Excerpt from Baghdad…Marlboro: A Novel for Bradley Manning

Part 1: Before Daniel Brooks All Roads Lead to al-Maydan

Chapter 1: The Beginning of the Road Somewhere…Now

Whenever I look at the passport I carry, at the name on it and the date of birth, I remember Daniel Brooks. Until the day he appeared so suddenly, I never once imagined that my life would be turned upside down in this violent fashion by a foreigner like him coming from far away. This happened seven years ago in Baghdad during the roughest years the city has ever experienced. No other period in its long history has been more dangerous. Actually, whenever I trace the story back to the start, I reflect that it was really weird and that had it not happened to me personally I would not have believed it actually had happened, that it had occurred in a city like Baghdad, or that two men like us, regardless of all the things that had happened to them in life, should inevitably meet, even though their lives were separated by various lands, seas, and oceans. He was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on the banks of the Mississippi River, and grew up in Queens, New York; I was born in a small town on the banks of the Euphrates in western Iraq and subsequently lived on the banks of the Tigris River in Baghdad. Today everything seems genuine: my alias, new papers, new residence. The land that I chose at random has become my country–after an extended ramble and peregrinations through different countries of the world for about three years. While I was in the midst of that, though, the matter seemed different to me. An affair, which I did not think of trying to define precisely, began and ended in the same way. I allowed it to proceed according to its own momentum. Perhaps I thought, feeling optimistic, that chance alone led that man to me or in the worst case scenario that one of them sent him to inflict as much harm on me as possible. But that this man himself had come to Baghdad to search for me was something I never considered. How could I have known that a man who lived thousands of kilometers away from me had been waiting all these years for a good chance to meet me? Perhaps the matter seemed more like a miracle to him or perhaps he had even forgotten the affair as years passed, but when the war was declared (which war?) and the American army entered Baghdad on April 9, 2003, the man remembered and told himself, “The opportunity has arrived; I must travel to the Iraqi capital to hunt for the man I seek.” He did not know that he, when he visited him, would switch identities, change, and live a new life after that historic day when he knocked on his door. It’s true that I wasn’t the only one to undergo a change. The Iraqis as well–indeed even the Americans–all changed after that date. But if I had a pair of scales before me now and balanced the entry of the Americans to Baghdad against what happened to me after I met Daniel Brooks–even though thousands of Iraqis, indeed millions of them, changed their names after that date for fear of being pursued, or merely on account of a habit of adjusting to a new era, and some emigrated while others remained where they were–what changed for me was my life. Yes, my entire life. I don’t want to say that the life I’m living now is wrong and that my previous life was correct–or the reverse. You should simply know that the person narrating the story now isn’t the person he was the day Daniel Brooks entered his life. This isn’t merely because none of us is identical at two different times and two different places but implies much more than that. Whenever I have thought about my life and what happened to it, though, I have paused at one image: that of Baghdad and Daniel Brooks.

