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[casi] From Riverbend

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

'Shadow Government'

Why is no one covering this: Parallel Government Finds
Support?! I don't read about it anywhere except on
Al-Jazeera- we only hear about on our Arab media
networks... It's a big deal because Moqtada Al-Sadr
has A LOT of support with fundamentalist Shi'a

Moqtada Al-Sadr is one of the more powerful Shi'a
clerics currently in the south. He has a huge backing
and his followers are very angry that he wasn't
included in the power grab. For the last few months he
has been building an armed militia known as the "Imam
Mahdi's Army". The majority of this militia are young,
and very angry. I think they were meant to be a sort
of antidote to "Badr's Brigade"- SCIRI's armed

We've been hearing all sorts of strange things about
the happenings in Najaf. One report said that
Al-Sadr's followers have been abducting some prominent
Shi'a sheikhs that aren't supporting him. One thing is
certain- a couple of nights ago, the Spanish troops in
Najaf went to detain Al-Sadr and disarm his militia
(many were guarding his house) and hundreds of
supporters flocked about his house, pushing the troops
back and threatening that things would get very ugly
if Al-Sadr was detained... the Spanish troops had to
pull out of the area.

Very recently, Al-Sadr announced a 'hikoomet dhill' or
'shadow government' as a parallel government to the
one selected in Baghdad by Bremer. The Shadow
Government includes 13 different ministries (including
an information ministry)...

Al-Sadr announced the following:
"...I have formed a government made up of several
ministries, including ministries of justice, finance,
information, interior, foreign affairs, endowments and
the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice"

So what if this new 'shadow government' has orders or
laws that differ with the Governing Council? What
happens when the hundreds of thousands (some say
millions) of Sadr supporters decide that Al-Sadr's
word is law?

- posted by river @ 12:03 PM

Monday, October 13, 2003

Baghdad Hotel...

Baghdad Hotel was bombed today on Al-Sa’adun street,
which is a mercantile area in Baghdad. Al-Sa’adun area
is one of the oldest areas in Baghdad. The street is
lined with pharmacies, optometrists, photographers,
old hotels, doctors, labs, restaurants, etc.

The Baghdad Hotel is known to be ‘home’ the CIA and
some prominent members from the Governing Council. No
one is sure about the number of casualties yet- some
say its in the range of 15 dead, and 40 wounded… while
other reports say 8 dead and 40 wounded.

There were other bombings in Baghdad- one in Salhiya,
one in Karrada (near the two-storey bridge).

- posted by river @ 1:47 AM

Palms and Punishment...

Everyone has been wondering about the trees being cut
down in Dhuluaya area. Dhuluaya is an area near
Sammara, north of Baghdad. It’s an area popular for
its wonderful date palms, citrus trees and grape
vines. The majority of the people who live in the area
are simple landowners who have been making a living
off of the orchards they’ve been cultivating for

Orchards in many areas in Iraq- especially central
Iraq- are almost like oases in the desert. From
kilometers away, you can see the vivid green of proud
date palms shimmering through the waves of heat and
smoke, reaching for a sky rarely overcast. Just seeing
the orchards brings a sort of peace.

There are over 500 different kinds of palm trees in
Iraq. They vary in type from short, stocky trees with
a shock of haphazard, green fronds… to long, slim
trees with a collection of leaves that seem almost
symmetrical in their perfection. A palm tree is known
as a ‘nakhla’ and never fails to bring a sense of
satisfaction and admiration. They are the pride and
joy of Iraqi farmers and landowners. A garden isn’t
complete if there isn’t a palm tree gracing it. We
locate houses by giving the area, the street and then,
“Well, it’s the fourth- no, wait… the fifth house on
the left… or was it the right? Oh never mind-it’s the
house on the street with the tallest palm tree.”

The palm trees, besides being lovely, are highly
useful. In the winter months, they act as ‘resorts’
for the exotic birds that flock to Iraq. We often see
various species of birds roosting between the leaves,
picking on the sweet dates and taunting the small boys
below who can’t reach the nests. In the summer months,
the ‘female palms’ provide hundreds of dates for
immediate consumption, storage, or processing.

In Iraq, there are over 300 different types of dates-
each with its own name, texture and flavor. Some are
dark brown, and soft, while others are bright yellow,
crunchy and have a certain ‘tang’ that is particular
to dates. It’s very difficult to hate dates- if you
don’t like one type, you are bound to like another.
Dates are also used to produce ‘dibiss’, a dark,
smooth, date syrup. This dibiss is eaten in some areas
with rice, and in others it is used as a syrup with
bread and butter. Often it is used as a main source of
sugar in Iraqi sweets.

