‘It Is Getting Worse by the Day Here’

Late night writing due to the sweat alarm that has gone off, shortly after the electricity has cut out yet again. The electricity seems to have gotten worse lately, which is not surprising, in that this coincides with the gas shortage – also growing more severe by the day.

So many things leave imprints on me as I go through the day here, it has grown nearly impossible to jot them all down. One of the reasons I’ve written fewer blogs this trip has been because it has been overwhelming. The situation is so much worse now than when I was here in December and January. And it was bad then, to be sure.

During an interview earlier today with a young sheikh who is very much a Sadr supporter, I asked him what he would do if Moqtada Al-Sadr was captured or killed by the U.S. military. I wondered if the seemingly unorganized followers and ill-trained militia would disintegrate and fade away.

He pulled his 6-year-old daughter forward, her cute smiling face proudly beaming from under her small hijab, and asked her my question in Arabic. Her reply: “We will always follow Moqtada Al-Sadr.”

It reminded me of another occurrence that left an impression on me my very first day in the field here this trip, at the beginning of April.

I was in Sadr City the day after some heavy fighting between the Mahdi Army and U.S. forces, and was talking with an American tank crew. Two of the men were sweeping debris off the top of their tank, which had the few portals of its glass smashed. What other loose pieces on the tank had been torn off and were lying on the ground. Rocks were everywhere.

One of the soldiers told me a group of around 200 kids had surrounded them and pelted them with stones. All they could do was sit inside and ride it out.

He went on to tell me that he was a bit shaken up by it saying, “They are just kids, and we are a tank!” So the kids were attacking them during the day, and the men from the area attacked them at night with Kalashnikovs and RPGs.

My friend Aziz came by this afternoon … shaken. He told me that there had been an assassination attempt on Ismail Zayer, the editor of the New Sabah, a newspaper Mr. Zayer founded after breaking ranks with the CPA-controlled Sabah newspaper. According to the story, a group of men in four cars, one of them an Iraqi Police vehicle, showed up at Zayer’s office and told him the Minister of the Interior had requested that he accompany them to his office.

Zayer told them he needed to change and went inside to call the Minister to verify this, as he knew the Minister personally. The Minister told him he did not order this, and did not know what it was about.

Meanwhile, Mr. Zayer’s driver and body guard were taken away by the men, later to be found shot in the head.

I’d seen Zayer’s body guard: a large man with a pony tail – not many Iraqis have pony tails. He was very friendly when I’d gone there to interview Mr. Zayer a few weeks ago. Even though he wasn’t a friend, just someone I’d met, it is always difficult to reconcile that someone I know is gone now. And not just gone, but shot in the head.

So it’s happened to me now. That which has happened to every Iraqi friend of mine. Everyone here knows someone personally who has died an untimely death.

Ater telling me about this horrible story, Aziz said, “It is getting worse by the day here.”

How is life possibly going to get better in Iraq? Kids are being raised to fight against the most powerful military the Earth has ever known. Every U.S. soldier who comes here knows they will be in-country for at least one full year. More troops are on the way. More soldiers have been killed near Ramadi and Fallujah recently. The truce in Najaf and Kufa came and went. A man has been selected by the IGC as the president whom every single Iraqi I know thinks is an absolute bastard.

One man I know, when asked what he thought about Alawi, said frankly, “He will be killed, insh’allah.” Another Iraqi friend said, “If he lasts a month, he’ll be very lucky.”

So as the Bush and Blair camps race about trying to paint a picture of stability and structure in Iraq, with June 30 is now just a month away – this place is coming apart at the seams. For each step forward the coalition makes, two disasters occur … whether they take the form of deadly attacks on the occupying forces, more mortars blasting into the CPA, sabotage of a pipeline or power plant, a murder, another SUV of secret service or security mercenaries taken out by an RPG, or something less obvious …

A child being raised to fight. A woman dying of breast cancer from depleted uranium exposure. A highly trained engineer, without work, sweating in his car, which he drives as a taxi, which means waiting for hours in a fuel line. A family home raided in the middle of the night by the military. Women not being able to leave their homes in safety. Nor men, for that matter. A soldier who has lost his legs in an IED blast goes home to his country. He and his family having to learn to live with his disability. An Iraqi war veteran begging on the street – has no family.

Iraq has been shattered. And now, today, over a year since the horrible regime of Saddam Hussein was overthrown, what is left of the country seems to be unraveling more and more with each passing day.

Author: Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail has reported from inside Iraq and is the author of Beyond the Green Zone.