So the affair didn’t happen by chance then. At that time and going back approximately seven or eight years earlier, I had lived in my same house in an upscale neighborhood of Baghdad. It may have been al-Khadra’, for example, or the University neighborhood, or–if you wish–it could have been Hayy al-Atibba’ or Hayy I’lam–it doesn’t matter. It’s best to keep the actual name secret now. The important thing is that it was one of the city’s better neighborhoods–not one of the old districts like al-‘Atifiya, al-Karrada, Ziyuna, or al-Mansour. Instead it was a neighborhood that had been built in the 1970s. My house was located on the main street near the market and the district police station. In those days, compared to the other districts of Baghdad, the area was fairly calm, except for an armed attack on the police station toward the end of 2003 and break-ins that occurred occasionally during the first three months of 2004. Till then nothing had happened to prompt a person to move or leave their house. My wife had separated from me and moved back to her family’s house, and my house, which was large just for me, had come to resemble a prison. Neither working in the large garden in front of the house nor sitting in the living room watching TV or listening to the radio provided me solace or helped me forget.  What can a person do in a residence that is more than three hundred fifty square meters: two hundred square meters of house and a hundred fifty of garden? Daily electricity cuts had become the norm for us, and electrical generators were not common yet. On some days my nephew would visit and stay a few hours or till the next day if it was the weekend. Except for me going to the liquor store at the end of the street behind my house to buy arrack or to sit for a few minutes in a corner that the shop owner reserved for steady customers like me, my nephew provided my only solace. Even those few times I went to al-Maydan [1] to visit our friend the poet Salman Madi didn’t provide me with comparable comfort. You don’t know how much Salman hated Americans; he even preferred staying in al-Maydan to living with his wife and son, because he said, “It’s the only place where I won’t see Americans.” All the same, I believed that he had deliberately chosen to stay there and that his protest was nothing more than a pretext.  Salman had lived there even before the Marines entered Baghdad. The Americans were merely an excuse. Their entry of Baghdad made it easy for him to justify his dream of living there–“As an expression of solidarity with marginalized people,” he explained. That was his stance with which we were familiar. He had declared that repeatedly and proudly. I say that even sitting with Salman did not provide me with any consolation or allow me to forget. To the contrary, the sight of him saddened me all the more. It’s true that we used to drink together, but Salman drank to excess. In all the house’s crannies he had hidden bottles containing arrack, because he was afraid that al-Maydan might run out of booze and that he would be forced to search for it where he would see Americans. Yes, I’m fond of Salman, and everyone knows about our long-standing friendship that dates back to the 1980s, but he changed a lot after returning from the Kuwait War and plunged ever deeper into despair. April 9, 2003, didn’t changed him at all except to make him angrier than before. We would sit for hours and hours without conversing. If he began to talk, he would curse the entire world. The only thing that would silence him then was falling asleep. Accompanying him to the Crazy Bar was a huge adventure. Woe to you if he saw an American soldier or a patrol passing, because every swear word he knew would spew out. Sitting alone with Salman would make me all the sadder, even if I spoke at length about Azhar, my wife, leaving me and the miserable situation I was in. Sitting with my nephew wasn’t like that at all. I felt relaxed whenever he visited me, because