Wednesday, August 18, 2004


Saturday, April 10, 2004

I think Hiatus is the word. Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Remember the days when every time you hear an Iraqi talk on TV you had to remember that they are talking with a Mukhabarat minder looking at them noting every word? We are back to that place.

You have to be careful about what you say about al-Sadir. Their hands reach every where and you don't want to be on their shit list. Every body, even the GC is very careful how they formulate their sentences and how they describe Sadir's Militias. They are thugs, thugs thugs. There you have it.

I was listening to a representative of al-sadir on TV saying that the officers at police stations come to offer their help and swear allegiance. Habibi, if they don't they will get killed and their police station "liberated". Have we forgotten the threat al-Sadir issued that Iraqi security forces should not attack their revolutionary brothers, or they will have to suffer the consequences.

Dear US administration,
Welcome to the next level. Please don't act surprised and what sort of timing is that: planning to go on a huge attack on the west of Iraq and provoking a group you know very well (I pray to god you knew) that they are trouble makers.

Oh and before I forget.........Help please.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

just a couple of posts long but already sounding like a winner
And then do you know what Fiona Katie did next???

Fired an AK47!

Yes, the very first thing I did in Baghdad, just moments after I got out of the vehicle, I borrowed an AK47 from an Iraqi and fired it (into the air).
it is a bout a girl with a tool kit in Iraq apparently. This is why I love blogs, a million times better than television. I can't wait to see what she tries next. Go read Wires. [via the Guardian's weblog]

Saturday, March 20, 2004

and another public announcement

we have finished cutting the Karbala film. It is 13 minutes and 38 seconds long and I am very happy with the result. it should go on air either the 24th or the 25th on Newsnight. It is really good and if you have a chance to see Newsnight you should take a look. I am very glad that I had a chance to see the Ashour thing and to be able to film it as well. It is not about the bombs it is about the festival itself.

and if you are into web chat thingies them maybe you should check this out . talk to you there on Monday.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I am still alive. I have just been given a 10 minute breather from the small dark room I sit in to script and edit the films for Newsnight. The first one, about the one year anniversary not Karbala, will go out tonight. check the Newsnight website to see if they put a version online. What you can go check out now is a very interesting poll (PDF file). Look thru it, I think it will give you a very interesting view. it is worth your time.

and you are officially reading an award winning Blog, I have won a Bloggy Award. Yay me.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

I am sorry, please accept my apologies for not updating. My mind doesn't seem to be able to multi-task any more, I am in filming mode, and with a certain person here with a whip in her hand, I can't even get a chance to check my emails.

Karbala was one of these things I will never ever forget in my whole life, I don't care what you think of the rituals that are practiced, the fact is that the atmosphere was beautiful. Peacful and so much passion and devotion, it brings tears to your eyes. I have seen things that left me baffled for hours.

I, my mother and my cousin were out of the center of the city, running, by the third mortar. it was the last two that did the damage and it happened near the shrine of Abbas not al-Hussein where we were staying.

I am not sure I am more phased out by the rituals I saw and witnessed there or by the attacks and their consequences. I have gone thru the footage I have from the 4 days over and over again. The world being a very unfair place I can't show you the 400 minutes I have and tell you about them, people will chop it down to 12 minutes.

There was such a feeling of solidarity and unity and peacefulness, you had to be there to feel it. People were sleeping on the street, stands giving out everything, from tea and milk in the morning to full meals, for free. 2 million people squeezed into this one place and not even a small fight.

I frikkin' met an Ayatollah! a real life Ayatollah, I watched him eat a banana and then he put his hands on my shoulder and prayed that I get married soon, my mom was beside herself with joy and I just couldn't stop laughing.
The heretic fagot getting a blessing from an Ayatollah. that is how great those four days were.

I have to go now and finish all the things my lovely producer asked me to do, otherwise I will be whipped tomorrow.

Raed always says that there is a small tiny Salam who wants to believe in the existance of a deity inside of me, during those couple of days in Karbala I was being confronted with this issue every minute and wherever I look. I am so glad I was there. wish you were with me so that you don't only remember the horrible images we saw on TV of the site of the attack but to also remeber that 4 hours later people were back and continued with the rituals of that day.

Now my friendly producer will lock me in a small dark room they call an editing suite.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

salam i was trying to call your phones all the day long, i hope u didnt die in the karbala explosions

I'm coming back to baghdad next week

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

ummm.......we have Arabic [Big Brother] now. The plot to make the whole world eat and watch the same things is going pretty well, don't you think?
Raed you should have been here today, how could miss out Ashura? Well, you still have 5 more days to get your ass back to Iraq and in Karbala,

We are approaching a very important date in the Shia calendar; this is something that has not been publicly commemorated for the last 25 years. Today is the third day in Muharam, in 7 more days the Shia Imam (saint?) al-Hussain will be killed in a battle that almost wiped out all the prophet’s male descendants but one, Zain al-Abideen. And you ask who was going to wipe out Mohammed’s lineage? It was the Sunni Caliph Yazeed.

Go grab that beer, it is story time again. This is the second part of the [what’s up with those Shia and Sunni dudes?] story.
If you don’t feel like a story scroll down to the pictures.

So I assume you have been reading the blog and already know that the prophet announced before his death that whoever sees a leader in him should see a leader in his cousin Ali. Which the Shia took as a sign that the rule of the growing Muslim empire should be in the hands of the descendants of the prophet. Things didn’t happen like that.

The revolution that was led by an orphaned man to make all believers equal in the eyes of Allah wasn’t gaining much ground with the big rich families of Mecca. If you have read Salman Rushdie’s [Satanic Verses] you’ll see how he hinted at the disgruntlement of the big rich families, they were calling it a revolution of “water bearers and slaves”. This is not just fiction, in a book titled [the political left and right in Islam] – please excuse me for forgetting the name of the author - it is suggested that after all of Mecca became muslin, willingly or by force, the older tribes were not going to allow the rule of this growing institution go to the hands of an unknown, an orphan. This gap between the old and the new power, the author suggests, has always been at the heart of Sunni/Shia trouble in the early days of the Caliphate.

Four Caliphs down the line, as we get into the Ummayad period, things are getting more and more decadent and. When Yazeed comes to become Caliph in Damascus he wants to make sure that there will not be anyone from the Prophet’s family to contest his right to the throne. He sends someone to kill al-Hussain, the next in line of Imams.

In the mean time al-Hussain is getting messages from Kufa/Iraq telling him that they support his cause and wish he would come to Kufa and lead the believers there. Seeing that he has no choice al-Hussain moves to Iraq. He takes with him all his family, the prophet’s family and followers of al-Hussain i.e. Shia. It is a small entourage since he is expecting the help of the Iraqis in Kufa. 72 men with their women and children.
Before he arrives a messenger is sent to check things out in Kufa, the messenger is a family member. The first day he arrives all the city prays behind him, a sign of respect. The Sunni Caliph sends his envoy to warn the people of Kufa from following this man. When the messenger comes to pray the next day, no one from the city is in the mosque and when he is killed and hung from a minaret no one from Kufa rises to avenge his death or bring him down for burial. Bad sign for the Shia on their way but with no wireless internet the word doesn’t get to al-Hussain. He doesn’t know that those people who have pledged support are all hot air. He falls into a trap.
Surrounded for 10 days, his few followers try to protect him and die one after the other. Zain al-Abideen was too ill to fight and this saved him from death. The story of the battle has been told on the blog before, will dig into the archives and post a link and some of it.

After this event Islam was split into two for ever. And the Shia have lamented the death of al-Hussain since then. Every 10th of Muharam, the first Islamic month, is a day of deep mourning for Shia. He is seen as a symbol of Shia struggle and the story with all its gory details gets told and re-enacted every year. There is also a deep sense of regret for abandoning al-Hussain in his most difficult hours, hence the flagellation.

Why do they start 7 days before the actual day of the death? That is because so many of the Imams died on that day there is no chance to commemorate all their deaths in one day. The laments on each day tell the story of one of the Imams building up to the big day on the 10th of Muharam. The day of Ashura.

The scenes I saw today are things I have never seen before, my mother and uncles would tell me about them but the event was banned. I, my mother and cousin will be going to Karbala for a week. I hope I will be able to take pictures and blog from there. This is of such significance to Shia in Iraq this year it should not be missed. You said freedom of expression? Well, this event is going to test the boundaries of this freedom. You can bet your ass that the Sunnis will see this year’s Ashura as a provocation and you can bet your friend’s ass that the Shia will use it to provoke. Poking the hornets’ nest is a very close image. So we be there wearing black and a pious beard with a camera in hand.


