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An activist, clown, trainee lawyer and writer from England. I was in Iraq several times, most recently Nov 03 to May 04, still writing about Iraq and passing on my friends' stories from there.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Just have to share this, from Herbert:- How many American soldiers does it take to change a lightbulb? About 130,000 so far, but don't hold your breath.
Last night we were in an internet centre on Sadoon Street because all the ones near home were closed, it being Friday and boxing day. We sat down and a rocket roared down the street. OK, probably that’s not strictly accurate, but there were lots of exploding noises and we decided perhaps we weren’t that keen to communicate with the world after all.

Raed’s uncle rang to say that US planes were bombing the Ad-Dora area where he lives with cluster bombs. Can someone please tell them to stop littering residential areas with delayed action explosives? The constant racket of fighter planes overhead combined with the flashes of lighting – I think it was lightning – and the small quakes of explosions, sometimes not small enough for comfort, were the background to the evening. We had electricity for quite a few hours, for a pleasant change, so we put the music on loud and turned up the bass.

The next door neighbours say they’re trying to intimidate people in the city with the low flying; either that or they’re bombing outside town. They say it isn’t safe to travel out of Baghdad any more. Who knows? www.albasrah.net is publishing weekly Resistance Reports and photos from the south. I'm not in favour of killing civilians, whoever does it, but this is information you won’t get anywhere else. Melody, don’t look. It will make you cross.

Melody says the American soldiers, “bless their hearts” (she really used that expression) would be bringing peace to Iraq if only it weren’t for the resistance and the ingratitude of Iraqis. The letters from US soldiers who are still serving here or have recently returned, questioning what they were sent to do, on www.michaelmoore.com, don’t represent “the real American soldiers”. The dissent from Iraqi people against the occupation, however widespread, doesn’t represent “the real Iraqis”. The things I write are not “the real truth”, that being whatever Melody is seeing from home in the US.

It’s simple. If you don’t like it, dismiss it as not real. My mum used to tell me that: “Ignore it and it will go away.” Now let’s all concentrate really hard, all at the same time, on ignoring George W Bush, Tony Blair, the international arms trade, war, occupation, famine, pestilence, plague, global capitalism (OK, I know the last one covers the previous eight and two of the next three.), Fox “News”, flies and plutonium.

Easy, wasn’t it?

Friday, December 26, 2003

December 25th
Living by the Fence

Dr Jinan at the clinic in Abu Ghraib says there are patients coming in with illnesses that she and her colleagues can’t diagnose. Patients are referred to the main hospital complex at Baghdad Medical City but they return with still no diagnosis and having had no treatment. In particular, there have been patients presenting with bubbles on the skin. They “become hot, like burning coals, get hard and spread.” She said they don’t understand it.

There’s been an enormous increase in allergenic respiratory and skin problems with no apparent trigger. In particular there has been a rise in three conditions – alopeicia (hair loss), psoriasis and viteligo (skin problems). These are not infections spreading through the community but auto-immune, caused by the body attacking itself, to put it simply. They are related to nerves, so fear and stress could be a factor in the increase, but environmental factors are also believed to be important.

In the row of houses closest to the airport fence every single household reported some kind of skin or breathing problem. Probably the most common was white patches on the skin, which started, for most people, between April and July. Or spots on the skin, which turn black and then the skin peels off. Or the blisters or bubbles on the skin that Dr Jinan mentioned, with or without fluid.

Women brought us inside, away from the men, took off their hijabs and showed us bald patches on their heads. The water is contaminated and, to combat that, it’s filled with chemicals. It means you can drink it without spending the rest of the week in the toilet but it wrecks your skin. One of the women brought us to her small son whose scalp was like a toadstool of red skin and white pustules under the hair, insanely itchy but too painful to touch.

Immediately after the bombing of the airport, people said, thousands of trucks started removing the soil from the complex. No one can tell us where it was dumped. Other trucks brought fresh soil from elsewhere to replace it and tarmac trucks came in to cover it over. About a month after the bombing, the trucks started leaving their loads closer to the fence, tipping rubble, metal, broken crockery and general debris in the 1st June sector. Kids play and men forage in the heaps between the houses.

One said “There are no jobs. Sometimes useful things are dumped and we come and find them and sell them.” Some of the kids told us about sweets, food and mineral water being thrown out. They go and eat the sweets and bring home the water and military ration MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). “No you don’t,” scolded one of the mothers. “I do,” the child said with a gleeful grin. She went red and said “Well, sometimes.”

The November 2003 study by the Uranium Medical Research Committee (UMRC) said: “Witnesses living next to the airport report 3,000 civilians were incinerated by one morning’s attack from aerial bursts of thermobaric and fuel air bombs. Since the cessation of the main phase of battle, several of the Baghdad area battlefields… [were] landscaped by the US forces and Iraqi contractors, thus preventing a thorough examination.”

One family living near the fence told us that all their chickens died on the day of the bombing. “There was no harm to their bodies, they were still complete, but they were dead.” The grandmother’s eye ruptured during the bombing. A thermobaric weapon – stop eating before you read this – is essentially a fireball which sucks out all the oxygen in the area. Among other things it sucks out eyeballs and suffocates victims.

“On the day of the bombing the smoke went in his eye and it ran for a week and then stopped and the doctor said he can’t operate because the nerves are already destroyed.” The five-year-old boy watched us with his other eye and his 22-year-old sister stood in silence as their mother told us she was already deaf and mute from birth. She had her first fit during the bombing at the airport and has had them regularly, every week or ten days, since then. The mother is one of the women who have had several miscarriages in recent years.

The Dairy Buildings on the other side of the airport are a little further from the fence, the Dairy provided a buffer. Less illness was reported there: the same conditions but less concentrated. In 1st June sector as well, the frequency of problems seemed to decrease in the second and third rows of houses as you move back from the fence.

Health statistics are few and basic. We could get the rate per year of cancers, all types and all ages, for in patients at the hospital (one or none each year from 1991 to 1996, 7 in 1997, 3 in 1998 and then 11, 16, 15, 19 and 20 respectively for each of the last five years). We could get the monthly incidence of skin and breathing problems for in patients at the hospital.

We could get nothing about out-patients treated in the clinic, nothing to compare the monthly data for this year with previous years, nothing about the geographical distribution of sufferers, let alone any details of the majority who never go for diagnosis or treatment because they can’t afford it, which is why we were chatting about health with the women of the community in the first place.

Because of the threats made, we weren’t able to test water, soil and air to map the environmental contaminants which might be responsible and to work out a clean up scheme, but I didn’t come here to whine about the nigh-impossibility of doing any research so I’ll give it a rest there. What we did achieve was a general picture of health conditions and some of the environmental clean up work that might be needed.

Zakia asked us, “Why don’t you tell them to tarmac the road?” That would be an improvement over the mud slide in front of her home, but they need decent drainage as well to get rid of the pools of manky water. They need the piles of rubble taken away so the kids can play somewhere safe and clean.

And they need and they need and they need. A tiny child called Melaak (Angel) was carried by her mum and her brothers and sisters, too weak to walk, suffering from a failure to thrive. She needs vitamins. Her mum’s pregnant again with the ninth child, the oldest being 17, out of school and working in a shop so now they’ve got a heater, after 8 years without even that.

Christmas day has been quiet after a night of low flying planes, rather than the usual helicopters, and frequent explosions. At the shop last night Ali said the Sheraton Hotel had been hit. This morning our neighbours told us it was hit again about 6am. In the Dora area there was bombing from the air and fire from an anti aircraft gun.

Baghdad’s Christians are mostly having a quiet one. Clusters of people by the churches on a Thursday and longer-than-usual queues in the international telephone centres are the only real clue. Firas celebrated last night with basturma. It’s meat, mixed with garlic, stuffed in socks to make it the right shape. He says they use women’s socks. Somehow this is supposed to make it sound better. The full sock is hung on a line to dry out and then the mixture is sliced and fried with eggs. He says it’s the best thing. The sock thing is putting me off. Maybe I’m just too squeamish.

We celebrated Reema’s 18th birthday instead. Parties happen in the daytime because it’s too difficult and dangerous to go out at night, so we went to a restaurant and ate cake. It was great. It was normal.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

December 22nd
Abu Ghraib

She’s had five miscarriages in the five years since 1998. Her two girls were born in 1991 and 1994 and since then she’s lost each one at three, four, five months of pregnancy. In the hospital they told her they had about 100 cases currently of women who were having repeated miscarriages. Another woman lost six babies in ten years, five girls and a boy, each one born prematurely at about 8 months. They were born alive and died within the first day. Another lost her baby about three weeks ago at 8 months pregnant. She says she got a fever, lost all her water and the baby died. She saw him, she says. He was perfect and complete.

B’s baby is fine. It’s got a normal heartbeat and is moving normally in a normal amount of fluid. The first day I met her she said she hadn’t been able to feel it moving lately so she was going for a scan the next day. The Abu Ghraib hospital didn’t have working equipment for the scan and she couldn’t afford the 9000 Dinar fee [3 quid, $4.50] for the private clinic so she hadn’t had one.

B’s husband used to be a school teacher in Nasariya. Until recently he was working as a security guard at a school in Baghdad. His colleague was shot for “working for the Americans” and threats were made against him too so now he’s off on leave. He doesn’t know whether to go back and risk being shot or quit and be without money for B, the two kids and the new baby.

When we went to pick her up some men came to the house. Was she going to be a spy for the Americans? What were we going to pay her? Surely she didn’t believe that this was about health? A woman came in and sat down. Who were we? What were we doing? Why were we taking B for a scan? Why were we asking about health? What was in it for us?

In any case the Abu Ghraib part of the survey is over after our local contact was threatened. Men went to his son’s house last night and said his father was working as a spy for the Americans and they were sure he knew what happened to people who worked for the Americans.

The conviction couldn’t be overturned by any amount of explaining that we weren’t Americans or spies – that one of us is Iraqi – nor by any amount of questioning what information we might obtain from discussing health with the women of the community that the American troops couldn’t find out with door to door raids.

Last week US troops came and searched three of the Dairy Buildings, the blocks of flats next to the huge milk factory beside Baghdad airport. We let them in, the women said, we didn’t argue, but they turned everything upside down and still didn’t find any weapons. Shouting distracted us and we all went to look off the landing. Three US humvees were passing and the boys were running after them shouting “Ali Baba” – ie, thieves – and throwing mud.

Too many of their people are locked in the compounds at the prison and the airport, too many dead, too many houses raided. People say it wasn’t something we should have expected, it wasn’t foolishness to go there and ask questions in the first place. Just before the war once I wrote about a swamp of fear and suspicion that seemed to suck you in and suffocate you. In Abu Ghraib, at least, neither the physical toxic swamp nor the metaphorical one has yet been drained.

Monday, December 22, 2003

I meant to post something about my slightly weird day on the health survey but I left the bloody thingy at home and I can't be arsed to go back up the street and spend 10 minutes trying to get in the house past the 14 padlocks that are needed in Baghdad these days.

So instead I've been adding photos to my website

Daniel Winters e mailed to tell me he'd seen my site and hopes that one day I will accept the truth and work to spread it. I enquired but have yet to be told The Truth According To Daniel who, as far as I'm aware, is not here. All the information I've got from him so far is "The truth is not entertainment". No, Sweetpea. You've got that bit right at least. The truth here is very very unfunny.

Oh yeah, and Melody e mailed me the column of a Saudi newspaper writer who said everyone's very happy in Iraq now. Not sure which streets he's walking down.

I've worked out there are 3 types of fear - one is the rational fear of stuff like bombs, dictators, rampant imperialists, GWB and TB getting re-elected, Nestle killing babies, etc. Two is the irrational fear of things like spiders, foreigners, scented tissues and monsters under the bed.

Three is the fear of change and complexity. Don't tell me there's more to this that black and white, yes and no, love and hate, the liberators and the Bad People.

Three outweighs all the others. Three prompts rage, insults, character assassination and very cross e mails. Fine, shoot me, feed me to the monsters under the bed, but don't tell me things aren't as straightforward as the TV tells me.

Bee had her baby - Sarah Sue. Wahoo. Welcome to the weirdness, small girl.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

December 20th
Shootings and Stories

Sura wanted me to meet her friend, Hassan, one of the guards at the hospital she works in. On December 8th about 11pm he was asleep, off duty, in the guard room at the entrance to Abu Ghraib hospital. A car arrived with a patient inside and his colleague went out to search the car, because all vehicles entering the hospital have to be searched.

A Humvee of US soldiers came and started shooting at random with the gun on top of the vehicle. They all ran back into the guard room. His two friends were injured by glass from the window. A bullet hit Hassan in his abdomen. Another went through the window of the delivery room while women were giving birth in there.

Just before Hassan went into the operating theatre, the commander, a Major whose name I couldn’t quite understand, maybe Major Pavel, something like that, came and told him he was sorry. It was a mistake. Oops. Hassan’s had two operations in the 12 days since then, to cut away the infected tissue. He shuffled, with help, from the corridor back to his bed. It took two men to help him sit because he can’t bend at the waist. Holding his clothing away from the ghastly mess of his belly, he told me he’d heard that the soldiers suspected something so they started shooting.

A friend filled in the compensation claim forms on his behalf but as yet they’ve heard nothing. The problem is, he’s married with 2 kids. His mother is also dependent on him, as are some of his siblings. His 37 year old sister has breast cancer, which appeared in May. She has epilepsy, which was aggravated by the chemotherapy, so now she’s having no treatment for the cancer.

By coincidence, as we arrived at the hospital, the group of men we saw on Thursday was carrying a coffin away. It was the man who came in with a gunshot wound, the man who was shouting, gasping, groaning. He died at 4am on Friday. He’d been selected as the head of an interim council for a district within Abu Ghraib. I don’t know which area and I don’t know who shot him.

We stopped in at Hekmet’s house. They got married 2 months ago. He was married before and has a son, but she never has. The last time I was at their house he was campaigning on her to go and do her hair and dress up so I could take a photo of her, because he liked the ones I took of the local kids the other day. “don’t you think my wife is beautiful,” he kept saying. “Take her photo.”

“Moretania,” she kept saying – another time. Stop going on. Kiss me, he said, and make me forget about it. Khadije knelt over him, lifted his head, kissed him on each cheek and then bit his nose. So today we did the photos. He calls her Hokha for short. We had a small adventure trying to work out what kind of fruit that is in English. An apricot? No, bigger. Hairy. Ah, a peach. Bitch? No, no, don’t call her that.

Zakia Ibrahim is 62, a woman in an abaya, contour lines on her face mapping her life, a huge mole under one eye, surrounded by grandchildren. There are 23 grandchildren from her fice sons, still more from the six daughters. “I was harvesting wheat in my village when my first son was born. I cut the cord with something I had with me and carried on working, not like women today, lying on their backs for days.” It was 1958 and she was seventeen, already three years married.

They kept sheep, cows and donkeys. In those days you could live wherever you pleased and you went wherever there was land that you could use. “But when the King came [in 1958], people were taken to places like Thawra, Sadr, places where there were authorities.” Boys and girls used to swim together in the villages, not like now, she said, when they are all separated. In 1963, when Iraq changed from monarchy to republic and urbanisation increased, those things started to change as well.

Her husband was 13 years older. “We used to be afraid we would be beaten by our husbands. We were not allowed to wear make up. I was married in a small hut. When you looked up at the ceiling you saw the sky. We had no car - they took me to my husband’s house on the back of a donkey and I sat on a tin can at my wedding. But then at least we had animals to raise for food, for eggs and milk. Now we have not even an egg. There is no gas, no petrol, no electricity.

“The Americans promised us first aid and humanitarian assistance but they have given nothing. Under the sanctions we would eat whatever we could – there was no variety. We couldn’t even change our clothes. Under Saddam and the sanctions it was the same as now under Bush. It is not a pleasant life.”

Of Saddam’s arrest, she says it was fate. It was written. He was caught because it was meant to be. “Under Saddam, we could not even open our mouths.” But still she has sympathy for him: “He has Moslem blood.” Her son was jailed for a year for avoiding the army. He was paying money to an officer to overlook his non-appearance so he could carry on earning money for his family. He was beaten and tortured in jail, in 2000. “They did not give them food. They were treated like dogs, herded, and I used to tell him, remember, they are Moslems like you.”

She was allowed a two hour visit every three weeks, which meant a whole day traveling to get to Mosul, because he was jailed where his unit was based. “But at least under Saddam we had security. I could travel back from Mosul after dark but now we can’t go anywhere. I told my sons’ wives not to get pregnant because if the birth started at night we could not even take them to the hospital.”

Two of her sons were conscripted into the war with Iran. One was injured. “No one could say he wouldn’t go. He would be executed in front of his family. The year you went in depended on the year you were born and then you stayed until the end, your end or the war’s end. There was always food then. It was good living but so many men died. There were always big funerals for the men who were killed.”

Things were better then, she said, because of the nationalisation of the oil industry. “We had opportunities, better jobs, a higher standard of living.” Chuckling to herself, she told us how two ladies once asked her about the standard of living now. I don’t even have money for the hairdresser, she told them. “At my age,” she said with glee. “As if I still go to the hairdresser.”

Another son was called up for the 1991 war but went into hiding. “He hid here, beside me,” Zakia laughed. “So many wars. It’s amazing we still have flesh and blood on us.” They left Abu Ghraib when the US soldiers entered the airport, taking the kids to the tribal leaders nearby and distributing them around the homes. She and some of the others stayed in the house until things got really bad: “It was like fire on top of our heads.”

Fadhil, her sixteen year old grandson, was shot dead by US troops firing from a helicopter when he went to the roof to call the younger kids indoors while they were cleaning up the house after the war. “Lots of people died in Iraq. It would have been better to lose the house or have everything looted. It is better to die than to live like this, to live with deaths every day.”

Two of her sons now support the extended family. Her youngest son is 21, married for three years with a child. He worked in one of the palaces, earning good money. Now there’s no money. “If I could I would work and let him sit, because he’s still only a child.” We appointed Zakia the president. First, she said, she would bring law and order and then she would give to the poor. “The rich already have thick bones. I have suffered with the poor. I met a woman who had never even tasted dates. Imagine that, in Iraq, where we grow the best dates in the world.”

And then we had to go because it was half past four and the ground was already rocking with sporadic explosions and the air thudding with helicopters so low you could almost flick mud at them and by dark, they say, Abu Ghraib is a war zone, and Aala, Abbas, Yousef, Yaseen, Abdelqader, Afra’, Adhra’, Mabreen, Noor, Amer, Shibreen, Meruh, Rusha, Mustafa, Hussein, Shahet, Amer, Sareh, Hadih, Tabarek and the rest danced after us to the car, between the swamps and the rubbish and the ducks and geese and cockerels poking about in them.
December 18th
Arresting Children


“Two days ago there was a demonstration after school finished, against the coalition and for Saddam. Yesterday the American army came and surrounded the whole block. They just crashed into the school, 6, 7, 8 into every classroom with their guns. They took the name of every student and matched the names to the photos they got from the day before and then arrested the students. They actually dragged them by their shirts onto the floor and out of the class.”

They wouldn’t give their names. The children at Adnan Kheiralla Boys’ School in the Adamiya district of Baghdad were still scared, still seething with rage. Another boy, Hakim Hamid Naji, was taken today. “They were kicking him,” one of the pupils said. A car pulled up and a tall, thin boy ran into the school, talked briefly with staff and left again. The kids said the soldiers had come looking for this boy too.

The headmaster, too, was reluctant to speak. No, he said, looking down at the desk, there were no guns. But Ahmed, an English teacher, followed the soldiers on the raid. “The translators had masks or scarves because maybe they are from this area. They came and they chose several students and they took them. The demonstration started after school on Tuesday. I advised them not to do it because I am their teacher and the Americans don’t care. The children had pictures of Saddam Hussein from their text books and that’s all, so they demonstrated and just said we want Saddam Hussein.

“There were no leaders, this wasn’t an arranged demonstration. It comes honestly, some of the students say, we love Saddam Hussein. Some of the students say no, we hate Saddam Hussein. I told them, it’s OK, let them love him and let them hate him, we can all express our opinions. There are no weapons, there is no bombing.”

