March 28, 2006
I sat late last night switching between Iraqi channels (the half
dozen or so I sometimes try to watch). It’s a late-night tradition for
me when there’s electricity- to see what the Iraqi channels are
showing. Generally speaking, there still isn’t a truly 'neutral’ Iraqi
channel. The most popular ones are backed and funded by the different
political parties currently vying for power. This became particularly
apparent during the period directly before the elections.
trying to decide between a report on bird flu on one channel, a montage
of bits and pieces from various latmiyas on another channel and an
Egyptian soap opera on a third channel. I paused on the Sharqiya
channel which many Iraqis consider to be a reasonably toned channel
(and which during the elections showed its support for Allawi in
particular). I was reading the little scrolling news headlines on the
bottom of the page. The usual- mortar fire on an area in Baghdad, an
American soldier killed here, another one wounded there… 12 Iraqi
corpses found in an area in Baghdad, etc. Suddenly, one of them caught
my attention and I sat up straight on the sofa, wondering if I had read
E. was sitting at the other end of the living
room, taking apart a radio he later wouldn’t be able to put back
together. I called him over with the words, "Come here and read this-
I’m sure I misunderstood…" He stood in front of the television and
watched the words about corpses and Americans and puppets scroll by and
when the news item I was watching for appeared, I jumped up and
pointed. E. and I read it in silence and E. looked as confused as I was
The line said:
الدفاع تدعو المواطنين الى عدم الانصياع لاوامر دوريات الجيش والشرطة
الليلية اذا لم تكن برفقة قوات التحالف العاملة في تلك المنطقة
Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the
orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are
accompanied by coalition forces working in that area."
That’s how messed up the country is at this point.
switched to another channel, the "Baghdad" channel (allied with Muhsin
Abdul Hameed and his group) and they had the same news item, but
instead of the general "coalition forces" they had "American coalition
forces". We checked two other channels. Iraqiya (pro-Da’awa) didn’t
mention it and Forat (pro-SCIRI) also didn’t have it on their news
We discussed it today as it was repeated on another channel.
"So what does it mean?" My cousin’s wife asked as we sat gathered at lunch.
"It means if they come at night and want to raid the house, we don’t have to let them in." I answered.
not exactly asking your permission," E. pointed out. "They break the
door down and take people away- or have you forgotten?"
according to the Ministry of Defense, we can shoot at them, right? It’s
trespassing-they can be considered burglars or abductors…" I replied.
cousin shook his head, "If your family is inside the house- you’re not
going to shoot at them. They come in groups, remember? They come armed
and in large groups- shooting at them or resisting them would endanger
people inside of the house."
"Besides that, when they first attack, how can you be sure they DON’T have Americans with them?" E. asked.
sat drinking tea, mulling over the possibilities. It confirmed what has
been obvious to Iraqis since the beginning- the Iraqi security forces
are actually militias allied to religious and political parties.
it also brings to light other worrisome issues. The situation is so bad
on the security front that the top two ministries in charge of
protecting Iraqi civilians cannot trust each other. The Ministry of
Defense can’t even trust its own personnel, unless they are
"accompanied by American coalition forces".
It really is
difficult to understand what is happening lately. We hear about talks
between Americans and Iran over security in Iraq, and then American
ambassador in Iraq accuses Iran of funding militias inside of the
country. Today there are claims that Americans killed between 20 to 30
men from Sadr’s militia in an attack on a husseiniya yesterday. The
Americans are claiming that responsibility for the attack should be
placed on Iraqi security forces (the same security forces they are
All of this directly contradicts claims
by Bush and other American politicians that Iraqi troops and security
forces are in control of the situation. Or maybe they are in control-
just not in a good way.
They’ve been finding corpses all over
Baghdad for weeks now- and it’s always the same: holes drilled in the
head, multiple shots or strangulation, like the victims were hung.
Execution, militia style. Many of the people were taken from their
homes by security forces- police or special army brigades… Some of them
were rounded up from mosques.
few days ago we went to pick up one of my female cousins from college.
Her college happens to be quite close to the local morgue. E., our
cousin L., and I all sat in the car which, due to traffic, we parked
slightly further away from the college to wait for our other cousin. I
looked over at the commotion near the morgue.
were dozens of people- mostly men- standing around in a bleak group.
Some of them smoked cigarettes, others leaned on cars or pick-up
trucks... Their expressions varied- grief, horror, resignation. On some
faces, there was an anxious look of combined dread and anticipation.
It’s a very specific look, one you will find only outside the Baghdad
morgue. The eyes are wide and bloodshot, as if searching for something,
the brow is furrowed, the jaw is set and the mouth is a thin frown.
It’s a look that tells you they are walking into the morgue, where the
bodies lay in rows, and that they pray they do not find what they are
The cousin sighed heavily and told us to open a
couple of windows and lock the doors- he was going to check the morgue.
A month before, his wife’s uncle had been taken away from a mosque
during prayer- they’ve yet to find him. Every two days, someone from
the family goes to the morgue to see if his body was brought in. "Pray
I don’t find him… or rather... I just- we hate the uncertainty." My
cousin sighed heavily and got out of the car. I said a silent prayer as
he crossed the street and disappeared into the crowd.
E. and I
waited patiently for H., who was still inside the college and for L.
who was in the morgue. The minutes stretched and E. and I sat silently-
smalltalk seeming almost blasphemous under the circumstances. L. came
out first. I watched him tensely and found myself chewing away at my
lower lip, "Did he find him? Inshalla he didn’t find him…" I said to no
one in particular. As he got closer to the car, he shook his head. His
face was immobile and grim, but behind the grim expression, we could
see relief, "He’s not there. Hamdulilah [Thank God]."
"Hamdulilah" E. and I repeated the words in unison.
all looked back at the morgue. Most of the cars had simple, narrow
wooden coffins on top of them, in anticipation of the son or daughter
or brother. One frenzied woman in a black abaya was struggling to make
her way inside, two relatives holding her back. A third man was
reaching up to untie the coffin tied to the top of their car.
that woman- they found her son. I saw them identifying him. A bullet to
the head." The woman continued to struggle, her legs suddenly buckling
under her, her wails filling the afternoon, and although it was
surprisingly warm that day, I pulled at my sleeves, trying to cover my
suddenly cold fingers.
We continued to watch the various scenes
of grief, anger, frustration and every once in a while, an almost
tangible relief as someone left the morgue having not found what they
dreaded most to find- eyes watery from the smell, the step slightly
lighter than when they went in, having been given a temporary reprieve
from the worry of claiming a loved one from the morgue…