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

Friday, April 30, 2004

The Massgraves web-site came from a happier source, called "9 Neesan" (April 9), which the host calls "the happiest day of my life." It bills itself as a directory of Iraqi web-sites.
So that we never forget: one web-site about The Massgraves.
My reply to a friend, about my "date," this afternoon:
Date: 4/30/2004 10:28:59 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Sandy,

It was fine -- it was more of a family get-together, with my uncle, his wife, his sister there. I played with Layla's son -- he showed me how he could jump very high with his shoes -- slippers, actually -- did a cartwheel for me. First, we picked more gardenias. They've got a huge gardenia bush/tree -- actually, two -- and she -- and he -- had picked a bunch of gardenias -- a whole pail-full -- and put them all over the house, including two baskets-full in the bathroom. There were baskets, bowls of gardenias everywhere -- in the main room, by the dinner table, all over. I didn't get a chance to talk with Layla much. Later, her son took out the heavy weaponry -- water machine-gun, and we washed the cars with it, then shot it up onto the roof. Then he took out a BB gun or something. Finally, he went to the roof. He kept wanting me to sit with him, to watch TV with him -- cartoons. Pulled me and his mom to the TV room, as often as he could.

I did get something done, from Layla's house -- got in touch with a friend in the government, about gun licenses for a relative, who needs to go back and forth to work, in a convoy of two cars -- getting scared, with the kidnappings.

Thanks for asking -- now, I've got something else to post, on the blog. How are you doing?

Two days ago, I was one of three jurors for an essay contest for graduate students from the political science department of Baghdad University. The students presented their papers for us at the university's Center for International Studies. I reported that one of my fellow jurors, law professor Dr. Mishkat El-Moumin, noticed about six framed portraits of prisoner number 00000001 propped up, behind the flip-chart stand next to the dais. The flip-chart, I think, had a notice about our event -- I could only read the top couple of lines, from my seat, and forgot to look at it, again, after the event. Well, not only were the pictures a sign that they might be waiting for the prisoner's reemergence, but on our way out, a professor came out of one of the offices and handed us each a copy of a newspaper, Al-Wifaq al-Dimuqraati (The Democratic Accord). Under the paper's name it says the head of its executive council and editor-in-chief is Salah Omar al-Ali. Ali was one of Saddam's superiors in 1963, during the Ba'ath Party's nine-month reign, during which time he was one of three people in charge of the acid baths that took the lives of at least 10,000, and possibly tens of thousands of lives. Ali split off from another wifaq, Al-Wifaq al-Watani (The National Accord), which is also made up of former high-ranking Ba'ath apparatchiks and army officers. The latter's head, Ayad Allawi, is a member of the interim Iraqi Governing Council, which is about to go out of business/be expanded, June 30. Allawi's Wifaq found a home in Syria, which militated against the Iraqi Ba'ath. Ali found a home in Saudia, and it is he, purportedly, who promised the Saudis in 1991, and, in turn, the Bush administration, that his cousin, then-head of Saddam's helicopter units, would organize a coup to topple Saddam. This, in part, or in whole, caused the Saudis, and/or the Americans, to back away from the spontaneous rebellions that spread like wildfire from the day after Iraqi soldiers returned from Kuwait, engulfing 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces. Fascim lives.

On page two of the newspaper we were handed, is a report by William Hamilton (he's only identified as, "from Washington") about Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, "which reveals awesome secrets," the headline announces. The book has been excerpted in other papers, and people are very interested in it. People are always looking for a conspiracy -- dark secrets, plans behind the curtains, to be exposed. In addition to the newspaper, we were also handed copies of the center's quarterly Journal for International Studies, and I just noticed that one of the five members of the journal's editorial board, Dr. Dhaari Rasheed al-Yaseen, has an article in the newspaper we got. He's identified in the article as the head of the American Studies Department at Baghdad University. Great! It must have been he who handed us the paper. His newspaper article is titled "The Iraqi reality, and Bush's electoral future." I haven't read either article, and I don't intend to. I wish I had the time to read everything -- although fascist propaganda is not at the top of my list -- I hear enough of it -- and, as comedian Richard Wright says, "What if you had everything? Where would you put it?"
A back-and-forth between my friend Doug, in Peoria, Illinois, and me, with a cameo appearance from Doug's wife:
Date: 4/29/2004 6:34:27 AM Eastern Daylight Time

hey my friend,
I asked Patti if she thought she could help by perhaps bringing some of her violence prevention programs to Iraq. She said that when she's sure that they're working here, she might consider it. (I hate to say it, but she didn't sound very convincing:-)


* * *
Date: 4/29/2004 9:40:11 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Good to see your smile, Doug, and your wit, too. Oh, boy -- with some people, it's pretty hopeless -- nothing would work. Actually, today Dr. Moumin was telling me about a survey she conducted in one of her master's classes, and most of the students said it's necessary to use force with Iraqis, to get results. She'd asked 'em about yelling at subordinates.

See you, Doug.

* * *
Date: 4/29/2004 8:17:49 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Not sure it's absolutely "necessary" with anybody, but it sure seems to work a lot faster when you don't have limitless time to get the job done:-)

* * *
Date: 4/30/2004 8:48:22 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Yeah -- you get their attention right away -- first time, second time around -- but it wears off pretty quickly. And, I'll tell you, watching families, and the way they bring up their children, the children don't learn anything -- they don't learn to discipline themselves, don't learn to do anything for themselves.
An e-mail from Rania, a best friend's daughter, in England:
Date: 4/28/2004 3:07:33 PM Eastern Daylight Time

hi ayad

i won't ask how you are, because i think i know pretty well!! i've been an avid reader of your blog, so you can add another one to your daily readers' list! its great reading about everything and anything - anecdotes, history, politics, cultural norms, jokes, and your possible future wife!! nice one!

by the way i wanted to know what you personally thought of the new flag? i really don't like the design, you'd think after holding a competition and everything they'd be able to come up with something interesting...but apart from that i can understand why people are averse to the whole idea of changing the flag wholesale, its one of the few things that hasn't changed in iraq over the past year and they're holding on to it, maybe it reminds them that it still is the same country, same place...maybe... that's what i think...i think it should be changed, and made more representative but not right now, as it seems like the perfect time to act as a provocation to those who want to believe that iraq's identity will be defined by america from now on...

so, i hope you're keeping out of trouble...here in cambridge its exam term so everyone is on the verge on mental breakdown...im playing it safe, im keeping away from everyone...trying to get to grips with arabic grammar - an impossible task!! i prefer hindi, so much nicer to the language student!! and also it gives me a great excuse to watch all those hindi films...actually i have to do a presentation next week, for my middle-eastern history class, about the ba'ath constitution and how it expresses arab identity and nationalism. im wondering whether i'll be able to remain impartial enough, ill let you know...

well, hope you're enjoying yourself as much as you can, and staying safe!! i try to update my dad when i speak to him, i've directed him towards your blog but i think its difficult for him to find time to sit down and read it regularly. he also says hi and hopes you're doing well.

take care,

My second, and third, responses, to Rania -- I don't know what happened to the first response -- must've not been anything there, worth posting, here:
Date: 4/30/2004 8:28:47 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Rania,

I'm sorry, I don't have an answer, a response, to your comments about the flag. My brain is just dead -- I'm working too much, having very little fun -- that is, a break from work -- and my brain is dead -- can't think right now. Maybe it's this strange dating thing. I just got back from the "date," which turned out to be a family get-together. She's very nice -- too nice, really -- but...we'll see. Maybe, nothing there -- I don't know.

We'll see -- and I'll see you, too.

Subj: about the flag
Date: 4/30/2004 8:41:51 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Rania,

I just posted what you wrote me -- onto my blog -- and, again, if you don't want it posted, I'll take it off. As I re-read it, I realized, I didn't answer your question. Yeah -- I'm not thrilled about it -- doesn't excite -- but, as somebody said, maybe it's because we're not used to it, there isn't any attachment, sense of identification with it. However, I don't think there was much of a contest. As I wrote
[in the blog, on Tuesday], I think it was farmed out by this Governing Council member, to his brother, to rush something through, in time for the Olympics, and the transfer of sovereignty -- June 30. So, I think there'll be another flag, and, hopefully, a more open process, with actual competition, and give-and-take, including the public, at large.

See you, Rania.
On an insider note, have you noticed my new blogging features? Pretty snazzy, huh? Well, I have the browser (?) Mozilla (at Mozilla.org) instead of Internet Explorer, to thank for the italics, links, bold type and better spelling, and Graham, from Blogger.com's support-staff, to thank for leading me there, and much more. Ta2, Graham.
I'm to be picked up, in about a half-hour, to go on my second (third?) date -- this, a family affair, with chaperones and escorts and all. We -- my uncle, his wife, and his sister -- are going to Layla's home -- her parents' home, to be precise -- with her father and son -- and her. Oh, boy -- crazy! It feels like a dress rehearsal for the proposal -- when "the family" -- my male elders -- asks her family -- her father -- for her hand in marriage. A few days ago, when Layla was supposed to pick me up, to drop me off at work, it turns out, she didn't show up at all. She initially told me she couldn't make it -- busy, overslept, etc. Later, she said she was too embarrassed to show up (at my uncle's home), that she was, earlier, too embarrassed to tell me she didn't show up because she was embarrassed. Cute, huh? Oh, well. C'est la vie -- here.
I made a mistake here, a couple of days ago. In recounting the security search we went through, to enter the main university campus that day, I shared that, last October, a bomb was discovered at the library of a teacher-training center, where our Dr. Moumin was taking a class. The bomb was not discovered half an-hour after her class let out, but later that day, and was supposed to go off, 15-30 minutes after her class let out. She arrived at the center the next day, to an intensive Iraqi police presence.

While on the subject of education, English-language standards have really deteriorated in the past 10-20 years. It used to be, English was taught as a second language, from elementary school, and pretty rigorously at that. Such that, by the end of high school, almost all Iraqis could speak, read and write English adequately. You could also easily find many people, in all parts of the country, who excelled at English. Now, it's rare to find an Iraqi who speaks English well.

Education, as a whole, is a disaster. Children, at all levels, are still taught by rote. The law graduates tell me that they are given two or three books per semester, and they're to memorize them for the final exam. In the exam, they are asked to answer questions by regurgitating from the texts, word for word, with commas and all. They are discouraged from improvising -- that is, describing the concept, in their own words -- strongly discouraged to do so, at the risk of failure. Come the next year, they've forgotten everything -- absorbed nothing from the previous year -- no concepts, no ideas -- as they have to "empty" their brains, for a new batch of information, from the next year's texts, to be memorized.

This is the case in elementary, secondary and college levels. No thinking, just straight-out memorization.

Nevertheless, they find outlets for their creativity and resourcefulness. A former employee at the communications ministry told me, in passing the other day, that the people there were very proficient at hacking into computer systems, able to gain access to information and steal computer programs at will. I'll certainly ask more, about this.

* * *

I also learned, from one of the law graduates here, who went to Libya with her husband for work a few years ago, that Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi banned the English langauge from Libya, or, at least, its schools, for 10 years, upon taking power. Another Qadhafi story, related the other day: he wrote, in his Green Book, that instead of 22 people running around a soccer field, watched by millions, what they ought to do is have the millions running on the field, watched by 22 people in the stands. Well, maybe he's got a point -- but....
No news this morning -- which, of course, is good news.

A force of 1200 Iraqi soldiers, from the new army, entered Falluja, led by a former general in Saddam's army -- a liwaa' rukun, which, I believe, is the head of a division. I don't have more information on him. The American army has withdrawn, to five, six kilometers from the city.

Speaking of which, the defense minister, Ali Abdul-Amir Allawi, spoke to a group of 400-500 former Iraqi army officers -- must have been yesterday. He told them that the new army will defend the country's borders, obey its constitution and not be politicized -- no affiliations or leanings to any party, as was done in Saddam's time. No more, nothing more. One of the attendees stood up, and said, We are all professionals and well-trained, and don't want to be under the aegis of the Pentagon.

More on this -- I'm sure.

Today is Friday, the sabbath. I'm the only one in the office -- except the guards. Friday's prayer day, which means the largest number of worshippers at mosques. So, there will probably be some activity, as people leave the mosques, after noon, especially from those with preachers, such as Sadir and extremist Sunni imams, who want to stir up trouble.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Follow-up from Alaa, in Holland:
Date: 4/29/2004 9:07:50 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

It is not a question of disobeying. I too take risks and not listen to anyone but my head! It is however this: we think and live differently. Yesterday, I was watching a CNN report from al-Rashid Street. I could not relate to any Iraqi who appeared in the report. They were talking total rubbish. You or I could easily get in trouble with them. My family keeps me away from such people.

Liesbeth looks at the anti-Americanism and repeats a Dutch saying "Stank voor Dank", which translates "a stink instead of being grateful."

Maybe that's good news, though -- that there's nothing else going on, to report on -- that it's relatively quiet. It's been two fairly quiet days. The woman who came into the office from out of town said that Jaysh il-Mahdi -- that's Sadir's gang -- were passing out leaflets today. Another person expressed dismay at the lack of activity -- in the market, economic situation -- with so many foreign companies dissuaded from coming here, or leaving. That's gonna be a tough hurdle to climb -- it'll take a while to reinterest them -- to show them it's safe to come back here. That one's a big one.

Otherwise, we've got a three-day weekend -- Friday, regular day off; Saturday, May First, for Worker's Day; and Sunday, for the Prophet's birthday.
More feedback. God, I hope this isn't getting to be all, friends and folks, worried about me.
Date: 4/29/2004 4:31:07 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

Your relatives may be over-protective but they are in a better position to assess the security situation. Don't take unnecessary risks. Take good care of yourself.

Today was my departure date but the trip is still on hold until the situation calms down a bit.


* * *
Date: 4/29/2004 8:58:36 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hello, Alaa,

Yeah -- you're right -- about my relatives. I'm trying -- not to disobey them -- too much -- or, not at all. Actually, I remembered you, yesterday morning, as I was waiting for my uncle to give me a ride. He and his sister kept telling family stories, and I kept waiting -- wanting to get going, and so, not interested in the stories. I remembered your saying that you wanted to have a car, so you wouldn't be dependent on the relatives.

By the way, this uncle met with Qasim -- I think, in '59. He's got a few stories about Qasim, although you've probably heard 'em.

All right -- see you. Let me know, when you decide to make it here, although, as in my case, the relatives probably have a lot to say, about that.
My uncle picked me up at the office, mid-afternoon, and took me to the barber, so I can look presentable for my date tomorrow, with Layla's father and my uncle and aunts -- and Layla, and her son -- one big happy family. At the barber's, he had on the American television station Al-Hurra (The Free One), and sandwiching the news report were a biography of Goldie Hawn and the latest Hollywood news. Hmmm.

No choice of styles, at the barber. You just plop your body on the seat, and he does his thing. That's all there is to it. This is the barber my uncle's been going to for 15 years, as did former president Abdul-Rahman Arif ('66-'68), after he returned from exile in Turkey. I asked him for something lighter than the guy before me got, but...well, there's not much to work with, in my case.
Another concerned friend, from England:
Date: 4/28/2004 3:53:28 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Teresa"

Hi Ayad

I get the picture from your blog that you are living a fairly restricted life, going from your uncle and aunt's home to your office and back again, and that you find their injunctions not to go out alone frustrating. I can imagine how you feel, especially when you want to travel about and ask questions and see and understand as much of what is going on as possible. However, I do feel you should follow their advice, even if you feel they are giving you orders. They know the situation much better than you possibly can, as they have been there for years. They are clearly worried about you and feel you are, as we suspected, conspicuous - even without opening your mouth. I don't know whether you ever read
An Evil Cradling, Brian Keenan's book about his five years as a hostage in Lebanon. He came out alive, but some of his friends didn't. It was the most utterly gruelling experience imaginable. I found it difficult to read, although I made myself, right to the end. At risk of irritating you, I would ask you to exercise your imagination to its full capacity and go through in your mind what it might be like, if you took a risk and some group or other decided to kidnap you. I'm saying all this because I love you and couldn't bear it if anything happened to you. Neither could an awful lot of other people who love you.

By the way, you wanted feedback on the blog. A lot of it is fascinating. Personally I'd like more about what Iraqis you meet feel about the situation and less about your date... But that's just me. You write very well.
A poster of Shi'a firebrand cleric Muqtada Sadir can be found throughout the city, and southern Iraq and Falluja, too, probably. In the one picture of him, his face is framed in black -- hair, below and in the middle; turban, above. He glares out, his forefinger and middle finger, held out, in front of his face. The image reminds young people here of a Japanese cartoon character that was popular in the eighties. Sasoki was a four, five-year-old boy who initiated his magical powers by putting one forefinger above the other. Sasoki's also become an adjective, to describe something stupendous, akin to "awesome," in America. Many also say that Sadir is called King of the Playstation, for his abilities in the video game.
When my cousin's wife enthused about her husband, that he treats her well, that usually means one or more of the following: that he doesn't hit her, doesn't get drunk, doesn't sleep around -- although if that happens, it's often forgiven -- that he lets her know where he's going, where he is, and that he doesn't yelusuallyer. However, it usally doesn't include abusive or humiliating treatment, or treating her like a demeaned child.
An activist in a business group called Construction Ladies in Iraq received a death threat, calling her group a Jewish front, as it did not identify itself as Muslim or Christian.
A lot of people complain that the security situation is bad, that it's not safe to go out, that kidnapping is rampant. Crime, however, is nothing new. To begin with, people never felt safe in Saddam times, always fearing a knock on the door in the middle of the night. A woman here for a course at the Iraq Foundation just told me that her best friend's husband disappeared a year and a half ago (November 2002), when he went to a government office to check on why he'd been refused a passport. He hasn't been heard from, since. The husband wasn't involved in any political activity or a business venture with a regime insider -- nothing that might elicit suspicion or jealousy. A worker here related that her sister, while working with an NGO abroad, told her mother in Baghdad by phone that she'd sent them a letter with "somebody from the group." Their mother was so terrified, she couldn't sleep for two nights. The letter didn't make it. The fear is so pervasive, still, that a person I interviewed recalled that his wife recently came across an article on the internet in their bedroom computer about Qusay, Saddam's second son, and immediately shut down the computer. In 1974, there was a brutal serial killer on the loose. He was nicknamed Abu Tubar (the hatchet guy). Most people suspected it was a regime scheme, to terrorize people. Documents and the word of former regime agents confirmed this.

After the 1991 Kuwait war, kidnappings, carjackings, car thefts, stealing of tires off parked cars, house burglaries, killings in homes, people hiring security to protect them and their homes, carrying a gun on their persons, in their stores or in their cars, all became widespread, and persisted, for years -- until the Memorandum of Understanding with the U.N. in the oil-for-food program brought money into the country. In addition, the loot from a Kuwait stripped bare became objects of prey and a source for a nouveau riche and further plunder.
From the update department:

I wrote, more than two weeks ago, about a billboard in the middle of a roundabout at a major intersection nearby. On one side of the billboard, was a list of instructions, guidelines, for proper behavior with the police -- still haven't read those instructions. On the other side, above a policeman pointing at the onlooker, are the words "I put my life at risk every day to help rebuild my country, and establish safety and security for the citizens of Baghdad." Below, he asks citizens to search for what they can do for their country. Both sides of the billboard had black paint splashed all over them. A few days ago, when I was kidnapped by Layla, we passed that roundabout, and the billboard had been replaced, with a new, clean version of the same advertisements.
About seven years ago, when a grandson was born to my uncle, the baby's father told his dad, an hour after the birth, that he'd send his boy to the U.K., to avoid military service in another of Saddam's wars.
Corrections department
My uncle's friend, with whom he played a slave in "The Ten Commandments," was Sadiq al-Aadili. Aadili's father, Abdul-Amir, did not own a moviehouse, as I wrote earlier, but sold nuts next to downtown Baghdad's summer Hamra Cinema. Aadili, who wanted to be an actor, looked like Cornel Wilde, and sometimes stood in for him in horse-riding scenes. He's now a businessman in the Los Angeles area -- Aadili, that is; Wilde is dead.
Next, a few brief thoughts -- I'm cleaning up some old notes, putting 'em to bed.

Cell phones, which started here last summer, and have become widespread in the last three months, offer a pretty bad service. An Egyptian company, Orascom (possibly named after the Egyptian god Horace), has a monopoly for the first year. Many suspect a kickback to one of the Governing Council members, Ahmad Chalabi, who is vilified and scapegoated for most everything.

First, you get the phone -- prices range from $50-500+, and are sold all sorts of stores. To start the service, you buy a "sim cardubiquitous of Orascom ubiquotous agents, Iraquna (Our Iraq); the sim-card system is used around the world. The sim card costs $69, and is inserted into the phone, yielding a phone number. You then have to buy a card, with scratch-out numbers, to make calls. Ten dollars a month from a card goes for the service, and the rest, for minutes used; most people buy $30 cards. If a card's minutes aren't used up in a month, the service could expire, requiring a new sim card -- another $69. Most people believe incoming calls are free, but some say that changes are made to prices and service at the whim of the company. The cards, too, which can be bought most anywhere, are often scams -- witrapidlys evaporating rapidily -- and no recourse, yet, for the buyers.
For those just tuning in, I've been doing a top-ten list. I've brought them together, for your listening pleasure.

Top-ten list
from our home office in Baghdad

(as they came to me)
As I was reading in The Sporting News' pre-season issue, I came up with this top-ten list.

You know youve been in the Arab world too long, when:

You misread "infields," as "infidels." [Get those infidels out of the infield!]

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You can't wear a baseball cap that says "We got him."

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

The pre-dawn call to prayer starts disrupting your sleep.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

Somebody walking into your room while you're in bed doesn't bother you.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You're told you're being too nice to street peddlers.

A colleague's nomination:

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

The traffic chaos doesn't bother you anymore.

Back to me:

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You become really interested in Arab history and Shi'a history. You're forced to, it becomes necessary, takes on some HEAVY weight, it's part of people's lives, their very essence and being.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You don't think twice about not recycling a recyclable [which is especially hard, for an obsessive recycler like me].

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

Having supper late at night (nine, ten, eleven o'clock) is nothing out of the ordinary.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You start involuntarily saying "in-shaa-lah" (God willing) for an appointment or something that's supposed to happen or you wish to happen, and "il-Hamdu-lil-laah" (Praise be to God) for something good that's happened.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You start involuntarily putting an honorific (Mr., Miss, Dr.) in front of a person's first name.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You think, Yeah, it's all right going to sleep really early and waking up before even the pre-dawn call to prayer. [For Chrissake, would you -- for just one time -- put a lid on it! About which, I learned that a relative who lived abroad, used to rent a place in a more-Christian part of town on visits, to avoid the pre-dawn call to prayer. Mosques have multiplied dramatically in the past few years.]

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

It's easy to compliment a girl's looks and smell -- and it's easy to call her a girl.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You sleep through the pre-dawn call to prayer, or it doesn't bother you anymore.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You start involuntarily saying, "Wallah" (By God), for the exclamation "really."

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Another friend’s reaction to my blog, this from Steve Hassan, who helped bring my sister out of a dark place, twelve years ago, for which, I will be eternally grateful:
Date: 4/28/2004 11:37:55 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Steven Alan Hassan


I can’t say I read every day’s entries, but I’ve been trying to do some. I printed out the long one from yesterday and gave it to misia to read.

The bottom line: we want to put in a vote for you to come home soon. Every day we read the news -- I don’t want to lose you, my friend. I am sorry if this appears to be “unsupportive” -- we are selfish and don’t want to lose a friend, or have a friend lose a leg or arm or eye.

I do pray for you, if that is of any comfort.

Your friends,

Steve and Misia

Steven Alan Hassan M.Ed. LMHC, NCC
Freedom of Mind Resource Center Inc. http://www.freedomofmind.com
"I know but one freedom & that is the freedom of the mind"
-- Antoine de Saint Exupery
My response:
Date: 4/28/2004 12:07:57 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Thanks, Steve -- I appreciate that. I'm not getting into any trouble -- nowhere near it. The "news" is a lot worse than the reality. It's sort of like a bomb goes off in New York City somewhere, or just a killing -- you know how many of those happen in each American city each day. But, I am being very careful, and it helps me to hear your concern, your worry. I've got pictures of Danya and my sister's little boy on my desk, as reminders. And I've got a picture on my computer screen of Ahmed and his two little ones -- another reminder. And, throughout, I'm trying to keep my mouth shut -- that's the biggest obstacle -- the biggest risk I face.

But do keep me in mind -- keep me on the straight and narrow. I mean, so far, so good -- so far, it's fine -- no trouble -- no matter how much the news may show it otherwise.

All right -- I'm about to get picked up by my uncle, his wife and sister -- hittin' the town, for some carrot juice and ice cream -- and, I hope, some dinner, before that. So, we don't have dinner at ten o'clock or something like that.

See you, and my love to Misia.

Oh, Steve -- I wanna post what you wrote me. If there's any objection, let me know. I won't put in your e-mail address, or your full name, if you don't want. It's the content, that's important.

All right, buddy -- thanks for keeping up with me, and for being such a good friend.

You have talked with Ahmed, I gather -- coz he can tell you what it's like, too -- although he didn't want me to make the trip, either -- even though he's been here, three times over the past year.

All right -- gotta go. See you -- and keep writing me. Bye. And it's good to hear from you -- always -- notes from home -- good feelings, there.
Next, my old friend Laine, in Cleveland:
Date: 4/28/2004 12:12:57 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Laine

Oh you have more than a book. Your dating stories alone could be some Arabic sitcom or reality show. You are brave working there. I give you a lot of credit. It sounds more like "democrazy" than democracy there. Americans are in such a privileged position to be able to voice our opinion. It's a shame we waste it on crap such as voting for American Idol.

I'm applying for full-time teaching jobs. The job market here very tight. Perhaps I could get a better job in Iraq. Don't get me started. I'm not a Bush fan as you know.

See you soon, Love Laine

* * *
Date: 4/28/2004 11:45:19 AM Eastern Daylight Time

That was funny -- "democrazy" -- good one. We actually had a panel discussion today, and one of the jurors -- well, it wasn't a panel discussion, but I was on the panel -- a plank of the panel -- one of the judges of these papers that graduate political science students wrote. So, one of the jurors said that he has more freedom here, in Iraq, than he does in America -- that he can drive a car without a license, can own a car without registering it, can drive on the wrong side of the street without getting into trouble. This was in response to the student who came up with a quote, based on his readings of Alexis de Tocqueville -- "no freedom without democracy, and no democracy without freedom." My fellow juror -- on Iraqi Idol -- wanted this student to spin out the tale a bit -- how to balance freedom and democracy. In his response, he talked about a mother, refereeing between her feuding children. So, I butted in, and asked him what role the children play, in determining the limits to their feedom, in deciding the democratic rules at play, being part of creating the balance between freedom and democracy.

Well -- there's lots of stuff -- like that -- at my end.

Good luck at your end, Laine.
I'll share some e-mails here, now that I've caught up with some personal correspondence. First up, my friend Alaaddin Al-Dhahir, who wrote a book about Abdul-Karim al-Qasim, the Iraqi republic's first leader. The book, though, perished in a fire at his university building, in Holland.
Subj: Flag"gy" issues
Date: 4/28/2004 7:49:17 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

What I do not understand is this: why didn't they restore the 1958 flag as well? It had the red, the green, the black, the white and the yellow (for kurds). Wide stripes in green, white, black, and a red star with a yellow round base in the middle. The 3-star "Iraqi" flag is not Iraqi at all. It was adopted in 1963 from the 2-star flag of the United Arab Republic (the union between Egypt and Syria) with the 3rd star for Iraq. So tell your friends the 1958 is the only REAL Iraqi flag. The monarchy flag is also derived from an old Syrian (Arab revolt) flag.

The 1958 seal has a Kurdish dagger and an Arab sword, a reference to the farmers as well as workers. You only need to take a careful look at it and you will distingiush all of these things. Further, the sun-like shape is a reference to Sumerians. Needless to say, I am in favor of this seal.

Another friend's reaction to my blog, this one from my friend Alaaddin, in Holland:
Date: 4/28/2004 6:44:50 AM Eastern Daylight Time

I do appreciate the info you sent but my preference will be to describe Baghdad, the streets, the people and the security situation.
And my reply:
Date: 4/28/2004 11:23:34 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Thanks, Alaa, for your feedback. Well, I'm writing everything I see and hear, and no more, no less. I can't make stuff up, and I can't force the outings -- although I could go out more. Little by little. I sort of feel that I'm slowly peeling this onion - this onion called Iraq. I'm getting inside it, bit by bit.

See you.

Hey -- what are your latest plans?
Alaa is supposed to drive from Holland to Baghdad, in the next few weeks, but...getting advised against it, from family, loved ones and friends -- told to postpone it.
A few days ago, my mother, in Cleveland, complained that my blog was getting boring -- too much repitition and all that stuff about my uncle and aunt. So, I asked a few friends who I know have been keeping up with it. Here's one reply, from a person who met President Bush in Cleveland:
Date: 4/27/2004 12:58:50 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Hello Ayad-

The picture is of me shaking hands with the President. It's also signed by him!! It's a real signature - no stamp. I feel very lucky.....

I spent the morning catching up on the blog. Very, very interesting!! I'm glad to hear you've managed to date a little. Sounds very different from the USA! My goodness, talk of marriage before the first date! It's hard for a western woman to relate! I've lived by myself for 10 years. Sounds like my lifestyle would not be permitted over there.... I can't imagine requiring an escort. Holy cow.

As I said before, I don't think the blog is boring at all. We enjoy the intimate view. Are your family members all aware of your blogging? If so, please pass along the fact that we are enjoying hearing about them and wish them the best - Freedom, Happiness, and Peace - all in a hurry!

Be careful-

* * *

Thanks, Karen, for sending the picture, again. I don't think it was the format -- I think it was my browser, or whatever it's called.

Yeah -- it is strange, this "dating." I don't know if I'm cut out for it, either. And, yes, women have to be escorted -- a lot -- to most places.

As for family, yes, my parents, siblings in America, and probably some others, are keeping up with it. One guy, here, says that, for sure, the woman I dated -- and I'd been without a date for two years -- she's probably keeping up with it, too. I don't know -- she hasn't said anything. Otherwise, I don't think anybody else here is keeping up with it -- not that I know of -- not anybody I know.

See you. And I'll let you know about the picture. Thanks, again -- that is exciting -- sooo exciting. I hope I get to meet him. I'm going for Bremer right now. And I've got a few things planned -- to take my "We Got Him" hat with me, and pull it out, as I approach him, and to say a few things, too. I love that guy, too -- he's quite a hero -- doing great stuff. The law/women's person in the office just saw him a few days ago, and says he's tired, said Iraqis are really hard to work with. He apparently had a little heart trouble, too, the other day.

Hey -- you've just helped me with more blog-posting -- thanks, Karen. Keep writing me, and adding to my blog -- thanks.
By the way, a hearty birthday wish, to prisoner number 00000001. Happy Birthday! They may be waiting for you at Baghdad University's Center for International Studies, where, today, Dr. Moumin noticed about half a dozen of your pictures, stacked on the floor behind the flip chart next to the front dais. Happy Birthday, and many happy returns.
Another e-mail, this one about my latest solo trek:
Monday morning, 10:24.
I walked to work this morning -- by myself -- something I'm not supposed to do.

Listen to your uncle, for several reasons I can think of.....not the least of which is respect. You are now in Rome:-)

Keep Safe, and Keep writing,

My reply:
Yeah, you're right, Doug -- but....he ditched me, and it was past 10, and...I've got sooo much to do -- can't wait [and such important things, too].

