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Posts Tagged ‘911’

BYE BYE BAGHDAD

In Popolitics on December 18, 2011 at 12:18 am

"The New Iraqi Flag" by Hala Alsalman (2005)

2011 is almost over. While many across the globe believe that Armageddon is just around the corner, the world ended many years ago in Iraq. Unjust bombings, unjust sanctions and an unjust 8 year occupation have resulted in unimaginable death tolls, disease (social and otherwise), and the destruction of hope for at least two generations of Iraqis. While the pretext for war was the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, the car bombings that have mangled and dismembered thousands upon thousands of Iraqi citizens are part of a culture of terrorism that never existed in Iraq before the invasion. Things that we in the West take for granted, like electricity and garbage management, are at atrocious levels.

And so, what was once a beacon of progress and intellectual thought in the Middle East, has now become one of the worst places to live on Earth. As the last of US troops pull out of Iraq this month, lest we forget what the US government has left behind: One of the greatest crimes against humanity of our time.

In 2004, a 23 year-old Egyptian-American filmmaker by the name of Wesam Nassar traveled across Iraq for two months distributing video cameras to Iraqis for a documentary film project. What he saw has marked him to this day. This is an article he wrote upon his return to the United States:

REFLECTIONS OF A WITNESS

What you see my son is America’s three O’s: Occupation, Oppression, Opportunity.”

Salman Al-Berman (Adthamia, Baghdad)

One month since my return from Baghdad, the dark cloud that loomed over the country still remains in the nightmarish messages of despair electronically sent to me by my now extended family. I have been repeatedly asked by friends, family, and colleagues, why I waited a month to recount the tales of my journey to what many Iraqi’s call a country of destruction? I don’t know why exactly. Except to say that from the moment I flew out of Baghdad into Amman till this very minute, I find myself at times weeping without apparent cause or reason. Where does one begin, when reflections of the past impose the very despair seen in Iraqi eyes upon you?

As I sit here on the computer, I know that the fact of the matter is I am not an expert on international political affairs, a war analyst, or a religious figure. I am just a human being that has witnessed the ramifications of war with every one of my senses, yes including my sense of smell, as the odor of rotting flesh rose from a rooftop in Fallujah one mid-May morning.

I was told they were the remains of a young student who joined the Fallujah brigade, A.K.A. pretty much every able bodied man in Fallujah, and died when a mortar destroyed the rooftop he was posted on. Most of the perished have similar epitaphs of simply defending their loved ones. The only great victory I saw in the destroyed city of Fallujah were the mothers that survived, many of whom lost sons in April and again today.

My last day in Fallujah I ate lunch at the most famous restaurant in all of Iraq, Hajji Hussein’s. Hajji Hussein’s is known from Mosul to Basra and everywhere in between. Some Baghdadi’s make the hour-long drive to Fallujah for lunch to experience the fine dining of Kofta and Kebab. As my guide Keiser and I sat silently eating the juiciest Kebab in the world, I paused to look around. Everyone, every single person in the place was staring at the television, watching Al-Jazeera. But this is normal. In Gaza, Palestinians would be glued to the television 24/7. It makes sense. The thing that made this moment in Iraq a profound one, was that most of the men were either handicapped in wheelchairs or strapped with Kalashnikov’s (Russian Guns). Leaving a bitter taste in my mouth, it was a scene that even the best kebab in all of Iraq couldn’t cure. At that moment, I couldn’t help but think, These men sacrificed their limbs and lives for their families and neighbors, with the only reward being life. I can learn a lot from them.

It was hard to enjoy simple pleasures, for violence penetrated almost every moment of life. In Adthamia, Baghdad, my driver Salman invited me out for ice cream on account of the heat. As we stood together leaning against the ice cream stand eating the Mota ice cream and enjoying the relief of the shade, the mental oasis was interrupted abruptly. A tank and two hummers pulled up across the street and without warning began firing rounds into a house. Salman and I dropped our ice cream, and ran toward the car. Most people were running away from the violence, but some were running towards it with weapons. As we jumped into the car, some kids (undoubtedly under the age of 15) began firing on the Coalition troops from rooftops and the ice cream shop. As we sped off, my side view mirror revealed a hummer on fire, and a firebombed house. Within an hour we found out that a soldier died in the skirmish, as they were looking for an insurgent hiding at home.

