Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sunni, Shia, & Kurds

In one of the comments that were left on a prior post it is mentioned that the technocrats are mainly Sunni because Saddam's regime favored them over the others. I want to mention a few historical facts to try and shed light on a common belief that I believe needs to be fixed. Let me start by saying that Saddam Husain is a tyrannical dictator that would not think twice to kill anyone that crossed him or challenged him or posed any risk to his power. He harmed the Iraqi people, Kurd, Shia and Sunni alike and was ruthless in doing so. Saddam was just in one thing and that was distributing his wrath.

To say that his regime was a Sunni regime however is not entirely true. Of the 55 deck of cards that US forces distributed of the senior Iraqi leadership 35 or 36 were Shia. The majority of the Baath Party members were Shia, one of the largest branches of which used to be named Al-Thawra and which many of you now know as Sadr City. What was overturned in 2003 was not a Sunni regime but a tribal or clan based kleptocracy and what truly changed is the Ottoman system that the original Iraqi State was built upon (the remnants of the Ottoman Empire). This system included the officer corps as well as the bourgeoisie and other classes.

In reality, the reason that many of Iraq's middle class was Sunni is a demographic and historic issue more than a political one. The Sunni composed the majority of urban residents in the center and north who were merchants, officers, politicians, etc. whereas the population in the south have historically been rural farmers and marsh dwellers. This is one of the primary reasons that there are specific classes of people. It is also of note that the secular Shia are the ones that lived in places like Kadhmiyyah who were the well off urban class. I am mentioning this to undermine the somewhat simplistic posture of a Saddam's government was a Sunni one. This is not to say that he did not begin a purge of Shia professionals post 1991 after the Intifadha uprising, which he did sometimes with impunity but simultaneously one of the major problems in the Sunni street is its disarray and that is because Saddam killed off all of its effective leadership and did not allow parties to form or other civil society groups, specifically I recall an incident when he gathered some of the prime sheikhs of Anbar and killed them off because they were perceived to be against him.

In the end, these artificial divisions in the Iraqi population have been entrenched to the degree that instead of looking at professional Iraqis as Iraqis we have to refer to them as Sunni, Shia or Kurd, and so long as we do so we will not realize the dream of an advanced Iraq where all can compete fairly based on their ability and not their sectarian or ethnic identity.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


It is uncanny! The night I wrote about Baghdad being too quiet I was awakened by the sound of an explosion. That day I was thinking that I knew something was wrong and today again the sound of another explosion rocking western Baghdad. What is sad is not that not only do these explosions continue, but that the people pay the price for the politicians' recalcitrance. It is also interesting that the press today is reporting that the embassy is trying to understand this lull and the Iranian role, while it should be crystal clear, they figure the bombing campaign did not work through the summer to get troops out, the best way to do it now is to make people feel that they have won by calming the situation so that people will call for the troops to leave. It seems to me that this should be realpolitik 101. It will also be interesting to see how the different political groups will react when the longer term security agreement needs to be signed between the US and Iraq. I believe it will be then that US diplomats will see where political loyalties really stand.

The government continues to show its sectarian nature and yet it seems as people turn a blind eye to it. The question is can the present political class navigate Iraq out of its present rough political waters? The answer is clearly no...I believe it will take a new generation of people who can get past their sectarian differences and look for the good of the country. The reality is now all are vying to shape the new Iraq and unless something dramatically changes this will continue for the next 5-7 years until the new political order and system in Iraq is set. Sunnis feel they can reverse some of the damage that the Shia Ideologues have done and Shia want to cement the system where they rule as religious ideologues and not as platform politicians and the Kurds are content to see the instability continue so that they can continue to build Kurdistan at the expense of the rest of Iraq. The United States probably wants political disarray so that it can gain the best arrangement for long term agreements in Iraq and Iran continues to play the political groups against one another in a grotesque divide and conquer strategy. All of this is happening at the back door to the Gulf countries who seem completely oblivious to what a Shia religious state in Iraq would mean to their security.

Sorry for the incongruence of thoughts, these were a few thoughts that came to mind as I was reading through some government paperwork...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

It is too quiet!!!

Everyone inside and outside Iraq is talking about the renewed security in Baghdad and the significant drop in violence. People attribute it to the surge that has taken its course and increased the presence of forces on the streets of Baghdad and other places, while others also cite the better training of the Iraqi security forces and the Baghdad security plan. I think it is a combination of many factors but one issue continues to bother me at the back of my mind. The security plan started in February and the surge started in May/June (the real surge when troops had actually arrived), violence levels spiked in May, June, July, August, and September and then very suddenly as if a light switch had been turned off, subsided! This was coupled with a sudden absence of mortar and rocket fire on the Green Zone. I can't help to think this is someone playing with Iraq's destiny. Someone figured upping the violence during the months before the Crocker/Petraeus report would hurt the Americans politically and now they may have figured calming the situation is the best way to get them to leave. Calls have already started for US troops to withdraw and the media is reporting that the PM is considering lifting the nightly ban on vehicles. It does not make sense...please don't misunderstand, I as well as many Iraqis are happy to see Iraq return to normal and for US troops to return safely to their families but this just doesn't feel right and I hope that it is not another twist in the unending saga of the ebb and flow of violence and politics in Iraq.
I think people should take a more sober look at the situation and not be overly optimistic because the fundamental issues that stoke the violence have yet to be resolved. The violence was a manifestation of the political power contest for the right to lay the foundations of the "New Iraq" it happened in a zero-sum political environment where instead of working together to forge a new vision for the country, groups would think that if a political opponent gained it automatically meant their loss. This situation has not yet entirely changed among the present political class in Iraq. Granted there may be a sense of exhaustion by many but I don't believe the underlying problems that helped fuel the violence in Iraq have been resolved and therefore a greedy neighbor or other power wishing to capitalize can easily play one group against the other and reignite the violence. The real resolution to this problem can only come in the form of a political resolution akin to India's framing of a several hundred page constitution where all had a say; a system where all felt enfranchised and felt that at least they had equal opportunity because of their citizenship and not their sub ethno-sectarian identities. I may be thinking idealistically, but realistically if Iraqis can come together and realize a common vision and start talking economic, social, and health policy we will take a step towards building a functional state and truly eliminating the need for political, ethnic, or sectarian violence by eliminating its source.

The Technocrats...

