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[casi-analysis] From Riverbend

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Friday, February 20, 2004

Dumb and Dumber...

Ok, I just read this article in the New York Times and
I had to share. Actually, someone sent it to me and
they seem highly satisfied with it. The title is:
Arabs in U.S. Raising Money to Back Bush
and it is written by a Leslie Wayne who, apparently,
knows very little about geography. I just love when
articles like this find their way into the New York

The article basically states that a substantial sum of
the money supporting Bush's presidential campaign is
coming from affluent Arab-Americans who support the
war on Iraq. The fun part about the article is that it
goes on and on about "Arab"-Americans- not
Muslim-Americans or even Asian-Americans but specifies
Arab-Americans giving you the impression that the
article is going to be about people who were
originally from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt,
Libya, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman,
Qatar, Tunisia, Morocco, Palestine, Lebanon… you know-
an Arab country where the national language is Arabic
and the people are generally known as Arabs.

The article is dumb, but apparently the author thinks
that the readers are even dumber. Of the 5 prominent
"Arabs" the author gives as examples in the article
(supporters of Bush), two are Iranian and the third is
a Pakistani! Now this is highly amusing to an Arab
because Pakistanis aren't Arabs and while Iran is our
neighbor, Iranians are, generally speaking, not Arabs
and I'm sure you can confirm that with Iranian

One of the Iranian contributors is a Mr. Mori Hosseini
who claims to know all about the region because he was
born in Iran and lived there before moving to the US
at the tender, prepubescent age of 13. He must be
Iran's Chalabi- keep an eye on him. I predict he'll
either be given contracts to build homes in Iraq or
suddenly have important information on Iranian WMD he
has been hiding since the age of 13.

I just wish all those prominent Arabs who supported
the war- you know, the ones living in Washington and
London who attend State dinners and parties at the
White House holding silk handkerchiefs in one hand (to
wipe away the tears for the 'homeland') and cocktails
in the other hand- would pack their Louis Vuitton
bags, and bring all that money they are contributing
to that war-hungry imbecile in the White House to Iraq
or Iran or wherever they wish the spread of democracy
and help 'reconstruct' and 'develop' their own
countries. One wonders with that $200,000 how many
homes Mr.Hosseini could have rebuilt in Bam, for
example… but then again, if they don't bomb Iran into
the pre-industrial era, how will Mr.Hosseini get all
those huge contracts in the future?

- posted by river @ 1:08 AM
Sunday, February 15, 2004

Dedicated to the Memory of L.A.S.

So Happy Valentine's Day… although it's the 15th. It
still feels like the 14th here because I'm not asleep…
it's the extension of yesterday.

Do you know what yesterday marked? It marked the 13th
anniversary of the Amiriyah Shelter massacre- February
13, 1991. Can you really call it an 'anniversary'?
Anniversary brings to mind such happy things and yet
is there any other word? Please send it along if you
know it.

February 12, 1991, marked one of the days of the small
Eid or 'Eid Al-Fitr'. Of course it also marked one of
the heaviest days of bombing during the Gulf War. No
one was in the mood for celebration. Most families
remained at home because there wasn't even gasoline to
travel from one area to the next. The more fortunate
areas had bomb shelters and people from all over the
neighborhood would get together inside of the shelter
during the bombing. That year, they also got together
inside of the shelters to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr with
their neighbors and friends.

Iraqis don't go to shelters for safety reasons so much
as for social reasons. It's a great place to be during
a bombing. There's water, electricity and a feeling of
serenity and safety that is provided as much by the
solid structure as by the congregation of smiling
friends and family. Being with a large group of people
helps make things easier during war- it's like courage
and stamina travel from one person to the next and
increase exponentially with the number of people

So the families in the Amiriyah area decided they'd
join up in the shelter to have a nice Eid dinner and
then the men and boys over the age of 15 would leave
to give the women and children some privacy. Little
did they know, leaving them behind, that it would be
the last time they would see the

I can imagine the scene after the men left at around
midnight- women sat around, pouring out steaming
istikans of tea, passing out Eid kilaycha and
chocolate. Kids would run around the shelter shrieking
and laughing like they owned the huge playground under
the earth. Teenage girls would sit around gossiping
about guys or clothes or music or the latest rumor
about Sara or Lina or Fatima. The smells would mingle-
tea, baked goods, rice… comfortable smells that made
one imagine, for a few seconds, that they were
actually at home.

