Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006
Peace be upon you…
I continue talking about my trip to Baghdad. It is Friday, and every Friday in Baghdad there is a curfew. People stay in their houses watching TV and listening to news. At lunch time I asked my friend; how do you manage buying your groceries, fruits and the household needs? She said- we got used to buying everything on Thursday afternoon.
The gas bottle of the cooker was empty. There were no gas vendors today. How much does changing the gas bottle cost? I asked with curiosity…
She said: 17,000 Iraqi Dinaars. I gasped…
It was 500 I.D. Two years ago.
My friend laughed and said: Oh, that was long ago, now is something else.
Very well, and the gasoline?
Now, a can of 20 liters is sold for 10,000 I.D. on the street (commercial sales, not governmental). I told her; we used to buy it for 2000 I.D. on the street two years ago.
Well, what about the salaries, have they changed? You are an employee of the state; did your salary change since two years?
She said: of course not…
I kept staring at her…
So, how do people live? No new jobs, no new projects that would create employment opportunities, and that with a job goes without a change in his salary. The private sector employers are being killed every day; merchants, company owners, and shop owners. The number of unemployment is increasing. So, how do people live? How can they spend for their families?
She looked at me, laughed, and turned her hands, as if saying: I don't know!
So, I said to her, the men have nothing available for them but to work with kidnapping and robbery gangs, and killing militias, for those would find someone to pay them fat salaries…
She shook her head, and smiled bitterly…
I smiled with her and said: Oh yes, this is the new Iraq that Bush created….
This friend of mine; the companion of my childhood and studying days, I never knew before whether she was a Sunnie or a Shia'at, ever.
I swear by Allah the Mighty that we lived long years together, until each of us got married and life separated us, then I traveled to live outside Iraq, and all the while I had no idea whatsoever of her sect.
Now, a short while ago I learned that her son's name is Omar, a Sunnie name. She fears very much for him, so she issued a second identity card for him, bearing another name, to protect him from the death gangs on roadblocks, those who kill people according to identity cards.
And that is what we reaped out of the occupation policies, and its new constitution, which is full of poison.
I am supposed to be a Shia'at, and this is my enemy- a Sunnie, according to what Bush publishes about the civil war.
Where is the hatred in my heart against her?
Where is the hatred in her heart against me?
The whole house; her husband, her son and his wife, and her daughter, all run to supply my requests, putting the best food in front of me, and they don't eat with me, shyly. They left their master bedroom to me, while she and her husband slept in another room.
I was so embarrassed by their generosity, and felt very sad for the conditions in which they live, for they do not deserve what is happening to them- the daily killings, violence, and terror.
And there is no light at the end of the dark tunnel, until now….
Saturday came on…
I was waiting for my relative to come with his car; I wanted to see my friends and neighbors…
We moved again to the 14th of Ramadan St., it was very crowded, why? I asked him.
He said: there is only one check point at the end of the street, all the side streets are closed, so traffic is compulsory through that point.
Oh well… I remained eager to see what's in that check point, my dear.

We reached the checkpoint; there was an Iraqi soldier, very slim figured, like a sparrow, about 18 or 19 years old, carrying an old Kalashnikov from the days of my grandfather. He was leaning on the concrete wall, gesturing with his hand at cars to pass.
I asked my relative: Is that it? This is the security plan for Baghdad and the check points?
He said: Ay! And what did you expect?
I said: What if we were carrying explosives? How would this kid discover us?
This is a joke!

Cars pass by, I look at faces, fearing them, and perhaps they too fear us. Horror controls the city streets and its residents… and there is nothing seriously real on the ground to improve the conditions of the Iraqi Army to become able to handle the security agenda.
First, I went home; there were some women I knew who were coming with their children to clean the house.
I found Um Mohammed (Mohammed's mother) waiting for me. She lives in Abu Ghareeb, a poor, humble woman. She used to clean our house twice a week when I used to live in Baghdad.
I got out of the car, hugged her and cried. She cried also…
Um Raid? I cannot believe my eyes! She said, wiping her tears.
I kept laughing and crying, I don't know, my feelings were mixed. I couldn't believe I was seeing the people I loved again.
Her kids came to greet me… I was very happy. I forgot the fear.

We entered the house together; I gave them the instructions to clean.
Clean the carpets, roll them, and put them in the storage room.
Dust the furniture and cover it with cloth sheets.
Wash the small ornaments and put them in boxes.
Clean the computers and store them in boxes.

