I'd like to think of this little book as a blues compilation. It dwells on sorrow and distress—with occasional epiphanies; its protagonists are real flesh-and-bones, struggling, suffering Iraqis; hope for them is just a tiny, distant glimmer in the (dusty) horizon. Unlike sweeping treatises on the war in Iraq, or think tank rhetorical opuses, it's much more intimate—a snapshot of life under George W. Bush's “surge,” reflecting my totally unembedded visit to masque-of-the-red-death Baghdad, i.e. the red zone for Asia Times in the spring of 2007.The book begins in Escobar's home country of Brazil. He discusses the similarities of Rio and today's Baghdad. I can appreciate that since a few years ago my company was going to send me to São Paulo for six months. I was sent to an orientation program which was mostly about how not to get killed.
Escobar starts his trip in Damascus, Syria the home of thousands of Iraqi refugees.
This is a biblical exodus—the YouTube version. Welcome to Little Fallujah—previously Geramana, southeast Damascus. The Nahda area of Geramana now boasts at least 200,000 resident Iraqis. They visibly came with all their savings—and made good use of it. The congested main drag of al-Nahda is an intoxicating apotheosis of anarchic capitalism, business piled upon business—Hawaii fruits, Galilia underwear, Call Me mobile, Snack Bambino, Discovery software school, Eva sunglasses, boutique Tout le Mond, all Iraqi owned.Yes, many of the people who should be building Iraq are no longer there-driven out by ethnic cleansing and violence.
From Damascus it's off to Iraq. Judging from what Escobar reports it's no surprise that 70% of the Iraqis think it's OK to attack Americans.
The air is heavy, dusty and the sun usually does not shine through the thick haze—a Hollywood-like special effect. The Baghdad gulag has the feel of an eerie version of a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles—dusty and dead instead of glitzy palm trees, living-dead characters covered by a thick layer of sand and soot. The urban tissue is of a dissected cadaver—filthy exposed parts separated from one another, fear and loathing impressed on blood, sweat, tears and viscera.The US media gives us hints of how bad things are in Iraq but Escobar did what US journalist can't or won't do-talk to the real Iraqis. He may have an agenda but the book is still worth a read.
That is the real face of Bush's surgeland.
You can only get it at Amazon:
Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge