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[casi] Evening Tea and Turkish Troops...

Saturday, October 18, 2003

In the evening, most Iraqi families gather together for 'evening
tea'. It's hardly as formal as it sounds... No matter how busy the
day, everyone sits around in the living room, waiting for tea.

Iraqi tea isn't a simple matter of teacups and teabags. If you serve
'teabag tea' to an Iraqi, you risk scorn and disdain- a teabag is an
insult to tea connoisseurs. It speaks of a complete lack of
appreciation for the valuable beverage.

The exact process of making tea differs from family to family, but,
in general, it is a three-stage process. First, a kettle of water is
put on the burner to boil. Next, the boiling water and a certain
amount of tealeaves are combined in a separate teapot and put on a
low burner just until the tealeaves rise to the top and threaten to
'boil over'. Finally, the teapot is set on top of the tea kettle on a
low burner and allowed to 'yihder' or settle.

There are hundreds of different types of tea available on the market.
The best types are from Ceylon. Tea is so important in Iraq, that it
makes up a substantial part of the rations we've been getting ever
since the sanctions were imposed upon the country. People drink tea
with breakfast, they drink tea at midday, they drink tea in the
evening and often drink tea with dinner.

Our tea in Iraq is special because it is flavored with cardamom and
served in 'istikans'. Istikans are little glasses shaped like the
number '8', but open at the top, and flat at the bottom. They are
made of thin glass and sit in little glass saucers- or porcelain
saucers with intricate designs drawn on them. The color of the tea
has to be just right- clear, yet strong- preferably a deep reddish-
brown color.

So we sit, during the evenings, gathered around the small coffee
table which has seen conversations on blockade, war strategies,
bombings, and politics, with a tray of tea and something simple to
eat- like biscuits or bread and cheese. One of us pours the tea,
adding the sugar- 2 spoons for dad and I, 3 for E. and one for mom.

Before the conversation officially begins, you can hear the gentle
music of small, steel teaspoons clinking against the istikan, or
teacup, as the tea is stirred. Unlike the typical family conversation
around the world, "How was your day, dear?" doesn't get a typical
answer in Iraq. Depending on who is being asked, the answer varies
from stories of abductions and hijackings, to demonstrations, to
empty gas cylinders and burned out water pumps.

The topic of the moment is "Turkish troops". We discuss Turkish
troops at breakfast, we discuss them as we get ready for lunch, we
discuss them with neighbors as we communicate over the walls
separating our homes. E. says it's the same at topic at gas stations,
shops and street corners.

The discussion isn't actually about Turkish troops, per se: it
revolves more around the Puppets and their ability, or lack thereof,
to convince the CPA what a bad idea introducing Turkish troops into
Iraq would be. Iraqis of different ethnicities all have different
opinions of late, but this is one thing we all seem to be agreeing
upon- Turkish troops will only make the situation worse.

There are all sorts of reasons why people don't like the idea of
Turkish troops in the region. First, there's a lot of animosity
between the Kurds and Turks; thousands of Kurds faced constant
persecution while on Turkish territory- many of them were driven into
Iraq. Ever since the beginning of the war, there have been several
clashes between Kurdish militias and Turkish troops in northern Iraq.

Second, everyone knows that Turkey has certain interests in the
region- namely, Kirkuk and Mosul. Turkey has been overly eager to
send in troops ever since the 'end' of the war in April.

Third, Shi'a are adamant about not allowing Turkish troops into Iraq
because Turks are predominantly Sunni and the thought of an
aggressive Sunni army makes the majority of Shi'a nervous.

One faction of Christian society in Iraq, Armenian-Iraqis, are dead
set against having Turkish troops in Iraq. They speak of Turkish
occupation, bloodshed, executions and being driven into Iraq.
Armenian-Iraqis are horrified with the thought of having Turkish
troops inside of Iraq.

Then there are all of the historical reasons. For almost 400 years,
Iraq was ruled by the Ottoman Empire.... The Ottoman Rule in Iraq
ended in 1918, with the start of the British occupation. Iraqis
haven't forgotten that during World War I, hundreds of thousands of
Iraqis were forced to fight and die for the Ottoman Empire.

Then there's the little issue of all the problems between Iraq and
Turkey. Iraqis still haven't forgotten the infamous Ataturk Dam on
the Furat (Euphrates), the fourth largest dam in the world. We had to
watch the Euphrates diminish in front of our very eyes year after
year, until in many areas, it seemed like nothing more than a stream.
In a country that is largely composed of desert land, ebbing the flow
of a river that many people depend on for survival is an atrocity.

People here don't understand why there's so much insistence to bring
in a Turkish army anyway. What good can it possibly do? America is
emphasizing how important it will be to have 'Muslim troops' in the
region- but what difference will it make? If Turkish troops enter
under the supervision of an occupation army, they will be occupation
troops- religion isn't going to make a difference.

It's like this: imagine America being invaded and occupied by, say,
North Korea. (Note: I only say 'North Korea' because of the cultural
differences between the US and North Korea, and the animosity.... I,
unlike Chalabi, am not privileged to information on WMD, etc.)
Imagine Korean troops invading homes, detaining people and filling
the streets with tanks and guns. Then imagine North Korea deciding it
'needed help' and bringing in?. Mexico. And you ask, "But why
Mexico?!" and the answer is, "Well, Mexicans will understand you
better because the majority of Americans are Christian, and the
majority of Mexicans are Christian- you'll all get along famously."

The Puppet Council is completely opposed to a Turkish presence inside
of the country; America is insistent that there should be one....
we're all just watching from the sidelines, waiting to see just how
much real respect the CPA has for the Puppet Council.

- posted by river @ 2:49 AM

Mark Parkinson

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