About today’s pictures; they were taken in Baghdad, Kadhimiya district. The processions took place near the Imam Kadhim shrine. I had a video camera in my hand and although it is nifty and has a place for a memory stick to allow for still photos I forget to press that button. If you want to see the really interesting stuff you will have to wait for the film which will hopefully air on Newsnight, besides you need to hear the sound of the drums and those metal chains going down.


As always, click to see big.

Main street in Kadhimiya, leading to the shrine. It has two gold domes.

The child of al-Hussain was killed at that battle as well that is why there will always be a procession of kids.

the entrance of the Kadhim shrine.

these are called Hodej, they will be lighted up with candles at night.

mysterious blogger turned Reuters journalist. G doing what he does best: scrweing up my shot. He should get [young Iraqi journalist of the year] award, you should see his photography.

this thing is called a Zirengi, I have no idea what it symbolizes but every group of lamenters has one

sometimes they looked worried, sometimes they lookes bemused, but in general the american soldiers managed to keep a low profile at this event.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

I am concentrating all my efforts on growing a beard these days. I read on a web site somewhere that if I sit in total darkness with little balls made of aluminium foil stuck in my ears it will grow faster. I have been giving it a try for a week now, it is not working. I sit in front of the mirror for hours willing my beard to grow.

Happy Islamic New Year Y'all

Now, go easy with that non-alcoholic champagne.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

The first time I got an email from an American soldier in Iraq I wasn’t sure how to react. These days I read a couple of US soldier blogs and a couple even send me emails every now and then. I was answering one of them from [Mr. Somewhere-in-the-north-of-Iraq] when I decided later to post it on the blog. So here it is. And on a more personal note; No [Mr. Somewhere-in-the-north-of-Iraq], it doesn’t bother me that you are “one of the American occupiers?” because I don’t think of you as an Occupier, I know you would much rather be home and you are stuck here because someone said this is where you should be.

This is what he wrote:
What's the right answer?

Is it to have driven Saddam out (which requires a war), but with a truly United, worldwide coalition, along with a master-plan for the post-war? Is there another way to have removed Saddam? Or should he have been left in power, isolated from the international community, and basically allowing the maintenance of the status quo? Although I know most of Iraq wanted him gone, is it realistic to believe that Iraqis would have pushed Saddam from power? I think--but don't know--that Saddam had consolidated so much power over the masses that it would have been impossible for Iraqis themselves to deal the death knell to his regime (that would pass on to his progeny)? Basically, should the issue of Iraq been left 100% to the Iraqis from the beginning (no war)?
On another note, is America too powerful? Doesn't it usually do good things with its power, or does it screw up as much as it helps?
He doesn’t believe in easy small talk does he?

It is pointless to debate what should have been done. There was a war almost a year ago and we have to deal with its consequences, there was time for debate much earlier. The powers that be made their decisions, whether right or wrong, at that time. I am a very pragmatic person, Raed’s nickname for me was [Salam the PragmaPig] I deal with the shit as it happens, never a moment of regret – well almost. But for the sake of debate…….

[Dear readers, please give me a chance to empty my mailbox before flooding it with hatemail, otherwise your passionately written critique will bounce]

What annoyed me most in the whole build up to the war was the act the US administration put on, the way they seemed almost surprised at how much of a baddy Saddam has been and how it was time to slap him on the hand and wash his mouth with soap for all the bad things he has done. The various documents that were produced to show how much of a bully he has been on the international playground were treated as if they were so new and startling. That was just silly. What the US administration didn’t put in those records and documents was the extent of its own involvement in building up this monster and now that he has grown bigger than they thought he could they thought it was time to get rid of him. You ask is there another way to have removed Saddam? Well yes but that would have involved something the US administration didn’t see necessary at the time. It should have happened right after the first gulf war. The scene was set and all the players were ready to play there part in Iraq. More than two thirds of Iraq was out of Saddam’s control. There was a sense that people have achieved things for themselves, truly proud revolutionaries not the scared people who had to be helped by an outsider they are now. But what did the US administration choose to do? It pooped on them; it allowed Saddam to start a persecution of Shia that was so extreme; it left the country with deep scars that will take a long time to heal. Even the political situation would have been easier to handle, the rift between Shia and Sunnis wasn’t as big as it is now. The country still had its secular educated class, which now is all over the world having turned to political and economic refugees trying to escape the claws of Saddam and the difficult economic situation in Iraq after the war and the sanctions.
But as I said it is no use crying over spilt milk, we have to deal with what we have now.

You say “Or should he have been left in power, isolated from the international community, and basically allowing the maintenance of the status quo?” well, that is exactly what the Bush administration chose to do at the time, isn’t it? But that policy didn’t just isolate Saddam but the Iraqi people and gave him more power over the destinies of Iraqis, we became so dependant on a government that wasn’t at all fit to take care of us.

Anyway, all that doesn’t matter now. Saddam is gone, thanks to you. Was it worth it? Be assured it was. We all know that it got to a point where we would have never been rid of Saddam without foreign intervention; I just wish it would have been a bit better planned. Does this mean that I will be wearing a (I [heart] Bush) t-shirt? NO, because I don’t believe there is any altruism in politics and the way he sees the world scares me.
What I do really and sincerely hope for is that the day you and other soldiers and US civilians here don’t have to stay behind those high concrete walls isn’t too far away; and that you feel safe walking in the streets without those hard and heavy flak jackets, so that we can sit and talk about these things in a Karrada Street tea shop.
There are many challenges Iraqis have to face now, so please stick around a bit longer and try helping us get thru them. One of the more serious challenges is the fact that Iraq has become a sort of an open playground for many political and religious factions who are using Iraq as a fighting ground.
So there you have it [Mr. Somewhere-in-the-north-of-Iraq], and by the way you never told me whether you had a blog or not.


This post was created with the assistance of Asian Dub Foundation in the CD player and the great coffee I got as a present form my new Blog friends in my mug

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The Wise Oracle of Gotham asks:
"Mister President, can you give us the names of three National Guard Service colleagues who served with you between May 1972 and October 1973?"
She would have also liked to ask whether he has ever snorted coke?
Blame her for making me think that Kerry might be able to be the superhero who will save the universe. I do think Iraqis should worry about the presidential elections in the USA, it is scary how much influence someone sitting so far away has over the destiny of a nation.
You live in this place for most of your life and you think you know most of the religious festivals and traditions in your country, right? Wrong.

I walked thru Karada street last night only to be surprised by men standing in the middle of an intersection giving away sweets and candy to people in cars and a couple of kids with what was supposed to be fireworks. Karada (which is a predominantly Shai neighborhood) was full of signs congratulating the Shia nation on the occasion of the Eid al-Ghadeer (Eid is a religious celebration). Not wanting to look like an idiot I took the candy, shook hands with the nice gentlemen and ran home to my in-house Shia expert, my Mom.
She gave me the strangest answer ever: “oh yes, Ghadeer, of course. You have to go find and kiss 7 [illwiya]s. It will bring you good luck” – illwiya is a female descendant from the family of the prophet – kids when your parents give you strange answers try Google. Her sister was a bit more helpful; she suggested I go take a look at the Final speech made by the Prophet Mohammed before he died (the Farewell speech). But I still didn’t get it, there is nothing in it that would make the Shia so especially happy. Unless there is something my school textbook is not saying. As I said; try Google.

It turns out that the Ghadeer thing is the best way to explain the Shia/Sunni schism in a nutshell. Sit comfortably, take a sip of that beer and get ready for a story.


It is the year 10 according to the Muslim Calendar; the prophet has just finished his first (and last) pilgrimage to Mecca, to the house of Allah. On his way back he announces to the 100,000 Muslims following him on that pilgrimage that he has just received a message thru the heavenly Information Highway. They stop at a small pond called Khumm (pond in Arabic is Ghadeer, which makes it Ghadeer Khum). The prophet delivers his last speech to the congregation, starting with saying that he fears he will not meet the faithful in this place next year, somewhere in the middle he says the following:
I am leaving for you two precious things and if you adhere both of them, you will never go astray after me. They are the Book of Allah and *my progeny, which is my Ahlul-Bayt.*.
So with that his family, his descendants were given a free Divine upgrade so to say. But it gets better, later in that speech he also says:
Whoever I am his leader (Mawla), Ali is his leader (Mawla). O' Allah, love those who love him, and be hostile to those who are hostile to him.
And presto you have a schism, you see there were others who had their eyes on the quickly growing thing that was called Islam and they were not going to give that over to this young Ali just because he was the Prophet’s cousin. As I pointed out earlier their full name was [Shi’at Ali] which means the group of Ali. They were the people who have and are still trying to assert the right of the Prophet’s descendents to lead the Muslim community. And Eid al Ghadeer is a big thing because they plaster the streets that bit from Muhammad’s speech “Man Kuntu Mowlahu fa haza Aliyun Mowlahu - this Ali is the mawla of all those of whom I am mawla”.
This in a nutshell is the start of the split in Islam. Hope you enjoyed the story.


