In Baghdad, Iraqis spoke to Nermeen Al-Mufti of life under occupation

March 23, 2014 at 11:23 pm | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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In 2006, March, no. 787 from Al-Ahram Weekly, devoted a special dossier on Iraq newspaper, under the headline “Iraq. Years of torment. 2003-2006
 

‘Can you help me not miss them?’

In Baghdad, Iraqis spoke to Nermeen Al-Mufti of life under occupation

Click to view caption
FACES OF THE FALLEN: Iraqis continue to mourn civilan victims as the body of Farid Hussein is carried for burial. Hussein, and three others, were killed in a bomb blast on Monday. Such a scene has come to dominate the Iraqi street during the past three years; Sinan Abdul-Aziz; Saleh Shibani; Shaymaa; Jaafar


The journalist

Saleh Al-Shibani,
Editor of the weekly newspaper Al-Qalaa

“We are all liable to being killed by mistake or by a suicide bombing. We are all targeted, from university professors to garbage collectors, including hairdressers, journalists, doctors — all Iraqis. I heard from a soldier friend that you cannot hear the sound of the bullet that kills you. As a result, every time I hear the sound of a bullet I praise God for my life. I would not make the heroic claim that I’m not afraid. It’s fear that taught me to be cautious. I routinely change the times at which I leave the house to the office and vice versa, as well as the route I take. I fell silent in the wake of the occupation but, finding that futile, I went back to writing a few months ago. I speak for my conscience and for Iraq. And to my mind targeting journalists is first and foremost part of a campaign to terrorise Iraqis — because journalists, being objective, tell the bitter truth; there are always parties who want to put an end to that. The claim is made that, among the virtues of the “new” Iraq is the plurality of voices as evident in the large number of newspapers on offer.

The truth is that the newspaper scene is in chaos; and however many there are of them, very few newspapers can be called professional at all. Every party, every party leader, basically everyone who can afford it has launched a newspaper. And each newspaper speaks for the entity it represents, makes a claim to the truth, assuming the right not only to criticise but to insult its adversaries; this is particularly easy in the light of the legal void. Democracy means constructive criticism and the ability to listen to another; in Iraq any other voice will set off an endless string of problems. The assassination a few days ago of our colleague Muhsin Khadir, editor-in-chief of the magazine Alif-Baa, raised only a few journalistic voices; this is the case given that, since the beginning of the occupation, 49 journalists have been killed. In the absence of security to protect Iraqis, working conditions are difficult. We live only by the grace of God. Before the occupation I used to work for Al-Jumhouriya newspaper, and despite the despicable dictatorial regime, I feel that publishing what I wanted to say was then easier than it is now. Every politician and leader wants you to write about him; everyone blames you because you have ignored their achievements. My question is, ‘how does the destruction of the country, its values and sense of unity amount to an achievement?’ My wife too was also a journalist before the occupation; now, for many reasons, she has become a housewife: she does not like to leave the side of our two sons, nor does she feel safe with the house unattended for a second ”

The professor

Sinan Abdul-Aziz,
Professor of Arabic literature, Kirkuk University

“Deteriorating security means Iraqi academics are an easy target for abduction and assassination; a total of 190 professors have been killed under the occupation. You might be killed in an explosion on the street. Many professors can’t afford private cars; they ride on the bus, which makes their death more likely. Not that I’d personally want the attention or misunderstanding incumbent on having a bodyguard. We work to build the students’ confidence in us, but since we’ve grown to fear them sometimes, they too fear us. That said, both parties have resumed the work they do together — teaching and learning. Iraqi minds are specifically targeted; it’s a particularly dangerous dimension of the occupation which the killing of nuclear scientist Mohamed Al-Ardramali in Abu Ghraib prison during the first few months of occupation revealed. They want a backward Iraq to suit Zionist plans.

Neo-conservatives in Washington are already admitting that what is happening in Iraq serves Israeli, better than American, interests. So we were right to point to Zionism. Students attacked a colleague of mine; another, Abdul-Razaq Al-Naas, was assassinated. I’ve received threats since. If not for the absurd situation in which the occupation has placed us, with the vaguest promise of an elected government working towards security and stability, no student would dare hit a teacher. And what’s even more of a joke: the government requests that we should protect ourselves. Hundreds of qualified Iraqis have fled their homelands.

