Iraqi antacids have no flavor, it feels like you are chewing plaster of Paris.
Very heavy bombing the last two days. Although today it was very quiet. And I bet the heavy bombing will resume tonight. It is getting heavier by the day. Somehow when the really heavy ones fall you feel like the house will collapse on you. Around 2am yesterday a couple of explosions made the whole house sway, you feel the ground beneath you move. It is said that these were the bombs that fell on the “Iraqi Village” – an orphanage – well… we all know that what is called the “Iraqi Village” is actually just part of a huge area used by the Republican Army, so no surprise it has been hit for the second time.
We went today to the Adhamiya district to look at the damage done there. Another small telephone exchange bombed to the ground, the commercial buildings around it has been turned to useless shells, it looks as if pushing one of the walls will make it crumble and fall. And just a couple of meters further something which was a house is now a pile of rubble. A couple of streets away is the Iraqi Sat Channel, you can see the transmission tower broken and bent but we couldn’t get near it they had barricades on all the streets leading to it. The adhamiya is a very dense area, these bombings must have shook the people pretty badly.
The streets are more crowded by the day and more shops are opening. Can you imagine having to stop all your work for two weeks? A huge part of the population, especially shop owners, groceries and the like all depend on a daybyday income. Two weeks is a lot of time with no money. Most manual labor is paid by the day and all these people have to sit at home because there is no work. Shop owners who live near their shops are opening; banks are open even private banks and life goes on. Things cost double their normal price but we are happy that you can still buy what you need from shops because this means we can keep what we have stored for harder days which are sure to come. If Basra is to be taken as an example, Baghdad will go thru hell. It looks as if the US/UK army will be moving on Baghdad from the west, which puts us right in their way. The Iraqi gov sure sees it the same way too because where we live is starting to look more like part of an army base. The worst thing that could happen to you these days is having an empty or half built house near the place you live. It will be seized by the government. We have now Hizbis as neighbors. Two streets to the back there is something which is probably even nastier because of the number and type of cars that are parking there during the day. The main street already looks like a battlefield because of the number of trenches. Not the sandbag thingies, but proper dug trenches with people holding rocket launchers walking around them. Great fun to be had by everyone. How on earth are they going to take Baghdad? I am afraid the areas we live in on the outer edges of Baghdad will become combat zones.
I am still trying to ignore the 24 hour non stop TV bombardment. News just ups the level of my paranoia. Living in my headphones or watching silly videos. Ice Age has become a house favorite.
Two one-person demonstrations on today’s drive around the city.
One man chained to a tree just in front of the UN building in Abu Nawas. It looked rather comic, he has given himself a long leash and looked more like a dangerous person kept in check rather than an angry demonstrator. The building is empty and the glass is knocked out of most of its windows because it faces the river and many of the bombed palaces and buildings.
The other one-man effort was much more admirable, we even decided to honk our car horn and shout encouragement to him. He was standing on the intersection near al-salhia, just beside the Ministry of Information, all alone and holding a sign saying in Arabic “Iraqis refuse to take any humanitarian aid from Jordanians and Egyptians”, right on. I wish I had the courage to stand with him, but he is standing in one of the most guarded areas at the moment. The Ministry of Information has been targeted so was the Iraq TV building just off the road and Hizbis are all over the place. This probably means that the guy is a Hizbi himself, but still we refuse to take any aid from these countries after they have received the money for shutting up when it comes to the matter of Iraq.
The Ministry of Information is getting cleared. Yesterday there were a million people in and around it; journalists are all stationed on the building. Today all the sat dishes have gone, the tents were being dismantled and there were very few cars with the letters “TV” taped on them with duct-tape. We saw them near the Palestine-Meridian Hotel. But we were watching al-arabiya and BBC they seem to have their cameras somewhere else.
Today’s tour of the city was following last night’s bombings of the Telephone exchanges in Baghdad. Many of them have been reduced to rubble. Last night saw one of the heaviest bombings, just after I wrote the entry in my diary last night all hell broke loose. There were two explosions, or series of explosions which shook the house like nothing till now. You could feel the floor shake under your feet and the walls rumble before you hear the sound of the explosions.
After seeing what has been done to the small telephone exchanges I fear that the small one in al-dawoodi might also be hit and this is just too close to us. Since last night’s bombings I can’t call Raed too, G. can’t call any of us since the first exchange was bombed, it feels like he lives in a different city he is too far away and he can’t call us.
No good news anywhere, no light at the end of the tunnel and the Americans’ advance doesn’t look that reassuring. If we had a mood barometer in the house it would read “to hell with saddam and may he quickly be joined by bush”. No one feels like they should welcome the American army. The American government is getting as many curses as the Iraqi.
