Free Iraq, February 22, 2004 -- The Al Jaiha Ice Cream Parlor
in Baghdad is booming! The TV Monitors blare Egyptian Music
Videos while a line is developing at the counter for the
house favorite - a huge Ice Cream Sundae and customers are
talking at a steady buzz!
Ice Cream in Baghdad?
The news from Baghdad is bombing, terror and all bad these
days but one must be careful to make a distinction. For
the foreign journalist, soldier and others targeted by the
non-Iraqi terrorists who are determined to block any progress
in Iraq it may be dangerous. But for the average Iraqi hope
is in the air!
The two William sisters - Vinos 23 and Florence 21, the
two Lazar brothers - Remon and Simon, 25 and 21 and Robert
George, 25 are digging in.
To the question `how does Al Jaiha compare to when Sadaam
was in power` thy are quick to respond. `When Sadaam was
in power we would be watching one of the three Sadaam TV
Channels with him on TV or some old, boring black and white
movie. Nobody would be talking freely and we would quietly
eat and leave`. says Remon.
`We lived in constant fear` continues Robert George. `You
never knew when someone would be taken away for saying the
wrong thing. It was a constant state of low level terror`
he continues as he shares the story of his dear friend,
Amir who was imprisoned for 3 years for simply trying to
assert he was an Assyrian and promote the use of the language
of the indigenous people.`.
The Al Jaiha Ice Cream Parlor is a good barometer of how
things are in Iraq. Ignored by the international media who
for some reason, at least according to the regular Iraqi
have a bias towards any good news from Iraq, Iraq is doing
just fine, thank you!
Ice Cream is not exactly a staple, and when people have
enough extra money and hope to be packing out the Ice Cream
Parlor on a Sunday night things must not be too bad.
A quick look outside the window shows the real problem in
Baghdad these days - massive, hour long traffic jams, crammed
stores overflowing with everything imaginable for the Iraqis
finally freed from decade long pariah status.
And the future? `We are getting married in July!` chimes
in Remon and Venos. `Everything is completely better` continues
Robert George. `For the first time in our lives we have
hope! We are getting jobs - not for $60 a month that would
be the regular but for $600 and more. It is because the
Americans cared for the people of Iraq and were the only
ones with the courage to set us free.`
`For the first time we can travel overseas, we can watch
Satellite TV, we can surf the internet freely, we can buy
cars and things from all over the world. Most of all, though
the best is we no longer live in fear.`
Prices are booming and the value of the Iraqi dinar is rising.
A house that would go for 30,000 $ months ago is nearing
$100,000. The Iraqi dinar which before the war fluctuated
in the 2500 to 3,000 to the dollar range is now nearing
For the average Iraqi it is the best of times. Something
they never even dreamed of..
27 year old Weena Aref, a Kurd agrees. She is the manager
of an Internet Shop. `Business is booming. On a recent afternoon
all the terminals were occupied with paying customers paying
$3 to get online!
`It is wonderful Sadaam is gone. We always lived in fear`
she says. `As Kurds we were always persecuted and although
we had our own relative autonomy in the North it was difficult
for those of us living in Iraq.`
`The best part is that we no longer live in terror! We do
not fear somebody taken away` she says, echoing other Iraqis.
It is the best of times, but at the same time the worst
The `bad`? It is the deep, palpable, undercurrent of fear
that is gnawing at everybody, although few will speak of
It is the planned July 1 handover of power in Iraq. While
the original plan was to as in Japan and Germany, have a
constitution, elections and a government in place, due,
the Iraqis say to fears of the impact of Iraq on the upcoming
US Presidential election the schedule was suddenly changed.
`If the current plan goes forward there will be civil war
in Iraq beginning on July 1` says an American official asking
to be anonymous. `I have been told privately by both senior
officials of the Coalition Provisional Authority as well
as the Iraqi Governing Council this. In addition, the airport
will close as no airline will fly into an airport without
a government in charge` he continues.
`I do not understand why the United States, the champion
of freedom and democracy wants to leave Iraq before her
job is finished - before a secular constitution, elections,
government and local autonomy are in place and risk undoing
all the good she has done in liberating Iraq` says Hekmat
Hakem, a member of the Constitutional Committee charged
with drafting Iraq's constitution.
`The members of our committee do not want a muslim government.
We do not understand this at all.`
Robert George goes further. `I am an Assyrian. The Assyrians
are Christians and we are the original people of Iraq. If
the July 1 schedule goes forward we will be massacred. The
last time this happened 2/3rds of the Christians of Iraq
were slaughtered in the Assyrian Holocaust. We will not
allow it to happen again. We cannot understand why the Christians
of the world do not support us and demand that Iraq be free,
democratic and secular.`
A trip south shows the reality on the ground. Town after
town in southern Iraq does not fly the Iraqi flag over government
buildings, but the green flag of Sistani, the Iranian leader
of the Shiites.
`Why does the American Government talk to this man`. Robert
George continues. `He is not even an Iraqi - he is an Iranian.
The Americans should simply say that only Iraqis can have
a say in the future of Iraq and send him back to Iran where
he came from.`.
Few in the rest of the world seem to realize this little
known fact - the main source of trouble to the US authorities
is in fact not an Iraqi but an Iranian.
`We do not want to become like Iran. We do not want a muslim
government.` echoes Shiite muslim Sadek Tarik, 36. We just
want to be normal. We are finally free.`
Sunni Muslim, Ahmed Tarik, 23, joins in `We just want to
be left alone. Sadaam was terrible, but becoming like Iran
would be worse.`.
As the July 1 date nears a sense of doom is quietly growing
underneath the outward sense of optimism, hope and joy that
one sees everyday living outside the elite hotels where
the foreign journalists are.
`Did the United States go to war and lose so many lives
to create an Islamic Government of Iraq` says Robert George?
`I do not think the American people would ever agree to
that. I think they want for us what they have - freedom,
opportunity and a better life. As Christians we get along
good with our muslim neighbors and as the original people
of Iraq we pray for autonomy in our homeland in Nineveh
and Dohuk provinces so like the American Indians we can
administer our local affairs.``
It took the United States seven years to move Japan from
a police state to a free and democratic society. The outbreak
of civil war on July 1 would seem to even the most casual
observer to have a far greater negative impact on the November
elections than the improving situation in Iraq.
For a first hand look, the Al Jaha Ice Cream Parlor is living
testimony to the fact that the war was worth it, that good
times are truly around the corner and the worst possible
thing for Iraq would be a premature handover of power.
Will there be the political will and the commitment to the
values that launched `Operation Iraqi Freedom` in the first
place or will as happened in China over 50 years ago the
question `Who Lost Iraq` be the buzzword of the 2004 election?
The next few weeks may very well decide the fate not only
of Iraq but of January 2005!
Ken Joseph Jr., known as `God`s man in Baghdad`
is an Assyrian, brought the first postwar relief truck into
Baghdad and directs assyrianchristians.com