As Bush the Beast of the Sea jokes about war, I walk among the ruins of Baghdad: Revelation 13

As Bush jokes about war, I walk among the ruins of Baghdad

I woke up in tears a few days ago, my blue shirt soaked in someone else’s blood. I knew that because I wasn’t in pain. A child wept aloud outside in the alley. “Tell the kid to take the candy,” a US soldier snapped when I peeked through the door. The child’s father, fettered, bled to death on the curb.

That was me hallucinating a few years ago in Baghdad. Tonight, a candle sits on a table in my rented Virginia apartment. Its flame performs a death dance to the blues of a Tom Waits song rising from the coffin of deceased years: “The bats are in the belfry / The dew is on the moor / Where are the arms that held me / And pledged her love before?”

The men inside seem perplexed, sitting quietly in plastic chairs, immersed in grief as if in a funeral not for the dead, but for the living

In Baghdad, my mother rebuked me when she climbed the stairs and plunged into the thicket of smoke clouding the second story of our residence. Waits was no good for me, she would say, nor were Cuban cigars.

But she knew the reason behind my solitude was to mourn Baghdad, an ailing metropolis I wished not to meet at times, choosing instead to hide in my study like a hermit. I would be content in the company of a vintage Badr Shakir al-Sayyab book, whose pages the late poet traversed with a crutch on his way to the gates of hell: “Open it, and feed my body to the fire!”

My mother is gone now. She left our world days before I jumped on a plane headed for Washington, DC, to study at Georgetown University. Al-Sayyab is dead too, and I hear voices tonight. I hear the voices of pain that Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish heardhowling at him like a siren from afar: “Come, come to me!”

Deafening silence

I heed, blindly. I know the beaten roads of memory like many Iraqis do – a rusted metal door always left ajar for us, squeaking in the deafening silence of exile. I step onto its threshold, my eyes wide open to see in the dark. Someone sobs in a dim corner inside. “I am in the right place,” I tell myself. I make my way to the edges of Baghdad from afar.

An Iraqi man outside a rundown house with a dead child's portrait in Baghdad in November 2020 (Nabil Salih)
An Iraqi man outside a rundown house with a dead child’s portrait in Baghdad in November 2020 (Nabil Salih)

I see a scorched horizon cloaked in a starless night, not a sound but a distant wailing. A shepherd chuckles in the midst of a herd of sheep dying of thirst and hunger. “Why are you laughing?” I ask in astonishment. “Go and ask them,” he growls, discarding my question.

Iraq’s streets are littered with the memories of our deadRead More »

Elegant westerners and diaspora Arabs, armed with cameras and sunscreen tubes, descending from the ornate balconies of western academia to investigate the field for stardom, disembark from tourist buses en masse.

“The fire burns, but they ask me: ‘Are you Sunni or Shia?’” the shepherd tells me, before falling in a swoon, laughing and crying hysterically. “Shocking!” one visitor exclaims in bewilderment.

“Let’s go to Sadr City, I hear it’s a shithole,” another snaps emphatically. “Yes, that’s why I chose aid! Let’s fix a few lives now,” the former says, rubbing his hands in excitement.

Another white tourist turns to look at me and says: “Are you a fixer? We need someone to show us the big stories. We pay but don’t expect a byline.”

I leave the demagogues revelling in the scene, ecstatic, drooling about the promise of their booty, and make my way into the city streets in the dark.

Death all around

I find Baghdad desolate, choked in dust and smoke, its skin lacerated with an overgrowth of barbed-wire fences. The soldiers manning its walls drowse in a siesta, unbothered by the screams coming from the dim alleys behind them.

Someone is dying. Someone is always dying in Iraq. Two hundred and sixty is the number of those killed so far this year, says Iraq Body Count. Those who miss the bullets leap in the Euphrates, along with their emaciated children. Any there is better than here.

I see the palm trees thirsty, many decapitated and dead. No bougainvillea dangles over fences, like necklaces caressing dewy necks of Baghdadi women in early spring. No kids play barefoot on the streets. The then where they once knew laughter has been stabbed to death by the hands of time – repeatedly.

Baghdad still feels like a crime scene. As I make my way among its ruins, the words of al-Sayyab echo inside my head: “Is this my city?” These ruins with “Long Live Life!” painted on the walls in the blood of its murdered?