with him at least I could forget my sorrow, if only temporarily. He had just begun his studies at the University of Baghdad and enjoyed the tales I kept telling him about University life in the 1970s, although he would laugh, thinking that the stories I related were straight from my imagination–stories about coeds wearing miniskirts or even micro-skirts and how hijab wasn’t seen. Perhaps they wore an abaya, but as soon as they entered the College it would be removed and left in the women’s cloakroom. “You would smell the smoke from their cigarettes when you passed the window of that cloakroom,” I would tell him. These were stories of intoxication more than of imagination, because every time he sat with me, I would drink. In every picture he took of me I was holding a glass of arrack. He didn’t drink but was so fond of me that he enrolled in the same college I had, the College of Veterinary Science. Once when I asked him why he had done that–given that I had abandoned my old profession and chosen another unrelated to it–he replied, “How could I not have done that when you said, ‘If the world is an animal refuge, then Iraq is its waterhole. So there’s no need to study human medicine.'” I don’t remember ever telling him that; but once I did say to him, definitely during one of those moments of intoxication when my imagination had run off with me, “Do you know how many times I’ve thought of abandoning this miserable profession? I’m tired of it. I want to become a writer.” He commented then, “But that’s a losing profession in Iraq and the Arab countries as a whole. Setting aside the fact that it brings you no income, it rains down disasters on you.” I knew how much he admired me. If he thought that the stories I told him were figments of my imagination, of the imagination of a drunk who wanted to become a writer, I suspected that his admiration for me inspired him to concoct tales for me and to attribute to me phrases and conduct that his imagination devised. His was the imagination of a young man who had just turned twenty and who wished–in spite of his negative comment about writing–to help me realize my plan to become a writer. This admiration also inspired him to visit me whenever he could, even though I frequently fretted that something bad would happen to him en route to me. He always countered, “Uncle, sitting with you is a life of equal value to everything happening out there–all those stories, destruction, and devastation.” He insisted on coming, although he knew that his father objected to these visits. Those days when he couldn’t come–during university breaks when he went to see his family, for example–I was forced to sit home alone, drinking arrack, or to sit in my small office in the University District on Abu Ghraib Street, directly opposite the street from the Biscolata Factory–do you remember the plant that an Austrian firm built in Baghdad during the 1950s? Because work was on hold temporarily and even in the best of times there wasn’t much, since I hated it, the hours I sat at home increased. I dismissed the three of my employees who oversaw the work and kept Hasan, a laborer who guarded the office and fixed tea and mezza for me whenever I came there to drink–alone or with a friend. When he informed me one evening that an American patrol had come by late the previous night, because a rocket had been launched from the building’s entry, I told him, “Hasan, the matter has turned serious.  You had better quit work too.” He replied, “Certainly not.” He would remain there. The Americans had discovered the rocket’s launch site. Hasan knew the young man who had fired it the night before and went to warn him–in front of his family–not to do that again. He should launch his rockets somewhere else. Even though Hasan insisted on staying, I couldn’t think of any compelling reason for me to frequent the place. I said I would keep him on and went to check on him from time to time but otherwise was content to sit at home.

