Friday, May 30, 2003

I really need to get something out of my system.
I got an email. After throwing everything and the kitchen sink at me they ask:
"How are your parents doing?
Ah yes, your parents. Salam, people are wondering."
Actually they are doing very well, thank you. My father was invited to an informal dinner attended by Garner the second week he was in Baghdad; he also met some of Bodine’s aides and has met some of Bremer’s aides a couple of times too. Not to mention many of your top military people south of Baghdad.
Seriously, not joking there.

Let me make a suggestion. Do not assume, not even for a second, that because you read the blog you know who I am or who my parents are. And you are definitely not entitled to be disrespectful. Not everything that goes on in this house ends up on the blog, so please go play Agatha Christy somewhere else.
My mother, a sociologist who was very happy in pursuing her career at the ministry of education decided to give up that career when she had to choose between becoming Ba’ath party member and quitting her job, she became a housewife. My father, a very well accomplished economist made the same decision and decided to become a farmer instead.
You are being disrespectful to the people who have put the first copy of George Orwell’s 1984 in my hands, a heavy read for a 14 year old with bad English. But that banned book started a process and gave me the impulse to look at the world I live in a different way.
go fling the rubbish at someone else.

Have I told you that my father agreed to act as the mediator in the surrendering process between a number of Iraqi government officials and the American administration here? He is a man with sound moral judgment and people listen to his advice. People at the American administration and many of the new political parties had asked him for consultation.
Did I tell you about the time when one of Bremer’s aides asked him what the difference between a tribal sheikh and a mosque sheikh is? They send them thousands of miles to govern us here and then ask such questions.
Did I tell you about his unending optimism in what the Americans can achieve here if they were given time? He is so much less of a skeptic than I am, we had our shouty arguments a number of times since the appearance of the Americans on our theatre of events.
You see, there is a lot that I have not told you about, and I don’t see an obligation to do so. You all hide behind your blog names and keep certain bits of your life private.
I think the things that were said in the email above and on other sites were out of line.
There is more
“It seems your writing is dedicated to proving two points, first, minimizing the American contribution to removing Saddam and then, proving what terrible things the US did to get rid of Saddam, so as to paint a picture that it wasn't worth it.”
As to the first. There is no way to “minimize” the contribution of the USA in removing saddam. The USA waged a friggin’ war, how could you “minimize” a war. I have said this before: if it weren’t for the intervention of the US, Iraq would have seen saddam followed by his sons until the end of time. But excuse me if I didn’t go out and throw flowers at the incoming missiles. As for the second point, I don’t think anyone has the right to throw cluster bombs in civilian areas and then refuse to clean up the mess afterwards.
I don’t really understand why among the 26 million Iraqis I have to explain everything clearly, are you watching the news? can't you see the spectrum of reactions people have to the American presence in Iraq?.
I was at an ORHA press conference the other day (got in with someone who had a press pass) the guy up there on the podium said in an answer to a question, that most probably the people who have had good encounters with the coalition forces were saying things are getting better and those who have had bad things happening to them were saying things are getting worse.
It is still too early to make any judgments, I don’t feel that I have an obligation say all is rosy and well.
Iraq is not the black hole it used to be and there are a bazillion journalists here doing better than I can ever do, they have a press ID and they know how to deal with stuff.
As to the question “why are you not documenting saddam’s crimes?” Don’t you see that this is not the sort of thing that should be discussed lightly in a blog like this one. And what’s with “documenting”, me tiny helpless salam documenting things that were going on for 30 years? Sorry to blow your bubble, but all I can do is tell you what is going on in the streets and if you think journalists are doing a better job of that then maybe you should go read them. One day, like in Afghanistan, those journalists will get bored and go write about Syria or Iran; Iraq will be off your media radar. Out of sight, out of mind. Lucky you, you have that option. I have to live it.

