When I was growing up in Baghdad, my favourite part of the city was Karrada, the neighbourhood on the eastern bank of the Tigris where a bomb went off on July 3, killing at least 250 people. I would often go there just to stroll down its elegant streets. The main one was lined with stylish boutiques and stores selling delicious fresh juice and sandwiches. Attractive women and handsome young men meandered on the sidewalks. The bus would drop me off near Kahramana Square, named after the statue at its heart.
Mohammed Ghani Hikmat, one of the Arab world’s most accomplished sculptors, had transformed the moment in the “Arabian Nights” tales when Kahramana, Ali Baba’s ingenious slave girl, outwits the thieves and saves her master into one of the most striking landmarks of modern Baghdad. Instead of the hot oil Kahramana poured into the jars to burn the 40 thieves hiding there, Mr. Hikmat’s work has her pouring water that gushes up and down, forming a mesh of lilting fountains. The last time I visited Baghdad, three years ago, Kahramana seemed weary and besieged. The grass that used to surround the statue had been covered over by the expanding asphalt of the streets around it. As we drove by Kahramana and through Karrada’s heavy traffic, blocked by checkpoints, I had the very same thought I’d had when I returned to Baghdad in 2003, a few months after the American invasion. That was my first visit after leaving Iraq in 1991. The thought was that the American-installed occupation regime had created not 40 but 40,000 thieves who were roaming Baghdad and the rest of Iraq, looting the country. Most of them lived and worked in the so-called Green Zone. Kahramana was helpless. But Baghdadis were still flocking to Karrada to walk, eat and shop, to try to live against all odds.
The corrupt politicians — Iraq has consistently been ranked among the worst countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index — are robbing Iraqis not only of their wealth, but of life itself. The case of the fake bomb detectors exemplifies the relationship between corruption and death.
The Chilcot Report has reopened the debate in Britain about the genealogy of the war and its disastrous effects, not just on veterans and their families but on Iraqis as well. For Iraqis, though, the report didn’t reveal anything they didn’t already know or suspect. Besides, most of them were busy mourning the latest casualties, trying to process yet another lethal attack in the heart of their capital. Most of the anger Iraqis expressed was focused on the political elite.
Mr. Abadi tried to visit the site of the Karrada bombing a few hours after the attack, but he was pelted with stones and shoes and forced to flee. Many Iraqis were also bitter about a world whose solidarity and empathy are largely restricted and reserved for victims in the West, where terrorist attacks are framed as assaults on humanity and elicit immediate, collective grief. The death of Iraqi civilians at the hands of terrorists has been normalized. In May, a string of bombings killed more than 200 people. Dozens more have died in terrorist attacks in Baghdad since the Karrada bombing. According to the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, Baghdad is one of the world’s least-safe cities, alongside Damascus, Syria.
The site of the attack in Karrada, a shopping centre, spontaneously became a space for public mourning. Baghdadis came to light candles and pray for the martyrs. There was mourning and expressions of solidarity all over the country; momentarily grief transcended sectarian divisions and tensions.
But within three days, the site was appropriated and occupied by the dominant sectarian parties and militias. They staged their own mourning ceremonies and flooded the facade of the burned building with banners. Angered by the hypocrisy and the political exploitation of the dead, the families of the martyrs held a news conference and released a statement. Their demands included removing all partisan banners from the site of the bombing, ending mourning rituals, rebuilding the site, and compensating the martyrs’ families.
“We are all corpses, waiting to die,” said one man standing at the site the day after the attack. A friend wrote to let me know that he survived by sheer luck. He had planned to go to Karrada the night of the bombing, but was delayed by traffic. When I shared my own recollections about walking in the neighbourhood years ago, he responded, “In Baghdad, taking a walk these days could take you to the cemetery.” The writer is an associate professor at New York University.
— Courtesy: The New York Times