It wasn’t 48 hours ago that the Bush junta was chatting up its lockdown of Baghdad as a result of the ongoing “surge” of Iraqi and American forces through the capital. From the Washington Post: “ Iraq's defense and interior ministers announced a massive security operation on Thursday that will see more than 40,000 Iraqi troops deployed in the capital to hunt down insurgents and their weapons. […] ‘We will also impose a concrete blockade around Baghdad, like a bracelet around an arm, God willing, and God be with us in our crackdown on the terrorists' infrastructure. No one will be able to penetrate this blockade,’” an Iraqi government official said. Oh, wait! That was from a Post article in May 2005. Maybe this one is the more contemporary dispatch, from the BBC: A three-day curfew was put in place in Baghdad and three provinces in February after the bombing of an important Shia shrine sparked violent protests, but pedestrians were allowed to walk to mosques. US and Iraqi troops have been reinforcing operations against insurgents and sectarian militias in Baghdad.” A U.S. military spokesman “Iraqi security forces were ‘making a concerted effort’ to end sectarian violence by targeting death squads.” Wait, wrong again: that was a BBC piece from September 2006. Let’s try again. This time from the Times two days ago: “American troops locked down a large industrialized area of eastern Baghdad all day on Sunday while Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq, without indicating how he would do it, vowed to speed the deployment of Iraqi forces throughout the war-ravaged capital. American commanders described the operation on Sunday in the Rusafa district as an early taste of large-scale sweeps expected to come in eastern Baghdad to take back some measure of control from militias.” And what were the results of that latest lock-down to end all lockdowns? This: “Four back-to-back explosions at two markets in central Baghdad killed at least 67 people and wounded 155 today, charring drivers in their cars, shredding stores and setting ablaze a seven-story building full of clothing stores that burned for more than six hours, witnesses and officials said. […]With its timing and severity, today’s attack seemed intended to both fuel the country’s sectarian hatreds and upstage the new American-Iraqi security plan for Baghdad.” If I were a Baghdadi right about now I’d be a little steamed, or charred, about any mention of “surge” or “lock-down.” I’d be wondering when the American president might figure out that no matter how many times he attempts to appear decisive by repeating the same folly under a different guise, he’s not fooling anyone, nor stopping any bombers, nor, of course, keeping hundreds of Iraqis from getting killed every day. To the contrary. His prevarications and idiotic strategies are precipitating worse violence. Just as his invasion designed, allegedly, to stop terrorism created the very hub of terrorism that he set out to preempt, his “surge, designed to clamp down on the insurgency and counter arguments in the United States that withdrawal is the best option, is having the opposite effect. It’s fueling the insurgency more than ever, and paradoxically proving that withdrawal has always been the better option even as withdrawal, the longer it’s delayed, will also mean a deeper crisis for Iraq, once it takes place. What now? The likeliest of scenarios: a president who’ll keep asking for time, who’ll keep attacking those urging him to withdraw as defeatists, and who’ll keep getting it, because no matter how much of an opposition the Democratic Congress pretends to be, it can’t even get itself to the point of a non-binding resolution telling the president: enough.
Death by Death From the Diary of an Iraqi Librarian
The National Library and Archive in Baghdad in April 2003, looted and burned, a week after United States forces seized the capital.
