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.