Emirates Lit Fest 2017: Poets, writers celebrate Iraq’s book street Al Mutanabbi
By Tahira Yaqoob
Mohammad Al Khashali counts off each of his sons, one by one. There was Kadhem, found under the rubble of the printing house, no more than “a piece of meat”. Mohammed, who had taken a hit to the stomach and lost his left foot. His youngest, Bilal, whose head he had to search for among the ruins after finding a decapitated body. And his eldest, Ghanim, his body curled around his own dismembered son’s corpse, right where they had been carrying out repairs on the printing press.
“I took the bodies home. Their mother wanted me to remove their shrouds so she could see them. I did not want her to see them like that, pieces of meat, but she insisted. She wailed and fell to the floor.”
The car bomb attack outside Al Khashali’s Shabandar Cafe in Al Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad was seen not just as an assault on Iraqi civilians but as an offensive against the very heart of culture, learning and civilisation itself.
For almost a century, the cafe had served as a magnet for Iraqi poets, playwrights, philosophers, dissenters and politicians who would sit on wooden benches and discuss the ebb and flow of life, love and politics for hours, over cups of sweetened tea.
Al Mutanabbi Street – a narrow, winding alleyway leading to the Tigris River, and the cultural heartbeat of Baghdad – became a target.
Its many booksellers and street book vendors began to fear for their lives after Qais Anni, a stationer who sold Easter cards, was killed in a bomb blast in 2005, followed two years later by the attack on the Shabandar. Read more
Source: The National