Sitting in a meeting today I was discussing with a friend the need to find Iraq's non-sectarian technocrats and make sure they are nominated as Iraq's ministers in the impending cabinet shift. Then the question came, where are they? They are in Amman, Syria, and other countries because of decisions taken after 2003 that disenfranchised many of them or they left because of a seemingly organized campaign to empty Iraq of its secular professional civil service and middle class elite exchanging them with uneducated religious zealots who always seem to have a chip on their shoulder.
Regardless, what must happen in order for Iraq to be fixed is for an organized campaign to return the doctors, educators, scientists, etc. It is only with a true reversal of the aforementioned brain drain can we begin to patch Iraq together. Absent that we will continue to have a government both on a local and national level filled with incompetent ideologues who attain their positions not because of skill but patronage and therefore corruption will continue because they are beholden to whoever put them in that position.
Iraq is salvageable if we can get these people back into Iraq and working past narrow sectarian interests for the good of the country. Parties must understand that running an opposition movement from the outside is a completely different ball game than running a country! The PM is a representative of all Iraqis and not his narrow ideological base, this must be a cornerstone policy in the upcoming cabinet re-shuffling.
QUALIFIED IRAQIS COME HOME! If you feel you are one of them please e-mail and I would be happy to forward your information on to friends in high places....

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Lonely Night

I'm a sad woman tonight. Just took the hubby to the airport. He's heading back to Baghdad. Have to keep up a cheery air for the girls. Love you hubby and miss you much.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Eid Days

I've been really busy these last few weeks. Too busy to even care to check my facebook, my email, my blog. But I've settled a bit yesterday and today and am typing away.
My husband is here on vacation from Baghdad. We were talking of having me and the girls go to Jordan to try living there, so we'd be closer to him. But plans have changed, and I've finally gotten my own place here. It's nice with the hubby here, but I'm already depressed thinking of him leaving and leaving me alone in this apartment.
This last couple of weeks has been a whirlwind.... Eid, brother here on vacation, sister in law engaged (congrats, sis!), hubby here (!yay!), finding an apt, furnishing the apt, looking for things on craigslist, waiting for replies from craigslist, shopping at ikea, putting together furniture bought from ikea, deciding never to do ikea again :).... . Now I have my one comfy black couch, and black/white printed Poang! chair. And here I am sitting on it, typing away.
I don't feel settled yet, even with my new apartment, my new furniture, my new-used Volvo station wagon, and my new utensils. As long as my husband isn't with me, I can't be settled. Let's hope things in Baghdad get better soon so that I can be with him, or get really bad, so that he can leave (just half-kidding. I'd never hope evil for mankind so that I'd be more comfortable.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday, September 30, 2007

U.S. Senate Voting On Partitioning Iraq

According to this article, the U.S. Senate was to vote on a 'nonbinding Senate resolution ... (calling) for Iraq to be divided into federal regions under control of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis in a power-sharing agreement similar to the one that ended the 1990s war in Bosnia. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., was a prime sponsor of the measure.'

WTH? Who gave them that right? As my sister in law said, 'didn't know that the U.S. had added a 51st state.'

You Go, Mugabe!

I heard part of Mugabe's speech to the UN General Assembly yesterday on NPR news, and all I could think was, "You go, Mugabe!"
After Bush attacked Zimbabwe's government for being tyrannical, its president stood up in front of the UN General Assembly and attacked Bush for his 'rank hypocrisy.' He said, "His hands drip with innocent blood of many nationalities ... He kills in Iraq. He kills in Afghanistan. And this is supposed to be our master on human rights?" And he said, "Almighty Bush is now coming back to the UN for a rescue package because his nose is bloodied. Yet he dares to lecture us on tyranny." He also said, "Mr. Bush thinks he stands above all structures of governance, whether national or international. At home, he does not need the Congress. Abroad, he does not need the UN, international law and opinion."
And Mugabe, you are right, and thank you for stating this in front of the world body. Bush, you cannot continue to take the high ground on the world stage for spreading democracy and freedom, for being the president of the land of the free and the brave. After your Patriot Act, after your Guantanamo, after your Abu Ghraib, after your war on terror, after your war in Iraq and Afghanistan, you can not honestly stand in front of the world and attack human rights aggressions. Sadly. So Sadly. We need a world leader who is innocent of these crimes against humanity, at home and abroad. May aggression everywhere, in America and outside of America be erased forever.

Added:Link to Mugabe's full speech.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Land of a 'Thousand' Palm Trees

Euphrates River, Najaf, Iraq.

Palm trees and more palm trees, Najaf, Iraq. I love palm trees, but this looks like an overgrowth of fungus. :)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Views Above and Around Baghdad

A friend sent me these pictures taken from above of Baghdad and Ramadi. I'm always surprised by how organized the streets of Baghdad look from above, especially when I compare it to other Arab countries from above (one in particular, but won't mention it so that my sisters don't pounce on me. :) I think alot of people forget that during the '80's, Iraq was on its track to becoming one of the most industrialized countries in the Arab world, until stupidity struck its ruler. But the infrastructure still attests to the good that this country has seen.
Mosque in front left corner formerly known as Um Al Tubool, now known as Ibn Taymiyyah.

Baghdad from above. In the distance, you see Baghdad Tower (Burj Baghdad), formerly known as Saddam's Tower. Close to my house in Baghdad.

Habbaniya Lake, Ramadi.

Habbaniya Lake, Ramadi.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Another Family Story: Car Bombs and Hospital Issues

My husband's youngest aunt, who lives in Mosul, had a close call with reality last weekend. Her husband, S, came home from his shop all bloodied and injured. A car bomb had exploded near his little store and a piece of shrapnel had entered his chest, and another his leg. His relatives drove him to the nearest hospital, but for whatever reason, the hospital refused to admit him.
He went home to his wife and daughters in his bloody clothes, and continued bleeding till the following morning.
The next day, a relative drove him to a doctor friend, who was able to locate and extricate the shrapnel in his chest. He was unable to take out the metal in his leg. All of this was done without anasthesia.
And so, the struggle of my Iraqi family continues.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sultan Hashim's Execution and Instability in Iraq

It is interesting that whenever there seems to be a relative lull in the sectarian violence and the political situation begins to head in the right direction there always seems to be a crisis that erupts that keeps Iraq ’s politicians divided. It is uncanny!

During the constitution when people were talking and trying to reach compromises a certain politician announced that he wanted to create a Shia super-region south of Baghdad, inflaming Sunni anger and causing tension.

When the elections occurred and people were looking forward to selecting a new prime minister and negotiations on the government were underway, Samarra happened and the unraveling of Baghdad occurred. More recent events are when the politicians are hard at work to finish important legislation and things seemed to have been calming, the government announced the arrest warrant for one of the Sunni ministers. And most recently when all was quiet on the political landscape with people waiting for the reports of Crocker and Petraeus, the government decides it wants to execute one of Iraq’s most decorated and professional military officers Sultan Hashim, regardless of the constitutional and legal issues barring the execution without a Presidential Decree. It works like clockwork in Baghdad , but I don’t think it is Baghdad’s clock or Washington’s clock which is important in Iraq anymore, it is the clock of certain neighboring countries which actively work to keep Iraq in a state of instability. There were clear constitutional and legal problems with the carrying out of the executions and even more fundamentally there were problems with the verdicts issued especially because some of those sentenced to death were simply officers carrying out orders and their only recourse was resignation, which Saddam would submit once they were six feet under.

