In 2003, a twenty-four-year-old woman from Baghdad began blogging about life in the city under the pseudonym Riverbend. Her passion, honesty, and wry idiomatic English made her work a vital contribution to our understanding of post-war Iraq—and won her a large following.
Baghdad Burning is a quotidian chronicle of Riverbend’s life with her family between April 2003 and September of 2004. She describes rolling blackouts, intermittent water access, daily explosions, gas shortages and travel restrictions. She also expresses a strong stance against the interim government, the Bush administration, and Islamic fundamentalists like Al Sadr and his followers. Her book “offers quick takes on events as they occur, from a perspective too often overlooked, ignored or suppressed” (Publishers Weekly).
“Riverbend is bright and opinionated, true, but like all voices of dissent worth remembering, she provides an urgent reminder that, whichever governments we struggle under, we are all the same.” —Booklist
“Feisty and learned: first-rate reading for any American who suspects that Fox News may not be telling the whole story.” —Kirkus
|Publisher:||Feminist Press at CUNY, The|
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About the Author
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August Through December 2003
Three months after President Bush declared victory on May 2, 2003 and said major hostilities were "over," the fighting continues. The press cites terrorist attacks, but gradually, the reporters begin to talk about an "insurgency." No one seems quite sure who is in the insurgency, but everyone gets the picture: the Iraqis are uniting to get the Americans out. Casualties begin to climb. US combat and non-combat casualties approach 300 in August. Suicide bombers attack the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, killing 11. Resisting pressure from the US, which had heretofore ignored them, diplomats at the UN try to avoid awarding Iraq's new American-appointed government any sort of formal recognition. Instead the United Nations Security Council passes a resolution "welcoming" the new Iraqi Governing Council. Five days later the UN headquarters in Baghdad is bombed. Twenty-two people are dead, 100 injured. Among the dead is UN Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, a gifted diplomat, highly regarded on all sides, and widely viewed as the one man who might weld together the complex politics of the war-torn nation. The UN bombing leads to the international organization abandoning its headquarters and leaving the country.
Attacks increase. At the end of August, a car bomb explodes in the holy city of Najaf, killing 95. Among the dead is one of the most important Shia clerics in Iraq, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir Al-Hakim, who opposed the occupation but saw the possibility of establishing some form of democracy. In a tour of Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld seeks to emphasize the positive aspects of post-war occupation, comparing Baghdad to Chicago.
In September, UN Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix tells Australian radio he doubts the coalition will find any weapons of mass destruction. On September 25, Dr. Aqila al-Hashimi, one of three women on the Iraqi Governing Council [IGC], dies after being shot several days earlier.
In October, the UN formally recognizes the IGC but also sees the need to pass full control to Iraqis as soon as possible. From the point of view of the US this is a step forward, since recognition of the IGC means institutional status for the man it wants to play the key part in forming a new democratic government. He is Ahmed Chalabi, a former Iraqi banker, who has not been in Iraq since he was 12 and for the last decade has operated in London and the US out of his Iraqi National Congress. He is seen as the most important lobbyist for the invasion, and a man who stands to gain from Saddam's overthrow. Bush now says he needs more money to assure security and begin reconstruction in Iraq. David Kay, the top US weapons inspector in Iraq, thought to be more amenable to Bush's insistence on the existence of weapons of mass destruction, presents in an interim report that he cannot find any.
The US meets with resistance to its pleas for financial assistance from the world community. Eighty nations gather in Madrid to put together an aid package for Iraq, but only pledge $15 billion to add to the $19 billion already pledged by the US. These amounts fall far short of the $55 billion goal set by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Coalition Provisional Authority, and the UN. In bombings that target the International Committee of the Red Cross and several police stations, 35 are killed, 224 wounded. Suicide bombings by now are a regular occurrence.
November turns into the deadliest month of the post-war period to date for US troops as rebels shoot down a US helicopter, killing 16 soldiers and wounding at least 80 others. During this month, 80 US soldiers die. The US Congress passes $87.5 billion for Iraq, and Bush drops in for a photo-op Thanksgiving dinner among troops in Baghdad. Insurgents increase their attacks, killing 4 US soldiers and begin to target members of the US coalition. A bomb explodes at an Italian military police base, killing 14 Italians and 8 Iraqis. By month's end Bush reverses policy and agrees to turn over power to an interim Iraqi government in early 2004. There is a sense things are getting further and further out of control, and with the election approaching, Bush needs some sort of resolution.
Economic matters worsen. Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense, causes a furor in December when he bans France, Germany, Russia, and other countries that did not back the war from bidding on contracts for rebuilding Iraq.