But you're right. I'm working on it -- my insubordination, and impatience.

Thanks for the advice. See you.
With respect to the formal titles used here, before a person's first name -- about which I wrote, last week -- I got this e-mail, from my friend Alaaddin, in Holland.
Subj: Prof. Dr. Ing.
Date: 4/22/2004 4:01:18 AM Eastern Daylight Time

I remember complaining to a colleague here about the titles used in Holland (central and Eastern Europe) before the names, like "Professor," "Doctor," "Engineer," and how formal they are. He replied, "When I was in Burkina Faso, every one used the title of Doctor before his first name!" To be fair, people here are not as formal among colleagues, family or friends, only among "strangers". But we use "doctor" even among family and with some veneration. I call a man 30 years my senior (a former Iraqi general or prime-minister who is, as it happened, a dear friend of my late father)
[by his first name, or Abu-something?, a nickname] and he responds, "Ahlan, Dr Alaa'." I keep skipping these "addressing titles" but to no avail. I keep telling them, "Bayn al-Ahbaab tisqut al-Alqaab (originally al-Adaab)." [Between loved ones, the titles fall (originally, "manners fall")]

* * *
After I got that e-mail, as two of the women filed out of the office, each said "bye, oos'taath Ayad" [Mr.; literally, teacher]. I responded to each, "bye, oos'tathah" so-and-so. The second woman objected -- that it didn't matter, that I could go on, saying whatever I wanted.
I was kidnapped again, today. Not as pleasant as the last kidnapping.

I was waiting for my uncle to drive me to work. I'd been waiting impatiently, as he and his sister reviewed family history, over the breakfast table -- going back to the 19th Century -- who married whom, where some ancestral property was in Hilla, who had what business, who died when. The discussion may have started with my father's certificate of citizenship (from 1951), which my uncle brought down, so I can use it to get an Iraqi ID. I was very antsy. I'd finished breakfast, half an hour before, and wanted to get to the office -- lots to do -- write this blog, read the student papers for the contest, maybe stop by a bureau for a fax number, get my hair cut. It's all about me. As my uncle and I were about to leave the house, a friend from the office was knocking on the window, tapping his watch at me. When my uncle opened the door, my friend teased him about my tardiness. "What's going on?" I asked. "C'mon, we have to be at the university now. We were supposed to meet at the office at 8:30," he said. It was past nine. I didn't know. Turns out, I had it in my book -- about the 8:30 meeting -- but hadn't checked it. I apologized. "But, what's this about the university?" My friend was wearing a suit and tie. Waiting in the SUV, outside the front gate, was Dr. Moumin, dressed in a sky-blue pant-suit. In front, were two men -- looked serious, like guards. Nobody'd told me about this. I knew we were to evaluate the papers, today, but have been hearing the others talk about going to the university, tomorrow, to announce the awards. Nobody asked me to join them there.

Ready or not, here we come. We drove along, headed to the university -- to hear the students' presentations, for a contest organized by the Iraq Foundation. The papers, by political science graduate students, were to address some aspect of solving conflicts by peaceful means. The students were given some literature about transitional systems, election laws, justice, and peace and reconciliation. There were also books, but the professors said the books would not be of any use, because they were in the American style, and not the European style they were accustomed to. The best I've been able to gather, about this, is that the professors really don't put themselves out much -- for the students -- by learning English and expanding their knowledge-base, and prefer the straightforward, dry approach, over the anecdotal and situational examples offered by many American writers and textbooks.

I felt so unprepared for this. I wasn't suitably dressed. I hadn't shaved, my shoes were dirty, and, most importantly, I hadn't read the papers and I didn't expect to be going to the university, at all. When we arrived at the gates of the university, we stopped, for a search. There were many armed guards. Actually, within this one campus, in the peninsula at the center of Baghdad, are most of the city's universities and colleges. Dr. Moumin pulled out a paper from the head of the university's cultural programs, affording her entry to the campus. A guard asked if there was press. She replied, yes. The driver, front-seat passenger and my fellow jurors got out of the car, and had their bags searched. I didn't, and was skipped. The guards asked if we had weapons -- we didn't. Last October, Dr. Moumin was in a class at a teacher-training center. The next day, she learned that half an hour after her class let out, a bomb was discovered in the building's library, one floor above. Before that, a bomb was discovered in the library of the communications college.

As we made our way to the university's Center for International Studies, one young man approached Dr. Moumin about one of the NGO courses offered at the Iraq Foundation. Another man inquired about the two strangers on campus. She explained our purpose, and invited him to join us. She said he was probably security. After the presentations, as we made our way back to the car, the students sitting on the stairs and ledges followed me with their glances, and possibly my Iraqi-American and Iraqi peers, too.

Only four of the 12 student-writers showed up, to present their papers. Reaching the school was reportedly a problem for some of the absentees. One of the presenters did an outstanding job -- he of the 112-pager "Problematics for the Democratic Model in Settling International Disputes." A line in his paper -- "no freedom without democracy, and no democracy without freedom" -- he said he arrived at from the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville. He had an Assyrian Christian name. The other presenters were a Kurdish man, an Arab man and an Arab woman, unveiled. The latter argued that Iraq was under a colonial rule. The Kurdish presenter cited the settlement of the Spanish-Moroccan dispute over the Parsley Islands (called Layla Islands, in Arabic). That reminded me of a Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Cleveland, in which Harry Saltzberg spoke about the two parties appealing to the U.S. State Department, for mediation.

There was quite a bit of sloganeering, including from the professors in the audience. One of my fellow jurors, an Iraqi American from the Golden State, got into it with two of the presenters -- about Israel, and about the nature of the American presence in Iraq -- whether it's an occupation or a colonization. He says he wanted to give them some shock therapy, to get them out of the bland statements. He says that's what he wants to do in Iraq -- teach people to express their opinions, their points of view. He did this during his teacher-training workshops around the country. He'd ask them for their opinions, but they'd offer up mostly slogans and be reticent to offer an opinion. Over a week, he'd persist, and, slowly, they'd start opening up, and by the end, thoroughly enjoy it.

Today, he kept asking a presenter and a professor in the audience their opinion about whether the American presence was an occupation or a colonization. He wanted to conduct a survey of the attendants -- it didn't happen. His respondents replied, "This is a fact." He'd ask them for their opinion, and it went on like that, with an opinion, almost impossible to extract. My two peers felt the professors didn't like the students being permitted to offer views -- this included a professor telling one of the presenters, a doctoral student, that he was theorizing, that he didn't have a right to do that. Dr. Moumin, a law professor, said giving a point of view would get a student a zero grade. The students, according to my peers, enjoyed the opportunity. One student praised the panelists for the discussion, and asked permission to applaud, starting a round of applause. The Californian found that astounding -- that a student would ask permission to applaud. Dr. Moumin said students weren't allowed to applaud, weren't allowed to do anything, and what we did today -- the opportunity the students had, today -- was a first. There were about 40 students and professors in attendance. The student who applauded our efforts, also said, during the discussion about occupation-versus-colonization: "We welcome democracy, no matter how it comes."

With another presenter, my Golden State peer took issue with the student's premise -- that only democracies can settle disputes peacefully. Among his examples to the contrary, he offered the 1975 Algiers Accord between Iraq and Iran, and Israel's dispute with the Palestinians. The student said Israel wasn't a state, nor a democracy, that it "was implanted" in the Arab world. I stayed out of that discussion. After the presentations, I shared with that student a quote from Chou En Lai, foreign minister of the PRC, who, when asked his assessment of the French Revolution, replied, "It's too early to tell." He then asked me if Israel was a state. I tried to turn it back on him, but he pressed me. I said, Why not? He repeated, that "it's implanted." I said, Well, we're all implanted, created out of something.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

I've long asked my old officemate Ali to introduce me to American soldiers. He sees them often, and talks with 'em -- apparently knows his way around, so he can talk with them, can get into a position to talk with 'em. It used to be, people were very friendly with the soldiers. This went on for the first couple of months, I'm told, after liberation. Then, when the attacks started taking place -- after Saddam's former people organized themselves, later joined by the bin Laden-types -- people became afraid to be seen mingling with soldiers. I'm told that soldiers used to hang around on the main streets and in the markets, for a couple hours, chatting, being friendly with people, especially kids -- used to hand out candy and gum to the children, who'd wave and cheer them on. Now, both sides avoid each other. My uncle says the soldiers have been instructed to avoid fratrenizing, for their own safety, and for the Iraqi civilians'.

Yesterday, Ali approached me, again, with a "golden" opportunity to meet the soldiers, but I was in the middle of something, and couldn't break away. Plus, my camera's batteries are dead, and I wouldn't have been able to take pictures with them, and my "We Got Him" cap.
I'm getting scared, again. Yesterday evening, my uncle, his wife and his son were at it, trying to get me to stay at home -- that is, not go to the office. I'm sorry, I know this is not what you bargained for, but that's all I have. I looked in my stockroom, and I ain't got anything else. Actually, I do have a few things on the shelf, but...first things, first.

They're trying to impress upon me, how much the Iraq Foundation is targeted, because it is a group advocating and promoting democratic practices and principles. My cousin said that one of the teachers who comes in for training, could be a Ba'thi, or could talk about the training to former colleagues, and, so on and so on, until, word reaches the decision-makers of the terrorism -- the ones who decide where to bomb, what to blow up -- and..."Bob's your uncle" (British saying).

I made my arguments for continuing to go to the office -- getting out, the advantages of mixing with people, the work envirnoment (see yesterday's post). I appreciated their concern, but responded, How long are we gonna run, be afraid. My uncle said that I don't have to be on the front lines of the battle. There was a compromise offered -- for me to go to the office, every other day. Stay tuned.

We stopped off at a bakery, to pick up some bread -- we got a thicker pita, roughly the shape of an elongated diamond. We got 20 loaves. My cousin said the guy who runs the place used to be a security agent. They're all over the place -- these Amn (Security/Secret Police) and Mukhabarat (Intelligence/terrorism) people. I guess they'll be there, for years to come -- won't disappear overnight.

This morning, I shared with Dr. Moumin my family's fears. She said, we're 65 percent safe; 35 percent, at risk. Those aren't very good odds.

Well -- what can we do? Hope for the best -- that's my solution -- my non-solution solution.
This morning, I asked one of the law graduates in the office where the law school was. As she described the location, I went to the map of Baghdad hanging on the wall. She found that a novelty, using a map. They didn't exist in Iraq, before. Maps were illegal. Likewise, the weather forecasts on television and in the newspaper were made, without maps.

"Baghdad Without a Map" -- a great book by Tony Horwitz. I've been recommending a chapter in that book for a dozen years, to get a feel for what life was like in Iraq.

Till next time.
A couple of days ago, another friend asked me about dating and sex in America. My "it depends" answer didn't please him. He wanted to hear that, by asking a stranger in the street, you could get a date, and that once you get a date, you'd be able to go to bed with her. This line of inquiry was prompted by his conversations with American soldiers, whom he taught that you couldn't speak with a woman passing by in the street in Iraq. He got, from them, that in America, one could do that, and ask her for a date. I placed some qualifiers on these assumptions.

I was also told a story about a man who works in an American military base. This man was helping design a building, and asked the commander what a paticular room was for. The commander told the man that the room was for the three women in the office with them, and that "maybe we'll put you in there, too." The four Americans laughed. The Iraqi was mightily embarrassed. The person who related this to me, was astounded that men and women could talk that way with each other -- and openly, at that. I told him that's the great thing about America -- the openness, the freedom to engage in almost any type of conversation -- although, "it depends."

* * *

Speaking of which, a brief, and pretty simple, observation: I'm pretty sure that sexual repression, here, leads to hasty and early marriages. The man -- after a while, combined with inadequate familiarity between the two -- gets tired of the woman, and, no doubt, vice versa. They go off in their own directions, spend most of their time with friends, and, for the man, possibly with other lovers. The general condition is that people don't fully mature -- at least, not enough to be adequately prepared to marry, to make an informed decision about marriage -- if such a state exists. As a result of all this, a simple solution for most people is to completely suppress the sexual drive, and the sexual being.

* * *

Maybe in connection with this, my CDs of Aretha Franklin, Satchmo and Joe Williams are making the rounds in the office. The guys love them.

* * *

We now return to the dating game, already in progress.

When last we met, Ayad -- yours truly -- had gone on a lunch date with Layla -- last Friday. Next up, he thought, was a dinner, as suggested by his uncle.

Layla, on seeing my last post about our date, said she couldn’t go to dinner -- that her father would be worried about her, being out late. I suggested, we make it an early dinner. To that, my uncle and aunt said, in essence, “Are you crazy? You can’t go out for dinner -- you’d be out at night -- that’s too dangerous.”

Then, Layla suggested inviting me and my uncle to tea, or lunch, at her home -- her parents' home. My uncle was good freinds with her father’s brother -- although the brothers apparently had a falling out. Hmmm -- about the invitation to her house -- with her father -- I'm worried. I also suggested an outing with her son, too -- to an amusement park, or whatever he likes. I might’ve jumped the gun, there -- too far, too fast. Don’t you agree? I'm afraid of what all this means. She (Layla), and my uncle and aunt, who are encouraging the match -- all say, "nothing to it" -- that I shouldn't worry -- it shouldn't be read as anything other than two families visiting each other. I don't know about that. It feels like more to me, and I'm worried about any consequence, the ramifications of all this, especially to her, and her father, and maybe my family -- my relatives -- too. It's a bit like, fifty years ago in America, when a man got a woman pregnant, and had to marry her. I feel like I might be in that kind of trap.

After work yesterday, Layla dropped by, and although I was just going to show her my uncle's house, so she could pick me up, the next morning, she kidnapped me. My first kidnapping, I believe -- her first, too. We picked up her son from his after-school tutor, and then went for ice cream. All, nice -- so far, so good. He's a cute, chubby 8-year-old -- pretty outgoing. When I think of him, I recall that I was a year older than him when we left Baghdad for Cleveland. I am worried, though, that I'm moving too fast. Layla reassures me, that all's, all right.

On our drive through a suburban market, we passed two groups of four women window-shopping together. All were unveiled. Layla told me that women, for their safety, go out shopping as a group.

We also passed a stand that sold masks, among other things. I wondered if masks of Saddam were sold. Layla said that sellers fear they could get hit, for making fun of Saddam. Too early, I guess -- situation, still tenuous. Those Saddam agents -- still out there.

* * *

Speaking of which, my uncle related an incident from two days ago. He was making his way to his downtown office, and came upon a confrontation between a policeman and a taxi driver -- in front of the Baghdad Museum, on the RiSaafa side of Martyrs' Bridge (so named, according to a workmate, for the 1967 war, in which 10 Iraqi soldiers died). The cab driver was blocking the road, causing heavy congestion, and was in violation of a traffic rule -- "a major infraction," my uncle said. The traffic cop ordered him to move, but the cabbie wouldn't budge. He signalled to the policeman, who was already heated, that he'd pay him a bribe. That enraged the officer even more: "We don't need bribes anymore, we get paid enough now -- you, trying to corrupt us." The taxi driver, holding his position, said, "Why don't you do something -- go execute Saddam?" The patrolman shot back: "I'll execute you and Saddam." People around the scene felt for the officer, sided with him and tried to calm him down, ease his burden. He'd boiled over, though, and was now in full bloom, delivering a tirade against Iraqis like this driver -- that they'll always be like this, corrupt, cheating, lying, good-for-nothing, destructive. Another patrolman arrived, using a calmer approach. My uncle left the scene, but on retelling the story, this morning, wished the aggrieved officer had pulled out his gun and shot the driver in the head.

My uncle told this story as we pulled up to a photo studio, where I took some passport photos, so I can get an Iraqi ID. This shop, like most photographers in Baghdad, is run by Armenians. Next door, there was a fruit stand, and they had tuk'kee, a berry unique to the region. It's light-green, has the texture of blackberries, although a little softer and sweet. We got some, and took a bag to another uncle's and one for me.
Yesterday, the new Iraqi flag was unveiled. It's a light-blue crescent moon (for Islam) on a white background (for peace), above a base of three horizontal stripes -- a yellow stripe (the Kurdish color) sandwiched between two blue stripes, for the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Gone are the red, black and green, and stars, of Arabdom. Some have said, good riddance to things Arab. Two workers here just said, separately and in displeasure, that it looks like the Israeli flag. To which charge, another person responded, "When are they gonna quit [with that talk]?" The official spokesman of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), which chose the winner from 30 entrants, denies any resemblance between the Iraqi and Israeli flags (Arabic article). One person in the office said he was depressed -- that it was ugly, that the colors were pale, that the words "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greater) must remain (inserted into the previous flag by Saddam's own hand, in 1991), and that he'd prefer the American flag. For the seal of the new state, the first republican flag, designed by the late artist Jawad Salim, has been restored. It's a circle, radiating eight red, pointy cones, interspersed with eight sets of three wavy golden lines. At the top of the inside circle are the words, in Arabic, "The Iraqi Republic," and at the bottom, the date of the anti-monarchy revolution, July 14, 1958. Two swords hug the inside of the circle, and at its center is a grain of wheat on a blue background inside a black gear, representing industry. The new flag was designed by top architect Rif'at Chadirchi, whose brother, IGC member NaSeer Chadirchi, headed the flag-selection committee. Some Iraqis, including IGC members, say that the council should be occupied with other matters and should have proceeded with greater deliberation. One argument for the quick adoption is the upcoming Olympic games in Athens, at which the foreign minister, Hoshyar Zeybari, a Kurd, will represent Iraq. Kurds feel they are not represented in Iraq's prior flag and aren't flying it. The selected flag is to fly over government buildings in the next few days, and is to be voted on by the elected parliament.
My mother's relative who was kidnapped last Friday, was shuffled around a bit. There seems to be a hostage market, somewhere. His kidnappers sold him to another group for $50,000; the second group, which may have been the one that asked for $400,000, got $80,000 and two cars -- all in one day. Another day, another dollar. A pretty penny, for a day's work.

Monday, April 26, 2004

In some late-breaking political news, I was told last night, via an inside source, that the prime minister of the caretaker Iraqi government that's to take over, June 30, will be Adil Abdul-Mehdi. Mehdi is the top adviser to Abdil-Azeez il-Hakeem, a member of the Governing Council, representing the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Mehdi, considered a moderate, was a publisher and writer in France before returning to Iraq a year ago. Because of a confrontation he had with Saddam, he's obtained a reputation as a tough man, something Iraqis like. After the capture of Saddam, Mehdi was one of six Iraqi politicians who went to identify the prisoner in his cell. Saddam was defiant and aggressive with everyone. Mehdi, however, reportedly told Saddam to be quiet, that he's the accused and therefore shouldn't be asking questions; we ask the questions, he reportedly said -- you only answer them.

However, in the papers today, reports have Adnan Pachachi as the president, and Sharif Ali (an heir to the former monarch), as prime minister. The government, the papers say, will be announced next week. Meanwhile, Shi'as are insisting that a Shi'a be the prime minister.
Things seem pretty quiet today. The worker here who drives from out of town -- and reported yesterday that there was terrible congestion and a heavy military presence on the roads out of the city -- said today that roads were pretty normal, and that people, for the second day in a row, were going to school en masse, as opposed to last week; this, she said, means "they're feeling safe."

The weather's gorgeous, too -- not too hot, with a soft breeze. Let's see how long this lasts -- I hope it's not the calm before the storm.
I was asked a few days ago by Dr. Moumin, head of the law and women's sections of the Iraq Foundation, to speak at a session of the constitutional course the foundation offers for women; no details, yet, and I don't know if I should -- why not. Yesterday, she asked me to be a juror on an essay contest the foundation is holding for political science graduate students, on democracy. The top three essays' writers get desktop computers. I was given two papers to review -- a 100-page paper titled "The Obstacles of the Democratic Model in the Contemporary Regimes" (the word "regimes" usually refers to Arab governments) and a 50-page paper, "The Settlement of International Disputes by Peaceful Means." Tomorrow, we three -- proud and few -- are to discuss the papers.

To which, I must now turn -- after checking e-mail.
Well -- I just found out, from my old officemate Ali, that there was a bit of a storm, not too far from here. In Aamiriyya, a residential part of Baghdad, there was a large explosion at 10:30 on the main highway that runs through the area. It caused a large pane of glass in an upper-floor window of Ali's house to burst -- nobody, hurt. The highway is used extensively by the American military, and, although Ali didn't see the actual explosion-site, he did see, from his taxi above the highway, on the Embassies Bridge, four or five tanks, about 20 Humvees and six civilian SUVs parked along the highway, with crews of what looked like bomb experts scouring the road. Ali's taxi driver told him that there was another large explosion at 6:30 in the morning. Ali saw a plume of smoke in the distance, which, according to our head of security, who just walked in, is "an attack on A'dhamiyya" (part of Baghdad). Yesterday's explosions and clashes in Sadir City (part of Baghdad) caused, by various accounts, 13 to 18 deaths.
Last night, after my uncle and aunt picked me up, we made several stops, before heading home. The time was 8:30. First we stopped at my aunt's daughter's apartment. She grew up in Lebanon and married an Iraqi man a couple of months ago. She's looking for work, and her mother told her than an uncle had something for her, and she would be picked up the next afternoon for an interview/get-acquainted session. The uncle who drove us, waited in the car, reading the newspaper. On the street -- the main street of Mansour (our neighborhood) -- there was a lot of activity. Quite a few large rotisseries -- five or six skewers, each -- were roasting chickens on the sidewalk, people were drinking tea -- almost all, men. Shops were open -- women's clothing, ice cream, small groceries, rugs, jewelry. Things looked pretty normal. Traffic was extremely congested. My aunt said there are a million new cars in Iraq. I said that her brother, our driver, said the number was half a million. It looks like the total number of cars on the streets now, is one million to one-and-a-half million, with 500,000 of them, new -- a 50 percent increase, or a doubling of the number, from a year ago. According to another source, in Baghdad alone, there were, as of one year ago, 350,000 private cars, 250,000 taxis, 350,000 government cars and 100,000 military vehicles -- for a total of 1.05 million vehicles. Nearly all the government and military vehicles were destroyed, stolen or smuggled out of the country, the stealing and smuggling, done mostly in organized stick-ups by the Kurdish parties. As a result, most of the taxis in Kurdistan are reportedly Toyota Cedrics and Avalons, which were given by Saddam as bonuses to loyalists. In the last year, 208-250 thousand new cars have entered the Baghdad area, which represents about half the drivership of the whole country. After we drove away from my cousin's apartment building, a couple of young guys were guiding traffic through the gridlock. My uncle said they were more courageous than the police.

Next, we stopped at an international-calling center, for my aunt to call her husband and daughter in Lebanon and her daughter and niece in America. It's a little shop, that mainly sells copied music CDs and cassettes -- mostly Arabic, and a few "ro'maan'siyyaat" (romantic) mixtures. The hip crowd, listen to Yanni and Julio Iglesias. In addition, the place sells cell phones -- two kinds (I'm looking for a phone) -- and cell-phone accessories. International calls, anywhere, were 500 dinars (35 cents) per minute.

Finally, we stopped at the nearby money-change store belonging to my uncle's son-in-law. His place is spanking clean, and he's undertaking an expansion, to triple its size, and offer banking services. With the expansion, he'll have to hire security guards. Next door, was a store familiar to me, from America -- the kind of dollar store that sells anything and everything. This one had bicycles, kitchenware, children's games, school supplies, picture frames, Syrian-made backgammon sets, side-tables and chests, and the tallest porcelain Chinese vase I'd ever seen. The place was clean and had decent-looking stuff. I was looking for a pair of small scissors -- mine was confiscated at Kennedy airport -- and a cell phone. The store had maybe 20 kinds of cell phones, ranging in price from $59 to around $500. My problem might be solved, though, as my aunt volunteered to let me use her phone, since she rarely uses it, and will be leaving the country in a month's time -- to visit her daughter in Cleveland.
Monday morning, 10:24.

I walked to work this morning -- by myself -- something I'm not supposed to do. My alarm clock didn't go off -- looks like it's broken -- and I got up at nearly nine o'clock. My uncle was waiting for me, but after I finished breakfast, he was gone. I checked at my cousins' homes, across the front yard -- no cars, no body. So, I decided to walk. I went back to the house, told my aunt. Just then, another cousin called; she said she'd send a car from her husband's work to pick me up. It's barely a five-minute walk to work, through three street-turns -- all homes, some occupied by guarded embassies; it's very safe -- but.... My aunt, and cousin on the phone, kept pressing me to wait for a ride. It was ten o'clock, and I wanted to get to work. I told 'em I was gonna walk -- I just wasn't going to wait another fifteen minutes, half-an-hour, for a two-minute ride. So, I walked -- no trouble -- and called home, once I arrived. Sad, though.

I remembered that when I walked this same route with my old officemate Ali, he had me walk to his side away from the street.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

News update: I learned yesterday evening that my mom's relative who was kidnapped, Friday, was released later that day, for $80,000 and two cars. The cars, apparently, were worth as much as, if not more than, the cash.

When my mother told me the news of the kidnapping, yesterday morning from America, she was worried about me, too. I told her we've got guards. "Still, be careful, my son." My uncle is worried, too. He says he's always been worried about the Iraq Foundation, which another relative headed, from 1991 until last fall. We're an easy target, he says -- that it wouldn't take much, to pick us off -- just an RPG from a passing car on the main street, which is in sight. There used to be a sign, on the main street, pointing the way to the foundation. That was quickly taken down. Then, within a couple of weeks of the foundation's relocation, to this space, some 10 days before I arrived, they took down the sign on the outside wall. To some, the mere mention of human rights, democracy, women's rights, educational reform -- or anything that bespeaks them -- is considered a Zionist front, an agent of American influence and imperialism.

That reminds me of an article I just started reading, a review of Hitler's second book. The echoes are resounding -- the fear of a "pure blood," a superior strain, getting soiled and corrupted by foreign influence. The article, "Did Hitlerism die with Hitler?," is by Omer Bartov -- it's a long one -- my printout is 17 pages. It first appeared in The New Republic (February 2 issue), but there's a charge for opening TNR's version. It reviews "Hitler's Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf," edited by Gerhard L. Weinberg, in which Hitler pretty much lays out his plans, which he then tried to carry out, as prescribed in his book. An implicit admonition in the article is to take what fanatics say seriously -- deadly seriously. "Some people mean what they say, and say what they will do, and do what they said."

With regard to my safety, my uncle added that his brother, who was staying at the Palestine Hotel a few months ago, just escaped a rocket attack there, where he, his wife and daughter were staying, one floor from the main damage. So, my uncle suggested I go to the office, less, and work more from his son's house, next door, where there's a computer. Actually, the house is across the front yard, within the walled lot. I don't want to quit the office, which affords me a daily outing, a workspace, a professional environment, quicker wireless connection, backup genrator, friendly folk, source of news, bonhomie and camaraderie (pardon my French). He says, work isn't everything. This is not America -- we don't have to do everything fast. More important, is safety. I agreed with him, but also told him that it's difficult, and I'd think about it. It's a bit tricky, with advice in the tribe. When it's given, especially from an elder, implied, is an order. That's even moreso, when one asks for advice. Well, it's not a done-deal, yet -- he's left it up to me.

On another advice matter, a cousin's son stopped by the office, and we arranged to go out, tomorrow evening, at seven o'clock. When I told my uncle and aunt, they said, no way -- can't go out at night. I had to listen to them -- that is, obey their guidance, even though it may very well be safe, as my cousin's son said. That's the way, with advice from an elder of the tribe. if you don't take it, you've insulted them, offended them. In a similar vein, a relative across town said I shouldn't go to his place, until I've acquired an Iraqi ID. He runs a hospital and drives to and from work in a two-car, armed convoy, traveling at traffic-free times, and, I suppose, traffic-free roadways -- or, at least, ones where the cars can move fast. He added, yesterday, that they're switching cars, too, to avoid detection. It's become a big racket -- kidnapping-for-ransom -- and very well organized. Hence, conclude many, it must be the work of former security agents, who then, use the money to finance the terrorism -- er, "resistance."

The cousin's son who stopped by, came from England last year, and is working with a local ad agency. The agency carried out UNICEF's work in Iraq and did work for Sesame Street of Jordan. The young man came over, to show me a proposal he's working on, for a campaign to counteract the negative media coverage of Iraq by the Arab and foreign media, which is creating hostility and cynicism among Iraqis towards America and the chances for progress and democracy. I just read an article, showing a byproduct of that negative coverage. An article by Dr. Susan Block, a California radio sex-therapist, titled "Rape of Iraq," makes a detailed analogy of the U.S. invasion/liberation of Iraq with the act of rape, and the attitudes of rapist-to-raped, and vice versa. Media in Arab and Islamic countries, and even in the West, ran wild with that story, eventually disseminating reports that American and British troops were raping thousands of Iraqi women and girls. As a result, a Turkish man was motivated to kill himself, along with a dozen others, by blowing up the British HSBC bank in Istanbul, last December. That's one example of distorted "news" -- one I just came across, in my readings. There are many others. Last Wednesday, five car bombs hit three police stations in Basra, killing 68 people. Many people are convinced that Brits struck the stations with rockets.

Back to my safety, and the office I work in. Yesterday, I went out of the office -- alone -- to a kiosk on the corner, at the intersection of two side streets. For a while, I've been wanting to buy some snacks, to keep at my desk, for in-between meals. These improvised sidewalk shops, Iraqis call, a chum'ber -- that's the French chambre, as translated, then rendered, in Iraqi Arabic. They're all over the place -- of varying sizes, and selling cigarettes, drinks and snacks. Iraqis say theirs is "the land of a million chumbers" (ba'led il-mil'yon chum'ber). In Saddam's time, it is said, all the sellers worked as government informers. It's certainly possible that they've continued, for one group or another, and might keep a lookout for foreigners in their zone of operations. I wondered if my presence has been registered -- by one of these kiosk workers.
Now, a few tidbits.

The big news these days is, the possible return of the Ba'ath to power -- not Saddam and his party, but some of his bureaucrats, technocrats and party apparatchiks. On television this morning, they had a man-in-the-street segment, and they were split, three-three, on whether it's okay to bring back mid-to-top-level officials.

* * *

An article in yesterday's al-SabaaH (the CPA paper) announced that 1.5 million new job opportunities will be available in the next few weeks. I thought, boy, if word of this gets back to America, the anti-Bush crowd is really gonna have a field day with that, and the American economy. "We're losing our jobs, and they're being outsourced -- to Iraq -- with our money."

* * *

An officemate reported this morning that, on the way to the office, there was extraordinary military presence and movement. The Dora intersection is blocked by the army. Heavy activity began yesterday in the Sadir part of Baghdad, and was moreso, today. The land vehicles were headed out of town, possibly toward Falluja or Kerbala. The helicopters were headed to Sadir City, which used to be called Revolution City, after 1958, was renamed Saddam City, then, after his fall, took on the names of Moqtada's uncle and father, two top clerics, killed by Saddam in 1980 and 1998, respectively. Yesterday, there was more than one explosion there.

* * *

More items for my top-ten list.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

It's easy to compliment a girl's looks and smell -- and to call her a girl.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You sleep through the pre-dawn call to prayer, or it doesn't bother you anymore.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You start involuntarily saying, "Wallah" (By God).

* * *

I say "Wow" a lot. Iraqis don't say "Wow." Instead, they might say, "A'way'lee!" or "Hey, now!" Just kidding -- about the last one. Actually, I've got quite a few people in the office, now, saying "Hey now!" "Ta2" and "NICE!"

