The second installment of Riverbend’s incisive, salty, impassioned observations from war-torn Baghdad.
Baghdad Burning (2005) is a collection of blog postings by a 24-year-old, middle-class Iraqi woman who calls herself Riverbend. This sequel picks up the story in October 2004—before the world knew that Americans would re-elect George Bush. Just before the election, Riverhead prophesies that should Bush return to the White House, life would worsen not only for Iraqis, but also for Americans, whose national image is “tarnished world-wide.” Indeed, much of this is devoted to Riverbend’s fury about the American occupation of Iraq. She bluntly says that although Iraqis felt sympathy when the Twin Towers collapsed, “9/11 is getting old.” The author suggests the war has moved into a different phase—now, instead of being assaulted with smart missiles, Iraqis are besieged by American media, by television and radio reports that are deceptively sanitized. She tartly notes the vagaries and obfuscations of political speech, and she has little patience for the euphemistic lingua franca of war: “What exactly are precision attacks?” she pleads, after Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld invoke the phrase. “How can you be precise in a city like Samarra or in the slums of Sadir City?” Throughout all her political analysis, Riverbend sprinkles reminders of the day-to-day realties of life in Baghdad—the water problems, the lack of electricity, the daily explosions near her home, the endless gasoline queues. Riverbend’s musings will make it impossible for readers to hold on to some cardboard cutout notion of “an Iraqi.” Here is a practicing Muslim woman who disdains suicide bombers but understands how people are driven to such extremes, who can’t stand the fundamentalist leadership of Iran, who simply wants Iraq to be stable, prosperous and peaceful.
Bracing, and sure to be controversial, this is a unique and essential record of our times.