Friday, February 23, 2007
Baghdad: Living in fear

My friend has lived in Baghdad for the better part of his life. He’s in his late 30s with a wife and three children, two of them girls. We’ll call him Rashid, because revealing his real name is simply too dangerous. He’s a Sunni Arab, a proud man, a tough man. Under Saddam’s regime he was a well placed military official with a pleasant life.

How his life has changed.

I spoke with Rashid on the one year anniversary of the bombing of the Golden Dome al-Askariya mosque in Samarra. Sacred to Shias, the bombing of the shrine is the seminal event in Iraq’s spiraling sectarian conflict. The event that opened the floodgates for ferocious Shia reprisal attacks against the Sunni minority in Iraq. Rashid remembers the day with uncanny clarity. The first though that came to his mind: “Oh my God -- this is it.”

In Iraq, the sectarian split has always rumbled under the surface, to some degree. But on this day one year ago, the divide ripped wide open. Rashid recalls seeing the effects immediately. In his mixed neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, Shia friends of his were inconsolable. “I could just see the look in their eyes,” he says. “I tried to tell them that we are all Iraqis, but I couldn’t calm them down.”

Rashid’s best friend was Shia, one of about 20 Shia friends he had in his neighborhood. Rashid and his buddy would get together almost every day. “We would share a coffee, a cigarette, a game of cards. If we couldn’t meet face to face, we would always find a way to talk on the phone.” With the Samarra bombing came an end to that bond. “He stopped returning my calls and e-mails immediately. Just because I am Sunni.”

Rashid’s friend picked up his family and left the neighborhood five days later. They still have not spoken since February 22, 2006, and will likely never speak again. Years of friendship vanished in an instant.

A year later, life in Iraq has become nearly impossible for Rashid. Every day when he wakes up, he is torn; he must earn a living for his family, but he also fears leaving them home alone. Death squads, camouflaged in Iraqi police uniforms, have been making more frequent appearances in his neighborhood. But, he tells me: “When you have children and a wife to care for, you have to keep working and continue the cycle of life.”

Rashid worries constantly, even if he can hide that pain from his face. His two girls go to the same school. Recently, a mortar landed close by, shattering the school's windows and terrifying classrooms filled with young, innocent girls. His wife and young son stay at home, protected by a neighborhood watch that has grown from two guards to 14 armed men in the past year. His wife sometimes tells him to stay away, afraid that the death squads will come to their neighborhood again, take him away and turn him into another of the unidentified bodies found floating in the Tigris River every morning.

Rashid is desperate to leave Iraq now. He is tired of the death squad patrols, tired of the constant fear for his, and his family’s lives. I remember meeting him for the first time, over a year ago, and I was impressed with his toughness and strength. My admiration remains, but I do now see in his eyes the pain that he has been through this past year.

“The bloodshed will continue,” he says. “We are close to all-out civil war. All it will take is for something else big to happen … And it will happen.”

From CNN Producer Terence Burke

Unfortunately, the American government has caused this awful situation in Iraq. I am a Canadian who has closely monitored American politics for more than 20 years and I used to consider myself a strong ally to the American people. My feelings towards Americans and the American government are changing drastically. The US military is committing unspeakable atrocities to innocent people all over the world in the name of peace. Whose definition of peace should the world follow? Should we all be forced into the American idea of peace? Lately it seems as though the US military is entering countries and demanding the people accept the American way of life and the American idea of peace and if they don�t comply they are killed. Then the US military and US government wonder why the international community is now pulling away from them. The United States of America used to stand for peace and freedom, it�s so sad to see that disappear.
Cue the frothing wing-nuts to denigrate Mr. Burke for not 'reporting the good stories from Iraq'.

I'm sure the US Gov't would like to plant feel-good-about-Iraq propoganda in US papers, as they do in Iraqi papers.

I'm numb to Iraq now. I was pissed in 2003 when I heard we were going to stop chasing Osama and enter a nation which had nothing to do with 9/11. I was on the street holding signs, I wrote letters, I called no avail.

Now I just sit back and watch the failure unfold as predicted. People die for no good reason every day in this world, but this situation was entirely avoidable.
Has the invasion of Iraq by the US re-fueled and unleashed an undercurrent so fragile it could only manifest itself in the genocide between Shiites and Sunnis?

Obviously, your friend "Rashid" was able to move beyond the cultural riff between Shiites and Sunnis with friendship. To us in the West, we see this progress as living in a civilized and tolerate world. But Iraq is neither the West nor its history.

But not unlike our own civil war in during the 1880's, brother fights brother over idealism based on history, economy, regional and cultural differences. But it would be naive to even compare the two civil wars basically because the US is very young as a civilization and the Middle East has been entrenched in wars and cultural indifferences long before the New World was discovered.

