Sunday, 26 August 2007

The Iraqi Shi'a under the Spotlight of Suspicion

Equating Arabism with “Sunnism” was the crucial principle that formulated the relation of successive Iraqi states with different Iraqi communities, mainly the Shia’h and the Kurds. Successive Iraqi governments, almost always run by Sunni Arabs, regarded Shi’sm as a schism encouraged and supported by discontented anti-Arab (Shu’ubi) Persians. Satti’h Al-Hassri, Imzahim Al-Pachachi, Abdul Aziz Al-Douri, Khairullah Tilfah and Saddam Hussein were examples of prominent figures that questioned the Iraqi Shia’h identity and loyalty. And recently, Arab leaders shared the same views e.g. King Abdullah of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt. The last responses from Iraq came indirectly from Adnan Addulaimi, the head of the General Council for the People of Iraq, “Mu’tamar Ahlul Iraq”, in a letter addressed to the Arab world urging them to stand up and help their “Arab Sunni Brothers” in Iraq against an Iranian (Safawi, Persian) agenda aiming to get rid of all “Arab Sunnis” in Baghdad.
All the above figures believe that Iraqi Shia’h owes basic loyalty to Iran. I’ve always tried to get to the bottom of these accusations and the only conclusions I’ve reached so far were:

1. Since the evolution of Shi’sm as a distinct sect in Islam during the 7th and 8th centuries, the Shih’a of Iraq in particular was accused of being collaborators with non-Arab outsiders like the Mongols, Safavid Iran and recently the Americans.
2. The allegations of loyalty to Iran were the most important for the last five centuries i.e. since Iran (or Persia) became a Shia’h state. In addition, these allegations try to portray the Iraqi Shia’h as passively controlled by Iranians irrespective of the nature of the Iranian regime, a Qajar monarchical pro-West regime or fundamentalist Islamic Republic.
3. There is an attempt to paint a picture of “inferiority complex” among Iraqi Shih’a towards Iran, the culture, the Shi’sm, the history and finally the state itself.
4. And the last misconception is to believe that all Iraqi Shih’a, whether of Arabic or non-Arabic (Fayli Kurds or Turkumans) origins, religious Najaf i turbaned mullah or secular educated Baghdadi communist, are all non-Arabs (Ajam) and highly suspicious. For me, the idea of presence of one homogenous mass named the “Shih’a of Iraq” is purely non-sense.

The above mentioned points open the door to many other unanswered questions: if the Shih’a of Iraq were labelled throughout history as none-Iraqis, Safawi’s or “Ajam” and owe loyalty to Iran, why the Iraqi Sunnis were not considered as Ottomans or accused of being loyal to Ottoman empire interests. Urban Iraqi Sunnis formed the backbone of the civil service and military force in Iraq for approximately four centuries. Moreover, they used Turkish rather than Arabic as their official language. The second question that buzzes in my head is: if the current Iraqi government has close ties with Iran, why we should consider the whole Shih’a community in Iraq as pro-Iranian. The Syrian government repeatedly admitted that they have close political, financial and military links to Iran but nobody dared to accuse them of being “Safawi’s” or “Ajam”. During Iran-Iraq war, Syria openly stood by Iran and helped the Iranians against Iraq but Adnan Addulaimi did not accuse them of disloyalty or questioned their Arabic identity.

Coming back to Addulaimi letter, The General Council for the People of Iraq is one of the main constituents of the Iraqi Accord Front, the major representative of the Iraqi Arab Sunnis which has 44 seats in the Iraqi Parliament. These accusations came amid an escalating political crisis in Iraq with the withdrawal of all ministers from the Iraqi Accord Front, The Iraqi List (Ayad Allawi) and the Sadrists from Al-Maliki’s government which is currently on the brink of collapse.
First of all, the style of language used to write this letter is a sort of regression to a bygone era, to the age of Islamic expansion during the Khilafa days or under the rule of Umayyad or Abbasid dynasties approximately ten centuries ago. So it will immediately take your mind to a period where conflicts and wars were the only options to deal with unresolved issues and threats. It is an open invitation for a confrontational war between the “Sunni Arab” world with “Safawi Iran” and as usual the battle ground is Iraq, the land of Mesopotamia. In such a nightmarish scenario, there is no place for pure Iraqi identity and voice. On the contrary, the only path that Iraqis should follow is to ally themselves with each side of the conflict along sectarian lines. Another important point in that letter was the terminology used to describe Iranians (Safawis, Persians and Zoroastrians). It is quite clear that he is referring not only to the Iranian regime but to Iran the people as well. This will shift the conflict from pure politically-motivated one for the sake of regional domination to a clash of ideologies between the two nations. Like the Iran-Iraq war, when it was portrayed as war of identity, history, ideology and culture but the reality was far from that. It was a confrontation between two rogue authoritarian regimes trying to impose their agendas on the region. The other impression that the letter gives is that “Arab Sunnis” are the sole victims of assassinations, deportation and mass killings in today’s Iraq, excluding the Shih’a and other Iraqi communities from such miseries. He also intentionally avoided mentioning the Americans and their role in this conflict as the major power that holds the keys for any political or military change in the future of Iraq.
Finally I would like to emphasize that accusing the Iraqi Shih’a of disloyalty to their country and to question their identity; this will deprive our right to keep Iraq as a unified country. With nearly 50% Shih’a population in Iraq labelled as “Ajam” and pro-Iranian and 25% Kurds and other minority groups loyal to their own nationalities and ethnic origin, we should stop being proud of belonging to a common Iraqi identity.

To read Addulaimi’s letter, click on the link below:

Saturday, 21 July 2007

From the Diary of an Iraqi doctor

It is the dream of every middle class Iraqi family to see her son or daughter becoming a doctor, and my family was not an exception. My mother always wished her son to be a doctor one day, not an engineer or a lawyer. I still remember my uncle’s advice “If you become an engineer, prepare yourself to be a taxi driver afterwards”. But what about me? What did I want to be in the future at that time in late 80s? The answer was simply: I do not know. I suddenly found myself achieving high marks in the “Backaloria Exam, which is the equivalent of GCSE in England” that enabled me to register with any college I like. To fulfil my mother’s dream, I decidedly joined the Medical College and finished my studies successfully. However, these years were not easy ones. Everything was changing around me and the socio-political atmosphere was very tense. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the UN sanctions, the defeat of the Iraqi army and its withdrawal from Kuwait, the uprising in the South and North of Iraq which was brutally smashed few weeks later and finally the beginning of the biggest wave of Iraqi exodus. Doctors were always among the first professionals who fled the country in hundreds and may be thousands. As the years went by I’ve realised that I will not be a good doctor. I occasionally attended lectures and clinical sessions and most of my time was divided between playing basketball and chatting with my friends. It was simply a natural continuation to my high school days. I hated wearing suits and ties. Instead, I always wore Jeans trousers, T-Shirts and trainers. I did not go to the graduation ceremony and believe it or not I did not take the Hippocratic Oath traditionally taken by doctors pertaining to practice Medicine all over the world. The post graduation medical training in Iraq was very much disappointing compared to our expectations when we were students. At that time in mid 90s, there was a significant rise of anti-medical sentiments. And we doctors were responsible for curing people in almost completely collapsed medical services due to unfair sanctions. Moreover, we found ourselves, after 6 years of study, getting paid a monthly salary of $2.00 only. As a natural result, many left the profession and entered the world of Business and hundreds fled the country seeking better opportunities elsewhere. Jordan, Yemen, Libya and later on Oman and UAE became compulsory destinations for those who left Iraq because no other country was willing to issue visa to any Iraqi. These were the transit stations in the long exile journey to the West, and specifically UK, the ultimate destination for thousands of doctors from all over the world.
Once I arrived to UK, another “internal exile” journey has begun albeit differently. Here you realise that, apart from your primary medical qualifications, all your work experience was meaningless and unworthy and you have to start all over again doing re-qualification exams. I did that successfully, like hundreds of “fresh off the boat” doctors. However; all my efforts were smashed on a solid rock named “The Home Office”. As a failed asylum seeker for four bloody years I was not only prohibited from work, but also from the basic rights of receiving treatment and having a decent place to live in. simply we were unwanted and unwelcome in this country and I became legally known as “illegal immigrant” or “a failed asylum seeker waiting for deportation back to his home country”. And here you will find yourself driven to a new world and a new experience called “the black market”. I still remember my first illegal job here in the UK as an onion picker in a field of many big farms employing hundreds of illegal workers from all over the “hungry” world. And I always tell my friends that Britain should be proud of its “multicultural black market” exactly in the same way we hear repeatedly in the news about the British Society and how they are proud of their diversity. My first “illegal” wages were £9.00 for working from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. I worked for two days only there and then I made a good progress in my second “black, hidden, underground” job. I worked as a labourer with an Iraqi Kurdish carpenter for £25.00 per day. It was a big achievement. I worked three weeks with him and later I moved to London where I worked as a carpet cleaner for one week only. I got £35.00 per day this time and I was climbing the “black market Economy” stairs slowly but steadily. finally came my last, but the longest job which was to some extent “professional” and I used all my English language and communication skills this time properly. It was a receptionist in a youth hostel. Approximately three years of my life were spent behind a reception desk. At that time I believed that I will not come back to the medical profession. It did not bother me very much as I was not keen about it from the beginning but the only thing that kept worrying me was how disappointing to my mother to see her “doctor” son working in cheap jobs rather than his “precious” profession. However; since then the situation has dramatically changed. Unexpectedly the Home Office changed its mind about my status and allowed me to stay legally in this country and I have to stand up to the challenge of building my shattered medical career once again. Twelve years after graduation and I have to start all over again and most likely I will find myself in a specialty other than the one I really want or practiced before and under the supervision of an English or Asian doctor few years younger than me. It was at this time, I have realised that I am not too young anymore. And to make things worse, my registration with the General Medical Council came one day after the news of the failed attempt of Bilal Abdullah, the Iraqi Doctor, who tried to detonate his packed-with-explosive car at Glasgow Airport. But most importantly shall I be able to cope with the restrictions, policies and demands of the medical authorities here. In the “good doctor guide” sent along with my GMC registration license, the words “you must” were mentioned nearly 75 times. And if eighteen years ago I did not know whether I would like to be a doctor or not, now the question that buzzes in my head “do I still have the energy, physically and mentally, to carry on with the profession? The answer is simply again: I don’t know.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

أدجلة أتسمعين أنيني؟

تبتلعني محطات و تلفظني اخرى الى شوارع و أزقة غريبة، أجوب هائما ابحث عن هوية أودعتها ركن بيت بغدادي كان يوما يضج بالحياة، أحلق في فضاءات بعيدة، أتأمل وجه أمي وقد غزته التجاعيد، أسمع حشرجات صوتها و هي تبكي:
(دللول يالولد يبني دللول
عدوك عليل و ساكن الچول)
ينهار الجسد منهكا و الروح يملوءها خواء أبدي و الرأس مثقل بالهموم، أتمدد على رصيف الغربة كمحارب مهزوم أعلك ما تبقى من سنين العمر، أتنفس الذكريات، أبحث عن أوراق لم يبق منها سوى قوائم الديون وأشلاء دفتر مدرسي قديم
في الصفحة الاولى رسمت طيورا و أشجارا وشمسا و حقول
في الصفحة الثانية كتبت ... دار دور
(خسرنا البلاد
خسرنا الاغاني
و رحنا نجوب المنافي البعيدة
نستجدي العابرين)
و الخامسة...
تتوالى الصفحات و السنون و الحروب و القنابل و الملاجىء و الهروب و الخوف و الحصار والنساء والدم و العشق و الموت.