I went out to visit my brother's, then get back home again.
My sister-in-law was surprised to see me; she couldn't believe I was there!
What brought you? She said in panic.
I laughed and said: I missed Baghdad.
Are you crazy? She said, looking around her, unbelievingly…
I asked her- where is my brother?
He went to repair his car, she said…

I found her wearing black, I remembered that her sister's husband was killed shortly before; I kissed her, consoled her, and sat to listen to the details…
They stopped him at a false roadblock In Al-Add'el District. He was a Shia'at who lived there all his life. They asked for his identity card, then got him out of the car. The man disappeared, and a few days later they found his body in a Sunnie area (in Adamiyah).
Two days later, the same thing happened to his brother, who was kidnapped then his body was dropped at another area.
When we finished the burial and the funeral house, my sister decided to live in Al-Khadimiyah with her other sister. She went back again to Al-Add'el District in a taxi to get the transfer papers for her children's school. The taxi stood waiting for her in front of the school. She came out to find he was killed and his brain scattered. Someone took his identity card and read it, then killed him because he was a Shia'at. The driver's kin came forth, and accused my sister of collaborating to kill him, but she showed them the death certificate of her husband, the Shia'at, who was killed the same way, so they left her.

I remained stunned… what is this life?
And what is the meaning of all this?

I asked her: where did these criminal militias come from, who finances them? Who is the beneficiary out of their work? Is there really a sectarian civil war?
She said: do you believe these lying stories? We were dislodged from our house in Al-Ghazaliya because we are Shia'ats, and a Sunnie family, dislodged from another district, came to live in our house. We spoke with them by phone, they said they will take care of the house, and sent us some of our winter clothes. There is no hatred between the Sunnies and the Shia'ats; we were all hurt, dislodged from our houses, our men were killed on sectarian roadblocks. These sectarian militias are destroying Iraq now, killing the people, and they came with the Parties which came on board the tanks with the occupation. Those Parties are now in the government, and they do not think or work but for their own interests, protected by the occupier.
The Iraqis say that when the occupier leaves, these Parties and militias will leave with him, for then, no one will protect them. And now, as you see, the occupier is also the winner out of this mess, for it gives him a strong excuse to keep the armies, under the justification of protecting the Iraqis.
No one is protecting us, no one cares for us, everyone seeks his own interests, and the Iraqi people are the victims, and the losers.

I heard this same talk over and over from a lot of the Iraqis I spoke with all the duration of my stay in Baghdad.

There were some other women present…one of them said: Tomorrow is Saddam's trial…
I said: so what?
She said: there will be tension, a curfew, demonstrations, and mortar shells.
I kept staring, I didn't understand.
She said: they will all express their opinions, the supporters and the non-supporters…
We laughed…
I kissed my brother's wife and said good bye. I didn't see my brother; only spoke with him on the phone.
The mother of one of Majid's friends called; she is a doctor, and her husband is a university professor. I love her very much. I discovered she was a Sunnie also.
Ha, ha, ha…
All my friends and dear ones are Sunnies.
This is contradictory with Bush's terrible stories about Iraq and the war of sects.

She said: we will come to take you to the restaurant for lunch.
I asked: and is the way safe? Is the restaurant safe?
She said: by God it is a risk, but the boys have been locked in the house for a long time, and they say we want to see untie Um Majid, and have lunch with her…
I laughed, and accepted the risk.
Seeing the people I love is worth taking a risk…
So, they will come at one o'clock, noon, to take me to the restaurant.
I went back home, to find it beautiful, clean and tidy. The women washed and tidied everything.
I was so happy.
I sent one of their children to buy lunch, juice and water for them. It was lunch time, and their houses were far. I gave them money, and a lot of my clothes and my sons', that were in the closets. What is the meaning of keeping these clothes in closets waiting for our return, and these poor people need them?
I said goodbye, then went to say hello to the neighbors. They received me with hugs and kisses; Oh, my dear Um Raid? How are you and the boys?
I sat with them for a while.
They complained about the bad conditions, the fear, and the daily terror.
I said to them: we hear everything, we feel for you, pray to God to ease your distress, and we do all we can to tell the world what is happening to you.
Their kids came along and gathered around me, some were drinking a can of juice, others were eating potato chips. They were laughing.
I was surprised by their innocence… I told them- I will take you a picture.
They gathered around me again, I took each picture and showed it to them, they would move closer, see the picture, burst into laughter, and then move away.
My heart laughed with them.
I envied them their innocence, for not realizing what catastrophes are happening daily around them.
Their ages weren't above five years.
They wore beautiful, colorful pajamas; yellow, pink and red. Boys and girls…
They were laughing in a way that opened my heart, and made me forget the concerns of Iraq…
I said goodbye to my neighbors, and went to the restaurant…


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