Monday, May 26, 2003

did some re-arranging on the last two posts, you can post to the past with this thing. and all the links were put in the right place.
Internet prices are getting steeper, now we pay 8 dollars for an hour. capitalisim! pah.
someone on al-Muajaha (before you start wondering, the "salam" who works for Muajaha is not me) was out in the streets a couple of days ago asking "where is saddam?". the best answer he got was from a 10 year old kid:
"Saddam is dead, he died five years ago."
well, that explains the mess.

here is the link to CIVIC, i should put it up in the links thingy on the left. Try to ignore the quote from senator Patrick Leahy right on top. it gets on mynerves but i still think what they are doing is important.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Pool side at Hamra hotel. Where every journalist wishes he had a room reserved. If they sit long enough there they could just forget that there was a war going on outside the hotel fences. Jennifer Lopez squeaking out of the speakers and cool $5 beers with over priced burgers and salads. “Please put these ICG reports aside I would rather work on my tan”. Stuff like that. They come in carrying cameras, sound gear or big folders with a red cross on them. Minutes later they are sipping on a beer wearing as little as they can.
Read simply refused to get out of the water, he kept telling me that the moment I would walk out of the hotel doors I will be back in Baghdad: no electricity, lines at gas stations, prices as burning hot as the weather and a life that looks as if it will never return to normal. You couldn’t define normal now anyway. Have you seen how a fish flips on its sides when brought out of water? This is how it feels in Baghdad these days. You are not even sure if what you say is going to get you a black eye.
I don’t swim. I sat reading a borrowed copy of the New Yorker. An article about the new X-men movie. All systems on autopilot, I really did wish something would happen that will make it impossible for me to leave. But there are things to do, people to see, life rolls on.

I was marginally involved in something that had to do with 24 pizzas and twice as many American soldiers. I shouldn’t be telling you about this, you will most probably be hearing about it from someone else but it was great. The faces they made when the car would stop and they would be asked if they were the guys who ordered the pepperoni pizza.
It is difficult, a two sided coin. On one side they are the US Army, invader/liberator – choose what you like, big guns, strange sounds coming out of their mouths. The other side has a person on it that in many cases is younger than I am in a country he wouldn’t put on his choice of destinations. But he has this uniform on, the big gun and those darkdark sunglasses which make it impossible to see his eyes. Difficult.
Hamra swimming pool is easier.

The Iraqi Central Bank should open on the 31-5; banks should follow the day after. It was said that the first couple of days the banks will exchange the 10,000 dinar bill for dollars in a gesture that would show that the bills are OK hoping that the way they have been devalued would stop. Your 10,000 bill is still going for 7000 dinars if you find someone who would buy it from you.
There is another strange story I have been hearing relating to the Iraqi dinar. Mainly in gas stations because they are the places with the most income these days, after the day is over and they want to close down. A US army car would come and exchange the Iraqi Dinars for US Dollars at the day’s exchange rate and the Iraqi dinars would be burnt at the spot. I heard this story three different times.
It is not as surreal as it sounds. Saddam printed more Iraqi dinars than the system could support. Too many dinars on the market, the value goes down and the real value is distorted. If the burning is happening then they are decreasing the amount of paper (dinars) that is on the market creating a demand and pulling the value of the dinar up, so it is not a “bad thing”. I don’t see a reason to be as alarmed as the people who told me the stories were.
You know the expression “armchair psychologist”? Well, I am the best “armchair financial analyst” you’ll find this side of the net.
Talking about the net, I wonder when and who will be the first to use [.iq] in their URL. It was not used by the Iraqis during the days of saddam.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 19, 2003

the people at [Electronic Iraq] [al-Muajaha] kindly agreed to host the images for this post and we will put up the post on their site too. I have warned them that I have a lot of images and as the arabic saying goes: wa qad u'thira man anthar - don't blame someone who has already given you a warning. I really didn't have any other choice, the guys at the internet place wanted to charge 66,000 dinars for uploading 1.2megs of images. thats around $50 by today's rate. you should see how people react whenthey tell them how much they charge. because of the rise in the value of the dinar even richrich people from foreign find them expensive and start bartering. we buy internet time like we buy tomatoes now: "look if a spend an extra half hour will the rate go down 3000 dinars?"

Three days in the south of Iraq. A quick run from Baghdad to Basra and back. Since I am only tagging along I didn’t really have a say on where to go and what to see. Raed had to check on the CIVIC teams (Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, you can check the site – – but I have been told by Marla that it is not very informative at the moment). Raed has teams in a couple of cities and had to form new teams in others. The only place which has some sort of an administrative structure left in Iraq after the chaos are hospitals, we meet the teams in various hospitals and medical centers.
Lots of pictures to take and lots of people to talk to. We were moving to the south at the same time al-Hakiem (leader if SCIRI) was making his trip to Baghdad. We crossed paths on his way towards Samawah. In Basra I discovered the best ice cream place in all of Iraq, really the best and so cheap. I was also given “the finger” by a British soldier while trying to take pictures of the burned down Basra (ex)Sheraton hotel. That is one picture I am really sad that it didn’t turn out good, it would have been great, half of him hanging out of a military car giving me the finger. Now that’s a souvenir to bring back from Basra
Anyway, the pictures below are in no particular order.

