Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy Eid

I wanted to wish everyone a joyful Eid Al Adha and a happy holiday season.

I'm happy to be celebrating here with my family, the first time in four years. But my heart feels for my family in Iraq, which has been reduced to three families living in three different, dangerous parts of Baghdad. There will be no family gathering this Eid.

On the subject of Saddam Hussein, I still can't believe that they hung him on the first day of Eid. Quite distasteful, quite blood-thirsty, very wrong. Like they're handing him over on a gold plate to one group of Iraqis, and completely throwing the plate in the faces of the others. Making Eid a double Eid for some, and a bloody Eid for the others. So wrong.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Signs of a Dying City III

Doctor Shortage
So, I'm finally settled down here in my parents' house, have been for almost a week now. Why did I suddenly leave Baghdad? It's actually because I'm expecting my second child in a couple more months, and I'm a bit too spoiled to deliver a child in Baghdad's hospital system. Here's just some info on what the health system is like there now:

When I went back to Baghdad in October, I looked up my old doctor to go see her. She had received a threat from some unknown groups, stopped practicing, and was looking to leave the country. I looked up a few other doctors I knew, and the same story was repeated each time, "Misafra"- 'she's travelling.' I knew of four different young women, all well into their pregnancies, who were receiving no prenatal care, because their doctors had stopped practicing or left the country. One of those women has since given birth to a healthy girl, the other one is expecting any day now. Again, all without any prenatal care.

This seems to be the new trend in Baghdad. So many middle-class citizens are leaving the country because of the situation. And so many of these are doctors. Not only are they leaving because of the bombs and kidnappings around them, but because alot of these assassinations and kidnappings are targetting Iraq's educated men and women, especially doctors. It's a sad situation which is leaving people with few choices. Iraq's hospitals, which were in a sad position during the embargo years, seem to have slipped even further into third-world status, with few good doctors sticking around.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Wada'an Baghdad

My daughter and I have said our good-byes to Baghdad. We're in Amman for a few short days, and then heading home to my family in the States. I'll post again when I'm settled.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Signs of a Dying City II

Deteriorating Education System, (to say the least):

This whole school year has been a joke so far, with students attending less than half of the normal school days (curfews, security situation, etc). But I think the greatest bomb of all was dropped this past week on college students who still held out hope of finishing the school year.
I saw my neighbor 'U', a senior at Baghdad University, outside our house today. Neither her nor her brother had attended university today. Apparently, a 'warning' has been given to college students not to attend university for the rest of the school year, as certain students would be targetted for their affiliation with 'death squads' and different militias. Following is a rough translation of the letter, which has been circulating by email and left at different locations. I also heard that large signs around town are announcing this 'news'.
The problem here is not whether or not this letter is authentic, but that it is able to hold power over students and professors alike. 'U' was telling me that she attended university the first couple of days of this week (with knowledge of the threat), but few other students or professors (!) attended. People are scared, and they are taking heed of this lawless group's ridiculous demands. Chaos at its best.

To our dear teachers and students at all Baghdad universities and colleges
Final Warning:
In order to protect your blood from the crimes committed by the Maliki government and its death squads... these death squads which have killed, murdered and targeted especially the Sunni students and professors... It is at these universities that the death squads have found a safe haven from which to carry out their attacks against ahlul Sunnah. From these universities scholars and warriors graduated, and at these same places they are being killed.
For this reason, we have decided ... to cancel the rest of the 2006-2007 school year for undergraduate and graduate students at all Baghdad universities and colleges (!!!)... to (1.) protect the blood of our scholars and students and (2.) to purify these institutions from all death squads. We will not be satisfied until we have brought security to them. Elementary, middle and high school students, as well as college students outside of Baghdad are not included in this decision (
For this reason, we ask our Sunni and Shiite (those who do not belong to any party) professors and students to avoid attending university completely for the rest of this school year for their protection. We give them three days to finish any business they have at their universities... We know that not attending institutions of knowledge is a painful ordeal, but the killing and murder of scholars is more painful. We also know that Sunni students and professors, as well as the Shiite 'commoners' will heed this warning... .
Today we will avenge our scholars. ... We will choose the time and place to attack you, in your homes, and on your beds and in your schools... You will continue to live in fear until your time comes... We hope that this school year does not end until we have destroyed each one of you (death squad/militia members).
We repeat our words to all Sunnis and to whoever desires to save himself; stay away from the death squads and militias, which have taken universities as their safe haven. Leave the battle to wage between us.
Ansar al Sunnah Group

Again, I don't know how authentic this letter is, I don't know if someone is playing a sad joke on Baghdad or not, I don't know if someone is trying to 'frame' this group or not, but I do know that this letter has had its effect on Baghdad university students. Even if they decide to ignore it and go to class, they find that no one else is attending, neither student nor teacher. Measures need to be taken to bring security to these institutions, or Baghdad will slowly die through the destruction of its coming generation of scholars.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Signs of a Dying City I

I hate describing Baghdad as a dying city, but that's truly the feeling that passes through me as I drive down the streets of this once busy city. I took these pictures on different Saturday afternoons, all during the past month or so. This was once (not very long ago), one of the busiest streets in Baghdad, the 14th of Ramadan Street in the Mansour area. Now, as you drive down this street in the middle of the day, at least three fourths of the shops are closed down! Only a random store here and there opens, and some of them open for just a few hours, closing down by 1 or 2 pm. It was really sad for me especially during Eid season to drive down this street (and others in Baghdad) and to find it looking like a ghost town.
Shop owners have either been threatened to shut down, killed for opening, or felt the danger of opening shop with an army search point parked in front of their stores (attracts car bombs/ etc). Business has come to a halt and many of these merchants have left town.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Baby #2 Born

Baby girl #2, daughter of the second kidnapped brother, was born two days ago. Her and her mother are doing well, as well as the wife and daughter of a kidnapped father/husband can be. I dreamt last night that Bushra saw her husband in the steet the other day, and she told him that his first born had come to the world two days ago. He told her, "I'll be back really soon, next week"- and then went away. I hope this dream comes true, and that I can rejoice with his family over his return. Aameen.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

LIving Under (an Unexpected) Curfew

The curfew, which has lasted three days, is supposed to be lifted tomorrow (Monday) morning. Here are some notes on what it's like living through an unexpected curfew.

* First day into it, "Aww man, wish it was on a work day, not a weekend."
* Dinner invitations cancelled, cousin's catered lunch gone to waste.
* Another cousin's long-awaited trip to Egypt cut short by curfew/airport closing.
* Second day into it: Notice you're running out of bread, milk, eggs and veggies.
* Running out of diesal/gas for the generator. Weren't we supposed to fuel up a couple of days ago?
* Start taking stock of all your stored foods: dried lentils/beans, frozen peas, canned goods. Start baking bread/pancakes for breakfast/supper.
* Hang out with neighbors.
* Neighborhood guys get together for a loooong tournament of computer FIFA.
* Last night for supper, cook spaghetti with hotdogs (not me, thankfully).
* Third day into curfew (when walking outside is allowed), rush home from from neighborhood store. A nearby neighborhood is rumoured to be under attack by militiamen.
Throughout the three days of curfew, hear explosions every day. Hmmm... how is that happening?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Once Again...Curfew

After yesterday's crazy events in Sadr City, with 5 car bombs (three effective) and more than 200 deaths, Baghdad is once again under curfew, until further notice.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wise Words... and Words for the Wise

I've gotten a few comments, not many, but a few which fully blame the Iraqi people for what is happening here today, considering them endemically violent, blood-thirsty, backwards people. In fact, one of the worst comments I got was when I compared the situation after Hurricane Katrina to that in Iraq, "Arab behavior is completely unconscionable in Western eyes. Arabs are subhuman."
I know many people are confused about why this craziness is only happening here in Iraq, even Iraqis themselves. One of my cousins in law, who was born and raised here in Baghdad, and has lived here all her life always says, "This is happening to us because 'ihna ma khuush 'awaadim (we Iraqis are not good people)".
But I was reminded by one of our good neighbors, whose wise words always interest my husband and I, of what is really happening here. During one of our visits to the family of our kidnapped neighbors, he was trying to lighten their parents' mood. He said, "What is happening in Iraq today is plain and simple, it's hysteria. There's no other way to describe the craziness here. You can't have a nation of people go through more than thirty years of war, tyranny and embargoes, and then act normally when they are given 'freedom.' What is happening today is a state of mass hysteria. Unexplainable any other way."
He went on to say, "But throughout Iraqi history, whenever we thought we were nearing the bottom, relief would come. During the war against Iran, when we thought we would be invaded, the war ended. During the '91 bombing by the Americans and their allies, when we thought we'd be buried alive, the war ended. And today, when we've reached such a point of dreariness, hopefully relief is near." I hope your words are right, Dr. A.
Its important for the world to realize that Iraqis have been through so much, and that what is happening here today is not because they are inherently violent. I leave you with another of the insightful comments I received, a good summary of the problem here, and a look into possible solutions for the problem:
1. Regarding Iraq, please note that Iraqi society is one composed of 3-4 distinct generations of people. These generations generally were born between the periods of 1945-1990. If you take a look at Iraq's history spanning these dates you will notice that the society has undergone one violent revolution after another. It did not have a quiet period of development save maybe the mid 1970's when Iraq was heading toward a period of great prosperity, then Saddam attacked Iran, and that war persisted until 1988 two years later he invaded Kuwait the result of which was a decade of crippling sanctions and hardship on Iraqi society. The point I am trying to reach is that these generations know nothing but violence, revolution, hardship, and warfare. It cannot be expected that they somehow turn a new leaf and simply embrace democracy forgetting their encumbrances.

