Waiting for War: Iraqi Citizens
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SIMON MARKS: In downtown Baghdad, the show must go on. Every night, despite the approaching drums of war, the Victory Theater is a sell-out for a satirical comedy that is the hottest ticket in town. The play– it’s called “I Saw With my Own Eyes What Nobody Would Tell Me”– has Baghdad residents rolling in the aisles. It carefully pokes fun at the predicament in which Iraq finds itself, lampooning the country, though never its government, as the victim of American global domination. For audience members, it offers a rare moment of escapism.
MAN (Translated): It helps pass the time and we have fun. It’s great that we’re able to get out to the theater. Of course it helps us.
SIMON MARKS: And actors like Khalid Ahmed Mustafah…
SIMON MARKS: …He’s played in this production for four years and is one of the country’s biggest stars, say at a difficult hour, he hopes to provide theater-goers with some kind of guidance for what may lie ahead.
KHALID AHMED MUSTAFAH (Translated): I am an actor, and I am an Iraqi citizen. So, of course, I am tied to my people and my home and my family. As an actor in this type of play, it’s my duty not only to make people laugh, but also to satirize the situation. So in this play, we make fun of war and its after effects. We present a view of what the world will be like after the bombing. So for people who are watching the current situation, we’re not really laughing at the war, but we are satirizing the outcome of being under attack.
SIMON MARKS: All over Baghdad, you can find signs that people are getting ready, not only for war, but also for its possible consequences. We spotted this furniture auction, for instance, auctioneer Imad el-sabakh presiding. For more than 50 years, he’s brought Baghdad’s buyers and sellers together…
( Yelling )
SIMON MARKS: …But never more so than now.
IMAD EL-SABAKH ( Translated ): Thanks to God, everything is going well. You saw for yourself, there are plenty of buyers and plenty of sellers. For us, business is normal.
SIMON MARKS: But for those Iraqis selling at this auction, the situation is far from normal. Many of the city’s residents, anxious to maximize the amount of ready cash they have in hand ahead of U.S.-led air strikes, are literally putting their living rooms under the hammer.
MAN ( Translated ): Yes, it’s a very difficult situation. You’re forced to sell your personal items, your household goods. It’s difficult to give these things up, but you have to. The current situation leaves us with no alternative.
SIMON MARKS: Prices are not high. This is definitely a buyer’s market. A leather couch sold for the equivalent of four U.S. dollars, a single bed for five. But for many Iraqis, the extra money could make all the difference.
MAN (Translated): I’ll make this money last for a while. I sold my stuff today for almost 200,000 Iraqi dinars. That’s enough for about fifteen or twenty days, providing that we it carefully. There are ten of us in the family.
SIMON MARKS: And as the residents of Baghdad stock up on water, food, kerosene, and other emergency supplies, many of them are also turning their attention to transportation. Despite the fact that U.S. military planners say they intend to focus on targets like the enormous communications tower that looks out over Baghdad, and other communications facilities, perhaps even the Ministry of Information, the temporary home for the world’s media, many Iraqis worry that the only way they will have of getting around the city is by taking to the water. They’re concerned that the roads and bridges that keep Baghdad moving could be destroyed in the opening days of a U.S.-led campaign. So down on the ancient River Tigris that snakes its way through this city, the boat builders are doing a roaring trade.
HUSSEIN ABDUL ( Translated ): If I work on it all day and all night, I can finish it in three days. This boat is being made to order, and anyone who wants a boat, I’ll sell them one.
SIMON MARKS: In centuries past, the only way of crossing from one side of Baghdad to the other was by water. Today, many Iraqis remembering similar experiences during the 1991 Gulf War, are preparing to do so again. The sudden focus on river transportation as a possible necessity here underscores a view we’ve heard many times in Baghdad– whatever happens to this city, however significant the U.S.-led military onslaught here, many residents insist they are sufficiently resourceful to overcome and eventually to rebuild what’s destroyed here. It’s hard to fathom, but all over this city, just days before U.S.-led forces could be given the order to attack, construction sites were busy as workers continued to renovate some buildings destroyed in the 1991 Gulf War and complete work on other new buildings here. Construction worker Sabr Batchay is like many Iraqis we interviewed. He views any military action as simply a continuum of policies set in train by the United States over a decade ago. He told us even if his work is destroyed by American missiles, he’ll be back on site as soon as possible.
SABR BATCHAY (Translated): It doesn’t matter to me. We’ll rebuild. Let them break it down and then we’ll rebuild. We’ll build it despite everything. God forbid they come here, they’re going to travel across the oceans and around the world? Every one of us will defend ourselves. God is with us.
SIMON MARKS: The determination of Iraqis to resist an American- led occupation could be tested in just a few days time. In private conversations over the past ten days, some Baghdad residents have told us they expect and will welcome the fall of Pres. Saddam Hussein, but they say they have enormous worries about the type of government America might install and blame the United States for economic sanctions that they say have reduced Iraq to poverty. In a field on the campus of Baghdad University, a group of engineering students has been learning to use theodolytes. These are literally the young Iraqis who will rebuild their country, and they told us Iraq will never succumb to what they called American aggression. Whoever governs here in future may find it just as difficult to influence hearts and minds as it will be to reconstruct the country once war is over.