The entrance of (Saddam) Hospital in Najaf, now obviously changed to Sadir Hospital. One icon goes another comes, not even necessary to repaint the whole picture. It is scary how well the two images fit on top of each other.
I came back from the trip seriously worrying that we might become an Iran-clone. If anyone went to the streets now and decided to hold elections we will end up with something that is scarier than Khomeini’s Iran.
- - - - - - - -

What looks like a gay parade on wheels with all the pink flags is actually al-hakiem’s welcoming committee near samawah, don’t ask me why the pink flags, I couldn’t figure that one out. the color of SCIRI is red but all you see are pink flags.
Do you see that graffiti in English? “God’s great miracle”. G. was in Najaf while “god’s great miracle” made his speech and cried. Very good theatrical effects, you see he is being accused of not being here and going thru what other Shia parties have gone thru (i.e. Islamic Dawa Party and the people around al-Sadir). The tears got the desired effect from the crowds apparently. Unfortunately Raed was in too much of a hurry to take time and see what Najaf was like at the arrival of “God’s great miracle”.
- - - - - - - -

One of the biggest surprises when we got to Karbala was that Raed has a girl on his CIVIC team there. She has sent her brother to ask if it was OK for a woman to join. She keeps a notebook for the cases she wants CIVIC to try help as fast as they can. She told us about um-khdair, who is a 30 year old mother with 6 children. Her husband is 50, their house was bombed. He died and the house has been destroyed. Um-khudair and her 6 children now live in one room in a “khan” [these are hotel-like buildings managed by mosques] she is pregnant as well. Sabah, the girl on the CIVIC team, tried to make Raed promise that he will do something, but he can’t promise anything really. There is nothing worse than giving people false hope in situations like these and we remind the team not to give the people they interview any promises. CIVIC at the moment can only collect information and in extreme cases forward the info to an organization that has the funds and capability to help.
- - - - - - - -

After the meeting they insist on going to the city and buy us drinks (juice), sabah does not join us, but she asks Read if she could take a picture with him.

I am not so sure about the juice place so we decide on canned fizzy drinks. Kufa-Cola. Iraqi Shia soft drinks (Kufa is a city with an important Shia mosque), how good is that? I bet “god’s great miracle” al-hakiem only drinks Kufah Cola.
While sipping on our blessed cokes Riyadh, one of the older volunteers tells us about an army training camp where families have taken shelter after their houses were bombed or couldn’t pay the rent the last two months when the country came to a stand still. Since this is one of the things CIVIC is looking into Raed decides to take a look.
- - - - - - - -

There we get to meet saif al-deen, a huge name for the little kid who has a problem with S’s (If you ask him he’ll tell you his name is “thaif”) and Ibrahim with his little brother.
Saif al-deen (sword of the faith) and his family had to move to the army training camp when his father, a soldier in the Iraqi army couldn’t pay the rent for last two months, 10 US dollars per month.

In total there are eight families. They say they have been moved from other places they have squatted within the city until they got to this army center in the outskirts. When we asked who moved them out of the places they were in they said it was usually the new political parties. These buildings were NOT given to these parties by the “coalition forces”, the Americans here have decided to not look at that situation for now. I don’t think that when ministries and other public institutions start functioning again they will not ask for their property back, I can’t see why the Dawa Party should take the place of a public library. Anyway, both the newly homeless and the parties are competing to occupy public buildings. The problem in the one we went to was that this training center is full of ammunition. And one unexploded thingy that has been fired at the camp from a helicopter. The kids run around showing us where the grenades and other stuff lies. There is no use taping the warnings (given to organizations by the coalition forces to put at places where there are unexploded objects - mainly cluster bombs) because no one in this place can read or write.

The only thing to do is to ask the families that are living near the back of the camp to move away from the areas where the ammunition is. They tell us that this is just training ammunition and not dangerous. And they won’t move out of this place because they have no where else to go.
- - - - - - - -

We also go take a look at a neighborhood where the Iraqi army tried to hide armored vehicles which later got attacked by missiles from helicopters. In many cases the soldiers and the civilians were warned by dropping leaflets, in some cases that didn’t happen. No one got injured here because they had left the area after the Iraqi Army positioned four vehicles in the streets but a couple of houses got badly damaged, the families moved back and repaired what could be repaired.