On the long list of things that I have not seen or experienced before the fall of Saddam I can now add a new item, Eid al-Ghadeer. Happy Eid al-Ghadeer to you all.


There was one sign that was so creative in what it proclaimed I thought it deserved a picture

It says “Ali the talking book of Allah”. Imagine that!

Two FunFacts about Eid Al-Ghadeer:
-Funfact 1: Everey year right after the Haj ceremonies the Saudi Government make sure that the pilgrims from Shia nations are on the move and not anywhere near the Ghadeer where that speech took place. Just imagine it, A celebration of Shia legitimacy in a Sunni country; we can't have that, can we now?
-Funfact 2: The thing about kissing seven [Illwiya]s for good luck.... I was wondering why the streets of Karrada didn't turn into a kissing fest when I was told that my mind was filthy: girls kiss girls and the boys kiss boys.....on the cheek. My mind is not filthy....excuse me now I have to go find 7 boys to kiss.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Shamless self promotion.
The coolest cover the of the book has to be the Japanese edition and a Polish blogger told me about a site that sells the Polish edition.

Update: A reader from Brazil sent me a link to a sitr selling the Brazillian edition, they seem to have chosen a starnge format.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Yesterday was Raed's birthday, did you wish him a good one? I bet you didn't, shame on you.
The plan was to spend 5 days in Sulaimaniya, cousins 4 and 5, my brother and I. To go to the north of Iraq for Eid, but at the first day of Eid we saw those horrible attacks in Erbil and decided it would probably be better not to go. The plan was to go there take pictures and blog, well the plan fell flat on its face and I will have to do this from my bedroom in Baghdad.

I have a confession to make, well not really a confession, it has been on the blog before but the issue was never properly addressed. Part of outing yourself is to have [The Thing] out in the open and face it head-on.

I have been standing on the wrong side of the fence concerning the Kurdish issue. Even before the war, when people were theoretically discussing future models of Iraq the idea of a federal state made me feel a bit uneasy, the thought that the Kurds might not like us Arab-Iraqis at all was always brushed away.
I needed to hear someone talk about the issue form a very Arab-Nationalistic point of view to realize that I am not looking at the other side at all. The Arab nation is a myth that many Arabs still believe in, the main problem with that point of view is that it forgets the diversity of traditions, culture and races in the so-called Arab world.

The way I saw it was, the Kurds HAD to stick to Iraq, the bonds, the ties, "Kurds and Arabs united" and all that. Well, it is all bullshit. It is actually Arab Iraqis who seriously need to beg Kurds to stay along for the difficult ride the rest of the country is going to go thru the next couple of years.
The Kurds have been thru this and an almost working democracy and governing system has emerged after 13 years of self rule. We will be the unwanted load on their shoulders. We should be grateful if they agreed to stay within the boundaries of Iraq as part of a federation.

The discussion about the Kurdish issue gets you the weirdest reactions from people; it is at points like an atheist and a believer discussing the existence of a deity. There is simply no answer and tempers will flare, people will get angry. And as we have seen in the past this is an issue that could lead to civil war.
A federal state is not an option it is a necessity, there is no way around it. A federal state along "geographical lines" - as some people describe it - will not work; it will be along ethnic lines.
You say "it will rip us apart"? Mmhhm, yep it will. But it is a necessity.
You say "no it will be fine"? I say look at the signs, even before we are declared a federal state ministries are becoming tiny experiments for how the future will look like. To get anything; a job, a promotion in a ministry where a Shia minister has been appointed you better be Shia. Not only that but it would be favorable if you were a member of the same party.
Ministry of oil is shia, Ministry of Communication is also shia but Dawa Party, and it makes all the difference if you get the right references. Now imagine what would happen if we had a three part Iraq, do you really believe that a Sunni from central Iraq could really get a job in southern Iraq? Wouldn?t the Kurd rather have another Kurd working for him because he just doesn?t trust Arabs (I have experienced this when I was working with journalists, my presence was silence inducing the moment they realize I am Arab).

But we have to go the way of a federal state, time will heal the wounds and we will learn our lessons, just as long as we can stay within this political entity called Iraq. What it means to be [Iraqi] has to change. At the moment I am kind of worried that our fellow Kurdish blogger might be offended if he were called an Iraqi. To have a post titled: [how to finish off racism in a racist country like Iraq ...some Kurdish thoughts] isn?t a good sign, is it?

My new computer background image says: "Re-examine every thought and concept you have".
A couple of months after the war ended the US army started blowing up UXO’s (unexploded ordinance – it took me forever to figure out what those three letters meant). They issued a warning saying that explosions on the top or half hour were controlled explosions. Just so that we wouldn’t freak out.
Almost half a year later I still look at my watch every time I hear an explosion. I noticed my cousin does the same thing. You wish and hope that this is one of those “controlled explosions” even when I am not really sure the US army is still blowing up ordinance at those times.
I was woken up by an explosion today, opened my eyes and looked at my watch, it was 20 past eight. Went back to sleep wondering if this is going to be big enough to make the news, there are too many of them to mention the whole lot. And around 11pm there was another explosion, very close. You look at your watch, and think oh dear.

Two days ago I spent the night at my apartment instead of staying over at my parent’s. I don’t go there too often anymore; it is too close to the “green zone”. Too much gunfire at night. By now almost every Iraqi can tell the difference between a Kalashnikov (what the so-called resistance is likely to carry) and the sound of the machine guns US troops have.

The constant reminders that it is not over yet.

It all becomes a mess the moment the poor traffic policeman decides to take a break, one of the main features of post-war Baghdad are the amazing traffic jams.

The cool thing is the moment it gets too crazy someone will jump out of his car and do the policman thing, waving his arms around and shouting, or the newspaper guy will volunteer.
In a simple small room with blue mattresses laid on the floor to sit on, Ayatollah Sistani, one of his sons and an assistant met a group of Sunni university professors, tribe leaders and dignitaries. During the 3 hour meeting not one single verse from the Quran was recited, he expressed his fear that federalism might lead to the fragmentation of Iraq and said that if the elections had to be delayed for legitimate reasons he will endorse the delay. My father came back from this meeting quite awed.

In preparation for the transition of power to Iraqi hands there have been numerous conferences and discussion groups, starting at neighborhood levels and going up to more specialized discussions. This has been going on for quite a while and I know that he (my father) was invited to a couple of them to talk, I read one of the papers he wrote on forms of representation, he’s a caucus type of guy. Which kind of makes sense in the current situation, the country is not really ready for a direct one vote per citizen type of thing. Security issues and fraud and the lack of experienced people to monitor the elections come into play.

Anyway, after a couple of those meetings a group of Sunni participants were invited to go and talk to al-Sistani. My father didn’t tell me the [what and how] because he knows I’ll blog it, (my family used to tell me things before they knew about this bad habit I have). But he came back quite impressed saying things like “you wouldn’t find a more secular Imam” which is of course an oxymoron, but it could have been the fact that it was late and he had nothing to eat the whole day. My mom sat with her hands crossed giving him the [ha! So what did you think you’ll meet? A raving lunatic?] look – just I case you are new to this, my father is a non-praying Sunni, my mother is a praying Shia (a Sistani shia) and I think the Quran is a very boring novel.

Apparently there is another meeting planned but no one is telling me when. What impressed my father was the fact that Sistani is much more moderate than the media portrays him. He is very flexible about the way these elections should look like, and sees no problem in them going along in stages. He is also ready to endorse a postponement of these elections if there is no agreement on how they should take place. What he does mind is any form of intermediate stage, if it didn’t work out at the planned time we should keep the status quo until we find a way. He said something along the lines that increasing the Governing Council from 25 to 250 will change nothing, and if the Americans move what they have in their left hand to their right hand it is still in their possession. Basically, either do it right or don’t, which sounds reasonable.

Another interesting thing he said is that Allah gave people the capacity to govern themselves and no one has the right to take that privilege from them, he doesn’t see Iraq as a theocracy like Iran.
All in all a bit confusing. So is he hard-line Shia or not? And why, after staying out of the political game for so long, has he become so central?