* * *

I slept too much, last night -- or, like my cousin's boy's joke says, about the broom that was late for work, I overswept -- and I don't feel like working, I keep yawning, and stretching. So, I just went to the kitchen, got me a cup of tea and a glass of water [this was mid-morning]. Huda and her daughter Lana are fixing lunch -- biryani, an Indian-type dish of rice with fried potatoes, sauteed onions, chicken or meat, almonds (boiled, peeled and slivered), raisins, eggs (hard-boiled), peas, and boiled carrots. One of the law graduates here says, with the inclusion of carrots, it's no longer biryani, but Taa-cheena. Well, I'm not gonna settle that difference. Huda was giving Lana instructions in Assyrian, a language very close to Aramaic, which was spoken by Jesus. It's actually a dialect of it, if I'm not mistaken, and there are places in Iraq, where you can find Aramaic spoken. I hope to visit one of these places.

* * *

I have lots more I started to write about -- we've got views on dating and sex in America, sexual repression here -- I mean, here -- comparisons of Hitler and Saddam, Saddam's trial, Aretha Franklin -- but I wanna get this off, ASAP. I started this, some eight hours ago -- you see what you're getting for your money.

There's even a weather report -- actually, a small update.

Yesterday's windstorm toppled a tree in my uncle's backyard -- fell into the yard -- no damage done. I was gonna say, a "tree fell in...," as my uncle has, on his bookshelves, A Tree Fell in Brooklyn; I'd like to read that. This morning, while waiting for him to give me a ride, I picked up a very dusty copy of Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire -- definitely should read that. Back to our weather update: The guards yesterday, sitting in their room inside the front gate, had their hair speckled, off-white.

That's all the news that was. Give us eight hours; we'll give you...a sliver of...truth -- the world.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Another addition, to my top-ten list:

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You think, Yeah, it's all right going to sleep really early and waking up before even the pre-dawn call to prayer.

[For Chrissake, would you -- for just one time -- put a lid on it.]

About which, I learned that a relative who lived abroad, used to rent a place in a heavily Christian part of town on visits, to avoid the pre-dawn call to prayer. Mosques have multiplied dramatically in the city.
As I said yesterday, my uncle was supposed to drop me off at the office, but couldn't, because an 84-year-old cousin had died overnight. They had to prepare the body for burial -- must be done, as quickly as possible -- and then drove to Najaf, to the large cemetery there. After returning, last night -- three-hour drive, each way -- he said that all was well -- as far as conditions in Najaf and the South -- that there was nothing, no trouble at all. They were sitting in a restaurant in Najaf, and saw on one of the Arab satellite stations that Najaf was ablaze. One of the waiters came by, and, seeing the TV, asked, "Where's that?"

On hearing my uncle's positive report, I asked, if maybe it's all right for me to go to Hilla (near the ruins of Babylon) and see the 15-year-old girl who's had thalassimia (a blood disorder) since infancy -- she needs a bone-marrow transplant operation. My uncle said, yeah, fine, as long as the girl's father picks me up, which he's offered to do. That was a change of tune, on his part -- up until now, I've been instructed not to leave the city, and not to go anywhere on my own. He did add, though, that I should get an Iraq ID, first.

Stay tuned.

Speaking of going out on my own. Layla, my date yesterday, mentioned a book she'd like to find, and that she might be able to find it at Mutannabi Street, but, as it's downtown, and she's a..."she," she can't make it on her own. I wondered, if I joined her, then it might be all right -- that we'd each be a kind of "protection" for the other.

At work today, I mentioned this to my old officemate, Ali. He laughed at me. "You'd both be targets." The situation reminded him of an Iraqi saying, about a robin and a sparrow, who each insure the other, yet both can fly.

We'd be quite a pair, huh?
I'm catching up on old e-mail -- way behind, as usual.

Just came across this one -- about demonstrations around the world against the "Iraq war" -- but not in Iraq -- no such demonstrations, here. "No friends but the Americans."
It's very windy here, which kicks up a lot of dust -- gets in your eyes, even into your throat a bit. The world's sort of turned white. The palm fronds are blowing every which way -- looks nice, actually. And everything gets dirty. My cousin's husband washed his car, Thursday afternoon, as he does every week -- only to see it get all dusted up, as it rained a bit, then the winds kicked the sand everywhere. That's the dangerous combination -- for stuff -- water and sand. He washed it, again, Friday, the day off, and it was okay, this morning. Not anymore, I'm sure.
A pair of William Safire pieces: first, his summary of the scandal surrounding the U.N.'s oil-for-food program. Then, in "Scandal With No Friends," a play on the saying about the Kurds -- "no friends but the mountains" -- he describes the "multination cover-up of the richest rip-off in world history."

Nice! You gotta love Safire, and his way with words -- take that, all you nattering nabobs of negativism.
Farther afield, we have Claudia Rosett's piece on Libya, and a human rights activist there. Rosett's done some great work on corruption in the U.N.'s oil-for-food program in Iraq.
Next door, in the land of the Lion kings, things have been stirring up.
Yesterday, I gave an example of Saddam's primitive tribal beliefs, vis a vis women. I wrote that Saddam appeared on television once (well, that's an understatement, isn't it?), and said, "The good and well-mannered girl, shouldn't talk with the neighbor [boy]. If he says hello to her, she should reject him, aggressively." Well, the Arabic version -- "L'bnayya al-Habbaaba wil-mu'ad'daba ma-tiH'chee wiyyal-jeeraan. I'tha y'sellim alayha, laazim tridda, bi-shidda" -- is really more insulting and belittling than its English translation. The adjective "Habbaaba" (meaning "good" or "nice") is mostly used for children, and, even then, is often used in a condescending way.

While I'm on the subject, I was corrected about Saddam's adoption of Wahhabism. In the nineties, he had a revelation, and proclaimed a "campaign of faithfulness," and took on the guise of that severe, austere form of Islam, while, at the same time, rounding up bearded Sunni men and actual Wahhabis in Baghdad. I'm sure that's not the last we'll hear, about this.
My mother called this morning, and told me that a relative was kidnapped last night, on his way back from his factory, on the outskirts of Baghdad. The kidnappers want $400,000. The hostage's brother asked to deliver some medicine for his brother. He did, in Ramadi, and returned safely.

My uncle then wondered if a relative and another person he knows should hire protection or leave the country, respectively.
This morning, I was sitting in the kitchen, putting together my breakfast -- first time for me -- mango juice, little black olives, chamomile tea, country cheese soaking in hot water and some bread. My aunt walked in. She asked me about Layla. I told her I wanted more liveliness. She said that she'd get more lively if I proposed marriage. I cracked up, and went over to kiss her. She pulled away, and retreated. She'd just done her ablutions, to prepare herself for prayer, and I could not touch her.

After she left, I turned on the CD on my laptop, and out comes, "I love to tell the story" (of Jesus and his love), from the soundtrack of "The Apostle." All I need now, is for a hothead, maybe even one of my relatives here, to come in and hear this. While eating and drinking, I'm reading congressional testimony on Burma by a State Department official, and I think, do Iraqis have the stomach, the inner fortitude -- the fight in 'em -- to make it on their own? So far, they've got America doing the fighting for them, and America will be there, all the way, to help them nurture their democracy. No doubt, though, this will be, essentially, an American-made democracy. Will Iraqis fight for it, make the battle their own, as the Burmese have been doing, on their own, for a couple of decades.

Iraqis have largely been sitting back, waiting and expecting America to do everything for them -- build the country, restore electricity, install the institutions of democracy and civil society -- all, over-night, of course -- from 0-60 in a split-second. This is in keeping with the millennia-old tribal passivity and dependence, and the millennium-old Arab abdication of responsibility for their lot. What a mess!

That's the tip of the iceberg, on that topic, but...enough -- for now.
Back to here and now. The electricity flow has been really good, the past few days. People have been saying, that as the weather heats up, electricity will be rationed to shorter time intervals; that hasn't been the case, the past few days.
About my date, I wrote yesterday, "She did most of the talking." I ought to say: "She had more to say, more to share -- than me." Maybe her story, having lived here all these years, is of more interest to me, than is mine -- to me.

By the way, thanks for not showing up with a video camera, yesterday -- I'd'a popped a cork, if you had. Unless you were that sneaky little one in the corner, who kept peaking out, from behind the newspaper.

After the date, Layla dropped me off at the office, said she had a nice time; I did, too. No goodbye kiss -- I don't think that's gonna happen -- not on the first date, not anytime soon. Maybe it used to, a decade or two ago.

Speaking of which, my uncle's been telling me about the girlfriend he had, when he first got back from U.S.C., in 1956. A woman unknown to him called him at home, said she wanted to see him. She appointed a time and place. "How will I know you?" he asked. "Just be there," she said, "four o'clock, at the stairs" (of the university's science building). She studied chemistry, which I thought was unusual, for a woman, then. He showed up, they met, and then attended a public lecture together. Throughout the lecture, they whispered and joked, "like we've known each other for 20 years." Sitting in front of them was the finance minister, and my uncle thought the minister would turn around and ask 'em to keep the noise and laughter down. For the next six months, the woman would show up at my uncle's family home, and they'd retreat to the garden's plant-enclosed corridor and sit for hours on a swing, necking. She was also of a higher rank in the Ba'ath Party than he. After six months, she asked him if he'd marry her. He said he was too young. She disappeared from his life, until a gathering three years later, at the Egyptian embassy, in which the large Ba'ath contingent called on Abdul-Kareem Qasim, Iraq's ruler, to merge Iraq with Egypt. After that, the two didn't see each other for nearly 40 years.

For my next date, my uncle suggested I take Layla to a restaurant for dinner, and he'd take me there, to preview the place. My adviser friend, though, said the restaurant my uncle has in mind is a family place -- "more suitable for a group outing." He suggested, instead, an old-house-converted-into-an-Italian-restaurant -- yes, they have 'em here, too. My friend said it's more intimate, which I don't necessarily want -- yet. "Don't worry about it," he shot back. "The nicest place here, is like Denny's, in America."

Which brings me to the state of utter deprivation in Iraqi social and cultural life. There is just nothing to do here. For nearly 20 years, there have been few theaters, movie-houses or parks worth going to. Layla said she loves going to movies and plays, but the quality of those in Iraq has been atrocious, for some 20 years. All that's left are porn houses and tawdry plays, the theaters themselves becoming unsafe. Along Abu Nuwas Street, on the Tigris, cheap bars and strip joints have replaced the dozen nice movie theaters, teahouses and family restaurants that existed there until the 1970s. The only exceptions to this barren landscape have been the visual arts and the symphony orchestra, which have persevered, through thick and thin.

Layla's family, like tens of thousands of other middle and upper-class families, used to frequent the membership clubs, for swimming, tennis, dinner, bingo, parties and movies. Those were taken over, in the course of the last quarter-century, by military and security officers, becoming the scenes of shootings and, eventually, meat markets for Uday and Saddam's henchmen. As a result, no self-respecting man would take his family to one of them, to protect his womenfolk, as well as himself. With the fall of Saddam, the incoming political parties took over the clubs, and since their expulsion, all the clubs, except one, have been dormant. In addition, after the Kuwait war, Saddam had an overnight revelation and announced a "campaign of faith," banning bars and discotheques. Unofficial bars operated, though, but were of the seediest variety. That pushed drinkers into a parking lot near the Jaadriya bridge, which became an outdoor liquor store and drug market, eventually broken up by the police. Since Saddam's ouster, these places multiplied. Nearby residents asked the American authorities to intervene, leading to at least one fatality, since declared by some, a "martyr."

Combined with the video revolution, and, since the fall of Saddam, satellite dishes, people have been driven further into their homes, and those of freinds and family. On top of that, people were prohibited, either by law or economics, from travelong abroad.

Meanwhile, in neighborning Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, there are fancy stores, restaurants, malls and hotels. Kuwait also has a lively theater and movie scene. Likewise, Jordan, not an oil-producing country, and which Iraqis feel has gotten rich off cheap Iraqi oil and labor. Turkey, to the north, is also light-years ahead of Iraq, in all respects. Even in Iran, the Islamic paradise, people frequently go to parks and travel around the country, to tourist sites. In effect, Iraqis have been culturally and socially strangulated, on top of the political repression.
The last couple of days, when I've opened the web-site blogger.com, to do my blogging, I've seen the following message, at the top of their main page:
USA Today--Iraqis enjoy new freedom of expression: "'We suffered for years under Saddam Hussein, not being able to speak out,' says Omar Fadhil, 24, a dentist. 'Now, you can make your voice heard around the world.'" You said it Omar. That's pretty much our whole thing.
Biz [4/20/2004]
I think he's the young Iraqi dentist who does the excellent blog Healing Iraq, at healingiraq.blogspot.com, where he has links to some 20 Iraqi bloggers, as well as 10 Arab/Middle East bloggers, 10 soldiers' blogs and a pair of CPA blogs.

Actually, in looking at Healing Iraq, it appears its author's name is Zeyad, who's about the same age as the Omar quoted above. So, it looks like we've got another smart aleck dentist around here.

Friday, April 23, 2004


I went on my date. Not much "news," to report. It was nice -- we had a nice time. It was a little awkward. We had a bite to eat -- she had a meat sandwich, I had a couple of salads, one with beans, the other with fried eggplant and onion. Plus, we each had a can of 7-Up. We reviewed our histories -- she did most of the talking. The place was fairly empty.

My ride is here -- must go. I'll write more, especially about the depraved state of Iraqi culture, entertainment options.

Here's that lovely article by Dave Kindred, of The Sporting News, that I mentioned a few days ago. It's about a small-college basketball team, and their inspiring stories. Really shows what sports are all about.
Friday morning, the sabbath here.

I'm about to go on my date, about which some updates. Also, some updates on the ways of the tribe, vis a vis women; Shi'ism; the latest bombings; and a couple of news items on the links between Saddam and bin Laden.

Well, maybe I should start with the last item, the pair of new items -- for me -- linking Saddam with bin Laden. A week ago, I mentioned a Qur'anic verse that, according to my uncle, Saddam said prophesied the 9/11 bombings. Yesterday, my uncle gave me a copy of a leaflet that was distributed by Saddam's security agents, sometime in early 2002 -- he couldn't pinpoint the date -- he said it was after 9/11 and about a year before America came. The copy of the leaflet I have, is not very clean, and I probably won't be able to translate it all. In the meantime, I will try to translate what I have, and seek out a better copy. The gist of the leaflet is, that the 109th verse of the chapter Su'rett al-To'beh prophesied the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. The verse is quoted, and there's a numerical decoding of the verse, to show that the 1400-year-old text even predicted the day, month and year of the attack. The crucial phrase in the verse is "Ja'ruff haar," which is said to refer to the name of the street that the World Trade Center occupied. Then, the leaflet says that Verse 109 is the eleventh ("the day of the collapse") verse in the chapter Su'rett il-To'ba, that Su'rett il-To'ba is the ninth ("the month of the collapse") chapter of the holy book, and the number of words from the beginning of the chapter to the end of this verse are 2001 ("the year of the collapse"). My uncle said he saved the leaflet as a representation of the idiocy and lunacy of Saddam, the way he thinks.

Recall, too, that Saddam was the only "world leader" who lauded the 9/11 attacks.

My uncle's also mentioned a man paraded on television in 1994. He said he was identified as "bin Laden's envoy," met with Saddam, and looked like bin Laden.

* * *

Now, back to the dating game.

I showed Layla what I've written. She said she liked it, and approved my posting the writings on the blog. She didn't like having to make up a name for her -- didn't like having to lie, make something up -- but I...overcame that objection, tried to explain the merits of putting a name, that it's acceptable. She said that, maybe, soon enough, we wouldn't have to lie about it.

Yesterday evening, the Friday night of Islam, my uncle prepped me for my date, by taking me to the pastry shop-cafe where I'll have my date (and eat it, too). I asked him if I should meet her (let's call her Layla) every Friday (the sabbath/weekend). He suggested meeting her every few days, and making a decision (on marriage) before I leave, in two months' time. He's already got the proposal-of-marriage planned. "We'll all go," he says of himself and his two brothers in Baghdad, "and drink the sherbet." By tradition, the eldest male representative of the groom asks the eldest male of the bride, and the deal is sealed with a fruit drink. Whoa, fella, hold your horses! That's gettin' a little ahead of ourselves, isn't it? Although, again, that's what it's all about -- this dating game. It's also probably good for me -- helps me put on the brakes, and not get ahead of myself, something I'm prone to do. The comedic aspect of it all, will lighten the load, for me -- and, maybe, her. All that pressure -- generations of ancestors watching. You can feel the pull of the tribe, the magnetic force of it.

My uncle says Layla's father would not have permitted her to see me, go out with me, if he didn't approve of me -- and "me" doesn't refer to me, but to my progenitors, my lineage -- the family -- as a known commodity. Who are his parents and uncles and grandfather? Are they a good family? Is he of good stock? That's the measure of the man. I had that reaffirmed, this morning, as my aunt told me to go ahead, and broach the subject of marriage, today, at our first date. I said, but we don't know each other, we're just getting acquainted. She pooh-poohed that, "Oh, that's silly. There's nothing wrong with her. We know her." I asked her if she knew her. She said, "We know her family," both sides of her family -- "they're good people" (it's a match). "But we barely know each other, what if we discover things we don't like about each other?" "That's silly -- everybody's got their faults -- you tolerate them. She's fine." My aunt got engaged to the man she married, within a month of meeting him. Her folks didn't approve, at first, because he wasn't of means, although it turned out, he did have money.

Yesterday evening, at the pastry shop-cafe, I asked my uncle if there are other nice places I could go out with Layla. He mentioned a nice restaurant, to which he'll take me, in the next couple of days, to prepare me. He also said that there used to be a couple of nice pastry shops, like the one we're about to go to -- a Swiss one and a Brazilian one, run by, maybe, Dutch people -- but they left, with the '58 revolution.

My uncle was to drop me off at the office, this morning. I'd meet Layla there, and she'd drive us to the pastry shop. However, a cousin of his, passed away, overnight, and they had to prepare the body for burial, and then drive it to Najaf, to the humongous cemetery there, Wadi il-Salaam (Valley of Peace). Shi'as say it's the biggest cemetery in the world.

* * *

Now, back to the wedding-night rite, to prove a bride's virginity, about which I wrote, yesterday:

On rare occasions -- more common in past generations -- the groom's mother is in the bedroom with the couple, with her back turned to them, listening in and awaiting the piece of...I can't resist the temptation to say, piece de resistance. More commonly, the mother, and maybe the bride's mother, too, stand on the other side of the door, awaiting the...red-on-white spot. Talk about performance anxiety. Excuse me -- could someone turn off the stage lights, please! Still, it's a rite of passage, according legitimacy to the bond, or, more precisproprietyhe legitimacy, propreity, of the bride. It's like dotting the final "i" on the deal. Thank goodness I won't have to go through that -- how humiliating. At least, I hope I never have to do that -- go through that.

In regard to this rite, Saddam reintroduced many such baadiya (primitive desert) customs, even though he did not adhere to them, himself. He, thus, practiced his own double-standard, with the members of the tribe he ruled.

As a small example of his beliefs, he said on television once, "The good and well-mannered girl, shouldn't talk with the neighbor [boy]. If he says hello to her, she should reject him, aggressively." That's the way of the primitive tribe, with Saddam as the chief of the tribe, protecting the chastity, honor, of its womenfolk.

After the Kuwait war, Saddam adopted Wahhabism as the state religion, and imposed draconian restrictions on women. To leave the country, a woman had to be accompanied by a male relative. Educational and cultural opportunities abroad were almost completely denied to women, and, at times, women were prohibited from work in various ministries, including the foreign ministry.

* * *

This morning, I saw my cousin and her husband in the backyard, behind my uncle's kitchen, washing and cutting up a whole mess of chicken. They were preparing rice-with-chicken, to distribute on the occasion of the months of Mu'Har'ram and Su'fer, two holy months for Shi'a. They didn't do it, during the months, so were fulfilling their duty, a little late. They had 20 chickens and three kilos of thighs, to boot. They would give out trays of the dish to friends and a nearby mosque, for poor people.

Speaking of Shi'ism, Ali is the lodestar for Shi'a, their first and main patron saint. The name "Shi'a" comes from "Shi'at Ali" (the partisans of Ali). Sunnis accuse Shi'a of worshipping Ali, rather than God -- or, at least, worshipping Ali excessively, beyond what is permissible for a human -- not unlike the charge against Catholic divination, or, even, deification, of Jesus, Mary and the saints.

* * *

So, we had, two days ago, two huge blows struck by Saudi Wahhabis -- in Basra and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This morning, we heard a loud explosion, but we don't have any details. It looks like the Falluja people have come out of their shell, to prove they're still in business.

* * *

All right -- I'm off to lunch. We ended up making it a lunch. See you.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Here's that satirical piece I mentioned a few days ago, about al-Qa'ida opening an embassy in Spain. It's by Scott Ott.
We join the dating game, already in progress.

As my adviser said, it's very easy to have a serious relationship here, and almost impossible to have a casual one, even if the woman lives next door. The subject must, necessarily, turn to marriage -- if not immediately, then, soon enough. There's no messing around, here. That's the object of the coupling -- nothing more, nothing less. In the seventies and early eighties, when economic times were better, and there were no other avenues of expression allowed, things were a bit more lax -- although not much more so. After the invasion of Kuwait, Saddam adopted a Wahhabi strain, proscribing a variety of public activities and travel for women, "unprotected" by a male relative.

For openers, my friend suggested I ask the woman out to a "Lebanese-style" (ie, French) pastry shop in the area. It's an elegant meeting place for young people, including couples, and public enough so as not to be too intimate. At the same time, it's secluded, too -- inside a building, away from the street -- which is important. For the woman, it is crucial that it's not known she's alone with a man who's not related to her -- that can "tarnish" her reputation. Even though she may not adhere to such ways of thinking, doesn't accept them -- for herself, her life -- in the society at large, that's the...standard operating procedure, and, regardless of how much she might fight it, resist it, it will still limit her options, her reputation among people, which, at the end of the day, can be devastating. God, what am I doing?! When you think about the implications, it's pretty serious stuff, but, then, again, she's responsible, too -- she knows the society she lives in, and what's at stake for her. Fortunately, too -- as all this is concerned -- my friend is a divorcee.

This, of course, brings up the double standard. It's she, that must be chaste, and viewed thusly by others. The wedding night "ritual rape," as my therapist called it, is still practiced -- not as widely as in past generations, but, still. The display of the blood-stained sheet is an important milestone. The man, of course, is another story. He can, basically, sleep around, all he wants. When it comes time, for the marrying kind, she'd better be "clean," "untouched." "Untouched" can cover an array of "contacts," from a previous marriage engagement to a divorce to a kiss to rape. All could be viewed as "soiling" the woman. Of course, circumstances play a big role, too, and over the past couple of decades, the allure of marrying an American, the opportunity to leave the country, or simple economics, have subverted the prior arrangement. For example, a friend in Boston asked me, ten years ago, to marry his cousin in Baghdad, to get her out of the country. Uday, Saddam's son, had spotted her, and had his eye on her. In response, her parents kept her locked up in the house. I had not met or heard of this woman, yet this was a very serious and desperate plea.

As for my date, my friend suggested we engage in a series of these outings, to get acquainted, get to know each other, get a better feel for each other. Another friend advised against asking for a mano-a-mano on the first date -- that that was too direct. He suggested, instead, a group outing, with some of her friends. This provides cover. I imagined, though, that the cover, in such a case, would be so transparent, as to be laughable. I wouldn't know, though -- haven't done it. The traditional way it's done, is with a group of men and women, to add further protection and cushion for the principals, as they scope each other out, get a sense of the other, in a more casual, natural setting. Sometimes, the principals don't know they're being matched. They're included in the group outing, and then asked about the intended "match."

That concludes the first installment of the dating game -- a virtual reality show. You'd better not show up, tomorrow morning, with a videocamera -- let's just keep it virtual, all right!
Thursday morning.

We just returned from a visit to a school for deaf and mute children. It's called the Hope Institute, and is located in the AraSaat il-Hindiyya part of Baghdad, on the RiSaafa side of the Tigris. The Tigris is the only river that runs through Baghdad; the Euphrates is to the west. The institute is temporarily using an alternate government building, until their permanent home re-opens in a couple of months, after repairs and renovation -- a result of "the events." The children, from kindergarten to eighth grade, were divided into small classrooms -- five to ten in each class -- some of them in the hallways. When we entered a classroom or approached a group seated in their makeshift hallway class, the children were asked to stand, and they saluted us, military style. All had work books, and proudly showed off their writing, mathwork and diagrams. In one class, the children took dictation, via a teacher's mixture of signs and mouthing out the words. In another, they were being taught about insects. In the largest classroom, there was a poster of the signs for the 28 Arabic letters, and houses and other artwork on the wall, made of popsicle sticks and small pieces of cloth. Although an ad hoc sign language was used, the emphasis was on weaning the children away from it, and into writing and lip-reading. The institute's administrator admitted that Iraq lags far behind its neighbors (Jordan has schooling through college), but was optimistic about quickly catching up, and expected a greater commitment from the education ministry. Until that happens, the school teaches sewing and carpentry. There may be another school in Baghdad, but the rest of the country is sorely lacking any such special schools.

The place had a bit of the feel of the snake pit -- dark corridors, bare rooms, an abundance of veiled women at the ready, in case one of the kids acted up. They seemed kind, and were enthusiastic. As were the children, especially when I photographed them, and showed them the pictures, each pointing at themselves on the little screen. They loved the attention, waved and smiled at us, every chance they had, and were very well-behaved. The administrator said the school is in dire need of expertise, training and a cadre of professionals. In Saddam's time, the teachers were paid as little as 3000 dinars a month, the equivalent of two dollars; many stayed on, out of commitment to the children. In the last year, salaries for teachers have skyrocketed, to 200,000-400,000 dinars (140-280 dollars).

* * *

A couple of nights ago, I sat with two of the guards, and we did some navigating on the web. They've been asking me for a few days, wondering what this internet is all about. I'm guessing they haven't been on the information super-highway. They asked to see "weapons -- Russian, Czech, whatever." We looked at machineguns and pistols. One of the guards said he feels good when he sees weapons -- that it was soothing. That creeped me, a little. But, hey, I'm into baseball and playing with children. So, to each, his own.

* * *

Now, we return to the dating game.

I consulted one friend, and he suggested.... Lunch is served, and I'm hungry.

We'll take a break, then. See you.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Something I forgot to tell about, from a week ago, at the end of my super-duper day with my uncle, is a stop he and I made, in the evening, to a friend of his whose house is a museum. He's tried to document the modern history of Iraq -- that means the last 50-100 years -- through photographs, including his own, stamps, folk art, including his and his son's, and a variety of other media and objects. He had a decent collection of Judaica -- that is, from Iraq's Jewish past -- not much Jewish present, left. Well, he had some plaques, a Seder plate, some metal scroll-holders, and those metal cylinders that Orthodox and Catholic priests wave around to let out incense and smoke -- I know, I don't know what I'm talking about. Trouble is, he doesn't want this aspect -- his Jewish objects -- publicized, word of it to get out -- in particular, that he's dealing in these items. Would attract some unwanted attention.

My uncle's just arrived, to pick me up, but, after I sent word to him that I'll be a few minutes, he sent word back to me that he was going to a cousin's house, and then come back. So, I've got a few more minutes. Remember, I'm under strict orders, not to go out by myself. Otherwise, I'd walk the five, seven minutes, to my uncle's house.

Other news, from this end, other than the big news from Basra -- the police stations getting hit, sixty-some, killed, hundreds, wounded -- well, now I don't feel like going into it -- it pales in significance. I was asked by employees here (at the Iraq Foundation) to join them on a visit to an organization in town that deals with deaf-mutes, to pass along some T-shirts sent to them by an international organization. I'll take my camera, and....

Also, I'm going on a date, Friday morning. I'd been advised by a friend to, first, suggest an outing to a pastry place.

Well -- uncle's back, and this'll have to continue.
I did it -- had a good sleep. I cut down on what I ate -- although, still, had dinner, around nine-thirty. My aunt then forced an apple on me, said it's a good "mu'naw'wim" (sleep-inducer). I was exhausted, in any case. Next thing, though, they turned on the TV, flipped around the channels, landed on a crime drama -- looked like "Law & Order" -- the accent sounded A little English, then, American -- a guy got slashed across the head by a jealous boyfriend -- and, next scene, these guys were gathered around the hospital bed, and...lo and behold, it's James Gandolfini, Tony Soprano -- on an Arab satellite station -- called CH33, from Dubai. I watched, till the electricity went off, at eleven, then went to sleep. The backup generator got the TV back on, again, but I got up. Good sleep. In the morning, my aunt said it was the apple, then handed me the chamomile tea she's had me drinking the past four mornings, instead of black tea. "You have to quit drinking tea. Quit! Quit! Quit!" She brought a bag of dried chamomile flowers from Lebanon, where she lives -- this is my father's sister, who's married to a Lebanese man -- and she's been trying to convert all of us to chamomile (called "baa'boo'nej, in Arabic), instead of black tea. I'm going to try to drink it in the evenings, too.

A couple of follow-ups, from yesterday.

I asked two of the women in the office, about not calling them oos'taa'theh, before their first name (sort of like "Miss/Ms."), and each said it wasn't a problem, that I wasn't insulting them -- that's a relief. One more to go -- although I don't expect it's a problem with her, either.

I have a couple of additions, to the item passed on by one of the workers here. She'd seen, on her way to work 11 days ago, 10 women standing outside, waiting for rides to work, and no men -- this, during a Sadir- and Falluja-enforced strike. She said that two days before, the Sadir and Falluja people, working together -- "they have the same aim" -- were going around, warning shops that they should close on Saturday and Sunday, because they were going to strike at passing American vehicles, and that they wouldn't be responsible for...collateral damage to the shops if they opened. That strike held, through Saturday and Sunday, affecting even gas stations. That Sunday night, I was at my cousin's house, and his grown kids got calls, telling them they had class (university) and work (dental clinic) the next day; they'd been off, since at least Wednesday, the 7th, and were expecting to be off, till Saturday, the 17th. A call for another strike, for schools, shops and offices to close from the 15th through the 25th, in solidarity with Sadir and Falluja, has, apparently, not been successful -- thus far -- with little or no consequence.

Two or three nights ago, we went to my cousin's house -- one of my uncle's three daughters, all married -- this one, with two pre-teen boys and a little girl, who plays very shy. I copied her, folding my arm in, and covering my face with it. They live in the Haar'thiyya area of Baghdad. The night before, a shot, probably from an RPG, had grazed an electric wire and fallen into a front yard, one street over -- minimal damage. The main street of the neighborhood, around the corner from their house, was alive that night, around nine o'clock. It's one of the lively areas of Baghdad, full of restaurants with sidewalk or lawn seating. Among them were City Center, Moonlight, Chili House and Four Seasons, all the neon signs in English, some, in Arabic, too.

A last update -- from 50 years ago. My uncle, over the past couple of days, has been filling me in, on the U.S.C. backfield. I'd asked him the name of the great Trojan running back, from when he went to school there. In trying to remember his name, I'd settled on Johnny Hartnett. Not bad. It was Johnny Arnett, the left half. Armis Dandoy was the right half, Leon Sellers was the fullback and Jim Contralto was the quarterback. Their numbers were, respectively, 26, 27, 40 and 12. My uncle also remembered a play from the one-yard line. I don't remember it, exactly, and it's a little hard to understand him -- he's always slurred his speech a little, and put a little American twang in it. On top of all that, his recent physical deterioration, and neglect, has caused him to lose most of his teeth, making his speech, extremely gummy. Well, it must've been a quarterback sneak, or a run-over-tackle, coz...people watched the referee, as he raised both arms high. My uncle also remembered the cheerleaders, jumping up and down -- no particular cheers -- I'll ask him about that, next.