Enough about Karbala. Next stop Najaf then Diwanya.

- - - - - - - -

Saddam General Hospital in Diwaniya. We get there after we pass thru the Shamia area. Scenes of typical Iraqi rural areas, mud houses and palm trees. Then suddenly you see this:

the Shamia medical center saw in one single night 44 civilian deaths. All making the mistake of getting near the Shamia checkpoint on a day when the US army was having a bit of a mood. The people who live there told us that it was one of the sandstorm days. Everything that approached the checkpoint was shot without any discrimination. One of the cars was carrying the casket of a dead woman to the cemetery. All four passengers died.
It was bad during these days, not for the civilians only but for the “coalition forces”. These were days when the number of suicide attacks was increasing and after the woman who killed a number of American soldiers in one of these attacks they changed the rules of engagement (is that what it is called?). There was no way an Iraqi could approach an area where US troops where stationed without risking a 50/50 chance of being shot at because your pockets looked funny.
- - - - - - - -

At Diwaniya hospital Raed had to look around for people who would want to volunteer, and I looked around for things to photograph. And look what I saw.

The US army was helping the hospital bring back X-Ray machines and other stuff that was stored elsewhere to make sure it didn’t get looted. Afterwards they stood around for a while, took pictures and let the kids poke their big biceps. “Strong mister”.
Throughout the south in all the hospitals we have been to, there was military presence. In Kut there were FIF (free Iraqi forces – chlabai’s militia) people wearing exactsame uniforms as the Americans but with little badges saying FIF. Not high on my top five list. Yes, I don’t like Chalabi. Go sue me.
Having military there makes everybody feel safer, to the point where in Basra, because the main general hospital and the college of medicine are in the same compound, the British forces are making the area safe enough for that college to be the only one with regular attendance and classes.
- - - - - - - -

A couple of meters from this scene someone was stacking “humanitarian aid” boxes on a cart and pushing it out of the hospital.

There is absolutely no distribution method. The aid that is coming in gets taken by whomever and sold on the market. You could buy the whole box for 16.000 dinars (a bit more than 16 US dollars by today’s rate). Or you can buy only the things you like. Everybody is buying the chocolates and leaving the sugar and rice. This scene was repeated everywhere, in Basra these boxes were on the street. Did I mention these boxes were from Kuwait? There are others from Emirates and Saudi Arabia on the market. Water gets sold separately, 1000 dinar per bottle. A family in need was supposed to get one box and 12 bottles of water.
Diwaniya wasn’t so great. For some reason it was difficult to find the enthusiasm I have seen in Karbala and Najaf. Anyway, a team was formed.
- - - - - - - -

Next stop Samawah where we will spend the night. While checking on the team there one of the volunteers told us that they were not able to go around the city because everybody was too distressed about the mass graves found at the edge of the city. Many who were buried there were from Samawah. At least they can be thankful that the the buried had their ID cards with them and could be identified. All over the city you could see photocopied photos of the executed.
Gruesome fact: during the uprising after the first gulf war Saddam’s henchmen, in order to move quickly, would put people in trucks and move them to the edge of the city and bury them alive, these are the mass graves where you’ll find people still have their ID’s, fully dressed only with their hands tied.

In every shop window, on every wall the faces look back at you. This was not one of the big mass graves found, around 50 bodies.
Too tired to want to take a walk thru the city. Next day is Nasiriyah, a very big number of casualties are expected there and CIVIC still has no team there.
- - - - - - - -

The official Number in Nasiriyah (i.e. coming from hospitals and medical centers in the area) is about 1000 civilian deaths and 3000 injuries. Nasiryiah is not that big, with these numbers it must have seen very bad days. We go fast to the Nasiryiah hospital and get a team together. To our amazement we have a lot of girls wanting to volunteer although we have explained that this will involve lots of going door to door, which would usually put off female volunteers we had elsewhere. They only ask to be given districts in the inner city because of the unstable security situation.