أغمضت عيني فطافت بي الرؤى و رمتني عند نخيل العراق، استوقفني حراس الحدود : جوازك أخي؟
فرشت سنين الغربة على الطاولة وراحوا يقلبوها بمقدمات بنادقهم
وأخذ أحدهم يدقق الاختام: الوجع عراقي، الهوى عراقي، الحزن عراقي و الجرح عراقي ووو
هز الحارس رأسه بأزدراء و قال: ممنوع
فتردد الصدى و امتزج بنحيب قرى الجنوب

بيج الفرح يبلادي
بيج الفرح
والحزن ممنوع
ويجذب الكَال العمر يحلى
بلايه دموع)
افترشت المنفى على الحدود متوسدا أماني اللقاء بالمتنبي و الرشيد و أبي نؤاس. أرى ابن الوردي متأبطا لمحاته يشرب قهوته بصمت في مقهى حسن عجمي و السياب يحصي أزهاره الذابلة في الدروب و الاخضر بن يوسف يجلس عاطلا يبحث عن عشق تركه يوما تحت جدارية في ساحة الطيران و النواب يبحث يائسا عن حمد في مقابر جماعية. ألتفت الى يميني فوجدت الشيخ الجواهري ينثر أشعاره ورودا فتزهر الارض من دموع جموع تقاسمتها الحروب و الموت تعبر الى النأي تجر وراءها ما تبقى من فتات عراق خبأته على عجل في سرة أمست زادها في المنافي.

نهضت و فتحت ذراعي وسع العراق ومددت ضلوعي جسرا فعبر فوقه اللصوص و المرتشون و الاعراب و الاغراب و اللوطيون و المخصيون و المعممون و الملتحون و الانتحاريون و... وبقيت أنا وحدي و ما زال الشيخ الجواهري ينثر قصائده من حولي و النواب يزيت مكائن ريله
فصرخت :
(أدجلة أتسمعين أنيني؟ ان العبرات تحمل في طياتها كلمات و ان لم تسمعي مني فلا تحزني
وخذي سجعي فذاك شعر نظمته فرتله الحمام هديلا).

Sunday, 20 May 2007

يا ريل طلعوا دغش

يفتح عينيه ليجد السماء خلعت ثوبها الاسود المثقوب بالنجوم وارتدت حلة زرقاء، يقفز من فراشه مسرعا لينزل الدرج ثملؤه لهفة و شوق لما هو ات، يسرع باتجاه المطبخ و يرتمي في احضان جدته، يسمع هسيس الهواء في صدرها المنخور بالتبغ المحلي، تفترش (جودليتها) يجلس بجنبها و هي تحضر شاي الصباح المهيل على (چولتها) و يسمعها تردد بألم و حسرة ... تگلي المسعدة الغرشة بطليها چا لو هاجت نار گلبي أبيش أطفيها،
ينتظر جده بفارغ الصبر لينتهي من ارتداء عقاله و شماغه بلونيه المتقاطعين الابيض و الاسود، ينضم اخوه اليه في رحلة الانتظار هذه، يقبلهما الجد و يمسك بيد كل منهما بيديه، يحس بخشونة يد جده المنحوتة بالشقوق و هي تمسك بيده الطرية التي لم تطأ معترك الحياة بعد، تعتريهما غبطة عندما يمرون عبر أزقة حيهم الهادىء في ذلك الصباح التموزي الدافىء.
يصل الى دكان ابو ياس الرجل العجوز صديق جده ، تتفتق اساريره فرحا عندما يناولهما (جكليت و حامض حلو)،بعد احاديث قصيرة يشتري الجد لهما بسكت (بسكولاتة ) و نستلة (ابو العبد) و لا تكتمل نشوتهما الا بعد ان ياخذ كل منهما فطعة من الكرتون توزعت عليها و بشكل متساو صور لا عبي المنتخب الوطني، ذخيرتهما للعبة ( التصاوير) فور العودة الى البيت، ما زال يتذكر بوضوح تلك الصور الضارب لونها على الزرقة الفاتحة: حسن فرحان، فيصل عزيز، هادي احمد، علاء أحمد، دگلص عزيز، محمد طبرة، كاظم وعل، فلاح حسن.
يتوجهان بعدها مع الجد الى سوق الكبيسي نحو فرن الصمون الحجري. كغيرهم من سكان بغداد لا يستذوقون صمون الاعاشة (الاوتوماتيكي). يبدا بالتعرق بانتظارتلك العجائن الصغيرة و هي تنتفخ و تحمـرّ تحت وطأة النار المنبعثة من المشعل النفطي في ذلك الكهف الحجري المتواري عميقا في جوف الحائط، يتلذذ بالتقاط اول الصمونات الخارجة من جحيم الفرن، يلتقطها بكلتي يديه حيث تأخذ بالتقلب كسمكة تتقافز في شبكة صياد من شدة سخونتها حتى يضعها في سلة جده.
عند العودة يسلكان طريق الشارع الموازي لسكة القطار، يسيرون ببطء بجنب السكة المرتفعة قليلا و يتوجه بنظره بعيدا نحو الافق بانتظار قدومه، يسحب يديه من قبضة جده و يسرع نحوالقضبان المددة ينحني بوجهه الى الارض، يلامس خده حديد السكة الناعم، ينتظر سماع ازيز العربات القادمة ، ينتظر الشارة بنشوة عارمة، يتراءى له من بعيد كثعبان يتلوى ببطء، يسمع فحيح عرباته المجنزرة، يخرج هو و اخيه كل منهم قطعة (عشر فلوس)يضعانها على القضبان بانتظار مرور القطار فوقهما.
يتراجعان نحو الجد الواقف الى البعيد قليلا، يرقبان بفضول مرور القطار، يقبل ببطء و غنج، ابواب العربات مفتحة ووجوه قاتمة تقبع خلف الشبابيك، جنود يقفون عند ابواب الفارگونات المكتظة، بدا قريبا جدا الان، مر فوق قطعهم النقدية، اسرع هو و اخيه نحو السكة مرة اخرى، القى نظرة اخيرة على القطار المحمل بالاسرار و هو يختفي شيئا فشيئا لتبتلعه احياء المدينة الصاخبة، يتفحص ما الت اليه قطعته المعدنية، يمرر اصبعه على وجهها، ملساء كخد طفل رضيع، تتملكه فرحة غامرة... يلتفت بوجهه يسارا نحو جده، يرتطم وجهه بزجاجة ملساء هي الاخرى، تتوالى من خلالها حقول خضراء ممتدة و بحيرات ماء ذي زرقة صافية و بيوت متناثرة هنا و هناك، امامه تجلس فتاة شقراء بتنورة قصيرة تكشف عن ساقين بيضاويين كثلج ناصع، اصابعها تتنقل بانسياب على لوحة مفاتيح حاسوبها كمن يعزف قطعة موسيقية على الة بيانو، بجانب الحاسوب قدح قهوة من الورق المقوى كتب عليه (ستاربكس). التفت يمينا، رأى عجوز و زوجها مع ابنتهما و بنتها يتسامرون بصوت هادىء. أرجع رأسه ليستند على زجاج النافذة و غاب بصره في الحقول الخضراء النضرة و اللا متناهية، عاد الى البيت مغمورا بما تضم سلة الجد مما تتوق له نفسه، فتحها لم يجد تصاويره و الصمون الحجري الساخن و نستلة( ابو العبد)، انما عشرة أعوام من التسكع على أرصفة المنافي، كتاب طبي، صحيفة ليست بلغته و أوراق من دائرة الهجرة تقول... سنسمح لك مؤقتا بالبقاء هنا و يمنع عليك ان تعود الى ( هناك)... لن اعود الى (تصاويري) و سلة جدي و صدر جدتي المنخور. أخرج الصحيفة و أخذ يبحث عن أي خبر من (هناك)... جسر يتفجر ويتهدم و جدار عازل ينتصب ووو.... أخذ يدندن بصوت خافت..
ضلعي أحسه المنكسر
موش الجسر، يحزام دجله يلالي حدره الماي
ويوج العصر
يمصافحة صوبين ما مل الرصافه الكرخ
من وكت الزغر

أنتبهت الفتاة الجالسة امامه لهذيانه، سكت و عاد لهدوئه و أمال رأسه نحو النافذة وبدأ يجتر الوطن و ما تبقى من فتات المنفى و عادت هي تنقر على حاسوبها لا تأبه لتصاويره و صمونه و صدر جدته المنخور. أغمض عينيه و سافر بعيدا نحو الدفء و امتطى صهوة القطار المغادر الى المحطة العالمية في (العلاوي)، ألقى نظرة اخيرة على الساقين البيضاويين أمامه و الحقول الخضراء عبر الزجاج و عاد (يون)

يا ريل طلعوا دغش
و العشگ چذابي
دگ بيه طول العمر ما يطفه عطابي
نتوالف ويه الدهر
ترابك ترابي
و هودر هواهم ولك حدر السنابل گطه.

Monday, 14 May 2007

We're All Comfortably Numb

Unlike many of my teenage dreams that have been smashed on the rock of our cruel world, this one came true and not only once but fortunately twice. It was back in 1988 when I first listened to Pink Floyd music and since then their musical talent, Waters’ lyrics-writing professionalism and Gilmour’s warm mellow guitar playing captivated me. For me, listening passionately to PF music is an experience, which dramatically altered my appreciation for Rock music for years to come. May be I am not lucky enough to be one of the 60s or 70s generations who grew up with their music but their pearl albums of the 70s relentlessly and progressively “rock” you to the bone. And that was exactly what happened to me last night at the Earls Court venue when my friend and I went to see Roger Waters live performance. Twelve years ago and at the same venue, PF (Gilmour, Wright and Mason) performed their last infamous PULSE show still remembered for its extraordinary sound and light effects.
The doors opened at 6:00 pm and our seats were in block two, not very far from the stage but unfortunately not right in front of it. We sat there waiting patiently for Roger and the band to start. The stage was already set and all the instruments were ready and plugged. Bob Dylan’s music was filling the venue. on the screen at the back of the stage, a surrealistic picture showing a fifties-style, wooden made radio with big rounded knobs, a bottle of whiskey and ashtray in front of it. A small toy of World War-Two aeroplane was placed over the radio. This picture kept dead silent until around 7:00 pm when some life has been blown into it. Someone is sitting back there smoking but you can’t see anything from him but his hand frequently changing the stations. His cigarette on the ashtray and a smoke-filled air in the room and 50s Rock’n Roll music started playing. Few minutes later it was followed by Jazz. At 7:30pm, everybody in the venue was eagerly expecting Roger Waters and the crew to walk in to the stage. I continued watching the screen behind. The hand moved again and we heard a male voice speaking Dutch I think, and I only understood the words “Radio Luxemburg”. Waters’ fans knew the influence that “Radio Luxumburg”has left on his career as a musician and lyricist when this radio station was launched in early 60s. Waters’ album “Radio K.A.O.S” was to some extent related these memories.
The venue lights faded way, the crowd is silently waiting and gradually the Dutch voice gave the way to a loud opera music and suddenly, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the voice of Roger Waters and the noise of his band blew up the venue and broke the silence of the audience, singing “in the flesh”. Dressed in black with his Richard Gere-look-like face, Waters’ performance on the stage was astounding.
The first set of the show was dedicated to PF works from their heydays in the 70s with only two songs from his solo work. The second song was “Mother” from "the wall” album and featured Katie Kisson’s awesome voice. A flashback into Syd Barrett’s era came with the third song “set the control to the heart of the sun”. Three pearls from their “Wish You Were Here” diamond album followed: Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Have a Cigar and Wish You Were Here, respectively. Until now, the great guitar solos were alternating between two gifted guitarists, Dave Kilminster and Snowy White. However; with “Leaving Beirut” Andy FairweatherLow demonstrated his amazing talent on guitar together with Ian Ritchie on Tenor Sax.
“Southampton Dock” and “Fletcher’s Memorial Home” followed from “The Final Cut” album and again were amazing. The last song in the first set was “Sheeps” from “Animals” and the legendary Floyd’s giant pig was flying above our heads.
Fifteen minutes break separated the first set from “The Dark Side of The Moon” complete album. Nick Mason replaced Graham Broad on the Drums and reminded us of PF original band members. More visual techniques differentiate this show from last year’s Hyde Park one. And for the first time in years, the “Great Gig in the Sky” is performed by one female voice only, rather than the usual three female voices, this time by Carroll Kenyon. Harry Waters, Roger’ son, played Piano at this song and Jon Carin played almost all keyboards through out the second set and was the Lead Vocalist on “Us and Them”. While singing “The Lunatic” the infamous Prism of Light was shining until the end of the album. The encore consisted of three songs from “The Wall”: the Happiest Day of Our Lives, Vera and finally the unforgettable, eternal, mesmerising and magnificent “Comfortably Numb”.
And finally what can I say about last night: Three hours of extraordinary solid Progrock and limitless creative music I have experienced in a “Floyd’s Trip” with Roger Waters. Among many of DSOTM performances, I personally believe this was the “Darkest” and we all left the venue “comfortably numb”.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Martyr of Love