On December 13, the US captures Saddam Hussein, who is hiding near his hometown of Tikrit. The arrest, elaborately portrayed on TV around the world, seems to have little effect. The insurgency continues.
— James Ridgeway
Sunday, August 17, 2003
THE BEGINNING ...
So this is the beginning for me, I guess. I never thought I'd start my own weblog ... All I could think, every time I wanted to start one was "but who will read it?" I guess I've got nothing to lose ... but I'm warning you — expect a lot of complaining and ranting. I looked for a "rantlog" but this is the best Google came up with.
A little bit about myself: I'm female, Iraqi, and 24. I survived the war. That's all you need to know. It's all that matters these days anyway.
Riverbend posted by river @ 7:36 PM
Waking up anywhere in Iraq these days is a trial. It happens in one of two ways: either slowly, or with a jolt. The slow process works like this: you're hanging in a place on the edge of consciousness, mentally grabbing at the fading fragments of a dream ... something creeps up around, all over you — like a fog. A warm heavy fog. It's the heat ... 120 F on the cooler nights. Your eyes flutter open and they search the dark in dismay — the electricity has gone off. The ceiling fan is slowing down and you are now fully awake. Trying to sleep in the stifling heat is about as productive as trying to wish the ceiling fan into motion with your brain. Impossible.
The other way to wake up is to be jolted into reality with the sound of a gun-shot, explosion, or yelling. You sit up, horrified and panicked, any dream or nightmare shattered to oblivion. What can it be? A burglar? A gang of looters? An attack? A bomb? Or maybe it's just an American midnight raid? posted by river @ 8:02 PM
Monday, August 18, 2003
ANOTHER DAY ...
Normal day today. We were up at early morning, did the usual "around the house things," you know — check if the water tank is full, try to determine when the electricity will be off, checked if there was enough cooking gas ...
You know what really bugs me about posting on the internet, chat rooms or message boards? The first reaction (usually from Americans) is "You're lying, you're not Iraqi." Why am I not Iraqi, well because, a. I have internet access (Iraqis have no internet), b. I know how to use the internet (Iraqis don't know what computers are), and c. Iraqis don't know how to speak English (I must be a Liberal). All that shouldn't bother me, but it does. I see the troops in the streets and think, "So that's what they thought of us before they occupied us ... that may be what they think of us now." How is it that we're seen as another Afghanistan?
The best part of the last two days was watching tv yesterday — the latest news from our rotating presidential council: Jordan is trying to get Washington to hand Ahmad Al-Chalabi over to authorities in Amman!! That was great to watch ... you know what? He's my favorite out of the whole interim government hand-picked by Bremer. If Bremer has learned anything about the Iraqi people he's been attempting to govern these last few months, he would hand Chalabi over to Jordanian authorities with a red ribbon around his neck (as a sign of good will). I haven't seen anyone who likes the rat (and his buddy Qambar is even worse).
For those who don't know, the interim governing council chosen by Bremer to "represent" the Iraqi people couldn't decide which of the power-hungry freaks should rule Iraq, soooooo ... Bremer decided that 3 people would govern (as temporary presidents) until the Americans could set up elections. The three people were Al-Hakim (as a representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution), Bahr Al-Uloom (another Shi'ite cleric), and Adnan Al-Pachichi. Naturally, the other members of the governing council objected ... why should Iraq only have 3 presidents?! And the number became nine. Each of the nine (including Adnan Al-Pachichi, Ahmad Al-Chalabi, Al-Hakim, and various others) get to "rule" for a month. You know, Iraq just needs more instability — all we need is a new president each month ... anyway, our current "Flavor of the Month" is Ibraheim Al-Jaffari, who is the head of the infamous Al-Daawa Party (responsible for various bombings in Iraq before and during the Saddam era). I'll talk more about him later ...
The funny thing is that the 9 get to govern Iraq alphabetically (according to the Arabic alphabet). The only reason for this seems to be that Bremer found them all equally ingratiating, dishonest, and incompetent so he was hard-pressed to make a decision. The way it will work is that each one will have their chance at governing Iraq, and at the end of the nine-month period, Bremer will decide which one of them best represents American assets in the region and he will become "The Chosen One." They'll set up some fake elections and "The Chosen One" will magically be rewarded with ... Iraq. I just hope Adnan Al-Pachichi makes it long enough to get his chance on the occupation throne — he looks ready to fall over any minute.
email me: firstname.lastname@example.org by river @ 9:12 PM
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
How is it possible to wake up tired? It feels like I've been struggling in my sleep ... struggling with nightmares, struggling with fears ... struggling to listen for gunshots or tanks. I'm just so tired today. It's not the sort of "tired" where I want to sleep — it's the sort of tired where I just want to completely shut down ... put myself on standby, if you will. I think everyone feels that way lately.