While talking to them about what they are supposed to do the name “Jessica” is dropped. Aseel, one of the female volunteers, tells us that this is the hospital where Jessica was held in captivity. Both main hospitals in this city were turned into command centers. One had fedayeen in it and was bombed to the ground by the Americans and in the other Ali Hassan Al-Majeed was holding court for a while, before he moved to another place. When the American forces came to rescue Jessica “chemical” Ali was already out, the manager of the hospital and a couple of doctors were asked to get dressed in civilian clothes and get out as fast as they can. The hospital was not damaged.
We are waiting to see what the survey will turn out; Raed is even thinking of increasing the number of the team to 25 because of the high number of casualties reported. Usually they would get at least 25% more than the numbers from hospitals. 1000 deaths is really a big number in a place like Nasiriyah.
We stay for too long there talking to the team and end up late for the appointment with the Basra team.
- - - - - - - -

Basra is beautiful. We have a bit of a problem with hotels because it is chockfull of foreigners and news people all the places charge outrageous prices. We find a place where we pay 30,000 dinars for a night; compared to 3000 dinars in Nasiriyah (foreigners pay double that price). But there is great food and the excellent ice-cream place called Kima. No, this is not a paid plug. Go ask for ananas-azbari and be pleasantly surprised, it has frozen bits of pineapple in it. Block those thoughts about cholera and enjoy. Water is a bit of a problem, people in Basra have been dependant on water purified by the Petrochemicals plant or people who have set up businesses to provide clean water, they call it RO water (reverse-osmosis purification). Of course you have to buy that. Now there are purification plants donated by Gulf countries but you still have to queue to get it or go buy RO water on the street, its price has gone down after the plants started working. All this is within Basra city, outside of Basra? Don’t ask.
The Police in Basra are much luckier than the police in Baghdad, they get military protection.

But what doesn’t get protection is any store selling alcohol. There have been attacks on 5 stores that sell liquor and everybody in the store was killed. There is no way any one is going to sell you a beer on the street in Basra. Some areas in Baghdad have seen similar attacks but nobody panicked yet. But we will be there soon. Al-Fartoosi in his Friday prayer Khutba said that “loose women”, the cinemas in Sadoon street showing immoral films (the films are as sinful as a Britney Spears video, bellies and fake kissing) and anyone selling alcohol will be given a week to clean up their act or “other methods” will be used to stop them spreading wickedness.
- - - - - - - -

Now if you keep going in the direction the policeman above is pointing at you will eventually reach this:

Around a hundred graves at the edge of the road, starting where the pavement should have been. These were people killed during the early stages of the war when it was too dangerous to bury them in a proper burial ground. The nearest empty land was used. The latest are dated 16th of April. The ones that don’t have a name sign are people who could not be identified.

There was another makeshift graveyard near the Dyala Bridge in Baghdad

There were a couple of people buried there, near the bridge, from Basra or around it. We wrote down the names and gave them to a couple of people who were at the cemetery in Basra to put them up in mosques, maybe the word will get to their families.
- - - - - - - -

At another place the Islamic Dawa Party had long lists of names put up at the door of its headquarters in Basra. The names Dawa party members who were executed and killed by the Ba’ath. You see these scenes in all cities.

When the lists were put up in Karbala (not only Dawa but the hundreds of people killed during the uprising in 91) you saw the whole city go into the traditional 3 day funeral. 240 names. Men, women and children, families of 20 and more at a time.
- - - - - - - -

The rest of the time is spent in our way-too-expensive hotel, we only go out for a short walk in al-Ashar by the river.

The war with Iran was just over when Saddam decided to commemorate his officers with a huge monumental project at al-ashar. 30 officers he chose got larger-than-life statues cast in bronze all pointing towards the east; Iran. Today all thirty officers have been pulled down from their podiums only one remains. Adnan Khairullah, Saddam’s cousin from his mother’s side. He was killed by saddam when he was getting a bit too popular with his troops as a defense minister. The rest were pulled down, cut to pieces and sold on the market for the metal.
- - - - - - - -

Next morning we woke up to the sound of a British Army patrol.

Rushed to the Basra general hospital and met the Basra team, all of the volunteers are medical students. By this time I am really too phased out by all we have seen to listen and join the discussions. Raed goes on like one of these Duracell rabbits.
- - - - - - - -

When we were in Nasiriyah someone made a joke about saddam and the money we are using. Assel responded: “Ha! So now you find your voice?”. Yes we are all finding our voices now, suddenly everyone has an opinion. Everyone thinks he/she should be involved. Talking to all the volunteers in the cities we’ve been to really gives you a push. There was an article before the war, I think by makiya but I am not sure, saying that Iraqis after all this time have been depoliticized. You wouldn’t think so after walking in the streets these days. The people we deal with are my age or younger, we are not apathetic about the politics of this country. The University of Baghdad will be a very interesting place to be in these days.

