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Dahr Jamail: Daily Life in Baghdad, from Afar

Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches

Daily Life in Baghdad, from Afar

20-22 May 2005
By Dahr Jamail

It’s coming apart at the seams now in Iraq. We saw on the news today that members of the Mehdi Army in the south, the militia of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, exchanged gunfire with members of the ING (Iraqi National Guard) who in the south are primarily, if not entirely composed of members of the Badr Army, also a Shia group. So now we have Shia fighting Shia.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, things are just as bad. Abu Talat, my friend and interpreter, was speaking with his family who live in the al-Adhamiya district of the capital city. Just across the Tigris River from Adhamiya, which is predominantly Sunni, is the predominantly Shia Khadamiyah neighborhood.

A car bomb detonated inside Khadamiyah which killed at least one ING, so people in that area began firing guns across the Tigris into Adhamiyah. According to two sources in Adhamiyah, they confirmed there was heavy damage to several houses-broken windows, bullet pockmarked walls, etc. When people inside Adhamiyah began returning fire, a US warplane bombed a small mosque on the Adhamiyah side of the Tigris, for yet unknown reasons.

Abu Talat was talking via IM with his wife as she nearly fainted because bombs and gunfire were so near their home.

“What can I do,” Abu Talat asked me from a nearby computer at an internet café, “My family is in great danger and what can I do to help them?”

I stared at him dumbly…there was no response.

I helped find phone numbers of friends and other family members of his around Baghdad to try to go check on his family. He called them five times, constantly monitoring their situation while he was crying. Between calls he set the phone down to hold his head in his hands.

Abu Talat later spoke with his sister, who informed him that Iraqi soldiers were raiding houses in her neighborhood and detaining men of “fighting age,” which if we go by the US military definition of such when they do home raids, means men roughly between the ages of 15-50 years.

“They almost took my nephew,” Abu Talat told me in frustration, “But thanks to his father telling them that his son is a doctor and never leaves the home nowadays, they let him be.”

Abu Talat had his two young sons go with his wife over to a relatives home so they would not be detained. Although one of his sons, Ahmed, is merely 14 years old. Ahmed is a soft-spoken, gentle boy who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

When I was in Baghdad in February, one day we were taking tea in the home of Abu Talat. Ahmed came out and began shining the shoes of his father.

“You don’t need to do this in front of Dahr,” said Abu Talat to his youngest son.

“You are my father, and I am your son,” replied Ahmed, “I wish to shine your shoes. Dahr understands that this is what a son does for his father.”

Abu Talat beamed and held up his hands with a huge smile on his face.

My friend Aisha who is here, also an Iraqi, has a friend who lives in Adhamiyah.

“He just left the day before this all happened to bring his sick son to Amman for cancer treatment,” she tells me while we sit under palm trees and a nearly full moon later that evening while having dinner with her mother.

Her friend believes his son has DU poisoning.

“He learned that one of the rooms of his home was destroyed by a missile shot from an American helicopter,” she added while shaking her head.

Things quieted down in Baghdad after the events of the 20th, as well as the next day, relatively.

However, today Abu Talat came over to me in a panic and asked for Ahmed’s mobile number.

“He’s just been shot at,” he tells me as I feel the panic with my friend and begin finding the number of his son.

Ahmed was walking down the street when two men demanded his ring and his mobile. When Ahmed started yelling “Thieves, Thieves,” they kicked him to the groun and shot their pistols over his head. At gunpoint, the two men commenced to loot him.

Abu Talat received the information from his oldest son, then called home to find that his youngest son was home crying, but alright.

“He has his exams tomorrow and now he is sleeping,” Abu Talat explains with tears in his eyes, “He is alright but terribly shaken.”

This is the life in Baghdad today. This is the life of having a dear friend whose family is living in peril and his attempts to remain in contact with them from Amman. This is one family in a city of 5.5 million Iraqis, struggling to survive the brutal, chaotic, lawlessness caused by the Anglo-American occupation that has destroyed their country.


Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist from Alaska who has spent 8 months reporting inside occupied Iraq. He writes regularly for the Sunday Herald, Inter Press Service and the Ester Republic among other outlets. He is a special correspondent for Flashpoints radio and appears on Democracy Now!, Air America, Radio South Africa, Radio Hong Kong and numerous other stations around the globe. He has recently returned to the Middle East to continue his reporting on the occupation of Iraq. Dahr Jamail's latest pieces from the region can be read at his website.

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