Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

The New Abraham

The retired US general tasked with forming an interim administration in Iraq is very excited to be in the cradle of civilization. Sadly for us, it's now lying in ruins.
By Nuha al-Radi

APRIL 19. The first e-mail I got from Ma, straight after the bombing had stopped, said that all Iraqis wish they were dead. I was really sad and depressed. Ma isn't usually like that: she's positive. A few days later, a message came from visiting journalists that now she was ranting and raving.


She says she doesn't know where the curses come from because she doesn't use them normally. But she's like this with every war. Only this one is much worse.


When I spoke to her for the first time a few days ago, she was nearly back to normal and gave me assurances that everybody was OK. But she said: "Our garden is all dried up." So I said: "Never mind, Ma, as long as you're not."


She might not be, but I think I am. Every day I awake feeling a little sicker at the unfolding of this new American-Israeli movie. Retired Gen. Jay Garner is very excited to be in the cradle of civilization. Sadly for us, it's now lying in ruins, but all the better for him to start with a clean slate 2003.


Garner's disciples (the opposition) were planed into Iraq and bussed into Nasiriya and then mixed with a few local sheikhs for colour. Their first meeting took place in Ur, the supposed birthplace of Abraham. When the war ended, I couldn't understand why the Americans flew Ahmad Chalabi into Nasiriya. It's no prepossessing city; it's horrible - an ugly modern town beside the ancient ruins of Ur of the Chaldees. And then I saw the tents for Garner's sermon pitched beside the ziggurat and I knew: Garner is pro-Israel if not Israeli himself and this scenario is certainly concocted with them.


The new Abraham started his lesson. He said: "A free Iraq and a democratic Iraq will begin today." Then he adjourned for 10 days.


Meanwhile, Baghdad was being looted and all archives systematically burned. No memory left before year 2003. If the US and the UK had any credibility before, they have lost it now. Rumsfield said "untidiness" happens and "free people have a right to commit crimes." One wonders what school of thought they belong to when they equate looting with liberty and kill unarmed civilians as posing a threat to their invading soldiers.


We learn that we are to have new textbooks to show us how to live the American way. It's a challenge, Garner says. More than a challenge, I say. It's a near-impossibility. There's already growing opposition to the occupation. It is now very apparent that the US and the UK have lied. No weapons of mass destruction and no chemicals have been found. All that the soldiers had to fight with were plain old rifles. It's pathetic.


If Iraq has had to pay this heavy price, can it at least be made worthwhile? Can we please now find a better philosophy for living and try to respect human life?


APRIL 21. News from Baghdad. Ma is angry at the birds for singing and Needles is angry at the buds for budding.


The new Abraham arrived in Baghdad today. He said: "What better day in your life can you have?" I guess he hasn't yet heard of the looting, burning, the hurt or the fact that electricity and water are still not functioning. Priorities seem to be American and not Iraqi. We are to have four US military stations built in the north, south, centre and west of Iraq. The real occupation begins.


If the "coalition of the willing" - now becoming more and more like a coalition of one - would like to improve their reputations they could start by cleaning up all the chemical and explosive debris they have littered Iraq with and show a little humanity towards long-suffering Iraqi civilians... not concentrate only on oil and awarding illegal contracts for the rebuilding of the nation they have destroyed.


A show of goodwill to help in this very difficult transition period is really needed. The south of Iraq is already polluted from the first Gulf War. Too late for that clean-up. But the debris from this war still lies on the surface. It hasn't yet seeped into the water system. A concerted effort can avoid the same thing that happened to the south in 1991 happening to the rest of the country now. But unfortunately cleaning-up is not a money-making business.


Decency and democracy can be restored to the West and to Iraq. Allow neutral UN forces to share in the rebuilding until Iraqis can look after themselves. Help us find ourselves in the vacuum that has been created by this cruel and uncalled-for war. Otherwise everyone will lose and Saddam will come out of his hideout laughing.


Nuha al-Radi is an Iraqi artist and author of the best-selling Baghdad Diaries, which she began to write in Baghdad during the last Iraq war. For the last few years she has lived in Beirut.