Friday, May 09, 2003

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

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

Prices of weapons on the market have been going up. At one point you could get a hand grenade for 500 dinars, that’s a quarter of a dollar. A Kalashnikov for $200 and a brand new Uzi for a bit more. These are on display on the roads. In Baghdad-al-Jadida and al-baya districts but the cheapest could be found in Thawra (revolution) district (It used to be caleed Thawra then Saddam now they are calling it al-Sadir district). It is like a militarized zone in Thawra. If you don’t live there you better not go.
The streets markets look like something out of a William Gibson novel. Heaps of cheap RAM (stolen of course) is being sold beside broken monitors beside falafel stands and weapons are all available. Fights break out justlikethat and knives come out from nowhere, knives just bought 5 minutes ago. There are army sighting thingys, Weird looking things with lenses. And people selling you computer cases who tell you these are electric warmers, never having seen a computer case before. Really truly surreal. Software CDs, Movie CDs and cheap porn. And a set of 5 CDs called [the crimes of saddam] it has things from halabja, the footage they have taped during 91 while squishing the uprising after the war and other stuff about Uday, there is one whole CD about Uday. Have not seen any of them yet. They say there is some gruesome footage on them but the Uday CD is not as juicy as you’d think.
Back to the weapons. The prices have been going up because they are being bought from the market in big quantities. One of the very few bright ideas our new American administration has been having was if the looters want money for the stolen weapons let’s pay them for bringing them to us. Outside Baghdad it is said people are being paid a fixed price for each piece of weaponry they bring in. In Baghdad it is being bought off the market at street prices. But still no one is going into the Thawra District.
American civil administration in Iraq is having a shortage of Bright ideas. I keep wondering what happened to the months of “preparation” for a “post-saddam” Iraq. What happened to all these 100-page reports, where is that Dick Cheney report? Why is every single issue treated like they have never thought it would come up? What’s with the juggling of people and ideas about how to form that “interim government”? Why does it feel like they are using the [lets-try-this-lets-try-that] strategy? Trial and error on a whole country?
The various bodies that have been installed here don’t seem to have much coordination between them. We all need to feel that big sure and confident strides forward are being taken; it is not like this at all. And how about stopping empty pointless gestures and focusing on things that are real problems? Can anyone tell me what the return of children to schools really means? Other than it makes nice 6 o’clock news footage.
Schools have been looted; there are schools that have cluster bombs thrown in them when fedayeen were still there, no one bothered to clean that mess up before issuing the call on [Information Radio] that all students should go back to schools. How about clearing the mess created by the sudden disappearing of the ration distribution centers? How about getting the Hospitals back in shape? How about making it safe to walk in the street?
I mean there are a million more pressing issues for these committees meeting daily than getting children back to unsafe schools.
Yes yes I know. Patience. God needed seven days to finish his work and all that.
Living in my headphones. The best place to be these days.
Just a quickie because raed will kill me if I will be late. I now not only have access to someone with access to email I now have access to a phone. So I got a chance to talk to Diana, she said I sounded British. And Stephan also called. If you have been reading the blog for a while you will know that he is the person I have shared a flat with for 4 years in Vienna. He said he will call again today and we will have more time to talk about the blog and all. I am sure some of this "talk" will end up published somewhere in Austria because he has been working with the Austrian News Agency. If you want to know more you will have to ask him since I have no idea what he does with these things, I still don't know what he did with that email interview we did a couple of weeks before the war started. Any way he said it is ok to put his email on the blog so go ask him email addy was wrong it has been corrected now
Yesterday after emailing the huge entry to Diana I took a walk down Karad and saw three tanks parked in front of an ice cream shop. Pretty surreal. And later at night 4 of the soldiers stationed in al ameriyah street were walking back holding these kerosene lights we call 'laleh'. They have bought them from the shop down the street because their generator broke down or something. Night watch done in very romantic light.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

A Post From Baghdad Station

Note: 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.

Things are 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” [] have launched their attack on Baghdad. It is quite good compared to the leaflets 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” []. 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.

26/4. 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 [] 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.

Too depressing.

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.


4:30pm (day16)

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.


6:50pm (day13)

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

Cherry-flavored antacids”

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.


7:30pm (day10)

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.


3:35pm (day7)

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.


11:50 (day6)

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.


10:05am (day5)

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.

And another.

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.


9:29pm (day4) 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.

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.
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.

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.