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Recommended Reading

Sometimes I come across articles that are so compelling, I have to mention them whether they are about Russia or not. Patrick Cockburn’s article “Iraq: The Reality” published in the Independent UK on October 12 is one of them. The article is an edited extract from his book The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq published by Verso.

Here is a passage:

High rank was no defence against violence. The Iraqi police general in charge of the serious crimes squad was shot through the head by an American soldier who mistook him for a suicide bomber. President Jalal Talabani’s head of protocol was not with him when he visited Washington to see President Bush. Instead he was in a Baghdad hospital with a broken arm and leg after a US Humvee rammed his vehicle.

So many people were being killed in Iraq every day for so many reasons that the outside world had come to ignore the slaughter and Iraqis themselves were almost used to it. The death of a thousand people in a stampede during a Shia religious festival in September 2005 was only a one-day wonder abroad. It is worth looking at just three acts of violence in a small part of Baghdad to show how casual killings and kidnappings impacted on the people of the city. They took place within a few days of each other in September 2005 in or close to al-Kudat, a previously prosperous district in the south-west of the city where many doctors and lawyers once lived. It was by no means the most dangerous part of Baghdad, and the days when the following events occurred were quieter than those that followed.

The first killing was at the hands of the Americans. Early one morning a surgeon called Basil Abbas Hassan decided to leave his house in al-Kudat for his hospital in the centre of Baghdad at 7.15am in order to beat the morning rush hour. Dr Hassan, a specialist in head surgery, was the kind of man who should have been one of the building blocks of the new Iraq. He drove his car out of a side street on to the airport road without noticing that an American convoy was approaching from behind him. A US soldier thought the car might be driven by a suicide bomber and shot Dr Hassan dead. Not many of his friends attended his funeral because so many had already left Iraq.

Mobile phone theft is common all over the world, but in Baghdad people will kill for a handset. This is not because they are more expensive than elsewhere in the world – in fact they are cheaper because nobody pays any tariffs on them – but because murder is so easy. No criminal expects to be caught. A few days after Dr Hassan was killed by the Americans, a 16-year-old, Muhammad Ahmed, was making a call on his mobile as he walked down the street. A car drew up beside him and a man pointed a pistol. He said: “Give me your phone.” Muhammad refused or hesitated to hand it over for a few seconds too long and the gunman killed him with a bullet in the neck.

The third story has a happier ending, though at one moment it seemed likely to end in tragedy. It happened in another street in al-Kudat. The mother of a friend called Ismail told him that there was a strange car parked outside the house. She wanted him to find out to whom it belonged. It did not seem likely that anybody would leave a car bomb in a residential street because US or Iraqi patrols never used it. But anything out of the ordinary in Baghdad may be dangerous and is routinely checked out.

I think Cockburn’s reporting gives us some good food for thought as we examine the violence in places like Iraq, Chechnya, Sudan, Somalia, etc.

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