A boy walks past a destroyed house in the war-ravaged village of Habash, some 180 kilometres north of Iraq's capital Baghdad, on 25 April, 2022.
A boy walks past a destroyed house in the war-ravaged village of Habash, some 180 kilometres north of Iraq’s capital Baghdad, on 25 April 2022 (AFP)

Dreading what I might see where I grew up, I decide to avoid the streets of my childhood and visit the downtown area instead.

I remember the famous teahouses of al-Rashid Street. The sound of stirring in a glass of cardamom tea was music to my ears. A dice always rolls on an aging backgammon board. Eternal Umm Kulthum heartbreaks are always put on repeat, undulating tunes that slip from the salons to the sidewalks outside, where sad-eyed ladies amble and dodge a line (“they said there’s no flour in the market, where’s this cake coming from?”) from a mischievous student.

But the cafes are noiseless. The men inside seem perplexed, sitting quietly in plastic chairs, immersed in grief as if in a funeral not for the dead, but for the living. On one muted TV screen, celebratory headlines accompany enemies’ torn limbs, assailing the psyches of bewildered clientele. A report then heralds the imminent death of the Tigris and the Euphrates.

The men look on. No dice shall roll tonight.

Lifetime of limbo

The only sign of light in the city centre comes from a police patrol on al-Mutanabbi Street. I stand in a corner and watch where a mob of tourists have swarmed. Social media influencers, on a two-day escapade from Dubai, pose for the camera in the “homeland”: “How beautiful Baghdad is!” one says, before returning to the Babylon Hotel on Abu Nawas Street in a Cadillac SUV.

The mayor stands nearby, giving one interview after another, boasting of a renaissance that entails hanging kitsch posters of Iraqi artist Kadhim Haider’s paintings on power poles and sweating over it on social media.

No word on the traditional shanasheel houses collapsing in the nearby wretched alleyways of Jadid Hasan Pasha and al-Hayder Khana. The child beggars and the godforsaken porterswho crisscross traffic threads in daytime are also sentenced to a lifetime in the cellar of limbo.

They, too, have their scrutinising gazes fixed on the wrecked humans wallowing in seas of misery

I leave in haste, passing an elderly man diving to his waist in a dumpster outside the telecommunications tower that bears the imprint of late architect Rifat al-Chadirji. The building was almost toppled by liberatory rockets in 2003, before Chadirji died and a former British ambassador expressed his condolences on social media as if war(s) never happened.

As I walk, I remember the labyrinthine alleyways, or darabin, of Bab al-Sheikh and Qanbar Ali. In previous visits, old women who crouch on their doorsteps would welcome me like their offspring. They would show me directions and pray for me long after I disappeared into the next alley, where children would chase after me in glee, blow me kisses and hug me for showing them their portraits on my camera.

I decide to go there. But I find Bab al-Sheikh deserted. In Qanbar Ali, blood and sewage stagnate in the gutters. Walls tremble. An old man, crouching in a dark corner, awaits the last US air raid to level the alley. From the windows, I see children hang themselves of hunger in damp living rooms. There is no breaking news on live TV.

Smouldering past

A hole widens in my chest. I suffocate. I meander my way to the Tigris in hopes of fresh air. But even there, in the gardens of Abu Nawas Street, women count the floating corpses passing by, and weep in silence.

This is it – “this is the storm we call progress”, the ghost of Walter Benjamin whispers in my ears. The catastrophe perched on Iraq’s chest still piles wreckage upon wreckage over a smouldering past, and the storm propels us into the arms of a future born with an incurable birth defect.

As America weeps for Ukraine, the loss and grief of Iraqis is forgottenRead More »

A rocket flies across the Tigris and slams into a building inside the fortified Green Zone on the opposite, western bank, disrupting my thoughts. But everything seems normal there.

Diaspora Iraqi scholars, dressed in fine suits, pose for the camera next to their favourite politicians. Afterwards, they doze off in the fine al-Rashid Hotel, whose windows offer no view of the city’s godforsaken alleys, nor the grieving women sobbing on the river bank.

As I walk the streets of Baghdad, I see the menacing faces of Saddam Hussein’s many imitators painted and plastered on the same walls that once carried the dictator’s. They, too, have their scrutinising gazes fixed on the wrecked humans wallowing in seas of misery, looking over their shoulders for the trigger-men of the new, this-time-Iran-backed fedayeen.