2. Those advising the US during the 1990s and towards the buildup to the war were people who had been living outside of Iraq for decades and had no idea about the reality of Iraqi society and its social fabric. They convinced the Administration of certain false premises which led to the unrecoverable policy mistakes and eventually the bad situation we are in today.

3. To say that not enough people are speaking up against militias is to truly not understand the dangers that these militias pose to civilians in Iraq. To cite an example, during the past elections one of my friends voted for the Shia religious list even though I know he is secular, when I asked him why he said that if he did not do it he would be divorced forcefully from his wife and would be excommunicated. On another occasion right in front of me, a member of parliament threatened an Iraqi Brigadier General with militia retribution. It is in the interest of the religious parties to not have a reconcilition or they will lose their basic support.

And from another comment:
...With all of that in mind, how do you resolve this problem? I believe it will take a few bold steps:
1. Close the border with Iran and Syria and literally threaten Iran with extreme military retaliation if the situation in Iraq does not improve.
2. Clamp down militarily on the most problematic militia (Jaysh Al-Mehdi) kill or arrest the field commanders and senior leadership. Once that happens the other militias will take heed. This will require US and Iraqi lives but it must happen.
3. Change the present government. The problem is when parties are above the law because of their militias they are not prone to compromise, force them to when they no longer have their militias and Iraq will be a different place today.
4. Threaten immediate US withdrawal and the parties will all compromise because the Sunnis have more to gain from a civil war than the Shia do.
5. Give Sunnis a reason to go against Alqaeda and other extremists. Presently they are seen as the only solution to US and Shia agression against them.
6. Change the posture in Anbar, let the Sunnis feel that the US is not against them.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Car Bomb in Green Zone-Update

I just got news from someone working in the Green Zone that a car bomb went off in the heavily fortified Green Zone today. I haven't yet seen any news on it, so I'm not sure of the details. But all exits out of the Green Zone have been shut down, and any Iraqis trying to get out are stuck there for now.
It's a big deal for the American forces and Iraqi government that anyone was able to break through their tough security measures getting into the Green Zone. Let's see what happens.

UPDATE: The entry points into the Green Zone have been reopened and Iraqis living outside the Green Zone let out. Apparently one of the Speaker of the House's (Mahmoud al Mash-hadani) cars was rigged with three bombs, a small one set to set off two big ones. The small one went off, the others didn't, people in the car got out. No one hurt or killed.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Baby Girl Born

I wrote about our neighbors who were kidnapped more than a month ago. On Saturday, the older son's wife gave birth to their first baby. The second son's wife is expecting any day now. There is still no news of the boys, dead or alive. May they live to see their children, and may this newborn girl have the chance to grow up under her father's caring wing.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Human Dignity

On Saturday, we were gathered at our aunt's house. She was telling her niece from Adhamiya that she wanted to go gold shopping with her. 'L' said, "Sure, whenever you come over, I'll take you out. But I don't know if you'll be okay with all the corpses lying around, I've gotten used to them."
I was pretty shocked by her statement. So I asked her what she meant. 'L' is a 23 year old mother of two. She told me that next to her house it has become a dumping ground for corpses. Everyday, two or three dead bodies turn up a few steps from her gate. And they lie around for a couple of days before Iraqi security forces come and 'load them into the back of pick up trucks. People are too scared to report these dumpings. Sometimes you see just killed bodies, in the position they fell after being shot. '
She was telling me how one day they decided to take a different road when leaving their house so they wouldn't see any corpses. That didn't work, and her 3 1/2 year old son and 2 year old daughter were still exposed to these images.
I asked her if her son realized what he was seeing. She told me that he would go to his great grandmother's house and describe to her, 'the poor dead people' he saw in the street.
Wow, the horror of how cheap human life has become. To kill a person, and then dump him in any old place, not caring what happened to him. And to do it, day after day, without any security forces hunting you down- so wrong.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


One hundred and fifty Iraqi men kidnapped from a Higher Education Ministry government building in the light of day, by men in Iraqi security uniforms. All I can say is what a sham of a government, where criminals feel secure doing this in the light of day, assured that no one will stop them. One hundred and fifty men.
'3arun 3alaykum ya Iraqi government.
To be able to wake up today still proud of your positions. And all Iraqi PM Maliki can say to defend himself is that this is "not terrorism but the result of a conflict between militias belonging to this side or that." Outrageous.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Forced Migration II: Story of a Shiite

Pictures of one of many abandoned vegetable stands in our district; the result of the forced migration policy being carried out. Shiite veggie sellers, fish grillers, trash collectors and mechanics were killed over the summer in our area.

A few weeks ago, Cousin 'E' was telling me how her grandfather's house is now overcrowded with different aunts and uncles who have moved back in, after being 'forced' out of their homes. Cousin 'E' is the daughter of a Shiite father and a Sunni mother who live in Amiriya. Since conditions have worsened in Amiriya, E's father has left the neighborhood and moved back in with his mother (without his daughters and wife [school]). Along with E's father, her paternal aunt has also moved out of her Amiriya home, back in with her mother. This is the part of her story which shocked me:

E's aunt, A, was living in Amiriya for years, along with other Shiites and Sunnis. This past summer, while on vacation in Northern Iraq, she got news that her youngest brother had been brutally murdered in his store in Yarmouk, following the infamous Jihad District slaughter. His brothers (including E's father) found him lying dead in a pool of blood in the furthest corner of his store, as if he had been trying to escape the murderers' brutality.
Following this tragic murder, Aunt 'A' was warned not to return to her Amiriya home, which had become a mostly Sunni district. 'A' took her children and husband and moved into her mother's home. Every week or so, she would quietly go to her house to check up on it, without her husband, fearing for his safety. One of those weeks, she was warned by her neighbors not to come back, not even to check up on her home, because they could not guarantee her safety. She has not returned since.
Instead, she asked her Sunni sister in law, 'E's mother, to check up on her home. During her last visit there, E's mother was shocked to find a family 'occupying' her sister in law's house, having unhinged the doors to get into the different locked rooms. Not only that, but they had the audacity to ask her who she was and what she was doing there, instead of being apologetic about their actions. When she told them that the house belonged to her sister in law, they gave her a questioning look, like 'You're married to a Shiite?!'
She feared for her safety at that moment, and decided not to go back. But they were able to get that family out of the house, on the condition that they would rent it out immediately to a Sunni family. They were able to rent it out, but at a fraction of the price it should bring.
Now, 'E's mother and sisters are looking to move out of Amiriya, not because they are Shiites, but because their husband and father is. And because life has become almost unbearable there.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Diary of an Iraqi Traveller

Our closest aunt and neighbor, a 45 year old mother of five, went on an Umrah trip to Mecca this past Ramadan. This is some of what she went through.

Ramadan 20: Umrah trip starts from Baghdad to Mecca. No direct flights to Saudi, so will drive to Damascus, Syria and take a plane from there. After a twenty four hour drive (should only be 12 hrs), arrive in Syria, a couple of days later, in Saudi. Two week trip extended to four weeks because of no return flights to Syria. Ran out of money, had to borrow.

Four weeks later:
Friday, November 3rd: Start return trip to Baghdad. Leave Medina around 5 pm for Jeddah. Arrive in airport around 9 pm. Flight leaves Saturday morning at 5 am. Spend the night in the airport.

Saturday, November 4th: Flight from Jeddah to Damascus rerouted to Halab because of cloudy conditions in Damascus. Spend three hours in the airplane in Halab, awaiting the weather to clear in Damascus. Weather clears, fly to Damascus. After landing, board buses for Baghdad.

Saturday, November 4th: Discover that a curfew has been imposed in Baghdad and other provinces of Iraq, borders closed. Trip leader decides that we stay in Syria until the curfew is lifted, so that we don't spend the night at the borders. Spend the night in a nice Syrian family's guest house.

Sunday, November 5th: Trip leader assumes that the curfew will be lifted by Monday morning. Leave Syria around 3 pm. Arrive at the border before night, but curfew has not been lifted. Spend an uncomfortable, cold night in the buses at the Iraqi border. No clean bathrooms around.