It was hard for me to adjust to the sounds I wasn’t accustom to hearing living in the US. In Iraq, about every 5 minutes one hears some form of gunfire, an aircraft overhead, a crash in the distance, or a siren. I became shocked at myself when by the fifth night in Baghdad, I was able to ignore and sleep through nearby firefights, and parade of bullets passing through the neighborhood (some gunmen perched on nearby rooftops within sight). The unbelievable irony of hearing the morning call to prayer over the sound of tanks driving through the streets, returning to their bases after long nights of fighting.

Or what about driving on the freeway listening to Freedom Radio with DJ Sergeant Jon Clark who decides to play Kool & The Gang’s ‘Celebration’ all the while Salman and I watch as a Black Hawk helicopter fires on a crowded neighborhood. We pulled off the road and sat in awkward silence. What speech do you utter at that point? Except what Salman turned to me and said, “It’s a celebration? Okay then, let me buy you some fish.” We both laughed uncontrollably, masking our tears.

As we drove to the restaurant, I noticed that it became increasingly hard for Salman to hide his frustration, and little did we know that the opportunity would come for him to let it all out. Driving along the street he began to reminisce about the restaurant he was taking me to, saying that he would take his family there all the time on Fridays. “The best seafood in Iraq.” Then HONK!!!! Our car is hit from behind and pushes us to the side of the road. We hear “get the fuck off the road!” as a hummer drives by leading an envoy of tanks and trucks with the label Halliburton emblazoned on the sides. We sat in silence. After a couple of minutes Salman finally turned and looked at me. He said, “You know, we built these roads.”

You felt the occupation in every touch, whether that was the touch of a handshake, a hug, or a shake down. In route to Basra from Baghdad, the Muktada Sadr militia stopped us at a checkpoint. After getting all the details of who we are, where we were going, and checking our car, they invited us for tea. We drank tea. In the short time we stood amongst them, I came to learn that the majority of the men were farmers/laborers and joined the militia simply to defend their family and land. No, this is not an oversimplification; their seemingly simple intentions were devoid of grand illusions of defending the Nation. The moment, Abdel Karim, a fighter in his late fifties shook my hand and hugged me close, I knew that all that these men wanted was a space to love and maintain their families.

Was the encounter with Abdel Karim any different than the one I had the following day with Private Marco, a Philipino American soldier who held me against a fence and searched me? He would proudly talk of his military record, of having served in Grenada, Desert Storm, and Afghanistan. He finished patting me down, and I asked him what makes Iraq different from those other places. He paused and with disdain said that the difference was that ‘I knew my objective everywhere else.’ “After nine months of getting shot at 24/7, we don’t know why we are here anymore. Honestly, all I want to do is get out of this country and get back to my family. Just get my check and get out.” He let my driver and me pass through after he told me he has two kids and a wife waiting for him in New Jersey, and Iraq this would be the last place he would serve.

After two weeks of life in Iraq my eyes were the most abused of all senses. I saw enough violence, destruction, and chaos for ten lifetimes in under a month. And what made it even harder to bear was the constant reminder of my passport: I had the option of leaving. For my new friends and new extended family, Iraq was life. This country that was considered the gem of the world for hundreds of years, where European philosophers, scientists and theologians would come to study, a nation on the verge of being considered a member of the first world, is now reduced to rubble. I was unable to bear the sight of the historic national library, that was rebuilt hundreds of years ago after the Tartars burned it to the ground, returned to ruins, firebombed, looted, and abandoned. More disheartening however, were the nihilistic remarks of hopelessness uttered by children and young adults about the hope of the future.

This is what I smelled, tasted, heard, felt, and saw.

Occupation, Oppression, Opportunity.

Wesam Nassar

November 2004