More importantly; how can I get that [I’m a blogger] stain out of my clothes? My cousins stop talking when I come into the room unless I swear I won’t put it online.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

It transmits on 107,7 FM in Baghdad, which really is at the end of the frequency range of most radios, some don’t even go that far. The station-breaks on it have people sounding like the Simpsons saying things like “I haven’t had so much fun since Afghanistan” – this is such bad taste, it’s hilarious. The DJ’s call each other Sergeant So-and-so, which freaks you out the first time you hear it, I thought I was listening to something I wasn’t supposed to.
But to give the people there credit, the music is much better than the seriously annoying pop stuff on SAWA. SAWA Iraq is different than SAWA in the rest of the arab world, yes we are special. In case you are wondering SAWA is the new American propaganda tool instead of [Voice of America]. They lured our young with music and then they started messing with their brains using Sawa. It is very pop-y la-di-da-life-is-ok type of station, the messages must be subliminal or something [note to self:start recording the broadcasts and then listen to them backwards, specially that britney/madonna thing because they play it so often]. I think it will spawn a TV station as well, there are already people with SAWA TV tags running around.

I have been tuning to AFN IRAQ much more often than the radio we Iraqis are supposed to be listening to. They played Rage Against the Machine’s testify:
Im empty please fill me
Mister anchor assure me
That Baghdad is burning
Your voice it is so soothing
That cunning mantra of killing
I need you my witness
To dress this up so bloodless
To numb me and purge me now
Of thoughts of blaming you
It is a bit scary to have a military radio that plays this song here in baghdad

Anyway, it is very interesting radio. It is so very American it gets disorienting. And the little public announcement things in between songs are almost Monty Python-esque if they weren’t meant to be dead serious. Example:
[Sound of vehicle, a humvee I guess, in the background]
Female voice: I am really tired I haven’t slept well last night. Ooh look…can you hold on to my [some weapon or other] while I take a picture of this.
[Sound of snoring]
Female voice: Is sergeant (so-and-so) still sleeping? He had a tough night.

Darth Vader voice: Being on military convoy is a serious situation, always wear your seat belts, maintain speed and distance. And always stay alert.
There are little Arabic lessons thrown in here and there to “learn the local language and be part of the world around you”. Today’s words were Hello, Good morning and Good bye. I would have thought that after a year here we would have moved to a bit more complex vocabulary.

And there are also reminders to military personnel to keep the classified information they have to themselves since “We *are* in a war here.” Sweet sounding DJ Courtney made sure we remember to remember by playing Nickelback’s “this is how you remind me”.

Now if there only was a way to convince them to stop playing all that Bruce Springsteen and AC/DC and play us some B.R.M.C. and Rapture.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Start your week with THE WACKY IRAQI. well it is the middle of the week for us here, it doesn't make a difference for him he is still wacky.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Long post alert, you will not be quizzed on it and there are no prizes for reading the whole thing. I just had to get all this off my chest

Salam Pax: The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi

Don’t you just hate that title? To start with I would never use a word like clandestine, and what is wrong with [Salam Pax: The Baghdad Blog]? It gets worse, the German title is [Let’s Get Bombed; greetings from Baghdad]. We did have a talk about these things but being the novice I am and sitting so far away from where all that was happening left me with a title like [Let’s get bombed], dear oh dear.

So why does this come up? It is because Ihath found the latest costumer review on the Amazon site not fair [thanks Ihath, Raed showed me the email you wrote him. The Gibran quote really got to him]. What the reader/reviewer doesn’t like is the Ordinary Iraqi bit, he pins all the usual little flags people have always pinned on the little Salam Pax voodoo doll they have: “Salam Pax is not an ordinary Iraqi by any stretch of the imagination. He's gay, irreligious, western educated, and has spent half his life outside Iraq. This is an ordinary citizen of Iraq? I don’t think so.”

Since I don’t really have much to say today other than the weather is really horrible, we will have one of those flashback episodes TV shows always have when they run out of ideas.

Yes, let’s go back to the days when the blog really was, ahem, clandestine. Let’s dig deep into the archives and pull out part of a post dated 29th, October, 2002:
One more correction, neither I nor Raed are "regular joes". Actually most regular joes would look at us suspiciously. I have spent half of my life out of this country and had to be taught how to re-grow my roots by someone who isn't even Iraqi by nationality, he just loves the place (thank you Raed). We both have a distrust towards religion and have read the "Tao Te Ching" with more interest than the Quran. And we both have mouths which have gotten us into trouble. The regular joe would be more inclined to beat the shit out of us infidels, oh did I mention that I am a pervert as well?? The way I look at men makes them feel uncomfortable.
Just to prove that I have never said that I am your regular Joe.

The other little bit I would like to grab out of the archives is dated 21,December, 2002. It is from a longer letter written to Raed:
This mess I’m in really bothers me; with all my talk of anti-Americanism (is that a word?) I still reference their culture, their music, and their movies. I got whacked for saying “fuck you”. I should have said “inachat khawatkum” no one would have understood. Just as most Iraqis don’t understand most of what is being said by Americans. We would have smiled politely at each other and moved on. I feel like the embodiment of cultural betrayal. The total sell-out, and this is making me contradict myself all the time.
You remember the evening we spent at the Books@cafe in Amman when you laughed at me when I told you that I believe I am the product of a Muslim/Arabic culture. You reminded me that just two moments ago I was telling you how happy I was watching MTV Germany and shopping for English books at the Virgin Megastore in Beirut.
I am all the arguments we used to have about us being attachments to western culture rolled into one.
This is not the dialogue of equals we used to talk about; I keep referencing their everything because I am so swallowed up by it. Look; I have been sending you e-mails in English for the whole of last year, how sad is that.

Shame on me.

You used to anchor me down. All the magazines we used to read: Arabic horizons, Aqlam and the rest. Now I just browse thru them. I am back to Q, The Face and Wired: western trash. And don’t ask when was the last time I read a book in Arabic, I would be too ashamed to answer. Moreover I was getting all those scary questions from the people who read the blog. What do I think about the Kurdish situation? Open letters from Diane, which I was really at loss how to answer.
The whole [where are you standing] question did bother me a lot, hence the “shame on me”. Lately I have decided that there is no shame in this.
I’ve am reading Hanif Kuraeishi’s [The Black Album], there is a paragraph which rang all the bells
These days everyone was insisting on their identity, coming out as a man, woman, gay, black, Jew – brandishing whichever features they could claim, as if without a tag they wouldn’t be human. Shahid, too, wanted to belong to his people.
And Salam wanted that as well. When you get pushed into a corner because of a name and a place of birth you try to make the best out of the corner you have been pushed into. And believe me being pushed into the corner labeled [young male of Middle Eastern / Muslim origin] hasn’t been much fun lately. But since it is all you have you dig deeper into it and hold on to it. The current western world view has antagonized a huge number of people, the West wasn’t that interested in dialogue. We were simply labeled as Muslim terrorist.
One of the more amusing results of this has been my friend’s G arrest by American soldiers while he was on a job for an American Newspaper. He was given the head-sack and an angry soldier shouted at him “it was you [your type] who attacked the world trade center”. Now this is funny because G. is so pro-American it gets to me sometimes, he is Christian (but he hates it when you tell him that because he really is “agnostic”), so why did the soldier accuse him of attacking the World Trade Center? Because he had a Muslim looking beard and looked “of mid-eastern origin”.

That’s beside the point, what I want to say is that we seem to have lost the middle ground. When I met Ted Koppel the first time he said that he needed a cultural interpreter. And this is exactly what this blog and the rest of the blogs in the Iraqi Blogosphere, in all its variety, has been providing. The things the reviewer saw as negatives, “irreligious, western educated, and has spent half his life outside Iraq”, are really the basis for the common things between us. You and me, we have this dialogue because of them. In a world growing apart by the day it is absolutely wonderful to find that everybody can go on about the food they like on an Iraqi blog [check out the comments] and for a moment forget all the politics. This reminds us that we *do* have things in common and not everybody is out to cut the others throat.
I do not feel ashamed of standing in the middle anymore; actually I am proud of it. The Iraqi Bloggers show that we *can* talk. You think some of us are too ungrateful and critical? Habibi at least we are talking about it, you really have not met the people who are really truly unhappy with the whole situation here.

BUT… we are still playing the [dominant/subordinate culture] game. We write in English to communicate with you, we try to establish links and reference points very much relevant to you.
The respect I have for Persian Bloggers is immense; they were able to create a dialogue among themselves which they sometimes share with the rest of the world.
One of the aims of the whole war in Iraq thing was to create “a model democratic state in the area”, I tell you it will not be Iraq because it will only be skin deep, look towards Iran for a democracy that might not be exactly what the USA wants it to be but there will be a deeper understanding of it among the people.

OK, this post is way too long, would someone please wrap my hands in duct tape and burn the keyboard.

Just in case you are interested it took me the exact length of CD1 of the Deep Dish/Toronto mix to write this blog. They are Persian by the way; I told you they had potential.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Tell you a little secret: A lot of issues can be solved using the following ingredients:
- Chocolates (something nice, like a packet of maltesers)
- A little Poem (stolen from someone who can use words much better than you)
- Copy of Newsweek (latest issue)

well the last item is optional. Yes he is OK, and will go to Amman for a week with his brother he changed his mind, he will stay for another week before going.

