Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Iraq: fear of a yellow shirt

What does the future hold for Baghdad and its citizens?

March 20, 2007 9:30 AM

Salam Pax

A man in mustard yellow shirt with a gun held pointing up is standing in the middle of the road. He is on his own near a concrete barrier left by an American checkpoint months ago. I notice a car parked on the side, there are more men in it, not a good sign. My mother in the back utters a barely audible gasp, she only wanted to visit her sister and look what we got ourselves into.

We have no idea what is going on in front of us, is it an impromptu check point by neighbourhood vigilantes? Is it one of those sectarian militias planning a kidnapping? Or just a madman waving a gun? We keep moving towards him, turning back is not an option.

A relative of mine recently had to go pick up the body of his brother from the Baghdad morgue. The group who killed him had the gall to call his home and tell the family that he was being killed because he hesitated to answer when they asked if he was Shia or Sunni Muslim. That was going through my head while we approached that armed man, and the fact that the colour of his shirt should really be illegal.
I'm sorry, it was just easier to make an aesthetic decision regarding his choice of apparel at that point than deciding in less than 15 seconds what my religion is, not based on belief but on what I thought the armed man wanted to hear. Agnosticism isn't a valid opt-out when dealing with Islamist militias.

How did it come to this? How did the euphoric feeling of hope turn into daily fear and anger? And more importantly, can we find our way out of this again?

It has become painfully obvious that the solution to our problems is not going to come from the western democracies. We have a saying: if you've been bitten by a snake you get weary at the sight of a rope. Today, everything the coalition forces offer looks like that rope.

We have to make our own decisions and unfortunately for the countries who effected this change initially, they won't like the choices we are making. Too bad, bets were made and you lost. Just be glad that what you lost was not a country like many of us Iraqis have but some pride and International standing. I am sure the Olympics and the new Wembley Stadium will heal those wounds.

As for us we have to learn how to deal with a new reality in which our choice of religion is the difference between life and meaningless death. In which a marriage, like my parents', between a Sunni and a Shia is unthinkable. Which part of the city are you going to live in when there is no middle ground?

Four years on, my anger and frustration is no longer directed at the failed attempts of the coalition to bring peace and services to my country as they promised before they released those B52 bombers. I am more than disappointed at our own politicians. They are now my only hope of a better future and they spend their days squabbling over spoils or advancing narrow-minded sectarian agendas.

These were the men and women we thought would make all the hardships and deaths Iraq has seen meaningful. We trusted them, and millions of Iraqis braved death to go and vote for them. Only to watch them now fight for months over who is going to be the minister of oil and who gets only consolation prizes.

I was asked to write here about what I see happening in the next year. To be honest, many of us in Baghdad live a day-to-day existence. The future doesn't extend much further than the news of the next car bomb.

But I can tell you the things I don't see happening. I don't see the levels of electricity recovering enough to keep vaccine refrigerators in hospitals running 24 hours. I don't see the streets of Baghdad open again and free of all that oppressive concrete forming endless blast walls. And I hope I won't see an Iraq split into three states.

Oh, and that man in the vile mustard shirt. He turned out to be a madman with an unloaded gun. Those in the car were his brothers making sure he doesn't get into trouble.

For other blogs in the 'Iraq four years on' series click here.

Salam Pax is failed Iraqi architect who turned to blogging out of frustration. The collected weblog has been published by Guardian Books under the title The Baghdad Blog. Seeing blogging as a dead end he moved on to television making 18 short documentaries about his life in Iraq after the war. Although his attempt to become a TV celebrity failed he was awarded the Royal Television Society’s award for innovation in 2003, never to be considered for another award in the subsequent years.

Today Salam Pax is still frustrated with the state of affairs in his country but has abandoned his blog, Salam Pax lives in Baghdad.

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