Amnesiac audience

Like a fugitive, I flee the streets of memory, chased by the rabid dogs of my trauma. My footsteps race my breath. Behind me, Baghdad is engulfed by monstrous dust storms. In the dark, I almost stumble on a new corpse of a man who looks familiar. I look closely; it’s the shepherd. The soldiers manning the city walls are still asleep.

Next to his corpse sits a small radio announcing the evening news: “Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Baghdad book fair.” I make my way out of the rusted door, and slam it shut.

In my Virginia apartment, I look for a source of distraction. Nothing more banal and distracting than US TV channels, I tell myself. But Iraqi poet Sinan Antoon knew before me, “surfing the channels is like rummaging in old garbage”.

I soon find former US President George W Bush’s face on every station, preaching on war and peace in Ukraine to an amnesiac audience. He slips and mentions Iraq. He jokes about it, and the audience laughs.

I suppress a stream of vicious slurs, and sleep with the echo of their laughter in my head.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

There Is No Such Thing as A Limited Nuclear War: Revelation 16

Opinion Editor

20 June 2022

Photo: Dr ElBaradei. Credit: Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

Photo: Dr ElBaradei. Credit: Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

Viewpoint by Dr Mohamed ElBaradei

Following is the text of comments by Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, Director-General Emeritus, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Nobel Peace Prize 2005, at the opening of the 2022 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weaponson June 20, 2022.

VIENNA (IDN) — It is an honour to take part in this the 2022 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. I would like to thank the Austrian government for taking the initiative to organize it.

The grim and transformational impact of nuclear weapons was clear and immediate; J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb, remarked after the first bomb was successfully detonated that “we knew the world would not be the same” adding that it brought to mind words from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita “now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”.

And destroyers of the world nuclear weapons certainly became! Albert Einstein famously stated that “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Our accumulated knowledge since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more than seven decades ago, only confirms and magnifies the horrifying impact of nuclear weapons on us and our planet. In the words of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) “nuclear weapons are the most terrifying weapon ever invented. They are unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause, and in the impossibility of controlling their effects in space and time. They threaten irreversible harm to the environment and to future generations. Indeed, they threaten the very survival of humanity”.

For those who believe that it is possible to have a limited nuclear war, President Obama had the answer: “one nuclear weapon exploded in one city … no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences may be… ultimately for our survival”. These are words we have to weigh very carefully when we hear now the loose talk and reckless rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons in whatever context or scenario.

Unfortunately, and sadly this kind of talk has shifted the possible use of nuclear weapons from an unthinkable nightmare to a terrifying prospect. If anything, it puts an added responsibility on all of us who believe in the absolute necessity of eliminating these weapons, to exert every effort in spreading information and raising awareness on the horror of these weapons and their impact which “could dwarf any catastrophe that has befallen man in his more than million years on earth” in the words of former US secretary of defence Robert McNamara in 1967.

And for those who believe that the nuclear risk can be contained while these weapons exist, again Robert McNamara was emphatic later in life: “the indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will lead to the destruction of nations”. The conclusion therefore is clear: “the only way to eliminate the risk is to eliminate nuclear weapons”.

The nuclear risk has loomed on more than one occasion in the past. Former US Secretary of defence Bill Perry in 2011 mentioned three false alarms he knows of, in which Soviet missiles were thought to be screaming towards the US. He stated that “To this day I believe that we avoided nuclear catastrophe as much by good luck as by good management”.

And for all those who believe that amassing more weapons is the answer or that nuclear disarmament is too risky, listen to President Kennedy’s 1961 address to the UN general assembly: “In a spiralling arms race, a nation’s security may well be shrinking even as its arms increase” and what is more is that “the risks inherent in disarmament pale in comparison to the risks inherent in an unlimited arms race.”  

In light of all this I believe that it is incumbent upon all of us to urgently revisit the doctrine of “Mutual Assured Destruction”. This is not an abstract doctrine but one that is intimately linked to our fate and the fate of our planet. It is a doctrine aptly described in 1988 by India’s prime minister Rajiv Gandhi as the “ultimate expression of the philosophy of terrorism, holding humanity hostage to the presumed security needs of a few.”