“The American soldiers came with tanks and stopped the demonstration and the kids sat in front of the tanks. They took pictures of the students and they had some spy maybe, I’m not sure, maybe students in the school. I begged the soldiers to leave these students because they are naïve, they just believe this is a civilian demonstration, but the soldiers were very rude to the students and treated them like soldiers. They are kids, they are teenagers, so I begged the officer, but he didn’t care.

“I told them, just calm down, but they said no, they are not kids. In Abu Ghraib we have 16 year olds shooting at us. I said yes, but these are in school. They have books, not weapons. And they took pictures of us, what is your name, stand here. I am not a criminal, I am a teacher. They took pictures of most of the teachers.

“I told them you have to educate people about freedom, not punish them, but they brought tanks and helicopters. Yesterday they surrounded the school and came in with weapons everywhere, soldiers everywhere and used tear gas on the students. They fired guns to scare them, above their heads. One student got a broken arm because of the beating. They had some sticks, electric sticks and they hit the students. Some of them were vomiting, some of them were crying and they were very afraid.”

All the other teachers and students who talked to us backed Ahmed’s version over the headmaster’s: the soldiers were armed when they came into the classrooms. One of the arrested boys decided he trusted Ahmed enough to talk to the people that Ahmed told him were safe, as long as he wasn’t recorded and we promised not to identify him in any way. He wouldn’t give his name or age.

“The soldiers pointed at me and I was grabbed by about 8 of them and dragged out by my clothes and my collar. They threw me on the ground and searched me and cocked their guns on me. We were held in chicken cages, about two metres by a metre and a half with criss cross wire. They were swearing at us a lot. They didn’t beat us but they accused us of having relations with Saddam Hussein, asking who organized the demonstration, telling us anyone who is against our American interests will be arrested.

“They offered us some food but more curses. They didn’t inform our parents at all. The headmaster came with three of the fathers. Most of us were held between 7 and 10 hours but one student is not Iraqi and he was held for much longer and they questioned him for two hours and made him stand outside from 10pm till 2am in the freezing cold. The youngest was 14.”

The school is named after a brother-in-law of Saddam’s who was popular with both Sunni and Shia people. For this he was killed by Saddam and, when the statues of former regime figures were being destroyed after the invasion, both of his monuments, in Baghdad and Basra, were protected by local people. The pupils have painted over the sign at the school’s entrance, renaming it Saddam’s School. The depiction of Saddam on TV in American hands seems to have made him a heroic symbol even to many who disliked him.

One of the boys told me, “Only 40 kids out of all of us were on the first demonstration but after the raid, we will all go out on Saturday after school and demonstrate against the occupation. They have turned us all against the American soldiers. We don’t care about their tanks, we don’t care about their machine guns, we don’t care about their prisons any more.”

Outside the school, Rana asked me, “Did you see the bodies in Adamiya? There were bodies in the street, Americans and Iraqis. They stopped an ambulance, threw in 5 bodies and said go, just go. It is a war zone. They don’t want to give the bodies to the families. Even my neighbour, he was killed by the Americans a few days ago and they didn’t receive his body yet. When they went to the hospital the doctors said you have to go to the Americans, bring permission from them and we will give you your son’s body.”

Wasef, one of the Iraq Indymedia members, was shot in the foot while filming the demonstration in Adamiya yesterday. He’s OK, still smiling, doesn’t know who fired the bullet that hit him.

In the Abu Ghraib hospital while I was visiting someone, there was a noise, something more than a groan but weaker than a shout, broken by short in-breaths, aah, aah, aah: a man with a gunshot wound, a crowd of men trying to lift him from the trolley to the bed. Outside was exploding at frequent intervals. In the doorway they were loading a coffin onto a pick up. A woman with a full pregnant belly told us her two children were playing in the garden when a rocket landed in the flower bed. Another one landed in the street outside.

The petrol queues are now about 2-3km long, two cars wide in places. Billboards and leaflets declare the new penalty of 3 to 10 years in jail – yes, it does say years – for buying or selling black market petrol. They, like the posters advertising rewards for information, are plastered with paint, red or black.

December 16th
The Aftermath

“It started about 3pm in Fallujah. From the time it was announced that he was caught until about 3 pm everyone was astonished. There was no reaction, just waiting, to see if it was true. There was a rumour that he was seen in Fallujah, so people went out cheering. Explosions started, people demonstrated in the streets, with lots of heavy firing till midnight, rockets, RPGs.”

We rang Rafah in Fallujah. Her husband was a prisoner of war for 17 years in Iran. “It’s not just resistance and mujahedin now, it’s everyone. The mujahedin were holding their RPGs openly in the street, not even bothering to hide them, not hiding their faces. Everybody is in the street demonstrating so there are thousands, you wouldn’t recognize individuals.

“The Americans are using some kind of weapon, sort of small globes of white light that split into smaller lights and as they get nearer the ground it turns to gas. They’re thrown out by aircraft, a fighter plane rather than a helicopter. We don’t know what it is. People think it’s a polluted substance or something and some people think it’s some kind of sleeping drug to calm things down because they lost control of Fallujah and Ramadi yesterday. The aircraft has a very loud voice which is working on people’s nerves, it’s like sound bombs or something.

“The people took over the mayor’s office and looted everything. They burned the Islamic Party and the Al-Naseri party buildings, throwing all the equipment out of the windows and burning the offices. On Tuesday at 12, midday, they hit the train. It was full of equipment and food for the Americans, and they took all of that, so then the Americans started going into the town today to try and take control of the town.

“They only have troops in the mayor’s office normally and the rest of the troops are outside, because they were always being attacked. Now they’ve taken a school as a base, near the main street, and they took over the mayor’s office again, a youth centre, the train station and the police station, so those are now occupied by the Americans and lots of soldiers and tanks are in the streets, lots of checkpoints.

“The next few days are going to be hell. I sent my 2 girls to school today and they were sent back. There was no school because they were afraid for security, so they haven’t been to school for two days. We’ve had no electricity for two days and we can’t go shopping because everything has been burnt, even vegetables, everything that was in the way was burnt.

“In Ramadi it started about 4:30 on Monday, after the rumour spread from Fallujah. My family in Ramadi say the Americans are using tear gas. There are lots of explosions and low flying. They can feel it right on top of the houses. They are using sound bombs.
Resistance is increasing more than you could imagine. Lots of people still believe in Saddam and won’t leave him, especially when they see him humiliated on TV. Whoever captured him is not better than him.”

Jinan Tahar, a primary school teacher in Al-Jaam’a, said “We are celebrating because the slayer is gone that was torturing the people for 35 years. I think he surrendered. I want the trial to be in Iraq and the Iraqi people to try him because those are the people he hurt. I wouldn’t execute him because that would be a relief for him. I would put him in jail for life so he can suffer more.

“I think resistance will decrease because most of them were with Saddam and now Saddam is captured they will fade away. I think things will get better because they announced there will be more focus on reconstruction now they are not distracted trying to find Saddam.”

Ghanim Al-Khayoun is the youngest son of the leader of Beni Ased [Tribe of the Lions]. They are a Marsh Arab people from near Nasariya and their marsh was drained. Ghanim is a history writer and an intellectual. Many members of his family and tribe were killed. He will be supervisor to whoever rules in Nasariya. He said in Nasariya people went out on demonstrations to celebrate on the first day.

“Saddam was a poker player. He gave an interview in 1990 or 91 talking about how you have to use your cards even if they are not strong. You fake it and pretend you have strong cards. It was said about a person from ancient times who was like Saddam that he acts like a lion on me but in wartime he acts like an ostrich. In Iraq in general, we have the habit of showing our muscles, trying to prove we are strong, but whoever shows off will lose from the first fist. His children died with more honour than him.

“I don’t just blame Saddam but the Iraqi people as well who supported him through fear or love or greed. I wouldn’t call those people ‘resistance’ and they will fade away now Saddam is gone. I think Saddam surrendered and begged the Americans not to kill him. Really he was not even a dictator but a thief.”

“I once beat Uday playing billiards in the hunting club. I saw all my friends whispering, because whenever they play with Uday, they will lose, they are scared, but what people saw of Uday was just a media thing of him being strong, evil and brave. Really he was just a coward. Qusay was much cleverer. He was planning to be in charge one day.

“To me his trial is not important. I would judge him by the laws of the Quran. If he committed one crime, he would have to be killed. How many times should we kill him? Some people think knowledge is over religion, which is why Saddam started showing religious interest in the last ten years to try and regain points.”

Ammar, a 28 year old shopkeeper from Adamiya, told us, “The resistance had very good luck yesterday, about 10am. They hit 3 American humvees in front of the big Abu Hanifa mosque and 2 in Anter Square and 3 in Al-Saleya, 9 altogether. There were at least 5 men in each car and don’t think any survived. Twelve Iraqis were killed. Two of them were mujahedin and 10 were civilians.

“If you have time, if you want to see something, stay here until 4 o’clock. Something is going to happen. If you like you can watch from my roof. The rumour goes around telling people who have shops to stay indoors at certain times. It won’t start dead on 4 but we will stay indoors after that time and not go out walking.

“Those operations have nothing to do with Saddam. We don’t love him - he’s killed and tortured people, but because they are invaders, because they have occupied our country, they don’t deserve to stay here. Some Shia people started shooting in the air, but if anyone has courage, he should write god’s name on every bullet and fire them at Americans. Every one is needed for the Americans, not for the air.

“I think resistance will increase now. A lot of people didn’t fight before because they did not want to be called pro-Saddam, but now he is gone, it’s pure jihad, and there is no reason not to fight.

“When I saw Saddam shown on TV in that way I was really sad. It’s not really right for him to be judged by US. The problem was that we were humiliated by Americans. Arabic nations should take a lesson from that. The Interim Council is not much better than Saddam because they came from outside the country and they didn’t live the suffering and they have not much time left in power because even the Americans don’t accept them.”

Next to Adamiya is Kadhmiya, a Shia district. Sa’ad lives near the old secret police HQ, now occupied by US soldiers. The resistance, he said, is not from Kadhmiya but, “We weren’t as happy as when we heard that Uday and Qusay were killed. It’s not because we love Saddam but because he was captured by Americans not by Iraqis. As Iraqis we do sympathise with another Iraqi even if he made mistakes, because he was caught by an American.

