Resistance: While Baghdad Burns

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Baghdad Burning is a weblog written by a 25 year old Iraqi woman living in Baghdad, who uses the pseudonym Riverbend. For over a year she has described her experiences of the occupation.

Here we re-publish edited extracts from her recent posts. Her full blog can be found at http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com.

15 September: Fahrenheit 9/11

The last few days Baghdad has been echoing with explosions. We woke up to several loud blasts a few days ago. The sound has become all too common. It's like the heat, the flies, the carcasses of buildings, the broken streets and the haphazard walls coming up out of nowhere all over the city... it has become a part of life. We were sleeping on the roof around three days ago, but I had stumbled back indoors at around 5am when the electricity returned and was asleep under the cool air of an air-conditioner when the first explosions rang out.

Everyone is simply tired in Baghdad. We've become one of those places you read about in the news and shake your head, thinking, 'What's this world coming to?' Kidnappings. Bombings. Armed militias. Extremists. Drugs. Gangs. Robberies. You name it, and we can probably tell you several interesting stories.

So how did I spend my 9/11? I watched Michael Moore's movie Fahrenheit 9/11. I've had a bootleg CD version since early August. (Grave apologies to Michael Moore - but there's no other way we can see it here.)

Ah, that mother. How she made me angry in the beginning. I couldn't stand to see her on screen - convincing the world that joining the army was the ideal thing to do - perfectly happy that her daughter and son were 'serving' America, nay, serving, in fact, the world by joining up. I hated her even more as they showed the Iraqi victims - the burning buildings, the explosions, the corpses - the dead and the dying. I wanted to hate her throughout the whole film because she embodied the arrogance and ignorance of the people who supported the war.

I can't explain the feelings I had towards her. I pitied her because apparently she knew very little about what she was sending her kids into. I was angry with her because she really didn't want to know. In the end, all of those feelings crumbled away as she read the last letter from her deceased son. I began feeling a sympathy I really didn't want to feel, and as she was walking in the streets of Washington, looking at the protesters and crying, it struck me that the Americans around her would never understand her anguish.

All in all, the film was... what is the right word for it? Great? Amazing? Fantastic? No. It made me furious, it made me sad and I cried more than I'd like to admit, but it was brilliant. The words he used to narrate were simple and to the point. I wish everyone could see the film. I know I'll be getting dozens of e-mails from enraged Americans telling me that so and so statement was exaggerated, etc. But it really doesn't matter to me. What matters is the underlying message of the film - things aren't better for Americans now than they were in 2001, and they certainly aren't better for Iraqis.

3 October: Samarra Burning

The last few days have been tense and stressful. Watching the military attacks on Samarra and hearing the stories from displaced families or people from around the area is like reliving the frustration and anger of the war. It's like a nightmare within a nightmare, seeing the corpses pile up and people drag their loved ones from under the bricks and steel of what was once a home.

To top it off, we have to watch American military spokespersons and our new Iraqi politicians justify the attacks and talk about 'insurgents' and 'terrorists' like they actually believe what they are saying... like hundreds of civilians aren't being massacred on a daily basis by the world's most advanced military technology.

As if Allawi's gloating and Bush's inane debates aren't enough, we have to listen to people like Powell and Rumsfeld talk about 'precision attacks'. What exactly are precision attacks? How can you be precise in a city like Samarra or in the slums of Sadr City on the outskirts of Baghdad? Many of the areas under attack are small, heavily populated, with shabby homes several decades old. In Sadr City many of the houses are close together and the streets are narrow. Just how precise can you be with missiles and tanks? We got a first-hand view of America's 'smart weapons'. They were smart enough to kill over 10,000 Iraqis in the first few months of the occupation.

The explosions in Baghdad aren't any better. A few days ago some 40 children were blown to pieces while they were gathering candy from American soldiers at the opening of a sewage treatment plant. (Side note: That's how bad things have gotten - we have to celebrate the reconstruction of our sewage treatment plants.) I don't know who to be more angry with - the idiots and PR people who thought it would be a good idea to have children running around during a celebration involving troops or the parents for letting their children attend. I hope the people who arranged the explosions burn within the far reaches of hell.