Now, I'm going to check e-mail and work on a couple of articles, from the material I've written here, and try to get something into print.

See you -- in the papers.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Then, an e-mail from my friend Alaaddin, in Holland:
Date: 4/19/2004 5:31:35 AM Eastern Daylight Time

I don't have many details about Adnan
[Khairallah, Saddam's brother-in-law]'s murder. But his sister said in al-Hayat interview about a year ago that the suspicion was that he was murdered because of his opposition to Saddam's 2nd marriage. This is what I remember.

At the Saraai
[looted in Baghdad, last April], I was indeed very angry. Still I wanted to reason with the guys but my brother told me these guys are armed and they would shoot us. He then pulled me away.

I want to drive
[from Holland to Baghdad] because I want to bring 2 or 3 PC's with me as well as some additional equipment for nephews and nieces. It is very expensive to ship this stuff by air or ship. In addition, I need a car to move around instead of being dependent on family. Flying is still an option but only when the desert highway is safe enough to travel.

Next, Alaa wrote:
Date: 4/20/2004 6:03:31 AM Eastern Daylight Time

I arrived in Baghdad (after almost three decades of absence) within ten days of the US troops entering the city. Among the number of places I wanted to visit were the old Saraai and Al-Mutanabi street
[bookstores center]. I had seen some news clips of the old Saraai after it was renovated with its old wooden gate still intact. The Saraai was built by the Ottomans to house the offices of their Wali [governor] and perhaps some of their troops. Under the monarchy [installed by Britain -- 1921-1958] it housed the office of the prime-minister but as new government offices were built, the Saraai increasingly lost its grandeur and importance. When I left Iraq it housed the education department of Baghdad.

I used to walk by when I attended the Markaziya high school nearby and at times visited an uncle who had his office there. But now I was shocked to see the old gate gone. My brother told me it was stolen and probably sold for scrap. I went inside and into the yard of the Saraai. I was pleasantly surprised to see some greenery, but there was nothing that resembled what it was. The whole Saraai had been renovated under Saddam's rule. There was a granite placard at the entrance mentioning this. I went to the Tigris bank to take a look at the river and the other side (Al-Karkh). But as I turned my face to look at the northen side of the Saraai, I noticed a man stripping the windows of the buidling. I became very angry but still I wanted to go and reason with him. At least I had hoped I could convince him of the historical importance of the site. There were two or three men helping him. My brother not only thought my idea was crazy but he insisted that we leave the Saraai immediately. He thought the place was empty and that thieves were usually armed. They did not notice we were around, he added, and once they did, they would shoot us. There was no one else to witness what would happen to us and no authority to report to, even if there was one. I was in no position to second-guess my brother. Looters had a free hand in Iraq in those days and each one of them thought whatever he looted was rightfully his. I left in frustration. As we drove away, I took a look a the Markaziya high school. There were a few men in its yard and the buidling looked OK.

I later had an opportunity to see the burned-out buildings of the Mustansiriyah university. The broken glass was everywhere, some roofs looked as if they were about to cave in. As it happened, my own office building in Holland was set on fire (by a wacko employee) a few months before the war. We were not allowed to enter the building again, but a week later we were given a "farewell" tour about the building. The firman who guided the tour insisted that we wear helmets. He was afraid that tiny fragments of glass might penetrate our brains. If this happened, he said, no brain surgeon can help, since glass will be hard to find. Now I was in similar circumstances but everyone moved in and out in these burned-out buildings in Baghdad. I had to choose my path very carefully, if not for my sake but also for the two young nieces and my sister who were with me. No one else seemed to bother.

* * *
A few months ago, Alaaddin saw a report on the BBC about a girl in Hilla named Fatima, who's had thalissimia since infancy. Hilla is almost literally a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the site of ancient Babylon. Alaa tracked down the girl's father, and we've been communicating with him, since then. The girl needs a bone-marrow transplant, which cannot be done in Iraq and would cost somthing like $250,000. Alaa fell in love with this beaming girl, full of life, and her father's been very grateful for the few efforts Alaa and I have made to get help. Her best hope, apparently, is to gain a sponsor, probably a hospital/treatment center and/or a welfare organization. CARE Australia has seen her, but I haven't heard of any further assistance. She goes into the hospital in Hilla, every ten days, for a blood transfusion.

I'm recounting all of this, because last night, I finally spoke with Fatima's father. He, again, invited me to visit them in Hilla, and he offered to pick me up and drive me there. I had to beg off, again, telling him I've been advised, at this point, not to leave Baghdad. He keeps telling me (in his e-mails) that it's very safe in Hilla, and that the night before, he got home at 1 a.m. He said that Iraqi police have checkpoints in the area, and look for Arab passengers -- meaning Arabs from outside Iraq.

He also related, from his two brothers in Baghdad, that American soldiers were searching homes around Baghdad, yesterday -- presumably for weapons and terrorists. From another source -- my aunt, who met a woman at a religious reading, yesterday. The woman's husband went to Falluja to collect a business debt, and said the house he went to, was full of weapons.

Till next time.
A few e-mails. First, about Falluja:

I'd written my friend Doug, on 4/18/04 8:12:46 AM Central Daylight Time:
[I]t is, certainly, possible that we're using snipers, to pick off the bad guys. It's also possible, I suppose, that ambulances, or whatever, are being prevented, because they're being used to transfer weapons, explosives, etc.
On 4/18/2004 7:46:58 PM Eastern Daylight Time, Doug wrote:
Thanks ayad. I'm confident we're just picking off "the bad guys". Maybe we are firing at ambulances, but I hope not. That would belie the image we want to project, regardless of their contents.
Keep up the good job of keeping us updated.

Keep safe too:-)
I wrote back (4/19/2004 12:21:45 PM Eastern Daylight Time):
Hey, Doug,

Hey -- we don't have to do anything, and we get a bad rep. God help us, if we really did a bad thing; then, the whole world might collapse -- all hell would break loose. No, this project -- what we're doing in Iraq -- is way too big, way too important -- trying to create a model for the Arab world -- and we're gonna do it, in the right way -- in as good a way as possible.
Came Doug's reply (4/19/2004 7:49:53 PM Eastern Daylight Time):
Hi ayad,
You and I know that. I just don't understand why some would accuse us of what are literally, war crimes. You and I know that our guys over there really do want the Iraqi people to do well because that's going to be their legacy to their descendents, as far as they know.
War is Hell, and can bring out both the best and the worst in almost everybody. So far, I think our guys are trying to exhibit the best. I just hope it doesn't go on too much longer, but not less than necessary to enable the Iraqi citizenry to rise to their greatest possible potential, and opportunity, as both a people, and a member of the international community.

Correction: Yesterday, in giving my sleeper pick for the baseball season -- the Colorado Rockies -- I mentioned Mookie Wilson, Rockies center fielder Preston's father. Mookie was the New York Met who hit the ball that went through Bill Buckner's legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series -- at least, I think it was Wilson who hit the ball. I remember Ray Knight running home, or maybe it was Wilson who ran home. Whichever. I wrote, yesterday, that the ball went through Bill Buckley's legs. My publicist in Cleveland, John Palmer, then wrote me, said I must've been thinking about National Review magazine. I didn't know what he was talking about. Only after his next e-mail, did I get it. So, I let that one go through my legs. E3 -- again.

Speaking of which -- very nice article in The Sporting News by David Kindred about the La Roche College Redhawks basketball team, a Division III school in western Pennsylvania. They went 14-14, but, as coach Scott Lang said, they were "extraordinary," "magical" and "unique." Read all about it. March 29 issue, sportingnews.com. That's what makes sports so special -- the great effort and spirit that brings people together, and brings the best out of us.
All right -- back to business -- the business of passing along my thoughts and observations. I’m gonna get some things off my chest, here -- dump the notes that have been gathering dust, over the past week -- before they get too obsolete. I'm putting them down, here, in no particular order, although I will try to put similar things together.

I’ll keep you waiting, though, on the dating advice I got, yesterday. After which, I thought, one of the items I had on my list of things to look before coming to Iraq, was young people, and how they...date, mate -- and, now, look at me -- instead of covering the dating scene, observing others, I’m about to...play the dating game, participate in what I was supposed to observe. Methinks this observer doth affect-by-observing, TOO much.

First up, the conclusion of my day with my uncle -- that was last Wednesday. After our face-off with the car driving the wrong-way on the one-way street, and my uncle's rant against the hopeless case that are Iraqis, he later had an opportunity to make an illegal road maneuver, but...he "doesn't want to violate the law." While we were parked outside the bank for my uncle's "overdraft," we had some ice cream. This was in the 'AraSaat neighborhood, an area that has a relatively high percentage of Christian residents, used to have a lot of embassies, still attracts many foreign residents, and, as a result, is distinctly different from other parts of Baghdad in its...atmosphere, feel. Kids were just out of school, and they lined up -- must've been an all-boys school, nearby -- in their white shirts, dark slacks, some wearing ties. There was a window for soft ice cream and a window for hard -- cones and cups for the latter. We had the mixed hard, with smears, a la cream cheese on a bagel, of five or six colors, piled one on top of the other -- raspberry or strawberry, pistachio, orange, lemon, chocolate, vanilla. It was really good, but my old officemate says it's full of chemicals, and he only has the real pistachio, which goes for a little more. Each of our cups was 250 dinars, about 15 cents.

Along our drive, we passed a number of billboards and other street advertisements for electronics, cell phones, appliances -- mostly new, cell phones having hit the street, exactly one year ago, and becoming widespread, only in the last two months. From a new elevated highway (called Muhammad il-Qasim, for an early Islamic leader), which cuts across the northern tier of the city, we passed an English cemetery, with probably upwards of a thousand tombstones -- felled in World War I. I wondered if this was the one desecrated last year. There is not, I was told, an English church next to it, as I'd heard there was, next to the cemetery that was vandalized. In the center of a large roundabout in the Jaadriyya neighborhood, there was a billboard for the "Iraqi security forces" for "the future of a new Iraq" -- this one, not defaced. One of the four people in the group shot was a woman in camouflage army fatigues. On walls and in intersections throughout the city are banners and graffiti with slogans for the new regime. One of them said, "Respecting the other's opinion is a virtue." Finally, before heading home, we passed Saydiyya, an area of palm orchards and farmland, including a few cows. Their produce, such as apricots, na'bug (a small pear-like fruit), and tuk'kee (a berry distinctive to the region) are sold along the highway, that hangs above the fields.

The next morning, my uncle, his son and I dropped by to see another uncle, at his hospital -- to review results of an exam my uncle'd done. It was good to see this uncle. He's an excellent doctor, one of the top surgeons in the country, a very precise man -- well, I guess you'd have to be, to be a good surgeon. He's served the country well, through the past 35, 40 years. He's so well-known (when my uncle told his newspaper vendor the other day the name of the doctor he was seeing, the vendor praised him effusively), my uncle says that if he ran for president, he'd win. He's not an outspoken man, though -- very modest. Because of the (dare I say, wave of) kidnappings-for-ransom, he's been going to and from work in a two-car armed convoy, avoiding peak driving hours. For my protection -- after I told him about my brush the day before with the civilian-clad bank/moneychangers police -- he advised me to get an Iraqi ID. He also said to me, about the post-Saddam period, "Your people messed it up."

Last week, I may have committed a faux pas with one of the women in the office. When a man addresses a woman, and vice versa, they use an honorific before the first name, sometimes "dik'tor" (for a man, meaning doctor) or "diktoreh" (for a woman), more frequently, "oos'taath/oos'taa'theh" (literally, "teacher," but used as one uses Mr. or Miss/Ms. I asked the woman next to me, if the title “oos’taa'theh” was necessary. I just checked with her, and she said her reply was that it was necessary, and that it's an expression of the extent of one's respect for the other. I'm sorry -- I don't remember all of that. What I'd said was that I wasn't used to it, and I told her the “duke and earl” story from Huckleberry Finn -- that we've abandoned titles. I later overheard two or three of the women talking about a man not using "oos'taa'theh" and harassing one of them. I wondered if they were talking about me. Well, things have been fine -- the room I work in, has the three female workers (besides the kitchen staff), all law graduates, and they've all been very friendly towards me. Maybe I'm forgiven, my ignorance, and ways. Speaking of Huckleberry Finn, I just saw Hal Holbrook (a Cleveland native) perform “Mark Twain Tonight!” last month, at Playhouse Square -- my first time -- and if Twain were here today, seeing my clumsy attempts to make a cultural connection, he might have included me in one of his other works, Innocents Abroad. I suppose I could revisit the issue, with the same woman, or the other women in the office, or even with some of the men -- although, I wonder, if I revisited it with the one woman, that thin ice below my feet might just break, and I'll fall through, and I don't want to get soaked in that water.

The other day, I found on our side street, a box from a military MRE (meal, ready-to-eat). I've got the box ("beef with mushrooms in sauce") sitting on my desk, as a reminder. In addition, I've got pictures of the little ones in my life, my AP stylebook, nice paperback dictionary and thesaurus, CD covers of Nat Cole and a beaming Louis Armstrong, and a laminated badge from 9/11, with an American flag and the words, below, "PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!"

The "report" the other day, that there are only 800 people left in Falluja, now seems far-fetched, if, as people say, the population of the city is somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000. I guess, time will tell. Richard Meyers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, has been here for nearly a week, and people feel he's here to settle the two open conflicts -- not leaving till they're sorted out, once and for all.

Dr. Moumin, the head of the women's and law sections at the Iraq Foundation, reported that on her drive to work, 10 days ago, Saturday morning, the first day of the workweek -- this was during the Sadir-enforced work stoppage, school closures -- she saw 10 women, each standing alone, waiting for rides to work; no men, though. She saw this as a sign of women's bravery, in the face of extremists' efforts to intimidate the population. Two of the women, she believed, were doctors, carrying what looked like white lab coats, folded across their arms.

The other day at lunch -- I can't remember the context -- I mentioned that in the 1920 census, the population of Baghdad was one-third Jewish, that the markets and business shut down on Saturday, that to counter that, the new state of Iraq passed a law in 1925 making Friday the official sabbath, although that didn't have an effect, and that until the 1940s, Baghdad continued to be known as a Jewish city. The two women at the table said, "They didn't teach us that in school." I hope I didn't offend anybody, to the point of causing enmity -- all seems well, though.

My uncle told me the other day that his new car, which he received in 2001, he'd put in a request for, in 1980, at that point paying one-half the price, as a down payment. He did get a new and different model than the Datsun he originally ordered. He also told me how dirt-cheap the electricity is. I'll find out more, on both of these.

Lunch is served -- I'm hungry, and maybe tired, too.

To be continued.

* * *

I've just had lunch -- a lovely creamy soup, and magloobah (means "upside down")-- a pot of rice reddened by tomatoes, with onions, eggplants and tomatoes, topped with meat.

When we visited one of my uncles last week, two people mentioned dreams they'd had of two deceased loved ones -- another uncle and my grandmother. So, two of the women there said they'd cook the deceased ones' favorite dishes -- for them.

My uncle told the story of bringing back bananas from Jordan, some 10 years ago, and one of his grandkids, then about five or six, getting frightened when my uncle pulled one out and offered it to him.

My uncle also told of being in the presence of Saddam's eldest son at one of the clubs, and, after Uday got drunk, he stood up and proclaimed to all, "We know you hate us. We hate you, too."

The other day, on television -- on al-Iraqiyya, the U.S.-backed venture -- Paul Bremer was on a program called "In'teh wal-mas'ool" (You and the official). It was a kind of, "Meet the Press," with a moderator and two journalists -- all Iraqis. They'd ask questions in Arabic, and Bremer would answer in English, but we'd hear the Arabic translation. The questioners were very rude, several times describing him as a dictator, and his actions as dictatorial. He answered all questions, sometimes with a one-word answer. My uncle said, he does this all the time -- entertains such accusations and questions, even welcoming them.

Well -- there's lots more, but...I think I'll stop -- for now.

One final note -- from last night. At the internet cafe, we did finally get a woman using one of the computers -- during the two hours I was there. When I saw the list of beverages posted on the wall, I'd asked the man behind the desk if they had Haa'mudh (the lime tea); he said "the girl isn't in." Well, the woman who came in to use the computer was wearing a lime-green scarf, yellow top and white skirt, or some-such color combination. I suppose the security situation doesn't help. Dr. Moumin, who drives to and from work, is followed by another car, her workmates' husband's, after he picks up his wife, here -- because Dr. Moumin's a woman, driving alone.

Also, one of the two people sitting at the computer next to me -- one sounded Egyptian, the other was Iraqi -- the Iraqi, watching me type fast, maybe seeing me move quickly through e-mail, pull out my laptop and copy a letter on the cafe's computer -- said, as they were about to leave, that I was very able, practiced, some-such-thing, and asked me if I offered a computer class. I told him I studied in America, was a writer, maybe said I live there. Well, I did feel, sitting in that cafe, like I'm way ahead of these people -- definitely had a feeling of superiority. Although, I'm so insecure, it doesn't take much, for me to feel that way.

All right -- later.
Tuesday morning.

I can't go on like this. For the second night in a row, I wake up in the middle of the night, and have trouble getting back to sleep. This time, I stayed up, from two, two-thirty, till maybe six or seven o'clock. I thought, maybe, deep in the recesses of my mind, my soul, unbeknownst to me, I'm troubled by this "dating" business. After I told my aunt about my staying up, then, of my resolve not to eat dinner after nine, ten o'clock, she said maybe that's the reason for my disrupted sleep -- although, she added, it's not that I'm eating a lot of heavy, fatty things.

Which brings me back to my top-ten list:

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

Having supper late at night (nine, ten, eleven o'clock) is nothing out of the ordinary.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You start involuntarily saying "in'shaa-lah" (God willing) for something you wish or expect to happen, and "il-Ham'du'lil-laah" (Praise be to God) for something good that's happened.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You start involuntarily putting an honorific (Mr., Miss, Dr.) in front of a person's first name.

Monday, April 19, 2004


I'm at an internet cafe -- in Baghdad. My first time.

We had an electricity outage at the office, and the backup generator's belt -- well, I guess, one of the belts -- was frayed, so they didn't wanna risk running it. That's the guards, who, in the absence of anybody from within the office, I guess, make such decisions -- well, make the decision not to...make a decision -- not to risk anything happening to the generator.

So, I had to make a decision. The electricity went out at five, which means it'd be back at eight or nine -- it's off for three or four hours -- like clockwork. I wasn't going to wait that long. I asked about nearby internet cafes, and called my cousin. He came and picked me up, we went to Mansour Street, the main street of the Mansour neighborhood, changed the $100 bill I've had in my pocket for two weeks -- got some 145,000 dinars for it -- my cousin did that for me, while I waited with the car -- and, he left me -- all by lonesome, to go into one of the three internet cafes at this intersection -- of Shari' al-Emiraat (Princesses Street) and Shari' al-Mansour. Actually, the one I went into -- I saw a sign for another one, in addition to the three you could see, from the street, just down the stairs. I've gotta take some pictures, and send them back.

So, I went up to the man behind the desk, told him it's my first time using an internet cafe, he told me to take the second on the left -- there are two rows of five computers, lined up back to back. Each computer sits in a nice little wooden desk, with three shelves below, and one shelf on top. They've got a pad of paper on each, a pen, a coaster and a set of headphones. The one I'm using is a GoldStar Studioworks 77i, whatever that means. There was one other person using a computer, across from me -- he looks like he's about 30 years old. Then, after I took a seat, an older man, wearing a nice blazer, came in. The cost, the guy told me, is 2000 dinars per hour -- that's about one-and-a-third dollars. I'm now reviewing what I've written. Since I started, the two who were using the computers left, two others have replaced them, a 40-ish man, and a white-haired man in his late fifties or 60. One woman did walk in, wearing a tall smock, cape, and walked into the back, behind the desk.

Back to the original storyline. As my cousin double-parked, to make our first stop -- money-changer -- I saw my uncle walking on the sidewalk. That's not the uncle I'm staying with, but another uncle -- the one I visited, my second day in Iraq. I went and kissed him -- that's the custom, between men, and between women, but not between men and women. He asked what we're doing. The uncle I'm staying with, is supposed to be at this uncle's house this evening, and he sent word, with his son, that I'm to call there, so he can pick me up, on his way home. Right next to where we were parked, there was also a rugs store -- Persian rugs. My friend from Cleveland, Shwan -- that means "freedom" in Kurdish -- he's now in Istanbul -- Shwan told me to stop at this rug store -- that it's owned by his brother-in-law -- well, probably owned by his brother-in-law's family -- said that it's nice to hang out there, see the foreigners pass by, drop in, check out the rugs. When Shwan came to Cleveland, from Baghdad, some 15 years ago, we -- my family -- sort of adopted him -- his family and mine -- I think, on my mother's side -- are old friends -- that's probably the reason he came to Cleveland. He was a skinny, shy little kid when he arrived; boy, he has bloomed. He studied biomedical engineering, and went on to study business. So, I went in, said hello to the men in the store. I didn't find Shwan's brother-in-law, but found his brother, and discovered that another of the brothers is married to my cousin's daughter -- small world -- did you follow that? I'd thought they were neighbors -- my cousin's daughter and Shwan's brother-in-law. Well, I also asked the men in the rugs store, on the advice of my cousin, who drove me here, if I could use their phone (to call my uncle, to pick me up). Am I boring you enough, with all these details? But I have to -- this is sort of what I have to do, to manage here -- get by. In fact, I might get in trouble, for being "alone" in this internet cafe. My cousin'd said the rugs place would stay open till nine or ten -- it's now 7:13 [at first writing; at final editing, it's 7:45] -- but the guys at the rugs place -- they're rug merchants -- let's call a spade a spade -- they said they'll be open till 8:15, so...I'm probably gonna.... I just stopped typing, and went over and asked the guy at the desk, and he said they have a phone, and it's "free" -- that's the word he used. I was gonna go to the rugs place, before they close, and ask my uncle to pick me up, at a certain time -- nine, or later, if he can.

[As I'm going on with my review of the post, here, a couple of other guys just pulled up, to use the computer next to me. That's the latest little, boring detail. My super-duper, really great adventure -- on my own in Baghdad. Back to the story.]

Oh -- I just noticed, as I walked to the desk, that they've got a cooler, with cans of Pepsi and 7-Up, and water and an orange drink, I think. They've got, on the walls, a poster of emoticons, a Planet Earth poster (picture of the Earth from outer space), one of those inspirational posters, this one, for Success (sunset beyond some hills, a winding river through woods in the foreground)-- all framed. There's also a tall photograph -- looks like an Anne Geddes -- of a boy or girl -- more than life-sized -- holding a long-stemmed red rose, that's almost as tall as he/she is, the flower covering his or her mouth and nose. It's mostly in black-and-white, with the pink hat, long white cashmere-looking muffler, light-brown coat and brown shoes in faded colors.

All right -- I've gotta make some use of my time -- get back to e-mail, which I was in the middle of, when the electricity went off. Speaking of which, my cousin who dropped me off here, said, about the internet cafes at this intersection, that two of them have backup generators, and that the third didn't.

All right -- see ya.

Also, on this computer, a PC, this web-page, on blogger.com, has the icons I need, to link to other web-sites, do a spell-check, and italicize and put-in-bold, what I'm writing. So, the problem I've been facing, with my Mac -- i-Book -- has to do with my computer, what's on my computer. Actually, I was told I should get Mozilla, for an internet browser -- that that might solve that problem.

All right, enough. You're probably wondering, when's this guy gonna stop? I'm stopping.

No, I'm not. There's a little secret, I'm about to share -- don't tell anybody. While sitting and waiting at the office, when there was no electricity, I asked one of my workmates, about dating -- if you can call it dating -- how I can go out with a woman, to get to know each other more. Tricky business. I'll try to write more about this all, ASAP. Adios.

Keep 'em hangin'. Isn't that the trick -- keep 'em waiting?

Another update: the cockroaches are out, too -- in full force. Well, maybe not yet, in full force. A small deployment -- maybe a reconnaisance force. Along with the cockroaches come these little lizards, that live in walls and corners -- they're called Abu BrayS, and, in the early stages -- these days, after their hibernation, I suppose in the walls -- they're still pale -- white, light beige. They eventually become gray and dark brown. I always get scared they'll come into bed with me. Don't want that. I haven't seen 'em, yet. I was surprised to see 'em in Verona, Italy, nine years ago. They're the size of a caterpillar, or a big worm -- but look exactly like lizards.

That's all, for now. Lots of e-mail to get to.

See you.
Another update/correction. The main fish used for mazgoof, the traditional Iraqi way of cooking fish -- I described it, yesterday or the day before -- are not bunni and gaTTan, but bunni and shabbooT. Now, we still don't have the English names for those. As soon as I get those, I'll pass 'em on.
A couple of little items.

My old officemate, Ali, was out earlier today, and said American soldiers are out in big numbers, and looking tense. We don't know what's going on. They're've been quite a few flights, over the course of the day, but...no news. Some people speculate, in particular about American forces going into Najaf -- but that's very unlikely -- too sensitive a place to enter -- could enflame a world of Shi'as. That's why Sadir's holed up there.

Speaking of Sadir -- I got, over lunch, an alternative view, about his...possible refuge in Iran -- that, as I'd earlier thought, it was an American request of Iran, but that he refused it. This guy said he had it, from a source close to Sadir. Well, who knows.
We interrupt this program, to bring you this urgent bulletin.

I've got a sleeper pick for the baseball season. I just finished reading the Sporting News' pre-season issue -- well, the baseball part -- that's the only part I'm interested in. My sleeper pick is: the Colorado Rockies. Now, I'm not picking them to win the World Series, or even to make the playoffs -- but I think they will surprise some people. Their lineup is solid: from two to eight, Royce Clayton, Todd Helton, Preston Wilson (that's Mookie's son, he of the famous '86 dribbler between Bill Buckley's wickets), Larry Walker, Vinny Castilla, Jeromy Burnitz and Charles Johnson. Fighting it out for the leadoff and second-base job are good old Damien Jackson and TSN's "breakout player" selection, Aaron Miles, who they say is a "heady bunter and bat handler [nice to hear they're still making those]...[and] is faster than expected." Shawn Estes is their number four starter -- that's something. Now, granted, Estes, Walker and Wilson are coming off injuries, and, as Thomas Harding put it, it's an open question, whether Castilla and Burnitz can "connect more than they overswing." On top of all that, they've also got Denny Hocking on the bench, and Steve Reed, Jeff Fassero and Turk Wendell (with his necklace of trophy catches) for middle relief. Not bad. Well, I think they'll at least do something about the huge gap in last year's numbers: .294 and 6.4 runs per game at Coors Field; .239 and 4.1 on the road.

Well, maybe it's all because the National League West was the last thing I read.

A postscript, to the e-mails I posted yesterday, about Falluja. First, an e-mail from my friend Doug:
Date: 4/17/2004 4:22:55 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Glad to hear it Ayad. I hope they’re able to get it. The worst thing that can happen to the US right now is, if people start seeing us as the bad guys. I hope that they’re all behaving themselves:-)

Keep safe,

* * *
Hey, Doug,

I did think about what you wrote [his previous e-mail] -- looked at it, again, somewhere along the way -- and thought, it is, certainly, possible that we're using snipers, to pick off the bad guys. It's also possible, I suppose, that ambulances, or whatever, are being prevented, because they're being used to transfer weapons, explosives, etc.
Continuing, with Sadir, et al.

I've made some amendments to my previous post, about Sadir -- for those interested in the nitty-gritty of the case -- Sadir, his background, appeal, the killing of Abdul-Majeed al-Khoei, et al.

Now, some further comments and tidbits.

Sadir's newspaper, al-Hawza, was closed for 60 days, in late March, on the grounds that it was inciting violence, particularly against Americans. The cry's gone out from many Iraqis, "Where's the freedom? Freedom, only when you agree with them." I'll try to get some quotes from the newspaper, and put them in here. The closure of the paper was followed by an escalation from Sadir's troops.

The supporters of Abdul-Majeed al-Khoei -- who was killed, along with an aide, last April -- are convinced that Sadir's supporters carried out the killings. Some view the killing as an effort by Sadir to kill off the competition. Supporters of Sadir, as well as many other Iraqis, view Khoei as an interloper, an outsider, and an ally of Britain and America, who rode in, on America’s tanks. Some also hold Abdul-Majeed al-Khoei's father, the late Ayatollah Abul-Qasim al-Khoei, in contempt, for meeting with Saddam, in the wake of the '91 rebellions -- a forced meeting, of course -- and issuing a statement describing the rebels as rioters and calling for calm, thereby, siding with Saddam. The Khoei son lived in London, the base of the Khoei Foundation, and its international network of schools and charities around the world. Many Iraqis also accuse the Khoeis of stealing the money of Iraqi Shi'a to create their foundation. Shi'as are supposed to pay a tithe (a "khoms," one-fifth) to the religious authority they follow (emulate). The Khoeis are accused by many Iraqis of taking these funds out of Iraq to build its reputation through their worldwide benevolent foundation.

The effort, now, to prosecute the killers of Abdul-Majeed al-Khoei, last April, is viewed with great suspicion by many Iraqis. I'll make a digression, to put into context the extremely suspicious nature of Iraqis. A historical anecdote, might give a flavor of this tendency. It is said, that a 19th Century Ottoman sultan -- Abdul-Majeed or Abdul-Hameed, not sure, which -- would issue decrees ("firman") to the Baghdad wilayet (province). However, the readings and interpretations of the locals differed drastically from what was written in the firman. The sultan would hear about these erroneous interpretations, and be perplexed. "That's not what I said." So, he decided to send down, a blank paper. Still, the Baghdad subjects came back with a variety of interpretations and readings -- to the blank firman. So, the sultan called a group of Baghdadis to his court. "How could you come up with all these interpretations? I sent you a blank paper." The Baghdadis' reply: niqra' al-mamHi (We can read the blank; literally, "We can read the erased").

This deeply ingrained suspiciousness, was further fueled by a state of near-absolute control by the government over the public lives of its people over a period of 30+ years, to the point that most people view public life as something beyond their control or influence -- a pre-planned, tightly organized, all-encompassing and purposeful design that's hatched by others, without the knowledge or consent of the people affected. They were, in the case of life on the ground in Iraq, to a great deal justified in that view. This view, however, has been extended -- projected -- to apply to the rest of the world as well, and, in particular, the superpowers, especially the United States -- that is, it can control everything -- every aspect of life, with grand, all-encompassing designs for all aspects of life, with the ability to enact their wishes, at will. Hence, for example, we have the flabbergasted reaction of Iraqis towards the imperfect situations of electricity, crime, security, looting, and other public services. The expectation is -- or, maybe, was -- that America can make anything happen, that it wants to happen, that it possesses a magic wand, able to achieve anything -- like reach the moon, and read a car’s license plate from outer space. (One of the primary objections of Falluja and Ramadi residents, as well as others, to American practices has been the allegation that soldiers are using goggles that permit them to see through clothes -- using them to violate their womenfolk, and, hence, family honor.) As a result of this view of an all-powerful, all-knowing America, if something is not accomplished, then it must have been meant that way -- meant not to be accomplished, or accomplished in just the way it was -- or wasn't. An intentionality is assumed, for whatever happens. That's the default assumption. Now, yes, there may be a strong element of Islamic, or Arab, fatalism, pre-determinism, involved, which, may even predate Islam and the emergence of the Arab stock. I could go on and on, about this, but, I think, you get the point -- I hope so. For me, it's second nature -- I know it, I understand it, I live it, I’m surrounded by it -- know, in my gut, where it comes from, what it's all about -- have even believed it in the past, to an extent. You -- or, I should say, people for whom this way of seeing the world is alien -- may not be familiar with it -- don't live with it, on a day-to-day basis -- might not readily...understand, absorb, this way of thinking. Another illustration, about this suspiciousness, this time, as it relates to Arabs' views of America. A few days ago, I mentioned a program aired on al-Arabiyya television, last Monday. The State Department representative, Nabeel Khouri -- actually, it might have been the Kuwaiti guest, who said it -- I missed that part of the program, and was told about it by my uncle -- one of them said, “When America says, Good Morning, the Arab asks, ‘What do you mean by that? Why's he saying that? There must be a reason for it.’”