It is not something like Romeo & Juliet or its Arabic version Qais Wa Layla. Not even a fictional story. It happened in the “new” and “free” “Democratic” Iraq. It all started when this seventeen-year-old girl fell in love with a man and decided to live with him. But what started as an innocent romance ended in a gruesome murder. Like the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, The scene was horrific. A crowd of long-bearded, bloodthirsty, revenge-seeking men with evil-looking eyes dragged Du’aa (or Do’aa in Kurdish) to face her destiny: Stoning To Death. The accusations were ready, Adultery, conversion to Islam and running away from her family with the man that she loved. Her uncle and cousin were among the crowd that took her life and were very proud of “getting rid of her shame”. The cams of many mobile phones recorded the crime and it is available now on Youtube.
The death of Do’aa caused outrage among women rights activist in Iraq who condemned this crime and asked for punishment of all those involved in this brutal murder. Very limited and shy responses came from the local authorities of Al-Mosul province. However; we did not hear any reaction from the Iraqi government or from the major political parties in Iraq. Three months ago, the-Rape-of-Sabrin case provoked anger in Iraq as well as the Arab world. Al-Jazeera spared much of its precious time to cover her case, simply because it was a Sunna-Shiaa issue and was expertly handled to criticise Al-Maliki’s Shia-dominated government which in turn reacted unwisely to the allegations and finally the case was dealt with in the sectarian context.
This time Do’aa case lacks the sectarian flavour so it was very hard to get the publicity of Sabrine’s case. As I mentioned, Al-Maliki kept silence. Our long-bearded Sunni scholars did not pay attention to this crime. Similarly, turbaned Shia’ Mullahs seemed not bothered as if this murder happened in a different country or on another planet. The Kurdish government, who always insists that their model of “democracy” should be adopted by the rest of Iraq, simply ignored this murder although it was carried out on a “Kurdish territory”. For me, this incident exposed the way in which our “schizophrenic Iraqi society” thinks and reacts at times of chaos and anarchy.
We know that stoning to death is an Islamic punishment for adultery, but those who stoned Do’aa were Yezidis, not Muslims and whether she was stoned because of Adultery or conversion to Islam we still do not know. Yezidism is an ancient religion its roots existed long time before Islam but both Sunni and Shiaa versions of Islam consider Yezidis as “Kuffar”, infidels and devil worshippers. This may explain why Sunni and Shia’ clerics kept silent and did not condemn this crime. Contrary to that, they might felt relieved to see the implementation of “God’s Law” on this girl. But if this is the case, what was the reason behind the retribution killing of twenty Yezidi labour workers by Muslims the next day. And it is worth mentioning that the only point, which both Shiaa and Sunni clerics agreed upon since the American invasion of Iraq was the abolition of Family Law, legislated by Qasim’s government. Many “academics and thinkers” blamed the Yezidis and their heretical religion for this “cruel and barbaric” act. However; Muslims did the same and we frequently hear ceremonies of stoning and whipping of those who commit adultery being held in Iran and Saudi Arabia, our examples for a Shia and Sunni Islamic states.
If this crime happened in Baghdad don’t you think it will attract more attention by the media, the public and the government. Just because this crime happened in a Kurdish area so we do not bother ourselves with it.
There are many questions left unanswered but we should learn the lesson. The tribal and Bedouins values have prevailed in our society and now they hide behind the ugly face of religious, sectarian and ethnic variations. The values of coexistence and accepting each other have been replaced by hatred, bloodshed and revenge. But the question still lingers: how many other Do’aas should give up their lives to the goddess of evil on the Iraqi Altar?

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Once upon a time in Baghdad

In these days Iraqis usually prepare themselves for summer, a long one with scorching heat which only ends with the breeze of early October. Such season change does not pass unnoticed. I remember the packing of winter clothes and unpacking of summer ones. Folding the carpets (Zewalli) and hiding them under the beds, wiping the tiled floor (Kashi), trimming the grass of the front garden and most importantly washing the floor of the roof of the house (Sattah) and the bed frames in order to sleep under moonlit night sky ingrained with countless stars. These are not memories from Baghdad in the forties or fifties as you might think when you read the title of this post. All my knowledge about that period is derived from books, vintage black and white photos in the family album and stories that my “Beebee” (Grandmother) used to tell me when I put my head on her lap waiting for her soft hand to scratch my back and quietly listening to her stories about “Tantal Baghdad”. It is the eighties and nineties’ Baghdad that I grew up in and like many others; left unfulfilled dreams and incalculable memories on her streets. There is nothing extraordinary about it. Instead its simplicity that makes it so precious to me and I desperately miss.
It was back in 1995 and 1996 when nearly everyday I used to take the (Nefarat) going to Bab Al-Sharji and getting off just before crossing Al-Sinnak bridge because I love walking on that bridge. Reaching the beginning of Al-Sinnak Street, I turn left behind the tall telecommunication Tower (which was bombed by the Americans in 2003) and through a very narrow alley to my uncle’s small shop selling spare parts of automatic Toyota cars model 1984. Most of the times I arrive so early to find the shop still closed. In such cases, I go to Edmon Abo Al-Arabana (a Christian) to have breakfast (a boiled egg or “Macklama” sandwich and sometimes and if I am in the mood I go for “Baghila Bil Dihin”) followed by two “Istikans of Chai Abu Al-Hail” from Ali (a faili Kurd). I spend few hours in the shop and in the afternoon I take my break heading to Bab Al-Sharji, passing through Al-Khullani’s square (named after the old Khulani mosque which stood there for centuries) then right to Al-Jimhooriyah Street to Bab Al-Sharji where hundreds of stalls (Bas’tat) gathered on both sides of the street and in the bus garage. As a music enthusiast, I look for rare old albums and frequently find old treasures from the 60s and 70s. gems like Thin Lizzy – Johnny The Fox (1975), The Doors – L.A Woman (1970), CCR – Best of (1967-1971), Pink Floyd- Atom Heart Mother (1970) and many others that I have collected over the years and still have them in Baghdad.
One day I was walking there keeping my eyes on the stalls and looking if they have anything interesting and suddenly I was caught by an original cassette neatly wrapped in transparent paper. The sleeve was dark blue and a picture of an old black man with flying V-Gibson guitar in his hands and just below it written: Johnny Copeland – Texas Party. The man kept his eyes on me as he obviously discovered my interest in this cassette and after breathing out heavy cigarette smoke, he said “Alfain Dinar Ea’yoony”. He was fortyish something with greyish white hair and light beard. At last I got it for 1250 Dinars (about 60 cents at that time). It’s a bargain. From that time I became a regular customer and through him (his name was Karim) I met other “Stallers” selling second hand cassettes and vinyl (as use of CDs was very limited and only affluent people afford it). My relation with them progressed to a level that I gave them my house number to call me whenever they put their hands on a new collection of cassettes. The last time I met Karim was in 1997 in Al-Karama Hospital in Baghdad when he brought his sister to the casualty department suffering from kidney failure. She was kept in the hospital for approximately two weeks but she died later due to complications of her incurable condition.
Leaving the Stalls’ wonderworld of Bab Al Sharji, I follow a different path to go back to Al-Sinnak. This time I cross the street towards Al-Khayyam Building on the left side of Bab Al-Sharji square. A four storey building with many shops inside selling men clothes mainly Jeans trousers. From there I walk towards the beginning of Al-Rasheed Street where the well-known Chaqmaqchi’s Records shop is on the corner back to Al-Sinnak through small tortuous “darbounat”.

Sometimes, I do not go to Bab Al-Sharji at my break time but instead I walk to the once thriving Al-Mutanabi books market. There you meet Iraqis from different background nothing brought them but their passion for reading. I bought many books of Jean Paul Sartre, Camus, D.H Lawrence and others. If I am too late to go back to work, I complete my journey to Shor’ja market, meet my friend there and then go back home.
So is there anything surreal about this journey? Definitely No. it’s trouble-free and the mentioning of all these details may sound unworthy. However; ordinary Iraqis now must put their lives at risk if they dare to do the same. The stalls’ area of Bab Al-Sharji, Al-Mutanabi Street and Al-Shor’ja were frequently targeted by suicide bombs. The shops in Al-Khayam building and Al-Rasheed Street are almost completely closed and nothing left in the small alley ways but the smells of death and hatred and a glimpse of memories of generations of Iraqis eager to re-live these fascinating memories again.