I hope your friend can find refuge somewhere outside of Iraq. Unfortunately, the US is not allowing many Iraqis to immigrate to the US.

Thank you for bring the humanity of these two friends to the forefront.
The sad part about Iraq ia that so many innocents have been killed or had their lives ruined for a poorly thought through war.

No WMD's, No links to Al quaeda, and falsified evidence to justify the invasion has diminished the West in the eyes of others.

I suppose the solution in the West is vote out the people who created this situation and hope and pray that someone somewhere has a solution to what we have caused.

If this is winning hearts and minds I'd hate to see what losing them is.
To Bryan- I hope you understand that not all Americans were war-happy to start with, and now many of us are just as weary of our own government's politics as you are.
My heart breaks for the Iraqi people, and I can't imagine what they must endure everyday. Like Sean I e-mail, write letters, protest, vote against politicians who support the war, but for what? Our troops are still there, they're still in Afghanistan, the Bush Administration picking a fight with Iran now- it feels more and more like a hopeless situation. It's not that I don't care,I just don't know what to do about it.
I'm at least glad that someone from CNN is bothering to tell these stories- I've heard more about Anna Nicole lately than I have the wars.
How many people did murder? Or look the other way while they were murdered? The Sunis are only getting given back to them what they used to give out.
The problem between the Sunnis and Shias is nothing new. It is more than 1400 years old. The Prophet Mohammad's(SA)family were killed then so what is new if the Shias, the followers of that family are being killed today. These Sunnis are the descendents of Yazid and Shimr, the killers of the Prophet's family or they would have never bombed the Shrine in Samara. No muslim would have thought of doing that. Wearing a cloak of a muslim, these are the the worst enemies of Islam and unity in the world. US may try and eradicate them today but another Yazid will rise. There is no shortages of Yazids. If the readers do not understand this message, please read the history of Karbala.
It's good to see a story coming from the street in Baghdad, but I desperately hope we see some real reporting on the amazing coincidence back home that CNN refuses to touch. I speak of the Cheney doc. revised by the PNAC group in '97, with the signers of the doc. being brought into the Bush cabinet at the high levels. This million to 1 odds against coincidence is then proven by the administration taking the very steps suggested by PNAC in 97, long before they even got into the WH, nevertheless 9/11. Removal from Geneva: Done, preemptive war: Done, increase in military expenditure from Cold War Era: Done, Transformation to high tech military:Done: Cheney, Libby, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Bolton, Perle, Armitage, all signed an agreement in 97 to overthrow Saddam Hussein, declaring that Iraq was ideal for the establishment of a Mideast FOB.

War crimes are being done by PNAC in the wake of 9/11 as if the successful attack they managed to make on the WTC was somehow relevant to; and greatly increased the military strength of AQ. The Cold War was won without torture, denial of habeas, preemptive war, secret detentions, blatant violations of Geneva Conventions, International laws of War, domestic spying, a corralling of power unto the executive Branch that is nothing less than a coup detat should Bush actually try to exercise his signing statements.

The USA is in the most serious trouble it has seen since the Civil War, with a right-wing takeover imminent by the standards of History PhDs across the nation, yet CNN is silent on all this evidence, this alone being enough to secure a conviction of collaboration with coup plotters, should they decide that this will be their only way of avoiding trial. My advice is to start writing a detailed statement of the evidence against them, or I will be sure to have CNN included on the docket of those media execs who abetted the overthrow of American Constitutional Democracy. Firing Squad is still the recommended penalty for such an atrocious breach of faith with a public I expect will be blood-thirsty when the truth dawns on that last 30% who still haven't realized they were lied to. The perfect "out" for them would be to be seen by others as finally taking the initiative at this late stage by personally hanging those whom they feel were instrumental in placing them in such a shameful position by failing to tell the story of PNAC, despite the story being ten years in the running.

Rumsfeld left the ammunition depots, High explosive bunkers, and radioactive medicine isotopes without any guards because he wanted the conflict to take as long as was needed for Camp Cropper to be outfitted as the first in the series of FOBs called for by PNAC. That is the evil CNN is in collaboration with.
When the war first began I made a point to watch the news every day but after seeing so much death, destruction and corruptions I was so depressed I had to stop. After a few days of freedom from watching the war I realized how selfish I was. It was far too easy for me to turn my back on what was happening beauase it upset me but the people who have to live every day of their life not knowing if they will survive a trip to the market do not have the luxury of simply looking away. Every time I hear of another solder dying or being wonder my heart breaks. Every time I see or read yet another heart wrenching story of another Iraqi citizen being kidnapped, tortured and murdered, or an innocent school child blown to bits by an insurgent I break down and cry. How can we as a civilized country justify what we have done to these people? Sure, Sadam Husein was evil and the world is better off without him. But at what cost? The people in Iraq are not better off because we played decided to play God. We should be ashamed of what we have done.
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