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[casi] From Riverbend

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.
Jo Wilding in Baghdad (
describes the demonstrations in an internet article,
and she has another article on some of the detentions:

December 18th- Arresting Children
December 13th- Prisoners

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 developments… 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?

- posted by river @ 6:19 AM

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