Å lese om Bagdad, historier fra de som våger seg dit, er som å lese om et annet univers. Vi ser bilder, men menneskenes stemmer hører vi ikke, hverken bokstavelig eller i overført betydning. Det er som om det som skjer foregår i en annen sone.

Time magazines Aparisim Gosh (han kaller seg en frafallen hindu og kan passere som araber) har vært et tyvetall ganger i Bagdad. Beskrivelsen av flyturen inn minner om innflygningen til Sarajevo under beleiringen, men denne er nok enda mer halsbrekkende. I Bosnia trengte man heller ikke frykte selvmordsbombere eller nedgravde bomer langs veien.

Veien inn til byen er faktisk blitt tryggere, men det er fordi trafikken har minsket. Slik er Irak: Hvis et strøk eller en aktivitet er blitt mindre risikabel, er det fordi det er blitt verre et annet sted. Nå har volden forflyttet seg inn i byen, og stadig større deler av byen blir no-go areas for utlendinger. Irakerne har ikke noe valg, og det er deres kamp i hverdagen Gosh beskriver.

Alle kriger er spesielle. Irak er i ferd med å få sitt helt spesielle stempel: Det er krigen mellom de to retningene innen islam: shiaer og sunnier. Det sitter nok langt inne for mange muslimer utenfor Irak å erkjenne at det ikke lenger er kampen mot okkupasjonener som er hovedkonflikten.

Det er vanskelig å overskue følgene og rekkeviden av dette oppgjøret. At det vil ryste hele den muslimske verden er det liten tvil om.

Det stilles spørsmål om det vil bryte ut full borgerkrig i Irak. I Bagdad er den i full gang, og etter å ha lest Gosh sin artikkel skjønner man at spørsmålet er meningsløst. Mahmud er en av Gosh’ irakiske kolleger.

A couple of years ago, it was easy to visit with Mahmud’s family in their sand-colored two-story home; last year it became too perilous for foreigners after insurgent groups began operating in the area. Now, even Iraqis feel unsafe in Amariyah. Mahmud began to move out his extended family earlier this year when the neighborhood was taken over by a jihadi gang that imposed an extreme interpretation of Islamic law. Women were forbidden to drive, men were ordered not to wear shorts, and shops selling Western goods were firebombed.

Detaljer: Man kan ikke ha sikkerhetsbelte på seg i bilen, for det avslører straks at man er utlending. Det er farlig å være utlending i store deler av Bagdad. Den grønne sonen er området hvor amerikanerne og den irakiske regjeringen holder til. De der inne definerer alt utenfor som Rød sone!

Like many Iraqis, Wisam likes to drive pedal to the metal, and while it’s a good idea to get away from Amariyah as fast as possible, I am acutely conscious that I’m not wearing my seat belt. Iraqis never wear one, and for me to buckle up would be like sticking a FOREIGNER ON BOARD sign on the windshield, a bad idea in a city where kidnapping gangs are known to cruise for lucrative targets. As an Indian, I can often pass for a local if I keep my mouth shut–my Arabic is rudimentary–but in public places I have to be careful to avoid other obvious signs of foreignness: seat belts, chewing gum, headphones.


Gosh sier det samme som diplomater, generaler og journalister med lang erfaring: Irak er på vei ned. Hva tenker man i Washington om det som skjer? USA er, som Friedman advarte mot, i ferd med å bli babysitter for partene i en borgerkrig.

For Iraqis, reality is not just a suicide bomber in a crowded marketplace or militias running amuck in the streets. It is an accumulation of daily dangers and dilemmas–and the growing certainty that things are about to get worse. American officials and Iraqi politicians who live and work in the fortified bubble of the Green Zone are still reluctant to use the words civil war. At the start of this year, they were dismissing an all-out battle between sects as impossible. In March they were saying it was improbable. Now they cautiously suggest it is not inevitable. And that’s the optimistic perspective. A more despairing assessment was on display last week in departing British Ambassador William Patey’s final diplomatic memo to London. «The prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy,» Patey wrote in his message, which was leaked to the British media. For ordinary Iraqis who live on the other side of the Green Zone’s tall walls, the time to debate if and when civil war will start is past: it is already under way. It’s a view that I share. After three years of dwindling optimism over Iraq’s future, I now feel a mounting pessimism.


These days, almost all the killing is Iraqi on Iraqi. Many people are abandoning neighborhoods that were harmoniously mixed for centuries, instead seeking the safety of all-Shi’ite or Sunni-only districts. The government says more than 180,000 people have become refugees in their own country; tens of thousands of others are fleeing Iraq altogether. The political leadership, from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on down, lacks both the stature and the will to bridge the chasm between the two communities. Caught in the middle, the U.S. military is unable to halt the bloodshed. Wisam is right: Iraq’s news these days is all bad.

Libanon blekner mot det irakerne gjennomgår. Husker vi det?

As a result, Iraqis have little time for other people’s tragedies. The news from Lebanon has dominated Arab channels like al-Jazeera in recent weeks, but it hasn’t resonated much with Iraqis. Politicians, especially Shi’ite leaders with ties to Iran, have issued predictable broadsides against Israel; some, like the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, have blamed the U.S. too. He orchestrated a large pro-Hizballah demonstration in his Sadr City stronghold last week–a protest against the bombing in Lebanon but also a piece of political theater designed to showcase the strength of his support (and a response to a muscle-flexing rally organized earlier by a rival Shi’ite leader). For the most part, ordinary Iraqis, although sympathetic to their coreligionists in Lebanon, have shown little interest in a conflict that seems both far away and from another era–a leftover war from the 20th century. Not only are the protagonists familiar, but so too are their tactics and weapons: Israeli artillery, Hizballah rockets.