Back to Iraq. The experience of 1991 had a terrible effect on Iraqis' views of America. You might recall, the day after Kuwait was liberated, Iraqi soldiers returning from Kuwait, joined by civilians, rose up against Saddam's rule, in a spontaneous eruption of rage. Within a few days, the rebellions spread across the country, and 14 out of the 18 provinces, were in the hands of rebels. Rebels begged and pleaded for help from French and American troops, including to be allowed access to Saddam's weapons arsenals. They were afforded neither. Outside powers, in particular, Saudi Arabia -- which, in turn, apparently had sway over U.S. policy-makers -- looked with disfavor at these disorganized rebellions, with its unpredictable outcome and concomitant fears of interference and influence from Iran. (Iran, by the way, is also held in contempt by Iraq's '91 rebels, for offering no help to the rebels -- instead, sending only posters and a camera crew to film the former home of Ayatollah Khomeini.) Saudi Arabia and the U.S., instead, anticipated, and were promised (by Iraqi military and Ba'thi defectors), a military coup in Iraq. That was a safer bet -- for a more manageable, and orderly, changeover, in keeping with the conventional view of Iraq, and the way it could be kept whole. So, Saddam was permitted to suppress the rebellions, which he did with great efficiency. Iraqis' hopes, for salvation from Saddam, were dealt a severe blow.

Many people probably remember the pictures of Kurds fleeing Iraq via the country’s mountainous borders with Turkey and Iran. The entire Kurdish region practically emptied, in the biggest refugee movement since World War II. Saddam's helicopters dropped cement powder onto population centers in the Kurdish region, which had the desired effect. No, they weren't mixed with water from the sky, to create cement blocks of people -- sorry, I couldn't resist that. What happened was, people on the ground thought the powder was chemical weapons, and ran for their lives. In southern Iraq, pictures of what happened weren't available.

For years, stories have been collected, of the brutality with which the southern uprisings -- frequently called the Shi'a uprising -- were suppressed, and the people of the South, as well as the holy sites, devastated. For the broader picture, we have the words of one of Saddam's officials. With 1000 Kurds (as well as Assyrians, Yezidis and other inhabitants of the Kurdish region) dying every day in the mountains, Kurdish leaders began negotiating with Saddam, for a resolution to their people's plight -- they couldn't go on like this. This was before the northern safe-haven was created -- a result of public pressure, because of the images broadcast around the world. One of the Kurds negotiating with Saddam's people, Mahmoud Othman, who is now a member of the Governing Council, relayed the words of one of Saddam's negotiators. The negotiator told the Kurds: "It's a good thing you fled, or we would've done to you what we did in the South, and we killed 300,000 in the South." That, in a matter of two to three weeks. The details, and individual stories, are horrific -- gang rapes of daughters in front of a father, babies tossed over and smashed against walls, people tied to tanks, which had, painted on them, the words, La Shi’a ba’d al-yawm (No more Shi’as after today).

As a result of that experience, Iraqis, particularly Shi'a from southern Iraq, and Shi'a as a whole, have evolved a deep sense of mistrust towards America -- that America betrayed Iraqis, and left them to be slaughtered by Saddam -- which may have been the plan in the first place. Thus, a year ago, when the American forces were marching north, towards Baghdad, they were met with suspicion, and frequently asked, "Are you here to stay? Are you going to finish the job this time?" Some are still not sure, believing that Saddam is being held "in reserve," to be unleashed on Iraqis, when the time is...right.

On top of the experience of '91, or maybe because of it, many viewed the international embargo enforced after the invasion of Kuwait as intentionally targeting Iraqis and depriving them economically, medically, culturally and in every other way. For, Iraqis are convinced, Saddam was the one who decided to invade Kuwait, and not Iraqis, and, therefore, he should have been the one punished, not Iraqis. However, he was not hurt -- he was still strong and wealthy, able to build palaces and control people -- while Iraqis got weaker, Iraqi society got smashed, and people grew almost completely dependant on Saddam for food, jobs and most everything else. As my workmate Dr. Moumin just put it, “He was riding on our shoulders. All we could do, is try to survive. We had two enemies to fight -- Saddam’s suppression and stravation; he had no enemy to fight.” No hue and cry, she added, was raised for human rights monitors, as was raised for weapons inspectors.

The view that sanctions targeted the Iraqi population was fed by Saddam's media, as well as Arab media -- seeking to deflect responsibility from themselves, an age-old Arab practice. Taken together, the result is a great cynicism of the motives of outsiders, especially Brits and Americans, or anybody associated with them. So, in Iraq, where it used to be illegal for an Iraqi to speak with a foreigner -- punishable by death -- we now have a situation where you practically can't be a foreigner -- also potentially punishable by death.

Even more than that, Iraqis from the outside -- that is, Iraqis who've lived abroad -- are viewed with suspicion, too. Most believe that they are coming to exploit Iraq for their own material benefit and enrichment.

So, in the Khoei murder case, the two or three main witnesses in the case against Sadir reside in England. This feeds into the cynical view of American and British intentions, as well as exile-Iraqi intentions. Many (insiders) view those intentions, including the trial for the murder of Khoei, as part of a grand scheme to exploit Iraq, weaken the country and its people, a continuation of the sanctions regime -- all, in the service of U.S., Western and, of course, Israeli/Jewish interests. This -- the trial of Sadir, for the murder of Khoei -- must be part of Brits’ and Americans’ designs for Iraq. Nothing is simple in Iraq.

One final note -- I’ve gone on far too long about this. Once I get into something, it’s hard to get me out. Well, things have been pretty calm, the last few days. As somebody said over lunch, today, everybody’s busy with the Palestinains -- just watching the news on TV. Overall, though, with regard to Sadir, U.S. officials say they want a peaceful resolution to the standoff. First and foremost, the U.S. desperately wants to avoid bloodshed in Shi'ism's holiest city.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

In other political "news," word has it that Muqtada Sadir, the Shi'a extremist leader, was given $45 million from Ahmed Kubaisi, a Sunni extremist leader who grew very wealthy under Saddam. Wherever you go in Baghdad, he owns valuable property. Again, that fits in with the strategy plotted in a Saddam document of January 2003, to infiltrate religious groups and wreak general havoc across the land.

As to Sadir, the Iranian delegation that was to escort Sadir to Iran -- has come and gone. The U.S. government, I believe in the person of Paul Bremer, denied asking Iran for help. Negotiations are, supposedly, ongoing. Sadir says he's open to negotiating -- indirectly -- with America. A top Shi'a leader, Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, a member of the Governing Council, is, apparently, acceptable to Sadir, as an intermediary, even though Sadir's maintained, adamently, that he does not recognize the GC, or any U.S.-appointed, U.S.-affiliated party. He castigates the U.S. occupation and denounces those Iraqis co-operating with the Americans. His sermons even feature veiled criticisms of the more traditional ayatollahs who eschew politics for a life of quiet seclusion. A few days after the assassination of Khoie -- who was shot in the shrine, and dragged outside and hacked to death --Sadir's supporters surrounded the home of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the equivalent of the pope, and demanded he step down in favor of Sadir -- this, in a society, and religious culture, that reveres experience and religious learning, of which Sadir has attained neither. The stand-off was eventually defused without incident.

Last June, Sadir established Jaysh al-Mehdi (the Army of Mehdi, "mehdi" being the Shi'a messiah). They have been making their presence felt, trying to shut down markets and schools. Sadir has advised his followers to use means other than peaceful demonstrations, as those have proven futile; he's fallen just short of a call to arms, against America. Last night, my cousin said that Sadir's militia had distributed leaflets at her children's school, demanding they not attend from the 15th to the 25th. Her children went to school yesterday, and nothing happend. From the other side, the minister of education visited their school, and said students who don't show up, will be suspended. My cousin said she planned to hold her kids back, afraid of something happening to them. I'll update this.

The "marja'iyya" -- that is, like the papacy, for Shi'a -- has asked Sadir to take his toys, and go play somewhere else -- outside of Najaf and Kerbala -- the cities housing several of the holiest shrines -- burial places of Muhammad's offspring. To be precise, he was told that, if he's to do any fighting, he should do it beyond the environs of Kerbala and Najaf. He is currently holed up in Najaf. Najaf and Kerbala suffered a great deal in the time of Saddam, so it's people have seen enough. Moreover, the two cities rely on tourism -- religious visitors -- for their livelihood, and are very sensitive and susceptible to the slightest disturbance and uneasiness. Last night, Sadir was shown on TV approaching the "papacy," to submit himself to them, their dictates, I suppose. Someone just added, that the offer of exile to Iran was at Sadir's request, not America's, or Iran's, and that it was America that refused -- maintaining its position, that Sadir must be arrested and turned over to the courts, for the murder, last April, of Abdul-Majeed al-Khoei, the son of the former "pope," the late Abul-Qasim al-Khoei.

The trouble, for most Iraqis, is the timing of the arrest warrant against Sadir. According to official spokespersons -- American, backed, backhandedly, by Iraqi officials -- an Iraqi judge issued an arrest warrant for Sadir, last August, in connection with the killing of Khoei. Sadir denies any involvement in the killing. Khoei was trying to create a moderate Shi'a organization to represent all Shi'a -- of all stripes. The U.S. announced the arrest warrant in early April, and began considering Sadir, and his followers, "outside the law."

I've got to wrap this up, prematurely, because lunch was announced, some 15 minutes ago, and I'm being sort of rude, by not...sitting with them.

So, more on all of this, when I return.
Yesterday evening, there was a constant stream of planes and helicopters -- well, they were probably all helicopters -- I don't imagine that planes get so low. They were headed towards Aamiriyya, which means, to the west. So, I deduced, they were headed to Falluja. A cousin's husband said there were only 800 people left in Falluja. The observation my aunt made, a few days ago -- that, since Falluja'd been surrounded, explosions have ceased in Baghdad -- that's become, conventional wisdom now, in Baghdad, according to yesterday's gathering over lunch. A lot of people say, Falluja has to be wiped out -- burned, a la Dresden -- that all the trouble hails from there. Ten years ago, a friend in Baghdad, relayed to his brother in America, that word on the street was, that the price of completely doing away with Saddam's regime may very well be the wiping out of the towns he relies on, gets his backing and footsoldiers from -- in particular, his hometown, Tikrit, Heet and Bayji -- that it's a price worth paying, may very well have to be paid. Well, it looks like Tikrit is pretty quiet, and the trouble's mainly in Falluja -- from Falluja.

A journalist friend of my cousin, who was in Falluja a few days ago, met a masked Saudi man who said he was leading the..."insurrection." If he says he is, probably means, he isn't. He identified him as Saudi, from his accent.

An officemate just passed on, that also to the west, on the way to Falluja, is Abu Ghraib, where there were skirmishes last night.
The bullets came pretty close, last night. That's putting it melodramatically, because it seems to be nothing to most people. It was a bit startling, to me. It was in the middle of the night, and the shots were very close -- seemed like just outside the house, and, according to my uncle, it was. He came down, to check on me -- said it was Kurdish guards, next door, protecting an Austalian company based there -- probably shooting at something coming at them. I hoped, hearing the shooting, that went on for a few minutes, that they were firing into the air. My uncle's wife, this morning, said the guards were making a ruckus, whistling all night, shooting. Somebody said, maybe it was a cat, that startled them. One of my workmates just said that it's nothing to them -- they sleep through it, now -- planes, bullets, whatever.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

More on Falluja:
Date: 4/17/2004 6:36:15 AM Eastern Daylight Time

hey Ayad,

I doubt if you've been following Iraq List lately, but Chris has been sending stuff from purported NGO personnel alleging that U.S. soldiers are sniping citizens in Fallujah, and obstructing efforts to help citizen victims there. Is there any word on the street in Baghdad that this is what is happening?
I'm confident that it's just Chris's typical bull****, but concerned that it might be perceived as factual if reported there.

Keep safe,

* * *
Date: 4/17/2004 10:56:03 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hey, Doug,

Nothing about that here. You know that Chris is working with Saddam people, and that's the main people in Falluja [people who occupied top posts in Saddam's security agencies]. In fact, a journalist who just got back from there, reported that one of the leaders of the "resistance" is a Saudi. That reminds me, I've gotta put that on the blog.
Other things happening, with regard to Falluja: America's been giving the townsfolk a chance to leave, particularly the women, children, elderly and anybody else, for that matter. Lots have already left, and I've heard about families in the Baghdad area who've taken people in from Falluja. Also, people in Baghdad are collecting contributions -- blood, food, clothing -- to send to Falluja, and they're being taken there -- no trouble, that I've heard of.
An e-mail, from a friend in Holland:
When I was in Iraq last April, the Markaziya school (my former high school) was intact. Only the Saraay building was being stripped in front of my eyes. By the time I got there, the old and beautiful wooden gates were already stolen. I was very sad to see this and was willing to intervene if it wasn't for my brother.

Corrections, and and an update, from a friend in Holland, who's supposed to make it here, by month's end. We are then to track down a 15-year-old girl with severe thalassimia (a blood disorder requiring a bone-marrow transplant).
Date: 4/16/2004 4:36:24 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

Thanks dear Ayad. My birthday was on Tuesday but my mind was with or rather in Iraq.

My travel plans are on hold for the time being although I can leave officially (no teaching until the end of the academic year). My brother who lives in A'zamiyah (not far away from the latest fighting there) called and asked me not to come now. My brother-in-law did the same before him. But I was adamant about coming. I also found the right car (comfortable, fast, doesn't bring attention but most importantly has climatronic--just what you need in Iraq). However, I am concerned about the road conditions in Turkey (driving about 1500KM on 2-lane roads is something that I am not very enthusiastic about). All of this made Liesbeth extremely worried. So I decided to put it off for a week or two until things become a little bit quiet.

On your blog of yesterday you made Qasim a former president. He was the prime-minister. The presidency was assumed by a Sovereignty council headed by Najib al-Ruabi'i. And as far as Adnan Khairallah is concerned he was no war hero but a failed junior officer (whose rank did not exceed a major). He was less brutal than Saddam and did not like his intervention in military matters. Nonetheless he did not offer strong opposition and his murder is related to Saddam's second marriage rather than to any military or polictical issue.
Just saw this e-mail to me, from my journalist friend Tsutomu Ishiai, of Asahi Shimbun:
Date: 4/15/2004 4:33:09 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Tsutomu Ishiai"

Hello, Ayad,

Today, three Japanese hostages are released free and safe. It was delightful news not only for Japanese but many Iraqis who have sympathized with them. I remain concerned about other 2 Japanese as well as others who continued to be held captive in Iraq. But it was really a good news!
* * *
The three Japanese were released two days ago, but, next thing you know, two other Japanese citizens -- both, journalists -- were taken. A lot of people are getting trapped on the Amman-Baghdad road, which I took, two weeks ago. Last night, it was also reported that one of the four Italians held captive was slain. The Italian government said it would not allow terrorists to dictate its policies. Roberto Calderoli, a top Italian politician (number two in the Northern League), called for deporting 1000 Muslim immigrants for every day that Italian captives are held. He said, "The punishment is cruel, but it's the only solution that criminals of this kind can understand." At the same time, bin Laden is offering a non-aggression pact with European countries. I just read a piece of satire about al-Qa'ida opening an embassy in Spain -- I wish I could link to it. Also, there's a piece in today's Sharq il-Awsat (Baghdad edition) about the French journalist who was released three days ago (Wednesday) -- he was taken on Sunday. He said his captors were followers of Saddam and extremist Shi'a. In addition, two businessmen were taken hostage -- a Jordanian Emirati, six days ago, in Basra, and a Dane, in suburban Baghdad. Finally, a Chinese captive, unknown, until now; three Czech journalists; and a Canadian of Syrian origin were released, yesterday -- the latter, turned over to Muqtada Sadir's office in Najaf, and accused by his captors of being Jewish.

Needless to say, all of this, makes much more difficult, the task of attracting business and people to the country.
I just got the following e-mail, in response to what I wrote on the blog, four or five days ago, about the orange-colored egg I got from Huda, the cook here:
I think the "orange egg" that Ayad Rahim is describing is a persimmon.
* * *
I must've not explained myself well. It was an orange egg -- an egg, painted orange -- not a persimmon. I broke it, and ate it, later that afternoon. I got it, on the occasion of Easter, from Huda, the cook here. She just told me that her mother's Assyrian and her father's Chaldean, and that they've just entered the season of visitations to shrines and monastaries, mostly in the mountains of northern Iraq -- this goes on for three months.

The places to be visited, in order of the dates they're to be visited, are: Mar Thalla ("mar" means "saint"), on the fourth day of Easter (two days ago), in Dohuk; Mar Awdeh (today), in the village of Ma'al Thaayeh, near Simmeel, south of Dohuk; Mar Oraaha (tomorrow), in NaaT Nay, near Mosul; Mar Goorgees (on the 24th), of which there are three, in Syria, Mosul and the village of Shayzi, near Dohuk; 'Alqoosh (on the 26th), a monastery for Rubbenn Hurmoos, north of Mosul; SulTana Maadokh (May 16), in the village of Araadin, Huda's hometown, past Sirsink and Inishkeh, north of Mosul; and Deer el-Komaani (July 15), near Zakho. There's a story that goes with SulTaana Maadokh, Huda's hometown saint. Maadokh saw her three brothers killed before her eyes, hundreds of years ago, and, has, since, accomplished many miracles and appeared before people -- in life and in their dreams. When Saddam put out the order to destroy all the villages in the mountains and countryside of northern Iraq, including churches, Maadokh proclaimed, "Whosoever takes a brick from me, will be finished." The bulldozer that tried to take down Dayr SulTaana Maadokh, started shaking, and halted work. SulTaana Maadokh's church was the only one spared. Additionally, Huda added, Maadokh caused the storm that brought down the helicopter carrying Saddam's brother-in-law and cousin, Adnan Khairallah, because, taken by the village, he vowed to build a home for himself next to the church, and higher than the church. His guard, a native of the village, had warned him against this. As for Saddam's order to destroy rural villages, this happened in 1987 and 1988 -- part of the Anfal campaign, to eliminate a base of support and operations for the Kurdish peshmerga (guerrrillas), then active in the area. It destroyed thousands of villages, bombing some 50 with chemical weapons, and killed somewhere between 100,000 and 182,000 people, most of them bused to the Saudi-Iraqi border, thrown into holes, one hudred per hole, then shot and covered over. The chemical bombings of villages were followed by military doctors, who charted the bodies felled, and injury or cause of death, to measure the utility and potency of each of the chemicals used in the concoction.

On a bright note, and this brings us back to the flora we started on, I've got, sitting in a small cup of water on my desk, a gardenia flower. Dr. Moumin picked about a dozen of them, from three or four bushes behind our office this morning. Every now and then, it lets out a shot of pungent aroma -- lovely.

Till next time.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Back to my day with my uncle. Soon after pulling out of the parking lot, we were met, head-on, by a car coming at us the wrong way on a one-way street. My uncle yelled at the car to back up -- it was a very tight squeeze, we couldn't get by. A large young man from the passenger seat approached my uncle. He said their reverse wasn’t working, and asked us to back up. My uncle persisted: “Go back, or I’ll call the police!” Abu Ali, sitting in the passenger seat, counseled retreat. My uncle wasn’t gonna have any of that. He then proceeded to rail against the backwardness of Iraqis, the lawlessness, the lack of organization, the lying, cheating, deception, hypocrisy that they’ve been taught by Saddam. This is a frequent lament. He was peeved. After a bit, the other car did back off -- the reverse worked -- and we were on our way. My uncle didn’t let up, though. “They wanna burn the Japanese [hostages] -- and those people are coming to help you. They’re giving four, five billion dollars. You don’t deserve it. These people aren’t human, they're monsters -- they’re the ones who should be burned.” My uncle had said, a day or two before, that he cried for the Japanese hostages. He’s also said, pointing to his grandkids -- two, three years old -- that “our hope is in them.”
What I wrote, off-line:

Before I get back to my really great adventure with my uncle -- that was three days ago -- there’s a very important news update:

Last night, my aunt popped the question: “Do you wanna get married?”

Oh, crap! What do I do with this one?

“Yes, I do, but....”

My aunt had in mind, three local women. "But they have narrow horizons...," I replied. "These, are open-minded," she retorted -- they're a pharmacist, a dentist and a teacher; one of them's a relative. Another of them, I know, and...eh eh. My aunt said, yes, she’s veiled. “But it’s not only the veil -- the mentality’s different -- it would be difficult.” I’m not opposed to meeting anybody, so my aunt’s gonna pursue this, ask...the relevant parties, I suppose. I seriously doubt I would be interested in anybody here, and I don’t wanna get anybody in trouble -- by something going too far, and, then, the girl gets in trouble -- goes too far, to step back. A woman can be considered “ruined,” if she’s been committed, extended too far. Although, this is nothing of the sort. I'm getting ahead of myself, as I often do.

All right -- enough of that. I’ll let you know what happens.
Saturday morning.

I came into the office yesterday, but we had some turbulence -- as far as electricity -- so, I bailed, and, below, what I wrote, yesterday.

* * *
Friday, after noon.

Today's the sabbath, so...nobody here. Three people, I was told by one of the guards, dropped by in the morning, for a half-hour each, and then left.

All right -- let's see, where did I leave off? I'm going back to my day out with my uncle -- just a little outing, and I can go on and on, writing about it forever. Tell me, if you get bored.

On the drive into town, my uncle passed by the broadcasting center -- well, the street that leads into the complex -- a fenced area, of three buildings, for radio and television. He said that the street was closed off, as was a street that the sons took over, where they had some of their homes -- I don't know much about the latter. We did pass it, later, but I didn’t see anything, and I wasn't told much about it. As to the broadcasting center, my uncle said that in 1958, after the anti-monarchy revolution, two tanks were placed at the head of the street, the gate to the broadcast center, and kept there for one month. In 1963, in the second coup of that year (I believe, the second coup, that toppled the Ba'ath, rather than the Ba'ath coup, of nine months earlier), two tanks were placed there, and kept there for three months. When Saddam's party came back into power, in 1968, two tanks were placed at the entrance to the broadcasting center and remained there for 35 years -- until America arrived.

Later that day, as I was walking through the market with my uncle's handyman, Ahmed, we stopped to get a drink of yogurt. It was a hot day. That day, and the previous two days, it was in the eighties or so -- and it wasn't the dry heat Baghdad is supposed to have -- a little bit of humidity. It has since -- yesterday and today -- become overcast, to make it cooler, with a little bit of a breeze, and, just a few minutes ago, before and during my trip to the office, a few drops came down. My uncle and aunt had said that it wouldn't rain, until fall, but my cousin -- my uncle's daughter, who lives in a house on the property -- said it does rain in April. I got a ride to the office from a worker installing air conditioners in her house.

Well, back in the soug, Ahmed and I stopped to get a drink of yogurt, from a sidewalk vendor -- this is a popular drink in Iraq, and in Iran, too -- watered-down yogurt, with a little bit of salt, served iced cold; Iranians add dried mint. As I drank it, I thought of my aunt -- my mother's sister -- who was poisoned to death with this drink, laced with thallium -- rat poison. That was in 1980. It was the first documented case of thallium poisoning. Her brothers, both doctors, smuggled some of her hair out, had it sent to us, in Cleveland. My parents sent it to an Amnesty International lab in Philadelphia, which proved that death was caused by thallium poisoning.

Back to the present: When I told my uncle I had the yogurt drink, he warned me against it -- that his son got Maltese fever from drinking yogurt "from the street" -- laid him out for two months -- and that the water wasn't clean. My aunt said that yogurt is safe -- that cheese and milk are not so safe. Who knows? As my uncle's said, don't believe everything Iraqis tell you -- a lot of rumors, and lies, get circulated. Before I left Cleveland, my father'd suggested I get a strong anti-biotic, in case I do pick up a parasite from something I eat or drink. We didn't get to that, but one of my doctor uncles in Baghdad advised, to boil the water and freeze it, before drinking it, which is what I think they do, at my uncle's house. Many people do, however, drink from the tap.

A couple minutes after drinking the yogurt, which cost 100 dinars each -- about seven cents, although you've gotta take into consideration an average wage, which I'm told starts at 150 dollars a month -- I saw, in front of a shopwindow, a man with a tray of round grooved dumplings, laden with syrup -- called daaTlee. I haven't had that in ages. Well, there's a lot more, to taste and see. Ahmed and I then made our way back to the khan -- that is, my uncle's office, atop the area the family owns. Electricity was back.

My uncle, his manager and I left the office, for the car. We had to drive to a bank, to get what my uncle called an overdraft -- not the overdraft I know, for checking accounts. As my uncle explained it, it's basically an okay from the bank, to pay for equipment, and, maybe, construction, of the paint factory, which is in Ba'gooba, a city an hour northeast of Baghdad. He said that banks are freeing up a lot of money, all over the place, for people to start businesses, building projects. For my uncle's part, in a few months, when the factory gets going, he'll be able to employ 40 people; he now employs three. He's very eager to get going. Their start-up date, is May 1.

As we walked from the office to the parking lot, we passed a man making ice cream. He stood, vigorously shaking a large metal bowl, sitting in the hollow of his cart; a couple of small bottles of a magenta-colored liquid (my uncle said it was raspberry) sat on top of the cart. We also passed, as we had, on the way in, the Baghdad Museum, which displays scenes from Baghdad life of yore, in life-sized models, with sound -- scenes such as a boy's circumcision, a wedding zaffa (procession/celebration), a coffeehouse/teashop, with men playing backgammon, a boy getting caned on the foot (falaka), a rugmaker, a traditional Baghdadi house, with its latticed windows and open courtyard. The museum's closed, for the time being.

On the far (Karkh) side of the bridge, we passed a boy pushing a cart of fish. That prompted Abu Ali, my uncle's manager, to tell the story of when Saddam entertained Jacques Chirac in Paris to a special meal of mazgoof -- the traditional Iraqi way of cooking fish. The large, usually round, fish is impaled on two sticks in the ground, and stands upright, facing the outdoor fire. The year was 1975, and Chirac was mayor of Paris. The two presidents-to-be were developing a close relationship -- I was going to call it a friendship, but Jacque might deny that. The relationship translated into the sale and construction of at least two nuclear reactors, and much, much more. One of the reactors was destroyed in 1981 by Israel -- bless their hearts; the other, by French intelligence, in the port of Marseilles, before it set sail -- bless their hearts, too. For this special meal, Saddam had a plane fly in some fish from Iraq, along with the special firewood and a team of cooks and performers to make and serve the fish. Mazgoof, which comes from the word “Moscovi” (meaning “from Moscow” -- don’t ask me why), was traditionally cooked from two types of fish -- bunni and gaTTan (I don't know their English names, but "bunni" means brown and "gaTTan" refers to the cottony texture of the cooked fish, guTTin being the Iraqi Arabic word for cotton). Now, most mazgoof is made from carp, which is taking over the waters.

On the drive into town, my uncle had told another fish story. A cousin of his had befriended Saddam in the early sixties, so, when Saddam and his pals came to power, Saddam visited the cousin's family, every Friday, for tikka -- that’s shish kabab -- all right, it’s not a fish story. The cousin’s father asked his son to take some tikka to Saddam's drivers and guards, waiting outside. Saddam rebuffed the offer. "If they're full, they'll turn on you. If you leave them hungry, they'll run behind you, like a dog." My uncle said Saddam applied this principle to all of Iraq's people. That story reminded me of a distant relative’s response to a survey I conducted a few months ago, on the capture of Saddam. This relative said he met Saddam in 1969, "when I was the site engineer with the contractor building the famous Abu Ghraib Central prison. He visited the site and I toured with him.... We were supposed to install steel beds for the prison inmates, but had a design problem.... I told Saddam of this when he asked if we had any problems delaying completion of the project. His immediate answer was: ‘Let those SOBs sleep on the floor.’"

* * *

Back to Saturday morning. The electricity went off, and the backup generator, like yesterday, wasn’t working. So, I continued typing, using my laptop’s battery. Now, the backup generator has been fixed, and, that means, the internet connection is back on. So, I’m going to send, everything I’ve written, and, continue with...”the rest of the story” -- later.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Another friend's e-mail:
I shared a portion of your blog with two of my co-workers. We thought it was amusing what your uncles said about our Senator Kennedy. I imagine it's hard to explain to your family why the Democrats would say these things about our president in a time of war. There just aren't the right words to explain their statements (although 'treason' comes to my mind).

Also, your explanation of the group in Fallujah was interesting. The militants were described as 'disenfranchised' and 'unemployed' on the news. They neglected to say they were former Saddam loyalists. John Kerry sounded like he felt sorry for them. My gosh, what will we do if he gets elected??

Sounds like the electricity goes off a lot. That must be aggravating. Is it getting any better?

Do you miss American food? Can you get all the food you want, like at the groceries here?
My response:
As for food, I'm doing fine -- I miss the early morning Burger King, but...they are taking good care of me -- cooking up special things for me. I haven't eaten out, at all, so...whatever I eat, is cooked at home. We'll see, once I go out, how it goes. It's not as easy, being a veggie here, as it is in America. I'm used to this kind of food, anyway.

As for the electricity, it's not that bad -- you get used to it, and everybody -- where I...I am -- have backup generators and all -- power rarely ever goes off, completely.
Pardon me, but I'm going to do some lazy blogging here -- cutting-and-pasting from e-mail exchanges with friends in Cleveland. I have a backlog of these, that I can dump -- if people are interested. Let me know, friends, if this is interesting -- or not. First up, a journalist friend:
Date: 4/13/2004 3:23:10 AM Eastern Daylight Time


Your timing for experiencing tremendous change in Iraq couldn't have been better. Your writing has given me new insight into the conflict. I pick up in the news here that Sadir's followers- particularly those close to him--are not dumb but are actually quite intelligent. They are just naïve. You know, though, It seems that some of their tactics are quite canny.

I think they may also be trying to play on our domestic politics. It would be interesting to ask them what they know about America and about what they think the difference between Democrats and Republicans are. I bet most Iraqis have a relative in W. Europe or America. My guess is that they (the insurgents) feel that if Bush loses, then they win. But Kerry will not deviate from the course already set. Perhaps they have never seen a "loyal opposition" or a defeated government where the loser is allowed to live--you lose, you die is their experience for at least two generations.

Another interesting observation I had was in re-reading the Declaration of Independence recently. You may think you know the document, but have you actually read it? I'm wondering if you translated the document into Arabic and changed a few things to make it not so time- and place-specific, what the secular Iraqi nationalists who want America to leave would think. It is a powerful document outlining grievances that a democratic (with a small d) system provides for. The lists of complaints in the DI would sound familiar to them. Independence from what they perceive as tyrants is, if the Iraqis had some reasonable patience, what they would, to one degree or another, get if they would see us as facilitators of freedom and not oppressors.

