Losing the Plot: Fear and Loathing in Baghdad
High Times, Jan. 4, 2004
Occupied Baghdad is a lot like Detroit. You can replace “white flight” and “hollow urban core” with “We leveled heavy sanctions” and “We bombed the hell out of it,” but the results are pretty much the same: lots of empty buildings, a police force you can’t trust and lots of people who take the law into their own hands. Squatters live in the bombed-out and looted ministries and government buildings. They are forced to move occasionally so troops can clear out the unexploded bombs dropped last year that they’ve known about for months but are just getting around to dealing with.
Though the army has been here since April, the city is still in chaos. People drive on any side of the road they like, dodging the tank and Humvee patrols that run 24 hours a day. The official curfew has been lifted, but virtually everyone is off the streets by 11 p.m. CNN reporters are not allowed out after dark. Most people have not bothered to take down the brown packaging tape from their windows that they put up last March, before the bombing began. It’s a little like Christmas lights that are left up all year. But the tape hasn’t remained out of apathy — it’s because the war isn’t over. The tape will come down when the war is over.
The war won’t be over for a long time. At the very least, it won’t be over until foreign troops leave the country … I know that during his State of the Union address, George W. Bush read off that silly list of all the countries that have sent troops to Iraq, but what he didn’t mention was that the troops from El Salvador were forced to ride into the country on a bus and wait inside a US base for a month because they had no uniforms …
So a sort of Robocop future has become Baghdad’s present, as post-invasion confusion gives way to occupied hedonism. It’s the kind of situation that lends itself to the bizarre, the banal and situations so absurd that while there is no Godot in Baghdad, this is probably a pretty logical place to wait for him. (Or her.)
An excerpt from Baghdad Bulletin
As Iraq slides into further disorder and it is the bombings that make headlines, it is important as well that the wrongs of the coalition not be lost in the fray. Two weeks ago, the murder of Palestinian Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana near Abu Ghraib Prison was the top news, now it is likely no one will pay any attention to the case of a man likely shot simply for being an Arab in the wrong place at the wrong time. Dana spent most of his career covering events in Palestine, trying to bring events closer to home for people worldwide. Dana, like an increasing number of Iraqi civilians, was killed by a scared US army soldier, a condition of the occupation that will contribute further to the downward spiral — increasingly the destabilizing effect will be felt not just from high profile bombings but from within the population.
New York two years ago was marked by destruction, but nothing comparable to that in Iraq today. I left New York last September feeling optimistic — I watched as the residents of a city famous for rudeness offered each other support and whatever they could give. There is little evidence of that same sentiment here — people are tired, frustrated, and marked by a collective notion things will get worse before they get better.
Harbingers of doom have been declaring this the final battleground between the constructs of East and West, Islamic extremism versus the free market economy and the imperialism of America. I fear they may to some extent be right — attacks inevitably beget attacks. But the US government is still the linchpin in all of this — even as control of the situation increasingly slides away from the CPA, it has not yet been lost entirely. Encouraging more international involvement in the country while actively promoting greater Iraqi involvement may help to quell some of the unrest. Relinquishing veto power over the Interim Governing Council and giving up the interests of multinational businesses in favor of allowing Iraqis to conduct redevelopment efforts would be a start.
A professor of mine in Beirut commonly made the statement that the two things that marked US foreign policy were arrogance and ignorance. If those, for once, can be checked at the door, there might still be a chance to keep things from getting much worse.Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org