Thursday, September 29, 2005


I know this is going to sound like I am mysteriously present wherever there is a disaster ,but it is not my fault, honestly !. There are just …– I quote here Mr. Phil Collins – “..There are too many people making too many problems” .
Yesterday, I was actually close enough to death to start an affair with him -. I will be grateful if death maintains his distance in future ..thank you very much..- .
So, there I was walking minding my own business around 12:45, my back towards the statue of his majesty Abu Jafar Al Mansour , you know the chap who built Baghdad ,and he called it the City of peace too, Bless him… Any way, I just finished collecting a passport for a senior relative , I was trotting along ..I even decided to buy some cheese on my way .Out of nowhere four cars raced towards the Bank in that peaceful mainly residential area ( tow high schools in the same street, one opposite the bank and another a few blocks away) .The armed gang in these cars started firing excessively just about 200 meters from the statue on their way to the Bank straight ahead , there where also other members of the gang ,who appeared and fired or rained with bullets a car with employees from the Ministry of Finance transferring cash to or from the Bank I am not sure .They slaughtered them at the place and drove away after taking the car . The panic that happened was beyond description, a couple of school kids were running around in panic seeking refuge in the near shops , pedestrians crouched behind cars . I was never good at sports in fact I was a constant disappointment to any sports teacher that had to coach me through all my school and college days, but I jumped I think about 1.5 meters backwards “pay attention to backwards” . When it all happened I can’t say that I recorded everything in my malfunctioning brain . It all started to fit together a couple of minutes later. Men rushed to the crime scene and civilian cars owned by chivalrous Iraqis pulled over to pick up the dead (a man said they were three dead and one heavily injured ) but I can’t say I counted I was not that close and it all happened so fast . The culprits drove away with the trophy leaving these unfortunate employees killed at the end of bloody working day . A young boy came with blood stained hands , he said he helped lift one of the corpses, he was trembling like a leave on a windy day ,and I was trembling even stronger, my hands were as cold as ices and I could not keep my knees steady . The execution was very professional , carried out with precision , they knew exactly the time the car was supposed to move and where exactly to catch it .
I tell you I have witnessed three wars in my wretched life , so bombing and shooting is not a novelty to me, but to snuggle up in your bed cuddling your pillow , shaking and reciting all you know from the Koran is one thing, and to be caught out side with bullets soaring over your head ,seeing people running about seeking cover is entirely another .. Well, I was so sad and hurt for those people who died I had a fever that night

Sunday, September 18, 2005


The bleeding goes on , no one to stop it . More assassinations taking a more random pattern . In Al Ameria today to stores were flattened to ground by an explosion . Bodies are being found on daily basis is various parts of the country . A lot of these assassinations are carried out by men in uniforms . They come pretending they have orders to search a place or arrest someone, and families are slaughtered thus . When incidents like these are reported no one can confirm anything . Rumors blame various parties starting from foreign secret agencies and militias to ordinary killers.
A high ranking official was killed in Al Iskanderia in the south , the assassins came in official cars, armed, in uniforms and entered his very well protected house , shout him with tens of his guards .This is an example that can be explained he is an official , but how can the killing of workers or students be explained in Areas like Al Doura , locals think it is to drive as much people out of the area as possible .

Poetry and Blood

When you are cooped up in a house or an office you don’t really imagine what is going on if the events are relatively far from your location , you are unable to assess the devastation right away .
That day “Wednesday the 14th” , I thought that the tragic blast in AL Kadhumia would be the share of the day . Later that morning we heard that something was going on in AL Ghazalia and al Shulaa too . I left office after half an hour cause I had to go to the other side of the town to finish some business there , What a day to pick! but , no one knew what laid ahead . I finished at about 12:30 and was stuck in a taxi for more than three hours just to cross from Al Risafa to Al Karkh .
The Taxi driver was an old man: Grey hair, gray beard and moustache and a gray shirt . I told him my destination , he paused for a moment then said “ I think I can , hop in “ He asked me if I had heard where the last explosion was :
- You mean Al Kadhimia explosion?
- No, that was early this morning , there were more….
- I am not sure . before we said more we heard another explosion that shook the car.
- I think that would be in Alawi Al Hilla the driver said . The police ordered everyone to stay in their cars and kill the engines immediately . No one was allowed even to walk . We obeyed helplessly .
The old driver was very kind and patient. I was afraid that he would start analyzing and reviewing the current political situations , or he would start reciting all the conspiracy theories he knew using the time we have . I was really not in the mood for that : what is there to analyze? we are being exterminated , we are the last of the Mohicans . 200 civilians / day is too much even for China’s population . If he starts I said to myself “ I’ll certainly cry my head off”.
The old man turned towards me and asked with a smile :
- Do you know that song ? .
- Sorry ?
I realized he was referring to the loud song playing from the radio in the neighboring car .
- Yes I’ve heard it before ,I said
- It is a song from my time not yours , the words are so beautiful don’t you agree?
- Yes…. I listened with the old man , it was a song from the late sixties or early seventies I wasn’t sure . The hoarse masculine voice sang along :

