The pages of US newspapers are full of opinion pieces about Iraq — almost none of them penned by Iraqis. Americans might be forgiven for believing that Iraqi writers are stunned into silence by the chaos enveloping their country, but that is far from the case. Below are two offerings, translated from Arabic by Sinan Antoon, from writers representing important currents — though certainly not the only ones — in contemporary Iraqi opinion.

One columnist is the pseudonymous Shalash al‐‘Iraqi, who delights his Iraqi readers with his earthy dialect and dark humor. In the manner of long‐time District of Columbia residents who refuse to append “Reagan” to the name of National Airport, Shalash gamely insists upon calling the sprawling eastern suburb of Baghdad, formerly Saddam City and now Sadr City, by its original name, al‐Thawra. He wrote “Congratulations to the Iraqi National Team” a few days before the December 2005 elections for a four‐year National Assembly.

The second writer is Burhan al‐Mufti, who wrote the impassioned “Mixed Areas” amid reports of sectarian cleansing in and around the capital. He closes with a reference to these televised comments by Egyptian President Husni Mubarak: “Shi‘a are 65 percent of Iraqis…. Most of the Shi‘a are loyal to Iran, and not to the countries they are living in.” Both columns appeared at, an open and uncensored online space for Iraqi writers established in September 2002.

Mixed Areas: A Dangerous Term

Burhan al-Mufti

There is a ministry in Iraq called the Ministry of “Migration” and Displacement. Two days ago, this new ministry deployed a new term when it referred to the displaced and refugee Iraqis who are “tended to” by the ministry as being from “mixed areas.”

What are these mixed areas? They are the places where various sects and ethnicities coexist.

Reeling off the list of Iraqi cities and neighborhoods, however, one finds that the great majority of them would qualify as “mixed areas.” Kurds have a neighborhood in Sadr City. The Muhit area in Kadhimiyya is composed of Sunnis. People in al-Siyyagh in Ra’s al-Hawash are Shi‘a. The Tis‘in area in Kirkuk has Shi‘a. The al-Tuz province has Shi‘a, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs. The Al Bu ‘Alwan clan in Falluja are Shi‘a. The people of al-Zubayr and Abu al-Khasib in Basra are Sunnis, and likewise in old Basra. The Janabiyyin in Hilla are Sunnis and Hilla is a Shi‘i city. In Mosul, churches stand side by side with mosques. In al-Shurja in Baghdad, the Latin Church faces the al-Khulafa’ mosque. According to the ministry’s statement, all Iraqis are subject to displacement, since all of us live in “mixed areas.”

So, who will inhabit Iraq after us?

What was the ministry — this product of bloody American democracy — thinking when it coined this term?

This ministry was supposed to roam the world prevailing upon Iraqis in the diaspora to come back and rebuild their country. Instead, it sent emissaries to a few countries warning Iraqis not to return now because “democratic Iraq” is not safe enough to receive its estranged but loving children.

How did you come up with this “mixed areas”? And who among us is not mixed?

Even the water we drink is a mixture of many tributaries. The height of mixture is when the two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, meet at al-Qurna. As they flow through Iraq, the two rivers pass through many mixed cities and towns, and mix with them, too. Who among us is not mixed?

Watch out, trumpets of American democracy. Be careful, you media ministers, as you employ terms that were imposed on you. These carefully manufactured words are beyond your understanding. Check your statements before you publish them. Once those words are uttered, they won’t belong to you anymore. Weigh them carefully so that they do not come back to haunt you, and so that you don’t hurt your wretched “mixed” people.

Drop this dangerous expression before it is used in the poisonous discourse of satellite channels, and before it reaches the mouths of those who market the American project — chief among them, that dinosaur Husni.

April 16, 2006

Congratulations to the Iraqi National Team

Shalash al-‘Iraqi

Did you see what [the goalie] Nour did? He blocked two penalty kicks and scored one himself. Now that’s the way it should be!

By God, this Nour is a good man. I was down in the dumps and he cheered me up. Nour is a good man, but I forgot to ask: is he Shi‘i or Sunni? Yeah, I have a right to ask. I cheered Ahmad Radhi [a famous soccer star in the 1980s and 1990s] for 20 years and he turned out to be Sunni. That’s right, he’s a Sunni, and now he’s running with [the Sunni Islamist politician] ‘Adnan al-Dulaymi. It turns out Radhi is not only sneaky on the field, but in the Sunni triangle as well. I skipped school all those times to cheer at the stadium, and he turns out to be Sunni?

Oh, whatever. The Sunnis are “our brothers,” too.

Aren’t the pictures of Nour and the other players much nicer than the posters filling our streets? Be honest now. Even our kids are so frightened by the faces that they don’t want to go out on the street.

You walk out the door and you see posters. You go down the street and there are more of these pictures. You stand at the intersection and there are pictures. On TV all one sees are pictures. I mean, it is raining pictures. If we have so much paper, why do you guys distribute old, used books to the students in the schools? Use your heads and print new books! And on top of the posters we have banners. Oh my God — so many of them! The cloth for these banners would keep the inhabitants of al-Thawra in underwear for ten years, if not more.

Elect the Strong and Trustworthy! Elect the Fat and Bald. Elect “Remainder.” Elect Garbage. Elect Jasmiyya. Elect the Fluffy Buffy One. Elect the Son of a Shoe. This one is “Iraq’s hero” and that one is “the homeland’s protector.” This one is the honorable son of the honorable. That one is purest of all. This one helps the downtrodden and the oppressed. That one helps the poor and aids divorced women. This one forced Saddam out of the spider hole. That one fixed the electricity and brought us water.

Lies and more lies perpetrated against people who, starved by Saddam for 40 years, were fed with slogans. Now here come these folks in their trucks loaded with more of them.

One assassinates the other in the name of democracy. Man, we don’t want democracy. Screw democracy! You guys are not fit for it. We used to get hit with four tanks and “Communiqué No. 1.” Then let’s see who opens his mouth. We had one hero who suffocated us for so long, and now we have a thousand heroes. They were all away and none of them uttered a word.

Anyway, let’s get back to the Iraqi national team. From start to finish, I was a bundle of nerves, not because of the way the kids played — they did a great job — but because of ‘Alaywi, our neighbor’s son. Two hours before the match he started to shoot off [his machine gun]. The first period ended and he was still firing. They scored against us twice and he kept popping off. The match was over and he was still at it. They started the penalty kicks and he kept on firing. ‘Alaywi started his own battlefront out there. I couldn’t stand it any more and I went out to talk to him.

“‘Alaywi! What’s the deal? We get the idea.”

“What, is this banned, too? We are happy and shooting in the air.”

“No problem, but everyone else has stopped.”

“I’m going to keep it up until morning.”

“Why? Is the coach your father or something?”

“Go back inside and don’t give me your culture stuff. Let us express ourselves!”

“‘Alaywi, the Mahdi Army guys are here to get you.”

“Let them come. I know them all and half of them are my relatives.”

‘Alaywi kept firing as he was answering me. Then his father showed up and I thought: Thank God, now we will get a respite. He is a pious man, and he won’t accept this. ‘Alaywi’s father slapped him and took away the machine gun and…he too started shooting. Until this moment, dear brothers, as I write this, ‘Alaywi’s father is firing away. Perhaps the best thing for me to do is to bid you farewell and go start shooting as well.

December 11, 2005

How to cite this article:

Shalash al-`Iraqi, Burhan al-Mufti "Columns," Middle East Report 239 (Summer 2006).

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