observations and analysis on everything under the Iraqi sun, by Ayad Rahim (ayadrahim@hotmail.com), host of program on the war we're in: http://wjcu.org/media

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Just got this, from the cousin I was going to stay with, but...won't, as he's out of the country.
Hello all.

For the first time in 24 years I travel unescorted by security ..... but escorted by my wife.....What a change ......The taste of freedom is unbelievable....I am in position to apply for the US visa......My mobile phone in Amman is..... Talk to me.

Hope to see you all soon

Monday, March 29, 2004

I just got this in the mail -- e-mail, that is.

I am actually leaving Iraq. Things are growing extremely dangerous and I want you to take extreme care. Journalists are being directly targeted--my colleague was killed last night and there's enough evidence that I am next to encourage me to leave for a while. We all expected things to get dangerous, but unfortunately, none of us thought it would be this dangerous.

If you have a specific reason to come, take care. If not, you might reconsider for a couple of weeks.
Well -- that's not encouraging, to say the least. I guess it's not only my mouth that could get me in trouble -- the pen is mighty enough, huh? Deep sigh. Oh, well -- not much I can do about that -- I wanna be there, for the ninth, regardless. That's a vow I've made to myself.

I'm just gonna have to move on.

Update on travel plans. I thought I'd be able to make it to Baghdad on the first of April. Well, it turns out, that taxi drivers from Amman don't leave there, before 1 am, so they're driving through the Iraq desert in the daytime, and avoid the gauntlet of...street bandits at night. I'm getting the same taxi driver that my parents used, last month, and that other relatives, from inside Iraq, have been using. It's 100-150 dollars, each way, but this guy is safe, known to family, etc.

I got an interesting e-mail from a friend, who made the trip, last April, a few days after liberation day. I've asked him if I can post his e-mail. What he said, though, was to avoid taxi drivers from Fallouja and Ramadi, as those from those cities set you up for...stick-ups, or whatever. Hmmm -- it's always something. Man, when will they ever stop!

I'm getting my machinery in order -- computer, camera, tape recorder -- bit by bit, it's falling into place. I might have to get a visa for Jordan, in Detroit, before I fly off. The travel agent said it's easier to get it from him, than in the Amman airport. That's a last detail, to iron out.

All right -- gotta go. Till next time.

Saturday, March 27, 2004


Just got the web-address for the Iraq Optimist web-site that my cousin designed. That's it, above, where the words "the Iraq Optimist web-site" should be highlighted. It's my second time doing this, and I haven't done it for almost two weeks. Let's go to the video!

Thursday, March 25, 2004


It's been a couple of days, since I put anything on here -- getting ready to go. Man -- this...preparing for a trip can really take something out of you. I sort of feel like...I'm thinking of that TV commercial for Holiday Inn, or whatever hotel it is, where the guy gets into the room, takes off his jacket and throws himself onto the bed. I'm feeling, with all this preparation, that once I'm there, I can...put down my stuff, and..., finally, relax -- like it's over. But, of course, it's only the beginnig.

Last night, I sent out an e-mail to everybody in my address book -- well, almost everybody -- announcing my trip. I've got a lot of responses, which is nice -- great -- but...that e-mail -- takes so much of my time -- I'm always so tempted to go to the e-mail, to get distracted -- from what I'm supposed to be doing, writing -- that I don't get to it, don't do the writing. That's my eternal struggle.

I spoke with a cousin last night -- he's a graphic designer/web wizard, works with a company in Florida. He left Iraq in '98, and was one of the top tennis players in the country, and the top squash player. Well, he asked me to write some things for a web-site he designed, the Iraqi optimist, and send some pictures, too -- positive things, only -- kids laughing, buildings going up, technological developments, I suppose. I asked him if he wanted a picture of a donkey -- it was illegal to photograph donkeys, and other signs of backwardness -- he doesn't. I want to put in a link, here, to his web-site, but I can't find it. Soon.

Oh -- another thing: the uncle I'm going to stay with, to begin with, went to USC, 50 years ago -- well, almost 50 years ago -- and he played an "extra" on "The Ten Commandments." Whenever I see him -- well, at least in Iraq -- he loves to talk about his time at USC, in America, and...what was the name of the running back at USC, then -- can't remember him, now. I'm sure he will. I'll ask him. I know it's not Tom Matte. Maybe, something Hardin -- not sure. I'll find out, and let you know. I think he had a Johnny in his name -- maybe that's the "all-American" name I -- or he, reflected in me -- attach to it.

Till next time.

Oh -- one last thing. I'm also looking into flying from Amman to Baghdad, instead of taking a taxi. This uncle -- same uncle -- told me there's a cheap flight, serving Defense Department contractors and CPA employees. I'm trying to see if, and how, I can get on that.