Shia and Sunni alike have questioned the verdict meted out to Mr. Hashim, even President Talabani called for amnesty for him. I don’t think anyone wants to protect criminals like Chemical Ali, but the rule of law is the rule of law and either Iraqis respect the constitution they voted on or they completely ignore it, simply returning us to the days of autocratic regimes selectively applying law as it sees fit.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Granted Political Asylum in US!

It's a bittersweet situation for Cousin A, but he was recommended for political asylum here in the States after leaving Iraq more than two months ago. 'A' is Bilal's brother, forced out of Baghdad after his brother's murder and after the situation has become unbearable and unliveable for him.
Alhamdulillah. He can now start rebuilding his life here in the States.

It's really an interesting situation. The US has granted less than 800 Iraqi refugees political asylum since the invasion, while Sweden has granted 18,000 and Australia 6,000 (according to Refugees Int'l). So, hopefully, this is a move in the right direction. Congrats, A!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Bush's Visit to Anbar

President Bush made a surprise visit to Anbar on Monday and brought along his National Security Cabinet. What was interesting was that all of Iraq ’s leadership was flown out to meet him in Anbar. Note that Iraq’s PM has been saying that we are working with the recruits in Anbar to build a local security force (even though realistically he has put any and all obstacles to that process).
So the President along with the PM and other Iraqi leaders meet with the tribal leaders of Anbar and one of the first things they complain about is that the Police are not receiving salaries nor equipment as the PM had promised and stated that he had given. The PM stayed completely quiet and did not answer or object to any of the comments.
The symbolism in the Anbar trip was important…First of all the President of the United States visited a sovereign country yet did not go to its capital indicating that what is happening in Anbar right now is more important than what is happening in Baghdad. Secondly, the President got a reality check as to what the government was really doing to support people who have asked for help against extremism (almost nothing).
More to follow…

Monday, September 03, 2007

Fixing Iraq's Problem

I recruited a new member to my blog, one who will bring a more political perspective to this blog, politics being his forte. Here are some thoughts that occurred to him recently...
Many have complained of the lack of progress in Baghdad and state that Iraq’s politicians are not willing to compromise in order to reach political agreement. People claim that Iraq’s communities cannot live together and should therefore be softly partitioned and that Iraq cannot be resolved militarily so people should give up on Iraq.
It is true there is not a wholly military solution to Iraq’s crisis, nor can reconciliation be reached between Iraq’s disparate communities until a major obstacle has been overcome, lack of trust. The sad fact is there is no trust between Iraq ’s politicians which is translating into politically and ethnically motivated violence on the streets of Baghdad . I think it is high time that Iraqis forget about the past both distant and recent, forget about their identities and ask themselves a simple question, do they continue to want to live in an Iraq for all Iraqis?
The most dangerous thing is for communities to start comparing suffering, especially if one community tries to have a trademark on suffering and continue to feel oppressed today. Injustice only begets further injustice, oppression only fosters underground revolutions, and suffering ingrains hatred. In order for Iraq to move forward we must overcome these issues as Iraqis, even if our politicians fail to do so, and say in a loud voice that we forgive one another and wish to live peaceably together. Then and only then, can we overcome the obstacles standing in the way of true reconciliation. Dwelling on the past only hinders one's ability to create a vision for the future.
These are a few thoughts I had while sitting in on some meetings attended by all of Iraq’s major players, realizing that beneath the niceties there lies a true lack of trust embodied by the security presence of each and every member present.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Katrina Revisited

I published this post last year, on Katrina's anniversary. I think alot of the problems from last year and the year before remain as they are, unfixed. Check out the discussions from last year's post.
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.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Away from Blogging

A few things are keeping me away from blogging. 1. Living away from Baghdad (Thoughts from Baghdad is my title! :) ), and 2. my new Facebook account. Seems to be filling up my blogging time and needs.
Sorry about the few and scattered posts, but I have an important post coming up, inshaAllah, a story of my street in Baghdad.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Group Effort to Clear Highway

I was driving home from an eye doctor's appointment in DC a couple of hours ago, on 66 West, when the car in front of me suddenly stopped. It took me a couple of minutes to fully register what had happened in front of me.
A huge tree had fallen and completely blocked the highway in front of me. All the cars around me came to a full stop and people started running out of their cars to see what had happened. A woman had climbed out of her car, which was stopped right at the tree. She was looking ahead of the pile of branches and screaming. I realized that the tree had just fallen, and a car was stuck under the mass of branches, and I feared someone was hurt.
After a few minutes it became clear that everyone was ok, just really shaken up, and one car was seriously wrecked.
I climbed out of my car, opened the back seat door and took my two year old out of her car seat. I explained to her what had just happened. And then I started worrying about my five month old at home with my sisters, she'd be waking up soon, and ready for her feeding. Man, if i had only been a few minutes earlier. But in reality, if I had been just a minute earlier, I may have been that car stuck under the tree, wrecked. So, alhamdulillah.
Within minutes, I saw a line of men walking up from behind me. They went up to the fallen branches and started moving them. Man after man came up, till there were at least twenty men picking up the fallen debris. I was impressed by this feeling of civil responsibility and communal work. People could have just sat in their cars and waited for the firemen and police who drove up soon after to pick up the debris. But they realized that we would all get moving that much quicker if everyone pitched in and picked up a little. A car and a motorcycle even stopped on the other side of the highway (which was moving really slowly because of the rubbernecking and a bunch of leaves on the road), and two men got out to help. They could have driven on, but they were there to help their neighbors. I wish I had a camera to take a picture of the men standing in line, picking up a heavy branch, led by sixtyish year old looking man. ...
I was thinking of what the response would have been like had I been in Iraq... People would have started backing up on the highway, driving 'wrong-side' as they call it, to get on their way home, or wherever they were heading. That was my first reaction, was there anyway I could back up to the exit I just passed...
It took about thirty minutes for the firemen, police and the random passersby to clean up most of the fallen tree. Within minutes, a policeman started waving the first cars through the one open lane, and I was safely on my way home.

For some pics, check out this link.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bittersweet Victory

I was flipping from one webpage to another, reading different bloggers' reactions to the Asia Cup victory by the Iraqi team. And then I got to BT's page, and it just resonated within me, because I was thinking of someone else, someone who would have celebrated this victory with such gusto, had he been with us today. I was thinking of Cousin A, who watched the Asia Cup final in his aunt's house in the US, by himself, thousands of miles from his family. I'm sure he thought of how much funner it would have been had he been sitting in the middle of his father, cousins, brothers, watching the game, like he had watched hundreds of other games. I'm sure he wished he could have joined in his people's street celebrations. I'm sure he thought of his brother Bilal, and how he would have enjoyed this so much. All I could think about was how a few short months ago, after the elections in January, Bilal was joining in his political party's street celebrations. driving around with his friends, beeping their car horns, flying their flags. How he would have done the same today with Iraq's win in the Asia cup, beeping his car horns, flying his flag, popping his fire crackers... . Allah yirhamuh and all of Baghdad's martyrs. Bittersweet victory...

