عجفت الغور

iraq letter Doing Fieldwork in Iraq


  • Topics to hit
    • Friends (expats in Iraq are the most interesting and most boring, generally down on the NGO industry, homo sacer the country)

      • academics are the best, met brilliant people who spend a lot of time, but also people who spend too much time, and its at the risk of harming yourself
    • Karbala, it’s great, it’s also intensely frustrating, the food is really bad

      • pizza, kentucky, kebab, gas, shawrma, falafel, etc

      • anecdotes about karbala

        Latest notes

        • Shia radoods switch between three, young and old
        • Practitioners embrace as much as they beat
        • different tempos -> refer to previous research on tempos
        • Highly public as well, numerous cameras
        • Happened right next to a funeral!
        • Quickly dispersed, practioners embraced and discussed afterwards

        Sunday 10th

        • Eid night (Shia day)

        • Shrine is decorated with more multicolored things

        • Lots more prayers, filled with people

        • About an hour before maghribiin

        • Many tourists, who can easily be identified by what they wear or the lanyards they have displaying their nationality

        • Restaurants have flags of Shia nationality countries

        • Pakistan seems to play an important role? Manager of the Baron is paki

        • Children, lots more children than before

        • Everyone is trying to find a spot to pray or to just read Quran

        • feeling somewhat self conscious on whether I should pray in an hour or not

        • Some children came and sat in front of me (6:30)

        • children roll the turbah as a toy

        • gradual filling of the shrine before evening prayers

          Days for visits

        Hamis - Hussein Sabt - Abbas Ahad - ali Ziyarat al-mahsomin al-Quan

        زيارة ايام المعصومين

        Ibari (compulsory) - in Iraqi tajniid alzami تجنيد الزامي

        Thirtha Iraqi - buhaira fusha

        Carbon - car-bar-on in Iraqi

        Mamnoun - thank you Mawjod - I have/andi M3loum - aywa

        Abbas notes

        • 21-3-2022

        • Lots of people praying, standing, and wiping their stuff onto the Abbas cage

        • Seems like standing in the middle in reflection while rubbing prayer beads is allowed

        • What function do the prayer beads serve for Shias?

        • Saw two shrine staff tell dudes with women (a mother once and a sister another) to move to a different section of the shrine (presumably the women’s area)

        • People are sleeping in the shrine, they are passed out and sleeping

        • Many children run around

        • Definitely smells of moving air and feet

        • Sitting next to a sheikh (?) who said something to me but I didn’t respond, and it looks like he’s looking at some videos on his phone

        • Seeing many old women be wheeled around me

          Majilis al-3za, March 24th

        • Little kids playing around

        • started at 1, currently 1:17, nobody is crying or anything

        • Seems to be quite back and forth

        • Are there women’s majilis? Or do women see it as a separate thing or streaming?

        • How long are the majilis usually?

        • Usual crowd, clustered around the front, scattered in the back

        • Elicits specific phrases or prayers at times during refrains or something else

        • Very short, only 30 min, everyone goes to speak with the sheikh afterwards

        • Looks like they leave the stage up afterwards?

        • During ashura the majilis was a lot more intense, this one seems to be just very quick and very simple

        • Sidebar: some youth are reading Quran together, with one receiving and leading the way

    • certain amount of foxhole bonding

    • Water, iraqis feel like their water is being stolen, but there’s also horrific mismanagement of the water

    • Erbil is a place for bad imperialists

    • Baghdad is a place where magic happens, but it’s also crazy and sometimes dangerous and frustrating

    • Euphrates, much better than the tigris

      • ecology is the last to go
      • sandstorms frequently, it’s not great
      • shifting to ecology, last few years climate has become very hip
        • kurdistan ecology is booming, lots of hiking trails and is an outdoor destination now
    • ultimately the voice of iraqis is still drowned out by other choices

    • intense contrusction offset by corruption

    • iraq is the ultimate libertarian state

    • what next?

      • spanish? ciudad de este? Escrava anastacia?

Draft - “Doing Fieldwork In Iraq”

I spent the last few years doing fieldwork in Iraq, with stints in 2021, and living there for significant amounts of time starting 2022, and left earlier this year.

In front of the main gateway of the Shrine of Imam Hussein. August, 2022.


  • hiking photo
  • ngo thoughts
  • journalism thoughts

Down south, more interesting things are happening.

  • baghdad jadriya photo?

This has fosetered a mini-industry catered towards foriegn tourists, especially youtubers. Iraqis in the south largely understand the concept of a Youtuber, and are eager to show for the camera as well. However, as my friend Emily put it, the Youtubers make the dangerous places seem safe and the safe places seem dangerous. Since their content is targeted at an audience which is largely ignorant of Iraq, these Youtubers end up traffiking in stereotypes about Iraq, flattening its danger curve. This runs the risk of a future Youtuber getting himself into trouble by doing something silly in the future.

Outside of Baghdad, I rarely encountered other foriegners. During my time in Karbala, I was the only foriegner that I saw and was aware of doing active work in the city. There was another academic in Najaf, although we never managed to link up. The bulk of the foreigners in the south are either NGO workers or journalists.


  • sayyid sadiq photo
  • undervalued in iraqi studies

Modern middle east studies often devalues the roles of tribes, usually consigning them to one big bloc of “Bedouin” or some other general catchall. Iraq is interesting because it continues to maintain a huge tribal influence, even in the cities. Tribal lines intersect with sectarian lines, and many

  • largely over estimate the value of baghdadis, ignoring iraqis who live outside

  • even in baghdad there’s lots of shifts

  • 2019 karbala honor pact?

Ecological Shifts

  • cross photo to the north
  • lack of maintenence for water supplies
  • sandstorms
  • very trendy to report on climate
    • even though it’s been a persistent problem


  • babylon photo?
  • graves
  • hashd
  • futility of speaking to “iraqi culture” as a whole without being orientalist
  • iraq pushes you to extremes
    • stuff just breaks out when you’re there
    • days that feel like years and years that feel like days

Stalking Religion Through Its Shadows

  • New places
  • learning spanish
  • lessons in catholicism/orthodox christianity?
  • furhter lessons in self fashioning, like escrava anastancia?
    • open questions on possession and automatic religion
  • My personal feelings about bullshit jobs
  • Friends in Iraq, will definitely return, the place has a unique hold on me