Iraqi ‘khal’ or vinegar is also produced from dates…
it is dark and tangy and mixed with olive oil, makes
the perfect seasoning to a fresh cucumber and tomato
salad. Iraqi ‘areg’, a drink with very high alcoholic
content, is often made with dates. In the summer,
families trade baskets and trays of dates- allowing
neighbors and friends to sample the fruit growing on
their palms with the enthusiasm of proud parents
showing off a child’s latest accomplishment...

Every bit of a palm is an investment. The fronds and
leaves are dried and used to make beautiful,
pale-yellow baskets, brooms, mats, bags, hats, wall
hangings and even used for roofing. The fronds are
often composed of thick, heavy wood at their ends and
are used to make lovely, seemingly-delicate furniture-
similar to the bamboo chairs and tables of the Far
East. The low-quality dates and the date pits are used
as animal feed for cows and sheep. Some of the date
pits are the source of a sort of ‘date oil’ that can
be used for cooking. The palm itself, should it be cut
down, is used as firewood, or for building.

My favorite use for date pits is… beads. Each pit is
smoothed and polished by hand, pierced in its center
and made into necklaces, belts and rosaries. The
finished product is rough, yet graceful, and wholly

Palm trees are often planted alongside citrus trees in
orchards for more than just decoration or economy.
Palm trees tower above all other trees and provide
shade for citrus trees, which whither under the Iraqi
sun. Depending on the type, it takes some palm trees
an average of 5 – 10 years to reach their final height
(some never actually stop growing), and it takes an
average of 5 -7 years for most palms to bear fruit.

The death of a palm tree is taken very seriously.
Farmers consider it devastating and take the loss very
personally. Each tree is so unique, it feels like a
member of the family... I remember watching scenes
from the war a couple of days after the bombing began-
one image that stuck in my mind was that of a palm
tree broken in half, the majestic fronds wilting and
dragging on the ground. The sight affected me almost
as much as the corpses.

Historically, palm trees have represented the rugged,
stoic beauty of Iraq and its people. They are a
reminder that no matter how difficult the
circumstances, there is hope for life and
productivity. The palm trees in the orchards have
always stood lofty and resolute- oblivious of heat,
political strife or war… until today.

One of the most famous streets in Baghdad is ‘shari3
il mattar’ or ‘The Airport Street’. It is actually two
streets- one leading to Baghdad Airport and the other
leading from it, into Baghdad. The streets are very
simple and plain. Their magnificence lay in the palm
trees growing on either side, and in the isle
separating them. Entering Baghdad from the airport,
and seeing the palm trees enclosing you from both
sides, is a reminder that you have entered the country
of 30 million palms.

Soon after the occupation, many of the palms on these
streets were hacked down by troops for ‘security
reasons’. We watched, horrified, as they were chopped
down and dragged away to be laid side by side in mass
graves overflowing with brown and wilting green.
Although these trees were beautiful, no one considered
them their livelihood. Unlike the trees Patrick
Cockburn describes in Dhuluaya.

Several orchards in Dhuluaya are being cut down…
except it’s not only Dhuluaya… it’s also Ba’aquba, the
outskirts of Baghdad and several other areas. The
trees are bulldozed and trampled beneath heavy
machinery. We see the residents and keepers of these
orchards begging the troops to spare the trees,
holding up crushed branches, leaves and fruit- not yet
ripe- from the ground littered with a green massacre.
The faces of the farmers are crushed and amazed at the
atrocity. I remember one wrinkled face holding up 4
oranges from the ground, still green (our citrus fruit
ripens in the winter) and screaming at the camera- “Is
this freedom? Is this democracy?!” And his son, who
was about 10, stood there with tears of rage streaming
down his cheeks and quietly said, “We want 5 troops
dead for each tree they cut down… five troops.” A
“terrorist”, perhaps? Or a terrorized child who had to
watch his family’s future hacked down in the name of
democracy and freedom?

Patrick Cockburn says that Dhuluaya is a Sunni area-
which is true. Sunnis dominate Dhuluaya. What he
doesn’t mention is that the Khazraji tribe, whose
orchards were assaulted, are a prominent Shi’a tribe
in Iraq.

For those not interested in reading the article, the
first line summarizes it perfectly, “US soldiers
driving bulldozers, with jazz blaring from
loudspeakers, have uprooted ancient groves of date
palms as well as orange and lemon trees in central
Iraq as part of a new policy of collective punishment
of farmers who do not give information about
guerrillas attacking US troops.”

…which reminds me of another line from an article
brought to my attention yesterday…
“A dozen years after Saddam Hussein ordered the vast
marshes of southeastern Iraq drained, transforming
idyllic wetlands into a barren moonscape to eliminate
a hiding place for Shiite Muslim political opponents…”

Déjà vu, perhaps? Or maybe the orchards differ from
the marshlands in that Saddam wasn’t playing jazz when
he dried up the marshlands…

- posted by river @ 1:40 AM

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