The sirens would begin shrieking- the women and
children would pause in the midst of eating or
scolding, say a brief prayer in their heart and worry
about their loved ones above the ground- the men who
refused to remain inside of the shelter in order to
make room for their wives and kids.

The bombs fell hard and fast at around 4 a.m. The
first smart bomb went through the ventilation, through
the first floor of the shelter- leaving a gaping hole-
and to the bottom 'basement' of the shelter where
there were water tanks and propane tanks for heating
water and food. The second missile came immediately
after and finished off what the first missile missed.
The doors of the advanced shelter immediately shut
automatically- locking over 400 women and children

It turned from a shelter into an inferno; explosions
and fire rose from the lower level up to the level
that held the women and children and the water rose
with it, boiling and simmering. Those who did not burn
to death immediately or die of the impact of the
explosions, boiled to death or were steamed in the
900+ º F heat.

We woke in the morning to see the horrors on the news.
We watched as the Iraqi rescue workers walked inside
of the shelter and came out crying and screaming-
dragging out bodies so charred, they didn't look
human. We saw the people in the area- men, women and
children- clinging to the fence surrounding the
shelter and screaming with terror; calling out name
after name… searching for a familiar face in the
middle of the horror.

The bodies were laid out one beside the other- all the
same size- shrunk with heat and charred beyond
recognition. Some were in the fetal position, curled
up, as if trying to escape within themselves. Others
were stretched out and rigid, like the victims were
trying to reach out a hand to save a loved one or
reach for safety. Most remained unrecognizable to
their families- only the size and fragments of
clothing or jewelry indicating the gender and the
general age.

Amiriyah itself is an area full of school teachers,
college professors, doctors and ordinary employees- a
middle-class neighborhood with low houses, friendly
people and a growing mercantile population. It was a
mélange of Sunnis and Shi'a and Christians- all living
together peacefully and happily. After the 13th of
February, it became the area everyone avoided. For
weeks and weeks the whole area stank of charred flesh
and the air was thick and gray with ash. The beige
stucco houses were suddenly all covered with black
pieces of cloth scrolled with the names of dead loved
ones. "Ali Jabbar mourns the loss of his wife,
daughter, and two sons…"; "Muna Rahim mourns the loss
of her mother, sisters, brothers and son…"

Within days, the streets were shut with black cloth
tents set up by the grief-stricken families to receive
mourners from all over Iraq who came to weep and ease
some of the shock and horror. And it was horrible.
Everyone lost someone- or knew someone who lost
several people.

My first visit to the shelter came several years after
it was bombed. We were in the neighborhood visiting a
friend of my mother. She was a retired schoolteacher
who quit after the Amiriyah bombing. She had no
thoughts of quitting but after schools resumed in
April of 1991, she went on the first day to greet her
class of 2nd graders. She walked into the classroom
and found only 11 of her 23 students. "I thought they
had decided not to come…" I remember her saying to my
mother in hushed tones, later that year,"… but when I
took attendance, they told me the rest of the children
had died in the shelter…" She quit soon after that
because she claimed her heart had broken that day and
she couldn't look at the children anymore without
remembering the tragedy.

I decided to pay my respects to the shelter and the
victims. It was October and I asked the retired
teacher if the shelter was open (hoping in my heart of
hearts she'd say 'no'). She nodded her head and said
that it was indeed open- it was always open. I walked
the two short blocks to the shelter and found it in
the midst of houses- the only separation being a wide
street. There were children playing in the street and
we stopped one of them who was kicking around a ball.
Is there anyone in the shelter? He nodded his head
solemnly- yes the shelter was 'maskoon'.

