Beep, beep, beep. Then the text comes: " President Bush calls for a
timetable for the withdrawal of the Iraqi people from Iraq."
It's not a news update. It's Omar Abdul Kareem's relentlessly beeping
cell phone - and one of the 20 or so humorous text messages he gets every
day from his friends.
In a city bereft of
entertainment, text messaging and swapping ringtones are all the rage for young Iraqis trying to
lighten their lives. Most restaurants, cafes and movies have closed due to
the country's security situation.
The content of the text messages and ringtones speak volumes about the state of affairs
here: jokes and songs about suicide bombings, sectarianism, power outages,
gas prices, Saddam Hussein and George Bush.
Cell phone shops, the only crowded stores these days, sell special CDs
with ringtones at about $2 apiece. Collections of short jokes especially
written for texters are best-sellers.
Iraqis fiddling with their
cell phones on the streets look like New Yorkers hooked on iPods.
"It's not like there's much to do around here," Abdul Kareem said.
"It's perhaps the only venue to express ourselves."
He used to buy $60 worth of prepaid phone cards a month to text to his
girlfriend - until they broke up.
After sending her a lot of "I miss you" texts, he's moved on. Now he
sends his aunt dozens of jokes, most of them at the expense of ethnic
The daily reality of violence and explosions has influenced every
aspect of Iraqi life - including love notes. "I send you the tanks of my
love, bullets of my admiration and a rocket of my yearning," one popular
A popular ringtone features the music from Coolio's "Gangsta's
Paradise." But the local version includes a voice similar to Saddam's
rapping in English: "I'm Saddam, I don't have a bomb/Bush wants to kick
me/I don't know why/smoking weed and getting high/I know the devil's by my
The song concludes with: "My days are over and I'm gonna die/all I need
is chili fries" as a crowd yells "Goodbye forever, may God curse