“Habibi, to live in Baghdad now is to live in a big prison,” he told me recently, “You stay in your home, and that’s it. You only go out when you must. So many are being killed daily, and you only hope that your day to die is not today.”
While reporting from Damascus for nearly two weeks, I’ve worked with my interpreter from Baghdad who came out to meet me, Abu Talat.
Thus, while he anxiously maintains contact with his family members in Baghdad, I’m granted a first-hand experience of their life in “liberated” Iraq via our discussions and his calls into Iraq.
As catastrophic as the bloodletting between Lebanon and Israel is, and let us not discount the scope of this war of aggression that has now left over 400 dead and well over 1,250 wounded in total, it still pales by comparison to Iraq – which now is getting even less coverage than usual.
On the 18th of this month, a suicide bomber drove his van packed with explosives near the golden-domed mosque in Kufa, south of Baghdad. Kufa, the city where Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr prays, was then rocked as the bomber detonated himself and his van outside the mosque, killing at least 59 and wounding over 130.
Less than two weeks before this, members of the Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia, the Mehdi Army, donned their typical all-black uniforms and entered the Sunni al-Jihad district of the capital. They went on the rampage, killing at least 40 Sunnis after checking their identification cards.
An average of a dozen bodies per day wash up on the shores of the Tigris in Baghdad as sectarian killings have spun completely out of control. Revenge killings are occurring not by the day but by the hour in Iraq. In February, Les Roberts, one of the co-authors of the Lancet report, said that we shouldn’t be discussing Iraqi deaths by the tens of thousands, but rather whether it is 100,000 or 200,000 or 300,000.
That was five months ago. That was before this June, when the Baghdad morgue alone received 1,595 bodies that month. That was before a recent UN report, released last week after gathering data from the Iraqi Ministry of Health (which tracks deaths recorded in hospitals around Iraq) and the Baghdad morgue, reported that in March, 2,378 Iraqis were killed, 2,284 in April, 2,669 in May and 3,149 in June.
As each agency issues death warrants, the Iraqi government states there is no possibility of overlap in the counting.
The UN report found that an average of over 100 civilians every single day are being killed in Iraq. More than since the invasion of Baghdad, blowing away ridiculously low numbers previously claimed by some so-called anti-war web sites.
Despite the fact that for those who live in Baghdad, and journalists who’ve seen the level of carnage first hand, this is no surprise – the report findings are frightful. During the first six months of this year, the death toll skyrocketed 77%, with a total of 14,338 violent civilian deaths.
In response to the carnage, US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, who assisted in facilitating the war as one of the authors of the Project for the New American Century document, one of whose goals was to secure Middle Eastern oil, bravely called on the “leaders” in Iraq’s puppet government to “take responsibility and pursue reconciliation not just in words, but through deeds as well.”
At the same time, the deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, Salam al-Zubaie, blamed US for much of the violence, saying that coalition troops were responsible for about half the deaths. He punctuated his remarks by saying, “All the problems we have today are because of them.”
Meanwhile, any Iraqis who can are leaving. Fleeing for their lives. Abu Talat, who is working feverishly to find a way to get his son out of Baghdad, is but one example of hundreds of thousands, if not millions. His son is not allowed into Jordan because he is of “military age,” a new decree issued by Jordanian authorities which pens a huge section of the population of Iraqi males inside their dying country.
He tried anyway, and was promptly turned back at the border. Now he sits in an apartment in downtown Baghdad and dares not leave, lest he be killed for being a member of the wrong sect of Islam, in the wrong place, at the wrong time; which means … in Iraq.
Despite that, millions have already fled to Jordan and Syria. Damascus today is flooded with refugees from Iraq, and now Lebanon.
On my way to an internet café recently I strolled past a Middle East Airlines office, where crowds were lined up waiting to find a way out of Syria on the national airline of Lebanon.
I spoke with some of them, as so many Lebanese speak excellent English. One man, standing with his wife as she held their wailing baby told me, “We don’t care where we go, we just want to go where there is no war. We are too tired of the death, suffering and destruction, and now are afraid to stay in Syria because who knows when Syria may become involved in this madness.”
“We just want to go where there is no war.”
In the Middle East, that place is getting harder and harder to find.