Friday, January 02, 2004

One Iraqi observer’s theory about Lt. Gen. Ahmed Kadhim Ibrahim, the head of the Iraqi police, is that he’s definitely interested in running for office.

Ibrahim showed us photos of himself fighting fires, holding up a large hose to embolden the supposedly more reticient cops and firefighters around him. His style is a lot like Saddam’s.

He’s Sunni, very tall, and carries himself regally. He surrounds himself with bodyguards and has been consolidating his support among tribal sheikhs. A lot like Saddam.

He has a perfect black mustache, darker than the rest of his hair. He’s a former police lieutenant who took care of Uday’s horses until, the story goes, he allegedly stole two of them. Uday threatened to kill him and he fled Iraq. Now he’s back and some people think he’s a hero.

His office looks like a stage, with blue velvet curtains behind his desk, trimmed with gold fringe. There are plastic flowers and a large flag on either side.

More and more people these days say they want a strong leader, someone with an iron grip who can control the lawlessness here. Ibrahim thinks capital punishment is needed.

At an awards luncheon at the Hamra hotel earlier this month, he was asked whether he would fight to bring back the death penalty for convicted criminals.

“We hope that the death penalty will return but the Americans reject it for now,” he said. “Let me give you an example. A month ago, we got information about a gang of kidnappers in the al-Sadoun area. They kept women and children in a small room on the roof of a safe house and tortured them. They pulled the nails of the women and they hit them with an iron stick. When we went there, a fight occurred between us and some of them were killed. Two of them were captured. I hit one of them, resulting in a wound on his face.”

“Later on, in the Police Department, one of the Americans saw the man I hit and asked me ‘Why did you do that?’ I said ‘Look at what he did to these women and children.’ He said ‘Yes I know, but now he’s arrested, so that’s a violation of human rights.’ So, we are thinking in different ways. Maybe the death penalty will return in the future.”

Coming to Baghdad Today?

You can get almost everything you need here now but good gift ideas that Iraqis appreciate include: Digital cameras. Terrycloth bathrobes. Books and CDs. The latest magazines. Fragrance. Imported brand name cigarettes, which are stronger than the ones they buy here.

It’s cold: you need layers, sweaters, long underwear, boots, hat and gloves. If you want any clothes at home copied, say a pair of trekking pants with special pockets, this is a good place to do it.

Everyone brings medicine for diarrhea but they forget standard cold remedies, aspirin and vitamins. Pharmacies here are great but they don’t stock the brands you’re used to.

There is good, strong Arabic and Turkish coffee here in addition to the ubiquitous Nescafe, but coffee aficionados might want to bring their own ground beans. Beef jerky. Swiss chocolate. Gourmet cookies.

AC/DC converters or adaptors. Rechargeable AA batteries and a battery charger. A CD burner in your laptop. You can never have enough digital music.

An open attitude and a lot of patience.

And, as the bombings continue, a healthy respect for not just security precautions but your own sense of risk.