Monday, July 16, 2007

Days Gone By

Bilal and my oldest the night before we left Baghdad. December 2006.

My husband is here from Baghdad for a short visit. We spend a lot of time at his parents' house, with his cousin 'A', here from Baghdad, attempting to move on with his life. 'A' is mashaAllah, in good spirits, not only laughing, but most importantly, making all of us around him laugh. He's brought a beautiful touch of Baghdad back here with him.
We sit with him and listen to his stories of Baghdad, and reminisce with him. He mentions his brother, Bilal, Allah yirhamuh, often. When we're eating, taking pictures, playing. He shows us old videos and photos. I realize how everything reminds him of his brother, and of home. But I'm impressed by his ability to stay strong and cheerful and to make everyone around him smile and laugh. I see him when he has his dark moments, but he manages to move on. May Allah keep him strong and cheerful always.
The other day we were sitting and he was going through his wedding pictures. A day of celebration and smiles and happiness. Flipping through those pictures was like looking at a summary of Baghdad today. 'A' pointed at the people in his picture, 'This one was killed, this one left the country, and this one, May God grant him freedom, was taken.' Three fourths of the people in his photos had left Baghdad, or been killed, or were kidnapped by one force or another. And these pictures were from less than three years ago. In such a short period of time, life has changed so much for these people. SubhanaAllah, if I knew the future, I would do so much good.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Iraqi Refugees

It's not easy to just up and leave your home, family and country. Even though life in Baghdad is horrific at best these days, leaving it isn't that easy.
My husband's cousin and best friend, 'A', 26, left Baghdad earlier this week, and arrived here in the States yesterday. 'A' is Bilal's older brother. After his brother's kidnapping and murder, and after being threatened with his own life, he had to leave his country, separate from his family and attempt to start a new life.
He's here now, and people would say he is lucky. But he doesn't think so. He misses his family too much. His mother, father, siblings, wife of three years and his two little babies, the youngest all of one month old.
My heart goes out so deeply for 'A.' I think of myself living away from my husband, and thinking of him all the time, missing him in every step and being. And this is while I am surrounded by my family, my friends and my beautiful children. 'A''s life has been turned upside down. He's in a completely new country. He doesn't speak the language so fluently. He's away from his beloved, from his children, from his friends, from everyone he grew up with and lived with. He was a dentist in Baghdad, an educated, well placed man. Now, he has to start all over. He has to start from the zero, learning the language, making new friends, taking on any job that will accept him for now.
I hope that in a year he'll have set the foundation for a good life for him and his children. For now, my heart goes out to him and to all of Iraq's displaced people.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Five Thinking Blogs For Your Pleasure

My thanks goes out to the Make It Stop! Make It Stop! bloggers for awarding this blog one of their five Thinking Blogger Awards. In turn, I get to name five of my favorite thinking blogs. . .
  1. Konfused Kollege Kid: An Iraqi blog, from a young man who recently left Baghdad for Amman. Outrageous, insightful and funny are some words that describe this blog. He writes crazy things, but usually concludes with very interesting views.
  2. My Occupied Territory: A young 22 year old Muslim Arab American's views on the world around her. Proactive within herself and energizing those around her.
  3. Dusty Sunrays: Thinking blogs are not only written blogs. Photographs and in turn photoblogs show alot of the character of their owners, and give us a glimpse into their personal worlds and what they are thinking of. This is one of my favorite (and only:)) photoblog daily visits.
  4. A Mother From Gaza: One of the first blogs I was hooked onto. The diary of a young mother living between Occupied Gaza and the United States. Delves into different aspects of mothering and living under occupation. A definite must-read on life in the Occupied Territories.
  5. Mommy and Youth Worker: A friend and relative's excellent blog, to be left unnamed at her request. Discusses issues of parenting, youth working, spirituality and more. I immensely enjoy it, learn from it and am inspired by it, and can't wait till you come back to blogging, sister.
Of course there are a few more blogs which I love to read and am challenged and inspired by. Within this year I have become 'addicted' to blogging, as my little sister accuses me of whenever I accuse her of being addicted to Facebook. :) I think blogging has helped me stay in touch with the world in different ways, has helped me read the news in interesting ways, and has helped me give the world a tiny look at what is happening in the world around me. Once again, my thanks to the Make It Stop! bloggers.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Cup of Tea

When I started this blog more than a year ago, it was meant to help me deal with living in Baghdad. I wanted to make a point of recording the 'good, the bad and the ugly' and not just the 'bad and the ugly' because I generally like to see the good things in life, to view the cup as half full and not half empty. But out of my 101 posts, I can honestly say that the 'good' stories number a sad handful.
Anyways, I have a 'good' story to mention about life in Iraq today! Not a story really, but just something that I miss about life there (wow, never thought I'd miss anything from there, other than family and friends). Ever since I've come here to the States, after living in Baghdad for three years, I can't make the perfect cup of tea, nor the perfect egg! And after trying to make that perfect cup of tea after cup of tea, and after a few attempts at making a yummy dish of eggs, I have finally come to the conclusion that it just tastes better over there! No cup of tea tastes as good as that heavy, super sweet small istikana of chai, and no eggs will ever taste as good sunny side up.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Last of the Honeysuckles

One of my favorite signs of spring; something I've missed for the last four years. Walking outside on a beautiful spring day, looking at the majestly green trees bordering against the blue, blue sky and getting a whiff of those beautiful smelling honeysuckles.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

From Birth to Death

When I come to type down the news coming from Baghdad, I feel like I'm making up a real bad horror story. But unfortunately, this is the life of a small family in Baghdad.
Three days ago, my husband sent me a message. He wrote, "Sorry, I have more bad news." My heart immediately sunk. I went on to read, "Amma R's husband died today." I continued to read, "He was really sick and his heart gave out." Ironically, I sighed a sigh of relief. Alhamdulillah, it was a natural death. But even then, the situation in Iraq didn't help this middle aged man's health. He went to the hospital the night before his death, but there were no real doctors on call, no one could treat him for a simple ailment. He died the next morning. Allah yirhamuh.

My husband went the next day to pay his condolences to his cousin's uncle (Bilal's uncle). On the way there, he got in a small car accident. The guy in the other car came out at him with a gun in his hand. My husband and 'A' decided to keep their guns in the car, to avert any escalations in emotion. Thankfully, the man waved them off. When I heard this story, I freaked out. How easy it is for someone to take the law into his own hands in lawless Baghdad! Just whip out your gun and scare anyone who you decide is a threat to you.

