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Monday, July 11, 2011

Baghdad Burning by Riverbend

This book, Baghdad Burning (I), is the publishing of Riverbend's blog. She's a girl from Iraq and I wish I'd have found her blog at the time of the invasion. I had visited some of the blogs she did, The Angry Arab and Raed in the Middle and Juan Cole, but I don't think I ever saw hers. She really breaks things down (what we did and how it affected Iraqis) and explains customs.

With the whole Gay Girl in Damascus hoax (two more links here and here) and anonymity of the internet, I do wonder sometimes if she's too good to be true and not who she says she is. Either way, I agree with her assessments, but one always wonders...

This will probably be less a review than random things that stood out to me. I've got 4 pages of notes, so I hope it doesn't get long and boring. It brought back some thoughts and feelings I had at the time of the invasion and highlighted things I'd not thought of or forgotten. All those things I didn't know or have forgotten definitely added insult to injury or injury to injury. Each event that came next was more ridiculous than the first. The invasion on false pretenses was bad, but everything that came The mismanagement descriptions I heard were very, very kind indeed! Especially when you figure in that some of it was probably intentional. A sad, sad time for the US and Iraq, not to trivialize Iraq's reality at all.


The way she describes the idea of the rotating presidency is great. I probably didn't understand a lot of the detail that was going on after the initial attack. I had the luxury of not really having to be invested in the outcome- I opposed the war after all. What was I thinking?!

My major moment was when it was proposed that we were going to attack Iraq. (Probably because I didn't have to see everyone dying and being taken away for questioning, though.) I knew there was serious doubt on the WMD and later 9/11-Al Qaeda link, but I wanted to believe what people told me when I voiced my fears- that the president has more information than us, that we were right in attacking, etc. War is serious, but the quick way it came about with the ridiculous 48 hour ultimatum, virtually no real opposition, no serious journalistic scrutiny left me absolutely stunned. I really thought we'd come to our senses before an attack actually happened- there's be troops for show and a behind the scenes deal of some sort. I woke up to news that we actually did attack Iraq and time stood still- it was an alternate reality- this wasn't supposed to happen. Either that day or that weekend, I remember being at a restaurant with family and hearing the reports of bombings and seeing the video footage. I kept staring- flinching at the explosions. I was so mad I wanted to throw something. It wasn't supposed to happen. Thinking back, being at a restaurant with family while they were getting bombed should have been equally infuriating...

I have forgotten a lot of the details because when I heard about Iraq, I thought of how I opposed it or what I could have done to stop it (stupid, I know) rather than listen to the reports. I'm glad to read them in Riverbend's blog now and get some context on things I may or may not have had an opinion about at that time.

She mentions the firing of the army and people who worked in the government ministries. I do remember sharing her opinion that it was absurd. I couldn't believe how shocked they were that some undesirables infiltrated the border- DUH! I think the subject of talk/news was theories on how/why there was chaos and violence and such and I remember thinking how stupid that was. When you fire all the people who used to run stuff, nothing gets done, people will cross borders. Easy.

National Day. This is one thing I don't remember so well, but I definitely share her disgust about Bush (or whoever is carrying out his wishes) declaring April 9, the day Iraq was invaded (I'm thinking this was March) or Saddam removed, a day Iraqis should celebrate. Of course Bush would see it as an accomplishment, but to make Iraqis celebrate a day in which they were invaded, killed, occupied and bombed to the preindustrial age is crazy. Shows how little we thought about Iraqis in the whole process. Fitting in the backwards, Bush way. It made me think of the way birthdays of leaders in N. Korea are made to be such a big deal and celebrated by everyone with special performances and everyone is supposed to be so happy about it and yet these are the people responsible for the poverty and isolation of the country... National Day should be a day Iraqis take pride in being Iraqi. They should choose some day that has meaning to them- like the day they boot us out or something that doesn't have anything to do with military.

Her descriptions of watching Bush and Rumsfeld are similar to the way I felt back then. I do remember not being able to look at their smug faces, but I had to see what they were saying- I couldn't turn it off. I appreciated getting her view of the consequences of their actions that I didn't have before. I only knew they were wrong and I was infuriated no one here bothered to put any real questions- the media slept- or turned into Bush's mouthpiece. Not too much different than the countries we criticize for no freedoms- yet we did that to ourselves!!

I also didn't realize there was a 9/11 memorial service in Tikrit in 2003! The nerve! She thinks it may be used as proof in the future of the missing 9/11 link-   these scenes will be superimposed on the past and treated as evidence for that. In 2011, I say impossible. When I'm old and telling my grandchildren people today (2060) are delusional if they think 9/11 was the reason for the Iraq invasion, I wonder if they'll smile and nod and think I'm totally off my rocker. So I guess the jury's still out.

Earlier in the book she mentions Americans taking over the palaces of Saddam Hussein. It angered me at the time. It still does, but now I see it was pretty fitting since we acted no better and probably worse than Saddam Hussein himself. It kind of set the scene for the US plan for Iraq- take the best for yourself and totally disregard everyone else. But then again the US plan for Iraq also says a lot- our plan for governing a place that isn't ours and supposed to be free...

