"The neighborhood of Bab al Sheik
dates from a time, more than a thousand years ago, when Baghdad ruled the Islamic world... Ten centuries later, Bab al Sheik is less grand, but still extraordinary: it has been spared the sectarian killing that has gutted other neighborhoods, and Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians live together here with unusual ease." A NY Times
story (by Sabrina Tavernise and Karim Hilmi) about interesting people in an interesting place. (Print version
for them as wants one.)
The Bookseller's Story, Ending Much Too Soon.
Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post
writes about Mohammed Hayawi, "a bald bear of a man," who ran the Renaissance Bookstore on "Baghdad's storied Mutanabi Street." Back in 2005, Phillip Robertson wrote a Salon article
about Al Mutanabbi Street, "Baghdad's legendary literary cafe, the Shabandar, " and Hajji Qais Anni's stationery store: "Hajji Qais had been on Al Mutanabbi street for 10 years and the vendors all knew him... He wore a beard and was also known as a devout Sunni who had no problem hiring Shia workers or spending time with Christian colleagues." Both Hayawi and Hajji Qais were killed by bombs, the cafe has been gutted, and the street that "embodied a generation-old saying: Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, Baghdad reads" is no longer its old self. "When the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258, it was said that the Tigris River ran red one day, black another. The red came from the blood of nameless victims, massacred by ferocious horsemen. The black came from the ink of countless books from libraries and universities. Last Monday, the bomb on Mutanabi Street detonated at 11:40 a.m. The pavement was smeared with blood. Fires that ensued sent up columns of dark smoke, fed by the plethora of paper." Two views of a part of Baghdad that doesn't make the news much.
A Dweller in Mesopotamia.
Donald Maxwell was Official Artist to the Admiralty during World War I, and the end of the war found him in what was then called Mesopotamia (now Iraq); he compiled the sketches and paintings he did there into a book which Project Gutenberg has put online. I'm posting it for the frequently beautiful images, but the text is interesting too. He says Baghdad and Basra don't live up to the Westerner's romantic preconceptions ("The first general impression of Basra is that of an unending series of quays along a river not unlike the Thames at Tilbury"), but he also describes age-old scenes that are now gone for good. (Via wood s lot
, one of the few sites I visit every day.)
Chris Hedges on war.
The long-time war correspondent explains why it will be years before we have any idea what's been going on in Iraq, and describes the gulf between here and there:
One of the Marines in the book returns to California and is invited to be the guest of honor in a gated community in Malibu, a place where he could never afford to live. The residents want to toast him as a war hero. "I'm not a hero," he tells the guests. "Guys like me are just a necessary part of things. To maintain this way of life in a fine community like this, you need psychos like us to go out and drop a bomb on somebody's house."
Where Iraq's desaparecidos wound up.
This is about Iraq, but it's not about the war. It's about a graveyard, its manager, and his "awful green book." The reporter is an Arab, which makes a difference, as you can see in the striking last sentence of this paragraph:
All of the dissidents buried at the Kirkh Islamic Cemetery were once held at Abu Ghreib prison, the country's largest and most notorious jail, from which Hussein released nearly 10,000 inmates last October. When word of their release came, the prisoners—from petty thieves to political dissidents, and all kept in horrendous conditions—overran the guards and stampeded the iron gates. Abu Ghreib is also the name given to Iraqi fathers who no longer have children.