“We have a saying, ‘Me and my brother against my cousin, but me and my cousin against the foreigners. I would defend Saddam against foreigners, but between us, he deserves what he’s getting because he caused the deaths of lots of people. I was not a Baathist. Saddam didn’t hurt me but he took us into wars we weren’t meant to be in. H spent money on stupid things and didn’t give enough to the people.

“Some of the shooting was celebration but in truth after a while it’s just because there are lots of weapons, so mostly people are just trying their guns. I bought a new gun quite recently and I fired it just because it’s new and I wanted to fire it. I am happy he’s caught but I’m not happy because he was caught by Americans. They’re not here for the benefit of Iraqis but for their own benefit.

“I think his trial should be public and he shouldn’t be executed, because no one will benefit from that. He should be jailed for life so he will see the changes. Resistance could increase or decrease but if the US doesn’t keep all the promises it made, it will face Shia people as well, because now there is nothing to stop them, no fear of being called pro-Saddam and as you know there are more Shia than Sunni people here.”

We tried to talk to some soldiers as we were passing but they all said they were under strict new orders not to talk to anybody. Fernandez of 41FA [he didn’t tell us that, his helmet did] said “I think they did a good job” but told us we’d have to go to the base for signed permission if we wanted to write that down. There were two tanks of US soldiers, guarded as ever by Iraqi soldiers, parked in front of an empty petrol station.

As we drove away we were flagged down by a man with a biscuit wanting to know if we’d asked the soldiers about the petrol shortage and what they’d said. We told him no, just about the capture of Saddam. He wanted to talk but not to give us his name. He works as a baggage searcher at Baghdad airport, where the diplomats and businessmen come in and out.

“When I saw Saddam on the television I had mixed feelings. I felt pained, not because I love Saddam but because he is Iraqi and we are Iraqi and we have love for our country. He’s still an Iraqi and caught by foreigners – it would be different if he was caught by Iraqis.

“I want to ask the Americans why they didn’t block the borders with neighbouring countries because lots of people came in from other countries. Resistance is not only Iraqi, it is also outsiders coming to help. The resistance might increase for a week but it will fade now that Saddam is gone. I want him to be jailed for life, not executed, because I want him to see how things will improve, but I want America to keep the promises because we had hope when they came in and so far they haven’t done anything.”

Sheikh Adnan Al-Ani is the Imam of the Al Hasanein Sunni Mosque in Ameriya. He’s in charge of 500 mosques in the area. “Intelligent people of all communities, Sunni and Shia, have to make a union because the situation is very delicate and could be used to provoke civil war. I consider that Saddam has been gone for months, since the invasion. I saw him as a dead man already.

“I would have no problem if Saddam was caught by Iraqis, but being caught by Americans is not honourable. Americans have committed lots of crimes as well. If Saddam is a war criminal then so is Bush and they should be tried side by side. This is the only fair way.

“The resistance has nothing to do with Saddam. It’s because they are invaders and we have to resist the invader. Here in Ameriya the schoolchildren went out and demonstrated and lots of young people. The Americans tried to get rid of the crowd so they sat in front of tanks and started cheering, long live Saddam. It wasn’t really for Saddam himself but for Iraq, with him as a symbol of Iraq, because people know that chanting in his name will provoke the occupiers.”

The streets of Abu Ghraib were mud tracks with more horse carts than cars and haystacks leaning on the houses. Hekmet said there was lots of fighting there. People felt really angry because Saddam was captured by bastards. “This place turned to a warzone from about 6pm, lots of shooting, RPGs, rockets. It wasn’t about Sunni and Shia but about a person who represents a country being caught by occupying forces.”

The clattering of metal gates was interspersed with explosions making much the same noise but with more quaking through the ground. It’s normal, they say. On the north side of Abu Ghraib there are rivers and bushes where people can hide, so it happens all the time, when aeroplanes come in. The ones on the top of the hour are usually controlled explosions of munitions collected and brought in to the airport.

“People are fighting because they are comparing between now and Saddam’s time. The Iraqi army left weapons abandoned on the streets so people collected them. In Abu Ghraib people have a lot of weapons. The resistance is legal because we are fighting occupying forces. We have so much petrol and now there is none in the petrol stations.

“Every day there are people killing ex Baathists and people killing any person who works with the Americans. It’s happening in Abu Ghraib every day. They warn Iraqis to stop working with Americans or get killed. Abu Ghraib is like a bee hive. If you touch it at all it will all be very angry. If I knew where Saddam was I would go and release him. I hate him but he is like the flag I used to hold.”


December 14th
The Arrest of Saddam

They are saying that Saddam has been caught. The TV stations are showing pictures of an old, grubby, bearded man in captivity. Khalid says it’s definitely him. “He has been on television for 12 hours a day for 35 years. I am sure it is him.” Marwan says it’s all a trick. “It’s not the real Saddam.”

The woman who begs with her six year old daughter flung her arms around me: “Saddam kelaboutch”. The watch seller came over to try to give me a kiss as well but I’m not sure that was anything to do with the capture of Saddam. An old woman in a raincoat and a floppy hat stood on the island in the middle of the road twirling a plastic mop. Again I’m unclear whether that was related to the Saddam issue. Firas was grinning enormously, taking photos of everyone and everything. “My brother died in Saddam’s war with Iran. Now they have caught him.”

There was more than the usual amount of gunfire in the air as word spread, though thankfully less than when the Iraqi football team won a match a while back. The habit of firing into the air at times of celebration scares me more than all the car bombs, thieves and twitchy Americans put together. A man crossing the road crossed his wrists to signify handcuffs and called out “Saddam kelabach” through the window. Kerim, the driver, asked did I think it was true? “Saddam kelabach?”

I haven’t yet met anyone with any pity for him, though I haven’t been yet to the main areas of resistance, but I haven’t seen the dancing I thought I’d see in the streets while I’ve been driving around town this afternoon. The petrol queues are longer than ever and even smiles were a blessed break from the weariness of the struggle for basics. Kerim says 8 hours is a good run from the queue’s end to the pump. The 960km drive to the Jordanian border can be done in four and a half. Iraqi police shield the US tanks on sentry duty outside empty petrol stations. When fuel arrives, Kerim says, sometimes it only lasts an hour or two and then no one moves until another tanker arrives.

We passed a portrait with his face painted over and Hamsa said, “Poor you. Now you are in handcuffs, the bastards.” For me, I want to see his trial. I want to hear him tell the truth. I want to hear the whole truth. I want us to learn from this and never let it happen to people again, that they live under such a man.
December 13th
Prisoners

“My son was taken 6 months ago by the Americans and I don’t have any information about him. I came here to ask about him and they told me to get a lawyer but the lawyer is asking for 250,000 Dinar. I don’t have money to pay, so what can I do? I don’t know if he’s charged with anything. He was just a taxi driver, he had a Brazili car and that was it.”

A Brazili car is, essentially, a lemon. They were imported from Brazil and sold cheaply and the streets were soon blocked with breakdowns because they were the most useless cars ever built. Hayder Sahib Jum’a Obaid is 25 and lived in Al-Habibia with his parents Hamdia and Sahib Jum’a. Hamdia showed me his picture.

“I am his mother and I went to a lot of places, to Basra, to Amara, to a lot of places, a lot of prisons. Some Iraqi people at the jail eventually told me you should get a lawyer for him, and then we will see if he is here or not. I said take his picture and make sure if he is here or not and that way I can pay money, because I don’t want to spend all the money and then he is not here and then I have nothing to get a lawyer when I find him.”

Sahib explained, “He was a taxi driver and he went out from home and just didn’t come back, about 6 months ago. I didn’t know what happened. First I went to a lot of hospitals and to the morgue and I did not find him, so I went to the American base and after that I went to the computer office and they gave me a paper and told me your son is in Abu Ghraib and gave me a paper with his name and a number on and I came here but no one gave me any answers and the guy inside, the translator, just told them to go and get a lawyer.

Hamdia continued, “After 3 months we found the car in a police station and when I talked to someone there he told me my son had been arrested, the Americans took him and then the police found the car and took it to the police station and left it there.

“Under the old regime he escaped from the army and even when they caught him they let his mother see him but now, no. We thought that they would do something good for us but they did not. They did the worst. When he was arrested we paid money, 15000 Dinar and they let him go. I just want to see my son. Just let me see him. You can ask anyone about my son. He is a good man. They should at least tell us where he is.

“Before, we were hiding our son from the old regime because we were afraid, we didn’t know what they would do, maybe they would kill him, maybe they would take him to jail, maybe they would take him to the army, but right now it’s the same thing. Maybe it’s worse. It’s been 6 months and we don’t have any information about our son and we didn’t see him.

“Even under the old regime if you had someone in jail you could go and see him, if you had someone in jail, your son or husband, anywhere, you could go and see him. Now if anyone took your son or husband or took anything from you, they will just leave you and no one is going to know any information about them. His daughter is crying all the time for her father.”

On the second of two days of protests for the rights of people detained without charge by the occupying powers, people stood waiting quietly, holding pieces of paper, queueing to talk to activists, NGO workers, journalists, anyone who would hear their story, anyone who might perhaps be able to help.

Abdul Rahman Abd Al-Khaliq told me, “The soldiers came and put bags over our heads and I was in the prison here. They took 6 people from my house. My father and I were released after 103 days. My 4 brothers are still inside. I was arrested in August at 3am. They destroyed 2 doors and everything between the 2 doors. Luckily no one was in that room. They took everything: computers, telephones, even the pictures on the walls. They stole from my home 11 million dinars [about $5,500 – people keep all their money in their homes because the banks are unstable]. They hid the money inside their clothes.

“They just put me in one room and gave me ration food. I was wearing only shorts, because it was night when they came. I wasn’t wearing anything on my chest. I wasn’t even wearing shoes. I was asking them please, just give me something to wear and no one would give me anything when they took me from the house. When I went into the jail, I asked the soldier, just give me a t shirt but no one would give me a t shirt. Only when they took me out from the prison one of them gave me a t shirt and I was asking for shoes and no one would give me any shoes, they said no shoes.

“They took me first to the republican palace in Karada and then here to Abu Ghraib. They did really silly things at first, like tying our hands and putting bags on our heads when they took us to the bathroom. On the first day they kept a bag on my head and my hands tied the whole day. After that it was only when they moved us from one cell to another.