Today a child was killed in Anbar, a governorate northwest of Baghdad. His name was Omar Jassim and he was no more than 10 years old, maybe 11. Does anyone hear of that? Does it matter anymore? Do they show that on Fox News or CNN? He was killed during an American raid — no one knows why. His family is devastated — nothing was taken from the house because nothing was found in the house. It was just one of those raids. People are terrified of the raids. You never know what will happen — who might be shot, who might react wrong — what exactly the wrong reaction might be ... Things are getting stolen too — gold, watches, money (dollars) ... That's not to say ALL the troops steal — that's unfair. It's like saying all of Iraq was out there looting. But it really is difficult having to worry about looters, murderers, gangs, militias, and now American troops. I know, I know — someone is saying, "You ungrateful Iraqis! They are doing this for YOU ... the raids are for YOU!" But the truth is, the raids only accomplish one thing: they act as a constant reminder that we are under occupation, we are not independent, we are not free, we are not liberated. We are no longer safe in our own homes — everything now belongs to someone else.
I can't see the future at this point, or maybe I don't choose to see it. Maybe we're just blocking it out like a bad memory or premonition. Eventually it will creep up on you, though. We're living, this moment, the future we were afraid to contemplate 6 months ago. It's like trying to find your way out of a nightmare. I just wish they would take the oil and go ...
email me: email@example.com posted by river @ 3:50 PM
The UN building explosion is horrible ... terrifying and saddening. No one can believe it has happened ... no one understands why it was chosen. For God's sake these people are supposed to be here to help.
I'm so angry and frustrated. Nothing is moving forward — there is NOprogress and this is just an example. The media is claiming Al-Qaeda. God damn, we never HAD Al-Qaeda before this occupation ... fundamentalists kept their heads down. Now they are EVERYWHERE — they "represent" the Iraqi people on Bremer's puppet council ... You know what? Something like this could never happen to the Ministry of Oil. The Ministry of Oil is being guarded 24/7 by tanks and troops. It has been guarded ever since the fall of Baghdad and will continue under Bremer's watchful eye until every last drop of oil is gone. Why couldn't they have put a tank in front of the UN building? Why? Why? Why? We know the Pentagon's planning has been horrid up until now, but you'd think they would have seen this one coming from a mile away ... posted by river @ 9:14 PM
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Sergio de Mello's death is catastrophic. We are all a little bit dazed. He was, during these last few months, the best thing that seems to have happened to Iraq. In spite of the fact that the UN was futile in stopping the war, seeing someone like de Mello gave people some sort of weak hope. It gave you the feeling that, no, the Americans couldn't run amuck in Baghdad without the watchful of eye of the international community.
Bremer is trying to link it to "resistance" and Al-Qaeda ... this is a new type of attack. *This* is terrorism, Mr. Bush ... not the attack of occupying forces — that's resistance. Attacking humanitarian organizations you could not, or would not, protect. A type of terrorism Iraqis hadn't seen until this occupation — we never had people bombing the UN or embassies, no matter how difficult things got. The UNSCOM [UN Special Commission] were definitely unloved here, but they were protected. America, as an occupying power, is responsible for the safety and security of what is left of this country. They are responsible for the safety and security of any international humanitarian organizations inside of the country to help the people. They have been shirking their duties horribly ... but you would think someone like Sergio de Mello could have gotten better.
Somehow I'm terrified. If someone like de Mello couldn't, or simply wasn't, protected — what's going to happen to the millions of people needing protection in Iraq? How could this have been allowed to happen?
Some news channel was just saying that when Bremer got the news, he broke down and cried ... I don't know why. It certainly wasn't his loss ... it was Iraq's. posted by river @ 1:32 PM
Thursday, August 21, 2003
Wow. Dozens of emails were the result of being on Salam's blog. I was astounded. I guess I never thought so many people would end up reading the blog. It has made me appreciative and nervous all at the same time.
Most of the emails moved me to ... gratitude. Thank you for understanding ... no, thank you for even *trying* to understand. Other emails, on the other hand, were full of criticism, cynicism, and anger. You really don't have to read my blog if you don't want to and you certainly don't have to email me telling me how much you hate it. It's great to get questions and differing opinions — but please be intelligent about it, and above all, creative — if I want to hear what Fox News has to say, I'll watch it.
