The other side of Iraq
Bassam al Antari-Albawaba.com
Six months of the American occupation in Iraq passed, and Iraqis described their capital city of Baghdad as a relatively safe Island surrounded by a chaotic Iraqi sea.
Activities start in Baghdad at sunrise and its streets become overcrowded with people and traffic. Around sunset and when the heat, which reaches climax at noon subsides, souks (markets) become overcrowded with people who go there for shopping.
But when night comes, people start to desert Baghdad's streets, which become gradually an arena for chasing thieves and criminal rings by the Iraqi police. Very often explosions and shootings are heard at night in Baghdad and people know that these are not caused by chasing thieves and criminals but rather due to attacks launched by the Iraqi resistance against the US forces.
The Arab and international media published horrible scenes from Baghdad in the first days following the fall of the former regime.
Looters were everywhere and robbing became a profession for those who have never stolen anything before. While killing and rape became a normal thing out of revenge, other people committed such crimes in order to become rich very quickly.
Amid such horrible circumstances, going out has become a dangerous adventure that no Iraqi would dare to do, except for emergency purposes. The US soldiers patrolled the streets while inside their tanks and armored vehicles without giving any attention to what was going on around them as the orders for them during that period were to occupy the country rather than to provide security.
But now, the situation has dramatically changed, according to an Iraqi National Accord (INA) senior official who reiterated that the security chaos has subsided and life in the eight million people city is coming back to normal.
“The crime rate has drastically declined as compared to the past months. All crimes including car thefts, home property thefts, attacks and kidnapping have decreased as clearly felt by the Iraqi citizens,” said Ibrahim al Janabi, secretary general of the INA headed by the present head of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) Eyad Allawi.
Speaking to Albawaba from his office in Baghdad, Janabi, however, admitted that the incidents that are not declining are those related to the attacks launched by what is called “resistance” against the American forces and the American backed interim administration Iraqi officials.
Janabi does give such incidents, which he describes as “being masterminded by terror groups and Saddam advocates much consideration,” reiterating that the American forces can deal with them effectively. Instead, Janabi elaborates on what he termed as the ongoing positive developments in Baghdad, particularly in the education and health sectors.
“The educational process has come back to normal with students going back to schools, colleges and universities. These educational institutions have been rehabilitated as far as the buildings and furniture are concerned,” said Janabi.
Pictures of the toppled president Saddam Hussein have disappeared from books and walls of lecture halls. His slogans and instructions which the students throughout Iraq used to memorize have also been eliminated in addition to a large number of teachers who were Baath party members were laid off. This, however, has led to a shortage in the educational staff in the country as expected.
Moreover, many Iraqi schools have been revamped in order to get rid of the devastated conditions of such schools due to long years of wars and negligence.
As far as hospitals are concerned, Janabi said, “these have also been significantly rehabilitated. According to him, the Ministry of Health has made all possible efforts to restore the main and specialty hospitals to normal conditions. “Very soon everything in these hospitals will come back to normal,” he said.
As for the daily life in Baghdad, Janabi said it is normal, inviting all those watching the satellite channels to go there and see by themselves how exaggerated and distorted the news reports. “Come to Baghdad to see the number of cars on the overcrowded streets and you will not believe that this is the same city you see and hear about on the television,” said the INA secretary general. He added, “it is true that there are attacks here and there but these won’t affect current public life.”
Janabi went on to say that “people rush in the morning for their jobs, schools and overcrowded souks which have become overcrowded with the holy month of Ramadan nearing. Life has become normal but you people outside Iraq see and hear about some exaggerated incidents that do not depict the status quo in the capital.
Janabi cited an example of the current normal life in Baghdad. He said when he was passing at 2130 hours last night in al Karadeh neighborhood he saw parents and their children sitting in cafes and restaurants. He added the situation was normal without anything suggesting the impression made about what is going on in our capital.
On another note, Janabi reported that the number of the American tanks which used to fill Baghdad’s streets is now on the decrease. “The coalition forces are not on the streets as before as they have withdrawn to their camps outside the city. The Iraqi police are now looking after the public security and should the need arise for help the American forces intervene but these are exceptional case,” said Janabi.
Safe haven amid sea of chaos
A citizen from al Bayya’ neighborhood in Baghdad provided some details about the daily life in the Iraqi capital, to where he returned about one month after the collapse of Saddam's regime. “Everything was devastated and now everything is returning to normal except security,” said Asa’d al Husseini.
He told Albawaba, while on a visit to the Jordanian capital Amman to conclude a commercial deal on behalf of an Iraqi company, “Baghdad was in chaos and the people there were terrorized but now we have started to feel some convenience which does not exist at night.”
