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The VICE Guide To Iraq

Iraq is more than just exploding bodies, bloodthirsty zealots, and confused American soldiers. It’s also got spicy meat soups and raisin-juice, verdant rose bushes, and centuries of culture and tradition.

Photo by Kevin Smith

Photo by Reuters


This posh street is located in one of the affluent areas of Baghdad. It used to be frequented by young college students who would hang out at famous restaurants serving different types of food. Rasheed was also teeming with fashion shops, which drew a considerable number of women shoppers. No one goes here anymore. There’s no point.



The name that has literally shaken the streets of Iraq with car bombs and drenched it with innocent blood. He was to blame for terrorizing the whole country, driving a wedge between Iraqi countrymen, and turning the people’s lives into waking nightmares. Though he’s officially dead, the scars he caused are still fresh and painful. A lot of people believe that he isn’t responsible for attacks against civilians and was only attacking the American army. A lot of people believe that his role was overexaggerated by the media and used as a political card by many sides. Just like a lot of other things in Iraq today, nobody knows for sure what the truth is.


Sa’ah is a very famous Iraqi restaurant. A lot of foreigners even know it because it was in the news many times during the war. Saddam was believed to be hiding in a house behind it, so the American army dropped a ton of bombs on it, which turned the house into a big hole in the ground and damaged the crap out of all the surrounding buildings. It was rebuilt later. The restaurant is in the Mansour neighborhood and is still running although many car bombs have exploded near it since the start of the war. Like all Iraqis, this restaurant is a survivor.


In Iraqi it’s pronounced


, (the “ch” sound is common in the Iraqi dialect but has no equivalent in the Arabic alphabet). This tea is so mean it makes black coffee look gay. It’s brewed for hours with a ton of cardamom, it’s dark as death, and it is consumed with piles of sugar. This is the drink of choice for all Iraqis. They drink it all day long at home, at work, and in public. Today if you see an Iraqi in the street who isn’t nursing a cup of shay, he’s probably about to reach for an RPG.



Sayd Club is one of the most famous social clubs in Baghdad. It’s the place where families would get together to spend an evening and have dinner, or children would go during the day to swim or play basketball or tennis. Uday, Saddam’s son, used to go there a lot too, but as long as you stayed away from him and minded your own business, you’d generally be fine.


The 1991 war on Iraq is often referred to by local Iraqis as “the Bush’s Dharba”. After a number of attacks ensued people started tagging on numbers to distinguish them: the First Dharba and the Second Dharba, and so on. There were smaller dharbas in between too, during the 90s. People used to use “the Dharba” as a reference for time, like: “I started working two years after the Dharba.” Now when you say “the Dharba” everyone’s like, “Which one?”


I used to live very close to the airport. Practically the entire war happened around us as we were surrounded by the airport, the national security college, and the presidential warehouses. I can’t possibly count how many thousands of rockets and missiles went over our heads. The airport road, which we used to take every day to go home, was one of the most beautiful in Baghdad. It’s very wide and was decorated with flowers, bushes, and tall palm trees. Since the American army used the airport as a base, they were being targeted daily on that road with roadside bombs, car bombs, and RPG attacks—all of which left the street full of holes. Eventually the American army had to remove and burn all the trees and bushes to make sure nobody was hiding among them to attack them.



Al-Dhilal is a bus company that was once one of the most important means of transportation between Iraq and Jordan. Before the current war, as part of the sanctions, no airplanes were allowed to fly over Iraq. People had to use the desert highway to go to Jordan. It was a 1,000-kilometer trip, and it could take as much as a good 24 hours on the road to make it due to delays at the border. Also, because of the bad security situation, people sometimes prefer to use buses instead of the charter SUVs that started to operate on that road a couple of years before the war. It’s safer to be with 40 people because you’re less likely to be hijacked or attacked on your way out of Iraq.


This is a Shia religious festival that was banned under Saddam Hussein’s reign. Shia get together once a year and put on a blood-soaked parade where men and boys chant and cut and beat themselves with chains as a reminder of their atrocious past. The Sunni/Shia split originated in southern Iraq a few hundred years after the prophet Mohammed died. At the time, the people of Karbala murdered and mutilated the prophet’s grandson Hussein. ’Ashuraa shows that the Shia are still not over it. It’s also practiced in Bahrain, Iran, and Lebanon.


The gay (and only) son of Iraq’s first king, Faisal I, this little prince was crowned at age 21 when his dad kicked the bucket in 1933. He took his hatred of the British (who had pulled the strings throughout his father’s rule) to its natural conclusion by buddying up with the Nazis, and helped support the Arab world’s first military coup d’état—against his own government. Much to the nation’s relief, he died in a suspicious sports car crash only six years into his reign.


Photo by Reuters


Ferida is a girl’s name. For some reason the names of the three brands of Iraqi beer are all girls’ names. Ferida means “unique” in Arabic, and she meets the requirement of a lot of Iraqi men: Available, strong, and cheap.



is a badass traditional Iraqi dish. It’s basically a mountain of rice prepared with a mix of spices that give it a funky taste and brownish color and is usually served with a whole roasted lamb on top. It’s the mother of all indigestion-causing meals. Qoozi is what people make for weddings and other important occasions. When my family used to invite people over and make qoozi, we planned it assuming that each guest would eat a good pound of meat and some two heaping plates of rice.


Al-Sahir is a famous contemporary Iraqi crooner and sex symbol known for his trademark wailing-style singing. Kathum fled Baghdad after getting sick and tired of having to write songs about Saddam. He’s one of the biggest celebrities in the Middle East. He cut a track with Lenny Kravitz in 2003, but it bombed. He loves Baghdad and sings about it all the time.

These boxy US military vehicles have become an inbuilt part of post-invasion Iraqi culture. When a fleet of Hummers passes by any Iraqi street, people tend to keep a distance, lest they are shot at by the jumpy American soldiers inside. The sight of a Hummer in any neighborhood means trouble. If Americans are attacked, all hell breaks loose in the shape of detentions and random gunfire. To Iraqi children in more rundown areas, Hummers means US-made candy bars from less aggressive soldiers. WAW IS FOR WARD JOORI
These bright-colored Iraqi roses look as nice as they smell. Iraqis are fond of gardening and ward joori really brighten the landscape. In springtime, schoolgirls like to pick red, pink, and white flowers to give to their teachers as a token of respect. YAA’ IS FOR YEZIDIS
The Yezidis are an ancient Iraqi devil-worshipping sect. Originally from northern Iraq, they bow down to Melek Ta’us (the Peacock Angel) whom they also call Shaytan (Satan). Melek Ta’us is basically Lucifer except the Yezidi side of the story of creation says that God gave Lucifer props and a camp peacock outfit for defying his orders. MINO JIBILLA