Signs of normalcy: blogging from Baghdad resumed

Salam Pax (Where is Raed?) is back on line. He seems to have kept a journal during the period when he couldn’t send anything out, and has posted that along with accounts of his more recent experiences. Read it all: if you content yourself with the selections below, you will miss, inter alia, the discussions of how to spend possibly counterfeit 10,000 dinar notes, why de-Baathificaion has to have limits, the looting problem, plans to unite the Communists and the Islamists, and what Saddam Hussein’s personal guard was up to.

[Note: Some of the language below has been cleaned up, not by Salam Pax for fear of Iraqi censors but by Mark Kleiman for fear of American nanny programs.]

It’s obvious that Salam missed his metier when he went into computer work rather than journalism:

The streets markets look like something out of a William Gibson novel. Heaps of cheap RAM (stolen of course) is being sold beside broken monitors beside falafel stands and weapons are all available. Fights break out justlikethat and knives come out from nowhere, knives just bought 5 minutes ago. There are army sighting thingys, Weird looking things with lenses. And people selling you computer cases who tell you these are electric warmers, never having seen a computer case before. Really truly surreal. Software CDs, Movie CDs and cheap porn. And a set of 5 CDs called [the crimes of saddam] it has things from halabja, the footage they have taped during 91 while squishing the uprising after the war and other stuff about Uday, there is one whole CD about Uday. Have not seen any of them yet. They say there is some gruesome footage on them but the Uday CD is not as juicy as you’d think.

Back to the weapons. The prices have been going up because they are being bought from the market in big quantities. One of the very few bright ideas our new American administration has been having was if the looters want money for the stolen weapons let’s pay them for bringing them to us. Outside Baghdad it is said people are being paid a fixed price for each piece of weaponry they bring in. In Baghdad it is being bought off the market at street prices. But still no one is going into the Thawra District.

American civil administration in Iraq is having a shortage of Bright ideas. I keep wondering what happened to the months of “preparation” for a “post-saddam” Iraq. What happened to all these 100-page reports, where is that Dick Cheney report? Why is every single issue treated like they have never thought it would come up? What’s with the juggling of people and ideas about how to form that “interim government”? Why does it feel like they are using the [lets-try-this-lets-try-that] strategy? Trial and error on a whole country? The various bodies that have been installed here don’t seem to have much coordination between them. We all need to feel that big sure and confident strides forward are being taken; it is not like this at all. And how about stopping empty pointless gestures and focusing on things that are real problems? Can anyone tell me what the return of children to schools really means? Other than it makes nice 6 o’clock news footage.

One reason I think Salam Pax is real (a real person, really writing from Baghdad, and not part of some complicated disinformation plot) is that he doesn’t seem to be pushing any “line”: he can see, and will speak, both sides of a question:

Let me tell you one thing first. War sucks big time. Don’t let yourself ever be talked into having one waged in the name of your freedom. Somehow when the bombs start dropping or you hear the sound of machine guns at the end of your street you don’t think about your “imminent liberation” anymore.

But I am sounding now like the Taxi drivers I have fights with whenever I get into one.

Besides asking for outrageous fares (you can’t blame them gas prices have gone up 10 times, if you can get it) but they start grumbling and mumbling and at a point they would say something like “well it wasn’t like the mess it is now when we had saddam”. This is usually my cue for going into rage-mode. We Iraqis seem to have very short memories, or we simply block the bad times out. I ask them how long it took for us to get the electricity back again after he last war? 2 years until things got to what they are now, after 2 months of war. I ask them how was the water? Bad. Gas for car? None existent. Work? Lots of sitting in street tea shops. And how did everything get back? Hussain Kamel used to literally beat and whip people to do the impossible task of rebuilding. Then the question that would shut them up, so, dear Mr. Taxi driver would you like to have your saddam back? Aren’t we just really glad that we can now at least have hope for a new Iraq? Or are we Iraqis just a bunch of impatient fools who do nothing better than grumble and whine? Patience, you have waited for 35 years for days like these so get to working instead of whining. End of conversation.

The truth is, if it weren’t for intervention this would never have happened. When we were watching the Saddam statue being pulled down, one of my aunts was saying that she never thought she would see this day during her lifetime.