September 29, 2003 She has an entry about sheiks. I don't recall hearing about this as it happened. The Americans gathered a bunch of them together and wanted them to "cooperate" with them since sheiks have a lot of influence/respect over large groups of people. In return they wanted a timetable for withdrawal and expected they'd get to participate politically, since they won't be able to get their people on board (rightfully so) if they get nothing in return for the bombing, killing, raids, detentions, etc. Jay Garner said no to both. Americans called it a conference and the sheiks' response was that it was just giving orders, no conference. They were then blacklisted and targeted for raids by the Americans. She made the good point that humiliating sheiks hurts democracy more than Iraq's "tribal tendencies." She uses herself and her pre-war job and freedom as an example of how tribes are family and order, not backwardness and chaos.

She says the world is waking up (p91) and gives this ebook or site: Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception by Danny Schechter at . Another site mentioned is (September 25 post). Apparently some company sells or sold a toy Iraqi house with blood on the walls and a proud American soldier. It's called Forward Command Post? Sickening. I checked snopes- it's no joke. I don't remember this at all. One of the article rightly offers- what if Afghan kids played with burning and collapsing twin towers? The animosity toward "the other" is represented; the only difference is that the average Afghan doesn't support Al-Qaeda, but most Americans support our troops. In looking up the links, I read people saying it was no big deal; kids play with GI Joe and army men... The toy was definitely a Middle Eastern style house and the way the "war on terror" is/was being fought- punishing Afghans for Al-Qaeda who was only loosely associated with the Taliban who weren't representative of Afghans, invading a country on false pretenses (Iraq)- it's more propaganda than a toy for a 5 year old.

She explains some about the significance of jewelry in this part of the world, which is very different from ours. It's the dowry, it's a family's savings (especially in places that become unstable due to conflict such that the value of their currency plummets). In American culture, it's more of a sign of affluence or preference (to have a lot of it) than anything like family savings. She said troops would steal/confiscate it because they thought it suspicious (they must have gotten rich dealing in weapons, drugs, terrorism) for them to have so much gold jewelry...which could be true if you apply American culture to Iraq and ignore the culture of the people. Still no reason to steal, though if it was pocketed by the soldiers. Kind of funny thought I had- their gold jewelry is used as savings and such, but it is more pure, and way more ornate than ours. Our gold is primarily decorative rather than for savings, but it is pretty plain- especially the more affordable stuff. :) I have a few things from the Middle East and they are my absolute favorite.

I enjoyed her description of tea making (p108). Theirs is flavored with cardamom. I didn't realize that. Cool. Earlier bamiya and other food I recognize and eat is mentioned. She describes it all as Iraqi; I had thought of some of it as more Palestinian/ Lebanese...  ;)

p112- She tells about an incident where troops have dogs searching Ministry of Oil employees and throwing Qurans to the ground. Outrage ensued. I'm pretty sure this is before the Abu Ghraib story broke. I don't remember hearing about searches and dogs and throwing Qurans except in the prisons. It could be selective reporting or my bad memory. I remember hearing so much about how soldiers are being made to learn about customs and culture so as to be "more effective" and not so ugly American- I wonder if all that press was before or after this? I really thought the troops were making an effort, but can you really teach or force people to hear what you're saying about others and respect others??

p130 Her recipes! I've got to check that out. Hope it's still around.

p152 The Bush visit on November 27, 2003. He wanted to show people it was safe, but the story she tells is one of daily dangers- still. I like how she puts it- she wants him to walk on the streets, not drop in on hand selected troops to show how "safe" it is.

p155 Iraq's Nuclear Mirage by Imad Khadduri. I don't remember this, but apparently he is a physicist who had some connection to the nuclear program and wrote a tell all book about how things were shut down in 1991 and teh current WMD things is garbage and everyone knew it.

p161 The Iraq Census Bureau wanted to have a census to have elections by September 1 or something like that and the US said no. I didn't remember that either.

p165 The capture of Saddam Hussein. It seemed like a big deal to Riverbend. I was expecting it not  to be I guess, since life under Saddam was better than occupation. There were pro-American demonstrations, which I remembered seeing along with footage of the statue being pulled over and the flag on his head. (Seems like there was some "scandal" where a US flag was on it first, then they decided it was better to put the Iraqi one there.) There were also anti-American and pro-Saddam demonstrations at which women and children were rounded up with men and arrested. I don't recall hearing about those.

p174 She describes Christmas in Baghdad, enjoying the lights and festivities with Christian neighbors. It was interesting to learn about Baba Noel (Santa). He dresses the same way, but doesn't come in to deliver gifts through a chimney because there aren't any chimney's and he's mainly a mascot rather than a FedEx- and no reindeer.

p207  This explanation of the bombing of a shelter full of women and kids in 1991 was so horribly tragic, like hearing about 9/11. And Americans replied that this was a legit target?? Unbelievable. She breaks it down with international law, which was great. I don't know what I thought then. I wasn't as up on world events and various schools of thought in 1991(I was a naive 13) as presently. Now it's clear the legit target thing is garbage.