Friday, January 23, 2004

So do I at least be the first on-blog break up?
No. it is not funny.

I stood at your door for an hour, I knew you were inside, but you wouldn't open.
do we have t do this in public? answer my emails at least.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

It was a special day.

Here I am, drinking vodka alone at 3 in the morning, in the house of my family. One year ago I was staying in Amman, waiting for my visa to go to Saudi Arabia to marry my first love and ex-fiancé, I was finishing my studies for Masters Degree, and I was working as an architect in a small engineering office.

I will not exaggerate and pretend this is my first jump between my parallel universes, because I had previous heroic hyper jumps in the past.

But this year witnessed two jumps.
Jump raed jump jump jump

The first was on the 19th of Feb. of last year, when I decided to leave my work, my house, and to leave heba and come to Iraq.
She didn’t answer my calls, so I pushed the disappear button.
This is when everyone starts to wonder “where is raed”

I came to Baghdad, I was completely destroyed, without energy, sleeping all the day and night waiting for war to happen, to conceder it the as the “reason” for my miserable life. The war started and explosions helped me forget the rest of my feelings towards heba.

War stopped, and statues were pulled in a dramatic way.

My national feelings pushed me to start something that can make the world see how bad this war was, so I started working on a massive scale survey on war casualties, for months, going on trips to the nine cites of the south weekly, and establishing a huge network of volunteers, monitor them, designing the survey forms and administrating the data input procedure.

More than 4000 injured, more than 2000 killed, just from civilians, all with full documentation and details about the time and place of incidents, and their addresses. My American partner was supposed to publish the results, but she didn’t.

After we finished the survey, I started establishing another network of volunteers .. Emaar .. in the nine cities of the south and Baghdad. 100 volunteers were the result of one month selection period that I met around 1500 persons in, around 30 of the 100 were girls, working all together in teams to identify small problems in the neighborhoods and implementing micro projects depending on the local people’s contribution, to give them more trust in themselves and to market the political idea of giving Iraqis the chance to rebuild their countries by themselves.

Meanwhile I had a romantic story that was getting more serious day by day, and making me a worse person day by day too.

After the UN explosion, fund raising started being impossible, and our only funding agency stopped to fund us for political reasons.

My private life was falling apart in parallel to Emaar, slowly and painfully.

Even working with salam, for the BBC, and writing stuff on this blog wasn’t making me comfortable. For many reasons.

Today was a special day
I stood in front of everyone in the NGOs meeting, and told them “I’m sorry to announce the death of Emaar in 9 of the 10 governorates that we used to work in” We still have work in the marshes of Nasrya.
I’m tired, and I cant knock more doors
The team of Nasrya are arranging themselves without needing me for support.
Good for them

Emotional wise.
I erased her phone number from my phonebook, preventing other stupid attempts of going back.
Because she cannot say good morning. I want her to say good morning when we wake up.
But she can’t.

I’ll stop blogging here. Without swimming in the mud of details: you are not the best partner in the world, and I’m not the best blogger too.

I emailed the Jordanian University to tell them I’m not going to resume my masters degree studies. Its way too complicated for me now. I’ll take my diploma certificate and stop.

And I emailed a friend in London telling her about my great achievements of today.

I burned out myself. Wzzzzssssss……

Today was a special day, but this Russian vodka made it better.

Jump jump jump

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Iraqia (the Iraqi Media Network TV) made a very strange decision tonight; it is right now showing the full state of the union speech. And they are going to have a panel discussion about it later on as well.

Does this make us the 51st state? Does it? Eh? Does it, does it?
Do we at least get effort marks for that?

Dear editors at Iraqia, the state of the union speech is a news ITEM, an important one for the future of Iraq but still an ITEM. Give us the highlights, I don’t need to watch the whole thing, unless we *are* the 51st state. Are we? Eh? Are we, are we?

There was one moment in the speech that made me smile; I was too busy eating my chicken kebabs to pay attention to the whole thing. But at the point where Mr. Pachechi stood up I could only think that I really wish you [the GC] more luck than Karazai.
Saddam's two older daughter are looking for a country other than Jordan to host them. link to article in al-sabah, Arabic.
The article says that Jordan informed the two women that if they wanted to stay in the country they will have to respect the host country and not to get involved in politics. Oh shock horror! what politics, why can't they just keep their mouths shut and stay out of it. If they were planning to play hero they should have stayed with daddy. Their mother and younger sister Halla are in Syria and placed under house arrest of sorts apparently, Raghad and Rana don't want to go there. I bet the shopping experience in Damascus isn't as exciting as in Amman, with so much money in your bank accounts you would want to go somewhere to spend it, right?
My suggestion, go to Beirut shut up your mouths by stuffing them with drugs, ditch your phony Hijabs and become club-sluts at the BO-18 (scroll down for the pix).

On a related theme here is nice article about clubbing in beirut [For 15 years, Lebanon endured a brutal civil war. Now it's just learning how to party], I raelly can't wait for another 15 years, they should put this as a priority on the Iraqi reconstruction fund issues: Clubbing in Baghdad
Raed is out having lunch with someone form the other gender. I bet he doesn't know that The female of the species is more deadly than the male, his fault. My horoscope in al-sabah said that I should get someone to alphabetize my music CDs with.
The last three days I got stuck on Muse's [Apocalypse Please]
And it's time we saw a miracle
Come on it's time for something biblical
To pull us through
And pull us through

This is the end
Of the world
Yes I am bored, maybe I should alphabetize my CDs alone.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Where Is Raed and Baghdad Burning are Bloggie nominees. Best middle east or african Blog category.
Unfortunatly I will not be able to witness the glamour of Bloggie Awards Ceremony if I win, ahhh, to walk on that red carpet and to give my thank you speech.
You can still vote.
More on the Family Law issue.
The following link might be of interest to those of you who can read arabic. Az-Zamman has an article by Suhad Al-Khafaji who writes about the Family Law issued in 1959.
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Although Al-Khafaji is critical of the 1959 Family Law she also states the good reasons why we need to improve on that law and replace it with something that is even worse.
It is really worth taking a look at if you can read arabic, I do apologize to non-arabic readers, the article is quite long and tricky to translate.

UPDATE: Riverbend has posted about the issue at 5:48 in the morning! talk about issues not letting you get the sleep you need. My favorite bit from her post is the way she describes the GC
Seeing some of the GC members give press conferences these days, reminds me of the time I went to watch my cousin's daughter 'graduate' from kindergarten. They had about 20 kids up on this little stage with their teacher, Miss Basma, standing benevolently in their midst. As long as she was on the stage, they all stood correctly; simultaneously reciting a poem they had learned just for the occasion. The moment Miss Basma stepped down, there was a stampede- 20 students rushed for the only microphone on the stage all at once, grappling to see who could reach it first and drown out the other voices with their own.

Now we face a similar situation. Miss Basma- er, I mean Bremer- has been off the stage (in Washington and New York) and there has been a rush to grab the metaphorical microphone. For example, while the decision on family law seems almost definite, Talabani adamantly denies it… other members only reluctantly discuss it.
Yep, you just don't piss Riverbend off because she'll rip you apart.
and she found, have a look there is an english site.
And the Iraqi dinar is still being smuggled out of the country. Is it the smell of the fresh notes?
Today the Iraqia channel showed an egyptian caught smuggling 5 million Iraqi dinars and half a kilo of hash to Kuwait. Actually my first reaction was "Half a kilo? where can I get that?" but let's leave this out of the blog.
On a much grander scale Mr. Badran, our minister for interior affairs is now in the middle of trying to explain what 20 billion dinars are doing on a plain going to Beirut. Let us just hope that the Governing Council didn't suddenly get the Dinar Fever and wanted to get a piece of the pie for itself as well.