“They will keep you there for 3 months and after that they will decide if they will release you or not. I was questioned only on one day and the rest of three months I was just in a cell. We had 6 cars, that’s what they said, that was the first reason they gave for arresting us, we were Fedayeen, that was the second one and we tried to kill Paul Bremer. That’s what they said.

“When they questioned me they asked, do you know why you are here? I said no. They asked me, why do you have a lot of cars in your home? I said we are a rich family, we have a lot of things, we are five brothers and my father. They told me no, there are a lot of people meeting in your home. I said of course. My father is the oldest one of the family, all the family gatherings happen in our home. He said no, you are trying to make a new party now, trying to resist us. They came for me at 4 in the morning and questioned me until 10 at night.

“I said I will kill myself if you don’t release me. I’m a student in college and I need to be in college. I was studying business in Ma’amun College. After that they brought a lot of pictures and started asking me, even about children, do you know this one, do you know that one, about every picture. All the rest of the days for three months. I was just in the cell on my own.

“The Americans are just like Saddam because anyone who gives them information, they give him money, just like Saddam’s regime. They would give you money if you went and told them this person is against Saddam and now it’s the same. The Americans are paying money for anyone who tells them that this is information about the resistance. They are cheap people, trying to get money for CDs and satellite TV.”

One man said his brother was arrested when a policeman called Mohammed Saddam came to their home with US troops. The policeman had come to the family before to ask to marry one of their daughters and they said no, you have no honour. In revenge, they said, he returned with soldiers, accusing the brother of being part of the resistance.

Of course some of the information bought by the US administration is probably true but the practice of paying for tales in a country where, for so long, people have been paid for selling their neighbours, is a dangerous one. A woman told of a fight between her family and some neighbours. The other family told the troops that her sons were with the resistance. They were arrested in June and, as yet, she’s not been allowed to see them. She heard from one of the other detainees, who’s since been released, that an army dog bit her son while he was in the jail and he had to have 12 injections. Released prisoners are, for a lot of families, the only source of information.

Majida Hassan’s son Tahin was arrested on September 10th at the police station where he worked. He’d been a police officer for 6 years. She was told about it by his colleagues. He was first in Um Qasr, is now in Abu Ghraib. She took out a clear plastic bag, unrolled it and withdrew a scrap of paper with his name and the tag number – 18751. Everyone there had one of these scraps, kept safe somewhere, from the computer office where, if you give them a name, they might tell you the whereabouts of the person you’re looking for, as long as their spelling of the name, transliterated from Arabic to English, is the same as yours, otherwise there will be no trace.

They all have the A4 papers too – one headed “Request for Information” and another, “Request for Visitation.” Each contains the name of the prisoner. The former states that the bearer would like some information about the prisoner and the latter records a wish to be allowed to visit them. And that’s it. They have pieces of paper saying that they want information and a visit.

Majida has been more than 50 times to the prison trying to visit Tahin. The guards always refuse, tell her to come back in 4 months time. No appointment, just come back in four months. That’s what the pieces of paper are worth.

Sattar Mahmoud Alwan has a story: “You remember when there was looting? The kids found something, not gold but it looked like gold, some shiny thing, and they picked it up in the road and brought it home. Then you remember on the television, they put a picture and they said it has been announced that they found a big officer of the Fedayeen and the suiciders? It was my brother. His name is Khalid Mahmoud Alwan. After a while they put him in the jail and that’s it, we hear nothing about him. There has been no court hearing.

“They announced they had found a big general in the Fedayeen but he had no relationship with the Fedayeen. He’s just a normal civilian. He had a small shop for chocolates and sweets. They should make sure. If they want to fight the resistance, the resistance is out there. All they are doing is throwing innocent people in jail and saying oh, we captured the resistance. The fact is the resistance is outside and they are killing your soldiers. There is no difference any more between the freedom under Saddam’s regime and the freedom now. It’s not freedom, it’s like they are taking some revenge on our people.”

On Friday’s march they were chanting, “Britanee, amreekan, Wayn al haqooq al insaan?” [Britain, America, where are the human rights?] Women and children carried signs, photos, ID badges of their missing persons. A young woman called Yasamin had three brothers in jail, Mohammed, Mustafa and Waleed. “The Americans raided our house and arrested them and then came again and took all our money and jewellery and our ID.”

Her dad added, in English, “So now we are not Iraqis because we don’t have our IDs. In Iraq anyone who crosses the borders from Syria, from Iran, we are now like them, we are not Iraqis, and they stole about $11,000. That is our money. They stole everything, our jewellery. They are thieves.”

None of the brothers has been charged with anything as far as they know. The first was taken from the house at 3am, during the raid, the second from his workplace and the third was arrested when he went to the CPA to ask about the first two. One brother is married with three kids. “Where is the man, where is our man,” his mother asked. “We are just women in the house and children asking for their father. We don’t know where he is.”

Yasamin told me, “The American army, in the morning, stopped near my house in Adamiya four days ago. They saw the children playing on their way to school and the soldier pointed his gun at him and said ‘I’ll shoot you, I’ll shoot you’. The child didn’t understand what did he say and he was afraid, very afraid.”

Ali and Odai were arrested in Ad-Dora in October. Eman, their mother, said Ali was due to get married. She’s not been allowed to see them at all so far. For a long time she didn’t even know where they were. Their dad died 3 days after his sons were taken. Two brothers, carpenters, Abdul Rahman and Fadil, were in the mosque at early morning prayer time. The area, near Ramadi, was suurounded by troops and they were taken by US soldiers as they left the mosque. A third brother, Yasir Alewi was a guard at the electricity station. Soldiers came and asked for him a month ago, saying they would bring him back in an hour. There’s been no sign of him since.

And there was Ahmed Berdi Shermouk from Habania, whose brother Abed was arrested driving home from the barbers to his village, which had been surrounded by US troops while he was gone, and Abdul Khattan Mohammed with a letter from a lawyer stating that the governor of Diwaniya had ordered the release of his son Tha’ir, subject to bail, because no charges had been made against him, and a man carrying a list of 20 names of young men arrested from two villages near Ramadi and Sayid Ghazi Shahaf with a list of more than 20 names from Diyala.

“They surrounded the area and entered the villages after one and started choosing people and they took all of those people with them and we just don’t know any information, why they did that. They came on four occasions with a few days in between, 1 and a half to 2 months ago. No one knows any information about any of them, even whether they are alive. I have come as a representative of the village. They are all farmers.”

Even if people are accused of genuine terrorist offences, or caught in the act of theft, for example, still there has to be due process, otherwise, as the families say, there is no difference between the Americans and the old regime. Previously you could be detained on a trumped up charge and could disappear. Now, they say, you can be detained on no charge at all and disappear.

The demonstration gave the relatives a chance to be seen and heard which they seemed desperate for. After some hours it was announced that, in the morning, a list of 700 names would be published and each of those prisoners would be allowed one visitor, women only, then men the next day. Only a few relatives were still there to hear the promise, those still waiting to give their prisoner’s name to the Chirstian Peacemaker Team in hope that they could find out some information from the generals.

One man put a hand, for balance, on the coil of razor wire that separated the protesters and families from the soldiers. “Don’t touch my wire,” the major shouted. “Ah, it is his wire,” said an Iraqi man next to me, “but his wire is on my soil.” A bulldozer thing came along and started shunting concrete wall blocks into a line, sandwiching metal posts in between and draping coils of razor wire between the posts. The noise of the machine was making the kids nervous and they stood shouting at it.

The far side of the wall a fourteen year old boy called Mohammed was herding sheep. Later, when the soldiers had gone back to the prison gates he came over to talk, stepping and wriggling his way through, throwing stones at the sheep when they came too close to the dirt road into the prison. “All their relatives are in here,” he said. “Many many people. Down Saddam, down Bush.”



Please write letters to newspapers about the detentions without charge in Iraq and to Tony Blair, George Bush or whoever you’d normally write to, demanding that detainees be given legal representation, visitation rights and proper legal processes, like charges and trials or release on bail.

If there are any doctors reading, there was a man called Khalid at the march whose 3 year old daughter Shahat is sick. He had a paper from a doctor saying she has lamellar icthyasis and recommending neotigason or isotretinan / acitretin. He says the medicine is not available inside Iraq. Her skin is cracked and discoloured dark brown, her eyes are red and sore around the lids and he says in the summer when it’s really hot her eyes and nose and ears bleed and they haven’t got a generator. Can anyone tell me what this disease is, what causes it and whether those are the best drugs to give to her.

December 11th
Ramadi

There was, after all, a welcome in Ramadi. I can’t say the rumours that it’s dangerous are exaggerated, but my hands were not cut off and wherever I went people gave me chai, invited me in and wanted to talk. It’s true there was a constant percussion of gunfire, but Thursday afternoon is peak time for weddings and a lot of firing in the air goes on.

We were outside the army base to ask the commander for an explanation about the raid which killed Ibrahim and Sabah Odai and their cousin Mohammed when guns were pointed at us and we were surrounded by an incoming convoy of humvees. They were already “on lock down” when we got there, apparently having some warning of the attack on the other side of the palace which, a couple of minutes later, made the ground quake as I haven’t felt since the war and the appointment with Captain Galloway was postponed by implication.

In Ramadi, for the first time since I got back to Iraq, I was besieged by people saying they want Saddam back. The anger is tangible: not only the lack of electricity, petrol, water, jobs and so on, but the collective punishments, the deliberate cutting of supplies and services, raids and the continued presence of the US troops in the town, a couple of months after it was agreed that they’d withdraw to the edges.

Ismail Odai went to get the bodies of his brothers, Sabah and Ibrahim. The doctors wrote and signed death certificates saying the men died from fractures and body wounds. Both men were shot dead by the troops in a raid on November 20th. “There were American soldiers there with a Lebanese interpreter. They asked why is that man [Ismail] shouting?

‘The interpreter said, because they have written that the cause of death was fractures and wounds in the body. The Americans were on the head of the doctor when he wrote the death certificate. It was not wounds and fractures, it was assassination – they shot them on the ground, but the doctor refused to write that. There are bullets in the ground where they shot him. The doctor was sitting writing and the Americans were there standing over him.

