Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Iraqi Book of the Dead

My friend Betsy just sent me an e-mail. “The news last night said that Iraqis are starting to turn against extremists and starting to fight this wishful thinking or are people really talking about this in Baghdad?“ Are they talking about it? Yes and no. Yes, they are talking about it, but, no, it is not the major topic of conversation.

What everyone here in Baghdad is really talking about is DEATH. Death is everywhere here. It permeates the very air we breathe. It seeps into our conversations and into our dreams -- which explains why, since I have arrived in this country, I almost never sleep.

A CBS camera crew just wandered into the press room. “Have you ever been to an Iraqi morgue?“ I asked one of the team.

“No, I have never been to a morgue. Morgues here are very dangerous places.“

I was surprised. Why would a morgue be so dangerous? “Because the Shia go there to pick off the Sunnis who go there to claim dead relatives and the Sunnis go there to pick off the Shia who have also gone there to claim their dead.“ So. Death, if you are still looking around for thy sting, I guess your best bet of finding it would be in an Iraqi morgue.

Whenever American soldiers say goodbye to each other over here, they always say, “Take care.“ For Americans in Iraq, Death rides in every vehicle, haunts every road, lives in every hooch. It's life on the edge. One never knows.

When I first came to Iraq, I thought I was here to write stories. But now I think that I'm just here to be a witness -- a witness to the power of death. Make no mistake, boys and girls. The Grim Reaper is the real governor of Iraq no matter who sits in parliament or how fortified the Green Zone is. And, knowing that, my next question should be, “Will I die here too?“ No, not me. I am immortal! I can't even imagine a world without out me. It's hard for any one to conceive of their own death.

But I know what the next question I should ask after that one should be. “How can the supposedly-idealistic United Nations, the supposedly-democratic United States, the supposedly-civilized European Union or even Russia or China allow a country to exist with Death as its commander-in-chief?“ They overthrew Saddam here. They should overthrow Death too. But they won't. Instead, Death has been given permanent membership on the UN Security Council. Death is now a member of the G-8.

People here in Iraq talk about death all the time. It has become a permanent part of their lives. Death never gets invited to dinner. But he comes. He never gets any votes here but year after year he is re-elected. In this country, he's the one you go to if you want to get anything done. In Iraq, Death is the ultimate problem-solver. Betsy, the only way in the world that there will be any kind of truce between Al Qaeda, the Shia, the Sunni, the Americans, the Iraqi mafia, the fundamentalists, etc. is if they all get together and vote Death out of office. But that just isn't happening here -- and won't be happening any time soon.

PS: In case you might be wondering how death came to be so prevalent in Iraq, read Naomi Klein's latest article in Harpers regarding the role of “Disaster Capitalism“ in world affairs. Read it from beginning to end. Print it out. Sleep with it under your pillow. And then get ready to welcome Death to your city or town too.

Disaster Capitalism: The new economy of catastrophe
http://www.harpers. org/archive/ 2007/09/00000000 010

PPS: I'm finally scheduled to fly out of the Green Zone tonight! Anbar province, here I come! That is if Death doesn't roll out the welcome mat between now and then.