[News] Eyewitness Report from Baghdad: Questions and Fears...

claude claude at freedomarchives.org
Tue Dec 23 09:01:48 EST 2003


Monday, December 22, 2003

Questions and Fears...
Baghdad has been a very tense place these last few days. Yesterday alone we 
heard around 8 explosions though none of the news channels seem to be 
covering them. There have also been several demonstrations- some 
anti-Saddam and some pro-Saddam and several anti-America. The most 
prominent anti-America demonstrations took place in A'adhamiya and Amiriya, 
two residential areas in Baghdad.

One demonstration in A'adhamiya included people from all over the city. The 
demonstrators were demanding the release of hundreds of people who have 
been detained over the last few weeks (there are thousands of detained 
Iraqis, overall). Most people imagine detained Iraqis as being bearded, 
angry men in their 30s or 40s shouting anti-imperialist slogans and 
whipping their heads about in a livid frenzy. They do not see the women- 
school teachers, professors and housewives- being herded off to the 
infamous Abu Ghraib prison. They don't see the kids- some no more than 13 
or 14 years old- who are packed away with bags over their heads, hands 
secured behind their backs. They don't see the anxious mothers and 
children, weeping with fear and consternation, begging in a language 
foreign to the soldiers to know where their loved ones are being taken.

The Amiriya demonstrations were pro-Saddam demonstrations led by a boys' 
high school in the area. <http://www.wildfirejo.org.uk/>Jo Wilding in 
Baghdad describes the demonstrations in an internet article, and she has 
another article on some of the detentions:

<http://www.wildfirejo.org.uk/feature/display/56/index.php>December 18th- 
Arresting Children
<http://www.wildfirejo.org.uk/feature/display/53/index.php>December 13th- 

Gasoline is a big problem. A friend of ours quit her job a couple of days 
ago because her husband can't afford to wait in long lines for 4 or 5 hours 
to fill up their battered Volvo so that he can drive her across Baghdad 
every morning to the clinic she works in. Everyone has been buying 
black-market gasoline of late, but we've been getting leaflets and warnings 
threatening 7 – 10 years of prison if we buy or sell black-market gasoline. 
Black-market gas simply means a surly, dirty guy surrounded with yellowish 
plastic containers selling gas for over 30 times its original price. He, 
inevitably, has a cigarette dangling out of the side of his mouth and a 
furtive, hurried look about him.

We've been using candles most of the time instead of kerosene lamps because 
the kerosene man hasn't been coming around these last few days and we need 
the kerosene for the heaters. The kids really hate the candles. The other 
day, the electricity suddenly flashed on at 8 pm after a 6-hour blackout. 
We were exalted. Everyone jumped for the television at once and a chorus of 
voices called out, "News! The movie! A song! Cartoons!" After flipping the 
channels, we settled for a movie.

We sat watching until one of the scenes faded into a darkened room. The 
camera focused on the couple sitting at a round table, gazing into each 
others eyes and smiling fondly across two elegant candles. It was a cozy, 
romantic candle-light dinner. I think the whole family was lost in the 
scene when suddenly, my cousin's youngest daughter spoke up, impatiently, 
"They have no electricity! They're using the candles

It took me about 15 minutes to try to explain to her that they had 
electricity but actually *chose* to sit in the dark because it was more 
'romantic'. The difficulty of explaining romance to a 7-year-old is nothing 
compared to the difficulty of explaining the 'romance' of a darkened room 
and candles- especially if the 7-year-old has associated candles to 
explosions and blackouts her whole life.

These last few days have been truly frightening. The air in Baghdad feels 
charged in a way that scares me. Everyone can feel the tension and it has 
been a strain on the nerves. It's not so much what's been going on in the 
streets- riots, shootings, bombings and raids- but it's the possibility of 
what may lie ahead. We've been keeping the kids home from school, and my 
cousin's wife learned that many parents were doing the same- especially the 
parents who need to drive their kids to school.

We've been avoiding discussing the possibilities of this last week's 
 the rioting and violence. We don't often talk about the 
possibility of civil war because conferring about it somehow makes it more 
of a reality. When we do talk about it, it's usually done in hushed tones 
with an overhanging air of consternation. Is it possible? Will it happen?

Sunnis and Shi'a have always lived in harmony in Iraq and we still do, so 
far. I'm from a family that is about half Shi'a and half Sunni. We have 
never had problems as the majority of civilized people don't discriminate 
between the two. The thing that seems to be triggering a lot of antagonism 
on all sides is the counterinsurgency militia being cultivated by the CPA 
and GC which will include Chalabi's thugs, SCIRI extremists and some 
Kurdish Bayshmarga.

The popular and incorrect belief seems to be that if you are a Kurd or 
Shi'a, this step is a positive one. Actually, the majority of moderate 
Kurds and Shi'a are just as exasperated as Sunnis about this new group of 
soldiers/spies that is going to be let loose on the population. It's just 
going to mean more hostility and suspicion in all directions, and if the 
new Iraqi force intends to be as indiscriminate with the detentions and 
raids as the troops, there's going to be a lot of bloodshed too.

I once said that I hoped, and believed, Iraqis were above the horrors of 
civil war and the slaughter of innocents, and I'm clinging to that belief 
with the sheer strength of desperation these days. I remember hearing the 
stories about Lebanon from people who were actually living there during the 
fighting and a constant question arose when they talked about the grief and 
horrors- what led up to it? What were the signs? How did it happen? And 
most importantly
 did anyone see it coming?

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