She talks a few times about America punishing a whole city or area for action against troops. I guess I didn't realize that went on or went on so much. Maybe I have forgotten. War is inherently ugly and so I guess I didn't distinguish between horrors at times. I remember hearing about the 4 contractors that were dragged through the streets and treated brutally and all the outrage in the US. I remember some really sketchy stuff with Blackwater, how they do military tasks, but aren't held accountable in any code of justice and really are mercenaries and criminals. She connects Fallujah and the hundreds upon hundreds dead to this event. I'm not saying it's not true, but I don't remember this in our media. I absolutely believe that is the correct connection and that we called the women and children terrorists- unfortunately I believe it.

I completely can empathize or sympathize with her on the repulsion she felt about Bush speeches. He angered me. I didn't want to hear his voice or see that smug expression, but I wanted to see if he had come to his senses yet. I wondered if he'd ever "man up" and admit wrongdoing on ANYTHING or everything. No luck.

Riverbend explains things so well for us Americans. I have enjoyed the detail and context- not enjoyed descriptions of war- but you know what I mean- it fills in some blanks that were left intentionally by the government and media or my bad memory. It is a new context or perspective.

Two great observations from Riverbend:

1. p262 Americans are shocked at the Abu Ghraib scandal; Iraqis are well acquainted with the events already. Americans were outraged at Iraq showing American POWs on TV- thought Arabs were animals for showing soldiers alive and well, if tired, captive and reading from a script. Americans had no problem showing many images of Iraqi detainees as the recipient of dozens of compromising, embarrassing, immodest and disgusting abuses- what does that say about Americans?

2. Nick Berg (p264). She makes the point that beheading was probably chosen because this would horrify Americans like others things wouldn't (she makes a good point, doesn't she?). In a similar way, Americans chose sexual crimes against Iraqis because this is a fate worse than death to them. I would add the choice of dogs is the same due to the opinion of many Muslims about dogs. Both sides had the same thinking and did horrible, illegal, wrong things, but the US wanted to call Abu Ghraib a "stain" and get rid of it quick.

p276 The picture she paints surrounding her aunt dying of natural causes really got to me.  (Natural causes at that time is not so natural with the stress of living under occupation and raids, but that's relative...) It brings up issues I didn't really think about at the time it was happening- so many dead to bury, cemeteries filling up, scheduling nightmares for grief-stricken families. Things they shouldn't have to worry about. Misery on top of misery. As if war doesn't bring enough suffering and upheaval, room in the cemetery is limited, her aunt's space was given away due to necessity (war casualties) and they had to bury her where they didn't plan to. I also didn't think about the scheduling a wakes at mosques being tough because of so many dying that month from non-natural causes.

Her last post included in the first Baghdad Burning book made a good point. She describes a person dying and asks if it was 9/11/01. No, it was Falujah, 9/11/04. I hope it makes people think about what's permissible to do to others. Victims are victims.

My stuff from around the Iraq war, ~2003:

There is at least one letter to the editor about Iraq that I wrote on here:

This is my first blog. Check out the second link in the old entries and you'll probably see some entries on Iraq. It's not organized well. Part of that is my fault and part of it is the pitas blogging site. You may have to use the search function because I'd talk about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and add something about Iraq on the end sometimes...Sorry about that!

I had tried to find a bunch of emails I received when I emailed churches (same beliefs as me, not varying denominations) around the world to see if everyone's take was that the Bible says Bush is doing the right thing or that we must support him, etc, like the consensus in the US. They, like me, questioned the approach, attacking Iraq and considered verses about peace and not just submitting to government.

Here's my blog from ~2006-2007 or so. Yahoo has changed the address several times and annoyed me to no end, so I moved to Google blogger.


  1. With the whole Gay Girl in Damascus hoax (two more links here and here) and anonymity of the internet, I do wonder sometimes if she's too good to be true and not who she says she is. Either way, I agree with her assessments, but one always wonders...

    I found your blog after googling Riverbend to see if there has been any new information with regard to 'her' authenticity.

    Yet, here is a blog post assuming Riverbend is the real deal, with only a shadow of a doubt, and praising her for writing about lies, deceptions and conspiracies during the war in Iraq.

    Riverbend's Baghdad Burning blog was Anne Frank Diaries to the script.

    Unlike the latter however Riverbend never offered a special insight that could not be gleaned from elsewhere. Everything that Riverbend wrote could have been found from the media and other publicly available sources.

    My view is that she is not real. Neither is she an Iraqi nor is she a 'she'.

    The person who wrote under that pen name was either a journalist or a fiction writer, possibly male, who has been to the region.

    One thing is certain 'she' could recount a story and 'she' knew what appealed the most to her anti-war western liberal orientalist readers, just like the Gay Girl in Damascus did.

  2. Ahdaf Soueif wrote the forward and James Ridgeway wrote the intro. It reassured me some that she is the real deal; though I'm still open to any evidence you (or anyone) might have to the contrary. These are serious names to be risking their reputation on a hoax or a possible hoax.

    You seem pretty sure that she's not real. Just curious what makes you so sure. Just reading her blog? Some article or wikipedia thing? Fox news? Just your own opinion? You're certainly entitled to it, but if you have more info, it is definitely welcome.