Teltet ramler ned over hodene deres.

Amerikanerne trodde at statsminister Nouri al-Maliki kunne rette opp skuta. Det var snakk om å avvæpne militsene. Lite eller ingenting er skjedd.

Already, U.S. officials are finding it hard to keep up the optimistic spin. Shi’ite and Sunni politicians may now sit together, but their mutual hostility is undiminished, undermining the government–and al-Maliki can only look on helplessly. A political lightweight and compromise candidate, the Prime Minister doesn’t have the clout to bash heads, much less deliver on his promises to pursue insurgents with «no mercy» and crush the militias «with an iron fist.» As the politicians continue to bicker, the big tent is looking shaky; there were calls last week for several ministers–including the Interior chief–to be replaced.

Amerikanernes svar er å prøve gamle metoder, som ikke har vist seg å nytte. De setter inn store styrker for å bringe et område under kontroll. Men militser og opprørere trekker seg bare unna, til andre strøk, til amerikanerne er borte. I Bagdad het operasjonen Forward Together.

If anything, the Shi’ite militias are getting more brazen; a few days after my return, they entered the largely Sunni neighborhood of al-Jihad and slaughtered at least 50 people, including several women and children. Eight days later, Sunni fighters attacked a market in Mahmoudiya, just south of the capital, and mowed down more than 50 Shi’ites. Increasingly, attacks are taking place in broad daylight, leaving Iraqis to wonder how their security forces can overlook large numbers of armed men moving through the streets.

Flukt og eksil

De som kan flykter til tryggere områder, dvs. hvor de kan være blant sine «egne», eller de drar til Kurdistan eller utlandet. Det er en veritabel exodus på gang. Middelklassen forsvinner.

Since the school year ended in June, thousands of families have been heading to safer parts of the country, like the Kurdish north, where an economic boom carries the promise of jobs. Those who can afford it are going abroad, mainly to Syria and Jordan. «The middle class is evaporating,» says Iyad Allawi, who served as Iraq’s interim Prime Minister in 2004 and part of ’05. «Every Middle Eastern country I go to, they tell me immigration from Iraq is rising fast.»

Mahmud, my Iraqi colleague who fled Amariyah, has sent his wife and four kids to Amman. Whether they will return when schools reopen will depend on the security situation. Mahmud is not optimistic. «I should have made them pack winter clothes,» he says.

Sunnis like Mahmud now feel vulnerable in Baghdad, which for centuries was the citadel from which they lorded it over Iraq’s Shi’ite majority. For the first three years after Saddam’s fall, much of the violence in and around the capital was committed against Shi’ites by Sunni insurgents and jihadis. But since the beginning of this year, Shi’ite death squads–widely believed to emanate from militias like the Mahdi Army and the Iran-trained Badr Organization–have become the main practitioners of terrorist violence. Each side has its signature style of murder.

Det er ingen å henvende seg til. Politi og milits går over i hverandre. Man vet aldri hvem man har med å gjøre.

A three-car convoy belonging to Sunni M.P. Tayseer al-Mashhadani was stopped last month by 30 gunmen in a Shi’ite suburb. Al-Mashhadani and seven bodyguards were bundled into unmarked cars and driven away. An eighth bodyguard escaped and reported that the abductors had police-issue weapons. Al-Mashhadani hasn’t been released. An even more audacious snatch came soon after: men in uniforms grabbed the chief of Iraq’s Olympic Committee and 30 other sports officials. (Ten have been released, but the chief remains in captivity.) Men in uniform snatched 26 men last week from two offices less than a mile from TIME’s house.

Når de bortførte dukker opp, er de maltraktert og torturert til det ugjenkjennlige. Dette er arven etter Saddam. Det var Saddam som styrte med en vilkårlig, sadistisk vold uten sidestykke. Ingen var trygg. Dagens torturister gikk i denne skolen.

Alt er tenkelig

Det utvikler seg helt spesielle mentale forutsetninger i et slikt miljø. Sunniene kan uten å blunke si at overgrepene mot dem ikke har noe å gjøre med bomben på markedet i det shia-dominerte Sadr City. Man er villig å tro nesten hvilket som helst rykte. Som at israelske brigader har rykket inn i Irak!

A typical encounter was my interview with Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the seniormost Sunni in the Iraqi government. We met in his chintz-laden Green Zone office on the day of the al-Jihad murders. Many of the victims had been dragged out of their homes and shot dead in the street. As usual, the finger of blame pointed to the Mahdi Army. After al-Hashimi had fulminated about the slaughter of his fellow Sunnis, I asked whether the murdering militiamen might have been seeking revenge for the previous week’s bombing of the market in Sadr City. Al-Hashimi’s response was to claim that militiamen had planted the bomb, deliberately killing their fellow Shi’ites in order to justify revenge killings of Sunnis. «They were able to attack Sunni mosques within an hour of the market bomb,» he said. «This has to have been premeditated.»

Such bizarre logic quickly becomes received wisdom in a society in which even the highest officials in the land propagate outlandish conspiracy theories. The speaker of Iraq’s parliament, Mahmud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni, announced at a press conference in Bahrain that «an entire Israeli brigade has entered Iraq … trying to infiltrate various parties.» That phantom force, he continued, is «camped at Babylon, whose destruction signifies the survival of the state of Israel in their holy books.»

Gosh sier han ikke har truffet på ledere som er istand til å se utover snevre gruppeinteresser. Derfor fortsetter fallet. Gosh sin konklusjon:

I fear the sectarian furies that have been unleashed in Iraq will hack away at the last vestiges of sense and decency and drag the country into a final fight to the death.

Life in Hell: A Baghdad Diary

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