Monday, November 6th: Border is opened, and we travel towards Baghdad. Arrive at Abu Ghraib around 4:30 pm (about an hour from Baghdad). Curfew has not been lifted. Will have to spend the night in a small village in Abu Ghraib (no hotels around). Village tribal leaders divide us up amongst the different houses in the area, where we spend the night with a family we don't know. Much better than another cold night in the bus.

Tuesday, November 7th: Curfew has been lifted from Baghdad! Arrive home at 7:30 am, exhausted, but happy to finally be home. Home, sweet home, even if it is in Baghdad!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saddam's Verdict

Saddam Hussein was sentenced today, November 5th, 2006 to a verdict of death by hanging. Though the trial could hardly be called professional, and though the Iraqi prime minister 'predicted' before the trial this death sentence, he probably deserved it.
After the sentencing (and before it, actually), the Iraqiya channel showed scenes of Iraqis celebrating in the streets. I was a little surprised that in my neighborhood, and surrounding neighborhoods, there was no trace of celebration. I think if this had happened two years ago, people would have celebrated with their traditional gunfire celebrations. But now, with the situation as depressing as it is, and with the fear of repercussions from certain elements, people (sp. Sunnis) see this as another event in their life that is not helping make the situaiton in Baghdad better.
I think that it is necessary to emphasize that Sunnis were just as much harmed by Saddam's rule as Shiites and Kurds were. Our uncle in law had to flee the country during the last few years of Saddam's rule because a death sentence was out on him. He was only able to come back to his family and country because of Saddam's ousting. Another uncle was jailed for a few years and all his possessions were taken from him, for a fleeting word he said against the tyrant's regime. Others were killed and went missing. And all Iraqis, young and old, were affected by the crazy wars and sanctions that Saddam put them through.
Two years ago, when the trials against Saddam first started, people were excited about them and watched the proceedings intently. Aunt M, who's husband had been through so much because of Saddam's tyranny, would exclaim against that 'arrogant tyrant' and was constantly waiting for the guilty verdict to be announced. But today, after Iraqis have seen so much violence and death and horror, this guilty verdict brings just a little bit of justice into their lives. So much more needs to be fixed now.
How do I feel about it? I remember watching Saddam on TV when he was still in power, and to me he epitomized the Arabic word jabbar- arrogant, powerful tyrant- more than any other dictator ruler out there. Seeing him when he was caught and through out his trials, and today, was just so humbling. Going from so high up, from such power and arrogance and jabaroot to such an end, subhanaAllah, very humbling.
What else am I feeling? I'm seeing people turn this into a Sunni/Shiite clash, and that is not right. Like I mentioned before, everyone, Sunni/Shiite/Kurd, were affected by the former regime. But things have not gotten better since Saddam's days, to say the least, and many people here are just not celebrating.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Moving Account of Friends' Death

I read the most moving account of death and destruction in Iraq yesterday. A while ago, Konfused Kid wrote about the death of four of his closest friends by a roadside bomb in Karradah. Read his account. It will make real for you the humanity of those killed in all these random acts of violence. He also made a tribute to them recently. I literally was haunted by their story all last night, couldn't sleep too well thinking of them. Allah yirhamhum and all those affected by this craziness.

Baby Talk

My fifteen month old daughter's vocabulary now includes: tayyayah and tattataat.
During Eid, the neighborhood children throw around these firecrackers that make noise, those are called taqqaqaat. Suma watched the kids have their fun first hand, and enjoyed it with them. Now, whenever she hears gunshots or explosions, she shouts, "Tattataat."
And whenever she hears a helicopter flying above, she exclaims, " tayyayah" as in the arabic "tayyarah" for airplane.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Forced Migration I: Story of a Sunni Family

When I left Baghdad towards the end of June, kidnapping, murder, exploding bombs were all a very regular part of the Baghdad landscape. Forced migration or 'sectarian cleansing' was not. It was still in its beginning steps. When I came back in October, this forced migration had become a very regular part of life here in Baghdad. Many different people we knew, or knew through someone else, had been forced out of their homes to a different district.
Abu N was one of these people. Abu N is a simple, street-smart fifty-ish year old Sunni man who drives my husband to work and does random errands for us. He's been a part of our lives for the past couple of years. One day this summer when my husband was visiting us and his family in the States, he called Abu N to tell him of his arrival date in Baghdad. Listening to the one-sided conversation, I could tell that something had gone wrong in Abu N's life.
Abu N used to live not too far from us in the A'amil district, a district with a mixed Sunni/Shiite population. One day, Abu N's brother in law's house (about five houses down from his own) was attacked with grenades and gunfire. The next day, his next door neighbor, also a Sunni, received a threat to move out or face deathly consequences. Abu N's Shiite neighbors came to him, his brother in law and his next door neighbor (the only Sunni families in the direct area) and told them that it was best for them to move out of the area, because they could do nothing to protect them.
Abu N, who had been living in his house for more than thirteen years, had to pick himself and his family up and leave their house immediately. It was either that or face an almost certain attack, and possible death from these 'unknown' forces. On such short notice, he moved his family out to a house near his brother's house in a town called Hilla, about 90 kilometers from Baghdad. He's still working with my husband, but because he lives so far now, he leaves his family during the week in Hilla, and spends the nights in his parents' house in Baghdad. On the weekends, he makes the trip out to Hilla.
Abu N's story is the story of the changing landscape of Baghdad. He is not the first nor the last Iraqi forced out of his home in this developing sectarian cleansing that is occuring here. He's relatively lucky, getting off easily, having only lost his home, neighbors and stability. Others have lost so much more in this 'cleansing' war.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Eid Stories

We had a nice change of pace during the past three days of Eid here in Baghdad, even though there's not much to do outside the house. It was mostly a time to gather up with family over a nice quzi dinner, and to see people we haven't been able to see during Ramadan because of the short days and the early self-imposed curfews. And of course to catch up on old news.
On the second day of Eid, we had my husband's maternal family gather at our house for a potluck Eid lunch/dinner. We usually hold this dinner at Aunt W's house at the outskirts of Adhamiya, but because of the security situation there, we decided to have it at our house.
Aunt W was telling us about how a car bomb that exploded right in front of their house shattered all the windows in her house about ten days ago, and destroyed her doors. Her 19 year old son was taking pictures of the damage done with his cell phone, and then decided to go up to their roof to take a picture of the car skeleton. Iraqi army officers saw him and stormed the house, to arrest him. They were afraid that he was trying to get their location on film for a possible attack against them (he had no such plans in mind). They tried to get him to admit right then and there that he was a part of the insurgency.
His poor mother went crazy. She was telling me how she screamed at the officer and told him, "I won't let you take him. You'll kill him. Do you have a mother? What would she do if you were taken from her?" He told her, "I promise I'll bring him back to you." She pleaded and pleaded, but the officer had to take him in.
Thankfully, an hour or so later, the kid was let out, without any harm done. The officers actually apologized to him and his mother, told her they made sure to bring him back safely because they felt sorry for her.

Another aunt was telling us that her house in Amiriya was searched at 1 am the night before Eid by American soldiers looking for certain names in the area. Her story will follow in a coming post- the Sunni aunt married to a Shiite husband, living in now Sunni-only Amiriya.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sign of the Times

I saw this sign put up in a couple of different locations in Dakhiliya district. In honor of Ramadan and the situation here it reads, "The best fasting (you can perform) is to (abstain) from your brother's blood," ie. from killings and murder.
Traditionally, we learn that fasting in the month of Ramadan is to abstain from eating, drinking and spousal relations from sun-up to sun-down. Here in Iraq, another basic point has to be emphasized.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Eid Mubarak

I wanted to wish everyone a happy Eid. May God accept your deeds in the holy month of Ramadan, and give us the chance to witness the next Ramadan. May He bring peace and security to our world.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Interesting Sight in Qadisiya

Last Friday, before heading to my husband's aunt's house, we drove out to a small restaurant in the Karrada district to pick up a flame-broiled fish, masgoof. On our way their, around 4:50 pm, we passed by the Qadisiya bridge. Under that bridge is a large empty lot, I think used as a parking space in the past.
Anyway, on that day, at that time, we saw the most unusual sight that I have seen in Baghdad in a long time. We saw a huge gathering of young men, on motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles and even rollerblades. We saw two young men (one of them actually looked like a 12 year old at the most) racing each other on a motorcycle in the empty lot. Apparently, this was some sort of a race that had been organized and these men were participating in. I wish I had my camera at the time.
What was so unusual about it is that this is the first time since I've been here in three years that I have seen a large celebratory type gathering in Baghdad. Not including people gathering for Eid prayer in the mosque and other prayers, not including the Shiite Husseini mournings on Ashura, this was the first time I saw anything of the kind. I was surprised that these men had been able to gather for a fun time in these circumstances, not fearing a random roadside bombing, or a not so random attack.
Could it be a sign that things are turning for the better? Unfortunately, I think it was just an anomaly in our everyday Baghdad life.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Aamir Al Hashimi

Its been about ten days since Aamir al Hashimi was murdered in his home. Aamir al Hashimi was the Iraqi Army's Chief of General Staff (ra'ees arkan al jaysh) during Allawi's time and was currently serving as military advisor to President Talabani.
More importantly, he was Iraqi Vice President, Tariq Al Hashimi's, brother. He was the third sibling of al Hashimi's murdered in the last seven months by unknown forces.
Another brother, Mahmoud, was murdered in April, followed by their sister, Maysoon, two weeks later. I wrote of these murders back on April 16th and the 27th.