Friday, 27 April 2007


الحبيبة زوجتي
و العراق
و ما تبقى في كأس المنافي

لي بقلبك مهد
يلفني كلما داهمني
برد المنافي
العربات خرز
و السكة خيط طويل
يا رب كم علي أن أسبح
كي اصل اليها
يتقاسمنا المنفى
أنا و أنت
و ما أن ينالنا التعب
نجد العراق عكاز مكسور

The Wall of Terror

"All alone, or in two's,
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down outside the wall.
Some hand in hand
And some gathered together in bands.
The bleeding hearts and artists
Make their stand.
And when they've given you their all
Some stagger and fall, after all it's not easy
Banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall"

*Roger Waters (outside the wall)

Cheer up Iraqis, federalising Baghdad has begun and the plan of “The Great Wall of Terror” is moving on. The Americans say it is only a temporary measure to curb the sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiis. Al-Maliki shyly ordered the work to be halted but as expected, his words were ignored by the Americans as well as Iraqis working with them in the frail Baghdad security plan. But is it really a temporary measure? History has different thing to say. The Berlin Wall stood almost three decades against the will of the German people until its destruction in 1989. The Israeli wall of separation is also there to stay despite local and international condemnation. in our “Brave New World” where values of Globalization, inter-continental giant companies and Capitalism are prevailing and determined to shape our grandchildren’s future, there seems to be a growing fear from outsiders. This fear was the driving force behind the creation of physical barriers and subsequently segregating communities and creating Ghettos. So the “Wall Mania” is thriving and “Concrete industry” is booming. The United States established a long fence separating its borders from Mexico to prevent “Illegal Immigrants” from entering the sacred American soil. Britain launched its E-Boarders scheme; Saudi Arabia is planning to build a wired fence along its boarders with Iraq to prevent terrorists in Iraq from infiltrating its territories. Another plan is going on its southern boarders with Yemen. United Arab Emirates also wants to do the same on its boarders with Oman to tackle illegal workers hoping to reach Dubai for work. The American legacy in Iraq first started with Paul Bremmer when large “concrete masses” were seen gradually increasing on the streets of Baghdad trying to protect American bases and government buildings from suicide bombers. Iraqis call them “Bremmer’s walls”. Now The Great wall of Al-Ahdamiyah. A kind of collective punishment for the people of this old Baghdadi district who will be segregated from their neighbours and their biometric details will be saved on small chipped IDs in order not to be forged (the same procedure used with Asylum Seekers in the West) and used by “insurgents”. On one hand, The American tried to justify their move towards Ahdamiyah people by saying that the aim behind this wall is to prevent Shiaa death squads and Al-Mahdi gangsters from killing and kidnapping Sunnis. On the other, they tell the Shiaa that the main reason is to prevent Sunni insurgents from hiding in Ahdamiyah and taking its houses as a shelter after they carry their attacks against Shias in neighbouring areas. The last thing that Imams Musa Al-Kadhim and Abu Hanifa Al-Nu'man want to see is their followers killing each others under their names. These two Imams were the victims of the same dictatorial “Abbasid” regime. Abu Hanifa paid his life as a price for his support to Mohammed Bin Abdullah (Known as Thu Al-Nafs Al-Zackiya) Bin Al-Hasan Bin Ali Bin Abi Talib, a revolutionary rebel against the Abbasid regime and a descendent of the Prophet’s Family (Ahlu Al-Bayt). For centuries, Tigris River was the only natural barrier separating the spirits of these two great Imams and the domes of their shrines. In 1920 great revolution of Iraq, Shiaa and Sunni delegates in Ahdamiyah and Khadhimya exchanged visits and united against the British occupation. In 1963, Hadi Hashim Al-Ahdamyy, a veteran Iraqi communist found refuge in Al-Khadhimya and remained there for two nights after the bloody coup of February the 8th, fighting the Ba’athists with his followers (most of them were Shiaa communists) until his capture on the 10th of February when he was tortured to death in the notorious Qasr Al-Nihaya. Othman Al-Ahdamyy, the heroic youngster who rescued seven Shiaa pilgrims from drowning after Al-A’ema bridge stampede and then he himself drowned because of exhaustion. These bright spots in the history of relations between Ahdamiyah people and neighbouring areas should be remembered and learned by the Americans and Al-Maliki's government. We must not allow the Americans to turn Sahat Antar and Omar Bin Abdul-Aziz Street and Al-Gre’aat (where one day most Baghdadis ate Samak Maskouf) and other places in Ahdamiyah to be cut off from Baghdad’s Body and isolated from the Baghdadi community and confined in a large prison. The children in the picture above should not face this giant dead-silent concrete wall when they go to school every morning. This wall must be destroyed in order to let these children go to school and to play with fellow children from neighbouring districts and share a dream of one united Iraq for all Iraqis. A dream that their parents wished to fulfil and their current leaders failed to achieve.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Response from Peter Sluglett on"Sectarianism: Our Miserable Reality"

Dear All,

Please find below the response I had received from Mr. Sluglett about my latest post titled "Sectarianism, our miserable reality". Prof Peter Sluglett is the British historian who was debating this sensitive subject with a group of Iraqi "Academics" on other blogsite.

for details about Prof. Peter Sluglett, please click below:

Mr. sluglett's response ( in dark blue and bold letters):

(Recently I have noticed that there is a growing trend by many academics, Arabs as well as Iraqis, journalists and even bloggers interested in Iraqi political history, to paint a rosy picture of Iraq prior to the American invasion in 2003. It was a very good tactic, as on one hand, they denounce the whole political process endorsed by the Americans in Iraq and criticises the failure of subsequent Iraqi governments (which is right as things are moving from bad to worse in Iraq now), But on the other hand, these strategies work intentionally to “polish” Saddam and the Ba’ath dictatorship. In addition and through a process of “desensitization”, these people deny, or at least, try to lessen the impact of Saddam’s regime atrocities by comparing them to what is happening now.
I am well aware of the dangers of that and I don’t think I can be accused of doing so.
For example, when Abdul-Bari Attwan of Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, was asked in an interview about the mass graves and Saddam’s Mukhabarat torture chambers, he purposefully answered the question by a comparison with what the Americans did in Abu Ghraib prison. These attempts are seriously dangerous as conclude that Iraqis do not deserve a decent, peaceful and prosperous life. Furthermore, it states that we always must be ruled by dictators otherwise we will end up with what we currently have under the American occupation. This is a variant of the strong man theory beloved by, among others, the absurd Majid Khadduri This issue is very complicated and has many aspects that needs to be addressed and discussed thoroughly but I am trying to highlight one fundamental problem that dominated the modern Iraq History: Sectarianism. If you regularly follow popular Iraqi blogs (some are listed on my blog site) and the way they handle the “Sectarianism” issue in Iraqi society, you can admit that most of them try to persuade us that Sectarianism was not known to Iraqis until the Americans invaded Iraq. Ma kan farq baynana etc So it was a post 2003 phenomenon. Obviously nonsense.
Moreover, they insist that previous regimes that ruled Iraq from 1921 to 2003 was not sectarian-built and the Shia of Iraq in particular, were well represented in all parts of the government. Neither of these two things is correct, but it is much more nuanced.
Look at the following excerpts: “The reality is, back then, the British did not use the divide and rule among the Moslem population so you never new who was a Shia and who was a Sunni” Nonsense again “Iraqis at the time and later never considered themselves as Sunni or Shia but as Muslims. That was the reality” Also rubbish “We, Iraqis, do not identify ourselves as Sunnis and Shias, not even as Moslems or Christians, not before the occupation anyway. When asked about our identity we would say: Iraqis. The 1970 Iraqi Constitution, which is still valid, as we do not recognize a constitution written by the occupier, states that Iraq consists of two main ethnic groups: Arabs and Kurds, in addition to Turkmen and other groups. We do not consider a sect or a religion is an identity” Again this is an invention “The Iraqi non-sectarian approach to Iran and Da'wa party and other similar parties was obvious from the fact that most of the Iraqi troops which fought Iran during the 8 years war, were Shias defending "not their faith" but their own country against Iran” There is a certain amount of truth in this “The intifada which took part in the south during the crisis of the Kuwait war and after the withdrawal of the Iraqi army, while the state was at its weakest, was run by the Iranian guards and militias, the same which are conducting now the crimes of mass kidnapping, torturing, and killing.” This reflects an anti-Iranian bias which both does and does not have substance. “All what we hear now is how the Shiites were excluded from the government jobs and the high ranks in the baath party and the Iraqi cabinets under the rule of baath party. We don’t hear about how the Sunnis suffered too, and the Turkumans and the Kurds and everyone”. Again, sentence 1 is fairly accurate and sentence 2 we tried to address in Iraq since 1958 .. The above were extracts from correspondences by Iraqi academics (and one from another popular Iraqi blog) debating the issue of sectarianism with a British historian dealing specifically with modern Iraqi history since the 70s. It is obvious that they deny any sectarian elements in our history especially when it comes to the sensitive issue of Shia and Sunnis. The point is, not to deny sectarianism, but to look and see how it actually functioned. Iraq 1920-6t3 for instance wasn’t Northern Ireland where the largest political fact was the Catholic/Protestant split. Now, let’s look at facts and stop hiding things under the carpet. We have to admit that sectarianism is deeply embedded in our society since the Othoman-Safavid wars era. It was intensified with the creation of modern Iraq in 1921 and it was the ONLY stable Iraqi political phenomenon that successive regimes, including the current government (except Abdul Kareem Qassim’s’ regime) agreed upon. BUT it was a political sectarianism manipulated by the state against its citizens and not obviously apparent (although present) on grass root levels. Again even this seems a bit strong because for most of the time it was a government run by Sunnis rather than a Sunni government.
Covering the aspects of this issue from 1921 until now needs books to be written rather than a blog. Exactly; it also benefits from comparison with Bosnia, Lebanon etc.)

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Sectarianism, our miserable reality

Recently I have noticed that there is a growing trend by many academics, Arabs as well as Iraqis, journalists and even bloggers interested in Iraqi political history, to paint a rosy picture of Iraq prior to the American invasion in 2003. It was a very good tactic, as on one hand, they denounce the whole political process endorsed by the Americans in Iraq and criticises the failure of subsequent Iraqi governments (which is right as things are moving from bad to worse in Iraq now), But on the other hand, these strategies work intentionally to “polish” Saddam and the Ba’ath dictatorship. In addition and through a process of “desensitization”, these people deny, or at least, try to lessen the impact of Saddam’s regime atrocities by comparing them to what is happening now. For example, when Abdul-Bari Attwan of Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, was asked in an interview about the mass graves and Saddam’s Mukhabarat torture chambers, he purposefully answered the question by a comparison with what the Americans did in Abu Ghraib prison. These attempts are seriously dangerous as conclude that Iraqis do not deserve a decent, peaceful and prosperous life. Furthermore, it states that we always must be ruled by dictators otherwise we will end up with what we currently have under the American occupation. This issue is very complicated and has many aspects that needs to be addressed and discussed thoroughly but I am trying to highlight one fundamental problem that dominated the modern Iraq History: Sectarianism.
If you regularly follow popular Iraqi blogs (some are listed on my blog site) and the way they handle the “Sectarianism” issue in Iraqi society, you can admit that most of them try to persuade us that Sectarianism was not known to Iraqis until the Americans invaded Iraq. So it was a post 2003 phenomenon. Moreover, they insist that previous regimes that ruled Iraq from 1921 to 2003 was not sectarian-built and the Shia of Iraq in particular, were well represented in all parts of the government. Look at the following excerpts:

“The reality is, back then, the British did not use the divide and rule among the Moslem population so you never new who was a Shia and who was a Sunni”

“Iraqis at the time and later never considered themselves as Sunni or Shia but as Muslims. That was the reality”

“We, Iraqis, do not identify ourselves as Sunnis and Shias, not even as Moslems or Christians, not before the occupation anyway. When asked about our identity we would say: Iraqis. The 1970 Iraqi Constitution, which is still valid, as we do not recognize a constitution written by the occupier, states that Iraq consists of two main ethnic groups: Arabs and Kurds, in addition to Turkmen and other groups. We do not consider a sect or a religion is an identity”

“The Iraqi non-sectarian approach to Iran and Da'wa party and other similar parties was obvious from the fact that most of the Iraqi troops which fought Iran during the 8 years war, were Shias defending "not their faith" but their own country against Iran”

“The intifada which took part in the south during the crisis of the Kuwait war and after the withdrawal of the Iraqi army, while the state was at its weakest, was run by the Iranian guards and militias, the same which are conducting now the crimes of mass kidnapping, torturing, and killing.”