Something happened, though, in 2004, on March 31st. I still remember the date very clearly, but not merely because it was the anniversary of the founding of the Iraqi Communist Party. When I became acquainted with my classmates in the College of Veterinary Science, some were Communists and had become close friends. I was also a friend of Salman, who arbitrarily was accused of being a Communist, despite the anarchy and debauchery for which he was known. I knew how dangerous this day was for them, because they were all under increased surveillance–even poor Salman, can you imagine? So for them to go sit in a bar or coffeehouse would have appeared to constitute a celebration of the anniversary.  Even staying home exposed them to suspicions of security agents, and this inspired real dread. I was beyond suspicion, whether because of where I was born–in the western part of the country, have you forgotten?–my surname, or my maternal uncle, who was a high-ranking officer in the army. So I would come to their rescue, visiting them one after the other, bearing a bottle of booze and some mezza in a bag. That date was memorable too, because March 31st was the anniversary of my wedding seven years before; how could I forget that? Azhar used this date as a compelling argument against me when she quarreled with me each year, saying, “You refuse for us to have children and claim that not having them will prolong our love but then forget even our wedding anniversary. You don’t remember it and don’t celebrate it. So to what prolongation of love are you referring?” It would have been hard for me to forget that date, and not merely because my fears for my nephew’s safety increased as the chaos in Baghdad did. Then, a week later, my worst fears were realized. He died when the bus bringing him back to Baghdad from visiting his family was hit by a rocket. These would all have been reasons for me to remember this date, but the real reason was that it was the date that the course of the war in Iraq changed. I might even say it was the day that stamped its seal on all future wars everywhere in the world when so-called contractors replaced soldiers in armies. On that day the death of four American contractors from the Blackwater firm was reported. They were not, contrary to the official report, “Civilian Aid Workers” or “Foreign Reconstruction Workers”–as if they were engineers, builders, members of humanitarian organizations, or specialists building potable water pumping stations. Do you remember the four contractors whose charred bodies dangled from the Fallujah Bridge for two days or longer? On that day, which passed for me like all the others before it, what did the killing of four American mercenaries mean for me–compared to the deaths of hundreds of Iraqis daily? I sat in my home’s living room listening to news and comments about this event on my transistor radio, because the electricity was off, as usual.  Then I heard pounding on the door. I found Namir, the neighbor whose house is behind mine, standing there. I actually hadn’t seen Namir or any of his family for three months, not since the last New Year’s celebration when the nearby police station was attacked. I really couldn’t conceal how delighted I was to see him again and even cursed myself then, with him as my witness, for my forgetfulness as I shook his hand and hugged him fondly. I told him, “You can’t blame people for oversights during these rough days,” he said. Then he explained that he had come to say goodbye, because he had sold his house. It made more sense for him to live close to his work, because the road from his house to the club and back had become treacherous. I was sure he was right. He worked at the Alawiya Club in al-Andalus Square, and commuting there every day required enviable courage. What he did not tell me then, although I found it out later, was that he was leaving primarily as a result of threats from armed men. The garden of his house contained a thicket of trees and was located on the street leading to the liquor store. It could be used as a launch site, a storage location for weapons, or an ambush for Marines who came occasionally in a military Jeep to buy a can or two of beer. Because they were not allowed to buy liquor at their nearby base, they would consume the beer quickly on one of the nearby narrow streets. He did not, however, forget to tell me before leaving that he would be happy for me to visit him at the Alawiya Club. “A good man like you–it’s rare to encounter one nowadays,” he told me. If nothing else, he could serve me in the cafeteria there to reward me for having been a good neighbor. Actually, he had wanted to say this for a long time, because whenever he had seen a light in my house’s living room or garden, he had felt sorry for me. A person sitting alone needed pluck and consolation. He could easily obtain a membership card for me, “Though a building contractor like you won’t need someone to vouch for him in a matter like this.” I thanked him and promised to come. Before he left, however, he turned and said, “I forgot to tell you: two days ago a building contractor came to the club–an American, by himself, who oddly enough spoke Arabic fluently–and said he was looking for an Iraqi contractor. He was looking for you specifically. The man was really astonished when he was told that you don’t come there. He said, ‘That’s odd. Isn’t this the club for builders and businessmen?'” Actually, what occurred to me then was that Namir–like many Iraqis at the time–was exaggerating. His desire for me to visit the club might have inspired him to concoct this story for me, because everyone was looking for deals and contracts in those days. He had every reason to assume that I was one of those eager for contracts too. Why not? Since its founding, the club had served most of its members as a place to arrange contracts for deals, but this matter definitely didn’t interest me at the time. I was exhausted and concerned more with resting than making money. I had barely dealt with the separation from my wife when I was deeply affected by my nephew’s futile death. Working as a building contractor requires strong nerves in general–so how about now? You need to do a lot flattering–butt-wiping, as we put it. And that’s not all; executing a project and completing it is a feat, because anyone who didn’t hire private guards from one of the security companies, which had begun to multiply then like weeds, would find their materials and equipment targeted for theft. Moreover the guards’ wages varied according to the project’s location, size, and duration. Most men frequenting the club who claimed to be building contractors or merchants were nouveaux riches and well connected to government officials. They bid on contracts not to execute but to sell them to smaller contractors. Even I had been offered this or that project as a subcontract but had declined. This was the prevailing practice among contractors and businessmen, especially those who frequented clubs. Perhaps what salvaged this club’s reputation and that of the nearby Indian Club was their venerable age. The English, who had introduced clubs in the 1920s, had built both–unlike the other clubs. The Hunting Club, for example, had been built by the former regime in the 1970s. But this made no difference to me.