Your image dozes in my eyes from the days of youth till this instant
Your reflection was my guest as I slept and as I awoke
I sprinkled the days of my life on your path,
thinking your love would last
I never ever thought that your infatuation,
was that of one night and one day

- Splendid, the old man went on …- the police men were shooting in the air and the sounds of ambulances sirens raged, a thud or two were heard from where we were- …you know, I heard one of these new things they call songs it went “ I’ll play on you if you’ll play on me “ rubbish , absurd , Do they actually pay them to sing such stuff ? Do you know Muthafar Al Nawab ?
- Yes , I’ve heard about him lately , I mean after the war I started seeing his books everywhere , My Dad recognized him when they showed him on TV the other day .
- He is a great poet . The Baathies hated him and banned his poems. They even banned his love poems , they saw a political message in everything he wrote . Yeh , you wouldn’t find “ The train and Hammad” in any school book .
- Is it good I haven’t read it ?
- It starts : Oh train wail sadly if Hammad passes by … he uses an old name for train ( Rale ) there is a story behind it you know .
I don’t know how genuine the story is but it is strong. The old man told me that the poet was traveling by train. He sees a young woman crying so he sits next to her and asks her if he can help . She tells him her story , She had been in love with a boy from her village since she was a little girl , they grow up and their love grows with them .When he proposes her family doesn’t approve , so they decide to run away together and get married . After a while he misses his mother and tells his wife that he will go to visit her secretly. The young woman had a strange feeling but eventually lets him go for one day , three days pass by without a sign of him, so she decides to go and look for him herself .The poet goes with her in case she needs anything. When they get off the train and enter the village they see that there is a funeral : Hammad’s funeral. Her brothers killed him. She dies shortly after him . So : Oh train wail sadly if Hammad passes by …
A few hours later I got to a relative’s house in Al Risafa . I doubled the old man’s fee for all the trouble he went through , but he refused inflexibly .
Only when I returned home I realized what God had saved us from . The next day the first thing I did was search the internet for the poems of the famous poet of the sixties, the sixties : the time when life was reasonable and when young people’s greatest concern was to love and be loved in return .

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


May be it is related to Tel Afar or may be not. It is not that important any more it has happened …. Another Bloody Wednesday ( refer to all the other tragedies that hit Iraq recently ,they all occurred mystically and exclusively on Wednesdays) .
All the signs of a new gory period have been lurking for a couple of days .
Early this morning an explosion roared in Al Kadhimia. I read that in the news subtitle of Al Arabia channel . I got more details when I reached the office , they said that the victims were workers standing waiting for a job . In Iraq there are specials waiting spaces in most areas, where builders and workers gather for any one who may have a job, for instance contractors may go there if they have a house to demolish or build , a house owner who wants to repair his house or garden . So , what happens is that when any car stops it is usually an employer, the workers gather to hear his offer and what ever number required for the job goes after reaching an agreement . This time they gathered and the “employer” made them an offer they just couldn’t refuse . The car exploded reaping again the most unfortunate . More than 80 were killed and 150 wounded dangerously in that one explosion .

A horrid execution was carried out in Al Taji .17 men were dragged out of their beds this morning and executed by men in uniform.
Ameria.,Wazireah. Hay Al Adel , Al Shulaa also had their share . All the streets and bridges were blocked ,and everyone I know had someone stuck in some area of Baghdad and just couldn’t get through where they needed .
God have mercy

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Staying alive.

Baghdad has been recuperating with difficulty from the tragedy of the Bridge. People are fearing that things are going to worsen . New measures are being taken, many of them are quite silly , no one can actually figure out what they mean or understand them, not because they are sophisticated but because they are .. well as I said silly .