FunFact: what do 20 billion Iraqi Dinars weigh? One and a half tons. (according to Az-Zamman)

The Iraqi charge d'affairs in Beirut is trying very hard to make sure the Lebanese do not "politicize" the issue, the Lenbanese governmnet is worried that the money is to fund certain groups in Lebanon. My worry is that it was going to fund leisure trips for GC members, they are used to it, after getting all that money from the US and UK just to sit in an office having to work for your money must seem like a drag
Four Iraqi policemen were killed in the latest attack. This brings the number of Iraqi policemen killed since April to 600 (the link is to an arabic article in Az-zamman, from AFP).
One of those 600 lives around the corner from my parents house. He was threatened several times and a bomb was placed near his house once, which was luckily dismanteld before it could do any harm. He was shot six days ago while on duty.
These days one of the requierments to join the Iraqi Police is balls of steel.
I was in Karadat-Mariyam 4 hours after the explosion. Obviously couldn't get very near to where the actual explosion happened and to tell you the truth I didn't really want to.
An old man sitting in front of his shop told me, in a very matter-of-fact way that whoever did this could never be Muslim, Christian or Jewish "I doubt that he is even human". I think that sums up the general feeling about the attack.
Earlier today we had the fright of our lives trying to call my uncle's to find out whether Zainab went to work or not. She works in there and has told me on several occasions how worried the Iraqis who work in the "green zone" are about their lining up there daily, waiting to be searched to get to their workplaces. They joked about attacks.
What really got my goat was the taxi driver who was getting me back home, after all the images we saw on TV (the Iraqi Media Network for once did a very good job covering the attack) and the Press (this picture hurts, a mother looking for her daughter after the explosion, Farah Nosh for NY Times), after all that the idiot tells me "oh yes, it was the Americans shooting left and right killing all those people". Now why would anyone say something as stupid as that? He didn't like what I said in response to that statement, and I decided that I don't want him to know where I live. You never know these days. I walked home.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Actually, the explosion in front of the Presidential palace two days ago happened in the 13th anniversary of the 1991 war, the war that destroyed everything, but left the rest of Iraq and his neighbors to be milked slowly.

There was a boring 80s American movie about rodeo and bulls on mbc/channel 2 (my favorite movie channel). That clown who saves the hero every time reminded me of the UN in Iraq, every time Americans either need someone to justify some plan they attend to do, or someone to hand over a catastrophe they cannot handle, everyone will see the clown rushing to offer his services.

Today’s demonstrations in Baghdad were a bit huge, and people were shouting “Yes for elections, Yes for democracy”, “No for those who came from outside to rule us”

When the situation was building up slowly in the south, no one even noticed them. All the focus was on some attacks happening in the middle region of Iraq.

Me: Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the most irresponsible of them all?
Me: I mean .. why didn’t anyone notice what was happening in the south?
Myself: Because of the extremely pragmatic method of solving problems, the no-vision-plan is based on solving the everyday troubles and forgetting anything else happening without noise.

Me: Will the Americans give Shiaa their democratic elections in the south?
Myself: NO.

Me: What do u expect to happen now?
Myself, bush and bremer: WE DO NOT KNOW

Welcome back to Iraq, Mr. cloUN.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

did u see the explosion of the day
god damn it!!

Today, the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq reached to 500.
But no one even mentioned that, it was the “Bremer Dinar” scandals day
The Iraqi Dinar lost 50% of its value over a night (from 950 – 1400), after discovering that our CG is selling Billions of Dinars to the world under the brand new operation called “screw up your self, your neighbors, and your national currency”.

I would like to take this chance to thank our great GC for their great policies in giving more trust in the Iraqi Dinar and the Iraqi economy.

Salam will tell you more about the Dinar thing..

Topic of the day, [It’s-my-right-to-cover-my-head] demonstrations

Secular Muslim is my favorite way in describing me. When me and myself sit to discuss the issues of religion and culture, we never fight.
Islam is that huge heritage of architecture – my grandfather’s court yard house, music – um kalthum and fayrooz, food – doolma and yabsah, colors – green palm trees and brown bricks, language – my love letters and quraan, poems – Sayyab and motanabbi, books Jaaberi and kanafani, smell and taste– bakhoor and hareesa, chai – abo el heel and noomi al basra, quraan – mosques and harmony, and .. me :”)
Maybe that’s why we can’t drop that heritage or hand it over easily to other people with long beards just because they are religious and me and my self are anti-religious. I mean,, where is the point? I don’t believe in the Islamic religion, but I am a part of the Islamic culture and society. My ex-girlfriend told me once “rayyyd .. you try to treat me in a modern way, but from deep inside I can feel the Islamic system in you”
I’m sure Kilroy will feel happy to call her as a witness in his trial.
But anyway ... the point that I am a secular person, I belong to the big seculars family, and all this crap about religions doesn’t move a hair on my body (it’s an Arabic expression).
But unexpectedly, the thing that made most of the hair on my head stand .. like some one being shocked by the so-called electricity, was when I heard the news about France and Belgium taking these ultra-stupid-shallow-decisions of veil / hijab !!! what the hell!!
I mean .. I find myself forced to criticize my secular tribe!! What the hell are you doing there??? This is not supposed to be OUR part of the game
I lived in Saudi Arabia for four years, in a small city in the south called Abha. And there .. the medieval-stupid-shallow-corrupted-government used to send religious men called “mtawwe” to insure all women will cover their bodies and look like black tents, I remember my mother – the sophisticated feminist engineer – putting that black thing on her, covering her head and face, to the point that no one can tell in which direction was she standing, these are the people whom WE (me and my secular cousins) must teach how to live and understand life

Did french people decide to hate freedom after McDonald’s changed the name of French fries to freedom fries?
Is it envy then? Haa?

I mean .. how the *falafel* did you decided to go and run after women to take off the stupid piece of cloth on their heads!! Where is the point??
Isn’t a punk allowed to come to school with his/her red head? Isn’t a Goth allowed to come with his black eyes? I mean!! Why do you start another fake battle between cultures out of nothing??
Doesn’t the UN crap speak about freedom of beliefs?? Isn’t that what WE are trying to convince the rest of the world of?
Don’t words like discrimination pull any triggers here? Ding ding?

Shame on you ..

Saturday, January 17, 2004

It is saturday and you might have some time to spend reading blogs?

Why not go check out Faiza's latest post she turns all maternal and wise on us:
Today I want to explore a new topic for discussion. As a result of many questions I got by email and in order to alleviate the boredom that I feel and to alleviate the general feeling of depression in Iraq, I decided to talk about something personal, about our daily life.

Or you can read what Riverbend thinks of the desicion No. 137 concerning family law in Iraq:
During the sanctions and all the instability, we used to hear fantastic stories about certain Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar, to name a few. We heard about their luxurious lifestyles- the high monthly wages, the elegant cars, sprawling homes and malls… and while I always wanted to visit, I never once remember yearning to live there or even feeling envy. When I analyzed my feelings, it always led back to the fact that I cherished the rights I had as an Iraqi Muslim woman. During the hard times, it was always a comfort that I could drive, learn, work for equal pay, dress the way I wanted and practice Islam according to my values and beliefs, without worrying whether I was too devout or not devout enough.

Healing Iraq also blogs about the same issue:
I'm so happy about this, now I can marry and divorce in any way I like. Yay! I'm at the moment gathering family members to go to the local cleric so I can divorce my fourth wife which I don't really like anymore, and get myself an 11 year-old virgin. All the other small details will be settled within the family and with the blessings of the Sayid.

and if you are just too sick of politics coming from this strange place called airak, may I suggest some fine, utterly surreal humor served by one of the people I stalk secretly:The Ugly Fat Kid ?
Late Thursday the governor of the Iraqi National Bank went on Iraqi TV to announce that the National Bank will be buying the dollar for 1350 dinars (250 dinars more than the market price) in an attempt to level the dinar and slow down its rise. All exchange shops adjusted their prices accordingly and on friday the exchange rate was between 1350 and 1380.
A reader sent me an email telling me that I shouldn't be too glad about a strong dinar since this has a negative effect on exports. The thing is that we are at the moment at a point where we import much more than we export and this trend should increase once the reconstruction phase starts and the monies from the donor conference in madrid are released. The only thing we export is Oil and, I am guessing here, that market has its own rules it won't be affected by the changes we are going thru now.
What is important is that the poeple feel that is worth something and believe me for somone who gets his paycheck in dinar this is improvement. What we need now is for the dinar to stay put at a price and stop moving, and I guess this is what the governer intended to do with his announcement on thursday. Today is the first working after the announcement and we'll see how the market reacts to his Bank's dollar price.

Did you see me on Nightline? a handsome devil, eh?
It seems the haircut Raed got did more than just clear the mess on his head, it also cleared the mess *in* his head and he was able to write an almost coherent blog. So in celebration of this glorious event today's pictures will have Raed's haircut as a theme.

It doesn't have a sign and the old man inside couldn't cut in a straight line if his life depended on it and he will mess up the goatee for sure, but raed still wouldn't go to any other.

The guy is ancient he still doesn't believe in normal tape recorders or color TVs.

and has the scariest looking chair I have seen.

but I go thru all this for two very good reasons, first Raed gets to look as bald as I am

and second the lunch Faiza promised to pay for if I get Raed to cut his hair. a huge meal of fried chicken at al-Sa'a in Mansour.This used to cost $10 but with the new exchange rate it is $15.
When was the last time you read Faiza's blog by the way?

now we have to start working on Raed's table manners i guess.
And this is what Raed is talking about in the previous post: [Sistani upholds election demand] from [Iraq Today]:
"Sistani wants the transitional assembly to be directly elected, and is not backing down from his stance. If he does not back the U.S. roadmap, many of Iraq's majority Shi'ites may well refuse to accept the process."