Last night (Baghdad time), Baby Bilal was born at 9:30 pm at home. Going to a hospital at night is difficult and risky because of the curfew. Besides, not too many people find Baghdad's hospitals attractive and pleasant. Giving birth at home might quickly become the norm in Baghdad these days. The midwife had to spend the night.

Next morning, A's family found out that his second aunt's husband had died in a matter of days from the first one. This one had been gunned down in front of his clinic in Mosul. His aunt, who had just returned to Mosul from Baghdad where she had visited her older sister and condoled her for her husband's death, is now receiving condolences for her own husband's tragic murder.
In less than a month, this family has gone through a young man's kidnapping and murder, an uncle's death, a grandson being born, and another uncle's murder. S was telling me how then can't comprehend what's happening. It's just coming from left and right. But with all that, she doesn't complain. May God give them patience and strength in these horrible times.

Friday, May 11, 2007

God Works in Wonderful Ways

Nine months ago, A's wife, B, became pregnant with their second child. 'A' is Bilal's brother.
Today, B gave birth to a healthy baby boy. They named him Bilal.
I remember listening to my sister in law chat with 'A' online a few weeks before Bilal's passing. We were asking him what names they had planned. At that time, we threw out a bunch of names, but they hadn't yet settled on one. After Bilal, it became almost a given that they would name their unborn son with his uncle's name.
May he grow up to follow in his uncle's footsteps, and may he live a long, healthy, fruitful life. May he put some peace into his father and grandmother's torn hearts, and may he be a kurrat 3ayn for all of us.

Added: I forgot to mention that Bilal Sr. was the only one of his siblings born at home. The midwife who gave birth to him is the same one who gave birth to Bilal Jr.

Baby Girl #3 Born

I wrote about my neighbors who were kidnapped more than seven months ago at this link. Two sons and a son in law were taken from their computer store, and until this day, go missing. The family lives in anguish about their fate every day, hearing rumors here and there that their sons are being held by the government. They are hoping that is the case, and not that their sons were murdered those many months ago. Of course we all hope that we can one day celebrate with them their sons' return.
Anyway, I also blogged a while ago about both daughters in law giving birth to their first children, who have yet to meet their fathers.
And now, the daughter of the family, Alyaa, whose husband was kidnapped at the same time as her brothers, has given birth to her second child, a girl; another child born not knowing her father. InshaAllah that is not the case for long. I wonder if the baby's father even knew that he was expecting another child.
I hope your daughter fills a void for you Alyaa, left by the disappearance of your two brothers and your husband. I know your heart is broken, and that everyday looking at your 21 month old son and your newborn daughter reminds you over and over again of your love, but I hope and pray that one day soon that void will be filled and your broken heart will be mended.

Monday, May 07, 2007

I Don't Know What To Call Baghdad Anymore...

Everyday I talk to my husband on the phone or online, and everyday I shut the phone saddened and disgusted by the news I hear coming out of Baghdad. Last week my husband told me about a friend of his who was going through the ordeal of finding his two kidnapped brothers. Hubby told him to prepare for the worse. I used to tell my husband not to be so pessimistic, not to scare people, but I can't do that anymore. I see that truly everything coming out of Baghdad is bad news, as one of my commentators wrote. But of course I can't be that morbid, so I have to restate that and say, most everything coming out of Baghdad is bad news, really bad news.
Over the weekend, Muhannad found his brothers, in the city morgue. With signs of being badly tortured. I don't know what to say anymore... It's not a city and they aren't humans who do these things.
Excerpts of his story were printed in an Arabic online newspaper, Asharq alAwsat at this link.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Remembering Bilal...

It's hard to think of Bilal as a memory, but I want to record some of my memories of him, to help stand the test of time.
When I remember Bilal, I see him, in his slight build, reminding me so much of my brother, standing over the stove top in the kitchen, tasting his mom's pot of stew. I see him hurrying us to the dinner table because he's so hungry from a hard day's work.
I see him smiling, always smiling that kind, nice smile.
I see him carrying my Sumy and playing with her. He was one of the few guy's she wasn't scared of, one of the few guys who escaped her stranger anxiety. I see him taking her outside for a stroll, throwing her up into the air. I see her smiling and loving him.
I see him from my balcony walking off to university with his books tucked under his arms, in his button down shirt and gray pants.
I see him sitting at his computer, downloading the latest anasheed. Bilal and 'A' always loved a good nasheed.
I remember him on Friday afternoons, when we all gathered together for lunch. After an early morning playing soccer, praying jum'a, and eating lunch, he'd bring out his small mattress, throw it down in the living room in front of the TV, and watch a bit of TV with us, then snooze off for a bit of zzzz's. Ever so comfortably, one hand under his head, with his little brother lying next to him.
I remember once when you drove your mom and me to the shopping center in Mansour, ya Bilal. Khala N and I were doing our own shopping and you were walking around on your own. Then you came and took Sumy off my hands. When I joined you a few minutes later, you had bought her this cute winter hat, blue and black, with a little teddy bear on it, and a matching scarf. You had dressed her in it, and bought a matching set for your niece. I thought that was the cutest thing, and I saved that cute hat, till I left Baghdad this last time. I gave it away with a bunch of things Sumy had outgrown. I wish I had kept it.
I remember how you grew so much in the three years I spent in Baghdad as your neighbor. You grew from a quiet, shy high school student to a student leader in college. I remember when you were studying in your senior year to get into the college of your choice. Your grades weren't as high as your brother and sister, but you just barely made it in the College of Media and Journalism, the college of your choice. The college from which you were later kidnapped, with guards standing around, watching and doing nothing. Alhamdulillah.
I remember war stories that you guys told us about this last war, four years ago, when you were seventeen years old. Two main memories stand out. In one of them, your sister told me how her fiancee had been away for a few days. You guys hadn't heard from him in a while, got worried about him, especially since he lived in a targeted area. You rode out on your bike, holding a white flag in your hand (and I think you were all dressed in white), to keep you safe from any bullets, rockets or bombs. You rode out a good distance, a good 12 minute car drive, on your bike, in the height of the war. Alhamdulillah, you came home safely that time.
I remember the story you guys told us once and again, your most vivid memory of the war. Something no teenager, no human being should have to experience. (My readers, if you have a weak stomach, please don't read the next paragraph). You and your brother and some friends heard that Yarmouk Hospital had no electricity and there were so many dead bodies in the morgue. Someone had to bury them soon, especially with no electricity for the fridges. You guys went out, and took the bodies from the morgue, buried them in a large grave. You were telling us how that was the most horrific experience. Bodies were decomposing, falling apart in your hands when you were moving them. Maggots and worms were crawling all over them. Except for that one guy... And the smell, the smell that did not leave your noses for days. 'A' told us how while you guys were moving the corpses, looters were ascending on the hospital, taking everything they could. Yall had to threaten them, yell at them to have some respect for the place they were in. I remember you guys telling that story, shaking your heads with the horror of it. I remember the look in your eyes, that faraway look of having experienced something that I could never fully understand, never fully imagine. May God reward you for what you guys did, the small part that you guys tried to do, to keep some sanity and order in your homeland.
Most importantly, I will always remember how you are a central part of our little family circle in Baghdad. I can't yet imagine a dinner table without you sitting there with us.
Allah has given you rest from the craziness that Baghdad has descended to. May you dwell in a much better place than we can ever imagine.