This was the first time I heard that an American had come looking for me. I heard it a second time from an eccentric young man who occasionally came to the liquor store at the end of the street. As a matter of fact, until then, I had not known whether he lived in the neighborhood or just popped up like this. I didn’t remember seeing him in the neighborhood previously, even though I had lived there since the late 1970s.  When would one of us notice such details, however, if some event did not suddenly cause him to pay attention to his surroundings? That’s when he notices his neighbors who live near him or on adjoining streets. Generally speaking such an event must be out of the ordinary–a major occurrence. Let me tell you, though, that, given the present condition of Iraqis, it must be something more substantial than a war, because wars have become routine for us. Ever since the Iraqis established their state in 1921, we have seen our rulers attack and raid to the north and the south. Why should the entry of the Americans into Baghdad, for example, astonish us? I, myself, stood in the garden holding a glass of hot tea while I calmly watched American tanks make their way to the center of Baghdad, as if the matter was no concern of mine at all. In any case, in my condition, something greater than the war–like a person asking for me–would need to occur for me to learn that a young man named Muhammad Paris had suddenly appeared in my neighborhood and that I should acknowledge his existence, although I did not pay attention to his full name until later. At that time and whenever he showed up in the liquor store, I heard him called Muhammad Paris. No one called him by his real name, which was Muhammad Khadir al-Wathiq. People said that he was referred to as “Paris” on account of his elegance. After the Americans disbanded the Iraqi Army, he sold ice in one of the region’s markets and wore shorts and a colored T-shirt. So they called him Muhammad Paris, because Paris is the world capital of elegance. According to stories I heard about him, he had been a soldier in the former Iraqi Army but, after April 2003, had become a professional kidnapper. He had wanted, he told me one day, to follow in the footsteps of Robin Hood, choosing his victims from among the “Hawasim,” the great thieves who proliferated in Baghdad right after the American troops entered the city. They stole anything they could instead of fighting in the “Umm al-Hawasim”–or “Mother of All Decisive Battles,” as an Iraqi government official heralded the battle against the Americans. The neat thing is that this Muhammad first joined a civil defense force, thanks to the American troops, who wanted to benefit from his knowledge of criminal cliques. He never concealed his activities. I frequently heard him discuss them very earnestly, boasting to the patrons of the liquor store that the Americans had paid him at least a hundred dollars for every criminal he delivered to them. He abandoned that career, however, and began to work on his own behalf–kidnapping the wealthy and important thieves. He actually kidnapped his victims at different times but preferred to abduct people during the daylight hours–“dawn to dusk.” When people inquired, whether seriously or humorously, about the techniques of his craft, he offered them free advice: “It’s better to choose times when people are heading to work or returning home.” Regarding his assistance for people who wanted to flee Baghdad, he offered more detailed assessments, explaining that this was hard at night, because of all the police checkpoints on the city’s roads. I am telling you about this Muhammad, who wore the same outfit every day–olive athletic attire–for a reason. He was the next person who came to tell me that an American man had been looking for me. That happened one hot day, approximately three months after Namir’s visit, on June 28, 2004, which was exactly the day the American civilian administrator announced the return of sovereignty in Baghdad to the Iraqis. I remember I wanted to celebrate that day–not, naturally, because sovereignty had been returned to the Iraqi people, as was stated officially, since that was nonsense–but in honor of this ruler’s flight in a manner that suited him. To disguise the fact that he was slipping away from the Baghdad Airport on his private plane–like a crime boss fearing arrest–he summoned reporters to a news conference at another location. To seize this opportunity, especially when there was nothing else to cheer about in the country, I thought I would go drink the health of this lousy cowboy with the customers of the liquor store. That evening, two hours or more after my arrival, Muhammad Paris turned up in his usual way. Then, instead of launching into a narration of his escapades, he asked the store’s owner whether I was sitting in the corner. So the store owner winked at him and asked, “What’s up, Muhammad? Do you want to kidnap him even though he’s not rich or one of the Hawasim?” Muhammad laughed in response to the reference to his reputation, which was well known, and said, “Of course not…I need to see him on an urgent matter.” When I approached him, myself, he drew me to a side of the store where we could stand alone. That was the first time I had seen Muhammad Paris up close, face-to-face. He actually was in his mid-thirties but looked fifty. He was bald, and a gray beard covered half his lean face. When he warned me, even his voice seemed enervated. He cautioned, “You should leave the region and sleep far away.” When I searched his face for an explanation, he said that on his way there, just minutes earlier, he had seen a large Dodge with an American tag.  From inside it a large man, whose face he hadn’t seen clearly, had climbed out and then knocked on the door of my house. The man was tall, massive, and brown. His complexion was dark, but he was not, Muhammad thought, black. For a car with an American tag parked outside a person’s house meant only one thing: disaster. Patting me on the shoulder, he added, “In any case, since I’m a good man, I’ll keep an eye on him.” Before he disappeared with his bottle, he added, “You know where I live.”