He added, “few people go to their jobs while others put their goods on the pavements to sell. However people are still scared of sudden robbery or an attack that might turn everything into big chaos with the American forces firing on anything moving.”
On another note, Husseini said Iraqis try these days to avoid friction with each other as almost everybody carries a pistol. He added any anger or squabble might turn into a shooting battle.
Continuous escort for women and children
Iraqi women have recently appeared on the streets but mostly accompanied by either their brothers or fathers as the danger of being kidnapped and raped is still there. “I was delighted to see women on the streets even if their numbers are not so large for security reasons. It is very difficult for an Iraqi woman to go out alone and she has to be escorted by either her brother or father to ensure her safety,” said Husseini.
A relatively safe Island
There is shortage of potable water and electricity and there are problems in telecommunications and some sort of a voluntary curfew at night in Baghdad. Despite this, Husseini, who traveled more than one thousand kilometers until he reached the borders with Jordan, said Baghdad is like an Island surrounded by a sea of violent waves.
“Last time when I returned to Iraq I found Iraqi customs and other officials on the Iraqi side of the borders with Jordan which made me feel comfortable. Previously when the Americans were in that place we did not feel comfortable because we do not know their language,” said Husseini.
He added, “the Iraqi border officials, although their appearance has changed, their conduct is still like before as many of them receive bribes and no papers can be finalized without putting some dollars in their pockets.”
He went on to say that throughout the desert highway to Baghdad, "we never dared to stop for anybody on the road as we used to be afraid of thugs who do not only rob but also enjoy killing travelers. However not stopping at the US or Iraqi police checkposts also poses a deadly adventure. Arrival in Baghdad resembles arriving to a safe haven for travelers from Amman to the Iraqi capital. The highways are either controlled by the US forces or criminal rings."
Last week four Jordanians were killed at an American check post near Baghdad. A probe is currently being set in the incident in order to know who was responsible for the tragedy and whether the US soldiers shot at the victims' car before it collided with one of the tanks at the check point. However, those who died are considered by Iraqis as strangers who are always exposed to death any moment inside Baghdad. Many people in Baghdad hate strangers as a Jordanian driver described the situation.
The driver who spoke on condition of anonymity said "Jordanians, Palestinians and Syrians are on the top of the list followed by Europeans and rest of foreigners." He added that Baghdad inhabitants call these people as strangers and do not want to deal with them and particularly the Arabs. According to the driver, there are many reasons behind this phenomenon including the accusation by the Iraqis that Arabs supported the toppled regime. The Arab volunteers who fought with the Iraqi forces against the American invasion of Iraq are now labeled by the Iraqis as "terrorists." The driver said he had to use the telephone at an Iraqi shop and when he finished his call, the shopkeeper asked him whether he was a Jordanian. When the driver answered yes, the shopkeeper asked him to leave immediately, otherwise he would be killed.
In Fallujah, which is the heart of the "Sunni triangle" north of Baghdad, the situation is different. The city embraces in addition to the former Baath party members the Arab fighters labeled as Mujahideen.
The Americans are the best ones who recognize the resistance traits of the people of Fallujah and so they avoid entering the city as much as possible. The US tanks and vehicles are usually seen patrolling only the highways surrounding the city.
Mohsen Abu Ammar who has recently left Fallujah to live in Baghdad described his hometown saying, “it becomes a ghost town at night but during the daytime it is a calm and peaceful city. This is something unbelievable.” He added that on the days that have preceded his departure from Falluijah, the US forces suffered big losses as a result of the attacks launched by the resistance fighters who are highly appreciated by the people in the city. Following these attacks, Abu Ammar says, his life became intolerable particularly in view of the fact that his family lives in the city suburb.
“There is constant shelling and non stop shooting, the fact that has led to the destruction of our house. Some fighters took refuge in our house after being chased by the Iraqi police and American forces. We requested the fighters to leave us alone and look for another refuge but they did not respond and even threatened to kill us if we did not keep silent,” added Abu Ammar.
He concluded that "during the daytime you see people smiling on the streets, children playing and women walking freely without feeling any danger. Nobody feels the country is in a state of war but after sunset everything changes and the city becomes a ghost town." “People can hardly sleep at night due to the noise of explosions and shooting. The Americans take advantage of this situation and storm neighborhoods to arrest persons they claim they have attacked the soldiers. The situation at night is intolerable and when the people wake up in the morning, signs of exhaustion and lack of sleep appears on their eyes,” said the Iraqi citizen.
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)