Baghdad; February 2008: A man stands in the Mutanabi books market, once a thriving intellectual hangout. Photograph by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad courtesy of the Guardian. [more photos here, more from Ghaith Abdul-Ahad below]
A. Peasant at Twelfth Bough:
My heart is broken from all the suffering in the world, so much of it caused by our country and our 'friends' like Israel. It's so sad, and yet we have to look. People in this country desperately need to grasp the reality that our leaders have engineered across the globe. Please take five minutes of your life to watch this video of little boys in Iraq.Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, in the Guardian:
Today, on Good Friday, my heart is crushed for all the innocent people who have suffered and died and who suffer and live thanks to George Bush, his friends and his wars. I am crushed. I can't look at these little boys in Iraq without seeing my own son, and I don't know how God can possibly forgive us what's happened to them because we invaded their country. I just really don't know. It does not seem possible to me. May His will be done, and may He have mercy on us all.
Shabby, tired and scared - the pupils who know all about the word 'enemy'
Ali stands in the middle of the ninth-grade class, holding an English textbook in one hand and resting the other on a battered wooden desk. To his left is a blackboard on which he has conjugated the verb "to play", and on the other side is a broken cupboard on which someone has scribbled: "Long live Sayed Moqtada. Long live Moqtada ... Moqtada ... Moqtada."
In heavily accented English, rounded by Hollywood-flavoured vowels, Ali reads from the textbook: "The great Arab warrior Khaled bin Waleed went to fight the enemies of Islam." He pauses, looking at the bewildered faces of his young students. "Do you know the meaning of the word 'enemy'," he asks.
Two students raise their hands. "It is adou," says one, giving the Arab translation of the word.
"That's right," says Ali. He lowers his eyes to continue reading.
"Just like Amreeka!" another student shouts from the back, referring to the United States.
Ali is the English teacher and school principal in a poor Shia neighbourhood of Baghdad controlled by the Mahdi army. The local militia has been bought off recently by the Americans, and now they call themselves "concerned citizens".
As we sit in his dimly lit office after the lesson, Ali talks about the state of education in this corner of Iraq, five years after the US-led invasion. His kindly face, with its Tintin-like hair sprouting from his baldish forehead, takes on a grim expression as he tells me about the disastrous state of schools in Baghdad, the result of interference by the clerics and the militias.
Some of his ninth-grade pupils have been learning English for four years but don't yet know the alphabet. He looks at the teachers sitting on the sofa in his office, leans forward and whispers in my ear: "I have a young teacher here who doesn't know the difference between N and Z."
"Yes," he continues, more loudly, "education in Iraq is catastrophic. The real disaster of Iraq will come when this generation - which only knows fear and sectarianism and whose heroes are ignorant extremists - grows up."