‘The Student Is Gone; the Master Has Arrived’

From Dahr’s weblog:

This became a very popular saying in Iraq after the U.S. ousted Saddam Hussein.

The situation continues to degrade in occupied Iraq. I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record … but the need to describe life on the ground here continues, as I see it slipping from the news as of late. Overshadowed by more dramatic stories like car bombs and heavy fighting, the silent suffering that has become the daily reality here just isn’t catching much attention.

One exception was the LA Times recently reporting the U.S. military’s claim that in the last nine weeks over 800 people in Sadr City have been killed by occupation forces. Doctors I talked to in the main hospital there confirmed this, adding that the vast majority of them were women and children.

Salam, one of my Iraqi friends, asks: “Why is the news so quiet about all of these things? In the last 6 months 20 people I know have been killed, for nothing! They weren’t fighters – they were just living their life.”

This is life in Iraq today.

I’m trying to pay closer attention to these daily occurrences, as I too have become desensitized to the bombs as I’ve grown more accustomed to this horrible situation. So I’ll try to point out more of what I’ve noticed as of late.

It isn’t the huge bombs – the ones that make the news, horrendous as they are – that have the greatest impact on Iraqis. It is the ongoing, daily suffering of the Iraqi people. People dying from bad water and starving to death because there aren’t enough jobs just don’t grab the attention that bombs demand from the media.

And other things … last week Salam was in a car accident, and called to tell me he was injured. Since it was at night, knowing it was unsafe for me to leave the hotel he asked me to call a friend to come help him. Thankfully, Abu Talat was home and quickly drove to his aid. This is the 911 service in Iraq. Without much infrastructure to speak of, Iraqis have come to rely more and more on their friends, families, tribes, and mosques.

Then there are the constant reminders to Iraqis of how little control they have over their lives.

Driving across the double bridge (formerly Saddam Bridge) in south Baghdad there are huge, black metal sheets along one side of the top of it. On each of them is written:

“By Order Of The Coalition Forces
Do Not Tamper With Or
Remove Metal Sheets
Under Penalty Of Force”

I was with my friends Hamoudi and Samer as we traveled to see some other friends for a visit and lunch. I asked Hamoudi how he was doing.

“This is like a bad dream, man. I need to get out of here for a break.”

For Iraqis, this is far easier said than done.

While at our friends’, the laughing and joking is inevitably broken up by someone crying about the unbearable situation in their country.

At the same time, of course, the more visible violence continues. Yesterday morning there was more fighting in Najaf. In the last week alone four Iraqi Police stations have been blown up. There has been fighting on the outskirts of Fallujah, several bombs in Al-Adhamiya yesterday, IEDs detonating under U.S. patrols, political assassinations in Kirkuk, nearly daily fighting in Sadr City, and the assassination today of Bassan Kubba, the Undersecretary for Multinational Affairs and International Organizations.

I recently interviewed another detainee from Abu Ghraib. Some of what she told me reminded me of a quote from George Bush at the 2003 RNC Gala.

“Iraq is free of rape rooms and torture chambers.”

Um Taha was detained for 4 months. She told me that while in Abu Ghraib she knew that many of the women in the prison were being raped.

She told of detainees who would hold their Koran out of their cell bars in order to have some light to read with. “And when they did this,” she said, “soldiers would hit them on their arms.”

Um Taha added that soldiers were distributing Christian Bibles in Arabic to the teenage detainees, and that soldiers were forcing detainees to speak English to them.

She told of being forced to use a sieve to separate feces from urine in a waste bucket from the latrine in Tikrit where she was held prior to her transfer to Abu Ghraib. Once this job was done, a soldier dumped gas on the feces, lit it, and made her stir it for half an hour.

During November, while in Abu Ghraib, she said many of the detainees rioted against their mistreatment. She stated that as a result, 14 Iraqi men were stripped naked, sacks were placed over their heads by U.S. soldiers, and they were brought into the corridor beneath her cell. Thus, she had a clear view of the atrocities that ensued.

“The soldiers made them all stand on one leg,” Um Taha recounted. “Then they kicked them to make them fall to the ground.”

She said that Lynddie England, the female American soldier made infamous in the widespread incriminating photos, was dancing around laughing while using a rubber glove to snap the detainees on their genitals. “The soldiers also made all the men lay on the ground face down, spread their legs, then men and women soldiers alike kicked the detainees between their legs,” Um Taha said quietly.

After pausing, she added, “I can still remember their screaming.”

She said that in addition to this, the detainees were ordered to crawl around the corridor on all fours and make cow and sheep noises as the American soldiers laughed at them.

On September 11, 2001, George Bush said, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.”

Author: Dahr Jamail

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