What bothers me the most about this latest murder are two factors. 1. The extent of hatred these murderers must have in them, to kill not one, not two, but at least three siblings of Tariq al Hashimi's, one of them a lone, unarmed woman.
And the other problem is the way in which this poor man was killed. He had taken many precautions against a possible assassination, in the wake of his other siblings murders. But on Monday morning, around 6 am, men in security uniforms came to his house, claiming that his brother, the vice president, had sent them. This is how they got past the initial security guards. They were driving the latest models of SUVs, driven by other security forces, and were very proficient at their job. When al Hashimi realized who they were, and attempted to escape to his neighbor's house, they shot him in the head. He passed away, Allah yirhamuh.
And to make matters worse for the poor wife, they took his son, and we heard the next day of his murder. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'oon. May Allah have mercy on their souls, during this blessed month of Ramadan, bring calm to this country. A moving post on the topic was written by blogger Konfused Kid.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Weekend Visit to Adhamiya and Dakhiliya Districts-Ramadan Then and Now

We spent the past weekend visiting a couple of relatives in different parts of Baghdad, and during these visits and other events, I've noticed a marked change in Baghdad since I left it back in the end of June.
On Friday, we went to my aunt in law's house in Dakhiliya for iftar (Ramadan dinner to break fast). Going to Aunt S's house should take less than five minutes by car, but for this visit, Cousin M called my husband and warned him to come from a different route (which would lengthen our trip to about 20 minutes). All other routes to their house were closed off by army barriers and neighborhood watch groups. In addition, when we came to the beginning of their street, we'd either have to park a distance away and take a ten minute walk to their house, or we'd have to ask permission from the army patrol set up there to pass and park in our relatives' house. The army had closed off that main street in Dakhiliya and set up a watch point to guard Dakhiliya from outside attacks by militias and to weed out violent groups perhaps hiding out in the area.
Apparently, since I left in June, Dakhiliya has taken a major turn for the worse. Our cousins were telling us that corpses were daily showing up in their streets, tortured and bullet-ridden. Battles were happening between Iraqi security forces set up, and resistance forces. Militias were coming in at night and taking and killing whom they wished. Back in June, Dakhiliya was not a hotspot in Baghdad, and was relatively safe. Things have changed.
On our way home that evening, around 8 pm, we saw another of the new low-points in Baghdad life. There were no other cars on the street. The car curfew doesn't start until 9 pm, but basically after iftar time at 6 pm, it is very rare to find cars on the side streets in Baghdad, and traffic is extremely light on the main streets. I noticed the same thing when we went out last Tuesday evening around 6:45 pm. It has almost become like a ghost town.
On Saturday, we visited my husband's grandmother in Adhamiya. Since Adhamiya has been unrestful from the beginning of this Iraqi ordeal (and become much worse), and since its much further than Dakhiliya, we had to visit our grandmother early in the day, and return home way before dark. Towards the end of our visit, my husband's uncle came in and told us that he had just been stopped on their main road by a 'kid on a motorcycle.' The 'kid' asked for his ID and then signalled him to drive on. Uncle O warned us not to leave from that route and told him to beware all 'people on motorcycles.' Apparently, in Adhamiya, these men have appointed themselves security for the district, expelling anyone they saw as a threat, or worse, killing them. In Adhamiya, this spells out to 'new Shiites (new to the area)' who are seen as collaborators with the militia groups that carry out so much of the destruction in Sunni areas.
My husband is not Shiite, but we decided to take a detour to avoid this random searchpoint. Uncle O drove in front of us to show us the way out of the area, and then went back home. On our way home, around 2 pm, I noticed that all but a few of the stores in the heart of Adhamiya were closed. The main street was almost completely shut down and empty. Out of the three large supermarkets in Adhamiya, two had closed down and had 'For Sale' or 'For Rent' signs on their windows, one of them with the windows destroyed from an apparent bomb (Al An'am and AlWaha). Saturday is not a store holiday in Baghdad, so seeing all these stores closed in the middle of the day, a week before the Eid celebrations (high point in shopping season) was extremly unusual.
After we crossed the bridge from Risafa to Karkh, we passed by a side street we used to take to bypass traffic jams. My husband pointed out that that street now had a checkpoint set up by the Mahdi army/militia. Sunnis were basically not allowed there. And so we drove on.
Two years ago, during Ramadan, it was a part of the Ramadan culture to eat iftar at a different relative's house every night, and to spend a good part of the evening/night with them. During the last ten days of Ramadan, we would go pray night prayers in the mosque at 3 am. One year ago, one could still visit for iftar, but not stay too long afterwards, perhaps pray the Taraweeh prayers and then head home by nine-ish maximum. It was normal to go out for ice cream after Taraweeh, as my sister in law experienced last year. Night prayers at 3 am were out of the picture because of the night curfew, but Taraweeh was still very easy to attend.
This Ramadan, unless you're visiting someone who lives within a couple of kilometers away from you, its almost impossible to go out. Even Taraweeh prayers have become difficult to attend because of all the streets that are closed off in the city and because of the security situation. People are choosing to just stay home. To me, that's a sign of a dying city, a spirit that is dying in the people.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Update on Kidnapped Brothers

As I mentioned in my previous post, since arriving in Baghdad after a three and a half month hiatus, I've noticed that things have changed for the worse in so many way. Everyday you hear sooo many stories of people murdered and kidnapped and forced out of their homes, and you see signs of a dying city.
One of those sad stories is that of our neighbors who I reported were kidnapped two weeks ago from the computer store they work in in the Sina'a district. I visited the family when I got here last week to give them some support. It turns out, things are much worse than I knew. Not only were their two sons kidnapped, but their daughter's husband was taken along with the two brothers. Their 27 year old daughter is staying with her parents now, along with her 14 month old baby boy, also awaiting news of her husband's fate.
Sadly, the family has not yet heard ANYTHING from the kidnappers. That usually means the worst in the kidnapping game. It's been two weeks, with no one asking for a ransom or a demand to be met. Allah yustur. During the family visit, I was shaken by how the boys' parents were almost talking of them as if they expected the worst. The mother was quite patient, and kind, asking about how my daughter and I were doing, even managing a smile here and there. But she mentioned how she believed in God, but such an end for her sons, who she bore and gave birth to, and raised and watched marry, was so difficult. I saw the father's usually cheerful face, still attempting that cheerinees, but with a horrific look of one who has seen death, and who has been searching for his sons' bodies. In fact, he has been making his rounds in the past days to hospitals and medical examiners' offices, looking for his sons bodies. How heavy and difficult, to say the least. I really did see the look of horror on his face, more so than his wife; a heavy look, so strange on his usually kind face. One of the pregnant daughters in law was there as well, with her tear streaked face, and puffy eyes. The other daughter in law could not stand living with her husband's memories all around her, and is staying at her parents' house.
Four of the men who were taken were let go, with no 'strings attached' except that they keep their mouthes shut about all that had happened to them, or fear for their life. They were not involved in the store's running, as the boys' mother told me; one a janitor, the other a customer, etc. And they are hiding out in their homes, refusing to speak to anyone, refusing to give details of what they went through, scared to help out the poor families awaiting news of their loved ones.
This is how my street now looks: one house with a young father murdered about two months ago, the next house with three kidnapped sons, the next house with a father who has to watch his every move because of his political position, and the fourth house with a son in law who was kidnapped and let go for a ransom payment of $30,000.
Sadly, looking more and more like a typical neighborhood in Baghdad.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Back in Baghdad

Sorry for taking so long to post. I've been back for about a week, but our internet has been down since then, just got it fixed. Too much to report on. I'll post as soon as I can.
Generally, we had an uneventful trip, thank God. But I have noticed a change in Baghdad; mostly, and sadly, for the worse.

Monday, October 02, 2006


The Washington Post reported today, "Parliament extended Iraq's state of emergency Monday as gunmen snatched 14 employees from computer stores in downtown Baghdad in the second mass kidnapping in as many days.

Seven cars pulled up to the shops in front of Baghdad's Technical University, and gunmen wearing military-style uniforms fanned out to surround the buildings, police Lt. Thair Mahmoud said. The attackers then forced the employees outside and into sport utility vehicles at gunpoint, he said."