You think or perhaps believe that conceit, indifference, or at the very worst ignorance prompted me to ignore what I was told. Even today, though, when I think about this matter, I’m certain I could not have acted in any other way. Back then, it was hard to distinguish between reality and imagination, fabrication and fact, or an aspiration and outright fraud. A person could simply suggest a rumor, and the next day you would find everyone repeating it. Everything in our country is communicated: lies, slanders, envy, harm, enmity, murder, kidnapping, embezzlement, rape, and debauchery. Yes, all these negative characteristics travel like viruses from one person to the next. Good qualities are different; no contagion transmits them, because they no longer exist in any authentic manner. Truthfulness, generosity, and beneficence, for example, or goodness, nobility, and sincerity are characteristics that have been relegated to the past–assuming that they ever existed among us. Everything is counterfeit. Everything is bogus. So, why should I have acted differently? If I did not believe what my neighbor Namir said, even though he is a straightforward man with no reason to lie to me, why should I believe the testimony of a person who wanted to be Iraq’s Robin Hood? Instead, I told myself that the whole country had been acting crazy–from the American invasion to the present. The topsy-turvy conditions had prompted Iraqis to feel not only that they needed to concoct tales about themselves but to invent them about other people as well. Hadn’t Namir invented the story about his reason for selling his house? Two or three days after he made that claim, when I was returning from the liquor store, I myself saw a pickup truck with six or seven veiled and armed men in it drive into his property. As for Muhammad Paris, I didn’t believe a single one of the stories he told about himself. He said, for example, that one of his victims was an eight-year-old boy he abducted because the boy’s father, a former manager of al-Rashid Bank, was one of the “Hawasim” and had stolen forty million dollars when the Americans entered Baghdad. I naturally did not doubt that this bank director had stolen that amount of money–God forbid–because, under the previous regime, he would not have been able to obtain that post had he lacked a larcenous streak. What I found incredible was that Muhammad Paris said he released this thief’s son for only twenty thousand dollars! And how about his claim that he gained $190,000 in one fell swoop by kidnapping a wealthy man at his wife’s request? She told him her husband was very rich and had worked with the former ruler’s older son, part of whose fortune he had acquired after the ruler and his children fled. She was seeking to avenge herself on him for his marriage to a girl. Muhammad Paris said this was an easy operation.They had abducted the man on his way to his new wife’s home, acting on his first wife’s tips. “We threw him to the ground, shackled him, placed him in the car’s trunk, and then drove off with him.” Several days later, the first wife not only received the ransom and took her share, which was four times the amount Muhammad Paris earned, but since then he had become her favorite paramour. He slept at her house whenever he wanted, screwed her whenever he chose in all positions fore and aft, in her mouth and all her orifices–or so he claimed. She let him do whatever he wanted and even allowed him to shackle her hands and feet when he wished. How do you expect me to believe him then? Why should anyone trust what an inveterate storyteller says–even when his name is al-Wathiq or “Trustworthy” as Muhammad Khadir’s was? Did it make sense for an American to search for an ordinary Iraqi building contractor like me? Perhaps the matter bothered me a little, but I tried again to forget about it, to expel it from my mind. I would have succeeded if Hasan hadn’t telephoned me from my office three or four days later. Barely holding back his tears, he told me in a sad voice that the young man who had prepared a launch site for rockets in front of our office had come in a pickup, accompanied by four or five masked men. They had climbed to the roof this time to prepare a launch site for their rockets on the building’s flat roof. When Hasan asked them to come down, they aimed their machine guns at him and told him to leave immediately and to tell his boss that the office was impounded with immediate effect. They would be waiting there for his American friends to visit. “The truth is, Sir, I don’t know what Americans they’re talking about.” I told him, “I don’t either.” It’s true that I did not tell him the story about an American coming to my house. For the first time I was beginning to see a relationship between the two alleged previous visits by the American in search of me and what was happening at the office. It was inconceivable that Hasan would also be lying to me. The doubts troubling me were soon substantiated, because the day after our telephone conversation, I saw the same pickup truck that had entered Namir’s property stop at the door of my house. I don’t know if it was the same six or seven men who had established a launch site at my office and threatened Hasan. In any case