Friday, June 25, 2004

Our Man "G" on the Ground in Iraq

G A Ahad -- "G" to fans of the Iraqi Bloggers -- has a new article in today's Guardian. We follow him as he makes the rounds of points of current interest in Iraq.

First stop Kerbala.

"But, alhamdulillah [thank God], the Americans are very wise and respect the shrines. Our brothers, the Americans, are taking very good care of this thing, but as far as the Shias around the world and in Iraq are concerned, they hear that the Americans are fighting 'close to the shrines', and that Shias are being killed. They see the smoke on your films so they come en masse to fight and they are immediately brainwashed by Moqtada and his thugs."

If that's the case, I ask, why doesn't the Ayatollah come out publicly and denounce those people, and show his support for these "brothers"?

"Are you crazy? It's haram [forbidden by Islamic law] to support an infidel, even when he is right, against a brother Muslim."

"So what is your strategy?"

"We will pray for Allah to stop this."


Then off to Falluja:

A bunch of Falluja kids, just finishing their exams, are hanging around their school when two muj trucks surround them and pick up all the kids who don't have a "decent" hair cut. They will be taken to get their heads shaved. (Bear in mind that we are talking about Falluja, which is already one of the most conservative towns in Iraq. There aren't too many funky haircuts here to begin with.)


I head towards one of the mosques where people are going to get aid and charity donations. A guy in his 40s approaches me with the famous welcoming smile of the Fallujans - a look of, "What the fuck are you doing here?"

I tell him that I'm a journalist and would like to meet the Sheikh.

"How did you manage to get in? Didn't they stop you at the checkpoint?"

Thinking he is talking about the marines' checkpoint, I say, "No, everything was fine."

"Did they see your camera?" I tell him I was hiding it.

"This Abu Tahrir, I don't know what kind of mujaheddin cell he is running! I told him that every car should be thoroughly searched and all journalists should be brought here!"



Last stop Baghdad's Sadr City.


"Don't go, there are Americans down the street," shouts one of the kids, so we duck into a side road. The battlefield is an empty plot of land by a mosque, surrounded by alleyways.

In one of them, a dozen teenagers, three or four of them wearing Arsenal T-shirts and flip-flops, are emptying a car boot of a mortar tube and a sackful of shells. I am allowed to stay and take pictures, but with the usual proviso: "If we discover that you are working for the Americans, we will kill you."

The target is a police station and three Humvees parked in front. Masked like a western cowboy, the shooter, or the "expert" as they call him, takes measure of the angle and shouts to another fighter: "Give me one!" The other guy produces what looks like a rusted, 2-ft long shell. The fighters here are also Mahdi, and the fighting in Sadr City often feels like one big carnival. All the kids are by now doing their cheering chant: "Ali wiyak, Ali!" "Ali with you, Ali!" If I were an American soldier, I would be expecting a flying shell every time I hear kids cheering in Sadr City. After all, this is the only fun they get, shooting at the sitting ducks.


Commentary from Nizar Abdel-Kader in his article Promoting Reform Efforts In The Middle East for Al-Hayat.

The Middle Eastern political stage remains as it was under the circumstances of the 'cold war.' The governments have continued to be run by a single leader under the banner of a single political party, with no guarantees to individuals or groups that they will be part of the political process, unless they are an integral part of the leadership. This political, economic and social oligarchy has resulted in a poisonous fallout that is manifested in the lack of transparency in government practices and institutions, including the judiciary.


The Arab world cannot find a viable exit by itself from the present crisis, and it should admit its weaknesses as a prelude to the acceptance of any new proposals for reforms. Such an exit would start with a sincere and frank pan Arab dialogue in order to come up with a plan to serve as a basis to invite the UN, the US, and the EU to come forward with a constructive role needed to sustain the reform process.


UPDATE: Omar at Iraq the Model discusses lack of freedom of speech in neighboring countries today.

The situation in Syria now is much like what we experienced before the 9th of April and that’s why I feel that the comments coming from inside Syria that agree with the government’s policy are either posted by agents of the Syrian intelligence or by ordinary people who are so scared and misled.

I used to feel sorry for Arabs in other countries because I believe that we have much more freedom than they can dream of and my friends sometimes laughed at me especially when I mention Saudi Arabia or other gulf countries because my friends took only the economic aspect in their consideration.

Now, after reading hundreds of Arabs’ comments, I can see jealousy in their words and they frankly envy us for what we have.
I’m sitting now in my living room expressing my feelings, posting my thoughts about any subject and criticizing anyone without fear while our neighbors still encounter serious risks when they want to *read* what someone else wrote in the internet.

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