“This was doctor Khattan Abed Hanish at Ramadi Hospital who signed the death certificate for Sabah. It was apparent that the doctor was under pressure from them. A different doctor, Dr Hamdi, signed the certificate for Ibrahim but he gave the same cause of death.”

We chased wild geese around the city and eventually failed to find either doctor but an Iraqi friend who works with foreign journalists explained that he has encountered Dr Hamdi before. He signed the death certificate for a Hungarian civilian worker killed recently. Three different causes of death were given in public statements by the US authorities, none of them mentioning shooting, though witnesses indicated that the man was shot by American troops. My friend stayed outside the hospital chatting while the reporters went inside and were told nothing. Away from the cameras the guards told him the man was bleeding from bullet wounds when he arrived.

Khalid was outside the house with Sabah, Ibrahim and their cousin Mohammed, waiting for futtoor, the meal which breaks the day’s fast during Ramadan. “American cars came on the road. Ibrahim’s mother asked what’s going on. He said it was only traffic control. We stayed outside the house, not thinking the troops were coming for us.

“The first car stopped beside the bush there and the others were standing on the road. The soldiers came from the road towards the house and they were running. They surrounded the house. We were outside the front of the house. The soldiers came and put ties on us and put us on the ground. The Americans entered the house through two doors – this is one and the other one is at the back.

“The women and children were in and outside the outdoor kitchen building when the Americans arrived. The soldiers entered through two doors and started shooting each other. The soldiers were terrified, between themselves, and reacted thinking each other were the enemy. They were firing as well from outside the house, through the windows. Three or four Americans were killed inside the house, killed by Americans. As revenge they came outside and shot us on the ground. They killed Ibrahim and Sabah and Mohammed and I was shot in the arm.”

He carefully removed the coat from around his shoulders and undid enough buttons to show us the wounds on his arm, dark scabs surrounded by yellowed bruising, a smallish, ragged entry wound and a larger exit wound. He’s no idea why they let him live. The house was devastated by continued attacks. Shell casings litter the ground outside. The US troops threw a grenade into a front room with no one inside. Ibrahim was a human rights lawyer and the papers for all his cases were taken from his car. One of the family’s Qurans was torn and thrown outside.

The rest of the family is now living in the medical aid building. Ibrahim’s wife is in mourning for three months and wouldn’t see us though her brother in law says she wants to send the information overseas for lawyers outside Iraq to take on the case. Ibrahim’s daughters were also indoors in mourning. His nine year old son Ibed stood outside among the adults in silence, the devastated, lonely, speechless, powerless rage in his eyes answering any question you might think of asking him. I’m not clear exactly where he was standing but his uncle says he saw his father shot.

“Bush is the head of the terrorists,” Ismail said. “The Americans came the next day and smashed the car. On the second day after, they came and said we are sorry, you are not the people we want, it’s a mistake. They were from the 8th Brigade – the commander was Isle.” (No one had any idea how the commander’s name was spelt, so that’s my guess).

A local police officer came with us from the outskirts of Ramadi to show us the way. He told us his full name but asked to be identified only as “Hussein”. He knew Ibrahim as a police cadet, an uncommonly honest man who refused to accept bribes. “He was very ambitious to be a lawyer, so he studied and got his degree and when he became a lawyer he started coming back to his friends who were still policemen, asking us to send him our cases in which the people in prison were illegally or dishonestly accused, in Saddam’s time.

“He graduated 2 years ago and started to work with those people accused by the others. He wouldn’t work for anyone who was trying to harm anyone else – it was the first time I’d ever seen a lawyer who wouldn’t accept bad things being done. Beside Ibrahim’s house, which you saw, near the medical aid place, there was an office of the Baathist party. When any soldier leaves his unit and goes absent without leave the Baathis used to come and take him from his house and send him back to his unit.

“This was near Ibrahim’s house and he told all the police that when people escaped from the army they shouldn’t tell the Baathists, he told them do not take anyone from his house, just talk to them and try to persuade them to go back. Don’t take them to the prison. This is a good thing from Ibrahim, because they weren’t punished if they went back, only if the Baathis took them.”

Hussein said there is no electricity most of the time. About a month ago the supply was stopped almost completely. The outlying villages are given it for one hour a day and the city of Ramadi has a little more but not much. Wherever I went in Ramadi, in cafes, markets, to the medical clinic to look for Doctors Hamdi and Khattan, people were eager to talk. The fury is tangible here.
December 10th
Nahrain University

We didn’t move for twenty minutes. The petrol queues, combined with the usual chaos of intersections, had packed the traffic solidly so that, if you had an inch either end to rock back and forth in, you counted yourself lucky. Passengers got out of cars and passers-by came off pavements to marshal cars onto the pavement, which freed a bit of space in the middle of the jam though another crisis came up in the shape of a heap of bricks and sand further up the alley.

Hussam’s college, when we finally reached it, is Nahrain University, which used to be Saddam’s university. A plinth at the entrance with a ragged stump on top marks his demise.

The Dean, Professor Fawzi, graduated from Newcastle University in the UK, as did I. Nahrain, he says, was not as badly hit as others by the war. Its libraries were not looted and its buildings weren’t damaged, but nonetheless it’s short of pretty much everything. He said the college has the finest librarians it could have, very dedicated, well trained and fluent in English. The science and engineering books used in Iraqi universities are mainly in English.

“The soldiers shot one of our lecturers, Dr Imad, by accident. We had a demonstration on the campus. You know today there is a demonstration against terrorism. I am not sure whether it is against US terrorism or some other kind. In the student halls of residence here on the campus they have had no electricity for the last 10 days.”

In the library Amal explained that they use the CD ISIS system, an international library system. They have books, although usually not the most recent editions, but they have no journals more recent than 1991. They’re especially short of civil and architectural engineering material because they’re new subjects to the college There is only one computer for the whole science library for cataloguing, internet and other work. Baghdad university students also use the college’s library, so the shortage of resources is acute.

The campus was packed with young men and women milling together after the day’s exams. Here were the most women I’ve seen since I got here, because the lack of security outside the campus means girls and women are staying off the streets. The graffiti on the walls is officially sanctioned ‘tagging’ by graduating groups, Science Class of 2003, King of Electronics, as well as the ubiquitous ‘mind the bomb’ posters warning against stepping on landmines and cluster bombs.

Farah says laboratory equipment is the biggest problem on her course. Electronic and communications engineering is a practical course but there isn’t enough equipment to do practicals, so it’s mainly theory. Her friend Tegrit agreed. She studies civil engineering and wants to work in construction. Laboratories are the thing they most need.

Farah said, “I was against the war. We did not love or hate Saddam, it made no difference to us, but we did not want to be invaded. I don’t like seeing soldiers about, although some of them are cute. They are just here because they’re ordered to do this, because their government told them life in Iraq was really terrible, so I don’t blame the soldiers but I don’t like to see them here.”

She was born in 85, during the war with Iran, and has no memory of life except under war and sanctions. “I want safety and a government which is strong and can keep control. I am not very interested in elections. They are a foreign thing that people are trying to give us. I wish people and students overseas will listen to the Iraqi people and not to their own governments’ news about Iraq. I live in Karrada, so it is not far from the university, but I can’t just go there and back. For the boys they can, but not for the girls. A driver comes to fetch me here because it is safe in the campus but not outside.”

Really neither of the girls has much interest in who governs Iraq, so long as it is safe and they have what they need. Everyone said there’s no political activity on campus. There are no students’ unions now that the old Baathist ones have gone. The political parties are not recruiting here and there are no student organizations that any of them were aware of.

My friend Saif had more of an interest in getting rid of Saddam – he and his brother found out after the war that they were on the Public Security list, of people who were being watched. Mukhabarat were for everyone, Public Security was just for Shia, Saif said. “So the war helped me, but this isn’t freedom. What the Americans are doing is wrong. They killed an old man in Thawra the other day.” Thawra is Saif’s neighbourhood.

Saif, though, like the students, has little interest in politics. He pointed out a wall where nine different parties had painted their names and slogans but he didn’t know any of them. He asked did I know which party a particular group of people were representing. I thought they were from one of the Communist parties. “Are they Russian,” Saif wondered. “My friend has a picture of Stalin and of Lenin. My father also has a picture of Lenin.” He’s a young Shia from one of the poorest areas, irregularly employed and presumably a prime target for several parties but is utterly unmotivated by politics, just like his counterparts in the college.

Ahmed told me more about his time driving the ambulance after the war: “US troops used to shoot at the ambulance sometimes and three times thieves tried to steal it. The first time the road was blocked by men with guns. I said to them, ‘What do you want? Do you want to steal our wounded people?’ They saw that our clothes were covered in blood and ourr faces were exhausted. The man said no, brother, carry on. I told him I’m not your brother.

“The second time, we were taking one of the nurses back to her home and we were surrounded by armed men, but they let us go when they realised it was an ambulance.
Once we were treating a man injured in a fight between US and Iraqi gunmen. He was bleeding from the head, so we bound the wound. Then I realised he was also bleeding from his arm, so I took off my shirt because I had nothing else to use as a tourniquet.

“Then I found another bad wound in the front of his shoulder, so one of the men who was nearby gave me his head covering and I used that on the wound. There were three US soldiers holding guns to our heads while we were bandaging him. The soldier’s hands were shaking on his gun.

“Two months later, I went to try and find him but it turned out he died. Half his face was gone from dum dum bullets but I hoped I had helped him. They explode, so you don’t always find the bullet in the body and they do a lot of damage.

“I don’t feel like the war lasted 21 days. I feel like it’s been 6 months because I was still seeing bodies and bullet wounds and burns and still being shot at. Every time we went into the hospital to take a wounded person there were more people in the hospital begging us to transport them back home or to take their relative to another hospital because they could only do the emergency treatment there and then they have to go to another hospital. We had to go out and get more people who were injured and try to help the people who needed to go to other hospitals.”

He was exhausted after a sleepless night with helicopters overhead and tanks up and down his street. There was an explosion. He didn’t dare go out to see what it was because he thought it was an attack on the US troops, so they would be shooting at everyone. It was only in the morning that he found out it was a bomb in the house of man who used to be a thief and is now a spy, giving information to the Americans. Half of the house was destroyed but he’d still no idea whether anyone was hurt. It’s dangerous to stop and ask on the way past. And his friend Ali is still in hiding and it still doesn’t feel like the war is over.