When my husband heard this news, he called his cousin and neighbor to make sure that our neighbors in Baghdad were okay. His worst fears were confirmed. Two brothers who live right across from us in Baghdad, and who work in a computer store in front of Baghdad's Technical University (an area called Sina'a), were kidnapped today from their store. News sources confirm that all of the 14 kidnapped were Sunnis. Ironically, 'A' and 'A' are the sons of a Sunni Arab father and a Shiite Turkomen mother. They are the latest victims in this sectarian war engulfing Baghdad.
A2, the younger brother was married a year and a half ago in April 2005. After a year of marriage, he and his wife were finally expecting their first child. Today, his seven month pregnant wife, Bushra, herself a Shiite, anxiously awaits news of her husband's fate.
A1, the older brother (around 26 years old) is a sweet, slight man, with a shy demeanor and a smiling face. He married his young 18 year old wife a few months ago, a short while before I left Baghdad. I remember watching the simple celebration his family held for him (and his brother a year before him) in front of their house, from the window of my bedroom. A simple wedding celebration with a few firecrackers to announce their happiness to the neighbors. Now, his also pregnant wife awaits news of her husband's safety, or her widowhood.
My heart goes out to the young men's kind father and their good mother, to their young wives and sister, to their extended families, and to the Iraqi people for what their country has descended into.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Heading Back

Sorry I haven't blogged for a while. I've been getting ready to head back to what Iraqi blogger Zappy describes as, "city called hell." Alhamdulillah. I'll post again, God willing, when I've settled in.
For now, I wish the Muslim community all over the world a blessed Ramadan filled with good deeds and piety.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Update on House Searches in Baghdad

Our house in Baghdad was searched on Monday. Around 6:30 am, my husband received a call from our next door neighbor telling him that they were searching our neighborhood. A short while later, Iraqi Army soldiers knocked on our gate and my husband let them in.
There were three soldiers, and surprisingly, my husband told me they were very decent. They asked for his name and ID, and his place of employment. Two of the soldiers then asked permission, went upstairs and looked inside the bedrooms. That was it. They left after that.
These house searches have been occuring during this past summer to help secure Baghdad. My grandmother and aunts in law living in Amiriya, Adhamiya, and Dakhilya had there homes searched earlier this summer. Mammy (my husband's grandmother) and his Aunt 'W' living in and around Adhamiya had their houses searched twice this summer, and they also had American soldiers along with the Iraqi ones.
The day that our neighborhood was searched, the roads were blocked and no one was allowed into or out of the neighborhood. So my husband was unable to go to work. I was happily surprised at how decent the soldiers' behavior was. But technically, if someone was trying to hide something in their homes, I don't believe that search would be sufficient in discovering it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Remembering Katrina, Remembering Iraq

My younger sister was telling me a while ago, after I started this blog, that reading my accounts of life in Baghdad, and reading a Palestinian lady's accounts of life in Gaza, made her lose a certain respect for the people of these nations. Reading about the crazy violence, and the random kidnappings and murder, made her see these people as rather uncivilized people.
That was never my intent when I started this blog, and as I continue it today. But I realize that my sister's words do not only reflect her feelings, but those of many people who are bombarded by daily images and stories of bombings, lootings, kidnappings, terror and violence in these hotspots.
But I must say that such behavior is not necessarily endemic to these people. It is a result of a catastrophe that has left Iraq, and any other country in its same shoes, in complete chaos, the result of having no government, no governmental authority, no leader, no law in place.
That is what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrine hit it exactly one year ago today, on April 29, 2005. I remember watching the news of this natural catastrophe which hit the Gulf Area, in between the few moments of quiet I had while caring for my then newborn daughter. I remember the images of chaos, the dead bodies floating in the streets, the people begging for help on national television, the looting, the guns going off randomly, the National Guard threatening not to come to the city if individuals did not stop using random gunfire to defend their belongings; the horror of having your home destroyed in seconds, of losing your loved ones and not knowing if they were dead or alive, ...
At that moment, all I could think of was... Iraq. This is Iraq. This is Palestine. This is every land and people that have been destroyed by a catastrophe. This is America getting a taste of what it is like to be left without law and order. It doesn't only happen in the Middle East, it happened right here, in the heartland of America. When I saw the looters who had to steal food to survive (or not), when I saw people having to take the law into their own hands, defending their homes and businesses from randoms looters, all I could think of was life in Iraq today. This is what a state of chaos and lawlessness does to a people. It leaves them to fend for themselves, some stay true to their goodness, in others, it brings out the worse.

I was looking over pictures today of New Orleans then and now, just to remind myself of some of the horrors that these people went through. I saw a horrific picture of a body floating down the water-flooded streets, unclaimed and unburied for days. I saw a picture of a man standing in front of his oriental rug shop, with a large hand-made sign reading, "Don’t try. I am sleeping inside with a big dog, an ugly woman, two shotguns and a claw hammer…." I saw a picture of a makeshift grave for an elderly woman who had been killed in a hit a few days after Katrina. Her body was left unburied on the side of the road for five days. I saw a picture of a family standing with a large sign which they waved at the helicopter flying above, begging for help. I saw pictures of human misery, and I hope they never recur to any race of people, here or abroad.
What happened in New Orleans, or Iraq, or Palestine, can happen anywhere. We are just fortunate that we are not living under the circumstances that these people are living under, or we might very well see the worst in our fellow neighbors and friends. May God protect us from all catastrophes, natural and man-made.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Our Very Own Fulbright Scholar

My daughter and I spent the past weekend with my parents in law visiting Umar in Pennsylvania. Umar is my husband's first cousin, and he arrived about a week ago from Baghdad on a Fulbright scholarship to study here in the United States. The Fulbright Scholarship was resumed in Iraq in 2003 after 14 years of an embargo that included the economic as well as the academic spheres of life.
Over dinner, Umar was telling us his 'name story'. Interestingly, he has a very Sunni name, while his brother, Haidar, has a very Shiite name (bisectarian grandparents). Umar was telling us about how certain parts of Baghdad are prohibited for him to visit, and other are prohibited for his brother. While he is welcomed with open arms in Adhamiya, Haidar is forbidden from going there. And while Haidar is welcomed with open arms in Kadhimiya, Umar stays away for his own safety.
Thankfully you were able to escape this craziness for a bit, ya Umar, hopefully it'll be better when you go back, and either way, we're very proud of you!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Another Meaningless Murder

Actually, there is no such thing as a meaningful murder. And unfortunately, these murders keep on occuring in Baghdad.
Today, I found out from my husband that our neighbor, who lives a few short steps from our door, was gunned down at his job in the Jami'a district. Killed for living as the wrong sect in the wrong neighborhood.
This young man was my friend Zahra's brother in law. Zahra comes from a bisectarian family, with a Kurdish father and a Shiite mother. Her older sister married a Shiite, and he was killed today. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raj'ioon. To God we belong and to Him we will return.

On another note, my favorite uncle died Tuesday morning in Cairo, Egypt, of a likely heart attack. He was in his early sixties, a grandfather to two, and a father to three young men, 18-30 years. Ammu Nasr was my paternal aunt's husband, yet he treated us like his own. He opened his home and heart to me, my husband, my brothers and sister, for days and months on end. He gave us the best of his time, wealth and nature. He was charismatic, generous and kind. May God reward him for his good deeds and forgive his shortcomings. And may God give patience to my aunt and my cousins. Rahmatullahi 'alayhi.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Another Curfew... Another Inconvenience

Baghdad is mourning the anniversary of the death of a thousand Shiite pilgrims who drowned last year after a stampede occurred on the bridge they were marching on, on their way to Kadhimiya. May God have mercy on their souls.
Baghdad's Shiites are also remembering the death of Imam Musa Al Kadhim today. What bothers me about all this, is the need to shut down the capital for another couple of days, for the umpteenth time since the invasion in 2003. A car curfew has been imposed in the streets of Baghdad from Friday night through Monday morning. That means no work for most of the residents on Saturday and Sunday. That means being stuck at home, except for where you can get to on foot, for most residents. And for my cousin in law, that meant that he had to spend Friday night sleeping on the benches in Baghdad International Airport to catch his flight to Amman on Saturday. Just another inconvenience in the life of an average Baghdadi.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Family News from Baghdad: Breast Cancer, Watered Down Fuel and Army Checkpoint Troubles

My husband's grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer about a month ago and underwent a mastectomy this past Sunday in Baghdad. My husband emailed me a note about how the operation went. My grandmother in law is back home after her surgery, awaiting news on her next course of treatment. Part of the medical philosophy that is essential to good healthcare is that half of a patient's cure comes from his emotional and psychological well-being. I would say that this is mainly manifested in clean hospitals/clinics. For Baghdadis, this essential aspect of healthcare is non-existant, even for those willing to pay more for a better hospital. Read on for my husband's quick account of his past couple of days in Baghdad.

