Story by David Enders
Occupied Baghdad is a lot like Detroit. You can replace "white flight" and "hollow urban core" with "We leveled heavy sanctions" and "We bombed the hell out of it," but the results are pretty much the same: lots of empty buildings, a police force you can’t trust and lots of people who take the law into their own hands. Squatters live in the bombed-out and looted ministries and government buildings. They are forced to move occasionally so troops can clear out the unexploded bombs dropped last year that they’ve known about for months but are just getting around to dealing with.
Though the army has been here since April, the city is still in chaos. People drive on any side of the road they like, dodging the tank and Humvee patrols that run 24 hours a day. The official curfew has been lifted, but virtually everyone is off the streets by 11 p.m. CNN reporters are not allowed out after dark. Most people have not bothered to take down the brown packaging tape from their windows that they put up last March, before the bombing began. It’s a little like Christmas lights that are left up all year. But the tape hasn’t remained out of apathy—it’s because the war isn’t over. The tape will come down when the war is over.
The war won’t be over for a long time. At the very least, it won’t be over until foreign troops leave the country. (That said, please note any reference to "troops" in this article is a reference to US troops, who are in charge of Baghdad and most of the rest of the country. I know that during his State of the Union address, George W. Bush read off that silly list of all the countries that have sent troops to Iraq, but what he didn’t mention was that the troops from El Salvador were forced to ride into the country on a bus and wait inside a US base for a month because they had no uniforms. It’s a coalition like Simon and Garfunkel was a coalition. How many Art Garfunkel records do you own?)
So a sort of Robocop future has become Baghdad’s present, as post-invasion confusion gives way to occupied hedonism. It’s the kind of situation that lends itself to the bizarre, the banal and situations so absurd that while there is no Godot in Baghdad, this is probably a pretty logical place to wait for him. (Or her.) Meanwhile, though, people have to find something to keep themselves occupied. On that note, my friend Rory has actually planned to kidnap a kid.
The translator is in on it. The driver is in on it. (In fact, I think he figures we’re planning to ransom the kid or something. He fully approves.) I’m just along for ride. This is the turn the story I was working on about street kids has taken. It started innocently enough—in May, there were a lot of them out on the streets, panhandling money from foreign journalists. They would nick your satellite phone if you weren’t paying attention, but they’d always give it back. They just wanted some attention. Some of them left the orphanages when they were looted after the invasion; some of them were just kids looking for a little bit of extra freedom. Most of them have gone home or found a place to stay now that it’s gotten cold, but I’m working on a story about the real hard cases, the ones that slipped through the cracks.
COMPLETE STORY IN MAY/JUNE 2004 HIGH TIMES