Now the word 'maskoon' can mean two different things
in Arabic. It can mean 'lived in' and it can also mean
'haunted'. My imagination immediately carried me away-
could the child mean haunted? I'm not one who believes
in ghosts and monsters- the worst monsters are people
and if you survive war and bombs, ghosts are a piece
of cake… yet something inside of me knew that a place
where 400 people had lost their lives so terribly-
almost simultaneously- had to be 'haunted' somehow by
their souls…

We walked inside and the place was dark and cold, even
for the warm October weather. The only light filtering
in came from the gaping hole in the roof of the
shelter where the American missiles had fallen. I
wanted to hold my breath- expecting to smell something
I didn't want to… but you can only do that for so
long. The air didn't smell stale at all; it simply
smelled sad- like the winds that passed through this
place were sorrowful winds. The far corners of the
shelter were so dark, it was almost easy to imagine
real people crouching in them.

The walls were covered with pictures. Hundreds of
pictures of smiling women and children- toothy grins,
large, gazelle eyes and the gummy smiles of babies.
Face after face after face stared back at us from the
dull gray walls and it felt endless and hopeless. I
wondered what had happened to their families, or
rather their remaining families after the catastrophe.
We knew one man who had lost his mind after losing his
wife and children inside of the shelter. I wondered
how many others had met the same fate… and I wondered
how much life was worth after you lost the people most
precious to you.

At the far end of the shelter we heard voices. I
strained my ears to listen and we searched them out-
there were 4 or 5 Japanese tourists and a small,
slight woman who was speaking haltingly in English.
She was trying to explain how the bomb had fallen and
how the people had died. She used elaborate hand
gestures and the Japanese tourists nodded their heads,
clicked away with their cameras and clucked

"Who is she?" I whispered to my mother's friend.
"She takes care of the place…" she replied in a low
"Why don't they bring in someone who can speak
fluently- this is frustrating to see…" I whispered
back, watching the Japanese men shake hands with the
woman before turning to go.

My mother's friend shook her head sadly, "They tried,
but she just refuses to leave. She has been taking
care of the place since the rescue teams finished
cleaning it out… she lost 8 of her children here." I
was horrified with that fact as the woman approached
us. Her face was stern, yet gentle- like that of a
school principal or… like that of a mother of 8
children. She shook hands with us and took us around
to see the shelter. This is where we were. This is
where the missiles came in… this is where the water
rose up to… this is where the people stuck to the

Her voice was strong and solid in Arabic. We didn't
know what to answer. She continued to tell us how she
had been in the shelter with 8 of her 9 children and
how she had left minutes before the missiles hit to
get some food and a change of clothes for one of the
toddlers. She was in the house when the missiles
struck and her first thoughts were, "Thank God the
kids are in the shelter…" When she ran back to the
shelter from her house across the street, she found it
had been struck and the horror had begun. She had
watched the corpses dragged out for days and days and
refused to believe they were all gone for months
after. She hadn't left the shelter since- it had
become her home.

She pointed to the vague ghosts of bodies stuck to the
concrete on the walls and ground and the worst one to
look at was that of a mother, holding a child to her
breast, like she was trying to protect it or save it.
"That should have been me…" the woman who lost her
children said and we didn't know what to answer.

It was then that I knew that the place was indeed
'maskoon' or haunted… since February 13, 1991 it has
been haunted by the living who were cursed with their
own survival.

Important Side Note:For those of you with the audacity
to write to me claiming it was a legitimate target
because "American officials assumed it was for
military purposes" just remember Protocol 1 of the
1977 Geneva Conventions, Part IV, Section 1, Chapter
III, Article 52: ... 3. In case of doubt whether an
object which is normally dedicated to civilian
purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other
dwelling or a school, is being used to make an
effective contribution to military action, it shall be
presumed not to be so used. (Like that would matter to
you anyway)

- posted by river @ 4:15 AM

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