I woke up with a morbid disposition. The moment I opened my eyes and realized I am still alive, I felt tired already .
The mere thought of getting up to face the streets with all the black cloth signs hanging on the walls mourning the dead made my heart bleed . Going out to work is like walking in a mine field , you just have to keep your fingers crossed and hope you return safely .
When ever you hear a bang ,you automatically rush to your phone , you dial the number , blood freezes in your veins if there is any delay , you hear the familiar voice at the other end “ thank good you’re Ok , where was it don’t you know?” , you sigh with relieve … for the time being at least.
I pulled myself out of bed and sat watching the news. I watched Madam Katrina’s grim fandango on the stages of Mississippi . My despair became unbearable .
At least hear in Baghdad I can blame the Americans, Saddam , the government “the least I can do” , But there in Louisiana ,who can I blame for the misery.
A scene that really made me want to rise and salute the human soul, was an elderly African American man ,who stood on the wrecks of his house playing the blues on his trumpet.
I went dragging my feet to work .The Boss of all Bosses has been acting suspiciously kind lately , I thought: may be he understands life more philosophically now , may be he realizes that it is not worth the fuss he makes on daily basis , may be finally he understands what the Arab poet Abu Al Atahia said : “ Man, yet is a mortal, son of a mortal ,descendant from a deep-rooted tribe of mortals ” .
But Naaaaa , that was not the case actually . My mates told me that he is considering leaving the country and closing everything down : -To dangerous to go on- .
I swear I could hear a sad violin tune play somewhere .
- What ? where, shall we go then? .
Silence engulfed the surroundings ...
- I repeat where shall we all go then ?
No reply .
I went in and unveiled my computer, slaved for a couple of hours .
We spent the whole break turning the matter in our heads . What is there to do any way !. According to statistics that no one actually is bothered to confirm : unemployment has reached 80% of the population in a country that has so much work to do . Everywhere there are buildings to be built , services to maintain and establish , things to be imported and exported, patients to be treated,children to taught ….
The best chance that anyone can dream of now is to get a job abroad , no matter how or where . The sign of well fare is that if you have some one who is abroad - in Amman for instance- .
Now it seems like the whole idea was to find a substitute country ,where business could be run from well, from “not so wealthy Amman” , while “wealthy Iraq” is converted into a war zone . There seems to be no hurry to solve anything over here yet.
So, what shall we do ??? Try to get a job in a governmental establishment ? No way all the places are grabbed by people with connections , endorsed by some influential party members ( it used to be the Baath party before , now I’ve actually lost count) .
Ok, lets see , no foreign companies or embassies around and if there were it would be to risky , I mean there are things worth dying for I don’t think a job Is in the list .
What is left , private sector companies . There are a couple playing in the extra time of the match, but not for long as made clear .
So, what is left to do yes, yes.. wait for the fairy god mother to grant you your wish and hand you a job contract in Amman, more better in the United Arab Emirates, and if you are really disparate in Egypt.
For the time being “Allah Kareem” :( a typical phrase said in Iraq meaning God is generous , in other words there is always hope).

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The week started as usual with discussions about the Constitution , Sunnis refusing items and promising to do some campaigning against it . Also,early this week detainees were released ,that subject was shortly forgotten by finding 36 corpses out in the middle of nowhere near the Iranian borders .

The usual chit-chat at the office recycling the same old stuff : What is better Saddam’s despotism or the massacres taking place now .Of course and as always we agreed not to agree. Me and two others though that killing was going on then but the culprit was well known unlike now. In other words killing now is random, while in the Time of Saddam it was more organized .
Older co workers thought we were crazy and stupid “ Numbers , Numbers is what matters. Saddam use to kill 250 /month in Baghdad, while during the last month in July only 1082 were killed “ -One of them yelled -waving Dan Murphy’s article published in Al Sabah newspaper under our noses- .
That was one recycled topic, the other favorite one was the possibility of a civil war in Iraq .
What? the possibility I said , do you mean it hasn’t started yet? . Do you think that a civil war should be declared somehow , or should the conflicting groups stand confronting each other: Shias dressed in Green Sunnis dressed in White and the cry CHARGE! will tear the skies. I don’t think so .
What do you think all these assassinations are supposed to mean? Dora and Ameriah have been no man's land long enough , ten men from my lot shot means ten from your lot randomly shot .
- Yes, but there can’t be a civil war in Iraq , families have been integrated for ages ,it is hard to tell which is a Sunni family or a Shii family, my brother is married to a Sunni ,-one of the old men said as usual when ever this topic is discussed- .
- Yes , the other old one said ,and my daughter is married to a Shii fellow..
- All that is cool, perhaps you will not kill you son in law, but that has nothing to do with the possibility of a civil war . If these assassinations escalate and take a certain model, which is by the way happening, such a war will be a fact before we have time to realise it , I said.
Assassinations are a daily fact in Iraq ,and as in any chaotic situation people try to comprehend and find an explanation for them, to feel more safe:“ Ah he is a previous Baathi, …. She works with the Americans … He is rich that’s why they kidnapped and killed him when he failed to pay a ransom … He is from this or that party, his opponents must have killed him “.
It has been a while now since reasonable explanations are succeeding to comfort anyone anymore.Ordinary people are being targeted without any convincing reasons, just for the mere sake of adding numbers to the lists . Sunnis are killed in retaliation to killing Shias and visa versa. Kurds and Christians are not spared from the equation too.
So how does a civil war start anyway?I remember watching a documentary film a year or two ago ,it was about the war in former Yugoslavia. A young Serbian soldier was telling his story : we lived with the Muslims like relatives, we visited them ,we celebrated with them, we played with them as children in the streets , we served in the Army together , and suddenly we just drifted apart , the gap that appeared did not form gradually it formed suddenly . He said : I really do not remember how we became enemies, it was like we went to bed friends and woke up enemies .., In Iraq you talk to any Shii he will say there is no difference at all we are all Muslims , You talk to a Christian he will say I love Muslims,in fact my best friends are Muslims , You talk to a Shii he will say I’ve lived my whole life with Sunnis they are my brothers . All that is perfect and believe me it is true in every case . Who is responsible for spreading seeds of fear from a Civil war then ?. Many are blaming the Media for agitation . I agree that the Media is powerful enough to do so . They can choose to talk about certain things and drop out other things according to the message they are trying to deliver : for instance I don’t think, that any one reported that a young man (a Sunni) from Al Adhmiaa Area(located at the other end of the Bridge where the tragedy happened last week), swam again and again to rescue Shias who fell in the Tigris till he eventually died himself, accomplishing that truly holy mission.The assuring thing up till now is that Iraqis “thank God for that” , are fully aware of these attempts to inflame a civil war in their country , also with the worsening of their lives they are consciously distinguishing between their politicians, they know now who is who and who is playing for which team .