My grandma had a rough time subhanAllah. First they took her to Zuhour Hospital in Harthiyyah where the anesthesiologist (the only one available in the area) refused to give general anesthesia so they took her to Salamah Hospital in Yarmouk. She had left the house at 8 am and this was now around 12:30 pm. They actually started the operation around 1:30 pm and it lasted almost 1:30 hours. The doctor said that he removed every cancerous growth that he could find and that the biopsy would determine the next course of action, though chemotherapy might be difficult because she is old and because the drugs are not easy to come by (!!!).
Also, the hospital was miserable, it was a private hospital and supposedly one of the best, but it was filthy. One of my aunts joked that it is considered clean because you don’t see moving creatures immediately which is the case in other hospitals (My note: I've been to this hospital and its depressing at best). After she finished surgery literally the whole hospital came up into the room wishing her (good) health and of course begging for money. Anas distributed 45000 ID in baksheesh (tips). Almost 20 minutes later some lady comes bursting through the door and says “I am from the laundry... you guys gave everyone and you did not give me!"
Then two more ladies came in trying to find something to do, one of them starts playing with the curtains pretending to straighten them out and the lady opens and closes the closet door acting as if she was doing something and of course they had both come in to get money it was really sickening. The day was exceptionally hot…easily 125 degrees and the electricity was coming 1 hour and cutting off for 5-6, the airconditioners only worked on electricity and not generator so my poor sick grandma did not really sleep that night (This is where she's supposed to be recuperating!!!). Her and Aunt W spent the night sweating. The next day I went to pick her up about 11 am to take her home and then another bunch of people showed up wanting money, especially some bandage guy whom W had already given 5000.
Our way home was pretty uneventful except that the Army has setup a checkpoint right in front of Mamy’s (grandmother's) house so we have to get their permission to park (in front of the house) and let her out! They throw garbage at the door, they take bribes in the form of gasoline and diesel from drivers then force my uncle to store it for them (in grandmother's house). They knock on the door even at 11:30 at night asking for cold water and tea then they throw their trash right in front of the door.
Anyway, she seems to be feeling better and we are now waiting for the results of the biopsy.
I am still awake because we just got done fixing the generator at 1:15 am. It was not working because they had bought a barrel of diesel that was mixed with water (cheated) so we pumped out the old diesel from the generator and we pumped in the new diesel that cost us 900,000 ($600- up from $400 in early June) for 1000 liters. Now the airconditioners are working again. It is important (that we got this done) because they are not working on regular electricity with only one phase coming and it is very weak.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Toy Store Owners Killed

I just read some shocking news on the Where Date Palms Grow blog that the Jelawi Store has shut down because its three owners were killed. La hawla wa la quatta illa billah. This store is the only store I've seen in Baghdad that sells high quality baby and children products/toys and better quality houseware. I've shopped there many times for my one year old daughter; got her a set of Legos from there, some crib toys and her walker. So it was quite shocking for me to hear this news of the store that is just a few minutes drive from my house.
Apparently the three brothers who own the store were murdered, and the store closed down.
Zappy writes:
One of the Gelawi Boys was interviwed some time ago by the Baghdad Sattilite Channel he was asked why have you not shut down your shop and fled the country. He answered that where should I go? I love my country and I like to keep the smile on the Children’s faces.

Two weeks ago the three Gelawi Brothers were assassinated inside their Shop.

The Terrorist succeeded in closing the largest toy shop in Baghdad.

Another blow to life in Baghdad.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

6000 Dead in Two Months

In the past weeks, news sources have been reporting that 6,000 Iraqis have been killed in the past two months in Iraq. Six Thousand!!! That's about 100 random killings daily. That's a crazy number of innocent lives extinguished for no good reason. No regard for human life and their God-given dignity. No regard for the rules of man and even less for those of God. And all of this a result of the chaos that has engulfed Iraq in the aftermath of its 'liberation' by the US of A. All of this a result of the misplanning of one group of policy makers and the ignorance of another. All of this under the new 'security plan' that Maliki thought would save Iraq. The security plan whose most palpable effects on the regular Baghdadi are the greater number of security checkpoints (hence, traffic jams) and the curfew starting at sunset, 8:30 pm, too early for people who need to go out and do something different, despite of, or because of, the suffocating circumstances they live under. The curfew which makes life more suffocating than it already is. The curfew that was supposed to keep killers from killing and carbombers from bombing. The curfew that did nothing, but left 6000 innocents dead in a very short time period. 6000 dead, and counting. 6000 dead in Iraq, and how many more in Lebanon and Palestine?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Great Post on Situation in Lebanon

The situation in Lebanon and Gaza greatly pains everyone, but for Iraqis, it hits home in a very personal way. Read Baghdad Treasure's latest post on this.
One of our family friends in the States travelled to Lebanon this past month with her husband and four young children. She left the kids with her family and took a little side vacation to Morocco with her husband. The bombing started soon after, and now she's stuck somewhere far from her elementary school age children, regretting her little time off and scared to death over their safety.
May this craziness stop soon, and may the lives off all innocents be spared.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tragic Violence-UPDATE

There's been some crazy sectarian violence occuring in Baghdad in the past few days. The main round of violence occured in the Jihad district, where random Shiite militia-men set up checkpoints and IDed drivers and passengers passing through. Those with Sunni names were killed and thrown onto the street. Al Jazeera Channel showed Adnan al Dulaimi (of the Sunni Tawafuq political bloc) presenting pictures in a press conference held on Monday of men in Iraqi police uniform standing at the deathly checkpoints with these militia-men. They put the responsibility of the more than 50 civilian deaths (in this mostly Sunni neighborhood) on the Al Mahdi 'Army,' a militia led by Muqtada Al Sadr and its infiltrators in the Iraqi security forces. When I heard of the news from my mother in law watching al Jazeera (Monday), I searched Iraqi blogs looking for more info. I did not find anything but a quick mention here. I found more info at this article and this blog.

Now in a tragic, yet not unexpected turn of events, Sunni gunmen have started 'avenging' their dead. Tragedy has hit close to home for us. I have mentioned before my husband's uncle in law, Uncle S, whose kidnapping story is mentioned here. I also mentioned that Uncle S, a Shiite married to a Sunni, had to leave his home in the Sunni district of Amiriya because of the violence against Shiites there. Uncle S has been in hiding since the beginning of May, when a man was killed and dumped right in front of their home, and when his Shiite neighbor was killed in his store.

In a sad twist of events, it was not Uncle S who was targetted, but his brother, F. This past week, while F was working in his metal store in the Yarmouk district (also a highly Sunni neighborhood), two men drove by and shot him. Uncle S and the rest of the family are torn up over his murder. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'oon. May he rest in peace and may his murderers receive their justice soon.

Riverbend recently wrote a post about this situation and other atrocities occuring in Iraq.

Update Two: My husband was telling me that two 'kids'-about 15 years old, were the killers! Horrific! Two teenagers decide that they're mad, and decide to kill an innocent man working in the 'wrong' neighborhood. They drive by, commit their crime, and go on with life. No fear that they will be caught. No need to go underground. No need to keep their eyes open for a police investigation. And a dead man's family mourns his unexpected death.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Rising Fuel Costs

Fuel prices have risen like crazy here in the States, and likewise back in Baghdad. I remember last summer, my husband and I wanted to fuel up our rental car (in Virginia), but the nearest gas station price was $2.33 per gallon of regular gas. A couple of weeks later, the prices had risen to $3.09 per gallon, and now they're around $3.22 per gallon. Here's a little excerpt from my journal of an adventure we had back in December 2005 when fuel prices first started rising in Baghdad.
Sunday December 25, 2005
Assalamu alaykum. On Friday night, we had an interesting scare here in our neighborhood. (Hubby) and I were spreading the carpet in our extra bedroom (5 month old Suma had just gotten to sleep after a hectic day) when we heard a really loud, close explosion around 7:15ish pm. We were surprised, but went on with our work (I actually heard a closer explosion after the first one, but (hubby) didn’t; so I figured something might be up). (Hubby) decided to go upstairs (onto the roof) and see if he could see anything. He came back down and told me to get dressed quickly and to bring Sumy. I was like, “Why? She just went to sleep.” He said that the kerosene tank in the gas station (very close to our house) had exploded and there were huge flames shooting up. The whole street was leaving, out of fear that the rest of the benzene tanks would catch on fire, and possibly affect our houses. (When we left the house, I saw the huge flames burning in the not so distant horizon. It was quite scary seeing such a huge fire, so close by, but at the time, I thought that this was a natural accident, due to lack of safe conditions. I did not think that it was the work of insurgents).
We went to (hubby’s) aunt’s house (Amma Suad), (continued on February 11) and got back home after 10 pm. The fire was still raging, and stayed that way until after 1 am. But alhamdulillah, it didn’t spread.
(June 12, 2006): We later found out that some arsonist had set fire to this station and to other stations, protesting rising gas/diesel/kerosene costs.

After decades of Saddam clamping down on their right to free speech, some Iraqis have become quite expressive in their forms of protest.

Monday, July 03, 2006

What? Right to Legal Representation?

A couple of days before I travelled out of Baghdad, the third defense lawyer in Saddam's case was killed. In the US, we take it for face value that defendents have a right to legal representation, that they are innocent until proven guilty. We also take it for face value that a lawyer representing a known criminal is not himself guilty of the crimes of his defendents. The same is not true in Baghdad.