But, War. No matter what the outcome is. These things leave a trail of destruction behind them. There were days when the Red Crescent was begging for volunteers to help in taking the bodies of dead people off the city street and bury them properly. The hospital grounds have been turned to burial grounds when the electricity went out and there was no way the bodies can be kept until someone comes and identifies.


The last couple of days I have been having the vilest thoughts about Chalabi, Zubaidi et al. I can’t stop myself muttering filthybad things about them whenever one of these names gets mentioned. Oh and the hideous flag they have.

Who gave them permission to camp at the grounds of the ***** Social Club and the Iraqi ***** Club. What am I supposed to do with my membership? Where do I find another big indoor swimming pool? No, seriously. What is this thing with these foreign political parties who have suddenly invaded Baghdad? Do they have no respect for public property? Or since it is the “season of the loot” they think they can just camp out wherever they like and, ahem, “liberate” public buildings. PUK at the National Engineering Consultants’ building. PDK at the Mukhabarat building in Mansour. INC taking an army conscription center. Islamic Dawa at the children’s public library. Another Islamic-something taking a bank. Outoutout. Liberate your own backyard; you have no right to sit in these buildings. There is only one “liberated” building I did find worth applauding because it was only symbolic; on the side entrance to the Central Mukhabarat building in Harthiya you will find written in red spray paint “The Iraqi Communist Party”. In a twisted macabre upside-down way this is the center of the Iraqi commies, these buildings have been filled with Iraqi communist party members who were imprisoned, tortured and killed there.


A conversation overheard by G. while in the Meridian Hotel — the Iraqi media center :

Female journalist 1: oh honey how are you? I haven’t seen you for ages.

Female journalist 2: I think the last time was in Kabul.

Bla bla bla

Bla bla bla

Female journalist 1: have to run now, see you in Pyongyang then, eh?

Female journalist 2: absolutely.

His description of the dynamics of urban guerrilla warfare couldn’t be more precise:


Too much has happened the last couple of days but my head is as heavy as a lead boulder. Hay fever time. The sexual life of palm trees makes me weep.

I still can’t bring myself to sleep upstairs, not that anything too serious happened after that night but I rather sleep under as many walls and roofs as possible, fist size shrapnel gets thru the first wall but might be stopped by the next, seen that and learned my lesson. So the million dollar question is of course “what the f*** happened?”. (Syrian/Lebanese/Iraqi) Fedayeen were somewhere in the area.

It has become a swear word, dirtyfilthy and always followed by a barrage of verbal abuse. Syrian, Lebanese and of course Iraqi sickos who are stupid enough to believe the Jennah-under-martyrs-feet rubbish. They want to die in the name of Allah, so what do they do? Do they stand in front of “kafeer infidel aggressor”? No they don’t because they are chicken sh**. They go hide in civilian districts to shoot a single useless mortar shell or a couple of Kalashnikov shots which bounce without any effect on the armored vehicles. But the answer they get to that single shot is a hell of mortars or whatever on all the houses in the area from where the shot came. This has been happening all over Baghdad, and in many places people were not as lucky as we have been here in our block.

Sometimes you didn’t even know that those creepy f***s have moved into your street for the night. All over Baghdad you see the black cloth with the names of people killed during these things. It is even worse when the Americans decide to go into full battle mode on these fedayeen, right there between the houses. I have seen what has happened in Jamia and Adhamiya districts. One woman was too afraid to go out of her house hours after the attack because she had pieces of one of these fedayeen on her lawn.

Now whenever fedayeen are seen they are being chased away. Sometimes with rocks and stones if not guns. If you have them in your neighborhood you will not be able to sleep peacefully. The stupid f***s. For some reason the argument that if he wants to die then he should do it alone and not take a whole block down with him does not hit home.

I hope the peacebloggers who have been going on and on about how US and British forces “wantonly inflicted civilian casualties” will read this carefully. But I venture to suggest that Salam Pax misdescribes the motives of the fedayeen. They weren’t firing from inside crowded neighborhoods out of concern for their own skins. They weren’t even really interested in killing Americans. They were trying to induce Americans to kill, injure, and frighten Iraqi civilians. Note also that Baghdadis learned quickly that chasing the fedayeen out of their neighborhoods was prudent policy.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: