Reaching new levels

People are being burned alive.

On Thanksgiving, Sunnis killed 215 Shiites in one neighborhood. So Friday, a few Shiites went and set six people on fire. Elsewhere some Shiite mosques were set ablaze, killing 19.

This year, thousands and thousands of bodies have been found throughout the capital. Many are found  beheaded, most have been tortured–electric drills and the like; before they are killed. Average, every day people. Shopkeepers, students, policemen, interpreters.

Can you imagine living in a city like that? Where kidnapping, torture and bombs are normal? Baghdad is a city of several million people. It has civil entities like any other city–administration buildings, courthouses, markets, parks, water plants, electric plants. People get up and go to work everyday, just like here. They get in their cars and head down the street, listening to the radio.

Except in Baghdad, you don’t know if the men next to you will blow you up, or shoot you. A band of police may stop you, ask for your identification and, if they are Sunni and your are Shiite, or vice versa, they may kill you.

As a father, going to work, trying to feed your family, probably very underemployed, you don’t know if your children will make it though the day. You might try to sign up to be a policeman…one of the few stable jobs left…but who knows if you’ll make it through the recruitment line.

Instead of “Did you do your homework?” and “Remember to look both ways to cross the street,” what do you tell your kids? I’m sure hugs are a little tighter, a little longer, maybe. What sort of values does this violence teach the young Iraq? What sort of anger is being seeded in the hearts of the children as their friends and family are picked off around them?

College students fear for their lives. Dorms are attacked. Professors fear giving bad grades to students, who might go and rustle up a rival militia and have them killed. Many have fled the country, and hundreds who have stayed have been kidnapped or killed.

How do you function in a city like that? Power only works some hours per day. Usually city blocks have generators and you pay the owner for a little bit of power. Clean water is scarce. Trash lines every street. Sewers are a joke. A trip to the market for a day’s food might get you bombed. It’s not like you can stock up for a month’s worth of groceries…no power to keep the food cold.

How does a city function at all? There are curfews at night–no one is allowed on the streets. On Fridays there is no pedestrian or car traffic allowed at all–you can’t even walk anywhere! In light of the recent surge in attacks, even the airport has been shut down until further notice.

How do you function as an Iraqi who wants to stay and make things better? There are all manner of people trying exploit the situation, but there are the men and women who won’t flee, who can’t, maybe, too poor; but who want to rebuild their homeland.

How do you run a business when you can’t get to work? How do you do business at all when people get killed on your street? How many times do you run outside to witness the burned out husks of car bombs and screams of the wounded before you cry out?

All of this, despite all America’s extension of of the troops to “secure the capital.” Now it’s time for all those extra boys to go home. And things will what? Get better?

My heart breaks to think of what it must be like to be a normal citizen there. Friends, cousins, bosses, imams, TV personalities, government officials, all are being gunned down around you. You see teams of men moving down the side streets in the black of night and you hold your breath, hoping they’re not breaking down your door, coming for your family. The Americans are around, but not to help. They just sweep the main roads to keep them clear for convoys. They don’t stop the death squads.

What do we expect the average citizens there to do? How should we expect them to feel? A lot of countries came in, made a lot of money, and all have left Iraq. How do you think that makes the average Iraqi feel? Can we really blame them for being so angry? We keep claiming liberation and democracy, freedom and a better world…and this is it? We say it “takes time,” but does it also take getting much, much worse without any hint of progress? Then it will, what, magically get better, like a fever breaking?

The oil is not flowing, the lights are not on, the government is not working, the killings not only have not stopped, but have escalated to the point where hundreds are killed every day…what’s next? Oh that’s right, I remember: stay the course.

Easily said in a speech, but harder to swallow, I imagine, as you hold what’s left of your son after a bombing.


About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

9 responses to “Reaching new levels”

  1. Lessie says :

    Thanks for sharing that.

  2. Felyne says :

    Your American Civil War claimed more lives than WW1, WW2, Korea and Vietnam combined.

    I say that because civil wars always come at a huge, huge cost. Because it is a country fighting for itself, I don’t think anyone outside can come in and expect to find resolution for them. They must find their own path to coexistance. If you look at Israel, 2000 years and they are still fighting.

    The American people went through similiar pains (excluding power tools) during their war, but they found peace. Could someone like England or Spain have come in and settled that for you guys? (that’s not rhetoric). How would you, as an American, felt if someone like Britain had send a whole load of the Kings troops to try and settle your North/South argument?

    They have to learn coexistance. If they don’t, then nature will take its course and only the strong shall survive.

  3. salmons says :

    Lessie: Nothing to it, thanks for the read!

    Fel: The American Civil War is something I go back to a lot. You’re exactly right Fel. If someone had “solved” it for us, the hatred between the two sides would have just been covered up for a short time. Nothing would have been resolved, and even more animosity would have come about for the side who was chosen to be “right” by the powerful third party.

    But on the other hand, leaving horrible acts like that unpunished is irresponsible also…the problem is we contributed so much to the destabilization of the region in the first place, that it’s hard to pick a point to say “enough” and let nature take over.

  4. priya says :

    Thought provoking. Here’s a rambling bit from the Indian side of things…although after 15 years in America, that line begins to blur for me!

    The British ruled India for over 300 years and when they partitioned India and Pakistan in 1947, the bloodshed was unimaginable. The border was an arbitrary line; over 14 million emigrated to one side or the other and from some reports -nearly a million lost their lives in senseless violence between Muslims and Hindus.

    Democracy always comes at a high price. What saved India at that time from complete carnage (my .02 cents) was true leadership from Nehru and Gandhi among others.