The argument that nuclear weapons kept the peace does not really withstand scrutiny. It is a peace based on the colonial premise that “some are more equal than others”, “my security is more important than yours”, and on “do as I say not as I do.” It is not only unjust but more importantly unsustainable. That some countries possess them, or are protected by them within alliances, while asking others not to have them, is an oxymoron in the long term.

The prohibition of the possession of nuclear weapons and their elimination from the face of the Earth is a moral duty, before being a solemn legal obligation. I earnestly hope that the nuclear-armed states, all nine of them, would initiate without further delay and pre-conditions the necessary negotiations and concurrently adopt the necessary measures that would lay the groundwork for the elimination of nuclear weapons forever. Humanity deserves no less.  

The time has come to cultivate a new mindset where Peace and Security are approached in theory and in practice as an inclusive and collective endeavor based on equity, trust, dialogue and solidarity. Nuclear weapons are an existential threat anywhere and everywhere. The writing has been on the wall for over seventy years, but the “font” now is getting larger than ever before. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 June 2021]

* Dr ElBaradei was Director-General of the IAEA from 1997 to 2009 and directed the Agency’s nuclear verification activities globally including in Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria. He is the author of, The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times.

Photo: Dr ElBaradei. Credit: Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. You are free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please give due credit.

The Growing Chinese Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

China says anti-missile test not ‘aimed at any country’ despite rising tensions

Ballistic missile interception system trial follows North Korean tests and deployment of US THAAD system in South Korea

China has claimed a successful test of a land-based ballistic missile interception system amid heightened tensions in Asia, in a move its defence ministry described as “defensive and not aimed at any country”.

Beijing has in recent years been ramping up research into all sorts of missiles, from those that can destroy satellites in space to advanced nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, as part of a modernisation overseen by President Xi Jinping. It came after North Koreaconducted a series of missile tests, which prompted South Korea and the US to warn that Pyongyang could conduct a nuclear test at any time.

“It looks like China is making steady progress on what appears to be hit-to-kill missile defence technology – a cutting-edge strategic military capability,” said Tong Zhao, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace based in Beijing.

“The Chinese multi-layered missile defence systems could introduce significant uncertainties to the efficacy of the missile programs of China’s rivals. The offence-defence competition involves not only traditional ballistic missiles but also new types of missiles like boost-glider weapons that emerged in recent years, making the competition increasingly harder to manage and control.”

China’s state media said it was Beijing’s sixth known test of a land-based anti-ballistic missile. The most recent previous public announcement of a test was in February 2021, and before that in 2018. China said it has conducted anti-missile system tests since at least 2010.

China, along with Russia, has repeatedly expressed opposition to the US deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea.

China argued the equipment’s powerful radar could penetrate into its territory. China and Russia have also held simulated anti-missile drills.

On Monday, the state-owned Global Times quoted a Chinese expert as saying that although small in size, the mid-course antiballistic missile “has a complete set of combat systems, including power, tracking, target-identifying systems and the killer part”.

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The report also said that despite China’s official line saying the test did not target any other country, the US is “the biggest source of ballistic missile threats to China”. If the US succeeds in deploying intermediate range missiles near China, the report said, it would mean China will face not only more missile threats, but also more uncertainties.

“If US missiles are deployed in multiple locations along the island chains, it would be more difficult to predict from where those missiles could come from.”

In 2016, the defence ministry confirmed it was pressing ahead with anti-missile system tests after pictures appeared on state television.

Beijing said such technology was needed for national defence and security.

Reuters contributed to this report.

The Iranian Horn Blames Babylon the Great

Iran Blames US for Stalled Nuclear Talks

London – Tehran – Asharq Al-Awsat

Monday, 20 June, 2022 – 10:30 

Monday, 20 June, 2022 – 08:00 

An Iranian follows the fluctuations of currency rates in front of a money exchange shop in the capital, Tehran, last Wednesday (AFP)

Faced with soaring inflation, Iranians renewed protests and gatherings denouncing deteriorating living conditions at a time when the government of President Ebrahim Raisi insists on pushing onwards with plans to stop subsidizing basic commodities.

Retirees and pensioners of the Social Security Organization took to the streets again on Saturday.

Protesters in the city of Kermanshah demonstrated against reduced access to food while business owners in the Ahwaz city called on “incompetent” officials to resign.

