“We are all corpses, waiting to die” – Iraqi novelist Sinan Antoon writes in the New York Times

21 July 2016 161 views No Comment Email This Post Email This Post Print This Post Print This Post

SinanANTOON“Living With Death in Baghdad”
This piece was written by Sinan Antoon, for the New York Times, published on July 20th, 2016
Excerpts below.

When I was growing up in Baghdad, my favorite part of the city was Karrada, the neighborhood on the eastern bank of the Tigris where a bomb went off on July 3, killing at least 250 people. I would often go there just to stroll down its elegant streets. The main one was lined with stylish boutiques and stores selling delicious fresh juice and sandwiches. Attractive women and handsome young men meandered on the sidewalks. The bus would drop me off near Kahramana Square, named after the statue at its heart.
Mohammed Ghani Hikmat, one of the Arab world’s most accomplished sculptors, had transformed the moment in the “Arabian Nights” tales when Kahramana, Ali Baba’s ingenious slave girl, outwits the thieves and saves her master into one of the most striking landmarks of modern Baghdad. Instead of the hot oil Kahramana poured into the jars to burn the 40 thieves hiding there, Mr. Hikmat’s work has her pouring water that gushes up and down, forming a mesh of lilting fountains.
The last time I visited Baghdad, three years ago, Kahramana seemed weary and besieged. The grass that used to surround the statue had been covered over by the expanding asphalt of the streets around it. As we drove by Kahramana and through Karrada’s heavy traffic, blocked by checkpoints, I had the very same thought I’d had when I returned to Baghdad in 2003, a few months after the American invasion. That was my first visit after leaving Iraq in 1991. The thought was that the American-installed occupation regime had created not 40 but 40,000 thieves who were roaming Baghdad and the rest of Iraq, looting the country. Most of them lived and worked in the so-called Green Zone. Kahramana was helpless. But Baghdadis were still flocking to Karrada to walk, eat and shop, to try to live against all odds.

The corrupt politicians — Iraq has consistently been ranked among the worst countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index — are robbing Iraqis not only of their wealth, but of life itself. The case of the fake bomb detectors exemplifies the relationship between corruption and death.
Throughout the last decade, Iraq paid more than $80 million for bomb detectors. Many thousands of Iraqi lives later, it turned out they could not detect anything more than golf balls. The British policeman-turned-businessman who made them in his yard was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2013. But these bomb detectors were still in use when I last visited Iraq — and until earlier this month. Only after the July 3 attack in Karrada did Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issue orders to withdraw these devices. And it was the anger Iraqis expressed on social media that compelled him to do so.

Perhaps had there been functioning bomb detectors, the attack in Karrada, where Iraqi families were buying gifts for Eid al-Fitr, the feast marking the end of Ramadan, could have been stopped. The same goes for the more than 2,000 other terrorist attacks since 2003. It is not only bomb detectors that are not working in Iraq. The state itself is dysfunctional in every way, but particularly in its capacity to protect its citizens from terrorism. The Islamic State is only the latest and most brutal iteration of the terrorism that Iraqis have had to live with since 2003. (…)

The site of the attack in Karrada, a shopping center, spontaneously became a space for public mourning. Baghdadis came to light candles and pray for the martyrs. There was mourning and expressions of solidarity all over the country; momentarily grief transcended sectarian divisions and tensions.

But within three days, the site was appropriated and occupied by the dominant sectarian parties and militias. They staged their own mourning ceremonies and flooded the facade of the burned building with banners. Angered by the hypocrisy and the political exploitation of the dead, the families of the martyrs held a news conference and released a statement. Their demands included removing all partisan banners from the site of the bombing, ending mourning rituals, rebuilding the site, and compensating the martyrs’ families.
“We are all corpses, waiting to die,” said one man standing at the site the day after the attack.(…)

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