“All what we hear now is how the Shiites were excluded from the government jobs and the high ranks in the baath party and the Iraqi cabinets under the rule of baath party. We don’t hear about how the Sunnis suffered too, and the Turkumans and the Kurds and everyone”.

The above were extracts from correspondences by Iraqi academics (and one from another popular Iraqi blog) debating the issue of sectarianism with a British historian dealing specifically with modern Iraqi history since the 70s. It is obvious that they deny any sectarian elements in our history especially when it comes to the sensitive issue of Shia and Sunnis.

Now, let’s look at facts and stop hiding things under the carpet. We have to admit that sectarianism is deeply embedded in our society since the Othoman-Safavid wars era. It was intensified with the creation of modern Iraq in 1921 and it was the ONLY stable Iraqi political phenomenon that successive regimes, including the current government (except Abdul Kareem Qassim’s’ regime) agreed upon. BUT it was a political sectarianism manipulated by the state against its citizens and not obviously apparent (although present) on grass root levels. Covering the aspects of this issue from 1921 until now needs books to be written rather than a blog. However, there is a document dated 28th October 1965 proves that Sectarianism was a major issue for most Iraqis especially the Shias even before the Baath came to power in 1968.
The document was a letter written by the prominent Shia figure Mohammed Ridha Al-Shabibi to the Prime Minister Abdul-Rahman Al-Bazzaz, expressing his concerns about many problems looming in the political atmosphere at that time. Below is the complete text of the letter in Arabic:

تحية طيبة.. وبعد، يسعدني أن أشير إلى محادثتنا التلفونية الموجزة غداة اضطلاعكم بأعباء المسؤولية وما تضمنته من التمنيات الطيبة لكم بالتوفيق، ويطيب لي كذلك أن اعزز ذلك الحديث بهذه المذكرة الموضحة لطائفة من القضايا والمشكلات الخطيرة التي تواجهها البلاد راجين ان يحالفكم التوفيق في درسها فقرة فقرة، تمهيداً للأخذ بمضامينها قدر الامكان، ومما شجع على تقديم هذه المذكرة في هذا الظرف بالذات ان رئاسة الحكومة يشغلها احد رجال القانون وتلك الخطوة حسنة، واحسن منها ان يكون المسؤول ذا سند شعبي متين وهو امر يساورنا الشك فيه الان.كان الشعور الوطني في العراق يتجلى بالغيرة الوطنية والحب العميق لأرض الاباء والاجداد وكان هذا الشعور الحافز الاول لصيانة وحدة البلاد، ولكن الاحداث والكوارث التي حلت بها نتيجة تصارع الاراء وتضارب الاهواء وتشجيع التفرقة عصفت بهذا الشعور النبيل واقصته الى ابعاد واعماق سحيقة، يخشى ان تتيح للاجنبي المتربص الفرصة للنيل من وحدتنا الوطنية المقدسة، ولم يعد خافياً على احد ان البلاد العراقية تجتازفي ظروفها الحالية مرحلة لا تحسد عليها من مراحل حياتها، وكيف تحسد على مراحل موسومة بكثرة مخاوفها ومشكلاتها، وما يتخللها من شكوك واحتمالات. وقد تسنى لي اخيراً ان اتصل بجمهرة من ابناء البلاد، وان المس مواقع الالم منهم والاحساس بما يخالجهم من سخط وتذمر، وفي وسعي بل ارى ان من واجبي ان اسجل ملخصاً مظاهر ذلك في الفقرات التالية:1- جاء على لسان السيد رئيس الوزراء في مؤتمره الصحفي قوله (ان الحكومة عازمة على اعادة الحياة الدستورية للبلاد واجراء انتخابات حرة وبهذا كما لا يخفى ستنتهي الفترة الانتقالية وتستقر الاوضاع في البلاد ويتمكن الشعب من ممارسة حقه القانوني في انتخاب من يراه صالحاً لادارة البلاد وتحمل مسؤولياتها الجسام).واننا نؤكد على ضرورة القيام عاجلاً بوضع اسس قانون الانتخابات العامة وعرضها على الشعب ليبين رأيه فيها حتى تتم الانتخابات المباشرة خلال فترتها المحددة في الدستور المؤقت، على ان يجري ذلك بإشراف سلطة معروفة بالحياد والاستقامة سلطة تضمن للجمهور حرية الصحافة والرأي والتعبير.2- تناول السيد رئيس الوزراء في مؤتمره الصحفي موضوع الوحدة العربية والاتحاد واجاب عن التساؤلات الكثيرة التي اثيرت حول تصريحاته. وفي رأينا انه مهما كانت اتجاهاتنا السياسية والاجتماعية في القضايا العربية، فان الوحدة الجغرافية ووحدة التاريخ والمصير قادرة في اي وقت على ان تخلق بيننا وحدة عمل، نواجه بها التحديات والمخاطر، ان الوحدة العربية في رأينا هدف يتم باستفتاء الشعب عليه، وان التضامن العربي وسيلة لحمايته.3- ما انفك حكم العراق في عصرنا هذا بالذات مشرباً بالاهواء والاغراض وان كانت تلك الاغراض مقنعة او مغلفة بالفاظ خلابة. ولم يكن الطعن في الحكم المذكور سهلاً، لأنه في ظاهره مستمد من مبادئ بنيت عليها القوانين المرعبة وقد اعتبرت الطائفية بموجب هذه القوانين جريمة تعاقب عليها.. ولكن العبرة ليست بالالفاظ المجردة والتشريعات المقنعة.. بل بالتطبيق السليم والادراك الصائب لروح تلك القوانين، ولم تكن التفرقة الطائفية مشكلة سافرة من مشاكل الحكم كما هي اليوم، ولم تكن مصدراً باعثاً على القلق المستحوذ على الشعب طالما استنكرت التفرقة وكافحتها وطالبت بالاقلاع عن هذا الاسلوب الممقوت، وطالما تنادى المخلصون باتباع نهج اخر تراعى فيه المساواة المطلقة التي اكدت عليها الشرائع السماوية والقوانين الوضعية.
الانتقاص من سياسة التفرقةومن الواضح ان الشعب العراقي انتفض اكثر من مرة على سياسة التفرقة النكراء، وعمل منذ ثورته الاولى عام 1920 على اقامة حكم وطني ديمقراطي يسهم باقامته وينعم في خيراته ابناء الشعب كافة لا يفرقهم عنصر او دين او مذهب.. وقد بارك الشعب ثورة الرابع عشر من تموز وعلق عليها امالاً كبيرة وتوقع المخلصون ان تستأصل جذور النعرات المفرقة باستئصال قواعد الاستعمار وركائزه. غير ان الاحداث الاخيرة برهنت مع بالغ الاسف على انبعاث روح التفرقة بشكل اشد واعنف من ذي قبل بكثير.ولا نذيع سراً اذا قلنا ان كثرة الشعب ساخطة جداً من جراء ذلك، وانها تعتبر كرامتها مهانة وحقوقها مهضومة، ولاسيما وقد وافق ذلك سوء اختيار بعض من يمثلونها في جهاز الحكم. واذا كان من الممكن ان تغض هذه الكثرة الشعبية نظرها عن بعض حقوقها في وظائف الدولة، وترك شبابها المثقف من حملة الشهادات العالية وغيرهم دون عمل، اذا كان من الممكن ايضاً ان تغض هذه الكثرة النظر عن التقصير المتعمد في انعاش مرافقها الثقافية والاقتصادية والاجتماعية، واذا كان من الجائز ان تغض نظرها عن مواقفها المشرفة في الجهاد والتضحية، فانه لا يسعها غض النظر عن التعريض بعروبتها واصالتها وكرامتها واخلاصها للوطن وللدولة التي اقامتها على جماجم شهدائها الابرار بذلك التعريض المثير الذي يلوح به بعض المسؤولين والصحف الاجيرة.هذا ومادامت الحكومة السابقة قد اعلنت عن التزامها الصراحة في القول وتصحيح الاوضاع المنحرفة، بادرنا تذكيرها بهذه الحقيقة، اذ ليست الدولة واجهزتها ووظائفها ومجالات العمل فيها وقفاً على طائفة دون اخرى انما توزع واجباتها حسب الكفاية، ولعل نظرة فاحصة الى الدواوين الكبيرة في الدولة ومن يشغلها تكفي دلالة على سياسة محاباة، خصوصاً وان كثيراً من المقربين محرومون غالباً من المؤهلات والكفايات والاخلاص.4- لاشك ان صيانة الوحدة الوطنية وحقن الدماء واعادة الطمأنينة والسلام الى ربوعنا في الشمال العزيز يتطلب منا درساً دقيقاً للقضية الكردية التي طال عليها الامد، ولما كان العرب والاكراد شركاء في هذا الوطن يتقاسمون غرمه وغنمه، فاننا نرى ان لاخواننا الاكراد حقاً في التمتع بحقوقهم المشروعة، وذلك عملاً بالادارة اللامركزية ضمن الوحدة العراقية، هذا الاساس الذي تقضي ضرورة الاخذ به اسلوباً للحكم في العراق من الناحية الادارية.5- تعرضت النقابات في العراق لمختلف اوجه الضغط السياسي الامر الذي حرفها عن خدمة منتسبيها في حدود صلاحياتها واغراضها المهنية. كما تحملت الفئات العاملة تبعات ذلك ففصل وسجن كثير منهم وحرمت عوائلهم من مصادر عيشها. لذلك وجب على الحكومة ان تعيد النظر في احكام قانون العمل، آخذة بنظر الاعتبار التي ظهرت لدى تطبيق القانون المذكور، وان تفسح المجال لقيام نقابات مهنية تراعي مصالح المنتسبين اليها رعاية حقة.6- لا نريد الدخول في جدل عن الاشتراكية من حيث كونها صالحة او غير صالحة للعراق، ولكننا نكتفي بالرجوع الى حقائق الاشياء، وبما حصل فعلاً من نتائج ليصدر الحكم مبنياً على الواقع دون الخيال، فعند تطبيق القرارات الاشتراكية في 14 تموز 1964 نلاحظ ان اوضاع العراق المالية والاقتصادية تزداد تخبطاً وارتباكاً، زيادة في البطالة وقلة في الانتج وتبذيراً في اموال الدولة وتهريباً لرؤوس الاموال الوطنية وعجزاً في الموازنة.لقد اشار السيد رئيس الوزراء الى طبيعة هذه الاشتراكية بقوله في مؤتمره الصحفي (ان هذه الاشتراكية لم تغير في الوضع الاقتصادي والاجتماعي في البلاد بقدر ما تحسنت احوال طبقة من الموظفين والمنتفعين على حساب الاخرين.اننا نؤمن بالديمقراطية الاقتصادية هي النظام الذي يلائم ظروفنا وحاجاتنا، واننا نؤمن بالعدالة الاجتماعية ونعتبر الفروق الاقتصادية البعدية في مجتمعنا خرقاً لقواعد هذه العدالة، فلهذا يمكن العمل على تقليل هذه الفروق عن طريق توزيع الضرائب وزيادة مكاسب الطبقة العاملة، ووضع خطة شاملة للتنمية الاقتصادية وزيادة الدخل العام.اننا نطالب الحكومة بتدارك ما أدت اليه تلك السياسة المرتجلة من بطالة وذلك بايجاد عمل للعاملين يكفل لهم مستوى من المعيشة يتلائم وكرامة الانسان. كما نطلب اعادة النظر في الاوضاع الاقتصادية مع تعيين مجالات القطاع العام والقطاع الخاص لكي ينصرف المواطنون الى مزاولة اعمالهم بحرية تامة واطمئان كامل.
القطاع الزراعيان القطاع الزراعي في العراق يمثل مصدراً اساسياً من مصادر الثروة العامة، ولقد ظهرت في قانون الاصلاح الزراعي اخطاء ادت الى تخلف الزراعة، لهذا نطلب اعادة النظر في اسس القانون المذكور وذلك في ضوء الاخطاء التي ظهرت في مرحلة التطبيق وندعو للعمل على تطوير شؤون الزراعة وحماية الانتاج وتحديد واجبات الزراع والعمل على تعويض المستوى على اراضيهم ومنهم اصحاب حق اللزمة، اذ اننا لا نقر مبدأ المصادرة مطلقاً.ونطالب بإعادة النظر في موضوع الضرائب خاصة ضريبة الدخل وضريبة الشركات والتعديلات التي جرت عليها اخيراً ونحث على دراسة علمية مبنية على التجارب التي مرت بها تلك القوانين لدى التطبيق ونطالب ابعادة النظر في القوانين الاخرى التي شرعت في ظروف مستعجلة فجاءت مخالفة لاحكام شريعتنا الاسلامية وغير ملاءمة لأوضاعنا وتقالدينا الاجتماعية ان الشريعة الاسلامية هي الاساس الراسخ الذي يقوم التشريع عليه وان اي قانون او انظام يتعارض معها يعتبر تحدياً لشعور الامة وعقيدتها الراسخة.7- لاتزال مفاوضات النفط بين الحكومة العراقية والشركات العاملة في العراق طي الكتمان ولم تعرف تفاصيلها بعد.ومع تقديرنا للجهود التي تبذل لاستخلاص حقوق العراق من الشركات الاجنبية، الا اننا نرى في القانون رقم 80 سنة 1963 وشركة النفط الوطنية مكسباً وطنياً يلزم الحفاظ عليه. لذلك نهيب بالسلطة ان تعرض نتيجة المفاوضات قبل الالتزام بها على ممثلي الشعب حيث تعود الحياة الدستورية الى البلاد ليقول الشعب كلمته فيها.8- كان الهدف الاساسي من تكوين الاتحاد الاشتراكي العربي في العراق ان يضم منتسبي النقابات ومختلف الفئات العاملة، غير ان هذه المنظمة لم يحالفها التوفيق على الرغم من اسناد السلطة لها مادياً ومعنوياً، ذلك لان الاهواء تنازعتها منذ البداية، يضاف الى ذلك انها قامت على مبدأ احتكار العمل السياسي وفكرة الحزب الواحد ولا نقر ذلك منهجاً للحكم في البلاد، ولهذا نطالب بأن تبادر الحكومة الى تعديل القانون الذي قامت بموجبه هذه المنظمة لتتمكن الفئات التي تستمد اراءها من صميم هذا البلد من ممارسة نشاطها السياسي.هذا ووفاء لأمتنا وقياماً بالواجب المفروض علينا وابراء لذمتنا بادرنا الى بيان اهم مشاكل الساعة التي تخالج افكار الجمهور مؤملين ان تعنوا بدراستها وبذلك الجهود في سبيل الوصول الى الحلول السليمة للمشاكل المذكورة كافة، وختاماً نبتهل الى الله العلي القدير ان يسدد خطانا جميعاً انه ولي التوفيق
.محمد رضا الشبيبي

