Friday, September 30, 2005


Baghdad No Longer Exists

In two and a half years, one of the world's great cities has been turned into a filthy, deadly cesspool:

Al-Sharq al-Awsat carries a long, anguished and meditative piece by Maad Fayyad, an Arab journalist normally based in London, on the occasion of his return to Baghdad for the third time since the US invasion. I don't have time to translate the entire thing, but perhaps he will publish it in English. He says from Baghdad, "Here is Baghdad . . . But which Baghdad is here? The Baghdad that we do not know and which we do not want to be like this. I wonder-- did the Mongols descend on it only yesterday, led by the captain of catastrophe and devotee of death, Hulagu Khan, such that it was transformed into debris?" He says he is looking out of a helicopter window. He sees buildings below that look like the peaks of a historical city, except that circulation in the streets is lazy and mournful. But then the rubble stretches into the distance, punctuated by mountains of garbage clearly visible from the air. Even the formerly upper class districts were mired in fetid lakes of rancid water, swirling around once proud mansions. In the 1980s, Baghdad had once received an international award as the world's cleanest city. He says, "I search for Baghdad in Baghdad, and do not find it." Once the snooty capital had given birth to a verb, "to baghdad it up" [tabaghdada], meaning to put on insufferable airs and act superior. Today the only persons bagdading it up in Baghdad are those breaking civil, religious and tribal law with impunity.

"As for the law, it does not exist here. Most of the persons I've met in Baghdad say frankly, 'Iraq is living without a state . . . without a rule of law . . . with power going to the strongest . . ."
The most progressive city in the Middle East -- a place with the best universities, the best opportunities for women, the most prosperous and best educated people in general -- has been ruined, perhaps forever.

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