Editorâ€™s Note: A die-hard Iraqi fisherman has gone back to indulging in his favorite pastime, ignoring the possibility of reeling in a corpse or a contaminated fish in the Tigris River, writes NAM contributor Shane Bauer from Baghdad.
Fisherman on the Tigris
BAGHDAD — His eyes only leave the end of his line to tell stories about the fish heâ€™s caught in the Tigris over the last year. â€œOne time, I was here from the early morning until nine at night,â€ the fisherman says, his friend silently listening. â€œI put the last piece of bait on the hook before going home. The line tugged. I reeled in a little. It tugged some more. Then I got up and fought the fish all the way to the shore. It was huge,â€ he says, showing me with his handsâ€”about 12 inches around and three feet long.
He comes to this bank, at Baghdadâ€™s Zawra Park, when heâ€™s not working as a low-level employee at the Ministry of the Interior. â€œIt passes the time,â€ he says, picking through his plastic bag of bait. A year ago, he couldnâ€™t do it, he says. The park was closed during the worst part of the war, but no one would fish in the river anyway, he tells me. There were too many floating bodies.
By Iraqi standards, this fisherman is still somewhat of an adventurer.
Many people still wonâ€™t eat what comes out of the riverâ€”he and another man argue over whether all the bodies have actually been removedâ€”but he says itâ€™s fine. Even less worrisome for him is the pipe of sewage, pouring into the water next to him.
â€œIt all runs downstream,â€ he says, shrugging. So does two-thirds of the capitalâ€™s raw sewage, to be piped back from the river into the cityâ€™s drinking water. Purification plants filter much of it as it comes out, but they can only do so much. Two summers ago, a cholera outbreak spread across Baghdad. More than half of all Iraqis still donâ€™t have access to clean drinking water.
Along the riverbank, couples and families walk up and down the 250-acre Zawra Park. Here, people can forget briefly about their militarized lives. Teenage boys play soccer in a dirt field. A father pushes his children on an aging swing. Scattered families spread out on blankets and the patchy grass. Men drink Pepsis in one of the rundown pavilions.
To get inside, visitors have to wind through a maze of concrete blast walls, painted with Roman-style murals. Iraqi security contractors search their cars for explosives.
Across the river, the Green Zone sprawls as far as the eye can see. Prime Minister Nouri Al-Malikiâ€™s home is on the opposite bank, behind walls, razor wire, and soldiers, not far from where Saddam used to live. Barely downstream, the largest U.S. embassy in the worldâ€”roughly the size of 80 football fieldsâ€”enjoys constant electricity and its own water treatment plant. The fisherman Iâ€™m chatting with gets no more than seven hours of electricity a day.
I ask him what he thinks when he looks across the river at the Green Zone. â€œI have nothing to do with them. As far as Iâ€™m concerned, those people are nothing.â€ He tugs the line. â€œI hear they do like fishing though.â€ He tilts his rod. â€œUSA STIK,â€ it reads, an American flag waving next to it. â€œSeahawk. Quality Fishing Tackle.â€