Monday, April 23, 2007

In Memory of Bilal

I sat with my sister in law yesterday, and we replayed some of our memories of Bilal. Surprisingly, it made us smile, not cry. Here's a small tribute written by Bilal's cousin in law, a young doctor who knew Bilal well (edited to maintain some anonymity). I'm doing this more for myself than for anyone else, to remember. I apologize to my non-Arabic readers.

طوبى بلال

خواطر ملتهبة، في عهد الازدهار الديمقراطي في عراقنا الجريح !!.. في رثاء الاخ الحبيب (بلال) ابن لعشرين* ربيعا.. الذي اختطفته يد المليشيات المجرمة من حرم كلية... بجامعة .. ليعثر عليه بعد اربعة ايام شهيدا في دائرة الطب العدلي ببغداد....

تقبله الله بواسع رحمته...

هذه الخواطر تشبه مسيرة بلال الشهيد بمسيرة الصحابي الجليل بلال بن رباح رضي الله عنه وارضاه...

* * * *

في عتمة الليل البهيم ،

وتصارع الأضداد في دنيا الوحوش..

قلبٌ يلوّعه الحنين..

للخلد، للجنات، للحق المبين..

وعزيمة مضاء تأبى تستكين..

تصرخ في أذن الزنيم،

رغم سياط الحاقدين:

أحدٌ ... أحدْ !!

* * *

طوبى بلال...

قد كنت تهتف صادحا :

أن لا إله سوى الأحد..

وأن الخلد طريقه، لما يزل إلى الأبد

دوماً مورَّد...

بالشوك، بالآلام، بعذاب السجون..

بجهاد المخلصين..

ودموع العارفين..

وبأكوام النعوش!!!

* * *

طوبى بلال...

قد كنتَ تحرس فكرةً..

قد كنتَ تنشر دعوةً..

قد كنتَ ترفع راية ً،

شماء تعلوها النقوش..

بأن دين الله لا يغلبه أبداً .. أحدْ

* * *

طوبى بلال...

أسرتَ قلوب العاشقين..

تيـَّـمت كل الحائرين...

حتى إذا أزف الرحيل،

وأتممتَ ذا الدور الجليل..

لم يجف دمعٌ بعين فردْ !! (1)

* * *

طوبى بلال...

أنعم بـ (إبن رباح) قائدَ للطريق..

وبـ (سلة الرمضان) (2) تمسح كل ضيق..

ذي (المرتقى) (3) الوسناء، تبكي ذا الرفيق..

(باب المعظم) (4) مغلقٌ، حَـزَناً على الأدب الرقيق..

تبكيك حتى (...) (5) ، بل كل أعضاء (الفريق) (6)...

كفكفتَ كل دموعهم..

وكتبتَ بالقاني الثمين..

واضحا.. وبلا رتوش :

(عجلت للمولى الكريم ،

شوقاً إلى البر الرحيم،

عجلت للفرد الصمد...

أحدٌ ... أحدْ !! )

23/ نيسان/2007

  1. اشارة الى الاذان الاخير الذي رفعه بلال بن رباح قبل وفاته والذي ابكى الجميع وقتها.
  2. مشروع (سلة رمضان) .. حملة خيرية رائدة تبنتها رابطة الطلبة والشباب العراقية بتوزيع الآف السلات الغذائية على المتعففين في عموم العراق.. وقد كان لبلال قصب السبق في اعداد وتنفيذ هذا المشروع..
  3. جريدة طلابية كان بلال يديرها ويزينها بمقالاته وكتاباته
  4. مجمع باب المعظم من جامعة بغداد..

  5. فريق كرة القدم
* Actually, turned 21 yrs old three weeks ago.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Day Six: Bilal's Burial

'A's friend brought Bilal's body to his family today, because its dangerous for Sunni men to pick their dead up from the city morgue. They washed his body and prepared it for burial in our house. This might sound morbid to some people, but for me, I feel that my house has been honored by having this shaheed cleansed in it. They prayed the janazah prayer in another neighbor's yard.
Bilal had been in the morgue for three days, but not in a fridge, because the morgue had run out of space. He had no smell coming from him. InshaAllah, that is a sign that he is a shaheed, accepted by Allah. He has a smile on his face. Looks very serene and comfortable. Like he has rested from this world's burdens. I saw his picture. He is beautiful and shining.
His mother is holding up well. She's tough. She told us that she's patient on the outside, but her heart is burnt up on the inside, torn asunder. She told us that when she saw him, she kissed him and told him how much she missed him. She told him, "You don't have to study anymore, your finished with your college studies." And it seemed like he smiled. Then she told him, " And you are a shaheed- a martyr," and it seemed as if he smiled even more. Allahumma taqabbalahu.
They took him to bury him next to his grandfather, in a cemetary near Abu Ghraib- a very dangerous area to travel to now. My husband told me there were masked men with kalashinkovs along the way, with arbitrary check ups set up. My mother in law was afraid for them making this journey, but alhamdulillah, they came back safely. And Bilal was left behind buried under the ground. In a much better place.
I have a picture of his older brother, 'A', sitting near his grave, pondering at the ground. It's such a moving picture. It shakes me to see 'A' so sober, so worn out; 'A' who is always laughing, making jokes.
It's been six days, and the ordeal is finally over. Six hellish days. A week ago we never imagined that a week later we'd be left with broken hearts.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Day Five: Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'oon: To God We Belong and To Him We Will Return

I don't feel like writing this post, but at the same time, I want to record this history down for my daughters and myself to remember.
They killed Bilal on Thursday, April 19, 2007. His body was found today, Saturday, April 21, 2007. He was shot in his arms, chest and head. He is our martyr. May God accept him.
We're worn out by our tears and sadness. But what I'm feeling is nothing compared to what his poor mother is living through now and what she will face the rest of her days.
She was very patient when I spoke to her today. But she hasn't seen him yet. Tomorrow they will cleanse him and bury him next to his grandfather. Tomorrow she will see him. But she will have closure, alhamdulillah.
His younger sister sounded so different on the phone, I didn't recognize her. His older sister cried and told me, "He was the best of youth. He truly was a man whose heart was attached to the masjid. He truly is a youth who grew up fee ta'at illah."
t night, his mom told my sister in law, "I miss him so much. Khattiyya, he's there (in the morgue) by himself. I miss him. I just want to hold him and kiss him and kiss him." Aaaakkhh, Khalei.
My husband made me cry and cry. When you hear a man quiet, sobered with pent up tears, you cry.
There's so much to say. But I can't concentrate now. Remember him in your prayers, always. I will remember you in my prayers, always, ya Bilal. Our Bilal. Our martyr.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hoping for Bilal: Day Four