According to video footage shared on social media, many chanted anti-government slogans on the first anniversary of Raisi’s victory in the presidential elections, which had witnessed the lowest turnout since the 1979 revolution.

Most slogans raised by demonstrators questioned Raisi’s ability in running the government and predicted that his administration would end within days.

The chants also denounced the failure of officials to fulfill promises and accused the government and parliament alike of ignoring worsening conditions of the people.

The new wave of protests is hitting Iran amid fading hopes for a nuclear agreement coming to fruition in Vienna, where negotiations faltered at the beginning of March.

For months now, professionals from different sectors have been demanding raising wages and adjusting pensions to account for ongoing inflation.

Security forces arrested several teachers and workers, according to the private unions organizing the protests.

The authorities released a number of them on bail.

For years, Iranians have been suffering from a severe economic and living crisis. This is mainly due to the isolation of the Iranian economy, which is based on selling oil away from global markets.

Middle class protests erupted at the end of December 2017, after the government of former President Hassan Rouhani raised the price of the dollar in local markets to compensate for the budget deficit.

About half of Iran’s population of about 82 million lives below the poverty line.

Moreover, unofficial estimates put the unemployment rate well above the official rate of 11%.

The Iranian Nuclear Power: Daniel 8

A photo shows nuclear technology products during National Nuclear Technology Day at the International Conference Center in Tehran, Iran on April 10, 2022. [Fatemeh Bahrami - Anadolu Agency]

Iran possesses 3% of world’s nuclear capabilities, says official

June 6, 2022

A photo shows nuclear technology products during National Nuclear Technology Day at the International Conference Center in Tehran, Iran on April 10, 2022. [Fatemeh Bahrami – Anadolu Agency]

June 20, 2022 at 8:54 am 

Iran possesses three per cent of the world’s nuclear capabilities, the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) announced yesterday.

AEOI Chief Mohammad Eslami was quoted by Tasnim News Agency as saying that Iran was subjected to “more than 25 per cent of the International Atomic Energy Agency inspections,” urging the international organisations “to avoid abusing their authority.”

The Iranian official called for conducting nuclear inspections in “countries that make a fuss about Iran.”

The IAEA recently voted in favour of a resolution, under which Tehran must honour the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the nuclear deal, which saw Iran’s nuclear capabilities limited in return for the removal of sanctions. For US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018 and more than a year later Iran ceased from complying with it. Talks to re-establish it have been ongoing but have halted on numerous occasions.

Russian Horn to Maintain Her Nuclear Power: Daniel 8

Putin should not negotiate on disarming nuclear weapons yet, says former Russian president

Russia ‘doesn’t have any relations with the United States now,’ Vladimir Putin’s predecessor says

1 day ago

Ukrainian forces destroy Russian tank and two infantry vehicles with British howitzers

Moscow should not engage in negotiations with Washington on nuclear disarmament until the United States has “crawled” back to have talks, a former Russian president has said.

Dmitry Medvedev, who is now the deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia, suggested that US-Russia relations are so frosty they have been plunged into extreme sub-zero temperatures.

Since 1981, starting under the US presidency of Ronald Regan, Russia and the US have negotiated a series of nuclear arms reduction treaties. 

But there has been a dramatic decline in relations between the two world superpowers since Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukrainesince 24 February – the most serious disruption between the two since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Vladimir Putin [L] shakes the hand of his predecessor Dmitry Medvedev 

(Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

“We don’t have any relations with the United States now,” Medvedev wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

“They are at zero on the Kelvin [temperature] scale [about -273C]… There is no need to negotiate with them yet. This is bad for Russia. Let them run or crawl back themselves and ask for it.”

Russia and the United States control the vast majority – about 90 per cent – of all the nuclear warheads in the world, with about 4,000 of them each, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

Medvedev, who when he was president sought to present himself as a reformer who wanted better relations with the west, suggested that Moscow should get tougher with the US.

He referred to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s shoe-banging at the United Nations General Assembly in 1960, which he did in response to criticism over the USSR “swallowing up” parts of eastern Europe.

Khrushchev waved a shoe at the General Assembly and, according to the New York Times report at that time, banged it on his desk.

Medvedev said: “There is another proven method of communicating with America on this topic – with a shoe on the UN rostrum. It used to work.”