Saad Eskander is the Director of the Iraq National Library and Archive. He’s kept a diary, hosted for him by the British Library, since November. Some excerpts: From November 11: “arrived to the Baghdad International Airport. It is well known that the highway, which links the Airport to the Baghdad City, is the most dangerous road in the world. For a security reason, I asked the taxi driver to drop me at the first military checkpoint, which is by car 3 minutes away from the Airport. One must not trust anybody, especially the Airport taxi drivers. At the checkpoint, my driver was waiting for me with his car. The security police asked us to leave the area immediately, as they were suspicious of abandoned car at the checkpoint. The highway was in a chaotic state, as everyone tried to leave the Airport area, including the policemen and the soldiers, who did not hesitate to point their guns at us, when our car slowed its speed in order to allow their cars to pass!!” November 20: “At 11.00 a.m. I received devastating news. I was informed that Ali Salih was assassinated in front of his younger sister. Ali was a bright young man. I sent him to Florence in Italy to be trained as a web-designer. Upon returning, he and Nadia began to construct and run our official web-site. He was the symbol of the modernization and reform process of the National Library and Archive. I employed him in January 2004, like many other young librarians and archivists. I hoped that the new generation could lead the way.” December 23-28: “It is another bad week for the NLA. On Sunday, I learnt that Ahmed Salih, who was on leave, was murdered by a Death Squad in his own house. Ahmed came from a poor family. After his father's death, he raised his younger brothers and sisters. He worked very hard to educate them. I also learnt that Ahmed was engaged to a girl two weeks before his death. On Monday, I received more bad news. The older brother of Maiadah, who works in the Periodical Department, was murdered by a group of terrorists.” January 22-31, the last paragraph of the diary as of today: “ On Wednesday, 31 Jan., a huge explosion shock our building. I hurriedly went to the second floor and saw a thick black smock rising from a car in al-Bab al-Mudham round-about (200 meters away from the NLA). I asked the security to prevent all members of staff from going outside the building, fearing that there might be another car-bomb. I learnt later that around 15 people were either killed or injured in the explosion. Among the victims were shoppers, passengers and drivers.” Along the way, Saad Eskander drew up a chart of the effects of violence on his staff:
Type of impact
Unlawful Death (assassinations)
Unlawful Death of Relatives (e.g. Sons, Daughters,
Brothers, Sisters, Cousins, Uncles, Aunts, Nephews)
From Stanley Fish on his Times blog: “Last week, as I was rolling along the Florida Turnpike on the way to work, I heard Colm Toibin, the Irish novelist and short story writer, being interviewed by Diane Rehm. Toibin is the author of the award-winning novel “The Master,” a fictional but fact-based account of Henry James’s life and art. Toibin was in the studio to talk about his new book of short stories, titled “Mothers and Sons.” [...] As I listened, I found myself not liking (an emotion different from disliking) the author. [... for ] his refusal to engage with questions posed to him by Rehm and listeners who called in. [...] This effort to keep separate the stories as stories – that is, as verbal constructions – and the lived experience of the person who wrote them was intensified when it came time to respond to callers. They were all fervent admirers, but what they wanted to talk about and what he didn’t want to talk about at all was the comfort and solace given to them by his work. They felt that he was speaking directly to them and that he wrote with at least the partial intention of helping his readers through a bad patch. They were calling in to tell him how much he had indeed helped, and they hoped, it was clear, that the bond they had formed with him at long distance would be deepened if they spoke to him in person (as it were) and told him their stories. This, they proceeded to do, in halting narratives sometimes punctuated by tears. They were stories of dysfunctional families, mostly Irish, and they were full of the pain produced by rejection, estrangement and (often) alcoholism. The callers asked, implicitly, for recognition and empathy. He wasn’t giving any. He spoke to them of course, but he ran away from the emotions they were offering him as we all do when confronted with a demand we cannot satisfy. [...] I grew more annoyed, until I heard him say something that turned his refusal of intimacy (if indeed intimacy can be achieved between a radio voice and an audience) into a stance I recognized and could admire. A caller asked (and her tone assumed an affirmative answer) whether the writing of these stories was a way of dealing with the deaths of his mother and younger brother. He replied, it’s not that, “it’s not therapy,” and went on to explain that assuaging grief, his or someone else’s, is not what writing strives to do. In fact, if there is a relationship of an act to the satisfaction of a need, it is the other way around. The act of writing makes use of grief as it might make use of anything.” See the full post...
From Words Without Borders: “Our first foray into international graphic writing finds work antic and sober, documentary and fanciful, all combining words and images to singular narrative effect. David B. shows France learning to stop worrying and love the bomb, while Florent Ruppert and Jérôme Mulot imagine a more explosive encounter in the pyramids. Grzegorz Janusz and Krzysztof Gawronkiewicz set a Polish detective on the trail of the meaning of life. Ilia Kitup reveals the secrets of modern Russia in his "Only True Guide to Moscow." Elke Steiner salutes the German medical superhero Käte Frankenthal. Jorge Garcia and Fidel Martinez's female political prisoner struggles with the perpetual confinement of the Franco dictatorship. And Russian Eufrosinia Kersnovskaia combines gritty detail with watercolors both gentle and stark in her wrenching Siberian Gulag journal. We thank Corey Sauer, patron of the graphic arts, for his generous support.”