I believed him a beggar, truthfully. I handed him some money, I believed him one of the thousands displaced by the Middle East’s thousands of wars. It turned out he was sleeping next to a gas station to be the first in line, the next morning: there would be fuel enough only for ten, twenty customers. All around Kirkuk, all across Iraq, there are drills everywhere. Wherever you look, really. Iraqis live on oilfields. But they don’t have fuel.
Nor electricity. And that’s how they sleep, on patches of grass.
The same way some of us sleep outside the Apple Store, waiting for the new iPhone.
And then here we are, wondering: the Islamic State. Wondering why. Examining the Qur’an, talking of Sunnis and Shias. And it’s like Gaza last summer, when you were asked to explain Hamas. And you just wanted to say: It’s been eight years that Gaza has not even water anymore. It’s been eight years that Gaza is under siege. Under this buzz of drones, and it’s like living in a wasp’s nest, with an F-16 that now and then appears and strikes, appears and you die, and this water which is salty water, it’s sea water, because it’s been ages that there’s no fresh water anymore, in Gaza, you stay sticky all the day: all the days: for years.
And then you are there wondering: Hamas. Islam.
I live in Iraq and I am ashamed.
I live in Iraq and I am ashamed, I am ashamed and nothing else, because the occupation is over, the troops gone, and yet the masters still speed around on their armored jeeps, still live in their six-star hotels, in their green zones, diplomats, aid workers, officers, mercenaries of all kinds, together with these Iraqis they’ve rescued from exile and installed in government posts, men who had been abroad for thirty years and when they returned, nobody could understand what they were saying, because their Arabic was two generations old. Or because they no longer spoke Arabic at all. And for everybody Isis is the emergency now, between one cocktail and the next: everybody wondering where these jihadists come from, and who they are, and how they can be so savage. Everybody digging for answers in the Qur’an. If only they’d wake up some morning in a house in Kirkuk. I mean, in a real house. With this water so filthy it scratches your skin, your neighbor wheezing slowly toward death from a cancer he can’t afford to treat, if only, like the one-legged kid who sells flowers on my corner, they had known hunger that burned so hard they’d resorted to chewing cardboard.
And instead. Between one cocktail and the next. Everybody’s studying the Sunnis and Shias.
I live in Iraq and I am ashamed.
I am ashamed and nothing else, asked to explain Islam, and Islam, Islam, in these months, only Islam: and like Pierpaolo Pasolini many years ago, instead, I would just like to say: I know. Because you should simply stay one day in Iraq, in Syria, to understand where Isis comes from. But really stay here, I mean, stay like Syrians, Iraqis stay: you’ll understand, you’ll feel the frustration, the humiliation. The anger. And because I know where the breakdown of this country comes from. With Paul Bremer, do you remember?, the chief authority during the occupation, Paul Bremer who outlawed the Baath party, and disbanded the army, whose members, in the thousands, suddenly found themselves without jobs, without salaries. Nothing in their pockets but a gun. And I know where this showdown comes from now, with Americans who thought that the problem was the incompatibility of Sunnis and Shias: and ended up fulfilling their own prophecy, implementing a system that like in Lebanon or Bosnia, linked every appointment, every position, every contract to the ethnic and religious affiliation of the beneficiary, and skills, popular support, they no longer matter now, the head of state must be a Kurd, the prime minister a Shiite, the speaker of parliament a Sunni – that’s the only thing that matters. In the Islamic State there’s much more taken from Saddam Hussein, from Bashar al-Assad, from the Us, much more taken from us than from the Qur’an. And because I know that barbarity is everywhere, in the prisoners set on fire, in the prisoners beheaded but also in the tortures of Abu Ghraib, also in years of marine patrols shooting, killing at random: also in the million dead from Un sanctions – one million: one million dead. You should stay here just one day, one hour. And because it all started with a lie, moreover, do you remember?, the false report about weapons of mass destruction. And for us it’s become normal now, now it’s just history, Blair, Bush, we tell it like nothing much happened, a president who doesn’t even bother to read intelligence documents starts a war, and his congress green-lights it after a debate attended by one member in ten: a debate followed by one journalist only: but I know. I know that’s how we invaded and destroyed Iraq, I know that’s how we left it in the grip of lootings, of mercenaries, profiteers, pirates of all kinds, all of them grabbing their share in the reconstruction, just like in Haiti, or Kosovo, with 96 percent of US funds that were spent without any accountability – and while everything went up in flames, do you remember? what did we protect? just one building: I know: the ministry of oil.
Do you really think that the Iraqis, here, have forgotten that?
And yet we always trace back everything to the same vague causes: backwardness, local culture, ancestral hatred: Sunnis and Shias – and like the sandstorms, that aren’t sand anymore, here, but dust. And they say: the desert. The climate change. And instead it’s been because of a drop in tariffs the US decided on: it’s been because agriculture can no longer compete with the import market, it’s been because the fields have been abandoned.
It’s been because of us.
And then we are wondering: the Islamic State.
I believed him a beggar.
I believed it was a matter of giving him some money. A job, some food.
It’s a matter of giving him back his country.
And I am ashamed, I am ashamed because I know. We know. All of us, we all know.
(Foto: Hawre Khalid. Kirkuk)