Back to the stampede
Casualties have reached over a thousand and are expected to rise dramatically .A Friend said “ hundreds of bodies are still in the river , they are to float soon and then we shall see the number” . She told me that doctors were hanging blood bottles on the walls with tape, right in lobbies and corridors ,cause their wasn’t any other place . A lot of patients ,who were already there just went home limping or carried by their relatives since it was pointless to stay in the hospital further .
Many accusations and versions of the same story have been told .Is there a direct cause? . Well of course, the government failed to deal with a crises situation and that is understandable, it would have been a miracle if they had dealt with it properly . They should have warned people and frankly told them, that they are not ready for such pressure . (Everyone is wondering if the government hadn't interfered and the worse had happened -such as a car bomb for instance- ,perhaps casualties wouldn't have been so grave). Yet, a very reasonable question is being asked (fairly to my view) : Did the people really have to go ? They knew that they will be targeted , There is something called common sense after all ? Of course , it is not obligatory . But still they went .
Every one of them had a request, a wish, an unattainable dream: "to live safely for instance" , a loved one with an incurable disease, who nobody is even interested in helping any more , a missing husband , brother or son who has been arrested or abducted and no one is even caring to offer an answer to console ( did you notice how many women- young and old- were killed, well that fact speaks for itself ) .
There were 12 descendants of the Prophet Mohammed , all of them suffered significantly and were killed by various tyrants in heart breaking ways . That’s why the ill-fated tend to associate their suffering with the suffering of the holy 12 martyrs.And just as in the case of Christian Saints most people have a Patron saint ,whom they seeks comfort and protection in, they light candles for these saints , keep their portraits, name new born after them , and ask for justice invoking their names ,when praying to God.
Many intellectuals and highly educated look with irony to these practices . But when nothing works you always hope for miracles .
Al kadhim ( the name means he who curbs his anger this name was givent to him for his tolerance and patience) , suffered in prisons for years and eventually was poisoned being innocent. This is a very familiar story to all Iraqis, even Christians visit his holy shrine, when life becomes intolerable as it is.
In order to explain more without going through theological aspects, look at this story and try to cast all scientific thinking and try to understand the logic or rather the absence of logic, which corresponds with the absence of logic in the lives of Iraqis .
So, : after the tragedy of the Bridge we phoned friends , neighbors and relatives just to make sure everything was ok, and to make sure weather anyone happened to be there . Fortunately we had responds such as "….. I decided not to go at the last moment …. I left there just before it happened and so on." .One lad who works in a friend’s office as a tea boy , lives in a poor area with a majority of Shias ,was telling my friend, that just the night before, his sister made such a fuss in order to go . He and his father were firm not to let her . The thing is her child has leukemia , they are mostly taking care of him at home , of course they’ve been to doctors but , well there is no need to digress here at all . So , she said that she had a dream the night before, where her child was asking to take him to visit Al Kadhim , naturally she took this as a sign . She cried and ranted and begged, but the men were unyielding ,so she decided to go alone with her baby – "He is calling us, it is a call, we have to answer , the baby will recover if we go"- She was late getting out of the house and the tragedy happened .
When the woman’s brother and father and husband told her how lucky she was for not going after all she replied carrying her ailing baby and sulking “ May be my son would have been cured now had I managed to go .. it is my fault … “ . I think no further comments are required .
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