I was reading a post by Iraqi blogger, Ishtar, on the murder of Khamis Al-Ubaidi, one of Saddam's defense lawyers. His wife told her of his murder:
We were at home, Khamis was in his bed, when more than 15 armed man stormed our house at 7 am, wearing civil uniform and grabbed Khamis from his bed. I asked them who are you? They told me “we are the security of the Ministry of Interior.”
Did khamis tell you anything before he leaves?
They did not let him say a word but they turned to me and said “ We warn you and any member of his family to go to the forensic department and take his body, all of you will be killed.” All I want now is to take Khamis body and leave with my three kids.

Ishtar goes on to write:
Khamis body later on found in Sader city, tortured severely, an eye witness from the city itself said “ Khamis body was on the ground, any one passes by give it a bullet among shouts of condemnation for any person defends Saddam.”

In another article, I read, "This is the fate of those who defend Saddam Hussein," said an onlooker who was among those who had gathered at the police station where his body was brought.
Another man in the crowd said: "Let Saddam save him now if he can."

This is the same mentality that I met with when I mentioned the killing of the first Saddam lawyer to my cleaning lady back in October of 2005. Um Majid is a Shiite lady married to a Sunni, living in the predominately Shiite Sadr City. When I mentioned to her the killing of the 'poor lawyer' she surprised me with her statement that he deserved it for defending the criminal Saddam. I started explaining to her that he was innocent of Saddam's crimes, and perhaps even against Saddam's actions. But as a lawyer, he was giving this man his right to legal representation.
Um Majid went off on all the crimes that Saddam committed against her own district of Sadr City. I realized that I was at a dead end, but it took me off guard. I did not think that I would have to convince my cleaning lady of the lawyer's innocence. I did not think that others, other than his killers, thought his blood was okay to spill, just because he was defending Saddam. But apparently from these other articles, this is a predominate thought held by those personally hurt by Saddam's regime. I just hope that any other lawyers living in the 'Red Zone' do decide to move into a more secure area, for their own safety.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Leaving Baghdad

We made it safely to the States. Here is some background information on what it's like travelling out of Baghdad.

I first travelled to Baghdad back in June 2001, during Saddam's reign, when I was visiting my husband's terminally ill grandfather. Back then, we had to fly in to Amman, Jordan and then rent a car to drive into Baghdad. Baghdad International Airport was closed because of international restrictions, and so no one could fly into the country. Whoever wanted to visit their family in Baghdad made the average 12 hour drive (including tme spent at the borders) from Amman. I made this car trip about three times, once during Saddam's time, and twice after that. During that first car trip, the time at the Iraqi border (Traibil) was quite scary for me. I remember having to be careful of the books that I brought with me, of the gold I wore, of the money we had on us. I remember having to pay off one of the border guys not to give me a required ($50) AIDS test; I was too worried that their needles would give me something. I felt the terror grip that Saddam had on his countrymen most during that border search.
My next two car trips were after the fall of Baghdad. During the first one (October 2003), we drove right through, without anything but our American passport. No luggage search or body search or visa. But we faced the first signs of Iraq's chaos during that trip when our driver told us of the very real danger he faced of car jackers around the Ramadi/Falluja area. During one stretch of a one-way highway, we saw some cars that had turned around and were driving 'wrong side' as the Iraqis say. The driver saw this and told us that this was a sign of a car jacking that had happened, so the cars turned around in fear of the same fate. Our driver turned our car around, but after a while, when the danger subsided, turned back around and we continued on our way.
The second time around(December 2003)at theIraqi border, our car was given a mirror search from the outside, and my husband had to show his father's Iraqi citizenship. It was still quite easy to get into the country, but the fear of car jackers was just as real. We had to stop our car outside of the Falluja/Ramadi area because we reached it after dark. We slept in the car that night, along with a bunch of other cars stopped for the same reason. Around sunrise, we continued on our way to Baghdad.

A few months later, airport traffic was opened for limited useage, and plane tickets went for about $600/one way from Baghdad to Amman on Royal Jordanian. To put that in perspective, you pay about $200 for a roundtrip flight from Cairo to Amman, about the same distance as Baghdad to Amman. So the prices are about six times the regular fare. Today, more flights are available out of BIA, but the prices continue to be high because of security issues (cheapest fare from Baghdad to Amman is $350/one way on Iraqi Airways. RJ is still around $600/one way). Flights are not yet available to Western countries, so to fly to the US, I had to take a flight to Amman, and then pay for another flight from Amman to the US for the following day. Security-wise and comfort-wise, its much better than the car ride across the border. (Flights open now to Cairo, Dubai, Damascus, Erbil, Istanbul, Tehran. Erbil Airport has flights to London and Frankfurt.)

Driving to the airport, you pass through about 4-5 different checkpoints. The first couple of checkpoints you just show your badge/ID card. For regular cars (non-military/non-VIP), there's a long line that you have to wait in to get to the search points. One is a dog search, another a mirror search and then a body search. Outside the airport, there's another dog search of each piece of luggage before you enter, followed by another body search. The same occurs inside the airport. So, taking into account the numerous searches and long car lines, an average Iraqi has to give himself a good four hours to make it to the airport before his short flight. An additional security measure is taken by all planes flying out of and into BIA: planes must spiral up into the air, instead of ascending at an angle, to avoid RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), etc. There's another really weird measure for non-Iraqis: the exit visa. To leave the country, I have to get an exit visa, and not from the airport. I don't know if any other country has this added bureaucratic measure. But all of that is a step forward, from a country which had its major international airport shut down for the 13 years of sanctions (the airport itself is quite nice/modern from the inside).

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Patriotic Graffiti

Graffiti in Iskaan area of Baghdad

When I first saw this sign, I missed one word on it and thought it read, "From Falluja to Kufa, Leave this country" (min al falluja ilal kufa, hatha al balad '3ufa). So, I took a picture, thinking that here was a sign expressing ultimate pessimism and the great wish that many Iraqis have for leaving their country. When I uploaded the photo to my computer, I noticed the word, 'man 3ufa', ie. 'we won't leave/let go of.' So the sign actually reads, "God is Great. From Falluja to Kufa, we won't let go of this country (won't give up on this country." So its actually an expression of the patriotism and optimism of the artist.

On the subject of travel, my husband was looking at plane tickets from Baghdad International Airport to Amman about a month ago. The ticket office told him that all flights out of Baghdad, to Amman, Cairo and Damascus were booked for at least a month ahead. Iraqis are leaving their country in droves, some just for a short break from the difficult life here, and many others for good, or until the situation gets better here. People threatened by death, kidnappings, arrests, and all of the above are seeking security and a better life in other countries. May God be with them all and allow them to return to their homeland secure and happy in the near future.

On that note, I will be travelling tomorrow to spend the summer with my family in the States. I will continue posting some of my thoughts, experiences and some older journal entries of mine from before I started blogging. God willing, travelling alone with my ten month old won't get the best of me. Peace and Salaam.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Bird Flu Impact in Baghdad

Abandoned chicken coop in my grandmother in law's garden.

I was grocery shopping the other day in a new supermarket, and I saw a sign that read, "Sterilized Tray of Eggs" (tabaqit bayd mu'aqqam). It kind of amused me and reminded me of one of the many effects that the bird flu has had on Baghdad, especially since a death was blamed on it in the north of Iraq back in mid January of this year.

Some of the effects of the bird flu in Baghdad:

* Many families raised chicken in their home gardens, even in urban Baghdad. Since the scare, most people have gotten rid of these chicken, including my husband's grandparents, my cleaning lady and most importantly, our neighbors. (Their chicken (coop right behind our house) woke me up at the most random hours of the night.) :)

* Egg and chicken prices have hit the highest and lowest prices in ages. Before the bird flu scare, a tray of eggs (36 eggs) cost around 3,000 ID (1500 ID = $1 USD). During the highest point of the scare, when people stopped buying eggs, the price plummetted to 750 ID. Since then, as demand has increased and egg availability lessened, prices have slowly climbed to 4000 ID. Today, my aunt in law told me that her husband bought a tray yesterday for 5000 ID. From 3000 ID to 5000 ID in less than a year!

* The same has happened with chicken meat prices, which were relatively affordable pre-bird flu at around 1500-2000 ID per kilogram. The price plummetted during the scare to 750 ID/kg and has since reached 4000 ID per kilo of Iraqi chicken meat and 5000 ID per kilo of imported chicken meat.

* When people stopped buying eggs because of the scare, stores tried to find innovative ways to sell them. They started cleaning or 'sterilizing' (ta'qeem) the outside of the eggs. Usually, eggs here are sold very fresh, with all the marks of the chicken on them (stuck feathers, chicken poop, etc). So, generally, this is a good step. But my aunt in law was telling me a while back that one tray of eggs they bought all tasted like bleach when cooked. So some people are 'sterilizing' the eggs with bleach, but others have started using vinegar.

* I was informed today that the Iraqi government is not allowing the import of chicken or eggs anymore, likely as a preventative measure. I think that's comforting, but I don't know how many measures are being taken to ensure that poultry here are healthy and 'flu-less.'