My heart is heavy and I don't want to write this. I thought almost for sure that by today I would be writing good news. Bilal is still not home. The family has basically accepted his fate. But there's always hope, until a body is found. There's always hope, even if the mind knows otherwise.
Tomorrow his brother, father, uncles, and cousin (my husband) will go search for his body in the city morgue. Please make duaa that he comes home safe and sound.
I spoke with Aunt N, didn't know what to say to her. She was crying telling me, "Bas areed aghsha'u, bas areed aghsha'u...hatta law....". "All I want is to see him, all I want is to see him... even if... all I want is to see him." Aaaah ya Khala N, I hope you see him well and alive.
Please pray for him.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Waiting for Bilal: Day Three

They paid the ransom today, at a designated place, unspecified till they arrived in a general location. Our neighbor, (father of two sons and a son in law kidnapped more than six months ago, and still missing) insisted on taking the ransom to the evil people. I'll give you more details later.
But basically, Bilal is still not home. The money was delivered noon time in Baghdad, and its now almost three am, and he's still not home. The biggest fear is that they took the money and the kid's life.
Bilal's uncle and my husband drove around separately today, in an area they thought he might be in. But he wasn't there. Basically with these kidnappings, as has happened in the past, the ransom is paid, and the kidnapped is released in a separate location, away from anyone's eyes. You pay the money with the hope that your loved one comes home safe and sound. Many hours later, usually later that day, your loved one finds his way home, with the help of strangers. That's what happened with our two other relatives who were kidnapped.
The family is frantic, depressed now. Please keep them in your prayers and thoughts.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Crying for Bilal: Day Two

It turns out that Aunt N wasn't the one who answered her son's frantic call, but his ten year old brother, Ch. Ch picked up his mom's cell phone and heard Bilal screaming, "Wal, Ch tell mama they are taking me, they kidnapped me, leave me alone, leave me alone. Let me go!" Ten years old and having to live through this!
Anyways, the kidnappers called again today, and restated their demands for $25,000. Bilal's brother, A, started out at $12,000, telling them they couldn't pay more than that, but he quickly climbed up to $20,000. When I was in Baghdad during his two other relatives' kidnappings, A was doing the negotiations then. He was tough, he held hard to a much lower number than what the kidnappers were demanding. His sister screamed at him for putting her husband in a position of being killed, but he held hard, and it paid off in the end.
But with his own brother, he couldn't stay tough. My husband was telling me that A has been crying for his brother, and just melted in front of the negotiators. One day into it, and he couldn't hold out. After this call, a relative took the next call, and they agreed to paying $22,500. That's US dollars! It's more than Bilal's family can afford in their lifetimes, but if Bilal comes out safely, it's worth it. Anyways, hopefully tomorrow, inshaAllah, they will agree on the place of payment. Until Bilal is safe in their hands, no one can trust these kidnappers. So until then, we need everyone's prayers for his safety.
My hubby was telling me how tense it is in the house (he's staying at his aunt's, at Bilal's house). Everyone is screaming at each other. When my husband insisted that they stick to paying $12,000, before they had come to an agreement, his aunt yelled at him, "They'll kill Bilal." It's scary for everyone, because they're basically bartering for their son/brother's life. Maybe their insistence on a lower sum will save them thousands of dollars, and maybe it will kill their loved one. It's kind of funny, but Iraqi families have started talking about what they would do in the case of a kidnapping. My husband told me long ago, should anything happen to him, not to ever pay more than $10,000. I always tell him, whatever, but when it comes down to it, everyone loses their minds. Bilal's brother, A, was always the smooth, smart negotiator. But when it touched him directly in his home, in his heart, he melted. Aaakkhh.
Bilal has been sleeping in the same bedroom with my husband for the past month (a displaced family was staying at our house). Last night, my husband couldn't sleep, was emotional all night. He kept on thinking that Bilal was in the bed behind him, as he has been every night. But then he would realize that Bilal was in a cold, dark, uncomfortable place. Kaan Allah fee '3awnak ya Bilal, wa fakka 'asrak, wa raddaka ilayna saaliman ghaniman. Aameen.
, tomorrow, I will have good news to write.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Crying for Bilal

Today I had to write this post. I've been away for so long, feeling myself a bit distanced from the events happening in Baghdad. But these past few weeks, ever since my husband went back to Baghdad, event after event have touched too close for comfort, bringing me back, by no choice of mine, to Baghdad and its misery.
Today I shed my first real tears for Baghdad. Every day my heart cries for what's happening there, but today my eyes joined my heart in sadness.
Today I found out that Bilal was kidnapped from university. Yes, his name is Bilal, not B, because the world has to know this good boy's name. My husband called me earlier today and told me the bad news. His cousin, Bilal, went to his university, Baghdad University (Bab Mua'dham campus), for an exam. A while later, his mom got a call, the call that every mother dreads, from Bilal himself. He was screaming into the phone, "they got me, they got me," and yelling at his kidnappers at the same time. I can only guess what my dear aunt in law is living through right now, recalling that call over and over in her head.
Bilal is not only a cousin to my husband and me. He's our neighbor in Baghdad, living two doors away. He's the kid who came over all the time, and the one who we visited all the time, at his parents' house. He played with my then one year old, carried her around with him when he went out, took videos of her entertaining the family. He came over to our house when we were out and needed someone to sit with the workers fixing the house. He's the one we sent on odd errands.
The other day, I heard my father speaking on the phone to a guy named Bilal, another Bilal. I don't know why my heart grew nostalgic for this kid, for my cousin in law, as if I knew no other Bilal in the world. As if the name only belongs to him. Maybe my heart felt something.
Please make duaa' for him. Please pray for him and his family.

