In a dimly lighted living room in central Baghdad, Noor is a lonely teenage prisoner. Many of his friends have left the country, and some who have stayed have strange new habits: a Shiite acts holier-than-thou; a Sunni joins an armed gang.
At 19, Noor is neither working nor in college. He is not even allowed outdoors.
Three and a half years after the American invasion, the relentless violence that has disfigured much of Iraqi society is hitting young Iraqis in new ways. Young people from five Baghdad neighborhoods say that their lives have shrunk to the size of their bedrooms and that their dreams have been packed away and largely forgotten. Life is lived in moments. It is no longer possible to make plans.
"I can't go outside, I can't go to college," said Noor, sitting in the kitchen waiting for tea to boil. "If I'm killed, it doesn't even matter because I'm dead right now."
The American military is trying to address the problem. In August, it began the most systematic series of sweeps of Baghdad since the war began, trying to make the worst neighborhoods safe for a return to normal life. It appears to be bearing some fruit, with deaths in the city down about 17 percent in August from July, according to a United Nations report based on morgue statistics.
The above is from Sabrina Tavernise's "Sectarian Havoc Freezes the Lives of Young Iraqis" in this morning's New York Times and it's the best reporting on Iraq she's done since she returned. That said, it bears noting that the 'crackdown' in Baghdad has meant pulling American troops from other parts of Iraq (and, as demonstrated in Tal Afar yesterday, there's no peaceful, easy feeling). It should also be noted that as bad as Noor's problem is (or Safe's or any of the other men listed) what Sara faces (covered at the end, and not too well) is the story that remains ignored by the mainstream media. Sara can't go to college when she finishes high school because her parents fear she might killed on campus or en route. Tell us about the en route next time. Women in Iraq could drive before the illegal invasion. Now they ride. And "violence" really doesn't cover why a high school women's basketball team would cease. That too has to do with notions of what women will do (and won't do) in the new Iraq -- the 'liberated' one.
Women haven't just lost some rights, they've lost most rights. The clock has been turned back in the name of (US) 'liberation' and 'democracy.' Times readers deserve to know that but there's been little effort to convey that. John F. Burns appeared to meet very few Iraqi women during his many stays in Iraq (judging by his reporting -- we'll set the Guild rumors aside). Sara's story is not Noor's story because she faces a whole other set of obstacles and they didn't exist prior to the invasion.
Ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away. Not addressing it does the readers a disservice. The clocks have been turned back for Iraqi women.
Riverbend addressed this new reality in "Summer of Goodbyes..." (Baghdad Burning):
For me, June marked the first month I don't dare leave the house without a hijab, or headscarf. I don't wear a hijab usually, but it's no longer possible to drive around Baghdad without one. It's just not a good idea. (Take note that when I say 'drive' I actually mean 'sit in the back seat of the car' -- I haven't driven for the longest time.) Going around bare-headed in a car or in the street also puts the family members with you in danger. You risk hearing something you don't want to hear and then the father or the brother or cousin or uncle can't just sit by and let it happen. I haven't driven for the longest time. If you're a female, you risk being attacked.
I look at my older clothes -- the jeans and t-shirts and colorful skirts -- and it's like I'm studying a wardrobe from another country, another lifetime. There was a time, a couple of years ago, when you could more or less wear what you wanted if you weren't going to a public place. If you were going to a friends or relatives house, you could wear trousers and a shirt, or jeans, something you wouldn't ordinarily wear. We don't do that anymore because there's always that risk of getting stopped in the car and checked by one militia or another.
There are no laws that say we have to wear a hijab (yet), but there are the men in head-to-toe black and the turbans, the extremists and fanatics who were liberated by the occupation, and at some point, you tire of the defiance. You no longer want to be seen. I feel like the black or white scarf I fling haphazardly on my head as I walk out the door makes me invisible to a certain degree -- it's easier to blend in with the masses shrouded in black. If you're a female, you don't want the attention -- you don't want it from Iraqi police, you don't want it from the black-clad militia man, you don't want it from the American soldier. You don't want to be noticed or seen.
That's not to imply that what Noor or other young males are facing isn't awful or tragic. It is to note, something the Times has had no interest in noting, that women have lost tremendous ground in the so-called 'liberation.'
In Iraq, the current total of American troop fatalities for the month thus far is 27. That 'safer' Baghdad turned up 51 corpses on Saturday. By Reuters count, 32 Iraqis died across the country on Saturday (and the military announced a US soldier died Friday). Sunday's Reuters count thus far notes 16 Iraqis civilians killed (and the military announced that two US troops were killed on Saturday -- one in an attack in Baghdad, the other by a roadside bomb in Mosul).
Skip the Times on the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and go to Katrina vanden Heuvel's "Death of a Courageous Journalist" (The Notion, The Nation):
Russia and the world have lost a great and courageous reporter. The killing of Anna Politkovskaya on October 7 is horrifying and shocking, but not unexpected. She was just 48 years old. As Oleg Panfilov, who runs Moscow's Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said upon learning of her murder, "There are journalists who have this fate hanging over them. I always thought something would happen to Anya, first of all because of Chechnya."
Politkavskaya was a lone and fearless chronicler of the killings, the torture, the rape, kidnappings and disappearances of Chechen civilians at the hands of Russian troops and security forces. Her raw reports on the human catastrophe of the Chechen war--which appeared primarily in Novaya Gazeta, a weekly newspaper which has become a haven for honest journalists--were so searing and powerful that they led to death threats against her. In 2001, Politkovskaya fled to Vienna after receiving e-mail threats she believed came from a Russian police officer she had accused of committing atrocities against civilians. But she returned, and In 2002 Politkovskaya acted as a mediator during the Moscow theater siege by Chechen separatists.
And that's probably it until this evening. We're still working on The Third Estate Sunday Review (expect the note to readers to go up this evening because when the editorial is done, most -- including me -- have already announced we're bailing). Isaiah will go up this evening.
(Ava and I have already written our TV review.) Remember Gore Vidal is on RadioNation with Laura Flanders today.
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