December 8th 2003
Ahmed and Ali

Ahmed volunteered for the last 15 days of the war as an ambulance driver. He started out trying to bring bodies and injured people to the hospital in his car, but as only one of the hospital’s ambulances in use during the later two thirds of war, he and his friend Ali started using a second one instead of the car.

“I brought five hundred bodies and many injured people. I brought all of them to Saddam Children’s Hospital [part of the Baghdad Medical City] because it was the only one that was still functioning. I never even saw a dead body before and they took me to the morgue and there were 80 bodies there.”

He had no medical training – he used to be a university lecturer in applied physics. After the war, for three months, Ahmed and Ali carried on driving the ambulance at night when people were reluctant to drive about, if they had cars, for fear of being shot by the soldiers. They got permission from the US authorities to drive after dark and, says Ahmed, after work they would start driving, collecting people and bringing them to hospital. He promised me the whole story another day over coffee and baklavas.

They kept the ambulance running as long as they could but eventually it sputtered to a halt and hasn’t worked for three months. Ahmed quit the science college because he couldn’t live on the money they paid him and now works for an organisation which clears away mines and cluster bombs. Apart from the salary, he says, there was no organisation after the war. People took freedom to mean doing exactly as they pleased, there was no co-operation and it became impossible to do anything.

The ambulance, as I just mentioned, hasn’t worked for three months. “One week ago the American soldiers raided Ali’s home. They said they have been given ‘information’ that he uses the ambulance to carry guns and ammunition and these things around at night. They found nothing in his home, not even one gun, although you are allowed to have one gun.

“Now he is a fugitive. He cannot go home because they are looking for him, they will arrest him even though they found nothing in his home. He cannot go to the Americans and say he has nothing to do with moving guns, because they will arrest him as soon as they see him and he will be in prison for at least six months. That is what happens.

“They give $2500 reward for people who give information so people tell stories about someone they don’t like, or they make something up just for the money, and they take the prize. For three months he did not sleep, just worked and then came home and drove the ambulance and now he cannot go home.”

The signs promising these rewards are on huge billboards all around Baghdad. On one of the roundabouts the posters have been bloodied with red paint – a comment on the suffering caused by those who give information, a warning to those contemplating doing so or a middle-finger salute to the authorities offering it: your offers of money won’t protect you.

But, as I’ve said before, solidarity is an alien concept for many here and while there are people like Ahmed and Ali who risked their lives, at times, to bring dead and wounded civilians to the hospitals, tale telling on neighbours and colleagues became a means of survival under the old government. The promise of a couple of years’ worth of wages to a population of which more than two thirds is unemployed means that no one has been liberated from that culture of fear of the people next door.

The mobile phone network is now said to be at least a couple of months away. It seems to delay is deliberate: in Afghanistan the network was up and running within a couple of months of the invasion. It proved useful to the resistance, who were able to communicate troop locations between, for example, the lookouts and the ambush teams. With resentment increasing, the existing MCI network is being cut back as well.

Every time you try to change dollars for dinars someone will frown suspiciously at the note you offer, shake his head, tut and pronounce, “This one is not real.” He will point out whatever feature determines that the note is a fake, maybe show you an identical one of his own as proof, and ask if you haven’t got another one to exchange instead.

Unless you’ve got a kalashnikov in your other pocket, you’re probably not carrying another $100 with you, so you move on to the next money changer, who happily hands over a wedge of the old Saddams for your dollars, thank you very much. You still get a better rate of exchange for the old Saddam notes than you do for the new liberated currency. The dinar, incidentally, is rising against the dollar, though I’ve no idea why. It’s not as if the Iraqi economy is in recovery.

Coincidentally, Tahrir Square, scene of the Saddam-Statue-Toppling ceremony, is now encircled by money changers, who sit at wooden tables with stacks of money in front of them. The wealthier ones have the new, smaller, more pert banknotes in a drawer, with only a small sample of their wares on display, a single 25,000 Dinar note the equivalent of the elastic-banded 100 note bundles of 250s which the little men are still trading. Tahrir means ‘Liberation’ – it was called that long before the Americans got there. It just seems somehow ironic that the scene of the symbol of ‘liberation’, whatever that was for anyone, has turned into the closest thing Iraq has to a stock exchange.

The petrol queues are longer than ever with several hundred cars waiting in spiral queues from petrol stations without even enough fuel to power the generators to work the pumps when the electricity is off. People spend the night in queues in order to drive to work in the morning. Tanks and humvees stand guard to make sure no one gets a can filled to sell outside but when the stations close, it seems it’s still possible for the black marketeers to get a few litres.

Check out www.iraqtoday.com for a front page report on the fuel crisis and other English language news from Iraq. The risk of being caught, tied up and held down with a bag on your head by a thug-fest of American soldiers [I believe this to be the correct collective term for US troops] has driven up the unofficial price even higher. I suppose in a sense it’s more socialist than you might expect of the occupying powers, preventing those with greater wealth avoiding the suffering of those without, but you still never see a humvee in a petrol queue.

December 6th
The Mess Between Two Rivers

Mesopotamia is the land between two rivers and both of them are filthy. It feels a little impolite to say so, of such legendary and ancient veins of the lifeblood of the cradle of so much of our civilization. Rude or not, though, it’s true.

Apologies if I start mutating into a former geography student in all of this – I’ll try my best to write in English. The Tigris and Euphrates in the Baghdad area are running low on water because of dams up-river: there are 28 in Turkey alone. The discharge of the Tigris has fallen from around 40 billion cubic metres in the 1960s to around 16 billion now. It means pollutants are more concentrated. If the water has already been used for irrigation further up the river it’s already contaminated with pesticides and fertilizers before it reaches Iraq.

During the sanctions it was impossible to repair the country’s sewage and water systems, damaged by both war and old age. Pipes were placed on hold for a long time by the sanctions committee, lest anyone should attempt to fire anything unusual out of them. Corrosion leads to leaching of heavy metals from the pipes.

Husni, a professor of Environmental Pollution, says there hasn’t yet been any testing of Iraq’s tap water or sewage but, when he worked in Libya and elsewhere, lead, cobalt, zinc, magnesium and manganese were found in both tap and sewage water from pipes which were corroded much as they are here. Most heavy metals cause damage to the brain, liver, kidneys and other internal organs.

Half a million tons of raw sewage a day (still contaminated with heavy metals) were dumped into Iraq’s fresh water courses – the Tigris, Euphrates and their tributaries. Some is used as fertilizer, so the heavy metals pass into the soil and from there to the plants, into the animals, concentrating in the people who eat them. Seepage of ground water into the river brings with it not only the heavy metals but also more pesticides and fertilisers from the irrigation water, as well as salinated drainage water.

There aren’t even effective road laws here, let alone environmental or health and safety ones, so industrial waste, chemicals and petrol also end up in the river. Husni says under Saddam no one could mention environmental pollution, as it would imply criticism of his policies, and since Saddam, no one cares. Instead of environmental legislation, he says, now there are companies wanting quick and easy money.

Apart from the water, the sewage, the heavy metals, the chemical pesticides, fertilisers and wastes and all the rest of it, there are areas of high radioactivity dotted about with no warning signs, where kids are playing and people are doing their ordinary stuff – the Christian Science Monitor recently surveyed a few areas with a Geiger Counter and found four with extremely high radiation levels.

There’s a ‘tank cemetery’ near Ad-Dora where all the burnt out armoured vehicles were dumped, inside Baghdad, where people cut pieces of metal off the ruins to use for all kinds of stuff. Some of them know the tanks might have been hit with radioactive weaponry but ignore that knowledge as it’s their only source of income. The risks of illness later are less than those of destitution now in a country of 60-80% unemployment.

There isn’t any sort of public health survey or statistics. There is no way of knowing, other than by knocking on every door in a given area, how many people have become ill, how many have died, whether there are patterns among these illnesses, how they correspond with sources of environmental contamination, whether there was heavy fighting there, what weapons were used. It’s urgent because memories, pollutants and people will disperse, the effects will go on and the chance to monitor them will be lost.

Less dramatically, there’s rubbish everywhere, including the rivers – rat infested and toxic, and no one to remove it. Baghdad, Husni says, is on a lake of sewage. The piles of rubbish, I suppose, are the islands. How romantic. As I just mentioned, between 60 and 80% of the population is without a job. Part of this is because there are no public services. No one is employed as a dustman. No one is employed as a worker in the municipal tip or the incinerator. I was about to write that no one is employed in the recycling depot, but I suppose that would be an unnecessary waste of pixels.

Some are dying from poverty and pollution and others are raking in fortunes to put paint on school walls and build mobile phone networks (incidentally it’s looking good for those who bet on ‘when hell freezes over’ for the mobile phone network to become available).

So Hosni wants to set up an organisation which will empower and educate local people to clean up their own environment, where possible, and otherwise to demand that the local, national and occupying authorities do so. He wants to carry out surveys door to door, provide a small salary for local unemployed people to remove the rubbish, collect up the litter on the streets and dispose of it.

He says at the airport, where fierce fighting went on, the topsoil from the area was scooped up by the US forces and taken away. This story is backed by other people. I believe it’s called ‘landscaping’ and it conveniently means that no one can take a soil sample and people can only guess at the type of weaponry that was used there. They’re pretty sure they know, but they can’t prove anything.

The road to the airport used to be like a wood, he says, but the Americans have cut down all the trees along it, for their safety. “It takes years for a palm tree to grow and only a few seconds to chop it down. Baghdad needs some green cover.”

It seems to be that, often, people’s professional knowledge is augmented by personal sadness. After returning to Iraq from work overseas, his brother, a military officer, took him to see the bunkers where the aircraft were kept which had been hit by the Americans in the 1991 war. Around that time his wife became pregnant. She got ill and, almost 7 months into the pregnancy, scans showed the baby was developing abnormally. They lost the child. His face, says Husni, looked like their second child. He says there’s no way of knowing what caused his wife’s illness or the baby’s abnormal development but that’s the importance of finding out. It won’t, he says, make him popular with the Americans.
December 3rd
Killings in Ramadi

Two days before the end of Ramadan, just as they were about to break their fast, the family was interrupted by two groups of US troops from the 82nd Airborne Division bursting into the house, from opposite sides. The family dived for cover and the troops fired on each other, killing three of their own. They then separated the women and girls, putting them in an outside kitchen building of the home near Ramadi.

