Iraq Diary
Baghdad Street Sweepers, Collective Punishment
and Kabobs in Falluja

By Dahr Jamail

While creeping through the hideous Baghdad traffic en route to Ramadi to meet with a Sheikh, my friend Harb mentions that the CPA has created several thousand new jobs for Iraqis-as street sweepers! He tells me many of them are sweeping along the highways around Baghdad; that they have probably been sent to do so to find mines and IEDís. A terrible thought, one I try to put it out of my mind.
But with all the problems facing the CPA here, is having clean streets and roads really that high of a priority? After all, I have seen countless men cleaning the streets of Baghdad the last several weeks.
As we inch our way through the streets, a US Humvee patrol is inching along beside us. Harb talks with Mishi and I as if there is no problem at all, while I attempt to will the Humvees away, as I see them as moving targets for resistance fighters. I peer inside their vehicle and see several pictures of what I presume to be their girlfriends or wives on the dashboard behind their computer screen. An M-16 rests on the window, pointing out at all of us.
Finally, we get on the highway, and shortly thereafter I spot several men sweeping dirt in a seemingly meaningless way, off to the side of the highway.
Then another group further out. I should point out, that the section of highway leading north-northwest out of Baghdad is one of the most dangerous areas in Iraq for US convoys and patrols.
Harb spent the last few days working as a driver and translator for a Japanese team who was studying DU effects in the south. They had a Geiger counter which they watched go off the scale on many occasions. While in a hospital in southern Iraq visiting with the administrator, a group of 5 US soldiers and a captain brought in a box of medicines; stomach medicine, aspirin, plastic syringes, etc., for a hospital that treats upwards of 600 children per day, many of which suffer from the terrible effects of DU. The administrator smiled and accepted the small gift with grace.
Meanwhile, while en route to Ramadi Mishi purchases a box of various medications for the Sheikh to distribute to the children of his tribe in Ramadi.
The three of us talk a lot about the various aspects Iraq suffers from today. Another disturbing topic is that I have a friend who recently received an email from a US Air Force captain - a sort of veiled threat that he was being watched because he was writing some things that weren't perceived as being 'supportive' of the coalition. The said captain suggested to my friend that he stop by the CPA to have a talk about 'democracy'. Not a comforting thought.
Like Iíve heard so many Iraqis say during interviews,
"This is the freedom?"
The Sheikh we are to visit in Ramadi is unfortunately in Mosul, so we share soft drinks and fresh oranges with two of his sons, who stand every time one of us leaves or returns to our chairs.
After a nice visit with them in the sun and clean air of rural Iraq, we carry on towards Falluja.
As we enter the bustling streets of Falluja we pass a wall with graffiti on it that says,
'Stealing from the Americanís is accepted, and killing them is even better!'
The word on the street is that no US Patrols go through the city of Falluja, and I've yet to see one there myself; whereas in Baghdad I see one about every half hour when I'm out and about.
The man we went to see in Falluja is Sheikh Haji Barakat, who is a law professor. The problem was that the Sheikh was detained by US soldiers three months ago, and remains in Abu Ghraib prison to this day. This, despite the fact that the US Commander of Falluja has already told his family that the Sheikh is innocent. Each time the family has asked for his release, they get the same promise: tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.
"Sheikh Haji Baraket," explains his cousin Khamis, "is a great, honorable man. The Americans accused him of financing the resistance. But even the Sheikh told the Americans his seven sons are involved in the resistance. This doesn't mean that their father is guilty. But they have detained him illegally anyway."
Omar is the 20 year old nephew of the Sheikh, who was detained as well. He tells us of being interrogated. The Americans asked him if he was Sunni, when he had last seen his mother, and other odd questions, then released him. He also tells us that when the Americans came to detain him, the door to the house was smashed, papers and passports were taken, the manifest for the family car, and all the money in the house.
Omar states that while in prison the Americans who questioned him wore civilian clothing, and threatened to release German Shepherd dogs on him.
We are sitting in the sun drinking tea in the beautiful green fields and palm trees of rural Falluja, in the shadow of a mosque that the Sheikh had built with his own money for the people in his area.
Khamis breaks in on the conversation to add,
"We need to have a vote in Iraq, then have the Americans leave. The Americans are good for removing Saddam, but now they are behaving worse than Saddam. We have three hours of electricity a day, no security and no running water at all."
He tells us that even the flour they are allowed by the Americans is corrupted. That there is nobody they can complain to about the electricity and water, or the detentions for that matter. They just have to try their best to deal with it.
He continues,
"We used to be humiliated by Saddam, but now it is worse. We have no medicine for our children. It is the same for all of us, and we are running out of food. This is worse than Saddam, I cannot believe it."
Two little boys whose father is in jail sit with us, listening to the conversation, as Khamis continues,
"We used to believe the Americans and Europeans would bring justice to Iraq. Instead they have taken it out of Iraq."
I take a drink of water from the Euphrates River, and watch some Apaches fly low over the fields in the distance. Tradition says that if one drinks the water from the Euphrates River, he/she will return to Iraq.
The saddest part of the story of the Sheikh, is that he is one of 14 brothers. All of the brothers fled Iraq after being tortured by Saddam Hussein for standing up against him. After the Americans invaded Iraq, the Sheikh and one of his brothers returned from Saudi Arabia where they were seeking refuge. Now the Sheikh and his brother sit in prison, detained by the Americans.
After visiting their home and the four beautiful sitting areas for councils, we pay a quick visit to Lake Habaniyah. Walking near the blue water gently lapping on the rocks the sun is warm on my skin. Palm trees and flowers complete the calming experience. I begin to feel as though Iím on a vacation of sorts, until I hear the thudding of 'controlled explosions' by the Americans a little to the south, then the rumbling of three Apaches flying low across the desert to the northwest.
We leave the idyllic setting to return to Falluja for the famously tasty Kabobs at a restaurant in the city. A small demonstration of angry men passes in the street as many of the patrons in the restaurant crowd to the windows to watch them pass.
We eat quickly, take some Iraqi tea, and are quickly on our way. Needless to say, Falluja isnít the safest place for Americans and Europeans, even with an older Iraqi man who knows the people well.
Driving back to Baghdad I watch out the window as the desert darkens as dusk fades into night. We pass a couple of terrible auto accidents, then a little further pass by the glaring lights of Abu Ghraib.




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