Ukrainian military officer and journalist Dmitri Timchuk spent more then a year in Iraq with the Ukrainian troops stationed there. RT is the first to publish his observations of daily life in the Middle Eastern country in English. (Part IV)
No linkage between the city and the country is expected in Iraq any time soon. In the big cities, especially the neighbourhoods where wealthy Arabs live, there are some really nice buildings, whereas in rural areas the poverty is staggering. I was watching a local farmer constructing his new house. The technological process was extremely simple. A hollow is flooded with water from the near canal connected to the Tigris. The clay (which is everywhere) gets sluggish. After that the Arab cuts cubes out of it, 20-25 cm long, and puts them out to dry. This is his construction material. He will stick the bricks together with the clay as well.
A cube-shaped hut is made out of these bricks. If a person of average height stands up straight in this shelter, he is very likely to break the ceiling with his head. One missing brick makes the window. Some ‘artistic’ builders make their windows triangular, but there are very few people with such ‘exquisite’ taste here. One interesting detail – there is usually the same kind of house next to it – it is for the women, who usually live separately. It is easy to tell the difference – the female house normally does not have windows. Apparently this is in order to stop Arab girls from daydreaming, looking out of the window waiting for her knight in shining armour to appear. Instead she should focus on her chores. Very wise
“Arabs are very neat,” says Sergeant-Major Alexander Stepenko, head health inspector. “They are always clean, wearing clean clothes. But their unsanitary living conditions just kill me, especially outside the cities. They get to the point where they just draw water for cooking from the Tigris and just boil it! The river is so dirty. The diseases they come to us with are unbelievable.”
He adds: “On the other hand, they are very warm-hearted. I once cured an Arab man with obvious ulcer symptoms, giving him just regular pain killers. I didn't have anything else at the time. All the symptoms went. He still follows me everywhere, begging to take a gift from him for the treatment.”
He certainly wasn’t kidding about the dirty Tigris. Al Kut, for example, has never had decent sewerage, just gutters along the
What is interesting is that even though the air is always very hot, the water in the Tigris is rather cold – you can tell it starts in the mountains. You can catch great catfish here. But locals don't appreciate it, just like they don't care much for the eel. Muslims do not eat fish without scales, for them this food is ‘unclean’, just like pork. So it is not unusual to see Arab fishermen, yelling and swearing, jumping around their catch on the shore and beating the catfish with the sticks, stopping them from getting back into the river. Well, tastes differ.
Shooting is a common thing
As you approach Al Kut, you can hear gunfire from the city. At this distance it is hard to tell if they are shooting at us or someone else. Immediately we hear a radio report – shooting! And our APC along with other patrol vehicles rushes to the place of shooting.
We drive from the dusty country road to the Basra-Baghdad road, which runs through Al Kut. There is an Iraqi police (IP) and Iraq National Guard (ING) roadblock at the Baghdad gate. Arabs in uniforms shrug their shoulders and say they didn't hear anything. Our guys don't really trust them, but the shooting has stopped, and it is impossible to find the guilty parties now. We have nothing else to do but to go back to our route.
The shooting was coming from the sector G. Ukrainians never fail to use the famous Russian non-print word, referring to one's lower back, which starts with the same letter, when talking about this place. And there is a reason for it. The city's poorest people live here. Anarchy and a high crime-rate are the main characteristics of this area. Even the local police are afraid to come here, and our soldiers don't visit this place very often.
Generally, Vasit province is as peaceful as it can be in post-war Iraq. Even though tonnes of weapons are confiscated from the locals regularly, it does not look like the amount of guns is getting any smaller. Local authorities try to register weapons, issuing permits to law abiding citizens. But Arabs don't always understand why they have to wait in line at different offices to get a special paper in order to be able to carry such a trivial thing as gun.
Traditionally, an unarmed man is seen as a lower being, and in accordance with the same tradition, Arabs fire their guns all the time. It’s hard to tell immediately what this shooting is all about – someone could be being attacked, it may be a gang fight, or this might just be a funeral or a wedding.
Community work Arab style
What is amazing that traditions here are stronger than the sense of self-preservation. Ukrainian military police and patrol teams at least try to do carry out investigation of every shooting case, to detain the suspects and hand them to the local police. Americans do not bother, it is better to stay away from their guns. They don't do much talking, just start firing for effect and killing everyone.
One time there was a terrible fire at Al Kut and everybody was shooting. American aviation came, covered a couple of neighbourhoods with air-to-ground missiles and left. It turned out that the residents were just celebrating the victory of the local football team.
By the way, Iraqis are hardcore football fans. There is a well-equipped football pitch in almost every town. And even though it gets terribly hot, locals love to play football. In Saddam's time players from the national team were beaten with sticks after each loss (we even got to see video footage of this “individual pedagogical approach”). In Europe no one would play football under these conditions, or they would make sure they won.
Nevertheless, this football zeal does not interest the Americans. The main thing that we can say about this is that all this talk about nice American guys who separate militants from civilians is a fairytale, just an advertising campaign.
For this very reason, Al Kut is in a permanent state of reconstruction. Our soldiers call it the Arab “community work”. Iraqis do something weird, Americans come and drop bombs on them, and the next day the whole Arab community comes out to rebuild their homes – until the next screw-up. What can we say – a hard working nation.
Story and photos courtesy of Dmitri Timchuk
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