Three men, brothers Ibrahim and Sabah Odai and their cousin, were taken outside the house, forced face down in the mud and shot dead.

The next day the military returned to the village bringing papers with them. They were sorry but they had raided the wrong house, acting on false information. Claims for compensation for any damage suffered could be submitted, along with proof of fault, photographs of damage, medical reports, death certificates, details of the amount of money claimed, and so on, to the nearest office.

The women of the village were in mourning, in black, indoors, the widow and children of one man, the mother of the two brothers, a little girl with a dressing covering a shrapnel wound on her face, a young woman with her arm heavily bandaged. The house was more or less destroyed. A white car was a strainer of bullet holes. There were bloodstains on the ground where the men were executed.

I’m passing on information from an independent journalist friend. I’ve seen the photos but I haven’t yet been able to go and take statements from the people. Ibrahim was a human rights lawyer and today there was due to be a demonstration by other lawyers in Ramadi. It hasn’t been much in the news though and I thought it was too important to wait till I get to see them. I’ll give you more details when I do.

We attempted to go to Ramadi today to join the demonstration and get their statements but by the time we got petrol it was 9:30 and we wouldn’t even have got out of Baghdad by 10, so the journalists I was hitching a lift with decided not to go. I’ll go on Saturday, inshallah. Cross your fingers for me. It’s a scary place. When I told Raed I was going to Ramadi he pleaded with me not to go. “They will cut off your hands. And your tongue.”

The reason it took until 9:30 to get petrol was that the queue went round the entire block from each of the petrol stations. Men wait outside their cars on the street parallel with the one where the actual pumps are and, every few minutes, open the driver’s door, put their shoulder to the frame and push the vehicle forward a few minutes. To leave the engine running or restart it for every step forward would be unaffordable madness.

The petrol station just past Wathiq Square said it had no petrol to sell, but still there was a motionless queue two cars wide and easily a hundred long. Even the black market sellers now have lines. The queues block the road and the rage of waiting is amplified by the continued inertia outside the station, burning the fuel so hard won. You never see a humvee in a petrol queue.

The Turkish drivers don’t want to drive to Baghdad anymore, according to Mohammed, and there isn’t enough fuel coming in from Kuwait and other neighbours to satisfy the demand for both cars and generators. Iraqi plants are generating too little because they need repairs and the Iraqi engineers know how to fix them but are not being allowed to.

As well, the prices are going up, because Halliburton (the one that’s paying Dick Cheney $1 million a year ‘pension’) is charging, via the US administration, $2.65 per gallon (4 litres) to transport it in from Kuwait. Even the Pentagon, known for its robbery of US taxpayers, used to do the job for $1.12 / gallon.. Iraqi businesses were managing to bring it in for less than $1 a gallon.

As we drove away with a full tank after a half-hour wait, even for black market petrol, Mohammed indicated another queue occupying two lanes of the highway we were passing over. The roadside sellers said an American tank just crushed two cars in that queue and drove away. No one was hurt, because they were out of the cars, just very, very angry.
December 2nd
Catching Up

Husam was driving his uncle’s car when a US humvee (big armoured car thing) pulled out and crashed into his side. He came to as they were dragging him out of the car. They pushed him onto the ground with his arms pulled up behind his back, tied them, put him into the humvee and didn’t speak to him for 20 minutes or so. The soldier in the humvee just watched him, smirking.

The translator came and told Husam he knew it wasn’t his fault, that it was the soldiers who caused the crash. Husam asked him please, go and tell them that. The translator went to tell them and a soldier came and hit Husam. “Watch yourself.”

After a while one of the soldiers suggested to the others that “we should take $50 from him for attacking us.” Husam didn’t have $50 for them to take but there was a child’s bike in the boot of the car that he was taking to one of his young cousins. One of the soldiers said, “Aah, he’s going to make a child happy. Let him go.” He was untied and let out of the humvee. He asked what they were going to do about the damage to his car. “It belongs to my uncle, not to me and you’ve destroyed it.” The translator said just go. You have your life, you have your freedom, just go.

He emailed a few days ago and today was the first time I’d seen him and his family since the war started. Harb, his dad, greeted me with open arms and a huge smile which faded when I asked him how he was doing. “Lousy,” he said.

“No work?” I asked.

“I have no work, there is no electricity – look, we’re using a generator, there is no security, no law and if something is broken, who do I complain to? There are no ministries. The sewers are full and there is no one to fix them. Saddam was a criminal, a criminal. I’m not defending him, but I am defending the government. We had an establishment, very much establishment, and if something wasn’t working you made one phone call and they would come and fix it. The sanctions made everything slower and more difficult but still we had this establishment. Now there is nothing: no government, no police.

“We can’t drive anywhere. It takes me an hour and a half to drive Husam to his college in the morning and in the afternoon it takes two hours to bring him back. Today my wife had to walk half her way to work. She is an old woman.”

Umm Talaat’s English isn’t as fluent as the rest of the family’s but she understood that much and gave him a resentful look – as if having to walk around the road blocks and traffic jams wasn’t indignity enough, now she was being called an old woman. The bus didn’t arrive – no doubt caught in traffic or broken, so she had to take a taxi. The bank she works in is on Old Rasheed Street, which was closed by the Americans for some reason connected with the exchange of the old currency for the new one. The closure stopped the traffic on surrounding streets and she had to walk about 3 kilometres.

The petrol queues make everything worse: Harb described the choice between queuing for two hours to fill up in a petrol station for between 20-50 Dinars per a litre or paying 4000 Dinars for 20 litres of black market petrol – 200 Dinars a litre - from a roadside seller who’s already done the queuing for you. Last time he paid the extra; today he queued, hence his overflowing frustration. “The Americans did one good thing today – they chased away the kids with petrol cans at the petrol station, so the queue moved quicker. When they do something good, we have to say so, they did something good, but when they do something bad, we can’t say they did something good.”

Talaat, the oldest son, is a doctor. His salary has gone up, he said, trying to be positive. But, he shrugged, everything is more expensive. Harb said a kilo of potatoes has gone up fourfold, from 300 to 1200 Dinars. Talaat said he bought a kilo of meat earlier that day for 9000 Dinars. I’ve no idea what it cost before but the entire family looked scandalised.

He got married in September to another doctor: the wedding had been on hold until after the war, which he spent living and working in the hospital. They received sometimes 100 casualties in a quarter of an hour, ran out of everything. He saw looters in the hospital while he was operating in theatre the day Baghdad was taken by the US. The next day, marines came to guard what was left because Baghdad Medical complex was the only hospital still functioning in the city.

The far side of the bridge was a tank, shooting at everything, “human or animal”. A pick-up was fired at: “Incidentally there was a family inside. The ones who could run away escaped and came to the hospital for help, there is a woman dying in the car and children. We went to the soldiers guarding the hospital and said to them please signal to those soldiers and tell them to stop shooting so we can get to those people. They said we can not signal to those soldiers because we are the marines and they are the ordinary army.

“We told them please, can’t you talk to them, so we can get the ambulance there and they said no, it’s not possible. So they were killed.

“Nothing has changed since the war. We have no nursing staff. I work as a surgeon, a scrub nurse, a cleaner. Still there is nothing. I am working in a septic environment. We have to prioritise – we will operate on this one now, this one later, let that one die because we can’t spare the treatment for him.”

Bullet wounds are now the biggest generator of casualties. Last year’s medical graduates are still without jobs because ministries not working properly to put them into work. They’ve been told they’ll have to wait till after January 1st. Harb indicated the girls’ accommodation buildings for the university, which are unuseable at the moment, because the glass is all broken and the structure damage. “The girls, mind you – they can’t just live in any rented accommodation.”

Husam pointed out the old republican palace. “People used to drive past as quickly as possible and make sure they didn’t slow down or stop near it. This was the main street. Now look what the Americans have done – they have put razor wire and concrete and the road is blocked so only one car can pass at a time. Now the street is always jammed.

“Did you see the telephone exchange? It was bombed four times with eleven missiles, to make sure it will never work again. We were here in the house. It was unbelievable.”

The house is a block away from what used to be the exchange. Piles of rubbish burn on the crumpled remains of the building and the tower, as if the ground opened and sucked the concrete, metal and glass into the crater it created. The surrounding houses are derelict as is the block of flats on the corner which used to house NASYO, the Non-Aligned Students and Youth Organisation, which sorted out my visa last time. Squatters live in what’s left of it.

Aside from being able to say aloud, “Saddam was a criminal”, the sole advantage Harb and Husam could think of was that you can now get onto all of Yahoo. Before, you could only access the search page. Still it’s impossible to download software that you have to pay for because there are no credit cards. Harb says it just means there is lots of pornography now on the internet. Husam is the supervisor in an internet centre which uses satellite, so all sites are accessible, but otherwise some sites are blocked by the US, notably the hacking sites which used to be the key to Iraqis’ navigation of the internet.

Adamiya is still under frequent US attack, still resisting occupation. Another friend from the neighbourhood expressed pride in his part of town. They don’t want Saddam back, he says, but they don’t want Americans there either. He was sitting outside a café one day when two men ran out from the market carrying grenade launchers. He and everyone around saw what was about to happen and dived on the ground. The first man caused a little damage but the second hit the tank hard.

The Americans started shooting in all directions but a third man was on a balcony in the market and hit them from above. All but one of the soldiers in the tank, Ahmed thinks, were killed. The last one carried on firing for a while and then realised it was hopeless and ducked back into the tank. The helicopters came but by then everyone had run away. That’s the only thing to do, Ahmed said. Get away before they arrive.

In a coffee shop a couple of days ago he was talking to a man and realised he was the brother of the men involved, who have now escaped the country. Amid the sound of dominoes clattering on the tables you could hear people talking about various weapons and ammunition. The sabotage, he says, is coming from ordinary people, local people, because they don’t accept the occupation. “I love the people of Adamiya,” he said.


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