Riverbend – Baghdad Burning May 2, 2006
It was around the 10th or 11th of April, 2003. There had been no electricity in our area since the last days of March. The water was also cut off and most Iraqis still didn’t have generators. We spent the days- and nights- listening to American and British war planes, listening for the tanks as they invaded the city, and praying. We also tried desperately to follow the news.
The state-controlled Iraqi channels had, seemingly, ceased to exist. Transmission had been bad since the war began- sometimes, we’d be able to access the channel clearly, and at other times, it was only a fuzzy blur of faces and scratchy national anthems. The official Iraqi radio station was no better- sometimes it seemed like they were transmitting from Mars- it was so far away. When we did get it clearly, none of it made sense: Sahhaf, the Minister of Information, would say, “There are no tanks in Baghdad!” and yet, explosions and the carcasses of burnt up cars with families still inside, said otherwise.
By the beginning of April, we had given up on getting any information from television and had to rely completely on the news we received through radio stations such as Monte Carlo, BBC and the Voice of America. VOA was nearly as useless as Sahhaf- we could never tell if the news they were broadcasting was real or if it was simply propaganda. In between news, VOA would broadcast the same songs over and over and over. I still can’t hear Celine Dion’s “A New Day Has Come” without shuddering because in my head I hear the sounds of war. “I was waiting for someone…” the roar of a plane overhead … “For a miracle to come…” the BOOM of a missile… “My heart told me to be strong…” the rat-tat-tat of an AK-47... I hate that song today.
One television station that had been broadcasting since the beginning of the war was an Iranian station called “Al Alam”. They had been broadcasting for the Iraqi public in Arabic with permission from the former government and they continued broadcasting even after the Iraqi stations stopped. Their coverage of the war was rather neutral. They gave facts and avoided unnecessary commentary or opinion and that, to a certain extent, made them trustworthy- especially since we really didn’t have any other options.
We had heard about the statue being pulled down on one radio station or another, but none of us had seen it because we had no television due to a lack of electricity. Some Iraqis were taking old televisions and connecting them to an ordinary car battery which is what they did back in 1991. E. and the cousin managed to dig up a small, old, black and white television my aunt had managed to overlook during last years spring cleaning. They had it hooked up and working in a matter of twenty minutes (and after a thorough dusting). There was no longer an Iraqi television station. There was only the Iranian one, transmitting clearly. The tanks were rolling through Baghdad and bombing everything in their path. The Apaches were flying low and it seemed like every hour the gunfire and explosions were intensifying.
It was around 9 pm on the 11th of April when we finally saw the footage of Saddam’s statue being pulled down by American troops- the American flag plastered on his face. We watched, stunned, as Baghdad was looted and burned by hordes of men, being watched and saluted by American soldiers in tanks. Looking back at it now, it is properly ironic that our first glimpses of the ‘fall of Baghdad’ and the occupation of Iraq came to us via Iran- through that Iranian channel.
We immediately began hearing about the Iranian revolutionary guard, and how they had formed a militia of Iraqis who had defected to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. We heard how they were already inside of the country and were helping to loot and burn everything from governmental facilities to museums. The Hakims and Badr made their debut, followed by several other clerics with their personal guard and militias, all seeping in from Iran.
Today they rule the country. Over the duration of three years, and through the use of vicious militias, assassinations and abductions, they’ve managed to install themselves firmly in the Green Zone. We constantly hear our new puppets rant and rave against Syria, against Saudi Arabia, against Turkey, even against the country they have to thank for their rise to power- America… But no one dares to talk about the role Iran is planning in the country.
The last few days we’ve been hearing about Iranian attacks on northern Iraq- parts of Kurdistan that are on the Iranian border. Several sites were bombed and various news sources are reporting Iranian troops by the thousand standing ready at the Iraqi border. Prior to this, there has been talk of Iranian revolutionary guard infiltrating areas like Diyala and even parts of Baghdad.
Meanwhile, the new puppets (simply a rotation of the same OLD puppets), after taking several months to finally decide who gets to play the role of prime minister, are now wrangling and wrestling over the ‘major’ ministries and which political party should receive what ministry. The reason behind this is that as soon as a minister is named from, say, SCIRI, that minister brings in ‘his people’ to key positions- his relatives, his friends and cronies, and most importantly- his personal militia. As soon as Al-Maliki was made prime minister, he announced that armed militias would be made a part of the Iraqi army (which can only mean the Badrists and Sadr’s goons).
A few days ago, we were watching one of several ceremonies they held after naming the new prime minister. Talbani stood in front of various politicians in a large room in the Green Zone and said, rather brazenly, that Iraq would not stand any ‘tadakhul’ or meddling by neighboring countries because Iraq was a ‘sovereign country free of foreign influence’. The cousin almost fainted from laughter and E. was wiping his eyes and gasping for air… as Talbani pompously made his statement- all big belly and grins- smiling back at him was a group of American army commanders or generals and to his left was Khalilzad, patting him fondly on the arm and gazing at him like a father looking at his first-born!
So while Iraqis are dying by the hundreds, with corpses turning up everywhere (last week they found a dead man in the open area in front of my cousins daughters school), the Iraqi puppets are taking their time trying to decide who gets to do the most stealing and in which ministry. Embezzlement, after all, is not to be taken lightly- one must give it the proper amount of thought and debate- even if the country is coming unhinged.
As for news of the new Iraqi army, it isn’t going as smoothly as Bush and his crew portray. Today we watched footage of Iraqi soldiers in Anbar graduating. The whole ceremony was quite ordinary up until nearly the end- their commander announced they would be deployed to various areas and suddenly it was chaos. The soldiers began stripping their fatigues and throwing them around, verbally attacking their seniors and yelling and shoving. They were promised, when they signed up for the army in their areas, that they would be deployed inside of their own areas- which does make sense. There is news that they are currently on strike- refusing to be deployed outside of their own provinces.
One can’t help but wonder if the ‘area’ they were supposed to be deployed to was the north of Iraq? Especially with Iranian troops on the border… Talbani announced a few days ago that the protection of Kurdistan was the responsibility of Iraq and I completely agree for a change- because Kurdistan IS a part of Iraq. Before he made this statement, it was always understood that only the Peshmerga would protect Kurdistan- apparently, against Iran, they aren’t nearly enough.
The big question is- what will the US do about Iran? There are the hints of the possibility of bombings, etc. While I hate the Iranian government, the people don’t deserve the chaos and damage of air strikes and war. I don’t really worry about that though, because if you live in Iraq- you know America’s hands are tied. Just as soon as Washington makes a move against Tehran, American troops inside Iraq will come under attack. It’s that simple- Washington has big guns and planes… But Iran has 150,000 American hostages.
Last updated 16/05/2006