Beheading Videos Replace Porn as Baghdad's Favorite TV
By HAMZA HENDAWI, AP
BAGHDAD, Iraq (Sept. 26) - In an outdoor food market under the fierce midday sun, a crowd of men and boys were watching video footage of a truck bomber seated behind the steering wheel, smiling and murmuring his last words before crashing into U.S. military vehicles on an overpass.
Elsewhere, the TV set in a coffee shop was offering customers the video of foreign hostages being beheaded.
In a city battered and traumatized by 17 months of violence that seems to grow worse by the day, real-life horror has become the viewing fare of choice, supplanting the explosion of pornography that filled the post-Saddam Hussein vacuum.
Baghdad wakes up each day to explosions, gunfire, ambulance sirens and the clatter of low-lying American helicopters. But the ferocity of this month's violence in the heart of the Iraqi capital is unprecedented - fierce gunbattles, car bombings that claim dozens of lives, brazen kidnappings, assassinations and barrages of mortars and rockets.
It threatens to destroy what's left of peoples' hopes for their country, which ran so high when the hated Saddam was toppled.
The horrifying videos on display or sold for as little as 30 cents apiece are all over Baghdad these days.
''Soon after the regime fell, porno discs were all the rage,'' said Attallah Zeidan, a co-owner of a second hand bookshop in Baghdad's Old City. ''Now it's beheadings.''
Before the suicide mission footage, the crowd in the Bab al-Moazam market watched footage of half buried human skeletons and a man using a stick to better display the skulls. The background music was a folk song praising the insurgents fighting the Americans in Fallujah.
''We have seen everything. What else is there?'' Imad Qassim Jaweed, 30, said despairingly as he stood in line outside a passport office in the city center, shielding his head from the sun with a sheaf of application papers.
''Rich Iraqis can leave and live abroad, but most of us want a passport just in case,'' he said.
The Arabic expression ''Khalas maleina!'' or ''enough is enough!'' is heard everywhere.
''We are paying a lot of sacrifices. We are suffering a lot in Iraq,'' Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said Sunday on ABC's ''This Week.'' Still, he gave reporters an upbeat assessment two days later.
''We are winning, defeating terrorists in Iraq. Unfortunately the media have not been covering these significant gains in Iraq,'' he said.
And Iraqis aren't seeing them.
Concrete blast barriers, barbed wire, sandbags, watch towers and thousands of armed guards make Baghdad look like a city under siege.
Kidnapping for ransom is rampant. Last week a father whose 12-year-old son was kidnapped was told by a male caller to pay $13,000. ''This money will be used to buy missiles to attack the Americans. We defend the country while you're asleep,'' the voice said. The father paid and the boy was freed.
Body searches, alien to this conservative and proud people, are now routine even when visiting a hospital patient.
At U.S. military installations, signs in English and Arabic warn that ''use of deadly force is authorized.'' On the east bank of the Tigris River, across from where U.S. diplomats and Iraq's Cabinet ministers work, a ''no swimming'' sign denies Iraqis relief from the heat.
Underscoring the hair-trigger atmosphere are the guns constantly pointed at the public by American soldiers in Humvees or Westerners' bodyguards in SUVs as they navigate through the gridlock. This sense - that foreigners rule them and that death may be a heartbeat away - accentuates the average Baghdadi's sense of helplessness.
Still, the city's spirit isn't completely broken.
Ismail Ibrahim's DVD rental store in Sadr City, a Shiite district that is home to about 2 million people, skips the gory videos in favor of Egyptian romantic comedies and action movies from India and Hollywood.
''We are used to being blown up and killed,'' said Ibrahim, 30. ''There is fighting almost every night here and people rent these movies to help take their minds off the misery around them.''
Shoppers thronged outdoor food markets less than a mile away from where militiamen and U.S. forces clashed Wednesday.
In the commercial al-Rasheed and al-Motanabi streets in the Old City, people seemed oblivious to the heavy gunfire coming from Haifa street across the Tigris. Street soccer is popular in the afternoons and in the commercial Karadah area hundreds of shoppers hunt for bargains from the mountains of electrical appliances imported mostly from China and South Korea.
At Firdos Square, where Saddam's statue was toppled in April last year, a billboard depicts white doves with fluttering wings.
''Now we can take off to a brighter future,'' it says.
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