All right -- ciao -- for now.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

I promised, a couple of days go, to write about what I'd like to look into, while I'm in Iraq. I've done that -- I had to, for a pitch I sent to The Wall Street Journal last night. I'll let you know what happens.

First of all, though, I talked with my uncle in Baghdad, last night -- it was almost eight in the morning, the next day, for them -- remember, it's eight hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, if we're on "standard time" -- I don't know. I asked him if I could stay with them, as my cousin and his wife are going away, and they're sending their kids to their grandmother's. Well, my uncle is very happy to have me stay there -- he likes me a lot; more on him, later.

As to my plans, intentions, for my trip, what follows, is mostly my letter to the people I've dealt with, at the Wall Street Journal.

I plan to spend at least a month or two in Iraq, during which I'll explore, among other things:

-- the first anniversary of the liberation of Iraq, asking people for a longer view of their country -- one year on, and into the future;

-- people's attitudes towards America (any gratitude), Israel (see if there is any receptivity), Jews, Palestinians and Arabs (no love lost, there), France, Iraqi exiles -- hopefully, with more frankness than is offered to "outsiders";

-- their conceptions of democracy, what democracy means (I'd like to tease things out, a bit); participation in civic life, taking initiative, making decisions, blaming others; expectations (of America, of "leaders," who are supposed to do everything for the populace); expressing thoughts and ideas; whether they see this as their opportunity to build their country, fight for their country; the grip of fear and its internalization, how that works on the human level; conspiracy theories and how the country operated on rumors -- see if any changes has begun to take effect;

-- the upcoming trial of Saddam, and how Iraqis are dealing with their past, or not (are victims beginning to tell their stories?);

-- political alignments -- across ethnic and sectarian groups, across the politcal spectrum -- where things are falling out;

-- living through interminable wars, conscripted into the army for decades, the Iran-Iraq war;

-- a survey of the media, its news content and leanings. I know a number of journalists and editors;

-- the intellectual scene and universities, including the recent arrival in America of 25 Fullbrighters -- what they've been through, what they're confronted with, what they're doing, producing, and currents they're passing through;

-- the arts, literature, filmmaking, popular culture, including a boy band, and theater. I've met a member of the underground Brecht school, which was able to operate, clandestinely, and sometimes get things past the censors in Saddam times; I'll look for them;

-- I'll revisit the orchestra, and this time, write about them, and their music and ballet school, too, which is supposed to be the only one of its kind (K-12) in the Middle East. I've been corresponding with the orchestra's principal flutist, who's also a virologist and is trying to start an in-vitro fertilization center at the medical school in Baghdad -- he spent a year at the Cleveland Clinic, 10 years ago;

-- young people, dating, hopes and dreams -- under Saddam and now. I expect that I, as a Westerner, will be asked by my cousins, and others, about sex -- by way of curiousity and repulsiveness, condemnation, that sort of thing;

-- subcultures such as gays (renown in the Arab world), prostitutes (long, the subject of poetry and lore), Yazidis, Mandeans, silversmiths, the centuries-old copper market, what's left of the nearly 3000-year-old Jewish community and what they've faced, seminaries, drugs, dervishes/Sufis, magicians, gypsies;

-- I'd also like to track down some people who've trekked around the world -- as refugees, and...returned to Iraq;

-- and that person who dug a hole under his mother's kitchen, and lived there for 21+ years, to escape Saddam.

In addition, I've got a lot of contacts I'll be able to tap into:

-- I know several members of the Governing Council, and many of their aides;

-- many relatives and acquaintances have returned to Iraq to start businesses, get involved in reconstruction projects, including electronics, telecommunications, electricity, media. Some relatives are opening a private bank. A friend was opening a law firm, and his business partner is an Israeli American. Several friends are opening and managing hotels, for visting pilgrims;

-- the cousin I'm to stay with, was a top scientist in the nuclear commission, so I expect to hear details about WMDs and the nuclear program; he also revived baseball on a minor scale after the Kuwait war, a leftover from the days of the American Jesuit schools, closed by the Ba'ath Party in '69;

-- a good friend, an Iraqi American engineer from California, is a leader in the effort to restore the Mesopotamian marshes -- a large wetlands, half the size of Massachusetts, drained by Saddam. It was home to 500,000 people who lived a watery existence, mostly unchanged since the time of the Sumerians. The friend also is trying to produce potable water from flared gas energy;

-- a good friend is involved in law-school reform;

-- my best friend from elementary school in Baghdad is depty minister of culture. She and several other women I know, are active in women's groups, issues. I intend to explore their activities, fears, travails;

-- two relatives treated Saddam, until their sister was poisoned to death -- although the regime frequently called on them, in times of need. They've got some intimate stories;

-- a good friend, author Kanan Makiya (Republic of Fear; Cruelty and Silence; among others), with whom I worked for six years, is director of the Iraq Memory Foundation, and its prospective holocaust museum, which encompasses the archives of government documents and oral histories.

