Friday, July 16, 2004

The dangers of ancient communications.

 Each visit to the suburb hides an unexpected adventure, sometimes these adventures are fun but in other times an adventure may actually be a saddening experience.
So, in the following lines I’ll be telling what happened one morning during my last visit to Basra :
 I jumped out of my bed, there was a lot of shooting outside. I looked at the clock to find that it was only 5:50 in the morning. "This is not the usual time for a wedding!" I told myself.
 I recognized sounds of many kinds of weapons: pistols, Ak 47s and even machine guns.
The shooting continued for exactly 55 minutes until it suddenly stopped.
 I was hesitant to go to work, so I decided to ask the guards first about the reason behind all this shooting and when I did, the guard replied "shooting?!" I was really surprised by this silly ‘answer’ and stressed again "There was a lot of shooting about an hour ago. WHAT THE HELL WAS ALL THAT ABOUT?"
"Oh, you mean that shooting, it was only the funeral of an old (Hadji)"
I had a mixed feeling of upset and relief; relief because this wasn’t because of a battle and upset because all that terrifying shooting was for nothing.

 I was born in Iraq and I saw a lot of funerals and people sometimes fire a couple of shots when they lose a young man in an accident (anything other than natural death) but I’ve never seen something like this, I mean this is totally ridiculous, why the fire!? the old man is already dead and it’s only dawn.

 Shooting in the air in funerals or weddings-or when something important happens-is an old tradition used in Iraq and in some other nations, originally as  communication means to inform the neighborhood and to call them to gather and participate in the occasion as there was no other *fast* way of communication at that time. Also the shooting is used to show the (muscles) of the tribe.
Strangely, this method is still used even after cell phones have become available!

 When I reached the health center I discovered that not only one man was dead; a woman was killed and three other people (one of them is a 7 year old kid) were injured by the falling bullets. In addition to that, a bullet had penetrated an eight thousand gallon gasoline tanker that was waiting to be evacuated near the gas station and it blew up causing a huge damage to the station (the suburb suffered from a severe shortage in gasoline for 5 days after that).
I also discovered that this wasn’t the first time for such accidents to happen. People told me that several similar accidents took place in the last several months but I wasn’t aware of those because I spend a considerable portion of my time in Baghdad.

 This accident made me believe that strict measures must be taken to avoid the recurrence of such unnecessary loss because sometimes this random shooting in the air in a residential area can cause casualties not less than those caused by a car bomb and actually it did more than once; I recall that in 1988 when the war with Iran ended there was enormous shooting that lasted for a whole night and the result was catastrophic; hundreds were killed and more than a thousand were injured and last year, when Uday and Qussay were killed, sources from the ministry of health reported that over 70 people were killed and a larger number injured. This wasn’t because of some clashes or bomb attacks, it was because of the free falling bullets.

 The local police often try to control this bad habit but how could some cops face a strong tribe that has hundreds or sometimes thousands of armed men. This is the case most of the times in the suburbs especially when few strong tribes make up the whole population. These tribesmen often have mortars and RPGs in addition to small arms. I have to admit that they’re not using their force against the police but they’re not allowing them to do their job. More than that, the policemen belong to these tribes too and the tribal traditions prevent then from taking action against men from the same (or another) tribe.

 I realize that we have more serious problems to worry about at the moment but we should never ignore any sign of lack of discipline especially when it threatens human lives.
:: here is an example for what falling bullets can do.


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