Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

555 = 666

God went out of his way to screw the United Iraqi Alliance List, whose identifying number on next month’s ballot for the parliamentary elections is '555'.

Imagine if the United States had adopted the same system and the Christian Coalition got saddled with the satanically-tinged number 666: the famous ‘Mark of the Beast’ of Book of Revelations-fame. (BTW, the scientific term that diagnoses the fear of the number 666 is Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia). That is exactly what happened to Seyyid Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim and the current Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jafari, except that ‘555’ carries an even more vulgar stigma.

Iraq—as any other place in the world—has its share of cultural icons. Our Liberace was also a singer-songwriter who went by the name of Sa’adi Al-Hilli, also affectionately known as Abu Khalid. He is the butt of every homosexual-related joke in Iraq. Plus, there is an added twist, Sa’adi had a fondness for young boys, sort of as the honorary head of the Baghdad Chapter of NAMBLA

Iraqis can be mean, very mean. Poor Sa’adi died last spring, and immediately people concocted jokes about God’s chastity coming under threat by the heaven-bound crooner. Sa’adi—as a famous joke with many spin-offs goes—was also very fond of the number ‘5’, which in Arabic, has an oval shape. Oval, implying sphincter-ly. I know, I know: this is kitschy and childish…but utterly devastating if your campaign posters are boasting the number ‘555’.

Abu Khalid, in an oval portrait...


Sa’adi’s representation of homosexuality is so pervasive, that his home town of Hilla now bears the brunt as Iraq’s Sodom and Gomorrah. Oddly, most Hillawis don’t seem to mind. One recent joke has the UIA list polling very well in Hilla.

In the last elections, Sa’adi Al-Hilli was invoked as political humor directed against Prime Minister Ayad Allawi: back in the day, Sa’adi had performed a song in which he serenades a young boy by the nickname of ‘Allawi’, a tender derivative of the name Ali. The joke had PM Allawi banning that song from Iraqi radio.

It would be irresponsible punditry to suggest that the UIA list has been damaged politically because of this number that came out with the luck of the draw. These numbers—starting from 501 and ranging to the mid-700s—were assigned by lottery to the various political coalitions and groupings competing for the December 15 elections. But that is exactly what is going to happen: the UIA list will be damaged by snickering childishness, and the late Sa’adi Al-Hilli.

This issue, coupled with Muqtada Al-Sadr’s refusal to bless the list, and the Fadhila Party—one of the main components—publicly asking to be withdrawn from the coalition, does not bode well. Of course, Sistani is staying clear of this train wreck.

God clearly does not want Iraq to turn into an Islamist theocracy. Thanks God, and don’t drop the soap!

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