All right -- that's a glimpse of what I'll be looking into -- what I'd like to look into -- and I'm always open to other ideas, and...the possibilities.

See ya, again -- soon.

Monday, March 22, 2004

I went to the opera last night -- "Coronation of Poppea" -- deadly dull -- but that's something I'm definitely gonna miss, while I'm in Iraq. I'm told there's a lot of dead time, that I should take some books. I still would like to go out -- there's a lot of theater -- or, there's supposed to be.

A friend, who's over there, doing work on law schools, says he misses that about being there -- not being able to go out to a movie, to pass time leisurely in a coffee shop -- he's from New York -- well, has been living there, the past 10 years or so.

I have to find a new place to stay, in the beginning. My cousin, who said I could stay with him, is now going away, with his wife, and his two children are gonna stay with their grandmother. So, I've gotta ask an uncle or two, till the cousin gets back. The nice thing, for this cousin, is that he's now free to travel, and this guy was a top scientist with the nuclear commission, which, actually, permitted him to travel, more than others -- but, always, with a minder, someone to watch over him. Well, he's free now. He just wrote me, said he doesn't want to be there, for the first anniversary, that it'll be a "bloody affair." His being away, could complicate my..."covering" things a bit -- well, "writing" about it, as he has a wireless connection in his home. I'll still manage, I'm sure. Everybody says there are a lot of internet cafes, so I'll find a way.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Well -- I finally did it -- made my flight arrangements. I was starting to get butterflies about this -- really getting nervous -- worried about the cost, and wanting to stop in New York, and London, on my way, but...I asked a friend in town, a Jordanian doctor, and he gave me the agency he deals with in Detroit, and...they had a great deal. No stopping in New York or London -- we'll just fly over them -- straight shot, from Detroit to Amman, and a good price, to boot. Plus, I can stay up to four months, and there's no penalty if I change dates. That cost an extra $150, but I had to get that ticket -- excursion rate, I think it's called -- if I wanted to make it out of here, by the end of April, or even before the end of the first week of April -- while my target is to be there, at least a few days before April 9, the first anniversary of the fall of Saddam. The sooner, the better.

Well, I'm flying from Detroit, on Wednesday, March 31. It's an 11-hour flight. The agent said it's a special new plane -- we'll see -- maybe they've got special birds attached to the wings -- some teradactyls, or something. Wouldn't that be nice. I saw the movie "Winged Migration," last year -- that was amazing -- flying up there with all those birds, all over the world. Well, I should get to Amman, sometime, the next day. Let's see -- let me figure this out -- 11 hours in the air, seven-hour time difference. So, add 18 to...nine, ten o'clock at night, and...what does that give us? All right -- any math geniuses out there? 21, plus 18, equals...39. So, that's 15:00 hours, the next day -- 3 o'clock. Then, I take a taxi, probably from the airport in Amman, straight for Baghdad. My parents took that ride, and it took them, just six, seven hours. So, I'm not gonna get there, by sunset, as I had thought. I thought I'd get to Jordan, in the morning, like I always do, when I'm flying into London -- but, here, we're flying a lot more, a lot farther. So, it'll be near midnight, until I get there -- Baghdad, that is. That'll also mean, the bandits might be out, too -- along the way -- on the Iraqi side -- but, who knows, they don't need cover of darkness to...halt, hold up, anybody. My uncle was held up, on his way out of Iraq, to Syria. He, apparently, handled himself pretty coolly. He had his sister (my aunt) and her daughter with him, and they gave 'em a couple hundred dollars, I think, and that was that. The...bandits don't wanna take too long -- don't want an appointment with the police -- that's a meeting they don't want to have. So, I've gotta hide most of my money, special equipment -- computer, camera, maybe an MP3 recorder, too -- and leave a hundred, two hundred, out there -- not out there, but in my pocket -- you know what I mean.

All right -- that's the latest.

I wanna get a picture or two up here -- I don't know, maybe of some nice birds. Oh, shoot -- I just remembered -- I had a nice picture -- tore it out of a magazine -- of a bunch of mallards, flapping their way out of a lake -- beautiful colors. I tore it out, with my sister's two-year-old in mind. They live in Washington, and he just turned two, five days ago. My parents went over there, yesterday, and I wanted to give 'em the picture, for ZooZoo. His name is Zayne, he's called ZooZoo, but I call him DooDoo -- what he was calling himself, when he first started..enunciating. He's the cutest. Well, maybe I'll make that a picture, on here.

All right -- till next time.


Friday, March 19, 2004

It was one year ago, today, that Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Iraq was, finally, about to be delivered from its...dungeon -- about to be saved, at long last.