As you can see, the letter is very detailed and discussed various important and sensitive problems which if you look at them even now, forty two years later, many of them are still lingering and unresolved. However; I underlined the points related to the issue of sectarianism as it is our main subject.
1. In the first highlighted sentence, Al-Shabibi clearly stated, contrary to the excerpts mentioned above, that sectarianism is a very obvious political problem at that time more than ever and it is a source of serious concerns to the majority of the people of Iraq. Whether you agree with him or not, this will not change the fact that this issue was a major concern at least for him.
2. In the second highlighted paragraph, he highlighted in details the grievances of the Shiaa population in Iraq (he did not mention the word “Shiaa” in his letter but you can simply realise that he was expressing their worries):
1.He pointed that the majority of the people were already very annoyed and angry because their rights were not preserved and they were “misrepresented” in the government.
2. leaving many of its highly educated young people unemployed, and
3. intentional neglect and underinvestment in its various cultural, economic and social establishments, and
4. Forgetting and ignoring its patriotic role in Iraqi history.
If these grievances were to be tolerated, Al-Shabibi then mentioned that the Shiaa of Iraq can not accept the accusations by some people in “responsible” positions and some newspaper of putting our “U’ruba” (Arabic origins and identity) and OUR LOYALTY TO OUR HOMELAND AND THE STATE under suspicion (this sentence verify that he was addressing the Shiaa of Iraq because Iraqi Sunni Arabs were never accused about their identity or considered as “of suspicious non-Arabic origins”).

Does this letter leave any doubts that “sectarianism” was an adopted policy by the Iraqi government at that time? Can we deny that the Sunni Arabs now are facing nearly the same problems that their Shiaa counterparts suffered from in the last decades? And if you look at the other issues highlighted in this letter, don’t you find them more or less similar to the highly controversial points in the new Iraqi constitution which gave an idea about how different sects in our society are deeply divided? And finally don’t you think that we desperately need someone like Abdul Kareem Qassim to teach those who are in the government how to build bridges between different Iraqis irrespective of their sects, religion or ethnicity? We have to stop lying on ourselves and face our miserable reality.
* details about Mohamed Ridha Al-Shabibi can be found on this website:

Friday, 13 April 2007

Our Biggest "April Lie"

When we were kids there was a common tradition in Iraq known as “Kithbat Neesan” or (April’s Lie). In the first few days of April we used to be cautious from believing any surprising or unusual news from friends as we were afraid of being dragged into and caught by “April’s lie” mockery. It was seen within the context of our innocent childhood with no intention to cause any harm but I do not know why we were celebrating lying on each other. In addition, I got no clue where this myth of “April’s Lie” came from and whether other nations have the same tradition of lying and cheating in April every year.
May be for that reason I have not posted anything on the blog for the past ten days, fearing that nobody will believe a word I have written. I left many drafts unfinished and waiting hopefully to be completed and published on the site. No, I am just joking. the main reason behind my hesitation was the rapid developments on the Iraqi scene over the two weeks. These developments proved that “April’s Lie” is not only limited to Iraqi kids but shared by adults and particularly those in the Iraqi government and parliament with their American allies.
April is not like other months in Iraqi history. It is very important for the current government as well as the old regime. Look at the following dates and you will realise the significance of this month. It is already packed with many anniversaries:
1. On the 7th of this month the Ba’ath Party celebrated its sixtieth birthday anniversary.
2. On 17/04/1988, we liberated Al-Faw peninsula from the “Persian Occupation”
3. On 28/04/1937, Saddam Hussein was born.
And there are anther two but not very well famous celebrations:
Baghdad’s day is on the 21st of this month and for those who graduated from Al-Mustansiriyah University in Baghdad, the 2nd of April is its day.

And if April was a very important month for Saddam and Ba’athists, it was much more significant for our “new Ba’athists”. Four years ago at this time we celebrated the toppling of the statue of Saddam but later on many Iraqis regrettably were disappointed with what the Americans have brought. The 9th of April is a public holiday since 2003, so another anniversary was added to the already stretched April’s list. However; this does not stop Al-Maliki from “inserting” another celebration. this time is to commemorate “the martyrdom of Mohamed Baqir Al-Sadr and his sister Bint Al-Huda”. In situations like this one, ordinary Iraqis use to say “Kim’let Al-Sib'ha Ou Chanet Bess Ay'zeh Shahool”* (the string of beads now has been completed and it was only lacking the “Shahool”). It is clearly obvious that Al-Maliki’s move was taken to please Muqtada Al-Sadr and his followers who constitute the only mass currently backing the prime minister.

Going back to “April’s lie” tradition and by looking at the above mentioned dates, most of these holidays lack the insight into the present or the future and almost completely indulge themselves in the past. The Ba’ath party is currently banned in Iraq and its ideas of Unity of Arab countries, Freedom of its people and Socialism proved to be the biggest April’s Lie that had never been fulfilled in its 60 year history. About Al-Faw, It was estimated that approximately 50000 Iraqi soldiers were killed and lost in fierce battles in 1986 for the sake of this piece of deserted land while at the same time Saddam rewarded many of Iraqi neighbouring countries with possession of Iraqi soil (the boarders’ settlement with Saudi Arabia). In mid nineties when Iraqis became accustomed to eating animal diet, Iraqi TV channels used to broadcast footages showing the President “The Necessity”, cutting a 4x3 meters cake on his birthday anniversary. In fact we were witnessing and celebrating our humiliating demise. But do things changed with the liberation/occupation of Iraq in 2003. Four years of continuous onslaught and the Iraqi government and the Americans are still coming with “April Lies” convincingly trying to make us believe them. The appointment of Ryan Crocker as the new American ambassador for Iraq replacing Khalil Zad was portrayed by the media as the magical solution for the complicated Iraqi situation whereas in fact Crocker was nothing but like “a Bedouin in a Baghdadi mosque”. With violence erupted in Diywania, curfews imposed in Baghdad and Diywania, destruction of the Sarrafiyah Bridge and the suicide bombing inside the Parliament, the Baghdad security plan seems to be on the verge of collapse and Al-Maliki’s response was only to distract people from thinking about their miseries and keep their attention focussed on past grievances. The absence of a clear prospect for the present and the future drives him and the Americans behind him to glorify events of the past. One American Lieutenant was asked about the tens-of-thousands rally in protest against the occupation few days ago, he exactly did the same thing as Al-Maliki and said “this kind of protest was not allowed for Iraqis before 2003, but now they are free to protest and express their opinions”. Most Arabic regimes and movements, particularly in Iraq, are obsessed by the idea of re-introducing past events and gain from their reflections on the present or the future. Moreover, we always tend to refer to “them” as being an obstacle preventing us from moving forward to achieve a decent and prosperous future. But in fact it is “us” who do not have any clear vision or an ideal framework to work within to achieve our aims. It is “we” who are empty. And if we ask ourselves who is “them”, the answer will be a very long list of enemies like Imperialism, The West, The Zionists…etc. the Iran-Iraq war was simply between two rogue regimes but it has been re-introduced by Saddam as a threat to our “precious” Nationalistic Arab ideals and it has been portrayed as being a war between Persians and Arabs and the diversion to the past was obvious when he decided to name that war “Qadissiyat Saddam”. Khomeini did the same but in a slightly different way. As a religious Shia’ cleric he exploited the concept of Al-Hussain Martyrdom to serve his goals and the Iranian media always referred to Saddam as being “Yazeed” and the Ba’ath regime as “Banu Ummayah”. Likewise, Al-Maliki and the Americans try to hide behind a shield of the past in attempt to free themselves from the responsibility of the current plight of Iraqi people and always try to accuse Saddam and his supporters as the main causes of our crisis. If Saddam himself was executed, what is the point of celebrating the martyrdom of Mohammed Baqir Al-Sadder? He is not the only religious cleric, whether Shia or Sunni, to be tortured and eliminated by Saddam’s brutal regime and also he is not the only Iraqi who was executed by Ba’athists. For how long we are going to gulp our past to escape a confrontation with future challenges and for how long we are going to cope with our government’s lies. It seems to that we are living our ever biggest April’s lie.

