Saturday, September 25, 2004



Baghdad is only 100 miles from the desert! We have our fair share of dusty days. We get several a year, mainly in late spring. The sky turns "foggy" and the next morning everything is covered with a thin layer of dust.

During the invasion, for a reason unknown to me yet, there were more sand storms than usual.

The dust we usually get is yellow-brownish in color. On that particular day, the dust was reddish in color, which was quite unusual. The other odd thing is that we had some drizzle with it. Someone remarked that the sky wept in blood over Iraq during those sad days.

I suppose you can imagine the nasty result: everything was covered with ugly dirty red stains… trees, windows, walls, pavements...

To add insult to injury, most people had most windows in their homes open to reduce the chances of shattering glass from bomb explosions. The result was that the inside of most homes was also given the same treat. To add further insult, water was short.

Throughout most of the following day, most people were busy cleaning everything. It was quite a distraction. I called it NNN-Day – National No-Nagging Day!

Saturday, September 18, 2004


Complex Iraq


Iraq has a large number of educated people; sometimes it seems that not a day passes without you bumping into one or two PhD's! Yet, there are millions who cannot read and write!

Populations are said to usually display what statisticians call a 'normal distribution' curve. It simply means that the main bulk lies in the middle with fewer, and decreasing numbers as you move on either side of the mean.

In the USA for example, and in terms of mentality, outlook and attitude, the curve has a 'confidence interval' of something like, say, 50 years. At one extreme, you find people living in the past and at the other extreme you find people looking ahead (and sometimes living) in the future.

I suppose this is true for all societies.

The problem in Iraq is that the spread (or 'confidence interval') is something like a few thousand years! On the one hand, there are people living truly in the 21st century both materially and mentally. Yet, less than 100 miles away, there are people with a mentality that precedes Christianity or Islam.

It is complex. It is even difficult for many Iraqis to come to terms with.

Ali Al-Wardi, the father of modern sociology in Iraq, attempted to look into the social make-up of Iraq. He wrote six volumes of an inspiring study that had much effect on a whole generation of Iraqi sociologists. Yet, he could only call his work "Social Glimpses of Iraqi Modern History"!

I find my own title for this blog "A Glimpse of Iraq" a bit ambitious and probably even pretentious.


When I go to the farm, I spend a lot of time with country people, mainly farmers whom we call Arab (!) or "Urbaan".

After an initial period of repulsion, I was fascinated by these truly intricate people. Simple they are not. Several years later, I was fluent in their local dialect and accent. Now I always use their drawl when talking to them. It removes at least one obstacle in the way of communication… exactly as using English to express these thought to you with these words.

In the evening, when I come home I have to "switch" back to my Baghdadi accent, otherwise I wouldn't be accepted as an urbane, modern man! The problem was: it was not just the accent or the way to say words; it was a whole mental set-up and frame of mind.

I had to go through that transformation within an hour. I always saw myself as doing what "Superman" of the comics' magazines did: move across several centuries in a short interval. Quite exhausting I admit, but it enriched my life considerably. It also helped me understand my own society and its history better.

One evening, while entertaining some 'sophisticated' friends, I made the "fatal" error of slipping into "Urbaan" dialect. I could see the look of bewilderment in some eyes. It took a long time for my wife to forgive me.

I am talking about two tiny locations in Iraq. There are many, many variations on those across the country.

Perhaps that was the real motive behind my plan of government that uses tiny self-governing "cantons" to let people live their own lives and develop in the direction they choose within one country.

Dear Amanda

One gentle soul, Amanda, who sensed my pain in writing these blogs wanted to send me a big hug with an email message but was a bit apprehensive that that might not be acceptable in our culture. So considerate and perceptive of her!

Well, it depends on the location. There are places where it would be completely natural; there are places where I would think twice before hugging my own wife or daughter… and there are places where I wouldn't dream of doing that!


Update 9/20/2004

After reading this blog yesterday, my wife expressed two reservations:

1. She has not forgiven me yet for that "accent" blunder! [God, that incident is more than 15 years old!!]

2. She has no objection to Amanda's hug as long as it remains within the realm if the internet!

Monday, September 13, 2004


Shaku Maku

Shaku Maku is a colloquial term frequently used by Iraqis and distinguishes them - it is not used anywhere else. It is roughly equivalent to the American "what's up?" The term is not Arabic. Many people therefore think that it must be Persian or Turkish; it is not. In fact, it is Babylonian in origin and about 3000 years old!

I have just received this joke from an Iraqi friend who lives in the States. I don't know whether its source is Iraqi or Iraqi-American.


Bush calls the head of the CIA and asks him "How do Iraqis know everything before us, even with all our advanced spying technology and training?"

CIA head: "Well sir, they have this __expression in Iraq called "shaku maku", which translates to "what's the latest news" - and they use that a lot, which is how info travels fast."

Bush is impressed, so he tells the CIA head that he wants to go to Iraq in disguise and see for himself how this method works.

So he gets "prepped up" by the best makeup artists and wears the traditional Iraqi clothes with ghotra and all. An unmarked plane secretly drops him by parachute just outside Baghdad. Even his closest advisors and military people both in Iraq and the USA are not told about this.

Half an hour later he walks into Baghdad and eventually reaches a busy street. He approaches the first Iraqi he meets and asks him in a whispering voice "shaku maku?"

The guy looks around and whispers: "Didn't you hear? They say Bush is in Baghdad!"

Thursday, September 09, 2004


Baathification of Iraq

Over two decades, there was a systematic and concerted effort to turn all Iraqis into Baathists! Some examples:

• All entrants into colleges of education had to be Baathists. Education, it was said, was a “closed” field to non-Baathists. All teachers had to be Baathists.
• All secondary school graduates (at 18+) who wanted a military career had to enroll into the Baath Party.
• Anybody who wanted to go on a scholarship abroad had to be a party member (from about 1976).

All others were subjected to extreme pressures to become Baathists. Those who did not succumb to that pressure were openly by-passed in promotions, etc.


My Boy!
My youngest son was 12 when he went to intermediate school. It was decided by someone that that particular school was to be "closed". He was put under considerable pressure to become a Baathist. He was forced to attend party meetings to get him accustomed to the idea. We did not interfere with his decision.

At the end of the campaign, he was one of only two students in a class of 35 who did not join the party! The party comrade in charge told him that his father must be a traitor!

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