It is true we have a history of using other countries for our own ends, but Americans have rarely been oppressors (and never for very long) as a matter of public policy or a colonial power and have no desire to become one for Iraq. Why does everything need to be "I win, you lose"? Why can't the Iraqis get what they want (to allow individuals to practice their own religion without interference; to raise their family without fear from the state or from terror; to have electricity, water, good roads; to have a society that is prosperous and proud and connected with the world) and we have what we want (a state that doesn't harbor terrorists or threaten its neighbors; who respect the rights of minorities to live in peace; to be a productive trading nation that is an ally of the west in many if not most things). That is what we want Iraq to be--is that what most Iraqis want Iraq to be?

An interesting thought came to my mind about what is really at stake in Iraq: that as much as the Russians and Chinese would like to see us bogged down in Iraq, they also don't want to see Muslim religious extremists succeed, as they both also have their own problem with these groups in their own country.
My very inadequate reply:
Sent: Tuesday, April 13, 2004 7:47 AM

Just this morning, my uncle was talking about seeing Clinton on TV, with Larry King, and how.... My uncle is so pro-American -- there are so many stories. Actually, I forgot to write about some of the things he said, this morning. I'm gonna do a long profile of him, which would probably be more suitable in a personal book. By the way, he played an "extra" in the Ten Commandments, as a slave, along with his Iraqi roommate, who wanted to be an actor -- this was after my uncle's junior year, at USC. So, he was talking about Clinton, how simple and friendly he was -- he was on with his childhood friend, and he kept elbowing him, kidding around with him. My uncle's also always talking about how Americans come together in times of trouble -- that he believes Americans will...oops, that was the other uncle, from last night -- he predicted that Americans will vote for Bush, because they stand together, get behind their leader, in times of need -- he cited all of FDR's reelections. Well, I'm not getting to the part about peaceful transition of governments, and maybe he didn't say anything about that -- can't remember, but, I think -- and, sad to say, I don't have the time, or freedom of mind -- don't feel like I can slow down, enough -- to write you at length about -- now, where did I start this sentence, where did I leave it off, at -- I'm going back, to look -- can't slow down enough to write you at length, in response to the many provocative and thoughtful points, inquiries you make. I did show the paragraph you wrote about the Declaration, to the head of the women's and legal sections here. She says she doesn't think the DI has been translated. I disagree -- I'm sure it has, maybe by one of the democracy groups, in Jordan, etc. As for a short answer to the other things you said, such as peaceful transfer of government/leadership and inability to see beyond their nose, to beyond each individual's narrow self-interest, I think that's all a product of their recent past, and, really, long-term history, too.
Then, David's response:
Date: 4/13/2004 12:56:49 PM Eastern Daylight Time

It seems that the Ten Commandments was a kind of Woodstock for west coast kids looking to get a break in the movies in the 50's. The allure of working with Cecil B. DeMille on the great remake of the great story of the exodus was a way for everyone to earn money.... my great uncle, Hy Terman, who is still alive, also played a slave on The Ten Commandments. He was just in town recently from LA. I don't know if his scenes ended on the cutting room floor, but we have not been able to pinpoint him after seeing the movie a few times. Anyway this is the rumor that we have been spreading in our family for some forty years now...or at least as long as I can remember.

The Iraqis, like the rest of the world, have a curious view of America, and they ought to understand this, as I tell my classes on global business: being an American makes you different from the rest of the world in one important respect. Most Americans are pretty much insulated from the world. On the one hand, we are the largest international traders in the world, yet because our economy is so large, the percentage of our economy that is involved in international trade is the smallest among industrialized nations.

Like other vast countries: Russia, China, Brazil, India, our internal problems and triumphs are, to our citizens much more important than most events that occur outside of our borders. So although the war in Iraq is important, it is not as important as the economy and domestic issues like health insurance reform, job creation, education and a whole bunch of competing issues that are considered to be just as important, if not more so than the war in Iraq. Show them the headlines in an American newspaper. Or show them on any day the headlines on Google news. About 20-30% have to do with the rest of the world. And that is with two wars going on and North Korea threatening to blow us up with their nuclear bombs.

Unlike Russia, China, Brazil and India, we project our power around the world, and have done so at least since World War Two. That means that, for better or worse, because of this history and because of popular culture (television, novels and mass media) everyone in the world has an opinion about America. Every Iraqi before even what we call the first gulf war had an opinion about America.

Prior to last year, believe it or not (and you can validate this) most Americans couldn't have identified Iraq on a map, much less knowing anything about its history and people. Everyone in the world has an opinion about America, yet most everyone in America really thinks very little and has even less knowledge about the rest of the world.

Think about it: there are few countries (just the ones listed above) where you can land in the middle of the country- say St. Louis or Denver or Wichita- and be a thousand miles from a hostile border. Except for the guarded Mexican border, make that two thousand miles. Two thousand miles. And that is from anywhere where they don't speak English and look basically like you. Even in China and Russia, the people in the next province may speak a different language, have different traditions and be of a different culture, even though the people are nominally Russian or Chinese respectively. In America, people a thousand miles away they are almost exactly the same. The ethnic makeup of Cleveland is not greatly different than St. Louis or San Francisco. The roads are the same. The language is the same. The currency is the same. The hotel you would stay at is the same. You can find a church, mosque or temple to pray at that is similar. You can get a job, no problem, a thousand miles away. You can even keep the same phone number! Even if you go up into Canada, you don't look or feel out of place. This would be I would think an odd feeling for a Baghdadi who would feel out of place in Kirkuk or Basra... and might find himself dead in Damascus, Jerusalem or Kuwait City. It would be odd for most Iraqis who live and are buried not too far from where they are born.

We as a people really are insulated from the world in many respects--the poverty, desperation, conflicts, passions and traditions. I have a hard time understanding the intense, irrevocable and immovable attachment to land. It stymies me why the Palestinians or the Ossetians can't negotiate on a generous land swap. I mean the Chinese can flood the yellow river and the Iraqis can drain the swamps and displace thousands without compensation, yet these groups can't take land and money in exchange for making both countries more secure and contiguous. I'm not talking about holy shrines. I'm talking of villages and towns and yes, even digging up cemeteries. But they get to live in peace, without bloodshed and with new buildings and roads and fertile soil. But that is another story.

As Iraqis can tell you, their relatives who come to America (present company accepted) succumb in a matter of a generation or two to the "melting pot" and become more American than wherever they come from. Even among Jews...the "eternal people," the great fear is that for thousands of years people have tried to kill with hate. Yet it is the power of love--through assimilation that will indeed finally reduce the Jewish people. In a sea of people from different cultures, Jews end up being part of the soup like everyone else.

I don't know the figures, but my guess is that if it is not true, it will be soon: the largest ethnic group in America are people of mixed race. To an Iraqi that might be a horror. To me, I look at people as individuals and the values that they have. Would you hesitate to marry a kind, beautiful, intelligent, successful or well-off woman because her grandfather was black??? Or Indian? Or Jewish? Probably not. And that reaction is probably what makes us different from the more "traditionalist" culture of Iraq.
Pardon my absence. I spent yesterday with my uncle, and didn't make it to the office, or to an internet connection. We went to his office, in the city -- in the heart of the old market. Didn't see Saa'Hett il-TaH'reer (old Liberation Square, in the center of downtown) -- that would make it official -- then, I've really seen Baghdad, been to Baghdad -- but saw enough, to make my visit, my being here, more real, closer to official.

We drove to the river -- that's the Tigris -- passing, along the way, the International Exposition center, the extended Zawraa' park, the old train station -- a distinctive building -- the Iraqi Museum, an imitation Gate of Ishtar. As we drove to our parking lot, through this old market on the south side of the river -- that's called Karkh (pretty much, south of the Tigris) -- we passed through small dirt alleys, lined with about a dozen stalls of cheese sellers -- piles of big round blocks of porous beledi (countryside) cheese; they sell wholesale, my uncle said. Next to the car, passed a cart of fish. The man said to me, "Khosh si'mech" (good fish). I asked where it's from, thinking about the Marshes. He said, with a smile, "Min il-shatt" (from the river). We both laughed. I was pleased with myself -- to make a connection. A cart toting boxes of goods passed in front of us -- my uncle said that didn't happen before. "We were like the dead," he said, later. The first couple of months after liberation, he's said frequently, the soug (market) was exploded with activity.

After we parked the car, we walked through the market. My uncle pointed toward the riverbank, a little to the right. My father, he told me, was born in a house his father rented there. I tried to find out, if the house still existed; I couldn't -- I suppose it doesn't, seventy years later. A year after my father was born, they moved into a house my grandfather had built, in A'dhamiyya, up river, to the west, and on the other side of the Tigris -- what's called al-Risaafeh (mostly, north of the Tigris, which winds its way through Baghdad). My uncle was born in that little house, a year later. As we walked on, we passed stalls of fish-sellers -- not many fish, but big -- about a foot to two feet long. According to Azzam Alwash, head of the marshes-restoration project, carp are taking over, especially in the Marshes.

We walked to the street, approaching what I believe is the Rasheed Bridge. Across the street was a statue of Adnan Khairallah, Saddam's brother-in-law and cousin. He became a hero in the Iran-Iraq war and, afterwards, died in a helicopter explosion. Most believe that Saddam had him killed, and my uncle related that Saddam's wife Sajida, in the wake, wailed, "He killed my brother!" The statue is, supposedly, the only regime-era statue that's been spared -- because Saddam's cousin was a victim, too. Khairallah's father, Khairallah TulfaaH, Saddam's uncle, brought up the dictator-to-be, in the absence of his real father, who disappeared before Saddam's birth -- in fact, it's not known who the father is, a great stigma in Arab society, even more so in a traditional tribal setting, as Saddam grew up in, adding to the giant chip on the boy's shoulder. Khairallah TulfaaH, Saddam's uncle, taught the boy a few lovely things, and soon enough escorted him into the chauvanist teachings of the Ba'ath Party. The uncle later authored a book titled something like "Three that God should not have created: Flies, Persians and Jews."

My uncle and I stopped at the base of the bridge, at the newspaper-seller my uncle patronizes. His name is Sayyid, and he's owed a picture, from when my father saw him, in February. My uncle bought al-Nah'dha, his favorite (the paper of Adnan Pachachi). Al-Mu'tamar (of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmad Chalabi's party) was sold out, so he got Al-SabaaH, the CPA paper, edited by old friend Isma'il Zayer, who returned from Holland. On our drive into town, boys came up to cars, peddling papers. The one on top of most piles, for some reason, was Al-Shaa'hid, the Ba'ath Party paper. My uncle exclaimed, "Freedom's so nice!" He also pointed out, in the midst of the heavy morning traffic, that a half-million new cars have entered the country since May first. The new cars get a temporary black plate, and, by a decree of CPA administrator Paul Bremer, the new owners don't have to pay any tax or registration fees on the cars. Traffic is always busy, my uncle pointed out, so what are they talking about, chaos, lack of activity, work? As for driving in the streets, I don't know how they do it -- weaving in and out of lanes, creating new lanes, blocking traffic at major intersections to make a turn -- crazy. Traffic lights aren't working, but there are traffic cops at practically every major intersection. And I thought of renting a car. Actually, at least one of my Iraqi-American colleagues has bought a car -- an old one, at that, to avoid attention -- but he lives nearby, and, maybe, he, and others, limit most of their driving to the short home-office treks.

As my uncle and I began ascending the bridge, an old English double-decker bus approached us. The bridge, according to a map of Baghdad I'm consulting, in the office, must be Rasheed Bridge. I didn't manage to get a picture of the bus -- there'll be others. On the other side of the bridge, was a six-, seven-story parking garage, one of two multi-story garages in Baghdad, according to Ahmed, who later took me on a tour of the soug -- he works for my uncle. My uncle and I then made our way through the alleys of the soug, on the RiSaafeh side of Baghdad -- first, past shop after shop of shoe-sellers -- probably a couple dozen of them -- all, cheap Chinese shoes, I've been told. Around an office building, were wrapped black sheets of cloth, with writing to mark the death of the Shi'a saint Husayn. This was illegal in Saddam's time. Then, we reached the fabrics section of the soug. We went down stairs, and, ta-raaa -- Khan il-Rahim, the section of the soug that belonged to my grandfather, and was, then, passed on to his offspring. The downstairs of the khan has been subdivided, and rented out to other fabric merchants. Upstairs, the offices have been rented out, too. My uncle keeps the main office, for his paint factory -- but, even that, will eventually move. They're looking for a place -- a store and an office, above, on the main street, Shari' al-Rasheed, around the corner from the center of Baghdad, and Liberation Square. The square is named for the anti-monarchy revolution of 1958, and features a long metal frieze -- black on white -- by Iraq's top artist of the 20th century, Jawad Salim, with figures respresenting the spectrum of Iraqi society -- a laborer, a Kurd, a female farmer, an artist, a soldier, a prisoner breaking through bars. Seeing that, would make my visit official. As my brother, Ahmed, said, some 30 years ago, as we repeatedly failed to locate the Washington Holiday Inn we'd booked rooms in, "Is this the real Washington, DC?"

Back to Baghdad. In my uncle's office, Ahmed, the handyman of the office -- a person frequently called the chai'chi -- brought us my first chai Haa'mudh (sour tea, made, using dried limes; my sister and brother, Reem and Ahmed, introduced this tea, as well as others, to America -- NumiTea.com -- Reem did all the artwork -- gorgeous stuff, and the teas are great, too -- whole leaf, organic, freshly packed, deee-licious -- sold at the finest establishments, near you). Haa'mudh is the traditional drink served in the soug -- it's very aromatic -- and good for you -- although the tradition is also to pile it on with sugar. The electricity was out, when we arrived in the office, and they brought out an oil lantern. My other uncle arrived, soon. Ahmed the handyman then took me on a quick tour of the soug. The fabrics section went on, for a bit -- they're mostly small stalls, piled high with colorful, flower-patterned rolls of cloth. We then entered the famous Soug il-Safaa'feer (the coppersmiths market) -- not many coppersmiths left. There used to be constant banging -- the smiths hammering the copper into shape, engraving into the plates and bowls images of the Samaraa' mil'wiyya (large spiralled minaret, in the city north of Baghdad) or the winged bull from the gates to Babylon. I hope to speak to someone, to get the history of the soug -- the coppersmiths', in particular, as well as the rest of it.

We then reached the main street, Rasheed (named after the Abbasid caliph Haroon al-Rasheed). It was on this street, in 1959, that Saddam and a gang of three others tried to assassinate the president, Abdul-Kareem Qasim. The street's become a pedestian walkway. I was told that people began spreading their goods on the sidewalk, then into the street, until cars could no longer get through, if they could get in, at all. Ahmed and I headed east, towards Bab il-Sharji (I believe it is -- Eastern Gate). We turned right, back towards the river, into a wide alley. I've lost track of the sequence of the sections we passed. By the end of our whirlwind tour, we passed sections of luggage sellers, stationers, rugs, blankets, tailors, bookdealers, jewelry, worry beads and gemstones. Ahmed mentioned the banks and money-changers area, to the right -- I didn't notice them. I did see, up ahead some pretty old buildings, on the left. I asked Ahmed if he'd pose for me. I took a couple of pictures. I was then hounded by a little boy, wanting to see himself in the picture and asking me to photograph him. Then, two men, behind us, asked, "Is he an exile? ("mugh'ta'rib)" Ahmed said, "No -- Iraqi." He then suggested, I not take any more pictures. He told me the two men were police for the banks and money-changers we'd just passed, and they feared foreigners taking pictures, who might use the pictures to target the area. There's also widespread suspicion and resentment towards Iraqis from abroad, that we're coming to exploit Iraq and Iraqis, to enrich ourselves. My old officemate, Ali, who dropped by to use our internet connection, just added that some of the police actually work for Saddam's people, et al, and would see a foreigner as "good eatin'." I later wanted to photograph a poster, hanging in a market alley, of a man holding a skull by the hair; Ahmed said they're pretty sensitive, in that soug. All around the city, there are posters reflecting the crimes of Saddam. The two main ones are a close-up of a woman screaming, at the discovery of a loved one's body or death notice; the other shows people huddled above a mass grave.

I bought some postcards, at one of the stalls -- to mail to friends back home. There were many, of paintings portraying parades or palace scenes in ancient Babylon -- I thought they were too kitchy, but bought one, anyways. My preference went to actual scenes -- of ruins, the Marshes, statues. Ahmed and I also reached the bookstore street, Mutannabi (named after the most famous poet in Arab history). There were many Shi'a books, illegal in the past, and thick rolls of posters of religious figures. Across the street, there were a few printers and publishers. Ahmed said, "They've taken their liberties." I'll revisit this area. We then turned back, passed.... Actually, earlier, I think, we'd passed Madrasset al-MuS'tan'Si'riyya. This is reputed to be the oldest surviving school on earth -- more than a thousand years old. I've taken a tour of it -- its back is to the river -- and it's neat, the dorm room, the study rooms -- nice arches in the interior courtyard. I expect I'll get more out of it, next time. On the way back to my uncles' khan -- we were to do all of this, in about half an hour to 45 minutes -- we saw the statue of Abu-Ma'rouf al-Ri'Saafi, the acclaimed Iraqi poet of the 20th century. That intersection was chock-a-block with minivans, used as public transportation, another new sign of activity, according to my uncle.

All right -- my day was just beginning -- it was a little after eleven -- but I'm going to take a break -- it's almost lunch time -- and will continue this -- later.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I'm goin' to town.

Tomorrow morning, I get out of my little cocoon. My uncle's promised to take me to work with him -- it's "go with daddy to work day." We're going to the old market, to the Rahim khan, where my grandfather sold fabric sixty, seventy years ago -- was one of the biggest fabric merchants in the country. Khan il-Rahim -- that's us -- Fabrics "R" Us. No more, though. My uncle does some other things now -- I think there's still a little side business in fabrics -- maybe my other uncle, I'm not sure -- but my uncle makes paints, which didn't operate much over the past 14, 15 years.

Another interesting story my uncle told me, this morning... -- he's a great talker -- gets excited, enthusiastic -- that's the American in him -- loves the spirit of America -- remember, he's the one who went to USC, played an "extra" in "The Ten Commandments," in a scene with Charlton Heston. I've gotta get a clip of that, and pinpoint him -- he played a slave, and trailed his Iraqi roommate -- can't find his name, now -- who wanted to be an actor, and whose father owned a movie house in Baghdad. They were, as I remember it, trodding along -- slogging along, Don -- looking tired, when (I believe) Moses confronted one of the guards, for whipping...maybe it's when one of the guards whips the old man. Well, my uncle told me, when he got back from Lebanon, a few days ago, that he's sixty-nine (looks like he's in his eighties -- that's another story, a symbol of Iraqi society), but he feels like he's 21, that for the past year, he's revived, he's full of energy. He's the one who said, a year ago, that they were brought back to life.

So, this morning, as he hit his car key, to unlock the car.... My uncle and his son just arrived, to pick me up -- gotta go. It's twenty past eight -- to be continued.
More on the hostages -- foreign and domestic. Mostly, and first, three e-mails to me from Tsutomu Ishiai, diplomatic correspondent (in Washington) of Asahi Shimbun, the most important newspaper in Japan. I met Tsutomu at the Kennedy Center, in December, when we were both covering the performance of the Iraqi orchestra with the National Symphony. He was in Iraq, for about two weeks in March.
Date: 4/10/2004 11:23:31 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Tsutomu Ishiai"

Hello, Ayad,

As the situation became more and more tense, I hope you stay safely in Baghdad. First of all, I am so sorry for the late reply. Since three Japanese were abducted, I contined working in my Washington office without sleep. (7am in Washington now.)

Mr. Koichiro Koriyama (32), one of the three abductees is a freelance photographer and often works with our news magazine, Weekly Asahi. Mr. Noriaki Imai (18) is an activist calling for the elimination of depleted uraniam in Iraq. Ms. Nahoko Takato (34) is working as NGO staff to help "street children" in Iraq. I believe they really try to help Iraqi people and reconstruction. If you have any exclusive information on their whereabouts or on the group responsible for the abducton, please let me know.
According to the Japanese government, the deadline for execution was set 9pm Sunday in Tokyo time (4pm in Baghdad). I am deeply afraid that Japanese people will be shocked and might become hostile to Iraqi people if the terrorists execute them. I hope three young Japanese will be freed at the last moment. I think it is important that Japanese and Iraqis should unite together to condemn such act. I hope Arab and Iraqi media should report the case and let Iraqi public know how their act is inhuman and unislamic.

Date: 4/12/2004 11:18:51 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Tsutomu Ishiai"

Hello, Ayad,

There are so many conflicting reports about the fate of three Japanese. It looks that the group which kidnapped them are Iraqis not foreigners. It might be better because there should be some rooms for negotiation. I don't think Al-Qaida would negotiate with Japanese government. I really hope they are going to be released as soon as possible. We have reported so many ordinary Iraqis are against what the group did to the three Japanese. I believe it is quite important that this crisis should not harm the mutual friendship between the two people, Japanese and Iraqis. On the contrary, we can unite to deal with the situation.

Date: 4/12/2004 4:11:55 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Ayad,

Today's Asahi reported about one of the street children in Baghdad whom Ms. Nahoko Takato took care of. Mohamed Hussein, 16 was shocked to know that Nahoko was one of the hostages and said "Why? I rather want to be a hostage in exchange for the release of Nahoko." According to him, he first met her last November on the street near Palestine Hotel, where he lives. She gave him something to eat as well as a branket. He said "I would like to anything I can do in order to save her. I would gather more children whom she took care of and take them to Al Jazeera station to speak about her dedication!"
From an article Tsutomu sent me, from Monday’s Asahi Shimbun:
But at 9 p.m. Sunday, there was still no word on the whereabouts of the hostages. Failure by Japan to remove its troops by that time, the group said Thursday, would result in the burning deaths of the three Japanese.

The three are believed to have been abducted as they were taking a taxi from Amman to Baghdad.
I just wrote the following to Tsutomu:
I just saw on TV, that the Japanese government said they're not willing to meet the conditions set forth by the kidnappers. All of these kidnappings, it appears, are for money -- pure and simple. Actually, let me retract that. I guess the individual ones, of Iraqis, like the neighbor of my cousin Saad, are for money. But, yes, the ones of foreigners are, I think, for political purposes -- to isolate America, and frighten Iraqis from working with America, from participating in the reconstruction effort.
In addition, the scrawl said it was eight Russians, not five, who were abducted today, and that the Chinese government announced that its five hostages (I believe that's the number; maybe 7) were released.
One last note, for the day -- well, actually, I've got a couple of more. Dr. Moumin just gave me a date -- no, not that kind. She brings in a bowl of dates every day, stuffed with a whole or half walnut. I had one the other day, too -- from her -- my first date in Iraq -- was very good. Today, it was even better -- warm and soft. She said she heated it in the car.

A couple of nights ago, I walked home from the office. I decided to take a different route than the one I've been taking, by car and foot, so far. Just a slight difference -- continued on the side street, till the end -- where the roundabout is blocked, at the other end -- I think Ahmad Chalabi's/the INC's headquarters are there, beyond the checkpoint -- I'll have to pay 'em a visit, sometime. I then turned right, to the Princesses Street, the main street, and rejoined my regular programing, already in progress. I enjoyed greeting people, being friendly, along the way -- two men coming out of their garage, to the car outside; a little child with her father, presumably guarding a house under construction. I thought, boy, I would've been afraid to say anything to anybody, before -- even to look anybody in the eye. Then, I thought, I suppose, it could just be a matter of mind over matter -- that one could be afraid, or not, regardless of the circumstances. Who knows? I'll keep my eye on that -- on the possibility of being happy, friendly, open -- in a fear-laden society. There was a woman visiting here, yesterday -- Dr. Moumin said I should meet her, that she might be of use. I overheard her talk about psychology and education, so I thought she taught psychology. Turns out, she taught biology, including whatever the intersection of psychology and biology is called. We didn't talk -- just greetings.

The weather's been gorgeous -- I might've mentioned that before. Sun's been out every day. I was told, last night, that it doesn't rain, from now, through the whole summer. The last two days, it's gotten really hot -- in the eighties, probably. Lots more of that, to come. I'm bound to repeat things, in the course of my writing -- my apologies, for that -- but it's just hard for me to keep up (with what I've written), and I've got so many things going through my head -- don't know if I've written them, not written them; plus, I'm treating this as a spontaneous spilling-out, dumping-everything that's at the forefront of my head, heart -- it's a first draft -- not even a first draft -- no checking, no editing -- well, very little - a pre-first draft -- a zero, or below-zero draft.

One of the people I met a couple of nights ago -- my cousin's...daughter's...mother-in-law -- is connected to that doctor who was sent by Saddam to treat bin Laden (according to William Safire's reporting) -- Walid Khayyal, who was just released by his kidnappers. She mentioned her relationship, or maybe somebody else did, in introducing her; I asked how he was. She said, fine. I'd like to ask a lot more, but...gently...slowly. I hope I get another chance. Well, something like this will probably take quite a few more meetings. Again, I hope she doesn't read this blog, or anybody who can...relay this news to her. As my father says, in a whisper, Don't tell anybody.

Alora -- that's all, for now. Ciao.
Yesterday, I forgot to include a few sentences from an article I read the night before. It's by David Frum, in National Review -- don't worry, southpaws, I've got the recent Nation, too. The article makes the case for re-electing President Bush, but I'm including the quote here, because it deals with Iraq -- it's a nice little rebuttal to all the skeptics, Monday-morning-quarterbacks. I wish I could make a link to the whole article, like Mickey Kaus does, in Slate.

Here's the quote:
"Above all, this president made the decision to liberate Iraq. His critics complain that the Iraq operation has led to surprises and disappointments. Well, unlike Holiday Inns, wars don't come with a no-surprise guarantee. There were surprises all the way to Richmond, surprises in the Argonne, surprises at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima -- and, yes, in Iraq too. And sometimes these surprises are pretty nasty." (April 5 issue of National Review)
Last night, I got pulled out of the office, to go to dinner at an uncle's. I didn't feel in the mood for it -- wanted to keep working -- or, at least, get a break, a rest, before doing the social...thing, the family thing. I haven't fulfilled my familial duties, though -- there's still another uncle I haven't seen, and a number of cousins. It's okay, though -- they're taking the...situation -- difficulties in getting around -- into consideration.

The uncle I went to visit, used to be a Communist -- I think this happened to him in France -- in the fifties. He looks the part, too. I've seen him wearing a beret. Yesterday, he was wearing navy-blue slip-on shoes -- a la Chinese ta'i-chi slippers. There was a recent picture of him, wearing a flak-jacket-type vest, sitting on the shelf. He's got a mane of white wavy hair -- a little long -- looks a bit like a wild poet. He seems to perpetually wear a week-old facial growth that's scratchy, but endearing -- I guess I've just gotten used to it -- familiar. He hasn't practiced his French in a while, but the accent is immaculate.

Well, a propos the Frum quote, my two uncles were flabbergasted by Ted Kennedy's quote. How could he say that? In Vietnam, 70,000 Americans were killed, one said; the other said, 100,000. (I did try to correct that part -- 57,000.) In Vietnam, the opposition to America had the capital, had a government, had a people behind it. Here we are, in Baghdad, the capital -- America is here, we're working with them -- all sorts of Iraqis are working with America. There's no government representing Iraqis that's opposed to America's presence, there's no popular support for any such thing. All of the Kurds are with America. Masoud Barazani, the head of the bigger Kurdish party, even had to deny that his forces were fighting alongside Americans in Falluja -- although that's a distinct possibility, my younger uncle said. No major city is in the hands of America's opponents, nor much of a chance that any will be. Iraqis are split, but there's no popular, mass support for any government, or entity, that's hostile to America and its presence here. So, how could Kennedy say that? Doesn't there have to be some basis, some logic to what he says? How can he say it, without some truth to it? I just listened. I tried to explain American politics, that opponents of the president will say anything to get a leg up. Yes, but how can he say that? the most important senator in America?

He had more: They keep saying, Where are the weapons of mass destruction? That he lied? What do they want? He used chemicals in Halabja. He used chemicals against Iran. And isn't freeing 25 million people enough? My uncle also mentioned an aide to bin Laden who came to Baghdad in the mid-nineties; his presence was widely publicized. He noted the '93 World Trade Center bombing, which the head of the FBI in New York pinned on Iraq. He also noted an apperance by Saddam, after 9/11, in which he cited a Qur'anic verse prophesying a strike on a place, the two-word name of which, Saddam interpreted/translated as a street in New York. I can't remember the name of the place cited in the Qur'an, but I'm asking around -- then, of course, there's my uncle. Of course, Saddam was the only "world leader" who lauded 9/11.

This morning, my uncle told me that the police see themselves defending America, here in Iraq. I wanna talk to a few, to find out what they think -- of course, skeptical reader, without leading them, one way or the other. My uncle's gonna arrange a meeting with a police officer for me, at least with the guy who picked us up, yesterday morning. This guy was a pilot in the Iraqi air force, and has now joined the police. When we got in his car, yesterday morning, he had on some..."Western" pop music -- I couldn't recognize the tune, but it was in English. I asked what he was listening to; he said, Radio Sawa (Together), the U.S. station for Arabs. My uncle says all the young people listen to it.

This just in: The three Japanese hostages have been released, a colleague heard on the radio. Five Russians, though, were taken, from an electiricity center in Baghdad. That's three up, five down, for those of you keeping score on the hostages. We need a scorecard around here.

Back to my uncle. He says the battle being fought in Iraq is THE decisive battle -- for the world. If America loses here, the whole world loses. If American wins here, the whole world wins. Not only in terms of democracy, and freeing these backwards Arabs, but, in a new twist, for me, he says that all the terrorists, from Indonesia to Morocco, have gathered here, and we're taking them all on. America and Iraq are gonna wipe out all the terrorists -- together.

A couple of nights ago, we watched a great discussion on al-Arabiyya, one of the satellite stations. It, and al-Jazeera, are the worst ones -- still hanker for Saddam, pander to anti-Americanism, and put out the ugliest anti-Israeli stuff. Well, on this program, they had on a Saudi "political analyst" named Fahed-something; there was a State Department official named Nabeel el-Khouri; and a Kuwaiti professor who used to be information minister, Sa'ad Ajami. "Ajami," I assumed, meant he's of Iranian origin, and probably Shi'i, but, it could be that he's of another non-Arab ancestry. "Ajami" means foreigner -- that's the guy's last name -- "foreigner." I hope MEMRI translates the discussion. It turned on the topic of responsibility -- whether Arabs are responsible for their fate, including the Palestinian issue, or whether America is. The Kuwaiti also injected the element of optimism, in interpreting U.S. actions in the region. My uncle and I agreed that we're in the "party of optimists."

I arrived at my desk -- well, it's not really mine, but.... I'm hesitating -- whether to tell you the story of the desk(s) situation, or not. Well,...maybe soon.

Important thing -- I arrived at my desk, to find a plate, with an orange egg, two pieces of klay'cheh and a piece of candy. Muhannad, who was sitting at my desk, said it was from Lana and her mother, who works in the kitchen -- for Easter. I thanked them -- Lana's sister's here, too -- Lena -- and the mother, who's the one normally here -- every day -- her name is Huda. I wished them a Happy Easter, in English. They said it was a mixed holiday, this year -- a little afraid -- they did their thing -- went to church, family get-togethers. I wished them the traditional holiday greeting, "kull sana wa intoo saal'meen!" (literally, Every year, and you're safe). They replied, "Aj'ma'een" (For all of us). Huda looked nice -- all made up, and all were dressed nicely.