* this aphorism is usually mentioned when someone has many complicated problems, very difficult to be solved and waiting eagerly for a glimpse of hope that everything will be fine one day but instead, another miserable thing happens and adds to his ongoing despair. “Shahool” is a big and almost flat bead. Two of them are added to each string of beads to divide it into three equal parts.

Saturday, 31 March 2007

Urgent Appeal to help Hussein Al-Shuwali

Dear All,

Urgent appeal to help an Iraqi child diagnosed recently with Acute Leukemia. there is no available treatment in Iraq now for his condition. if you think that you can help Hussein to receive treatment outside Iraq, please send email to Dr. Basil Al-Shihabi

* below is the original email sent by Hussein's father to Dr. Shihabi.

Dear Colleagues

Below an urgent appeal for help for this child with leukaemia. Can any colleague particularly Paediatricians help this child in any way please? God bless you and Iraqi people.

best wishes

Basim Al-Shihabi

----- Original Message -----
From: ali wadi
Sent: Friday, March 30, 2007 7:42 PM
Subject: اعلام
الأخ العزيز الدكتور باسم الشهابي ........السلام عليكم
انا أخوك أحمد الشويلي فأنا بأمس الحاجة الى استشارتك بشأن علاج ولدي الأكبر (حسين)الذي أصيب بمرض سرطان الدم(اللوكيميا)وهو راقد حاليا في مدينة الطب وقد شخصت الدكتورة سلمى الحداد نوع المرض( Acute promyelocytic leukemia AML-M3v)
وكما تعلم فان هذا المرض من الصعب علاجه في العراق لذا ألتمس مساعدتكم الكريمة في أرشادي الى اي منظمة او جمعية انسانية يمكن ان تتكفل بعلاجه خارج العراق او اي طريقة أخرى يمكن ان تمنح ولدي أملا في الشفاء.سائلا المولى جل شأنه أن لايريك مكروها في عزيز والسلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته.Ali Al-Shuwali

Friday, 30 March 2007

Al-Maliki's Response to Tal Afar Carnage

The only response from the Iraqi government about the vicious circle of unrestrained sectarian retribution-killing in Tal Afar and Baghdad in the last two days came from the PM office. Al-Maliki’s reaction to the “events” of Tal Afar was to form a “committee to investigate” the allegations into off-duty policemen involvement in the revenge-killing of more than 60 Sunnis in that town, whereas his reaction to the massacre in Baghdad and Al-Khalis was “we condemn” and “pledge to eliminate Al-Qaeda members”.

Forming committees, condemnation and pleas to “wipe” Al-Qaeda are not something new to successive Iraqi Governments since April 2003. Al-Ja’affary was obsessed by forming investigating teams and opening inquiries. We all remember the tragic death of more than one thousand innocent Iraqis in Al-A’ema Bridge stampede nearly two years ago as well as the mass kidnapping of employees and visitors of the ministry of Higher Education by armed militias, linked to Al-Sadr, when they stormed the ministry at midday one year ago. Inquiries and investigations were launched but we do not know the results of these investigations and who was held accountable. It was merely a “fiasco” and exactly the same will happen again with the latest incidents. Members of Tal Afar’s police force, together with Shiaa militia men and Shiaa relatives of those died in the suicide bomb in Al-Wihda district one day before the retaliation, stormed a Sunni neighbourhood area and dragged the men out of their homes and shot them in the streets. This “mini” civil war in Tal Afar was to some extent similar to the events happened in Mosul in March 1959 after the failed coup attempt by Abdul-Wahab Al-Shawaf to topple Qassim’s regime. In both cases, the army intervened to stop the bloodshed and yesterday I read that 18 police men were detained in connection to the revenge-killing but few hours later one army spokesman said that the policemen were temporarily released because of the “severe mental and psychological pressure” and also to let them “attend the funerals of their Shiaa relatives” who died in the suicide car bomb a day earlier. This biased response from the Iraqi army and the Government will only add more fuel to the fire, especially if we know that the army units invited to calm the situation were mainly composed of Kurdish ex-Peshmerga fighters and under Kurdish control.

The most probable outcome of the investigations would be either “no result” until we forget what’s happened, as we already did with the results of the previous inquiries, or few policemen would be made “scapegoats”. However, there is another possibility that these policemen would be considered not guilty and may be awarded by the PM for their “patriotic” behaviours as exactly as what’s happened with “Sabrine Rape case”.

The reactions of the Shia-dominated government to the latest events helped the cause of Sunni extremists to wage a fully blown civil war in Iraq. The way in which Al-Maliki dealt with Saddam’s execution, the rape of Sabrine and now the Tal Afar carnage only proves that this government is unable to lead the country out of its disastrous situation. They keep intentionally repeating the same mistakes just to satisfy their sectarian narrow-minded view about Iraqi future. Their mentality is still haunted by the “oppression of Shiaa” images of the past. This mentality is not the way to build a new democratic Iraq. instead, it will only marginalise the Iraqi Sunnis, isolate the Iraqi Shiaa from the surrounding Arabic and the wider Muslim world and pushing it further towards Iran which is expert in using the Shiaa of the Arab world to achieve its dreams of dominating the region. Dismantling of the United Shiaa Alliance and subsequently the sectarian—constructed government and the intervention of the international community through the UN is the only option to limit the political and ideological platforms available for the Sunni extremists to exploit, end the American occupation and most importantly build a free democratic Iraq for all Iraqis.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

No Childhood's End

"You, the child that once loved
The child before they broke his heart Our heart,
the heart that I believed was lost
So it's me I see, I can do anything.
I'm still the child 'Cos the only thing misplaced was direction
And I found direction
There is no childhood's end
I am your childhood friend, lead me on "
It was a sunny and warm day and nothing was better than going to the gym to get rid of my reluctant-to-disappear “Kirish”. I was there around lunch time. I plugged the headphones to my Ipod and went on the treadmill machine located before the big window through which you can see the neighbouring primary school courtyard. I timed my machine at 30 minutes and 8.5 km/hour speed in order to burn approximately 500 calories. As I began to heat up, I was looking through the window to the children playing in the courtyard. Most of them aged between 8 and 12. The courtyard itself was divided into three big squares and in each square there was a group of children: one was playing football, another one playing volleyball and the third, which drew my attention as they were the closest to the window, was playing rugby. Eights kids in each group, the match started between the two teams, the girls and the boys. You can tell both teams were multiracial, as you can see blonde, dark skinned and blacks among the players. White Caucasian, Asian, Far East, Afro Caribbean and others. One of the girls was Muslim as she was wearing “Hijab”. Both teams were keen to win and they were doing their best achieve their aim. As the match went on, I was sweaty and breathless with only 10 minutes passed since I began. These scenes of innocent childhood took me thirty years back when I was in Al-Rasheed primary school in Baghdad. In each corner of that school I left memories. I still remember the classes, the small canteen “Hanoot”, the library and the courtyard. We used to play football a lot but not with girls. They had their own games which we rarely play, especially “Tooky”. And I do not remember the girls playing football in my school. However; we used to play together “Shurta WA Haramiyah” (“Police and thieves” which is the equivalent of “Hide and seek”). We were not very well connected to the girls in our school. It seemed to me now that we shared the same physical space (the school) but were separate otherwise. I do not remember our teachers encouraging us to engage with each others. We must not cross the line with the girls that was the message from the family, the school and the society at large.

The world was changing around us but we were busy with our games and our pure innocent dreams. I discovered later that these six years of my primary school were unstable ones, for my family at least. Saddam came to power when I was in the third class. My aunt who was living with us began wearing Hijab. She was considerably influenced by the success of the Iranian revolution of 1979. and from a young woman wearing bell-bottomed jeans trousers and mini skirts, reading romantic novels in English and listening to The Beegees, Abba, The Beatles and pictures of the Italian actor Franco Niro and Marlon Brando pinned to the wall beside her bed, she started praying regularly, reading the Qur’an and “Mafateeh Al-Jinan” (Keys of Heavens), going regularly to Khadhimya, Najaf and Karbala and talking about Al-Sadr and Bint Al-Huda. My uncle who also lives with us decided to leave Iraq with his wife and headed to the not very well known Dubai at that time in late 70s. My father left his work in the government and established his private business because he was not able to cope with pressures exerted by Ba’athists on him to join the Ba’ath Party or the Popular Army “Jaish Al-Sha’aby”. The war with Iran started when I was in the fourth class and the small park near our school turned into a concrete-built shelter. I was feeling that something is going on around me but who cares as long as I can play football and read “Grindisers”, “Sindibad” and “Bisat Al-Reeh” comics with my friends N (our neighbour, originally from Mosul) and S (our neighbour as well, a native Baghdadi) and get my daily 200 “fillis” from my dad to secure my supply of crisps, biscuits (Bisculatta Brand) and a bottle of Pepsi as cans were not yet introduced to Iraqis.

We grew up and finished our education and everyone chose his path in this life and most of us joined the very long and never-ending list of Iraqi Diaspora all over the world.

I looked again at the “Kirish-reducing machine” and it is just five minutes left to end. I was drenched in sweat and breathless. The rugby match ended, the boys won and players of both teams hugged each other and sat under the shade of the big tree on the right side of the yard talking and laughing with each other and with their young teacher. I wished if I can free myself from the chains of my daily concerns: work, bills, rent, future career, IRAQ, my family and the people there, wished to leave all this behind and share few moments with these kids. The machine stopped but my “Kirish” was still there as well as the images of childhood reluctant to go. I realised how much we had missed in our childhood and how many spaces we were eager to explore, left untouched because of the fears of breaking the social traditions that our families and teachers imposed on us. But the picture was never gloomy, especially if you compare it with the current onslaught in Iraq. My concerns right now are not about the school education in Iraq, as more than 60% of Iraqi children not going to schools and the remainder not doing so regularly because of the widespread violence and fears of kidnapping. It is mainly about the games they play now. Playing football is almost a forgotten luxury. New games were invented to reflect the dreadful situation Iraqis face now. The Guardian Newspaper published an article two months by its correspondent in Iraq who described a new game popular among Iraqi children. They divide themselves into two groups, the first group act as they were driving a car and suddenly stopped by the second group which plays the role of a faked checkpoint. The leader of the second group acting as if he has a pistol in his hand. He points his pistol to the person sitting on the front seat asking him: Muqtada Al-Sadr or Harith Al-Dhari, Jaish Al-Mahdi or the Mujahidin? If the answer was not the one agreed on by members of the second group, the leader will say: wrong answer dude and they pick the driver and other passengers (members of the first group) and drag them out of their car and shoot them in the head. It is a game of life and death, not winners and losers and certainly we can not blame these children for such a dreadful game. They just copy what they see around them and transform it to an enjoyable game. The Americans, the Iraqi government, the parliament, the parties, religious leaders, tribal sheikhs, “Sunni resistance/insurgency”, “ Al-Dahari’s Mujahidin or the Al-Mahdi gangsters all share the responsibility for the continuous shedding of Iraqi blood. My advice for them is to subscribe with the same gym that I regularly attend for two important reasons: first, to get rid of their “Kirishs”, as most of them in terms of BMI (Basal Metabolic Index) criteria, exceeded the limit of overweight and considered as obese, thanks to billions of Iraqi dollars disappeared through out four years of corruption. And most importantly, to experience the socialising atmosphere of the gym and learn lessons from these innocent kids about tolerance, acceptance and loving each other.
*Kirish in slang Iraqi Language means "Fat Belly"
*to read the Guardian article about Iraqi Children titled "Children of War":

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Iraq: Volatility of unstable society

“What a sad anniversary” the Independent wrote. Simon Jenkins of the Guardian also marked the occasion, saying “we are bid to celebrate the fourth anniversary of a lie” and all British media spared large space of their time to cover the fourth anniversary of the occupation/liberation of Iraq. ITV News, for example, chose Kadhum Al-Juburi, the Iraqi heavy-weight lifting champion, famous for destroying the statue of the overthrown dictator in Al-Firdous square in April 2003 to express his regret of toppling the statue. He said that the situation in Iraq is much worse now with the American occupation than under Saddam’s regime. At the same time, the results of a poll conducted in Iraq by the BBC, ABC News, USA Today and ARD German TV painted a gloomy picture about the current situation.
This poll came under criticism by those who supported the war and also some members of the Iraqi Parliament (Humam Hammoudi) but was extensively covered by the media here in Britain and used as a damning proof of the failure of the American policy in Iraq. But this is only one side of the coin. Another poll conducted approximately at the same time by the Opinion Research Business and published only by The Times newspaper came out with different results. Under the title “Iraqis: life is getting better”, The Times mentioned that most Iraqis questioned (around 5000) were optimistic and resilient. The conclusions withdrawn from this report have not been mentioned in other newspapers or TV News channels. Some criticised the credibility of the ORB who conducted the poll and accused them of working on a right wing agenda supported by the Bush administration.