Two days before, when President Bush gave Saddam and his sons 48 hours to leave the country, I had in my arms my cousin's baby boy. He and his mom, my cousin Seba, had just arrived in Cleveland, two days before that -- from Iraq, via Jordan -- to seek treatment for the baby, who was born with glaucoma. Hasanayn was just a few months old. Well, as President Bush uttered his words -- giving the...what-shall-we-call-them -- whatever they are -- giving them, 48 hours -- I whooped and hollered -- and said to the baby boy, "This is for you! This is for your future."

Actually, as I recall it -- now -- I was sitting, right in front of the TV, with the boy in my lap, and when President Bush said those fateful words -- I jumped up, with the baby in my arms -- gave a...what-do-we-call-it -- a pump of the arm, back -- the other arm, of course -- and, then, spoke to the boy.

What a great moment that was -- followed by many more.

Later, I'll write a few things, about what I'd like to do, while I'm in Iraq.

I'd also like to keep that...open to..."you, the readers," open to suggestions -- if that's possible, in this mechanism, via the blog. I don't know. Maybe someone can let me know -- somehow -- and I don't know if I should give out my e-mail address. Maybe it's possible to create an e-mail address...via the blog, through the blog.

All right -- tootaloo -- till later.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Well -- I did that -- although you didn't get anything out of it. You couldn't see the interview with me, which was done by Angie Lau -- maybe you can find it that way -- by searching her name. I didn't try that. I heard it went well -- that the segment was good.

That's it, for now.

Seacrest -- OUT!
Let's see -- I'm trying to figure out how to do this...linking to a web-site, from the blog -- putting the link into the blog. I'm supposed to...highlight some words here, in the text, then click on the globe icon, above, and, then, enter -- cut-and-paste -- the web-address, url, whatever the difference, if there is a difference. All right -- here goes.

I'll try to open another...window, web-site, and...do it.

Well -- I just went to the web-site of the television station that interviewed me, yesterday -- tried to find the segment I was on, last night at 11 -- couldn't. But, I'm going to do the link, anyway, just to see if I can do it -- right -- correctly, that is.

Here goes -- nothing.

Oh -- I'm supposed to type in some words, to signal, to the reader, that here -- here -- is where to click, to see the -- to go to, I guess, the web-site. So, that was the second "here," above -- between the dashes. Let's see if it's gonna work.

All right -- I did it. Now I've gotta see if it's gonna work.

Well -- that's it from me. Not gonna get any Iraq, Iraq-trip news from me -- now. Maybe later.

See ya.
An addendum, or two.

The last time I was in Baghdad, was in 1989, and I made it twice that year. More on that later. Long story. One of the times, I went from Israel to Iraq, and back. You see, I told you that would be a long story.

Also, I was just interviewed, a couple of hours ago, by a local television channel, Cleveland's ABC affiliate, Ch. 5, to say some things about the bombing in Baghdad today. If you're in Cleveland, and you're interested, and maybe if you're not in Cleveland, it's supposed to be on in their 11 o'clock newscast. It was supposed to be on in their five o'clock newscast, too, but I got "bumped" by Peter Jennings and his crew. I guess that's why they get the big bucks. The television stations' website is...http://www.newsnet5.com/index.html. I'm still getting the hang of this -- well, not getting the hang of it -- just beginning to learn -- "I have not yet begun to fight." I've gotta learn how to link to a web-site. Next time -- maybe.

See ya.

Hmmm -- I just found this icon of a globe, that I was able to paste the web-address into, and it popped up, here -- right after these words. Now I've gotta learn how to put a word, or more, in place of the web-address.

In previewing what I just wrote, I see the web-address -- its second appearance -- doesn't show up on the...post.

All right -- try, try again.
Well, I'm getting ready to go to Iraq. This'll be my first time in 12 years, but that trip, and the one in '91, were to Saddam-free territory, in nothern Iraq -- Kurdistan. Now, the entire country is Saddam-free -- "a Saddam-free zone." That'll be something -- people actually not afraid -- although that fear doesn't easily subside -- it'll take a while. As a cousin recently wrote me -- a cousin I reconnected with, on-line -- they caught themselves whispering to each other the other day, then realized, they don't have to whisper any more. Well, there'll be a lot of that -- in quite a few areas of life -- things we, in America, take for granted -- the ability to think, to act, to read and write, to make decisions, to do things. Well, it'll be very interesting, to say the least.

I've got a lot to do, still -- buy my plane ticket, figure out the taxi situation (from Amman to Baghdad), although that shouldn't be too hard, pack, line up writing jobs with media here. I haven't even made a list of all the things I have to do.

All right -- let me at it.

Till next time,


Sunday, March 14, 2004


This is Ayad Rahim, and I just started my blog, my first time ever -- wish me luck.

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