'Freed' Iraqis still waiting for the wind of change

Share

The gale tore into Baghdad yesterday, stripping the walls of election posters, sending miniature whirlwinds between the shuttered shops of Rashid Street, giving new meaning to the black hoods and masks worn by the policemen at Tahrir Square.

The gale tore into Baghdad yesterday, stripping the walls of election posters, sending miniature whirlwinds between the shuttered shops of Rashid Street, giving new meaning to the black hoods and masks worn by the policemen at Tahrir Square.

Tahrir - "independence" - is a word which a lot of people voted for on Sunday; not for "democracy" as the Western media would have it, but for freedom; freedom to speak, freedom to vote, freedom from the Americans.

They were in Baghdad, too, yesterday, driving their Humvees through Karada, circling the city in their Apaches and their little bee-like Sioux spotter helicopters.

For days we will have to wait for the election results. A spokesman for the Shia Muslim Iraqi National Alliance is quoted in The New York Times as saying that the Americans and British say his party might have won more than 50 per cent of the vote - the Shia Republic has come of age! - and it's all the talk of Baghdad when the people hear it in Arabic on their own networks from the Gulf. But how could the Americans know now that the INA has won more than half the votes?

At the end of Jumhuriya Street, a squad of cops in plain clothes stands on a pick-up truck, rifles pointing at us, some of them hooded. At midday, it's still supposed to be the curfew.

The houses are boarded up, the shops closed. It's as if, after voting, the Shias are waiting for the political equivalent of a tsunami punishment, the Sunnis merely biding their time.

The shish kebab in my least-favourite Baghdad restaurant tastes like cardboard. No wonder my friend Haidar says that the only decent food we get nowadays is at funerals.

In Nidhal Street, I find a "haj" [pilgrimage] bus trailing our car. It has an Iraqi flag on the front and its destination, Mecca, written in bold black paint across a banner on the front. Held up by the election curfews, the pilgrims were off on their long drive south.

Against this insurgency, this election, the eternal, hopeless optimism of Messrs Bush and Blair, the much more eternal ritual of Muslim faith and prayer goes on.

My Lebanese travel agent was on the haj and I called him from Baghdad to ensure he was safely home - pilgrims have a disturbing habit of being crushed to death - and I realised at once what it must be like for Iraqis, trapped in their country, to make a call abroad.

Only a few days in the claustrophobia of Baghdad and an international call is like an oxygen bottle. Yes, says Ahmed, the weather in Beirut is cold, there is snow on the mountains, my cleaning lady has closed the shutters and he's safe back from the haj.

The television flickers in my room. The ex-CIA man and "interim" Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, - possibly the next "interim" Prime Minister as well - is telling Iraqis that their vote on Sunday means that "the terrorists have been defeated".

Flak jackets on, I say to myself. Why do these people - the British were the same in Northern Ireland - invite further attack? This is the same Allawi who, from his bunker in the "Green Zone", instructed his vulnerable people to vote two days ago.

More and more, we feel this vast, cosmic distance between real Iraq and the fantasy Iraq of Washington and London. I watch Blair talking nervously, his body language defensive, his eyes spiritual, telling us what a stupendous success the election has been. But he chose to keep the extent of the extent of the RAF Hercules tragedy secret from his people when he spoke on Sunday night. So why the surprise when the Americans and British still keep secret the number of Iraqis who are killed here every day?

Twice in the morning, there are huge explosions which roar over Baghdad. I hear a gun battle near Sadr City. But the local Iraqi radio carries no explanation of this.

At mid-morning, two police cars overtake me, sirens squealing, Kalashnikovs waving out the windows at motorists, the cops mouthing oaths at anyone who blocks their way. No reason again. They are the real world, hooded and unidentifiable. Fast and stirring dust.

Like the wind.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower