Troubles in Baghdad

“I’m able to reach you today from Internet café in Baghdad. I don’t have a lot of time. I just wanted to let you know that I’m okay. Everyone in my family is okay. I will write more soon.”

That was a quick e-mail note I got from a young man who chooses to be called Haddi Al-Harrari, a queer Christian in Baghdad. He sent me the note not too long after the city was freed from Saddam. I was relieved to know he and the family were safe. I have been trying to call him but the line never went through. “It is God’s grace that we are alive,” he later tells me in that e-mail.

Though physically safe, the Al-Harrari family is far from feeling safe; they are experiencing the side effects of war mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

“We do not have telephone service anymore,” he says to me through a satellite phone at a press hotel. “We do not even have water. I didn’t shower for three days. No one in my family showered for days. It is so hot here. We are in the worst times of the year and we don’t have water. There is no electricity. I can’t remember the last time any of us sat down and prayed to God. It is too hot to do anything.”

Apparently, it has been easier to get rid off Saddam than keep order in the country. Haddi said some of his neighbors have been robbed time and again. “We are not very rich here,” says the 26-year-old, speaking of his middle-class family. “We haven’t had any problems. Neighbors know there isn’t a lot of money in our house.”

If you are surprised at his mentioning neighbors, Haddi says it has been neighbors all over town who told on other neighbors. Some neighbors even went right ahead and robbed their own neighbors themselves. “Sometimes people you thought were friends,” he says, sighing, “They will come and take everything away.”

Usually, when I talked to Haddi prior to the war, he seemed a calm young man, even when he had anxieties over whether the Shi’ite Muslims would murder his family after Saddam was ousted. This time, however, he seemed to be angry, swearing and what have you.

“Everyone is angry,” he says of the inhabitants of Baghdad. “We are in chaos right now. You can’t begin to understand how chaotic everything has been since the war started. We may not hear bombs anymore as much but we are seeing the war in far worse magnitudes.”

Some are even regretting for their wishes for Saddam Hussein to be ousted prior to the war.

“One of our neighbor women was crying as we watched her through the windows. She just sat in the middle of the street and cried ‘God, God, it was better when he [Saddam] was in control.'”

Haddi says the woman was crying because she had to throw out all the food she bought before the war because they were getting spoiled since electricity became scarce and she couldn’t keep them in good temperature.

“My mother is always cursing the Americans and the British,” he says. “It is so hot and we can’t do anything. I don’t want to sound ungrateful but everything is worse now. At least when Saddam was in power, we had our basic needs. We had electricity almost all day long. We used our ACs. We had cold water to drink from the hot day. We are now in house arrest because there is chaos out there and all the crazy people are stealing from innocent people and even killing them.”

Most Iraqis wanted Saddam out but not their electricity and water, says Haddi, who said his once beautiful neighborhood is now full of garbage.

“The smell is worse than everything else,” he says. “You can’t keep the windows closed because it is hot but it is smelling bad outside.”

I asked whether he was still worried about Shi’ites coming and killing his family. “Of course,” he says, “but now we have basic worries. Lets worry about big things later.”