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.