And keep one thing in mind — tanks and guns can break my bones, but emails can be deleted. posted by river @ 3:13 PM
MY NEW TALENT
Suffering from a bout of insomnia last night, I found myself in front of the television, channel-surfing. I was looking for the usual — an interesting interview with one of the council, some fresh news, a miracle ... Promptly at 2 am, the electricity went off and I was plunged into the pitch black hell better-known as "an August night with no electricity in Iraq." So I sat there, in the dark, trying to remember where I had left the candle and matches. After 5 minutes of chagrined meditation, I decided I would "feel" my way up the stairs and out onto the roof. Step by hesitant step, I stumbled out into the corridor and up the stairs, stubbing a toe on the last step (which wasn't supposed to be there).
(For those of you who don't know, people sleep up on the roof in some of the safer areas because when the electricity goes off, the houses get so hot, it feels like you are cooking gently inside of an oven. The roof isn't much better, but at least there's a semblance of wind.)
Out on the roof, the heat was palpitating off of everything in waves. The strange thing is that if you stand in the center, you can feel it emanating from the walls and ground toward you from all directions. I stood there trying to determine whether it was only our area, or the whole city, that had sunk into darkness.
A few moments later, my younger brother (we'll call him E.) joined me — disheveled, disgruntled and half-asleep. We stood leaning on the low wall enclosing the roof watching the street below. I could see the tip of Abu Maan's cigarette glowing in the yard next door. I pointed to it with the words, "Abu Maan can't sleep either ..." E. grunted with the words, "It's probably Maan." I stood staring at him like he was half — wild — or maybe talking in his sleep. Maan is only 13 ... how is he smoking? How can he be smoking?
"He's only 13." I stated.
"Is anyone only 13 anymore?" he asked.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Baghdad Burning"
Copyright © 2005 Riverbend.
Excerpted by permission of Feminist Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
August Through December 2003,
January Through March 2004,
April Through September 2004,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This purports to be the publication of an anonymous blog by a 24 year old Iraqi woman and I wouldn't have even picked it up except that the introduction is by Adhaf Soueif, whose work I admire tremendously. Soueif thinks that Riverbend is real, but I confess that I don't. I'm maybe a third or so into the book and I just keep thinking, "No way." Maybe it's because most of what I read on line is not well organized or thought out or well phrased, but this does not hold the ring of truth for me, particularly as she's blogging in English. She claims to be bilingual and "average," but there's just a big disconnect between what she writes about and what Anthony Shadid ("Night Draws Near") saw. Not necessarily even in terms of events and politics. Just in terms of how wealthy her family seems to be, and how unaffected by the sanctions they apparently were, and so forth. I actually suspect that she's an American who has spent a lot of time in the middle east or who is married to someone from the middle east, but I think I'm going to drop this one.
Reviewing someone's life story is nearly impossible, especially if, as in this case, the writer is an ordinary person living through extraordinary hardship and desperate to tell the world something it needs to hear. Riverbend is the internet alias of a twenty-something Iraqi girl blogging through the war and subsequent American invasion. The first year of blog posts have been compiled to make this book. Each page is saturated with pain, anger, frustration and passion. She is not the downtrodden Muslim woman many Americans imagine exist, nor was she a victim of Saddam Hussein's regime. She is politically savvy, articulate, proud of her culture and religion and tolerant of others -- even Americans. Each post is well-reasoned and well-written, appealing to logic as much as emotion. She tells the stories that didn't make it into the American news media, contributing irreplaceable insight into the politics and economics of the war as well as its human cost. Whether you're for or against the war, you need to know how it shaped, altered, shattered and ended the lives of millions of Iraqi people. Read this book.
Read for class, but will likely get second volume out of curiosity. While not always superbly eloquent, Riverbend is certainly engaging, and forces us to revisit our perception of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Recommended for current event buffs and those who, like me, need a first-person account to make history make sense.
Having just stumbled across the actual Riverbend blog online...I have no words. Unbelievable - yet so real. I am not an avid reader but urge everyone to research all they can into the occupation of Iraq by America. It makes your trials of day to day monotony simply insignificant. Open your eyes.
Don't start reading this book unless you have nothing to do for the next few hours because you will not put it down. Riverbend gives us the story of life in present-day Iraq without sparing any feelings or taking any sides. She allows herself to speak out over the internet to inform yet provide wit and candor (and certainly a fair amount of skepticism) about the Iraqi psyche and the ever-changing rules under which she and her family live. This book should be required reading in any secondary school or college history class, next to the Diary of Ann Frank and other first-hand accounts of the human side of war.