The whole morning was spent cleaning up the mess created by the (sand-rain-and-sand-again) storm. Of course it was done to the beat of the bombardment. It has become the soundtrack of our lives. You wake up to the sound of bombardment; you brush your teeth to the rhythm of the anti-aircraft rat-tat-tats. Then there is the attack which is timed exactly with our lunch time. Dishes are fun to do while you think about the possibility of the big window in front of you being smashed by the falling tons of explosives and so on. The first two days we would hurry inside and listen with worry, now you just sigh look up to the sky, curse, and do whatever you have to do. This of course is only because we live relatively far from where the action is these days; we only seriously worry about two stupid anti-aircraft guns a couple of hundred meters away. Having heard form the people who live close to “targets” we can thank whatever gods or accidents that made us live where we do now.
Last night the bombs hit one big communication node in Baghdad, now there are areas in Baghdad which we can’t call and phones from/to abroad are pfffft, I have lost all hope that I will have internet again. We drove to have a look and it is shocking, it looks as if the building has exploded from the inside, you can look thru three floors. It is just near the Saddam Tower in al-Ma’amun area. Thank god I can still call Raed. But he can’t call some of his relatives. The operator just gives you the “this number is not in use” automatic answer.
The streets are very busy. But Baghdad looks terrible with all the dirt. Everything looks like it has been camouflaged. And everybody is out in the street washing cars and drive ways. A couple more stores are open and amazingly al-Sa’a restaurant didn’t close for a single day.
We all in Baghdad are very aware that we still have not seen the seriously bad days.
Basra on the other hand is in deep shit. One more word by Americans on TV about “humanitarian aid” will make me kill my television. They have the audacity to turn us to beggars while we will have to pay for the research and development of the weapons they are field-testing on us and they do as if they are helping us with their “humanitarian aid”. Excuse me, but it would help much more if you would stop dropping those million dollars per bomb on us, in is cheaper for us in the long run. As much as I don’t like him but al-Sahaf did say it: “crocodile’s tears”, indeed. One thing made me really laugh with delight, as the Red Crescent cars (Kuwaiti, and I would rather not say what I think about that) stopped at safwan and started unloading, it got mobbed. People just went into the trucks and did the distributing themselves while the US/UK soldiers stood watching. And what did the Iraqis shout while they were around the trucks? “bil rooh, bil daam nafdeek ya saddam” – we will sacrifice our sould and blood for saddam. Catastrophic, and just starting.
Most worrying bit of news is something that I heard being reported by the US gov; the Iraqi army is forcing all males to go into battle against Americans threatening to kill their families if they don’t. Telling them that I don’t feel like fighting won’t help much I guess.
Well, about the wishes for no sandstorm I can tell you that the gods definitely don’t listen to me. We had the fiercest ever. And it just went on and on. This morning everything was covered in sand. And not just a light film of sand but a thick red layer. And to add to the absurdist comedy the gods are enjoying at our expense they just drip-dropped a tiny bit of rain to make sure it all settled down but not get washed away. The skies cleared for a couple of hours around 8 this morning, and as if on cue the Americans entered the stage to make sure their role in this comedy is not forgotten and started bombing. Now we are being covered again by a new layer of sand. My friend Stefan sent me an email 4 days ago describing the whole thing as a Dada-ist play. After the sandstorms, rain and the nonsense the news is churning out I totally agree. Umm Qasar is under control, Umm Qasar is not safe, Basra is not a target, Basra will be attacked, Nasyriah is under control, Nasyriah sees heavy fighting. Would the news people please make up their mind? And the new addition to the war reporting absurdities is the “Uprising in Basra”. From one side the US/UK shout we were hopingwaiting for the cowardly Iraqis to stand up against their regime, and them Rumsfeld goes on TV and says “well… if they do it we can’t help them now”. I talked to G. on the phone today; he stopped listening to news two days ago. Don’t accuse the Iraqi media of lies because the rest are just as bad.
The reports about Iraqi TV going off air are partially true. We don’t get Iraqi TV but other areas do, maybe they are transmitting a weak signal or something. And we do have problems with electricity; yesterday many areas in Baghdad had no electricity after 5pm, not all together but one area after the other. Then it would come back for an hour and off again. I can’t say whether this is because of the bad weather or the bombing. In some areas it was trees falling on electricity cables. Phones are still working. Unless where you live had it’s phone line poles knocked off by the winds.
This morning I also met a couple of relatives from the south/southwest of Baghdad (outskirts – not within city limits) they say they have been under very heavy bombardment, probably smoothing the ground for the move on Baghdad. They also say that every now and then a couple of helicopters would hover very low to the ground. In one case they were chased away by the land owners firing at them. I would really like to say something about the Iraqi tribes and their farm land; there is nothing more important to them than their land. And it makes them squirm seeing the Iraqi army stationing themselves on it. This has been going on for a while, not just when the war started. They are unable to do anything about the Iraqi Army taking their land but no one minds them shooting any other people away. if the members of a tribe are living close to each other and using adjacent land plots, they will stand together to keep their area safe and that includes keeping the “allied forces” away from their homes and they are armed. Talking of tribes; tribe leaders are being called to different hotels in Baghdad and given big piles of Iraqi Dinars.
one mighty explosion at 12 midnight exactly the raid lasted for 10 minutes then nothing. We had and are still having horrible weather. Very strong winds, hope we don’t get a sandstorm.