When I first saw the orange egg, I thought it was a.... Now, I just went to my pocket Merriam-Webster dictionary -- neither kumquat nor loquat, there -- then went to the big Mawrid a colleague has -- English-to-Arabic dictionary -- and I got "golden orange" for kumquat and "al-bashmala" for loquat, neither of which helps me. I'm gonna have to find some good Arabic-English dictionary -- either on-line or from a bookstore. Well, when I saw this orange egg, I thought it was "en'gi'din'ya," a small fruit, shaped, pretty much, like an egg -- with several large pits -- they're delicious. You have to peel the skin, then eat the rest, spitting out the pits and stem -- top and stern stems, a la a pear. This orange egg -- that I thought was...a loquat or kumquat -- whatever -- an "en'gi'dinya," looked so good -- so perfect -- the fruit is usually blemished -- it was so perfectly smooth, in shape, and the color was so...smooth-toned, I guess -- I can't find the term, to describe the smoothness,... -- my little Roget's gets me "consistent," "uniform" -- a consistent light orange -- my workmate, here, says, like a sunset. Well, it just didn't look like a real en'gi'dinya. In any case, thinking that it was an en'gi'dinya, I grabbed it, with my thumb and forefinger and middle finger, to squeeze it -- that's what you have to do, to...begin the process of separating the skin from the fruit -- if the fruit is just ripe enough, a nice gentle squeeze causes the fruit to come out of its skin -- sounds pretty sexy, huh? (Actually, the texture of the fruit, inside, IS pretty sexy. This is an R-rated blog, so I won't go into what it feels like.) So, I squeezed, and...the engidinya...broke -- it's an egg, you dummy! So, that's what Huda and her daughters had left for me. I don't see any others, though -- am I getting preferential treatment, or what? In the kitchen, they gave me another bon bon.

As for klaycheh, that's a baked pastry -- very Iraqi -- and probably Christian, and even Jewish, before there were Arabs here. It's filled with dates, or ground walnuts and sugar. I think I've got one of each. I ate the date one -- delicious -- smooth and melted in the mouth.... I just took a bite out of the walnut one, now -- and, pretty good -- ta2, Huda.

I just went over to the kitchen -- she did, indeed, make them -- offered me more -- with tea. I've already had a lot to eat -- breakfast at home, all of this -- enough. I'll save the egg for later. She told me about her daughter Lena, studying computer, with one of the people here.

Monday, April 12, 2004

I've got another item, for my top-ten list. You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

you don't think twice about not recycling a recyclable.
On top of the good news we had yesterday, about Falluja and Sadir, there was word that the Japanese and Korean hostages -- the latter were missionaries -- might be freed soon. The bad news, today, is that people from Falluja and/or Ramadi have put three checkpoints, in between their cities, to check for Americans, Canadians, other foreigners. A cousin went to Jordan, a few days ago, and was stopped, I think in the center of Falluja -- he couldn't take the highway, and took side roads. He thought they might kill him, taking him for an American.

All right -- gotta go.
A couple of addendums, to yesterday’s discussion on Shi’a lamentation and self-flagellation. One of the things Hassan Mneimneh, the new executive director of the Iraq Foundation, said about it all -- his starting point, in fact -- was that there are two aspects, tributaries, to the lamentations, dirges (“mar'thiyya"). One was a grieving over what was lost, because of the deeds of the evil tyrant Yezid, and the second involved what could have been -- the potential for greatness, and, dare I say, perfection -- again, deprived from humanity because of Yezid. This, Hassan added, contributed to Shi’as’ sense of being aggreived and denied, which contributes to their identifying themselves eternally as oppositionists and a minority, and consequent difficulties with power and governance.

This morning, my uncle added to that, distinctly, Shi’a sense of being targeted and abused. In emphasizing to me the necessity for an Iraqi to "carry" a “math’hab” (religious conviction or ideology), he noted that all the imams -- the rightful successors to Muhammad, according to Shi’as -- were poisoned to death. In justifying the need for an Iraqi to have a dogma, my uncle cited the country's rich heritage, including being home to the prophets Abraham, Lot and Noah.

Speaking of poison, I’m drowning in chai -- it’s great tea, but...I’m drowing in it. It's offered everywhere you go, and Pepsi, too, and frequently, at that, and I'm wondering what it’s doing to my teeth, and all the work I’ve had done on them.
This morning, my uncle and aunt were talking about their mother. She so much wanted to see the end of Saddam, before she died. She passed away, a week or so before the invasion of Kuwait, and my parents made it for her funeral, and got out, just before the invasion. At the time, I was working in Jerusalem, so I called my sister in Cleveland, and she called Baghdad with another line, and put the two phones together. Well, my grandmother didn’t make it to see the end of Saddam -- boy, she'd'a been happy -- but she was quite a lady -- a spunky, fun-loving woman. I just learned that one of her grandaughters, Nour, taught her to write when she was some 70 years old, and my aunt, who lives in Lebanon, told me about the first letter she got from her mother. My grandmother, whom we called En’neh, was pulled from school when she was in first grade, but always pushed her offspring to learn. She was especially pushy with my father, to go into medicine, and he always says that she exhausted him. Her eldest child, who passed away in Cleveland, almost two years ago, was either the first or second woman to graduate from college in Iraq, in the forties. For going ahead with her schooling, she was subjected to some familial ostracization, including a notice of banishment in a newspaper. She became a school adminstrator and a steadfast tutor to her kids and grandkids -- in Iraq and America.

Back to my grandmother. She bragged that she was 12 when my grandfather took her for his second wife -- the earlier you're wed, the more attractive you must be -- which would make her even younger than poor little Hagar. Others believe that my grandmother was, more likely, 15 to 17 when she got married. Her two offsprings, in the kitchen this morning, told of her haggling in the market. When she saw a fabric or piece of clothing she liked, she’d ask the seller how much it went for. He might say 100. She’d offer him, four. He’d raise a fuss, she’d walk away. She wouldn’t budge, and he’d eventually come down to her price or something very close to it. Or, else, when he said, 100, she’d chide, I’ll give you 400. Some told her she should've been a minister -- that's of a government ministry, not a church. She was also a very good investor. Whenever she had some money to spend, she’d look for property to buy. In the fifties, she looked for a building close to Hussein’s shrine, in Kerbala. My uncle said a square meter in that building now goes for $7000, more than in New York City. Her surviving daughter still follows that investment philosophy -- never leaves money in the bank; some of her sons haven’t.

En’neh also loved to have fun. She’d pick up a tambourine, a dum’bug (bongo drum) or whatever else was at hand, and begin tapping and making noise, and she'd ask us to dance, or sing, or tell a joke -- she was a great laugher, and a great audience. One of the things she did with me, was to take the pop songs praising Saddam that appeared on television all the time, and convert them for me -- the only one I remember: “Ayad i’Hib kull i-sha’ab, uw kull i-sha’ab i’Hibbeh” (Ayad loves all the people, and all the people love him). Ha ha. A final little tidbit, about En'neh: she told me about how the hawkers in the market would yell out the names of vegetables by a color. So, eggplants were "as'wed" (black), cucumbers were "akh'dhar" (green) and tomatoes were "aH'mar" (red). There may be others. Of course, there's also "abyadh uw baydh" (white and eggs -- I don't think they had green eggs). "Abyadh uw baydh" is a popular sandwich -- peasant food, some would call it -- topped with "'am'ba" (pickled mango). Speaking of which, bananas are readily available, for the first time in more than 20 years. Nice. A guy just told me that people coming from abroad would bring in a case of bananas -- that that was a real treat, a special present.
Monday morning, 10 o’clock. Electricity just went off. We’re waiting for the gas delivery, to fill up the backup generator, to give us power. Keyboards, please! “We’ve got the power.”

Actually, not, but.... Last night, we -- my aunt and I -- went to a cousin’s house -- where I was going to stay, until the cousin left to Jordan. He went to get a visa, as part of an academic delegation to Harvard. The members of the delegation got letters from the CPA and Harvard, but they were still rejected, and have to wait for the security clearance, from Washington, which could take some time.

This is the cousin who wrote me, on March 29:
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
* * *

Well, the cousin’s three kids -- two in college, the third, a dentist and new mother -- are staying in the house (the latter’s husband’s out of the country, too). Well, they told us that their neighbor, a doctor, had been kidnapped, three days before -- didn’t know if it was from his house or from his clinic. My cousin’s kids hadn’t been out of the house, since then, advised by their aunt in Cleveland, by e-chat, not to go out. Another doctor, Walid al-Khayyal, Iraq’s top kidney transplant specialist -- whom William Safire reported was sent by Saddam to treat bin Laden in late 2001 -- was kidnapped a couple of weeks ago. The kidnappers first asked for a million dollars, then came down to $150,000, which was paid, and he was released, a few days ago. Many say that the criminals Saddam released in October 2002, when he emptied the prisons, and the former security people, are now working as guns-for-hire or have set up their own crime rings. Some have also said that Dr. Khayyal was kidnapped for political, rather than financial ends -- because he was a beneficiary of Saddam, but his release detracts from that theory.

Speaking of Saddam, his gang and benefits therefrom derived, I recently learned that two female relatives cried when Saddam’s sons were killed. I’ve gotta find out about this, what that’s all about -- I hope they don’t read this.

The cousins my aunt and I visited last night, learned, while we were there, that they were going back to work and school. They've been off since last Monday or Tuesday, and expected to be off till Saturday. Jaysh il-Mehdi, Sadir's militia, was occupying the university, and, I guess, had control of Shu'la, the part of Baghdad where my cousin's daughter works in a clinic. I guess, the militia has decided to pack up -- for now. Maybe they're taking their business elsewhere -- hopefully, to Iran. They're not very popular -- well, among the middle-classes, that is. He does seem to have a following among the disaffected -- especially, youth. On a personal note, my uncle says Sadir's grandfather used to come to my grandfather's "qubool" (reception), which people had -- sort of open houses, once a week or so -- there were women's and men's "qubools" -- my grandparents had 'em, and people from all walks of life would come. For example, my mother tells the story of the grand rabbi of Baghdad coming to her father's qubool and bounce her on his knees andurge her father to put her in the "frank'ayni" (Alliance Francaise, which were Jewish schools, among the best in Iraq), because she was so clever. He was right about that. Well, a lot of the Sadirs got killed off, and the one that's left -- the one direct heir to the most learned of them -- was not the top student -- not the brightest of the bunch. Well, I guess I could've told you that. My uncle says that even his father didn't like him.

The cousin's house I went to last night also has a fast -- well, I guess, faster -- internet connection, and, I thought, a wireless connection -- very important, for my purposes. Well, I couldn't connect my computer to it, but we were able to chat, with voice, to my cousin in Cambridge, Mass., and, more importantly, with his two little ones, Haitham and Danya -- oh, that cute little voice -- cutie. Haitham told me about the play he was in -- just him and five girls -- from his acting class -- they made up the play -- about "almost fearless superheroes" -- and Danya told me one of her surrealistic jokes -- that go...nowhere, somewhere, and back again -- maybe. The chicken in this one crossed the road, for...I-can't-remember-what-reason. Before I left, she told me three jokes -- about money, a hermit crab and a cave -- each, crossing the road for some reason or another. I wrote down one of them. After I asked her for some clues -- Danya's four years, four months and two days old -- she said, yellow, white and blue.

The answer to the joke was, the money crossed the road, because it wanted to see the color of the boat. Ta2, Danya -- I love you.

Haitham's always got some jokes, too -- but his, are more of the conventional variety -- he's almost 10. Yesterday, he repeated one he told me, before I departed:

How does the farmer fix his pants?

With a cabbage patch.

Last time, he told me another one: Why was the broom late for work?

Because he overswept.

Love you, Haitham -- ta2.

The dear ones' mother, who just rejoined her family, after 10 months in Iraq, working on education, said she had mixed feelings about being back. I only got the negative, which was, that she missed the warmth -- of people. There is, indeed, a lot of heat in the tribe, in being part of an extended family, in being in a tribal setting.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Yesterday, before I made it to the office, a number of workers had come and gone. They were told to go home, and not return, till Tuesday. Schools are off, too, till tomorrow -- Saturday and Sunday are normally the first days of the work-week, school-week. Things are pretty quiet, all things considered. The shops are all closed -- were, yesterday, too -- you could find the odd restaurant, bakery, sidewalk "gas station" (ad hoc -- illegal) in a side-street, away from the gaze of the enforcers.
After typing the previous posts, I left the office, and came back, after almost two hours. The electricity was off in the office, before, and therefore, we didn't have internet access. I typed the below, at home, last night, and before the battery on my computer ran out, this morning. Well, I went with Ali, my officemate, to his new office. They bought (rented?) a house around the corner. Just across the street from the house is the Baghdad home, I suppose, of Mam Jalal Talabani -- "mam" means uncle, in Kurdish. Talabani's the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main Kurdish parties, and is one of the 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). He's one of five Kurds, in addition to the five Sunni Arabs, one Christian, one Turkoman and 13 Shi'a. That's the breakdown. Well, his house is very gaudy, like so many houses around here. They deserve a photo-shoot, an album of their own. One is more outragous than the next. I took a picture of Mam Jalal's house, and as soon as I figure out how to download pictures, and put them on this blog,....

The live-in guard at Ali's office/house is a Moroccan man named Abu Maha. On TV -- al-Iraqiyya, the station set up by the CPA, which is to evolve into a BBC-type independent media system -- they had on, the "festivities" for the Arba'een (the 40th day of mourning for the death of Hussein, Muhammad's grandson, in 680 AD/CE). I asked Abu Maha what he thought of that -- they were showing Hussein's picture, scenes from a film version of the passion play -- looked like something from a medieval play -- actually, something like a Mel Brooks spoof of medieval times -- with heavily made-up long-bearded men, in a dungeon, with torches on the walls of caves, and the wicked Umayyad emperor Yezid cackling, as he sat, side-saddle, on his throne, gesturing for this person and that. Abu Maha said that, before he came to Iraq, in 1975, he didn't know what Shi'a and Sunni were, and that in 1976, the last year the "festivities," procession were allowed, Saddam killed 30,000 worshippers -- using helicopters, Ali added. In the days before the Arba'een, people walk for days, from all over Iraq, and elsewhere -- from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran -- the latter, probably, fly in or bus it to Basra, and walk from there -- they walk all the way to Kerbala, beginning days ago, and arriving in Kerbala, today or in the last two, three days, I guess. So, Abu Maha said that what the Shi'a were doing was "Haraam" (forbidden, a sin), this "ne'dib" -- the best I can do for that word -- from my ensuing conversations, and thesaurus-hunt -- is "eulogizing" -- possibly, also, bemoan, deep mourning, grieving. He (Abu Maha) said that we can't keep "eulogizing," grieving, "forever for somebody -- we all die." It also has an aspect of bemoaning one's fate. Of course, for Shi'a, the expressions of grief for Hussein have a strong aspect of self-flagellation, for not having stood up for Hussein, in his hour of need -- for abandoning him in his battle against the unjust ruler.

Back at the office, I asked the new director of the Iraq Foundation, Hassan Mneimneh, here from Washington (I think Hassan just finished his doctorate at Harvard). He gave us a mini-lecture on the history and theology of all of this -- well, a thumb-sketch of it all.

Oh -- now I can add another item to my top-ten list: "You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:" -- you show real interest in Arab history and Shi'a history -- you're forced to, it becomes necessary, takes on some HEAVY weight, it's part of people's lives, their very essence and being.

Well, Hassan told us -- there were three of us, listening -- and I'm sure I'm not gonna do justice to what he said -- this is, certainly, no specialty of mine -- that this is all, basically, part of expiating the gods -- my words, not his. I'm starting at the end, of what Hassan said (actually at the beginning, historically), and working backwards. That this all pre-dates the Abrahamic religions. If you look at museums in Tunisia and Beirut, he said, you'll see beautiful statues of little boys, with baby faces. They are recreations of the first-born sons whom the fathers had to sacrifice, as a...duty, tax, for their wealth -- this, to the priestly class -- again, I don't know the lingo, here -- not my field, don't have much knowledge in this. The Arabic "muluk," which, I think, refers to that "duty" to sacrifice the first-born, comes from the Greek "molokh" -- same thing, I think. And that Abraham (Ibrahim) followed in this tradition, although the Muslim story, that he was asked by God to sacrifice Ishmael (Isma'il), is more true to that tradition -- the Semitic tradition -- than the Jewish tale, since Isaac (Is'haaq) wasn't his first-born.

He also told the story of Hagar (Haa'jer, in Arabic). The 13-, 14-year-old slave was offered by Sarah to Abraham, since she was not bearing him a child. Then, when Abraham started falling for Hagar, and began growing attached to Ishmael, Sarah cut off Hagar's nose and ear, to make her less attractive. That wasn't enough, though. God, or, more likely, Sarah, then asked Abraham to throw Hagar and the little boy into the desert. This, he added, was from the Midrash and not the Torah. As a result of Hagar's plight, in the desert, we have the Muslim ritual, during the pilgrimmage to Mecca, when worshippers run back and forth, to Wadi Zamzam, where Hagar found water -- in a reenactment of her search for water. That ritual is called "sa'ee," in Arabic -- the "striving" for water. Muslims, though, even though they're reenacting Hagar's struggle and trial, do it as a tribute to Abraham, or just simply do the rite, by rote. You'd have to dig deep, according to Hassan, to find a Muslim who knows that it's about the woman and child -- or they'd have to dig deep, in search of the story -- that they likely don't know, and certainly don't identify with the girl and the little boy. A few times, somebody said something about "our" dysfunctional family; one person or another said something about homo-eroticism, misogyny and male worship.

Speaking of Abraham, the head of the education program here, at the Iraq Foundation, showed me pictures he's taken during his travels, training teachers around the country. One set of pictures is from Abraham's home -- the actual house he supposedly inhabited -- just on the outskirts of Nasiriyya -- you could see the city, just across the river from the ruins. He said the ruins are totally unattended, and you can -- and people did -- pick up pieces of earthenware, off the ground. The pictures showed a fairly intact little town. Saddam built a small wall and/or walled city, nearby, or around, the original Ur -- a la what he did with Babylon (Babil) -- nothing of the real Babylon left -- almost nothing. I was asked by somebody in Cleveland to get some sand -- I think that's the place to get it from -- Allie.
In addition to April 9 -- which was declared, in the first act of the Iraqi Governing Council, last July, as a national holiday, Iraqi Freedom Day -- we have the "Arba'een" ("40th" day of mourning, for the death of Hussein, Muhammad's grandson), yesterday and today; and also, Passover/Easter. I was told, that it's "fa'SiH," and that most of the staff -- I think the director was referring to the kitchen -- are Christian. I'd always thought that "Eed il-fa'SiH" referred to the Jewish Passover feast, but the director said it refers to both Passover and Easter.
All right -- back to...reality, serious stuff.

We’ve got some great news today. Muqtada a-Sadir, the hothead cleric who’s created a militia and is now holed up in the holiest Shi’a shrine, in Najaf, is, according to news reports, about to be exiled to Iran. I suppose there’s some agreement, too, about his army -- er, militia, and their weapons. The militia's called Jaysh il-Mehdi (The Messiah’s [Shi'a messiah's] Army), but, apparently, it’s a ragtag “army” of young, disaffected guys. Sadir’s lieutenants, according to many, feature many former Ba’thists -- Saddam’s people -- who, according to a memorandum put out by Saddam, two months before America’s entry, were, in case of the regime's collapse, to put on the turbans and religious garb and infiltrate religious groups. In the 13- or 14-point memorandum, they were to generally wreak havoc, by, among other things, sowing dissent and destroying as much as possible of the country's essential facilities and utilities. Many have said that the burning and looting that took place in the days after the "fall of Baghdad," was conducted by Saddam's people, as part of an orchestrated...strategy, plan.

There’s more: a cease-fire has reportedly been agreed for Falluja, and, if it holds, for six hours, or 12 hours (people have heard both), the U.S. army would retreat -- five kilometers, I think my uncle said -- and the Iraqi police would re-enter the city -- and then, I suppose, arrest those who mutilitated the bodies of the four Americans killed in Falluja, 11 days ago. We'll see -- wait and see.
Last night, as I was reading in The Sporting News’ pre-season issue, I came up with a top-ten list. Here it is:

You know you’ve been in the Arab world too long, when:

1. You misread “infields,” as “infidels.”

That’s the only good one I came up with. I thought of a couple of others, and I welcome your nominations.

You know you’ve been in the Arab world too long, when:

You can’t wear a baseball cap that says “We got him.”

You know you’ve been in the Arab world too long, when:

the pre-dawn call to prayer starts disrupting your sleep.

You know you’ve been in the Arab world too long, when:

somebody walking into your room while you're in bed doesn’t bother you.

You know you’ve been in the Arab world too long, when:

you’re told you’re being too nice to street peddlers

A colleague’s nomination:

You know you’ve been in the Arab world too long, when:

the traffic chaos doesn’t bother you anymore

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Another e-mail, from a friend in Holland, who's a math professor there. He's planning to drive all the way here, in early May. He made it here, a few days after liberation. We've been talking about going to Hilla, near Babylon, to see a family whose fifteen-year-old daughter has had thalassimia since infancy. This was written, three days ago:
Fine to hear from you dear Ayad. I too think you should stay in Baghdad. You are almost in similar circumstances to mine when I arrived almost a year ago.

My brother who lives in A'zamiyah called yesterday morning to tell me that my life would be in danger if I came to stay with him. He lives near the area where some fierce fighting took place 2 nights ago. He asked me to delay my visit. My brother-in-law did the same. I am as you may know stone-headed. I almost bought a car to drive into Iraq. I am even exploring the route. But my dear Liesbeth did not sleep the last 2 nights and is extremely worried. I have no idea how the Americans could extricate themselves from this confrontation with this Sadr donkey (Hasha al-Zumaal. Sadr's IQ I believe is half that of a donkey). They are damned if they do, damned if they don't. Pretty messy situation.

Tell Azzam that last year I saw people tearing off electric cables to sell them in the market. I believe I told u when my brother and I were in the old Saraay when someone was pulling off the windows!! My brother pulled me away to stop me intervening.
I just came across my response to the friend from Cleveland, and here's part of what I wrote, in my rushed e-mail style:
As for people here...well, everybody's safe -- I mean, they keep themselves safe -- don't go out much -- although shops mostly stay open till nine or ten -- that's at night. You've been reading the blog, I take it -- but, in some neighborhoods, these thugs come around -- and this is gonna be going on for a few days, now, with all these anniversaries, religious rites, approaching -- and the thugs try to...throw their weight around, flex their muscles.

People are cautious, and try to keep me...from taking any chances, too, which I really don't wanna do -- although, there's always the itch there. I won't, though. I've got "a buddy," who's always with me, and he's taking pretty good care of me -- holding my hand, a la kindergarten.

Weather's been gorgeous. Palm trees look nice. Food's been good, and I'm having fun -- but, then, again, I'm a pretty easy-going guy. You know, I was wondering, today, after I interviewed this guy -- wasn't supposed to be interviewing him -- my buddy told him that I'm visiting, looking around, wanna check out the situation, for possible investment. Well, this guy was pretty tense, tightly wound, and, when my buddy came back, we were joking, yucking it up, and this guy...looked pretty non-plussed. Well, you know, you never know. Oh, well.
I got the following, from a friend in Cleveland, two nights ago:
So, does your family feel safe (in general) with the developments over the past year? Is there civil unrest in the neighborhoods you have visited? Do they like the new situation better than the old?

I hope most Iraqis realize that most Americans want nothing but the best for them. We are hoping they can enjoy the same freedom we have here someday.

What's life like for women over there? Is it anything like life for an American woman? I hope I'm not asking too many questions. So much curiosity....
The question on women, spurred what I wrote, yesterday.

As for the others, I'll have to address them, some other time.
Saturday, afternoon, almost three o'clock.

I just woke up, a couple of hours ago. I stayed up late, with my uncle, who just returned from a business trip to Lebanon -- lots of stories, sharing of views. I woke up, in the middle of the night, and couldn't sleep for a couple of hours. I'm told there was a lot of shooting, bombs going off, but I can't tell what's what -- can't discern what's a bomb, what's a slamming door, what's a shot, or a car's exhaust going off, or whatever a car does, when it makes a popping noise.

Speaking of my uncle's trip to Lebanon, I made the mistake of telling my officemate that my uncle was on his way from Beirut, or something of the sort. I can't remember, exactly, what I said, to Ali, and I just tried calling him -- couldn't reach him -- but the gist of it is, what I said caused confusion -- he deduced a different route for my uncle, because Iraqis only knew Amman, and later, Damascus, as outlets, windows onto the world, out of the country.

For those trying to e-mail me, I know, my mailbox is full -- I apologize for that. I haven't had a chance to go through e-mail -- I will, as soon as I get this article done, so I can send it back to America in time for Sunday's papers. It's not easy, having access to the internet. Sometimes, we have to leave the office early, because of fears of the situation outside -- safety in the streets, ability to move around safely. People get a little fearful after dark, even as twilight descends...of the unknown -- the possibility that...who knows -- maybe a demonstration -- one of those "peaceful demonstrations," or a kidnapping, a stray bomb or bullet, I guess. They know better. This morning -- sorry, I mean, afternoon -- just after I entered the office, half an hour ago -- a guy told me that an Iraqi Canadian was kidnapped -- "we've got us a Canadian" -- all foreigners are targeted. Also, some Brits and Italians -- this is just today and yesterday, according to my friend. Then there are the Japanese workers and Koreans, from a few days ago. They apparently showed some of them on TV, with a guy wielding a knife to somebody's throat and proclaiming "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greater). My friend said, "What is that? You just go around saying 'Allahu Akbar,' do whatever you want, and they'll show it on Jazeera -- just give 'em a camera, and they'll put it on. These are human beings -- he's about to kill a human being." He said that these same types of things happened in the Lebanese Civil War, and maybe said that they weren't broadcast, or that these people learned from them. He went on, "And what is this, that you can't have foreigners in this country? Egypt's got foreigners, Jordan's got foreigners. Why don't they go and kidnap them? Why can't we have foreigners? What is this? this backwardness? And there are American bases everywhere. Qatar, with their Jazeera, has an American base."

Another guy mentioned that some Palestinian Israelis have been taken, too -- "hooray, we got us an Israeli" -- and that Arafat and the Israeli foreign minister are appealing for their release -- saying that they're not Mossad agents.

The first guy said that 10 guys could barge in here, pick one of us off. My aunt had just told me I shouldn't walk to the office, even if it is a safe neighborhood -- that I could be watched, somebody might monitor my movements, being a stranger and all -- where I'm headed to, where I'm going, which house I leave.

Before driving me to the office, my uncle took me to see a billboard, at a major intersection nearby. On one side of the billboard, was a list of instructions, guidelines from the police, on proper behavior -- not sure regarding what -- I'll have to track down the list. On the other side was a picture of a policeman, pointing at the onlooker. Up top, are the words -- I'm paraphrasing here -- "I put my life in danger every day to help rebuild my country, create safety and security for its citizens." Below, he asks citizens to search for what they can do for their country. Before we left the house, my uncle quoted John F. Kennedy's inauguration address. Well, both sides of the billboard had black paint splashed all over them. A guy in the office says that's the case all over Baghdad -- these billboards, appealing to a sense of patriotism, civic duty. He says these billboards are an obvious p.r. effort by an American firm that doesn't understand Iraqi culture -- that an appeal to civic duty is premature for Iraqis. That, there is still no vested interest in the state, no loyalty to its institutions, based on people's recent experience, and, therefore, Iraqis couldn't connect with these messages. That, instead, the messages should appeal to traditional values, and, even before that, there needs to be an acknowledgement of past mistakes, the role the state's institutions played in the past, along with an apology for those mistakes, crimes. Then, they could say that a new era is upon us, we're turning a new page.

All right -- I've gotta go, must get to my article. I wish I could write on and on -- much to tell, like this one story of Saddam's sons my uncle told. He went to a club a few years ago to have dinner with a friend -- either the Hunt Club or Ilwiyya Club. Uday and Qusay were there, partying it up. I was surprised that my uncle could even get in, with the boys having a party -- that they'd wanna have the place to themselves. He said the head of the club knew him well. The sons had the top Iraqi pop singer, Kadhim al-Saahir, regaling them. A parade of women made themselves available to the boys, who, of course, were drunk. Men pushed their wives on the boys. I asked if Uday's bengal tiger was there. He wasn't. We then talked about the tiger. It turns out, contrary to what I knew, when Uday took his tiger for a meal, he had the doors to the restaurant locked, keeping all patrons inside, and he let the tiger roam free. I imagined that if people lifted their legs, or showed any fear or panic, then Uday would have a chance to really have some fun.

Well -- lots more, but.... Later.

Friday, April 09, 2004


I made it -- to my uncle's house -- safe and sound, although not in time for the 6:45 a.m. interview. The television station called me, again, and we did the interview, about 45 minutes later.

I'd like to link to Channel 8 (Fox, Cleveland), and other things on the net, but I don't know how to do it, with the computer I'm using. There is not -- there does not appear, on this web-site, as appeared in computers I used in America, the globe icon, which allowed me to link to other web-sites, as well as a spellchecker, and other such...helpers. That's something I have to explore, investigate. I do know that Channel 8's web-site is fox8cleveland.com -- and they've got a link to this blog, on their site.

My uncle, at whose house I'm staying, just got back from Lebanon, via Damascus. He went that way, rather than via Jordan, because the "fast road," from Amman to Baghdad, has been closed since Sunday night -- apparently, in advance of the American operations around Falluja. My uncle had many stories to tell me, and I want to share them, ASAP -- about Saddam, his sons, life in Iraq. This uncle said, one year ago, "We've been brought back to life." Today, he had a nice quote: "Here's the summary, about Saddam. There were 25 million Iraqis in prison, and he was free. Now, there are 25 million Iraqis free, and he's in prison."

A couple of additions -- additives -- to what I wrote, earlier today. The bit I wrote about the leader of the women's seminar said, yesterday, relying on Islamic sources for legitimation of a woman's rights -- the Iraq Foundation's in-country programs coordinator, Ammar Al Shahbander, just told me that this was something they agreed upon, in advance, to prepare women for any difficulties they might face, from Islamists opposed to women's emancipation. My words, not his.

Also, for Clevelanders, or cinema aficionados, I met a film student yesterday, doing his master's degree at Baghdad University. When he saw I had a decent knowledge base about movies, he asked me if I studied film. I told him that I liked movies, and that I took a class at Case Western Reserve University, with a professor who wrote the bible about film studies, a book used in most university classes about film. We practically said the author's name together (Louis Giannetti), the film student including his middle initial, too (D). He said he'd just gotten an e-mail from a film professor in Cairo, two days before, asking him for a copy of the book, or some excerpts -- in Arabic, of course. This film student's late professor, Ja'far Ali, did the one Arabic translation of Giannetti's book, as far as this student knew, and it was published in '81 by Dar il-Rasheed lil-Nashir (Rasheed Publishing House), in Baghdad. His copy of the book was torn and tattered (sorry for the cliche -- only thing I could think of was rifled, ruffled -- then there's dog-earred -- fuggedaboudit), having read it six times. Well, I know Louis Giannetti, Louis Ginnatti's my friend,...and I'm no Louis Giannetti. Just kidding. Louis Giannetti did move into a house in Shaker Heights right behind our old house, bought it from old friends, who've become friends, again -- the Holzheimers, who now live out in Russell Village, past Chagrin Falls. Well, I've vowed to find an Arabic version of "Understanding Film," in Arabic (Fahm il-See'na'maa'), and return it to Cleveland, for Professor Giannetti. Professor Giannetti just retired, and is doing a section on Iranian cinema for the updated version. Maybe I should get a copy for me, too. The student told me he was in Shari' al-Mutannabi (the main street for bookstores in Baghdad), the previous week, and didn't come across a copy. We'll have to try, again.

