Back in Baghdad
September 2003
By Rev. Ken Joseph, Jr.
Baghdad, Iraq

It is a normal, summer evening in Baghdad. Having been gone for awhile it is good to be back.

Watching TV, reading newspapers while outside of Iraq I became increasingly concerned about safety once I returned. I began to think the situation had dramatically changed while I had been gone. What was being reported was a Baghdad with people cowering in their homes, afraid to go out, daily terror, robberies, bombs etc.

Well, it is regular evening in Baghdad and things are just fine, thank you! After a hard day of work we are back home - in fact down the street at some friends house drinking wonderful Iraqi tea and talking about the latest news.

I was supposed to have been at the UN Compound and in fact on the left side in the computer room on the day of the explosion. A series of events happened for which I was very upset with that caused me to not make it that day - saving me from almost certain death or serious injury.

I am looking down the street outside the home. Things are perfectly normal - in fact much better than before!

It is just past 9PM. Two Two Two little girls are walking down the darkened street holding hands. On the corner a bunch of guys are `hanging out` drinking and enjoying the cool evening. On the other side of the street a family are walking - father, mother and little daughter. People everywhere!

We turn the corner and the street explodes with people. They are jostling to buy things at the stores - fruit, bread, clothes. The corner market area is full of people! The stores are full of things! There is an air of excitement that was not there before.

The ice cream parlor across the street is busy with a small line of people. All over there are little groups people gathered, just like we were doing talking about the days events. A normal, Baghdad evening of gossip, tea, and cool air.

Some contrast to the image being projected of a terrorized population afraid to go out of their homes! Things are just fine - better in fact than they used to be. There is no more Sadaam for people to have to be in fear about. Nobody to stop their conversations, listen to their telephone calls, read their mail, spy on them - no the atmosphere is free and easygoing.

There are Iraqi police everywhere - on the street corners directing traffic, walking their `beats`. The buses are running and everywhere is a traffic jam.

The kids are playing soccer on the soccer field staying as long as they can to eke out a bit of sport from the last rays of the sun. Mothers are hanging out clothes and there and there and over there families walking together on the streets enjoying the cool evening.

I ask the simple question to a couple of young people - `What do you think about the Americans?`. 19 year old Remon says `We love them! We are so happy they have come! Now for the first time we have a future! We have hope! At the same time we are tired. It is now five months with no electricity and other services. But we are patient. We can wait because now we finally have hope!`

26 year old Ben chimes in `Now we can finally travel overseas! We can watch Satellite TV! We are finally connected with the world!`

It turns out he was in the Army before the war and tells an amazing story of one of the reasons Baghdad fell so easily. `About four days before the war I went to my commander and told hi I did not want to fight. He said `fine`. I paid him 25,000 dinars (about 12 dollars) and he let me go home. Of course I left my uniform at the Barracks.` he continues.

19 year old Robin interrupts `There are many problems, but most of all Sadaam is gone! Now we can work and change things!`

We finish up and come back to the house. As we stand in front of the house in the dark a group of American Troops - male and female silently pass us. I call out into the dark night `You guys are doing a good job! Dont listen to the people that complain! The people are happy you are here!`

One of the troops laughs and calls out `We are complaining too!` The group laughs and they quietly move on into the dark for another patrol of the streets of Baghdad.

Within the past 24 hours the figures given to us in one of our meetings at the US headquarters are nearly 900 daytime patrols, 600 nighttime patrols and most significantly 200 daytime and 300 night patrols jointly with Iraqi police.

We come in the house. The electricity is back on so we can watch TV. Everybody watches Al Jazeera and Al Arabia the two main Arabic language Satellite Networks. `Can we watch the US sponsored TV Channel` I ask! `Now way!` the rooms seems to laugh in unison! They all sigh collectively! `It is so boring - they only show old movies, old sports and old news! We never watch it` says 38 year old Yashu.

It is another day in Baghdad. Contrary to the reports one reads outside the country things are just fine. These are proud, old people!

They have `been there - done that`. Nothing fazes them. Things are safer than a regular, big city. Their complaints about safety are completely different - during Sadaams time it was a police state and very, very safe.

Earlier in the day I had spent some time with 46 year old `Yonadan Kanna is the most positive we have encountered since returning to Baghdad. He is one of the members of the 25 member Iraqi Council. `Things are getting better!` he explained.

We continue to talk and I tell them that in most major cities people, particularly women cannot just walk the streets at night except in special areas. This is one of the prices of freedom - simple crime. They are amazed!

`Women cannot walk the streets at night?` the group exclaims incredulously!

So what is the conclusion? It is simple and easy to understand. The Iraqi people in general - of course there are extremists on all sides - just want a normal life! They are deeply grateful for the Americans for liberating them and for getting rid of Sadaams hated regime.

Yes there are daily killings of US Troops. There are occasionally bombings. Yet, these are not part of the daily life of normal Iraqis. They are concerned, of course but taken as a whole, with Sadaam gone and things looking up these are isolated and not part of their daily lives.

`How do things compare with a couple months ago` I continue. 27 year old Rona says `Much better! It is much safer than it was. Much less robbery and other crimes.`

28 year old Robert chimes in `Look at how many people on the streets! Women, children - see it is much better than it was. I remember shortly after the war how empty the streets were at night.

As we drive along to visit another friend, not getting much later I notice something that I used to notice before the war during Sadaams time - people hitchhiking along the street in total darkness!

At the same time people in general are surmised that the Americans that could win the war in a few days cannot get things up and running. In a part of the world where rumor and reality blend easily they thought the Superpower America - Superman America - would come in and overnight transform Baghdad to New York City!

The reality is beginning to sink in and their yew of America is coming back to earth. The job on hand is big even for the worlds only superpower.

They will all continue to `hang out`. Oops! The electricity suddenly stops again and we cant watch TV anymore! We all huddle around as someone lights a candle and we have a late dinner - Chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers,, bread . . .

`We love the Americans and are grateful for their help. Maybe we expected too much of them. They are doing their best. Now it is our turn to help them and together we can get things even better!

I ask my last question `Weren't things better under Sadaam?` I ask, remembering how many looked back on all the `good` points under Communism after it was gone.

`No way!` they say.

Things are getting back to how they were before the war, but most of all people have hope now that things will get even better!

I remember staying with my family before the war. `We have jobs, we have food, we have a house but we do not have hope. Do you know what it is like to live without hope? It is like living in a huge prison` said my Uncle and I remember his words now as I look across the flickering light into the faces of friends and family, together sharing the end of another day in a Baghdad full of hope.


Rev. Ken Joseph Jr., is an Assyrian. The Assyrians are the indigenous people of Iraq when it was called `Assyria` before it was taken over by Arabs. He brought the first relief truck full of water, food, medicine after the war, is a minister and directs and is currently writing a book on his experience.

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