[Editor’s note: This is a piece I started work on in Amman and finally had the time to finish and post today, enjoy!]
I was in a communication center in Amman when I realized I was surrounded by Iraqis. Jebel Hussein is an area of Amman that is frequented by Iraqis, particularly those of the Christian religion, but also Iraqis from many different faiths and ethnic backgrounds. A communication center is a place you can go to make phonecalls to areas outside of the country, at a cheaper rate.
Sabih Nawaf was listening closely to my conversation with Ra’fat, my fixer in Amman. I noticed he was listening a little too closely, so while Ra’fat was using the phone, I said to him, “Min Wayn?” which means, “From where?” in Arabic.
“Iraq, inta min wayn?” was his reply.
“Amreekee, eela Bush, ana asif.- “American, for Bush, I’m sorry.”
From this point we engaged in a broken conversation, his English not being perfect, but much better than my Arabic. He told me he went to University in Tulsa Oklahoma and showed me his Oklahoma State driver’s license.
“You see? I like the American people, but not their gov’t. If I was president, the main thing I would do is to fight the gov’t.”
At this point the man next to him, who looked exactly the part of any sportscaster on ESPN in the States, chimed in his agreement. I didn’t catch his name, but he told me he was, in fact, a famous sportscaster for football-not the American kind. He is also from Iraq, from the north, and a Christian. Sabih is a Muslim, Ra’fat later informing me his family name seemed Shi’i, but as he was from Ramadi, perhaps this wasn’t his original family name.
I didn’t even have to ask to get his feelings on the occupation in Iraq. “If someone came to your house and killed your wife and your daughter, what would you do? I think this would make you like crazy-man, crazy-person.”
At this point, he grew more animated, passionate to be letting his feelings out to a real, live, non-Military American. “What does your Government say about Iran? And before, in the Iran-Iraq war, what did they say?” I couldn’t argue with his logic. He was getting right to the heart of some of the most direct criticism of the Bush administration’s policies. The Bush administration’s willingness to make about-face policy changes to suit their ends leaves Iraqis and other Arabs distrustful and cynical about the United State’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
Sabih told me, “I think the Constitution, is an American Constitution, just like the Iraqi Interim Government is an American Government.”
I asked him what his impression of Sistani and why he thought the Interim Government was an “American Government.”
“You know Sistani? Don’t mention Sistani to me-I think when I see him, now he looks like Bush. What we want is to elect our own Iraqi Government to write an Iraqi Constitution.”
I heard this viewpoint a few times in Amman, Khalid Jarrar mentioned the common phrase used in Iraq, “This Government came here on the American Tanks.” Later, when I reached Iraq, this viewpoint was continuously emphasized. While American Helicopters and Humvees passed by the Women’s Will Office, an Iraqi women’s rights organization, Hanna Ibrahim said, “Hadhal Doostor, Hadhal Doostor.-This is the Constitution, this is the Constitution.” The football commentator, also echoed this sentiment regarding the Constitution and America’s policy in Iraq.
“I was educated at Tulsa University in Oklahoma. The American people are my friends, I always like them. But now I tell my children that America is the worst country in the world. And you know, when I think about Baghdad, I am just wanting to cry.” At this point I feel its important to mention that Sabih is a big guy, with a thick Iraqi mustache, and neat pants and shirt. Except for his skin color, he looks like any American sitcom Dad, the Wonder Years and Family Matters come to mind.
“I hope there will be peace in Iraq. I am going back tomorrow. You should know now, the journalists, most of them seem as the same as the soldiers, no, not soldiers, killers. They are supporting the American Occupation. I have relatives in Ramadi and I talk to them everyday. In Ramadi, maybe the Resistance kills one person and the Occupation, the Americans, they just kill so many people. I don’t just hear these things, I saw them myself, with my own eyes, people killed in the streets.”
By this point in the converstaion Ra’fat had finished his phone call and Sabih Nawaf got up to enter the phone booth, . We left the communication center as he wished me luck in Baghdad. He also reminded me that, to the American people, “All the Iraqi people say hi…”