All right -- I just started typing a bunch of stuff about the nice discussions we've had over lunch, yesterday and the day before -- about Falluja and Ramadi, from a reporter who's going to Falluja every day, and others who've lived there, dealt with Fallujans and folk from Ramadi; and the legal niceties of "the resistance," vis a vis the legal legitimacy of the U.S. administration/occupation of Iraq -- but my officemate says we've gotta pack up, as there's to be a curfew, beginning at ten. Addendum: it's not sure, about the curfew -- a reported rumor, if there can be such a thing. Well, I've gotta cut-and-paste, what I wrote, and continue it, later, off-line -- for your viewing pleasure at a later time.

Ta ta.
News update.

We've been promised fireworks -- today and tomorrow. I wish it were the kind of fireworks we should have, but, sadly.... Today, of course, is the day that Saddam was ousted from power -- so, his backers, and other opponents of America and the project to democratize this country and the region, will be out to...show that they don't like the results -- in as a grand a style as they can possibly muster. As for the nicer kind of fireworks, I haven't heard about any of those, nor any festivities of any kind -- although I haven't asked. We probably won't get the other kind of fireworks for a few years. Actually, I thought about this the other day, that...I was wondering how long it took for America to begin celebrating its national holiday of independence -- that it, too, passed through some turbulent years, before it had a chance, maybe began to think of celebrating, in any way.

As for tomorrow, it's "the 40th day" of mourning for the slaying of Hussein, Muhammad's grandson, in the plains of Kufa, which is now Kerbala, in south-central Iraq. This happened one-thousand, three-hundred and twenty-four years ago. The traditional mourning period is 40 days, and the first few days of that period are marked by a passion play, in which the slaying of Hussein, and his infant son, are reenacted, with full regalia and bloody lamentations and self-flaggelations of guilt by worshippers and pilgrims from all around the world. Hussein and his followers were rising up against the Islamic emperor of the time, Yezid, who is, for Shi'as, a hated figure. The rebellion was over who should succeed Muhammad as the caliph of the Islamic empire -- who is his rightful heir -- whether it should be an offspring, or a person chosen by the "community." Thence, the split between Shi'as and Sunnis. Not more or less than that -- doctrinally speaking, that is. There are, of course, social, political, economic reasons for the differences, conflicts. That's a whole other story, about which I am not very conversant.

As for local news, there are, today, C-130 planes, equipped as a gunship, flying over the Baghdad suburb of 'Aamiriyya, about which I wrote yesterday. This, according to two people from the office.

And now, for very local news. Our law professor, the head of the foundation's law and women's sections, is cooking lunch. We have an in-house cook, but today is the Sabbath. So, Dr. Moumin says, all the others in the office -- the ones here today -- all men, today -- asked her to cook lunch. I'd suggested we get cheese and cucumbers, to go with the fresh loaves one of the guys had brought earlier.

I saw Dr. Moumin in the kitchen, a few minutes ago, when I went down, to ask about the baby that was killed 1324 years ago. She was wearing an apron. I asked her what she was doing. She said, laughing, "This is discrimination. I'm gonna ask for compensation."

Off I go. I've got an interview with a television station in Cleveland -- by phone. Then, back I come. I'm about to make my first solo foray -- in Iraq. I'll walk the few minutes, from the office to my uncle's house -- all by my lonesome. It's pretty safe -- very safe, actually. It's a posh suburb, and there are guards all over -- for offices (political, etc.) in the area, as well as embassies. Still, don't tell any of my relatives what I'm doing -- they'll kill me.
Last night, I heard the screaming,
Loud voices behind the wall.
Another sleepless night for me,
It won't do no good to call...the police.
Always come late...if they come at all.
With apologies to Tracy Chapman, a former Clevelander, I heard a woman yelling from next door, at midnight. Seemed like it was directed at her husband. She'd had enough -- she wasn't going to take it anymore -- he kept on doing it -- and she was going to her mother's.

I don't know which side it came from -- there are houses to the left and right of my bedroom -- windows on both sides. Domestic abuse is certainly a problem -- although it's not talked about. The eight-year-long war with Iran no doubt made a big contribution. Iraqi soldiers, conscripted for upwards of 10 years, sent into the maelstrom of that endless trench war, drank heavily, and many took out their frustrations on their wives and girlfriends, who, in turn, would take it out on the children. Again, it's totally hush-hush. One woman, Sana' al-Khayyat, wrote about it -- from England -- more than a dozen years ago. Her book is called "Honor and Shame." It's based mainly on interviews with Iraqi women, and a large portion of it deals with the ravages that befell women as a result of the Iran war. Iraqi soldiers were, and Iraqi men probably still are, among the heaviest drinkers in the world -- could probably match a Russian soldier, shot for shot.

Yesterday, a friend from America asked me about the lives of women here. Obviously, this is a very large topic -- deserves volumes -- but, suffice it to say, they are pretty far behind women in America and Europe. I'll just give a couple of examples, from yesterday -- encounters I had, and the thoughts I took away from them. They're little incidents, and one can't make sweeping generalizations from them, but they are somewhat indicative -- give a flavor of what most women have to deal with, the issues they confront.

The Iraq Foundation, whose space I've been using, has been doing seminars for women since November. They've had three different seminars -- on women's issues, NGOs, and constitutional issues as they relate to women. Yesterday, I was to meet with one or two of the women participants, after their morning seminar. It was suggested I sit in on the seminar, but I didn't want to intrude on the women's freedom to express themselves openly. I came down at noon, to be available when they let out, and overheard a few things. The leader of the session was citing the life and sayings of Muhammad (Islam's prophet), for justification of a woman's rights and capabilities, in particular something he bestowed on his daughter -- I didn't catch, or don't remember, the details. I found this, off-putting -- that they would have to rely on scripture and the deeds and words of somebody from 1400 years ago, for legitimation and their inalienable rights (I know, very American of me). Of course, by saying "somebody," in reference to "the Prophet Muhammad," I've committed a heresy, in the eyes of Believers. Also, with regard to what the speaker said about Muhammad, I didn't catch the rest of the seminar, let alone the context of what the speaker was addressing.

After writing the above, I went down and asked the head of the law/women's section at the foundation, Dr. Mishkat El-Moumin. She went over the flip-chart from yesterday's talk with me. The speaker was refuting the notion (an interpretation of a religious verse) that men are financially responsible for their wives. She also cited religious sources for women's capacity to lead, their mental acumen, inheritance rights and rights to tesitfy in court.

Which, actually, segues nicely to the other somewhat revelatory female encounter I had yesterday. When I arrived home, two of the young women -- one of my cousins and a cousin's wife -- looked very nice -- newly coiffed and made up. They'd said, the night before, that they were going to the salon. I remarked on their appearance. (That reminds me of another pleasant turn of events -- that women, especially my cousins, aren't as "covered up" as they were when my parents were here, in February, or were, in the first couple of months after liberation -- that's a good sign, a sign that they see hope in life. As Dr. Moumin put it, two days ago: "Now, we have a future. Under Saddam, we had no future.")

Back to the two young women. The cousin's wife took me to her house to show me their computer -- they live across the front yard, on the same property -- in the traditional tribal manner. In fact, they took over my deceased grandmother's house. Moreover, since I last saw this property, in '89, my uncle built a third house on the lot, for one of the daughters, and her family. I was being shown the computer at my cousin's house, because it has internet access, and I would I be able to do some work that night -- the wife, along with her children, were going to spend the night at her parents' (Thursday evening/Friday's the weekend) -- and her husband, my cousin, is on his way back from Lebanon.

Another segue here -- actually, a bit of a diversion: Dr. Moumin -- after I told her about hearing the neighbor woman yelling at midnight -- said that that's the trouble here, that people do relationships backwards -- they take marriage as the starting point, from which to begin a relationship -- getting acquainted and developing a friendship -- rather than the other way around. It used to be better, she said, 30, 40 years ago. She cited an uncle, who met his wife-to-be in college, got to know her, fell in love, and then married. (Dr. Moumin's father is another story. He sort of stalked the woman of his dreams -- read an article about her in a magazine, which included a picture, and vowed to marry her. He succeeded.) I asked Dr. Moumin what had changed in the last 10, 20 years. She said the Ba'ath Party (Saddam's party) set things back 70 years, by reintroducing some of the old, tribal ways, with all their customs and traditions, including marriage -- to the point that marriage has, again, become a "deal," struck between the two families. The woman, once again, approves of the man, based purely on his CV -- three points, to be specific -- certificate/diploma, job, good family. Moreover, with the deteriorating economy of the country, the head of the "tribe" -- and we're talking about city-dwellers, here -- maybe it would be more accurate to describe it as a clan, in this situation -- the patriarch becomes even more responsible economically for the welfare of his kin, and, thus, can more easily dictate who his daughter's to wed.

In my cousin's house, I asked his wife how my cousin was treating her. She enthused, "Habibi!" (My beloved) -- that he was very good to her. When I returned to my uncle's house, I shared with my aunt what her daughter-in-law had said. She said that, yes, her son was good to her, that he didn't monitor her. I thought she was referring to his letting his wife go out, be with friends, do things. Instead, she was referring to money, that the husband buys her things and doesn't penny-pinch with his wife -- simply that. The wife works as an accountant in the school her children attend.

My uncle's daughter who lives in the new house on the property, got engaged to be married at 17, and, although her grades slumped after the engagement, she still did well enough to enter a better university program. After she attended college for a couple of days, though, her husband would let her, no more -- because he was jealous -- presumably, of other men looking at her, her mixing, talking with other men. She was, now, according to her mother, content to be her children's tutor.

P.S.: One of the four attendees of the women's issues session, yesterday morning, was a man, the first from among the 40 or so who've attended the seminars offered by the foundation since November. He's done both programs on offer -- on NGOs and women's issues. He gave me his two business cards. He's a candidate for vice president of Iraq, and is the head of an NGO called "The Way to Paradise for Women." That's the way he has it translated on the card; the Arabic name, Munadhamatt al-Tareeq ilaa al-Janna al-Nasawiyya, might be more accurately translated as The Organization, Way to Feminist Paradise.

By the way, Happy Freedom Day! It was one year ago, today -- in about three hours -- when that big statue of Saddam was brought down. What a day that was! Now, there's fear, and uncertainty about the current situation -- with Falluja aflare on one side, and Muqtada as-Sadr riding wild, on the other. I've been told by many people, that if I'd arrived a couple of weeks ago, I would've seen a lot more hopefulness and confidence. Now, there's trepidation.

On with the show!

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Thursday morning, 10:15. Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the liberation of Iraq. My cousin, whom I saw in Cleveland last Friday, is still waiting -- for America to leave. He said, maybe by the time I get back, God willing, Iraq will truly be liberated.

Well -- back to reality. Oh, all right -- there, you have my bias -- and his. All right -- so, yesterday...evening, as I was interviewing somebody -- finishing up the interview -- my officemate, Ali, rushed in: "We've gotta get out. C'mon, let's pack up, the situation's really bad out there." He'd just heard that in Aamiriyya, men in black -- no, not Tommy Lee and Wil Smith -- but, yes, they were armed -- well, these men were marching along Shaari' il-'Amal al-Sha'bi (Popular Work Street -- that's the best way to translate it -- this was a slogan of the Ba'ath, when they came to power, to get people mobilized, en masse, to do public works, like digging and cleaning) -- it's the main street of Aamiriyya. They were asking shopkeepers -- some 300 shops on the street -- to close up, as they were about to have a demonstration. They called it a "peaceful demonstration," while toting machine guns and RPGs. If that's a peaceful demonstration,.... These guys probably were Sadir's guys -- much less likely to be Badir Brigades, since their leader's on the Governing Council. Ali heard about this "demonstration" from a friend, and, then, from his mother. Ali also saw, on a street parallel to ours, in Mansour, two guys wearing all black walking together, one of them carrying a sword. My aunt, staying with us, in my uncle's house, believes this is all a leadup to "Yawm il-Arba'een" (the 40th day) of mourning the death of Hussein, Muhammad's grandson (1324 years ago). That's a big occasion for Shi'a -- it'll be this Saturday, the day after the anniversary of the liberation of Iraq. Most Iraqis, I'm finding, seem to call April 9 "SiQooT Baghdad" (the fall of Baghdad), and are regaling more in the day of Saddam's capture, which they call "Yawm SiQooT Saddam."

Ali was worried about making it back home -- he lives in Aamiriyya. Actually, he was worried about his family -- I think his mother's alone in the house. I tried to persuade him not to make the trip home, which is just around the corner, some 10 minutes away. I didn't try very hard. After dropping me off, he made another stop, where he found out that things had died down in Aamiriyya. The demonstrators had picked up and left, less than 30 minutes after they started, and the shops opened up, again. He told me this morning, that if his mother hadn't seen the RPGs and machine guys with her own eyes, he wouldn't have believed anything had happened, things looked so normal when he arrived back there, around eight or nine, last night.

Earlier in the day, Ali'd gone home for lunch. Afterwards, while driving back, he heard preachers "yukabiroon" from mosque loudspeakers -- that is, saying Allahu Akbar (God is greater), over and over again -- for some 20 minutes, and calling on people to go out and demonstrate at four o'clock, "condemning what was happening in Falluja" -- that is, what America is doing. Ali filled me in, on Aamiriyya -- that most of its residents hail from Falluja and Ramadi, and all the mosques in Aamiriyya are Sunni.

My aunt -- same aunt from before -- noted that, since Falluja'd been surrounded, there had been no bombs in Baghdad. She said there used to be two bombs a day. That was an ahah moment. She said that's where all the trouble's coming from -- if't'only were true. I also heard last night, from my mother in Cleveland, that 50 Syrians were killed in Falluja, and a number of Arabs, meaning non-Iraqis, were captured in Ramadi. So, the Lion of Damascus is playing the same game in Iraq that his father played in Lebanon. And, of course, Sadir's Iran's man, to stir things up in Iraq, while Saudi is probably handing out the money. Not a good idea, to try to create a decent country, in this neighborhood.

Another little tidbit. Two days ago, Azzam, the bigwig here, who's working on the marshes, related that one of the suicide bombers -- potential suicide bomber -- from a month ago, when nearly 200 people were killed at two main Shi'a shrines -- didn't make it -- his bomb didn't go off, I guess. He was picked up. Well, the guy's Yemeni, and he was disappointed. Because: "I had an appointment, to have lunch with the Messenger" [Islam's prophet, Muhammad].

As I was waiting for Ali this morning, I saw one of my cousin's little boys. He said they didn't have school. Then, half an hour later, a car pulled up, and dropped off four or five other boys, two of my other cousins' kids -- they said the school was empty. I overheard the mothers say -- one of them works as an accountant at the school -- that the schools were going to be closed Saturday and Sunday, too. Friday's the sabbath.

All right -- nuf for now. Till next time.

An old friend just walked in, too, from my days at Harvard. He'll be around a while.

It's almost noon -- I haven't written non-stop -- and the women's seminar's about to let out, and I should be able to talk to one or two of the participants. Only four showed up, out of the usual 15. Actually, one of the other law graduates thought nobody would show up, based on conditions.


Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Gooood Mooorning, VIETNAM!

Just kidding -- I've been waiting to say that, since before I came.

Well, it's been a quiet week in.... Bloody day, yesterday. I didn't feel anything -- far from where I am. I did hear a helicopter fly overhead, late last night, around eleven, but I'm told that's not unusual. My officemate, who picked me up at eight, heard firing on Shu'la, a western suburb/part of Baghdad -- a stronghold of Muqtada al-Sadir.

A bit of background. Sadir is a young firebrand -- appeals to rebelious youth. His claim to fame, his appeal, is based primarily on his name and parentage. His father, Mhammad Sadiq Sadir, was a learned cleric, maybe an ayattolah. That's a level of learning -- religious learning, which includes philosophy, logic, linguistics, law, theology. He was killed by Saddam in '98 or '99. For that, the son has gained a place in the constellation, as a symbol, representative, of his father -- the heir apparent. He is not very learned, according to most -- that is, most people outside of his circle of followers. His lieutenants, too, are not very well spoken. They are, however, tapping into an anger, an impatience felt by many -- about electricity, about work, about foreign rule. Of course, they are fueling these sentiments, to gain a following.

To give a bit of the flavor, mood of people and the situation, I'll relate something Azzam Alwash told, yesterday. Azzam works to restore the southern marshes. He told of a meeting he attended between the governor of the southeastern province Amara, with citizens, probably mostly elders, tribal chiefs or professionals. The governor told the citizens that they've got to stop tearing down the electricity towers -- well, maybe not tearing them down, but breaking off parts of them, tearing off wiring, and selling parts on the black market. The coalition, or Iraqi ministry of electricity, which was created last summer, put up the towers, repair the damage, only to see them taken apart, again. It's the same kind of desperation and short-sightedness that plays into fishermen depleting fish stocks in the newly resurgent marshes. Azzam said he tells the fishermen that they've got to give the marshes a chance to replenish, but they tell him they have to feed their children.

My officemate just told me that the electricity magazines, of spare parts, are also ransacked. He says all of this was done in the time of Saddam, too, as well as of the underground fiber-optic cables (used by the security services). Saddam, however, assigned tribes responsibility over each region -- put them in charge of electrical towers, power-generators, underground cables, etc., in their area of responsibility, and if anything were to happen to those installations, it was their neck. That, apparently, worked. No such measures, now -- as far as is known. An object lesson in the efficiency of a dictatorship, and the lack of responsibility it engenders, generates.

I started listening to Satchmo, this morning, and brought along to the office the few CDs I carted with me from America -- Nat, Norah, Ella, Joe Williams. Next on, the soundtrack of the movie "The Apostle" -- I love that one.

I've put out the word around the office, that I want to meet five or six people, today and tomorrow, to put together something for the first anniversary -- a merchant, an artist, a democracy activist, a woman -- reminds me of what Secretary of the Interior James Watts said. I'll also try to hang out in a coffeeshop, teahouse, and meet some "ordinary" folks.

All right -- that's it for now.

See you, soon.

P.S. I'm going to head over to the nearby offices of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting -- apparently, not as bad as it sounds, although, still, liberal. They're in the business of training local journalists, and I should be able to meet one or two Iraqis there.

One of the three law graduates who work here -- the professor -- is offering a seminar tomorrow morning, and I should be able to meet some of the women from her class.

Till later.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Another piece of news -- well, maybe we should amend that -- call it "news" -- a tidbit.

A woman who works downstairs said that as she drove in, she saw a policeman -- traffic police, who works in the middle of a busy intersection -- pack up his bags and leave the scene. Not a good sign. Sounds like a scene from a cartoon.

As for the Badir Brigades making their presence felt -- people have been checking "the news," and there's no confirmation of that.

Things are pretty turbulent. I haven't felt anything, but...I'm hearing things -- lots of things. Yesterday, after the previous day's...shootout, between Sadir's youth and American forces, Sadir's folks supposedly took over Basra, Nasiriyya and Kufa, and police centers in Najaf. Meanwhile, American forces have encircled Falooja, and clashed with locals. I heard that six Americans were killed, and some 18 Faloojans were killed.

Moreover, the "fast highway," as it's called, between Amman and Baghdad, was closed, some 12 hours after I took it, to get into Baghdad.

Update: the woman who relayed the "news" about the traffic cop packing up, has qualified her report. She says it may have been a shift-change. This was in Taqaa'Tu' al-'A'dhamiyya ('A'dhamiyya intersection), in the 'A'dhamiyya area of Baghdad.

One other thing I've been told -- this, by my officemate -- is that traffic is...no more. What usually is heavily congested traffic, almost at a standstill, has been, since one in the afternoon, yesterday, pretty quiet -- relatively empty streets -- through this morning, when he picked me up at my uncle's house, and drove to the offices I'm at. This, of course, in reaction to the activities of Sadir's forces. Universities, they said, have also announced their closure, for a week.

My cousin's daughter, who's a dentist, works in Shu'la, a stronghold of Sadir. She left work and took a taxi home, yesterday afternoon, after demonstrations and clashes there. Around the same time, her brother was visiting his father's water-bottling factory, in al-Thawra, since renamed Sadir City, for this Sadir's late father, Mhammad Sadiq al-Sadir.

When I arrived at the Iraq Foundation's offices, this morning, I saw Azzam Alwash, who's working on restoring the marshes. We sat -- my officemate -- let's call him Ali; Ammar Shahbandar, who looks like he's the executive director of the office (lived in Sweden for 12 years -- just called it the last Stalinist country on earth -- then three years in London, and the last, in Baghdad); myself; and Azzam. Azzam told us, among other things, that he was about to contact National Geographic, and tell them to cancel their visit, next week. He also told us that 30 percent of the marshes have been flooded -- although not restored -- more on the distinction, later -- and he expects the rate of restoring water to the marshes, via flooding, to continue, reaching 50 percent -- easily, he said, something he's been predicting, all along. He also told us about his efforts -- and the political difficulties they entail -- to obtain funding for the overall project, all while keeping in mind the political sensitivities involved, in particular, the potential friction in relations between Iraq and Turkey, over water rights, and as those play out, regionally and internationally.

He also related the desperation of the marsh people, who are depleting the waters of their fish stock, even as they're spawning. And that carp have taken over, introduced 40+ years ago by Abdul-Kareem Qasim, to eat up the algae (I think it is).

More on this, and much else, as soon as I can.

Now, time to catch up on four or five days of e-mail.

Ta ta.
I’m in Baghdad -- a suburb of Baghdad, actually, not far from the house we left, 33 years ago.

It’s Sunday night, 11 o’clock, local time, which means it’s three o’clock, Sunday afternoon, eastern time -- as I left eastern time. I know the clocks sprang forward, last night, so...I don’t know...the latest.

Trip was very good -- enjoyable. I had a fun driver. We left Amman at 3:30, Sunday morning, got to the border by about seven o’clock. We had breakfast at Ruweishid -- last city -- if you can call it a city -- little dusty cowtown -- before the border; that was at seven. We had a lentil soup, a makhlama (eggs and meat -- I didn’t partake) and falafil -- pretty good ones. The tea was good. My driver said they cater to Iraqis, so they make food that Iraqis like -- must’ve been talking about the makhlama.

As we were crossing the Jordanian desert, I kept noticing the rock formations -- these black stones and pebbles, piled up, one on top of the other, pyramid-style, like on a Jewish tombstone or some ancient Pacific island shore remains, or parted on the ground, as if they were divided for a roadway. My driver, Abu Ahmed, said it was God’s punishment for “qawm LooT” (the people of Lot, meaning homosexuals) -- because they’d “corrupted” so much on Earth. Most often, when Arabs speak about "corruption" (fa'saad), they’re referring to sexual activity, relations between the sexes or drinking -- could even be, men and women interacting, as far as religious extremists might be concerned. He said it was a divine thing, the stones' alignments. He then asked me about “corruption” in America. I asked him to elaborate; it turns out, he was wondering if people have sex in public, in the open.

Not unusually, Abu Ahmed believed Iraqis are superior morally and ethically to all other people. Because of that, they’d been targeted by America. He said it’s obvious, now, that Saddam wasn’t targeted, so, hence, it had to be Iraqis that were the object of punishment. I can't remember, now, his line of reasoning; when it comes to me, I'll pass it on.

* * *
On arriving in Baghdad, as we turned the corner from Mansour street to the Hunt Club Street (Shari' Naadi il-Sayd), I saw a couple of American Humvees, with soldiers standing beside them. I wondered if they were guarding the big mosque behind them, the one Saddam began constructing -- it's the one with at least 21 domes, and was to cost a billion dollars or so -- a tribute to him, of course. When I arrived at my uncle’s house, I was told that there had been shooting that morning, pre-dawn, between American forces and the followers of Muqtada al-Sadir, the radical hothead. Sadir’s deputy, they said -- or one of his deputies -- Yacoubi, was killed. [I found out, Monday night, that Mustafa al-Yacoubi, Sadir's personal secretary, had been arrested, and that Sadir is wanted, as well, for complicity in the murder, last April, of Abdul-Majeed al-Khoie.] Four or five days ago, Sadir’s newspaper, al-Hawza, was closed, because it was publishing lies about America and inciting violence. My relatives were woken by the shooting, terrified by the closeness of it. One cousin’s wife said she got down on the floor, away from the window, for fear that bullets might shatter the windows. Three or four months ago, a bullet shattered her husband’s car's rear window -- they think it might've been during the celebrations after the capture of Saddam.

More later -- much more.

Actually, let me give you...fresh news. This just in.

Tuesday morning. I'm in the offices of the Iraq Foundation, using their wireless connection -- and the guy sitting next to me, whom I met last night -- a second or third-cousin, or something like that -- his mother just called him, told him that the Badir Brigades were out in the streets. Her neice had just picked up her daughter from school, because of illness, and on the way back home, saw the armed gangs, which she identified as the Badir forces -- probably from their black dress and green headbands. This was in Hayy al-Khadhraa', which is adjacent to Amirriyya -- suburbs of Baghdad -- officially, parts of Baghdad.

The Badir Brigades are the fighting force of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is backed by Iran, and which has a member, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, on the Iraqi Governing Council -- one of 25.

More, on the eleven o'clock news.
I'm back, and I'm in Baghdad.

Let's review. I'm gonna give you some old news, but I like to read old news -- maybe someone out there does, too.

Here goes:

It’s Friday night, and I’m in JFK airport, getting ready to board a plane for Amman.

It’s been quite a couple of days -- hectic, and draining. Last night, I was on the phone with my cousin, who tried to persuade me not to make this trip. He’s been to Iraq three times in the past year, and his wife has been there for almost a year, working on education and women’s issues. It was, as he described it, an emotional appeal. He had a bad feeling about things, and just didn’t want anything to happen to me. I’m especially attached to his two youngins. They, and my sister’s little boy, are sort of what keep me going when I’m feeling hopeless and despairing.

My cousin saw what happened in Falluja, two days ago, as the beginning of a campaign to get at...anything American -- which doesn’t only mean Americans, but anything that might be construed as being...Americanized, or of an American influence, which includes me. He rightly sees too many loonies there, and a mob mentality taking over, and that the sight of an American might set some, or maybe just one person -- that's all it takes -- into a frenzied state, like a piranha at the scent of blood in the water. That's the way he described it; I visualized sharks. Moreover, I’m so Americanized, he said, that I would stand out -- in the way I dress, the way I walk, carry myself. Plus, I could get careless, something I’m wont to do, and that I might “provoke” a violent reaction from somebody, by saying something a loony, hothead, might not take a liking to. As another cousin pointed out -- reacting to what I’d written in my blog, about the contacts I have in Iraq, including relatives starting a bank, involved in various other enterprises, high-level doctors -- that I’d make a “good morsel” (“khosh lugma”) -- the inference being, that I’m attracting attention to myself, as a potential target -- he meant, for kidnapping; others might just want to show off my scalp, to make a political point.

My “ex” (actually, we’re still married -- separated) also had a bad feeling about it all. She said that my car getting towed, and my getting rejected from the plane (two nights ago), were signs that I shouldn’t go. She then remembered, that she doesn’t believe in signs. My ex-girlfriend, in England, also was worried, although excited for me, at the same time. Both said they’d like to make the trip, too.

* * *
I’m also about to enter...alien territory, where there’s a lot of love for Saddam, and hatred for America -- I'm talking about Jordan. Actually, I already have entered it. Wednesday, at the airport in Detroit, the terminal was full of Arabs, and I thought, what am doing among these people -- all the women with their hair covered, all these narrow-minded, thuggish men. There, and now, I have my American-flag pin on my jacket lapel, and today, I’m wearing a baseball cap I ordered, with the words “WE GOT HIM” embroidered on it. There are a lot of Palestinians around, and I feel I might get pinpointed as an American-sympathizer, Saddam-opponent, something not to their liking.

Also at the airport in Detroit, the terminal was full of Palestinians and Iraqis. Surprised that war didn't break out between them.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

My flight from Detroit should've arrived in Amman, two hours ago.

If it did, it's done so without me.

No, I haven't changed my mind, although I wonder, sometimes, what am I getting myself into (much more on that, later). I was bumped from my flight. It's my fault, but...you know the story -- they overbooked the flight, and more people showed up than they had seats for. I didn't help my case, arriving 70 minutes before the flight. One official -- airline or ticket agent -- said I should be there four hours before the flight; the head of the ticket agency said that "two hours" would be fine. I didn't make either. Well, there are some silver linings -- I get to do a few things I didn't do, in particular, buy a few gadgets.

Well, the day started, pretty inauspiciously. I was headed for a TV interview, when I was stopped for speeding, at six-fifteen. If only my cruise control was working. That's the first "if." Actually, maybe the second, or third, "if." Maybe I shouldn't have acceded to do the interview; maybe I should've left the house a little earlier. So many "ifs" and "maybes," so little time. I gave the officer, a big burly guy, one of Mayfield Heights' finest, my license and insurance paper, and pleaded with him to cut me some slack -- that I was headed for a TV interview and was flying to Iraq that night. When I saw him and his partner, in my rear-view mirror, standing outside, smiling and laughing, I thought, they probably don't believe me.

When he came back, he told me that my license was suspended -- twice-over -- and that I was driving without a license, and that my car had to be towed. How could that be? I'd just been to the court, appealed my suspension, and gone through all the hoops to keep me on wheels -- remedial class, BMV, SR-22 (statement of financial responsibility, I think that is). The worse thing, though, was that I couldn't find the papers to prove it. The night before, I'd gone through my papers, sorted them into Cleveland and Iraq piles, and left my court papers in the house. The officer wasn't going to argue the point -- he was going to carry out his duty. He later gave me his card, which is not with me. I can't read his signature on the ticket, either, so I called the police department, and, based on the badge number on the ticket -- which isn't easy to read, either -- looks like 24 -- it's Patrolman Doug Woods. The "Doug" part, I remember. He was nice -- wished me luck. He complained about news reporting on police, because it probes for the dramatic, the sensational. He cited the previous day's (?) reports that a family said the police hadn't done "anything" about their daughter's disappearance, five hours after the disappearance was reported. Salutes, Officer Woods -- good to meet you -- and thanks for the ride -- behind bars.

The fun was just beginning. I emptied my car, of the essentials, called John Palmer, who's working as my publicist -- he was at the studio. Officer Woods dropped me off at a gas station, and John picked me up. The TV station asked us to be back at eight, for the 8:40 slot, instead of the longer 6:40 slot.

So, John and I did my paper route -- New York Times and Investor's Business Daily, around the zoo -- and went back to the station. The interview went well, but, of course, we were just getting started. Kathy (Cathy?) did the interview. The morning before, I was on the local public radio station, but that one was a whole hour, rather than five minutes, as I'd expected. That was the nine o'clock program, with Dave Pignanelli, which means the pine-nut seller or pine-nut guy. Both were good -- asked good questions, were well-prepared. The night before, I had a whole hour with Paul Schiffer, on his WHK 1220 program. Fun.

Back to Wednesday morning. After the TV studio, John and I picked up breakfast at Burger King, something I'm going to miss -- I often have their biscuit-and-egg (with ketchup) sandwich -- delicious; that's been a great find. Although, I've heard a Burger King has been installed at the Baghdad airport. I'll see if I can get into that

All right -- I'm going to have lunch now, and continue this, in a few minutes.

Ta ta.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?