    I can’t seem to see a similar force or even a similar will in Iraq at all. It takes one or two people to be a visionary, powerful, force for change (think Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela…) It may be a truly Utopian wish, but I would love to see one of their own have the steel resolve to be a uniter…

  5. salmons says :

    Priya: Very true. And unfortunately men like Gandhi aren’t just everywhere.

    So much of what is in Iraq seems to be born from greed. Men are in power because of how they say they’ll cooperate with the occupying country. Corruption is rampant. Sects rip each other apart based on pure anger.

    Similar conditions existed in India, I realize, but like you said, there were men with vision to call order out of the chaos.

    Iraq doesn’t have that, just occupying troops who would rather be home, leaders who would rather make money, and sects who would rather kill all who oppose them.

  6. Bob Rashkin says :

    Dear Joshua,

    Hi. This posting is great: sensitive and heartfelt. And well-written. It gives a very immediate and poignant picture of daily life in Baghdad.

    May I ask a few questions to try to get an even clearer picture? Thanks.

    1)With businesses in danger of being attacked and the streets so unsafe, I presume many organizations have closed or often are closed. Then how are people getting money to pay for their needs?

    2)If you want or need food or something else, I presume you risk your life on the streets to get to the store or market, compounded by the likelihood that when/if you make it the store will be closed or they won’t have what you want. Yes?

    I gather Iraq once was a bountiful country. Now is there fruit? Is there meat?

    3) Are there people starving because either there isn’t enough food, or they can’t afford it?

    4) You say there are parks in Baghdad. So are there trees in the neighborhoods? Are there flowers- can people still garden (I gather that that kind of water is available)?

    5) Apparently one thing there is no shortage of is gasoline, right?

    6) When you can go out, is it safer to walk or to drive?

    7) Analagous to New York City after 9/11, do the families of those kidnapped or otherwise missing in Baghdad put up posters seeking information about their loved ones?
    If they do I suppose they’re all over the city.

    8) How often do those who’ve been kidnapped or otherwise disappear come back?

    9) As I understand it, you can’t tell a Sunni from a Shiite by looking at them. But can you tell an insurgent by sight -do they dress distinctly, say? Do the different armies and factions have their own uniforms or hats or whatever?

    Thanks much, Man. This is powerful, valuable writing.

    Then let me give to you a couple of quick spelling tips: (A) In the usual sense, cars brake, hearts break. (B)It’s vice-versa, not vise-versa.

    You have a very nice website, too. Very good looking.

    I’m writing this in Bourbonnais, Illinois, about 60 miles south of Chicago. The trees are bare, but it’s been in the 60s for the past few days- I saw a convertible with the top down a few days ago. I’m going to go out in a bit and rake leaves. The weather’s supposed to change Thursday, and we may get snow.

    Bob Rashkin

  7. salmons says :

    Bob: Thanks for the spelling catches. I’m bad at those.

    Now, on to the questions. Actually, the kicker of the whole thing is I don’t know how the Iraqis are feeling or how they cope specifically. I just try to imagine how it must be like.

    We don’t venture out of our bases very much anymore, that was only when the whole war started. Now we just sit tight on our little secure camps, going outside only to deliver supplies to our other camps. There are some who go out for goodwill missions–photo ops with kids, handing out soccer balls and giving medicine now and again…but for the most part we don’t interact with the citizens at all unless we’re arresting or looking for people to arrest.

    1) I don’t know how they get money to pay for their needs. There’s a lot of black market stuff that goes on. It probably falls to the man of the house to earn money however he can, be it with the insurgents or risking his life working for the Americans.

    2) There are still a lot of farms in Iraq, it is still fertile in the river valley. There is a lot of pollution everywhere, though. Food isn’t so much scarce as perhaps not clean.

    3) I know there is always want, but it isn’t so bad, food wise, as it is in other places in the world.

    4) Saddam had several parks and game reserves that he kept for himself. There is the occasional soccer field or playground in the city. Trash and debris are everywhere, though.

    5) Heh, you’d think not, but we ship out all the oil to our allies in Turkey for refining. Between insurgents and bandits, not very much gets back to the people for use in their cars. It’s government-subsidized gasoline also, so while it might be less than a dollar a gallon, people have to wait hours and hours to fill up. They camp out at the gas station, start a fire, and just sit.

    6) Americans don’t go out, we get shot at and bombed. We stay in our secured zones. When I’d fly over the city, I’d see cars and pedestrians.

    7) I can’t say how they cope with the missing. I just see the pictures on the news of people crying.

    8) I have no idea. Every once in a while they’ll mention that so-and-so was released–like those who were taken from the Ministry of Higher Education last week. They were reported to have been let go.

    9) It’s hard to tell a Sunni and Shiite by looks alone. There are subtle differences in dialect, I’m told by some of the interpreters I knew. They have different ways they can dress, and their names are distinct, hence the reason some travel with two sets of IDs, to try to blend in whenever possible. It was the same with the genocide in Rwanda, the Tusis and Hutus were indistinguishable by looks alone.

    Hope that helps! And thanks for the website kudos!

  8. Bob Rashkin says :

    Thanks very much for this, Joshua. I appreciate your time, your knowledge, your forthrightness, and your sympathetic nature.

    I’m asking all this because I’m writing a song about it, and I want to be accurate. What I want to do in it is make the war real to Americans.

    If you’d like, once it’s done, which I hope will be in the next month, I’ll send you a recording and/or the lyrics. If you want, email me with your address.

    Thanks again. Be safe, and keep up the good work.

    Eyes on the prize,

  9. Lukas says :

    Good blog ppost

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