Friday, January 16, 2004

Bremer is at washington discussing the authorities hand over to Iraqis.


… And the winner is:


Yes = hmmm.. you baathist pro saddamist bastard .. arrest him
No = OK! Here we have another evidence how much the Iraqi people want us to stay

I remember the days before the war when people from the national-but-corrupted-and-arrogant-government were using the same smart propaganda to justify their loyalty to saddam, “a civil war will start, no one can control this country, even if he isn’t the best person in the world at least he is keeping the situation stable”
The same excuse was given today, by Iraqis demonstrating at Basra.
Americans were supposed to hand over [some] authorities for Iraqis next June, and discussions were about how and where and other details, this was announced after months of playing the [try & screw-up] game. The political hand-over was supposed to happen in the middle of this year, but the thing/government was not going to be elected, it was supposed to be [s-elected], preparing for the general elections in two years.

I have no doubts that Americans want to stay as long as they can in the current status, and I don’t have any doubts “they” will try to use any excuse that can be found.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis demonstrated at Basra - the new shiaa capital – today. But why?
It was because of the new speech/fatwa of Ayat-Allah Sistani about the form of the next government..
Sistani is one from the key personalities in the “new” Iraq, (in fact he’s one of the few leaders that used to live in Iraq before the war), he really controls millions of shiaa in the south and they really believe in him. Americans treat him as a local god, giving him enormous self confidence and image.
Sistani refuses to accept the “elected government” phase,, he wants to jump to the “general elections” stage without the intermediate one.
Why? Because he doesn’t feel safe! Because he believes Americans are giving him what he wants.
Sistani doesn’t feel very safe having an ethnic-mixture-[american-free] government for the next two years, (not very safe to go through all the discussions and crap of convincing dozens of representatives of different ethnic and religious groups that may domain the political scene in the time that he can control everything by himself and have more respectful position during the presence of Americans or after the general elections will take place).

But why would a person like him give Americans a fashionable excuse for staying for another two years?
Because they built up the scene this way, give him over-doze attention and care, and thretin to go and leave him over a night, he will start begging for them to stay and this is the way Americans want to draw the right image for their existence in Iraq.

People are repeating the same “we don’t want a civil war” advertisement to justify the Sistani new position.
But why?
-Does a person like him have an M.O.U with the Americans? I don’t think so, it’s more sophisticated than that.
-Are Americans happy because of his position? YES, at least till now.
-Are Americans considering this as a favor? NO, I doubt it. They don’t have favors and permanent friends, they have permanent interests :”)
-Do Americans realize they are playing with fire or not? I don’t think they do
-When is the time Sistani gets impatient? Soon .. when he believes the VIP tale

Joke of the day – extremely related to the VIP story
There is this Iraqi guy that went to a coffee shop and found it full, so he decided to come up with a smart idea to find an empty chair. He stood in front of every one and yelled “they are distributing free gasoline outside”! so everyone rushed outside, and he found a place and sat down. Five minutes later .. he thinks “maybe its true” and hurries out running after them.

From an American-practical point of view, Iraq is not ready neither technically nor politically to start a general election battle, we are talking about a country that could not re-build the services billing system until now.

Fun fact: Iraqis didn’t pay a Dinar for (the so-called) electricity, water, telecommunication stuff and other public services for the last 10 months .. not because Americans are trying to build a new communist era, its because of the lack of capabilities of issuing bills!!

I mean .. we are speaking about basics here .. stupid small problems like traffic jams seem to be huge enough to be considered as a challenge for the GC, so what do u expect to get when issues like general elections are discussed?
Otherwise.. and from a political position, let’s suppose this technical problem isn’t that big, americans will not give the chance for the situation to go outside control and repeat the Algerian catastrophe, when the so-called [democratic general elections] will end up creating a new religious monster that might not be western-friendly.
The same way that I was sure americans will not give saddam hussein a free passion_inflaming_channel by starting a public trial show, I can say I’m positive Americans will not give Iraq neither as a shiaa present to Iran or a sunni present to Saudi Arabia, general elections cannot even be discussed before Iraqis finish their cultural and political lessons. Teach them the neo-Islamic theory: Secular Islam(?).
Would it end up causing a mess?
Would the impact cause extremely right winged groups?
Would these “outsiders” putting more and more pressure to change the socio-cultural-religious common beliefs be accepted?

Ok .. I’m trying to be pragmatic and rational without forgetting the national context and sense, I can understand that when Americans come to occupy a country, they will rebuild it in their way, so issues like privatization, capitalism, federalism, open market policy, open telecommunication system come in one package that I don’t see a point even in discussing their presence or not, it’s stupid to feel surprised every time a topic of these pops-up, but its not stupid at all to discuss the methods and ways of reaching to those main goals, sometimes methodologies are more harmful than the goals themselves.

Confusion is the keyword here..

I know the American army is not leaving Iraq in years, and I know American decision makers will not leave in decades, I mean .. just let them announce that!
Do u know that the American embassy in Baghdad will have more than 3000 “diplomats” working?? They ARE the next government .. no doubt ..
Just announce it for god’s sake.. announce that and let’s play a clean game.
Why must we go through all of this Iraq-tearing-up-process? Federalism, Shiaa, Sunnis, Turkmen, Kurds, Assyrians, blab la blaa, picking a weak dependant governing council, with no roots, and threatening to leave after a year .. of course they’ll start whining and begging for the devil to stay.

Why didn’t anyone ask us whether we wanted the war or not? Whether we felt comfortable with the GC or not? Why no one asks if the game of jumping from a plan to another with no vision is amusing or not?
But everyone comes now and ask .. do u want “them” to leave or stay?

There is an Arabic proverb saying: “one hundred wise men are not enough to find the stone that the freak threw in the well”

You threw the stone .. you find it.

More on the Family Laws issue.
Al-Sabah has today on its front page a statement by Jalal Talabani, Kurdish Governing Council member, saying that Decision No. 173 by the Iraqi Governing Council cannot be passed because illegitimate. Yesterday Al-Sabah said that the decision was signed by all IGC members except one. Could be Talabni who has not signed the decision while the women on the IGC thought it was OK?

Inside, in its legal section, Judge Zakia Ismaeel Haqi has a column titled [Remarks on GC’s decision No. 137], here are the highlights of what she has written, it is a bit long if you are not interested in reading all of this go down to the bold bit:
There is no doubt that the Islamic Sharia was and still is one of the main sources of law in Iraq……………..the patience of the Iraqi family was rewarded with the announcement of the Personal Affairs Law number 159 in 1959 and its 12 amendments. This law took a lot from Sharia laws and the fiqh of various Islamic factions, for example the husband was not able anymore to divorce his wife by simply announcing the divorce to her three times [that’s a bit complicated to explain, the wife in sharia is considered divorced if her husband tells her “you are divorced” three times] causing the family to collapse.


The Iraqi family and specially the Iraqi woman was hoping that our brothers in the Governing Council, many of them who have struggled for 3 decades against the fallen regime, we hoped that they understand our need for more amendments to the above mentioned law and the deletion of some of the hurtful amendments added by the previous regime. We needed corrections to that law which will ensure more protection to the family but we were shocked by the announcement of decision no. 137 in what was an almost unanimous vote with only one voice opposing it.
A decision like that affects the Iraqi family profoundly and will have dangerous consequences I will not be able to list of them here in detail but maybe the main effect it will have is the following: this decision will abolish the current Personal Affairs Law [family law] which is followed by Muslim or non Muslim families, Social Protection Law, Minors Protection Law, Inheritance Law and all amendments to the 1959 law concerning non Muslim citizens Christians, Jews and Mandeans. Now that this law has been abolished who protects the rights of non Muslims?

I have a lot of respect to my brothers in the IGC specially some of them are colleagues in studying the law and I have joined others of them in the revolution of the Kurdish people in 1974. I am very disappointed that many of them have put their signature down on a decision which has not been properly legally formulated and has too many linguistic mistakes and I wonder how such a draft could pass thru the legal committee in the GC.
[she counts a couple of the more important legal and linguistic flaws]


Finally I am very saddened to see the fate of the Iraqi family and specifically the Iraqi woman amidst this storm. Some do not allow her to leave the house, others do not allow her to travel without a chaperone and another crushes her humanity by beating her thinking that he is practicing his lawful right according to the sharia. The Iraqi family refuses to go back to the dark ages and the 4th Hijra century now that we are in the 15th Hijra century. The Iraqi woman needs your understanding and support so that she can explore her full potential in causing positive changes in the economical, social and political structure in her country. And I hope you will not forget that women today are 65% of the Iraqi population.
I am fully convinced that a decision like this does not represent the Iraqi public opinion and our people look forward for more participation of women in the society.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

You would have thought a news item like this would get a bit more attention since one of the protesters was one of our newly appointed ministers:
Iraqi women protest proposed changes to family laws
Azzaman has it on the top right side of the front page, Asharq Al-Awsar on the top left.
About 100 Iraqi women led by a minister protested in central Baghdad against a Governing Council proposal to scrap the secular family affairs code and place it under Muslim religious jurisdiction.