Many universities are without staff, and campus has turned into a kind of investigative court or interrogation chamber, in which teachers have no right to question or punish students, especially when they belong to a party, much less criticise a political organisation. I hardly know any more where the threat is coming from, whose protection to seek. True, our financial situation has improved a lot; but give me the choice of salary or security, and I’ll take the latter. Before the occupation, only one person and his family posed threats; now everyone is a threat, everyone capable of liquidating you at a blink. I don’t understand how killing came to be so easy.”

The doctor

Luway Al-Salehi

“Last January, according to unofficial sources, 26 doctors were assassinated in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

Physicians are in the line of fire of many entities right now in Iraq. When a member of the national guard died in my care, I was personally beaten by his colleague. Never mind that the casualty was already brain-dead when he entered the hospital, the victim of a booby-trapped car. It’s happened to many doctors besides me. But going on strike, we soon realised, only deprived the citizens of necessary medical care. Still, in the last six months alone, four doctors died on the job.

Violence on the streets makes the situation unimaginably painful in hospitals. There are too many injured for us to accommodate. We’ve even begun to spread people out on the floor. That’s not to mention the constant lack of life- saving supplies necessary for wounds and burns. The numbers of dead are such that, rather than a month in the morgue, casualties are buried within three days of their photos being published if they haven’t been identified. How many civilians have been killed? No one will answer that question; my conviction is that no official agency has undertaken a proper count of civilian casualties. Anyone who tries ends up fleeing the country; that was the case with some people who tried to publicise the number of corpses following the bombing of Samaraa. Despite the sanctions, the regime, the difficult material circumstances, before the occupation I for one was someone who had millions of dreams. I do not dream any more. In fact I’m often scared of my own shadow.

The housewife

Hana Madhloum

“I must tell you that I have suffered much to bring up my daughters, with what little help my family, my husband’s family and the neighbours could spare; finances were not forthcoming and the sanctions made it all worse. My eldest daughter Reem has now graduated from the Faculty of Engineering; Suha is a pharmacology student. My youngest, Hind, is in the final year of middle school and wants to study medicine. And having suffered, I never thought I’d miss the Saddam Hussein years. My husband died in 1993, due to lack of medication in Iraq, also brought about by the sanctions; though he was a university professor, I was unable to take him abroad for treatment. And I despised the Saddam regime. Because of Saddam’s mistakes, we lost many loved ones, many valuable things. But the last few years have been a nightmare by comparison. I wish they were a nightmare. I wish I could wake up to Saddam — and security. The worry I go through on a daily basis, waiting for my daughters to come home: no one can endure that.

I used to place freedom above security. Now I know security counts more than bread.”

The mother

Um Jaafar

(During a US raid Um Jaafar, a woman in her 40s, saw her three sons Jaafar, Haidar and Athir being killed before her eyes).

“At 2.30, the night of 21 January, I woke up to a blast that opened the door of our house in the Al-Huriya Al-Thaniya area, west of Baghdad. A group of American soldiers stormed in.

With them was an Iraqi translator, through whom they asked me about Mohamed. I pointed to my son Jaafar, whom we call Mohamed at home. Without a single comment, they moved to where Jaafar was sleeping and shot him dead. Athir, Jaafar’s 28-year-old half-brother, tried to question the translator about the reason. The response was, ‘the matter has come to an end.’ And when he tried to go upstairs to seek the help of their elder brother Haidar, 29, an American bullet beat him to it, killing him immediately. Haidar’s wife tried to defend her husband and their children, Mustafa and Ali, but one of the Americans beat her back — on the head, with a baton — to make way for the bullet that was to kill Haidar. The whole process took no more than a few minutes. In the end my daughter Shaimaa lay among the three corpses, injured and bleeding.

Only later did the translator ask me to fetch the identity cards of those killed — only to realise that there was no Mohamed among them. He said simply, ‘sorry, but we have killed them on a suspicion.’ And the raiding force left. What happened had not sunk in when they came back, and to this day I still can not believe it; I have not visited the graves of my sons. I lost three sons like that; who would believe me? I do not believe it myself. Trying to comfort me, neighbours and relatives point out that at least I got to bury my dead; there are mothers, they say, who do not even have access to their sons’ corpses once they are told they were killed. But I am a mother and my disaster feels the greatest.

Tell me, what should I do when I miss Jaafar and his brothers? I miss them. For how long will we keep losing our sons by mistake? Just tell me what to do. Can you help me not miss them?”

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2006/787/sc3.htm

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