One wonders who is behind the explosions and the car bombs. Bin Laden? Zarqawi? Possibly, but it's just too easy. It's too perfect. Bin Laden hit the World Trade Centre and Afghanistan was attacked. Iraq was occupied. At first, any explosion or attack on troops was quickly blamed on 'loyalists' and 'Ba'athists' and everything was being coordinated by Saddam. As soon as he was caught, it became the work of 'Islamic extremists' and Al Qaida, and Zarqawi suddenly made his debut. One wonders who it will be after it is discovered that Zarqawi has been dead for several months or that he never even existed. Whoever it is, you can bet his name will be three syllables or less because that is Bush's limit.

13 October: Valium

Apparently, some topic that came up during a recent Oprah show has caught a lot of attention. Before I continue, let me first say - yes, we do know who Oprah is. MBC Channel 2 has been showing Oprah for the last few months - but the shows are a few weeks old. It's a popular show in Iraq because Iraqis find it amusing to watch some of the more absurd problems being discussed on the show - like how to find a good plastic surgeon, or what to purchase on a shopping spree on Fifth Avenue, etc.

Anyway, I got an e-mail from 'Will'... Will was asking me whether it was true or not that people in Iraq were becoming addicted to valium, and whether valium was easily available over the counter.

So imagine this. It's a chilly night in Baghdad and the black of the sky suddenly lights up with flashes of white - as if the stars were exploding in the distance. The bombing was so heavy, we could hear the windows rattling, the ground shaking and the whizz of missiles ominously close. We were all gathered in the windowless hallway - adults and children. My cousin's daughters were wrapped in blankets and they sat huddled up close to their mother. They were so silent, they might have been asleep - but I knew they weren't because I could vaguely see the whites of their eyes, open wide, across the lamp-lit hallway.

Now, during the more lively hours of a shock and awe bombing storm, there's no way you can have a normal conversation. You might be able to blurt out a few hasty sentences, but eventually there's bound to be an explosion that makes you stop, duck your head and wonder how the house didn't fall down around you.

Throughout this we sit around, mumbling silent prayers, reviewing our lives and making vague promises about what we'd do if we got out of this one alive. Sometimes one of us would turn to the kids and crack some lame joke or ask how they were doing. Often the answer would be in the form of a wan smile or silence.

So where does the valium fit in? Imagine, through all of this commotion, an elderly aunt who is terrified of bombing. She was so afraid, she couldn't, and wouldn't, sit still. She stood pacing the hallway, cursing Bush, Blair and anyone involved with the war - and that was during her calmer moments. When she was feeling especially terrified, the curses and rampage would turn into a storm of weeping and desolation (during which she imagines she can't breathe) - we were all going to die. They would have to remove us from the rubble of our home. We'd burn alive. And so on. And so forth.

During those fits of hysteria my cousin would quietly, but firmly, hand her a valium and a glass of water. The aunt would accept both, and in a matter of minutes she'd grow calmer and a little bit more sane. This aunt wasn't addicted to valium, but it certainly came in handy during the more hectic moments of the war.

I guess it's happening a lot now after the war too. When the load gets too heavy, people turn to something to comfort them. Abroad, under normal circumstances, if you have a burden you don't have to bear it alone. You can talk to a friend or relative or psychiatrist or someone. Here everyone has their own set of problems - a death in the family, a detainee, a robbery, a kidnapping, an explosion, etc. So you have two choices - take a valium or start a blog.

25 October: American Elections 2004

Warning: The following post is an open letter of sorts to Americans.

So elections are being held in the US. We're watching curiously here. Previously Iraqis didn't really take a very active interest in elections. We knew when they were being held, and quite a few Iraqis could give an opinion about either of the candidates. I think many of us realised long ago that US foreign policy really had nothing to do with this Democrat or that Republican.

It sometimes seems, from this part of the world, that democracy in the US revolves around the presidential elections - not the major decisions. War and peace in the US are in the average American's hands about as much as they are in mine. Sure, you can vote for this man or that one, but in the end there's something bigger, more intricate and quite sinister behind the decisions. Like in that board game Monopoly, you can choose the game pieces - the little shoe, the car, the top hat... but you can't choose the way the game is played. The faces change, but the intentions and the policy remain the same.

Many, many people have asked me about the elections and what we think of them. Before, I would have said that I really don't think much about it. Up until four years ago I always thought the US elections were a pretty straightforward process: two white males up for the same position (face it, people - it really is only two - Nader doesn't count), people voting and the person with more votes wins. After the debacle of four years ago, where Bush Jr was assigned president, things are looking more complicated and a little bit more sordid.

Americans - can things be worse for you? Can things be worse for us in Iraq? Of course they can... only imagine - four more years of Bush.