Iraq: A War Without End

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'Riverbend', the Baghdad blogger, describes the worsening conditions in Iraq as the occupation continues.

Friday 9 September 2005

It has been a long blog vacation I've taken. There have been several reasons behind it, but the main one has been that I simply have not felt like blogging.

Technically, it's the summer's end... But realistically, we have at least another month of stifling heat ahead of us. It's almost mid-September and the weather is still hot and dry in Baghdad. There are a few precious hours in the very early morning when the sun seems almost kind. If you wake early enough, you can catch a solid hour of light breezes and a certain summer coolness.

The electrical situation deteriorated this summer in Baghdad. We've gone from a solid eight to ten hours daily to around six. During the winter we have generators in the area providing electricity when it goes off. In the summer, however, with the heat and the heavy electrical load from air conditioners AND the fuel shortage, many generators have to be turned off for most of the day.

We're also having water difficulties, though people have grown accustomed to that. You can tell first thing in the morning that the water is cut off. I woke up this morning and knew it even before I had gotten out of bed. The house just sounds... dry. You strain your ears for the familiar house sounds and they aren't there - there's no drip-drip-drip from the faucet in the bathroom down the hall. There's no sound of dishes being washed in the kitchen downstairs. There's no sound of a toilet being flushed, and certainly no sound of a shower. The house is dry.

The dryness and heat are a stark contrast to the images we see on television of Mississippi and Louisiana. Daily we watch the havoc Katrina left in its wake and try to determine which are more difficult to bear - man-made catastrophes like wars and occupations, or natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis.

Many areas in Baghdad seem almost shrouded in black these last two weeks - ever since the A'aima Bridge tragedy. There's a mosque a few kilometres away from our house, and the last two years we've been accustomed to seeing the large black banners draped across its outer walls. On each banner are carefully painted words in elaborate Arabic fonts announcing the death of another Iraqi and notifying people that the male members of the family would be receiving condolences inside the mosque for the next few days.

Now the dusty beige surface of the mosque wall is nearly invisible under the black of death announcements. The eye can barely take it all in. The most disquieting thing about the banners is that many of them no longer carry a single name - after the bridge stampede, the banners now announce the deaths of two, three, four members of the same family.

I've been reading and re-reading the draft constitution. It's alarming. At times it feels like only a summary of what a constitution should be with articles that don't seem very well thought out - a cut and paste job if there ever was one. It doesn't seem complete, and while in some places it comes across as too vague, in others it comes across as disturbingly elaborate.

Sunday 11 September 2005

'R, come in here! You have to see this!' It was 11 September 2001 and I was in the kitchen rinsing some dishes from lunch. I paused at the urgency in my brother's voice but continued rinsing, thinking there was some vaguely important news item on Iraq's state-controlled channel. 'I'm coming - a moment,' I called back. The phone began to ring and I stopped to answer it on my way out of the kitchen.

R: 'Alloo?' I answered.

L: 'Are you watching TV???' L, my best friend, cried out with no preliminaries.

R: ''


The line went dead and I put down the phone, my heart beating wildly. I made my way to the living room, curious and nervous, wondering what it could be. Had someone died? Were they going to bomb us again? That was always a possibility. It never surprised anyone when the US decided on an air strike. I wondered if, this time around, Bush had been caught with a presidential aide in the Oval Office. I walked into the living room and E was standing in the middle of it - eyes glued to the television, mouth slightly open, remote control clutched in his hand, and directed towards the television set.

'What is it?' I asked, looking at the screen. The images were chaotic. It was a big city. There was smoke or dust and people running across the screen, some screaming, others crying and the rest with astounded looks on their faces. They looked slightly like E, my brother, as he stood staring at the television, gaping. I can't remember what was being said - the images on the TV screen are all I remember. Confusion. Havoc.

And then they showed it again. The Twin Towers - New York... a small something came flying out of the side of the screen and it crashed into one of them. I gasped audibly and E just shook his head, 'That's nothing... wait...' I made my way towards the couch while keeping my eyes locked on the television. There was some more chaos, shocked expressions, another plane and the towers - they began to crumble.

I sucked in my breath and I couldn't exhale that moment. I just sat there - paralysed - watching the screen. A part of me was saying, 'It's a joke. It's Hollywood.' But it was just too real. The fear was too genuine. The incoherent voices in the background were too tinged with confusion and terror.

The silence in the living room was broken with the clatter of the remote control on the floor. It had slipped out of E's fingers and I jumped nervously, watching the batteries from the remote roll away on the ground. 'But... who? How? What was it? A plane? How???'

E shook his head and looked at me in awe. We continued watching the television, looking for answers to dozens of questions. Within the hour we had learned that it wasn't some horrid mistake or miscalculation. It was intentional. It was a major act of terror.

Al Qaida was just a vague name back then. Iraqis were concerned with their own problems and fears - coping with the sanctions and the fact that life seemed to stand still every few years for an American air raid. We didn't have the problem of Muslim fundamentalists - that was a concern for neighbours like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

I remember almost immediately the western media began conjecturing on which Islamic group it could have been. I remember hoping it wasn't Muslims or Arabs. I remember feeling that way not just because of the thousands of victims, but because I sensed that we'd suffer in Iraq. We'd be made to suffer for something we weren't responsible for. E looked at me wide-eyed that day and asked the inevitable question, 'How long do you think before they bomb us?'

'But it wasn't us. It can't be us...' I rationalised.

'It doesn't matter. It's all they need.'

And it was true. It began with Afghanistan and then it was Iraq. We began preparing for it almost immediately. The price of the dollar rose as people began stocking up on flour, rice, sugar and other commodities. For several weeks it was all anyone could talk about. We discussed it in schools and universities. We talked about it in workplaces and restaurants. The attitudes differed. There was never joy or happiness, but in several cases there was a sort of grim satisfaction. Some Iraqis believed that America had brought this upon itself. This is what you get when you meddle in world affairs. This is what you get when you starve populations. This is what you get when you give unabashed support to occupying countries like Israel, and corrupt tyrants like the Saudi royals.

Most Iraqis, though, felt pity. The images for the next weeks of Americans running in terror, of the frantic searches under the rubble for relatives and friends left us shaking our heads in empathy. The destruction was all too familiar. The reports of Americans fearing the sound of airplanes had us nodding our heads with understanding and a sort of familiarity - you'd want to reach out to one of them and say, 'It's OK - the fear eventually subsides. We know how it is - your government does this every few years.'

It has been four years today. How does it feel four years later?

For the 3,000 victims in America, more than 100,000 have died in Iraq. Tens of thousands of others are being detained for interrogation and torture. Our homes have been raided, our cities are constantly being bombed and Iraq has fallen back decades, and for several years to come we will suffer under the influence of the extremism we didn't know prior to the war.

As I write this, Tel Afar, a small place north of Mosul, is being bombed. Dozens of people are going to be buried under their homes in the dead of the night. Their water and electricity have been cut off for days. It doesn't seem to matter much though because they don't live in a wonderful skyscraper in a glamorous city. They are, quite simply, farmers and herders not worth a second thought.

Four years later and the War on Terror (or is it the War of Terror?) has been won:

Al Qaida - 3,000
America - 100,000+


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