UPDATE: The kidnappers called his family and asked for $200,000. A few hours later, they downgraded it to $25,000. Bilal's brother is hoping to bring it down even more, the next time they call. It's reassuring that they are asking for a ransom, and that they seem pretty desperate for quick cash. May Allah protect him.
When I spoke to his mom today, all she could tell me was, 'He always told me his friends loved him, and would never hurt him. He never gave me their names or numbers; I don't know who to talk to." Apparently at school, the Sunni students have stopped attending university, b/c its been taken over by Sadrists. And likely that's who kidnapped Bilal. A friend sold him out to the Mahdi 'army', as a Sunni student on campus, for a small share of the profits. Sad world.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Our Snow Baby

We were blessed with our second daughter, Shifaa, on February 25, 2007 at 6:05 am, towards the beginning of a snow/ice storm. She weighed 8 lbs 3 ozs and was 21 inches long. Big sister Sumy is not yet sure what she thinks of the new addition. :)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Finally, Some Good News

My good friend's brother in law, who was kidnapped almost a month ago, was released a couple of days ago for a $60,000 ransom. I'm so happy for his 20 year old wife, and his two young daughters (three years old and three months old). After two weeks of not hearing anything of him, we expected that he was going to become another statistic, but alhamdulillah, that was not the case.
Now, his family has to search around for a way to pay back the whopping $60,000 ransom that they borrowed from various friends and relatives to save their son's life. As with so many Iraqis in their shoes, there's a sense of complete relief at having him home alive, and a feeling of being so burdened by this sum of money, which if they worked all their lives, they might still not be able to pay it off.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Where Weddings are No More

My cousin in law is the fourth of four sisters, the last one left at home in Adhamiya after her other sisters have left Baghdad- two for Syria, one in Mosul. Hiba has been engaged now for about six months to a man from Mosul. Yesterday on the phone with my grandmother in law, I found out that Hiba's fiancee is coming next week to take her to her new home, with no wedding party to celebrate their marriage.
Adhamiya has become too dangerous for any type of celebration to occur, too dangerous for cousins to visit cousins and aunts to visit nieces and celebrate with them. With rockets and mortars raining down on them daily, all Hiba can hope for is to leave her father's home in one piece. Perhaps then she can celebrate her marriage in Mosul with her in-laws. Without her sisters, her parents or dear grandmother.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Who's Next?-UPDATE

It bothers me to constantly report bad news coming out from Baghdad, but that's the harsh reality that people are living through there. Last week, when my husband wrote me about his encounter with a poor corpse in the street, he also informed me of another friend's kidnapping.
This time, my good friend's brother in law was kidnapped from in front of his house in Ghazaliya, with his wife and friend helplessly looking on. Its been almost ten days, with no news of this young man. No news is not good news in Iraq.
I remember seeing his young wife a couple of days before I left Baghdad, with her husband and their new 2 month old daughter, and their older three year old daughter. At that time, she had no idea what was being hidden for her in her future. Now she waits for news, dead or alive of her husband. May God be with her and her family.
Every time something like this hits close to home, it makes me wonder who's next. It makes me hope that God saves my husband and family from such evil and horror. Because in the end, it seems to be such a random game, targeting anyone and anything. You just pray and hope that it doesn't touch you in the center of your heart and home.

UPDATE: The kidnappers have contacted the family, which is a good sign, and are demanding a one million dollar ransom(!). The family obviously doesn't have that kind of money, so they are in the process of negotiating a lower ransom for his life.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Driving in Baghdad

In the last months before I left Baghdad, seeing dead bodies thrown in the street became a regular aspect of life for many people. Thankfully, I was spared this horrific scene. My husband was telling me about his horrible experience the other day, while driving to work. He told me that his driver lost it when he almost ran over the unfortunate soul thrown in the middle of the street, exclaiming that he was leaving this country where a human had no more worth. Here are some of my husband's thoughts on this horrific scene:
"You know you got me is sad that a country can stoop so low so as to not even bother burying its is sad that someone can be stripped of humanity to the degree of killing someone in cold blood and instead of hiding their heinous crime they display it on the streets for all to is sad that we have reached a low where the killer knows not why he killed, and the killed knows not why he was is sad that in the West an animal is given the respect and dignity of being buried whilst a human being is simply dumped in the middle of the road for all to see....the saddest thing is that we have all lost the courage to stand up to the barbarians and say this is wrong. We are therefore all to blame as we drive by all detesting and no one protesting it....

As I drove to work this morning also (a few days after seeing the first body), a body was dumped right in front of (our neighborhood) bakery, his hands bound and a bag placed over his head. This man was probably a father, a son, a husband to someone who will not only not know the fate of their loved one but may not be able to bury them and go visit them in death."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Signs of a Dying City IV

Can't Even Say Good-Bye

I wasn't fully moved by 24's post on a cousin leaving Baghdad until a similar situation happened in our family. Just about the time I was looking for a flight out of Baghdad, I heard the news that Aunt W and her family were leaving Baghdad for Syria. I was shocked by that news.
Aunt W has always been a cornerstone in the family. It was at her house that we spent our first weeks in Baghdad while we were looking for a place of our own; it was at her house that the family gathered for Eid celebrations; it was at her house that we went to chill when we needed a change of pace. She was the one who mainly took care of my grandmother in law, who drove her around, made sure her needs were met. And in early December 2006, we got the call that she had finally had it; they were leaving their beloved homeland and families within a matter of days.
Aunt W lived at the border of Adhamiya/Seleikh. The final straw for them came after the Sadr City car bombings, when the family got numerous calls from friends to leave their home, who feared for their safety against reprisal attacks. Aunt W had already faced having her husband's office damaged by a nearby bomb, had faced having a son arrested by the Iraqi army, had seen numerous friends' husbands and sons disappear and die. The only thing she could think of was being slaughtered in her own home. She could take no more.

What is so significant about this story is two things. First of all, that people who are so settled in their homes, in their lands, are forced to leave is a huge misfortune and hardship. Imagine right now that you have to leave your comfortable, newly furnished house in Anytown, USA because suddenly, it isn't safe to live there anymore. What do you do with your home? You can't sell it for a profit, you can't sell your furniture for a profit; everyone else is leaving town, and no one wants to buy. You end up losing everything, and moving to a new, unknown world, with no friends, no relatives. It's difficult.

The other thing that struck me about Aunt W's leaving is that we could not even say our goodbyes to her. The situation has become so bad in Baghdad, that many people are choosing not to travel to different parts of the city, fearing for their lives. We couldn't hold a farewell party for her, we couldn't even drop by for five minutes of goodbyes. One day, she just up and left Baghdad, after making her phone calls to her sisters, mother, nieces and nephews.
And the same thing happened with me when I left Baghdad. In the summer time, when I came to the States for a visit, I made my rounds to the relatives, for a short goodbye. This time around, when I will likely not go back for a long while, I could not make those rounds. I could not visit our grandmother in Adhamiya to bid her farewell; and I don't know when I will next see her, if I will ever see her again.
The best summary of the situation there was seen in the eyes of my 25 year old cousin in law, who travelled with me by airplane from Iraq to Amman. She has also left the country, to complete her medical studies in Jordan. In the car, on the way to the airport, she sat with her 8 month old daughter in her hands, wiping silent tears from her eyes. She was saying goodbye to her beloved family, and to her beloved Baghdad, which had been so changed by this last war. She did not know when she would next see her Baghdad, and she did not know what it would be like next time she saw it.
Farewell Baghdad, from all your loving countrymen.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Washington Post Article on Childbirth in Iraq

I read this Washington Post article on the childbirth situation in Iraq ("Iraq's Woes are Adding Major Risks to Childbirth"). I thought it was pretty much on the spot, and related very much to my entry from a couple of weeks ago.