As an Iraqi who cares about his family and the people of Iraq, I hope the figures obtained in the second poll were true. But if they were purposefully fabricated, this means that the first poll was more accurate. The situation in Iraq is dire and that was obvious in the findings of the first report. However, I still personally believe that both polls reflected the opinion of Iraqis, albeit differently. In the current turmoil, it is very expected to see Iraqis swiftly changing their minds and giving completely different reactions over major issues within a very short time. This changeability is not something new in the Iraqi society. Last week, I contacted my brother in Iraq and he told me how my parents got scared when someone knocked on their outdoor and was very frightened and begged them to open the door for him, but certainly they did not as they were scared themselves. Later, it appeared that this terrified man has escaped from his kidnappers who were looking for him in order to kill him. Then my brother gave detailed description of the continuous chaotic situation in Iraq. The next day I called again and asked if it is safer now with the new Baghdad security plan, their answer was “yes, there is a slight improvement”. These contradicting pictures over one day are not unusual in Iraq. This unpredictability of the way of our thinking and action may explain why many of those questioned in the above two polls denied that Iraq is in a state of civil war despite the fact that everyday the morgues of Baghdad hospitals receive an average of one hundred corpses. Most of those polled as well as many other Iraqis admitted that they do not believe in sectarianism but at the same time, the majority of them (especially those who live in mixed areas of Baghdad) can easily tell you who is a Shia or Sunni among their neighbours, schoolmates and colleagues at work. It became embedded in our unconscious mind to the extent that we do not believe in it anymore.
The majority were very pessimistic about the current situation but when they were asked whether they prefer Al-Maliki government over Saddam’s regime, the majority preferred Al-Maliki. Mark Etherington, a former paratrooper in the British Army who headed a team of reconstruction, both political and physical, of the Iraqi province of Al-Kut under the Coalition Provisional Authority, expressed his concerns about Iraqi police and members of municipal councils and the difficulties he encountered with the tribal Sheikhs. Unpredictability of their intentions, changing minds and allegiances, hampered many efforts to progress as he discussed in his book “Revolt on the Tigris”. Another female British officer served in “Abu Naji” camp in Amarah whom I met in London, told a funny story about this camp. She said “we were very concerned about mortars being fired on the camp from the surrounding villages and obviously we thought that we are unwelcome among the local people, most of them supported Al-Sadr and proud of resisting the occupation, but one day, an Iraqi interpreter works in the camp said that the local people are ready to stop the insurgents from using their villages as a base to fire mortars if the British paid some money to the local leaders and the families in the village”. She told me that this suggestion was rejected by the top authority as they did not trust the interpreter and as a result mortars kept falling over the camp until recently when it was handed to the Iraqi Army. This unpredictability and inconsistency in action is also very obvious in the current Iraqi Government actions and its daily handling of the situation.

But what are the reasons behind our unpredictable actions and changing opinions? The veteran Iraqi social scientist Ali Al-Wardi tried to explain much of the Iraqi personality complex by his theories about the clash between the Bedouin and civil values and traditions. The ultimate result of this struggle, as Al-Wardi concluded, is “Bedounisation” or “Tribalisation” of the cities and towns and not the opposite. He argued that 20th century’s Iraq witnessed many drastic changes at a much faster pace than under the Ottoman four-century’s occupation which left the Iraqi personality unstable, vulnerable and highly exposed to the surrounding social/economic, political and religious influences. This sense of insecurity became more obvious over the last thirty years which “metamorphasized” the Iraqi society to a level that Al-Wardi theories seems outdated and inapplicable. The absence of any stable period of time, even short-lived, in the modern Iraqi history left very little space for us to feel the depth of our shocking situation and to compare it to our past. We now consider the 90s with its shameful sanctions as unthinkable luxury and in the 90s Iraqis frequently used the term “Zaman Al-Khair” (time of prosperity) to describe the 80s when the middle class sect was still able to maintain a decent way of living and this cycle of distorted comparisons takes you decades back. We have to admit that the whole Iraqi society is insecure and helpless more than ever and needs radical solutions to let it stand again and the only solution left is to set aside all our sectarian and ethnic identities and revive the concept of our common “Iraqiness” identity.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

The End of Al-Sadr

In late summer 2003, I was living in Birmingham and every morning I used to go to its central library studying for my English language test. And one day in the Learning Centre I met a Sri Lankan young man, who was desperately trying, like me, to pass the language exam in order to find a job in his profession, Civil Engineering. I introduced myself as an Iraqi doctor, and once he heard the word “Iraqi” he was excitedly thrilled and admiringly said “Ohhh Iraq…Fallujah…Muqtada Al-Sadr”. Over the next few days I realised that my new friend knew nothing about Iraq apart from these two words “ Fallujah and Muqtada Al-Sadr” and of course “ Saddam” and he adamantly believed that the “Mujahidin of Fallujah and Muqtada are going to liberate Iraq from the American and British invaders”. I did not argue with him at that time and will not if I see him again.

I passed my exam and moved down to London and two days ago I read in the CBS news website that:
“The U.S. military spokesman in Iraq said on Wednesday that all indications showed that radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr remained in Iranian exile as of 24 hours ago”

I immediately remembered my old friend and whether he still accepts as true that Muqtada is capable of “liberating Iraq”. This incident took me again to the complex Iraqi situation and “Al-Sadr” phenomenon and its implications on the current circumstances and the future of Iraq. Nearly at the same time I was in contact with
A close friend, who I really respect his ideas and thoughts. He believes that we, Iraqis, can not live without a dictator and if we have not one, we will create it ourselves and I think many Iraqis share with him this opinion as a fact. I personally disagree with this view; however, it is very difficult to defend my case when it comes to Al-Sadr. There is no doubt that his rise after the demise of Saddam’s regime was unexpected for the Americans and most Iraqis as well. the collapse of the state and the resultant political vacuum set the stage for Al-Sadr Phenomenon to breed and flourish. On the other hand, most Shia Ulama kept silent or distanced themselves from the political life in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. Al-Sadr played on the strings of National Islamism and resistance against the occupation in addition to the legacy of his family that he inherited from his father Mohamed Sadiq Al-Sadr. The charity network established by his father continued providing services at times when all government ministries was non- functioning. Other factors were involved as well, most importantly, the elimination of other rival Shia clerics from the political scene like Abdul-Majid Al-Khoei (brutally murdered by close aides of Al-Sadr himself) and later Mohamed Baqir Al-Hakim (killed in a massive car bomb that Al-Qaeda claimed its responsibility). Leading two uprisings against the Americans in 2004 and opposing the political process at first and the idea of “federalising” Iraq, all these moves won him the support of the Iraqi Arab Sunnis and the wider Sunni Islamic world all backed by a very influential anti-American, national and Islamic-oriented, Al-Jazeera-like medias. But that was not going to last very long and I personally believe that we are now witnessing the downfall of Muqtada and his shambled movement. Certainly many Iraqis, especially those inside Iraq, disagree with this opinion, but considering the developments in Iraq over the last year since the destruction of Samara shrines, all refer to the fact that Al-Sadr movement is not as strong as it was two years earlier.

1. The United Shia Alliance is currently divided and its integrity is threatened. The row over appointing Al-Maliki as prime minister and most recently the withdrawal of Al-Fadhila Party of his 20 members from the alliance proved that the rifts among its different groups could no longer be ignored.
2. The unprecedented wave of sectarian violence that engulfed the country after the destruction of the shrines, in many of its ugly faces, was linked to Al-Sadr movement. His militias and death squads were responsible for taking lives of many Sunnis in retaliation to the unrestrained killing of Shias by suicide and car bombings. As a result, he no longer enjoyed the support of Sunni Arabs in Iraq or in the wider Muslim world.
3. Al-Sadr himself lacks the skills and the charisma required to lead a popular political movement. Unlike Khomeini and Nassruallah, He does not have the spiritual “halo” and even the basic theological and linguistic skill that enable him to maintain his position among his followers.
4. The pressure exerted by the Americans on the Iraqi Government, and particularly on Al-Maliki, to discontinue the his support to Muqtada and his movement, significantly narrowed the political space available for them (Muqtada and his followers) to work within and exploit it as they did before.
5. The success of the current Baghdad security plan, although very limited, was to a great extent due to the capture (e.g. Abdulhadi Al-Daraji) and killing (e.g. Sahib Al-Amri) of many aides of Al-Sadr and Jaish al-Mahdi leaders. Others, including Muqtada himself, fled to Iran. In addition, they avoided any confrontation, political or military with the American forces. This changed the belief of many people about the reality of Al-Sadr’s intentions and his movement’s ability to “liberate” Iraq from occupation.

But the most crucial factor that determines the future of Al-Sadr and his movement is the relation with Iran. There are several clues that he has links with different centres of power in Iran. On one hand, adopting a hard line political Shia Islamic views with anti-American sentiments serve the Iranian interests, but on the other hand, backing the democratic process endorsed by the Americans will also leave Iran as the main beneficiary, as any free elections will bring the majority Shia of Iraq to power. I personally think that Iran tried to transform Al-Sadr movement to an Iraqi version of the Lebanese Hizbullah and so far this has failed. Also In the current international isolation of the Iranian regime, Iran is trying to open direct and indirect channels of communications with the Americans and the West in general in a desperate attempt to avoid the political, economic and may be military consequences of its hard position on sensitive issues like the nuclear power, the expanding Iranian influence in the region and most importantly its involvement in Iraq. Al-Sadr is not the right choice for such a mission. Alternatively, it seems that Iran now works with Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim and his Iranian-born SCIRI to do the required job. For the above reasons, I believe that Al-Sadr chances in the future Iraq are minimal and his influence will be limited. This proves the fact that the adopting a Shia identity on its own and trying to rule a country with a mentality of retaliation for hundreds of years of oppression will never lead to build a new free and stable Iraq. Hizb Al-Da’wa failed before and Al-Sadr too now. Our common “Iraqiness” identity is the only way to take the country and its people out of its hellish situation.