* Hoping that the virus does not mutate and start spreading from human to human, because the Iraqi government at the current time would not be able to handle such a crisis.

Some links on the subject: here, here, here and for a good round up here.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Blossoming Fruit Trees

Pomegranate tree

Miniature pears- I'm not a big pear fan, but these were super-tasty!

Beautiful grapes- black when they're ripe.

See "Grandfather's Garden."

A little something for your enjoyment. These are pictures of beautiful fruit trees from my husband's grandparents' garden in Adhamiya.

Did you know that during the embargo years, bananas and peaches were quite rare and very expensive in Iraq? When I first moved here, I was surprised at how many Iraqis loved bananas. They would serve them in dinner parties and engagement parties, almost as a delicacy. That's because for thirteen long years, most Iraqis were forbidden this basic fruit. I've known about bananas for quite a while now, but yesterday, while enjoying a juicy peach at our aunt's house, she told me that peaches were also quite rare during those years.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Proof of Life- Part Two

The second major kidnapping in our family occured a few months ago, on February 11th, 2006. This time, cousin in law 'M' was taken. Cousin M is married to cousin 'S,' a good friend of mine and my husband's first cousin. We see them all the time when she comes to visit her mother (my neighbor and our closest aunt). On Friday, February 10th, we visited S to congratulate her on the birth of her one week old baby boy. On February 11th, her husband was kidnapped. We were shocked.

M's kidnapping was a bit different than Uncle S's. Whereas Uncle S was kidnapped from the street by an organized criminal gang (possibly old Baathists), M and another store employee were 'arrested' from the store he manages by men in Iraqi police uniform.
M's store is owned by his well-to-do cousins, one of whom was kidnapped from the same location almost exactly a year earlier (though not by 'police'). In fact, M was with them at the time of this earlier kidnapping, and guns were pointed to his head, but he was let go when they found out that he was not an owner (ie. not rich). It came as a surprise when the store was targetted again, and that this time, M, the manager, was taken. I remember thinking that the store owners should have learned a lesson and kept their employees armed, but in reality, what are you supposed to do when a policeman arrests you or takes you in for 'questioning'? How do you know the real from the fake, the corrupt from the upright?

Cousin 'A,' M's brother in law did most of the negotiations with these kidnappers as he had with Uncle S. I remember seeing the great stress A was under, telling the kidnappers that there was no way possible for his family to pay $200,000 to ransom M. He got to speak with M a couple of times, as a proof of life, but he didn't tell his sister, S, that her strong, believing husband was crying each time, begging them to come up with the money in any way possible.

I remember seeing S, who had just given birth to her fourth child, who was going through her hormonal ups and downs, and postpartum blues, cry her heart out for the four days her husband was gone; four days in which she did not know if she would ever see him again. I watched her looking at her newborn son, wondering if he would grow up an orphan, if he would only know his father through the stories of others. I remember seeing her completely lose it on the third day, when she walked in on her brother talking to the kidnappers. They had given him M to speak to, and A was telling him, "Stay patient, Abu ___, you are a believer." S came back to the living room where we were sitting and crumpled to the floor. "I know they're beating him," she wailed. Her mom, forced to be the strong one for her daughter and grandchildren said, "Let them beat him, as long as he comes back to you alive and in one piece."

I remember seeing his two young daughters, ages 5 and 7, playing innocently with their 9 year old uncle, as if they trusted that their father would eventually come home. It was only in the dark of night, or when it fully dawned on them, that they would shed their tears. I remember seeing the nine year old uncle coming out of his room, rubbing his averted eyes. "He's really upset about M," his mother told me.

And I remember the happiness we all felt when news of M's release came out. The kidnappers had finally agreed to a ransom of $30,000. Thankfully for M, the store owners would pay this ransom; "anything under $50,000" they had told 'A', doing the negotiations.

I remember watching M walk through the door of his mother in law's house, soon after he was released. He was bruised, scratched, and dirty; his usually bright smile which he shared all the time had become timid, embarrassed. After four days of heart-wrenching, living on the edge of your seat negotiations, not knowing if your insistance on lowering the ransom would be the killer of your loved one, he was finally released. M came home safely, thank God, but in great pain afer having been tightly blindfolded the entire time, with his hands tied behind his back. Just imagine trying to sleep, eat, drink, sit, use the bathroom like that, for four long days and nights. But he did come home in one piece, and that is the most important thing.

Nineteen days later, his friend who had been kidnapped at the same time was found in the city morgue. His family had never even had the chance to dream of paying a ransom for him. He left behind three young children and a young wife who had no family to go back to. And he left behind a shocked friend who imagined what it would have been like had the outcomes been switched.

NOTE: There's a good article in the NYT, published on May 10th, 2006 that discusses part of this new kidnapping style amongst other things ("Alarmed by Raids, Neighbors Stand Guard in Iraq"). NYT has it in paid archives now, so I had to link with another page.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Disappearing Act

The satellite channel Baghdad, IIP's TV channel is reporting that one of its own has disappeared inside of the Ministry of Health.
The Director General of the Diyala Health Directorate, a member of the Sunni Tawafuq bloc, was invited for an interview with the Minister of Health, as a possible Deputy Minister candidate. En route, before he reached the Minister, Dr. Ali al Mahdawi disappeared along with his Chief of Staff. Inside the Ministry. They have been missing for two days now.
The Ministry of Health is known as a 'Sadrist' ministry, with the minister and many of the employees followers of Muqtada al Sadr.

Only in Iraq.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Proof of Life- Part One

I watched the movie, Proof of Life (Meg Ryan, Russel Crowe), the other night for the second time. I remember the first time I saw it was right after the kidnapping of my uncle in law back in March 2005, and it really hit home. It goes into the rebel kidnapping of an American in a South American country, and the subsequent negotiations for his life and release. It embodied alot of the emotions that we had just felt and many of the incidents we had just lived through. The fear that the family left behind lives, the not knowing if your loved one will live or die, the 24 hour a day wait for the phone to ring, the huge ransom that you have to find a way of coming up with, the humbling of oneself to ask for a loan to pay off the ransom, and the inability to report the crime to authorities for fear that they are mixed up in it. The movie shows all of those feelings that many Iraqi families live through daily. In my husband's immediate extended family, we've had two such kidnappings this past year.

The first kidnapping occured back in March 2005, when my husband's uncle in law went missing on his and his wife's way back from their medical clinic. He left Aunt H halfway home and contined walking to a nearby butcher shop. When he didn't make it home a few hours later, Aunt H knew something was seriously wrong. She had neighbors ask around, and heard that a man had been seized near their neighborhood stores. His glasses had fallen to the ground, and were brought to her.
Two long days later, she received her first phone call from the kidnappers. And twelve days later, Uncle S was finally released for $50,000 USD.

That's the short version of it. The long version includes the great turmoil and suffering that the family went through, on a minute by minute basis, for 12 long days, waiting for news from the kidnappers; delicate, nerve-wracking negotiations that my husband, his cousin and aunt carried out with the hardened criminals, and short-term and long-term physical/emotional effects suffered by our uncle in law after his release.
Just as the movie portrays, we lived and we watched Uncle S's four daugthers (ages 10-24 years) and wife live on the edge of their seats for two weeks. We watched his daughters and adult brothers lose their cool and demand that Cousin A (doing most of the negotiations) agree to the high ransom costs or 'their brother's blood would be on her (his wife's) hands.' We watched strong, patient Aunt H break down and lose it. We watched her finally agreeing to a ransom price way above her head, $50,000 USD, while she makes less than $400 monthly.
We watched the celebrations when Uncle S finally made it home safely, and we watched him slump into post-traumatic stress for a while after his ordeal. But he made it home alive and in one piece, Alhamdlulillah (Praise be to God).

Here's an excerpt from my journal written back on March 25, 2005 before I started to blog:
A took the phone and spoke with the man, insisting that they couldn’t go above twenty thousand, but that he had just gotten $1300 from his aunt in Mosul and would raise another $1000. He told the guy, “After all that you have put us through, do you also want me to go out onto the streets and beg for money?” He’s really a good speaker/negotiator. Anyway, apparently the man told him that he had other ways of pressuring them and shut the phone in his face.
The whole time I was sitting there listening to the conversation, I felt just a sliver of what Khala (Aunt) H and her family are going through every day. It was so nerve-wracking just sitting there. I felt the huge risk that they are taking, will these kidnappers accept the negotiations, or will they hurt Ammu S? If its this scary for me, how must Auntie and her daughters be feeling??? Allah Kareem, wa Huwa fawq kull ‘ibadih.
I had a long talk with E, Khala H's oldest daughter. She was telling me how she can’t do anything, she can’t study for her USMLE’s, can’t go to work, can’t sleep, can’t concentrate on anything. Everyday, morning to night, they wait for these phone calls, and race to the phone every time the phone rings. SubhanaAllah. I can just imagine.