they entered my house early in the morning, carrying their weapons, and demanded that I leave the house immediately. They were yelling “Allahu akbar!” and told me they were “Resistance.” They said that a person like me who cooperated with the Americans had basically no right to live. They wouldn’t kill me out of respect for my family. “Your father was an eminent shaykh,” they said, “and your brother is a mujahid like us.” You know I’ve experienced many terrifying moments in my life, whether on the Iranian front at the beginning of the 1980s in the South around the lakes of al-Nasiriya and Maysan, or subsequently in the Northern war in the mountains of Kurdistan, but had never trembled or felt fear seep through every pore of my body the way it did during those brief moments. It is difficult to describe the scene. Yes, since I first opened my eyes on life, I have seen people bearing weapons around me in the open country in the plains of the western regions. I saw people carrying weapons and firing them: herdsmen and smugglers, men celebrating weddings or grieving at funerals. Even in our house, I saw my father fire his weapons. That happened when one of my paternal or maternal uncles married and even when my nephew, the one who died, was born. Naturally, when we moved to Baghdad and my father began to work on building projects, the situation changed, but I did not see my father relinquish his weapons till he died. Occasionally he would sleep with two rifles under his bed. I wonder how men like that copulate with weapons under their bed–not just my father but the millions of men who do what he did. Even my younger brother was so infatuated with weapons that my father once warned him to control the weapon and not allow it to control him. “A weapon is a man’s adornment,” he told him, “but within limits.” That made my mother laugh. She told him that before he lectured his son he himself should control his own weapons. The first thing my mother did when my father died was to collect his two rifles and his revolvers–I think there were five or six of them that had been special gifts from some official or another–and asked me to throw them in a river somewhere far away. She said that she was sad that my father had died but that she would sleep contentedly and feel secure for the first time. This made my younger brother, who had just enrolled in the Military Academy, really angry. On learning what we had done–my mother and I–he immediately left the house, saying that we had no respect for my father’s bequest and that these weapons were his testament, with which he had honored us. I asked, “What honor do you mean?” Then he snapped back that he would not take lessons in morality from a brother who befriended Communists and Shrugis [2] and was a drunk. The ring of my palm striking his cheek still echoes in my ear. My brother left furious and never allowed me an opportunity to apologize. Even when my mother died, he didn’t come to her funeral. Instead he conducted his own wake for her at his house. Till he died, my nephew never understood the reasons for the quarrel between me and his father. Should I have told him it was about bearing arms? But to tell the truth, my refusal to carry a weapon and my hatred at even the sight of them was irrelevant to our rupture. I may have felt afraid seeing weapons in the army or on the street, in war or peacetime (when have we experienced peace?) but have never witnessed such patent danger as that morning. The threat I saw gleaming in the eyes of those armed, masked men, especially in the eyes of their apparent leader, who was masked by a head cloth and who remained in the front seat of the truck, totally silent and watching the scene–I had never seen the like of this before. My one thought early that hot summer morning was to leave the house immediately. Only when I reached al-Maydan, climbed the stair steps to the apartment of our friend, the poet Salman Madi, knocked on that apartment’s door, or most likely when I saw Salman–drunk as usual–open the door for me and say, “Welcome to Free Baghdad, to al-Maydan,” did I realize that I had fled with only the clothes on my back and hadn’t brought the items I needed: not a suitcase with clothes nor the little box that contained my savings–whatever I had set aside to allow me to live in peace. Yes, I left everything in the house for them except the small sum I always keep in the lining of my jacket for emergencies. I didn’t realize that by going to Salman I was proceeding in precisely the direction the story wanted to head. I didn’t choose this path; life chose it for me. I was heading toward the mysterious American who had come searching for me, as if I were the hero of a novel that was just beginning to be written–a hero the author had cast down there to meet his destiny. All the same, where could I have gone in Baghdad in those days when random killings had recently begun commonplace there–if not to my friend Salman?  Before I talk about the mysterious American I would meet, however, I must first discuss Salman Madi, because without knowing about him, it will be difficult to understand the story of what happened to me during those years. Yes, it would be difficult to know why my life had to change then.


