24-year-old Iraqi Palistinian named "Shaggy" and his friend "Scooby" (Photo: Joe Carr)
The stories are never ending with this 24-year-old Iraqi Palestinian. At our weekly Thursday night beer, music and banter ritual, I am continually amazed at what he's gone through and yet how normal he remains.
I enjoy visiting his home. His mother is a poet, an activist, and a total sweetheart. His dad is a former Fateh political and military official who was involved in fighting the Israelis in Lebanon and Jordan, and he welcomes me to their home, "I am your father, these are your brothers, and this is your house" he tells me. Shaggy and his brother (I call him Scooby) are your classic college boys. They've decked out their room with Metallica and Eminem graffiti, and proudly display their collection of hukas, including one for their car.
They love to cruise around in their "humvee", a rusty 83 Corona DX that barely runs and is falling apart. They have many stories from out on the road. Iraqi drivers live in fear of convoys that have a way of randomly appearing and shooting anything too close to them. Shaggy says that he has repeatedly just narrowly avoided spooking the troops.
One time, Shaggy was riding with his cousin when they came upon a random Iraqi Police checkpoint. His cousin suddenly informed him that he was carrying a handgun without a permit, so they started getting nervous. The police found the firearm but said they didn't care, however they took his mobile phone and refused to give it back. Turns out this was the second mobile phone the police had stolen from Shaggy's cousin. There are many stories of theft and corruption among the new Iraqi Police.
Getting gas is an adventure. The lines are much shorter now that the situation is better, but Iraqis still have to wait in lines of cars for about 20 minutes. Right now, gas is about 50 Iraqi Dinars (two cents) a liter, so that's like seven cents a gallon. Shaggy fills his tank for about one US dollar.
Turns out, Shaggy worked as an emergency medic during the US invasion. The situation was so chaotic that medical students and random trainees were administering first-aid and pulling bodies from the rubble. Shaggy and his team found and buried around 5,000 to 6,000 bodies he said, 90% of which were civilians and over 60% were women and children.
He remembers the bombing of his neighborhood all too vividly. "One time, we saw a huge cloud yellow smoke, which was some kind of uranium weapon. When we arrived, there was hardly anything left of the houses. There were 14 people in the houses and there was nothing left, just rubble and what looked like blended meat. I was a vegetarian for three months after that because I couldn't handle the smell of cooked flesh." He said a US radiation clean-up crew removed all the material from the site the next day. Though illegal under international law, the US commonly uses depleted uranium (DU) weapons because it's an incredibly strong and heavy metal. The dust from DU munitions has led to enormous health problems in Iraqis and also in coalition troops. Usually, the US doesn't clean it up, so it makes me wonder if this explosion isn't evidence of the US military's testing of small-scale nuclear weapons during the invasion.
Shaggy described other horrific scenes from US chemical weapons. "We found one man who was still alive but his flesh was melting. Like something you would see in a movie. Another body we found had become just a skeleton in a few hours, we had to identify her from her hair."
Shaggy said that this work was very dangerous, and he came closer to death than ever before in his life. "The US would often bomb an area again 45 minutes after they'd bombed it, often killing many aid workers, injured civilians, and curious onlookers. He showed me the scar on his arm from one of these attacks. "I heard the planes coming and started running. When the missile hit, the explosion threw me into the air. Somehow, I landed safely and was really happy that I was ok. I stood up in disbelief, just in time to get hit by tons of falling rocks and shrapnel. It was like a rain-shower" he said laughing.
After the Memorial Day service at Camp Lima, Shaggy wanted to learn the Pledge of Allegiance. The boy actually memorized it and says that it's gotten him pushed though several US checkpoints. The other night, Shaggy was sitting outside his house smoking a huka after curfew and a US patrol came to hassle him. "What are you doing?" they asked. "Smokin my huka" he replied. "But its after curfew, you have to be inside." "This is my property," he informed them, "I have a right to sit here." They noted that his English was very good and asked him what state he was from. They got a kick out of the fact that he'd never even been outside of Iraq. Shaggy said they sat and smoked the huka with him for awhile because they thought it had marijuana in it. Shaggy told us while laughing, "One said 'I'm not getting high' and I told him 'that's cause it's just flavored tobacco you dork' and the other soldiers laughed at him."
Though they'd like to think their lives are normal, Iraqi youth live in constant risk of violence and detention. Scooby and his friends recently ended up in the middle of a random fire fight and one of them got shot. They took him to the hospital and got him fixed up, but it was after curfew. An Iraqi Police convoy agreed to escort them home, but their taxi driver was drunk and followed the wrong convoy which was headed toward the Green Zone. The police found them suspicious and arrested them, but fortunately Scooby was able to explain the situation get released. Shaggy went and picked him up the next morning.
Shaggy wants nothing more than to come to the US. He feels strangled by the lack of opportunity and the conservative culture in Iraq. He is like so many other young Iraqis; haunted by memories, scarred by violence, and torn between his Iraqi roots and western branches. May he someday come into his own.
Joe Carr is a 24-year-old anti-oppression activist and performance artist from Kansas City, Missouri. He attended the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and spent January-April 2003 coordinating for the International Solidarity Movement in Rafah, Palestine, where he witnessed Israeli soldiers murder US peace activist Rachel Corrie and British peace activist Tom Hurndall. Joe is now a full-time activist with the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestine. He is currently working with CPT in Baghdad, Iraq, having been denied entry to Israel. He'll be back in the states in June.