"I am outraged how the decision was taken," public works minister Nesrine al-Barwari told AFP.
So first they slip in the bit about turning Iraq into a federal state without asking the Iraqis and now this. Me thinks the GC is taking on more than what it is supposed to do.

In Azzama Dr. Azhar Abdul-Karim, a constitutional law expert says that she thinks it is very unusual that the family law, as it is, gets abolished in the current situation since it is partly based on Sharia law anyway and abolishing this law without the presence of a an elected government will only create more Chaos. Here is the article from Azzaman in Arabic, the thing they had in the paper is a bit more than just a translation of the AFP which they have put on the web.
Look what we have in our sky, what do you call it? Balloon .. airship .. blimp ..
It was flying over Abo-Ghraib the other day,

Abo-Ghraib is the small district to the west of Baghdad, where the main prison is located.
I’m sure its full of bad-anti-freedom people

Baghdad is going through a critical economical transmission period,,
today is the last day of the three-month-changing-period of the old Iraqi Dinar, and dealing with old notes (the one with saddam’s smile) is not legal anymore.

(I will tell you the story of Newsweek later.. that’s another fairy-tale)
The good news: The value of the Iraqi Dinar increased more than 40%. And its getting better..
The funny-side-effect of the operation is not missing the smile of uncle saddam, it’s the unexpected inflation!!
The usual exchange rate of the Iraqi Dinar used to be around 2000 for one us dollar, today it is 1200. But at the same time this 40% rising in the value of the Iraqi Dinar was not accompanied with any change in the prices of food, transportation and other basic supplies and products.

The small problem of price increases is that no one used to keep or use Iraqi money in a practical way, people kept their money in US dollars, so from this point of view everything is 40% more expensive than before!!

Q: I used to pay 1000 Iraqi Dinar for the taxi driver and it used to equal 50 cents
Today I paid 1250 Iraqi Dinar for the same trip, how much is that in dollars?
A: one dollar
Conclusion: its time to use your car..

Q: I invite Salam on lunch and dinner everyday, and I pay, everyday, every time. Mmm .. ok .. I used to pay 10,000 Iraqi Dinar which used to equal five dollars, how much is that in dollars now?
A: Don’t invite him anymore.

For the first time since 1991 shops are refusing to deal with US dollars! Everyone is proud of our national currency now

Yeah .. I mean .. whatever was this price rising problem, its temporal and small, the economical conditions reminds me of the days before the embargo, in the late eighties when the Iraqi Dinar used to have his credibility, power and enormous potentialities.

Ok .. going back to that Newsweek thing, no one can really describe the difference between the Arabic edition and the English one, but let me try..
Difference 1:
They have a strange version of Arabic language there.
Difference 2:
I feel it’s more an educational curriculum than anything else, trying to teach us some interesting politically correct facts about life.
Difference 3:
There is even a different version of images; the Arabic ones are less artistic and more educational, expressing certain ideas.

I think Faiza – mamma mia – can describe more what I’m trying to say.. you can read what’s she writing on A Family In Baghdad.

Has anybody been following what is happening to the Iraqi dinar the last couple of weeks?

It seems someone stuck the dinar on a Helium filled balloon and let it loose, the dinar keeps getting stronger and stronger; the foreign exchange market in Harthiya is in total shock. If things keep going the way they are the dinar will be worth twice as much as it was a month ago.
At new year’s the exchange rate was around 1750 dinars for a dollar, today it is 1150 for a dollar. No other subject is being discussed at the barber’s (yes Raed and I finally got a haircut). Last night during the late night news it said the dollar was selling for 1300, and today at 1150, tsk tsk tsk. The rise and rise of the Iraqi dinar. [Insert phallic or silly Viagra joke here].

Government employees being paid in dinar feel now that their money is worth much more. My Barber while snip-snapping at the little hair I have on my head; decided to stop the grumblers in his shop by announcing that there is nothing better than having a strong currency you are proud of “by Allah all those Iraqis working abroad should come back, now that working so hard abroad doesn’t pay off as much as it used to let them come work here in their country”….yep, I have a wise barber.

One thing is still bothering most people, traders who have imported their merchandise a month ago feel they have been given the [Khazooq*] and are refusing to re-price their goods according to the new price of the dinar, and more and more people ask to be paid in Iraqi dinar, more trust in the local currency. Very well done Iraqi National Bank.

The strange side effects this has had is the smuggling of huge amounts of Iraqi currency and heavier trading with the new dinar in the Arab world. Al-Sabah reported of two Kuwaitis trying to leave Iraq with a couple of hundred million new Iraqi dinars. Asharq Al-Awsat [the link is to the international edition, not the baghdad edition] published a picture of a car loaded with another couple of hundred million being taken out by a Pakistani. The Egyptian currency market has problems because of the volume of trade in the new Iraqi dinar.
Demand for the dinar has been boosted by a surge in currency smuggling which has seen hundreds of millions of dinars taken to Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt and the other Arab states, traders said.
"There is strong demand from neighbouring countries. They think the dinar is undervalued compared to the dollar and they expect the dinar to rise in the medium and long term," said Mohammad Hassan al-Jashmae, who runs a currency exchange firm.
my grandmother would have one thing to say; “wallah ishna u shufna” – by Allah we lived to see that happen.

*That's a pole stuck up the bum.
I have proof that there are people in Illinois, USA have a great sense of humor. I got the following email from Mr. M G, Subject: America
Dear Mr. Pax
The United States of America needs your assistance in restoring democracy here.


Turnout in primary elections is traditionally low, about 15%. Since Bush is unopposed, turnout in the Republican primary will be very low, possibly less than 0.1%

Lifelong Republicans such as myself are ashamed to participate in the Democratic primary because we are partly responsible for the current mess.

[here it comes]
You can help by offering yourself as a write-in candidate for the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States. It is very possible that your admirers in Illinois outnumber Bush voters in the primary. It would be a beautiful embarrassment to Mr. Bush for him to lose an unopposed election. This could add to the psychological momentum needed to defeat him in the general election on 2 November.

So please consider promoting your candidacy in your blog. Duty calls you.
Dear Sir
I would have loved to be a write-in candidate at your president's elections, but as you know we here in Iraq are getting closer and closer to having to vote for our own president and I really must concentrate on *my own campaign* here.
and remember, vote Pax for Prez.

As seen on the streets of Baghdad, start queuing up for those $60 per month jobs.
The picture I mentioned in the blog below.....readers have sent me links to it. Go take a look, it is the third picture down. I still think it smells fishy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

After quite a long time without the picture of Saddam in newspapers he is back in all of them.
The number of newspapers is increasing day after day, when I went to buy newspapers a couple of days ago (most of the papers are weeklies or come out twice a week, cost concerns) I found two new ones. A paper called al-qasim al mushtarak (the common ground) and a cultural weekly called al-Adeeb (the literary). Almost all the papers, the ones which are purely local, have Saddam either on the cover or have supplements about Saddam. What triggered this Saddam coverage was the announcement that Saddam is to be considered POW.
Al-Itijah al-khar has this strange picture of saddam being tied down by an American soldier, and splashes on its front “Picture proves with pictures what we have said earlier: Saddam was drugged when arrested”, the picture is so obviously doctored I have no idea why someone like Mr. Mishaan al-Juburi puts something like that on the front of his paper. The paper says that the picture was leaked by the US government and this is a violation of the international laws and conventions concerning POWs. The paper says the its “source” says that because Saddam has been so reluctant to say anything in the US investigations the US investigators have been using “very modern and rare equipment which make him compliant to the demands of the investigators only during the hours he is being cross examined” – [oh dear, we are getting in twilight zone here] – and the paper says that Saddam did not want any visits by his daughters or wife because he feared that the US might put them in custody as well. [as if they have not been seen in Amman in shopping malls escorted by bodyguards and loaded with shopping bags]

On the same issue have you read this post on Juan Cole's blog:
The experts in international law quoted in most news sources on Saturday said that it would be illegal now for the US to simply turn Saddam over to the Iraqi Interim Governing Council!

The IGC is alarmed at this turn of events.
aren't we all.