In the [oh-the-irony-of-it-all] section of my life I can add the unbelievable bad luck that when I wanted to watch a movie because I got sick of all the news, the only movie I had which I have not seen a 100 times is “the American President”. No joke. A friend gave that video months ago, I never watched it. I did last night. The American “presidential palace” looks quite good. But Michael Douglas is a sad ass president.
No internet this morning, no internet last night. And we just had an explosion right now [12:21] no siren no nothing. Just one boom.
You can hear the sound of the planes. Look this is what you hear the last two days when a huge explosion is coming. First the droning of what is, I think, a plane then one small boom, followed by a rolling rumble that gets louder and suddenly BOOM, and the plane again.
I think this is a proper raid because I can still hear explosions. Laytah.
Tonight we didn’t notice any news channel reporting anything from fairford about the B52s, but then again the bombardment hasn’t stopped the whole day. Last night’s bombardment was very different from the nights before. It wasn’t only heavier but the sound of the bombs was different. The booms and bangs are much louder; you would hear one big bang and then followed by a number of these rumbles that would shake everything. And there are of course the series of deep dob-dob-dobs from the explosions farther away. anyway it is still early (it is 9:45pm) last night things got seriously going at 12, followed by bombardments at 3,4 and 6am each would last for 15 minutes. The air raid sirens signaled an attack around 12 and never sounded the all clear signal. Sleep is what you get between being woken up by the rumbles or the time you can take your eyes off the news. We hear the same news items over and over. But you can’t stop yourself.
The air raid sirens are not really that dependable, when they don’t sound the all clear after a whole hour of silence you get fidgety. The better alarm system is quite accidental. It has become a habit of the mosque muezzins (the prayer callers) to start chanting “allahu akbar – la illaha ila allah” the moment one of them hears an explosion. The next muezzin starts the moment he hears another calling and so on. It spreads thru the city pretty fast, and soon you have all the mosques doing the “Takbir” for five minutes or so. Very eerie but works well to alert everybody.
Below you see one of the emails we got, in English, this is loosely translated
the subject line is “critical info”
The world has united in a common cause. These countries have formed an alliance to remove the father of Qusay and his brutal regime. Qusay’s father has tyrannized the sons of the Euphrates and exploited them for years ans he has to be removed from power.
Then they list the frequencies for “Information Radio”. They even plan to transmit on FM. What immediately caught my attention is the use of “father of Qusay”. We don’t say “walid Qusay” in Iraqi-Arabic but use “abu Qusay” and he is usually referred to as “abu Uday”, but then again Uday is obviously out of the game. No one sees him in meetings. Four of the emails came from a hotpop account, one from a Lycos and another from a yahoo accounts. I don’t think they expect anyone to answer. But it is mighty interesting to see what happens if I write to one of them.
Was watching a report on Al-jazeera a while ago about Mosul and its preparations. The reporter interviewed someone from “fedayeen saddam” he said that he is in Mosul to “kill the Americans and kill anybody who does not fight the Americans”, there in one short sentence you have the whole situation in Basra, and most probably many Iraqi cities, explained. Fear is deep and trust in the people-from-foreign is not high.
The coalition forces are not here to hurt you, but they are here to help you. For your safety the coalition forces have prepared a list of instructions to keep you and your families safe. We want you to realize that these instructions are to keep you safe, even if they are, maybe, not (appropriate) [ this is a bit difficult because even in Arabic I don’t get exactly what they mean, but it sure got my attention, are they going to ask me to stand naked in the garden or something?].we add that we don’t want to hurt innocent people.
please and for your safety stay away from potential targets, like TV and Radio stations. Avoid travel or work near oil fields. Don’t drive your cars at night. Stay away from military buildings or areas used for storage of weapons. All the mentioned are possible targets. For your safety don’t be near these buildings and areas.
For your safety stay away from coalition forces. Although they are here for not your harm [sic] they are trained to defend themselves and their equipment. Don’t try to interfere in the operations of coalition forces. If you do these forces will not see you as civilians but as a threat and targets too.
Please for your safety stay away from the mentioned areas. Don’t let your children play there. Please inform your family and neighbors of our message. Our aim is to remove he father of Qusay and his brutal regime.
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. (And, by extension, an entire foreign policy edifice that supported the monster.) Now, I’ve got nothing personal against the guy, in fact, 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 say the word "mantra" but you get the point, which is: 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.
Note: Evil Boss Unit be tellin' lies. I didn't bug nobody. I sent him one email. And I apologized for that. Evil Boss Unit be a sexist who believes wimmin ought to be seen and not heard. We'll see about that in the new Iraq. We didn't do no liberatin' and pullin' down statues to be told, "get in the kitchen and fry those felafal balls, bitch." Get ready for a wild ride, Iraq.