[1] Al-Maydan or al-Maydan Square was once central Baghdad’s entertainment district featuring its most renowned brothels and many of the city’s oldest bars. Inhabitants were consequently marginalized individuals. Since the Ministry of Defense is located in the district, al-Maydan (which means “square”) is also the Square of War. Therefore al-Maydan as a symbol stands in this novel for intoxication, marginalization, love, and war.

[2] Shrugi, Shuruki, or Shuruqi: an abusive term for poor Shi’i migrants to Baghdad from southeastern Iraq, although the term has also been used with positive connotations.

Bios

Najem Wali

Najem Wali, who was born in al-Amarah, in southern Iraq, October 20, 1956, currently lives in exile in Berlin, where he works as a freelance writer and cultural correspondent. In 1978, he earned a degree in German literature from Baghdad University. He left Iraq at the end of 1980 after being imprisoned and tortured and after witnessing the start of the First Gulf War, which has influenced his work. He has studied German literature in Hamburg and Spanish and Latin American literature in Madrid. He has devoted many years to travel and to language study, spending six months in Oxford in 1993, six months in Florence in 1996, and three months in Saint Petersburg in 1998. He writes for major German newspapers and for the Arabic paper al-Hayat and is one of the better-known Iraqi and Arab authors internationally.

In 1989, his novel Krieg im Vergnügungsviertel (War in the Entertainment District), was published by Perspol Verlag, Hamburg, in the German translation of the author’s friend Jürgen Paul. The Arabic original, Al-Harb fi Hayy al-Tarab, was first published in Damascus and Budapest in 1993 by Dar Sahra and reissued in 1995. His short story collection Laylat Mary al-Akhirah (Mary’s Last Night) was published in Cairo in 1995. His novel Makan ismuhu Kumait (A Place Called Kumait) was published in Cairo in 1997. A French translation, Une Ville nomée Komeit, was published in 1999, and a Swedish one in 2002. Tall al-Lahm was released in Beirut and London by Dar Al Saqi in 2001. In 2004, Hanser Verlag published the German translation, Die Reise nach Tell al-Lahm. He has also published the short story collections There in the Strange City (Hamburg: Verlag Am Galgenberg, 1990) and Valse ma’a Matilda (Waltzing Matilda, Damascus: Dar Al-Mada, 2001). Surat Yusuf (Yusuf’s Picture) was published in Beirut and Casablanca in 2005, and then in Cairo in 2008. The novel’s German translation was released in hardback by Hanser in 2008 and in paperback by Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag in 2010. His novel, Mala’ika al-Junub (Angels of the South), was published by Dar Kaleem Publishing in Dubai, UAE, in 2009. Journey into the Heart of the Enemy (forthcoming from MacAdam/Cage Publishing, German translation 2009) is a work of nonfiction about his 2007 trip to Israel, and he has translated into Arabic a play by Gabriel García Márquez.

Najem Wali’s stories have appeared in English translation in Harper’s Magazine (February 2008), Banipal, and Words Without Borders. Part of the second chapter of Baghdad…Marlboro: A Novel for Bradley Manning appeared in the April 2013 edition of Words Without Borders. He is currently writing a nonfiction book about Baghdad.

William Hutchins

William Hutchins, who is based in North Carolina, was educated at Berea, Yale, and the University of Chicago. He twice has been awarded the National Endowment for the Arts grant for literary translation, first in 2005-2006 for his translation of The Seven Veils of Seth by the Libyan Tuareg author Ibrahim al-Koni (Garnet Publishing), and again in 2011-2012 for al-Koni's novel New Waw. His translations have appeared in Words Without Borders, Banipal Magazine, and here in InTranslation. His translations of Arabic novels include Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street, and Cairo Modern by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz (Anchor Books), Basrayatha by the Iraqi author Muhammad Khudayyir (Verso), The Last of the Angels (The Free Press), Cell Block 5 (Arabia Books), and The Traveler and the Innkeeper (American University in Cairo Press) by the Iraqi author Fadhil al-Azzawi, Return to Dar al-Basha by the Tunisian author Hassan Nasr (Syracuse), and Anubis (The American University in Cairo Press) and Puppet (Texas), also by Ibrahim al-Koni. His translations released in 2012 have been The Diesel by Thani al-Suwaidi (ANTIBOOKCLUB), Return of the Spirit by Tawfiq al-Hakim (revised edition, Lynne Rienner Publishers), The Grub Hunter by Amir Tag Elsir (Pearson: African Writers Series), and A Land Without Jasmine by Wajdi al-Ahdal (Garnet).

Baghdad...Marlboro: A Novel for Bradley Manning. Copyright (c) Hanser Verlag, 2012. English translation copyright (c) William Hutchins, 2013.