BAGHDAD - Across the street from the tidy rows of tombstones in the British cemetery, mute testimony to the soldiers of an earlier occupation, Mustafa Muwaffaq bears witness to the quieter side of the United States' six-year-old presence in Iraq.
In wraparound sunglasses, shorts and shoes without socks, the burly 20-year-old student waxes eloquent about his love for heavy metal of all kinds: death, thrash, black. But none of it compares, he says, to the honky-tonk of Alan Jackson, whose tunes he strums on his acoustic guitar at night, pining for a life as far away as a passport will take him.
"You know, I wanna go to Texas and be a country boy," he said, standing in the sweltering shade of Baghdad's Academy of Fine Arts. "I wanna be a cowboy, and I wanna sing like one."
All occupations eventually end. When this one does, history's narratives will be shaped by the cacophony it wrought - the carnage unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion that threatened Iraq's notion of itself as a country and that will haunt generations to come.
But the whispers may linger just as long: the far quieter way in which two cultures that often found it difficult to share the same space intersected to reshape Iraq's language, culture and sensibility. From tattoos of Metallica to bellybutton piercings to stories parents tell their naughty children in Fallujah of the Americans coming to get them, the occupation has already left its mark.
There is the bellicose language of the checkpoint: "Go" and "Stop" (often rendered as "stob" in a language with no "p"), along with a string of American expletives that Iraqi children imitate with zeal. In parks along the Tigris River, they play "tafteesh," Arabic for inspection. Iraqi troops, sometimes indistinguishable from their U.S. counterparts, don the sunglasses considered effeminate in the time of Saddam Hussein.
"It's inevitable that they're going to leave a trace on us after they depart," said Yahya Hussein, a soccer coach in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood, where his family history stretches back 11 generations. As Hussein strolled the neighborhood's main thoroughfare, he spoke with the authority of experience.
"All this," he said, pointing at a kiosk, "came after the occupation."
Rickety stands overflowed with goods. Toy guns emblazoned with the moniker "Super Police" sat next to imitation handcuffs and walkie-talkies. A doll with fatigues and dog tags carried an M-16 rifle; with a squeeze of its hand, Queen's "We Will Rock You" belted out to a street speaking Arabic.
"These are the times," Hussein said.
Bootleg copies of "Star Trek," "Valkyrie" and "Marley & Me" were on sale, along with CDs by Eminem, 50 Cent and Massari. On a wall was an ad for a concert by Rap Boys, the "first and biggest rap party in Baghdad."
Youths asked a barber for the latest haircut, which they call "spiky"; one barber insisted that the name came from a soldier's nickname for his military dog. The soldier's version of a crew cut is called "Yankee" (or, sometimes, "bankee").
Businesses hawked camouflage-patterned men's underwear. "Harley," a kind of biker boot, went for $125. "Texas," the cowboy version, cost $100.
For each item, Hussein had a simple phrase: "after the suqut," the fall of Saddam Hussein.
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Iraq remains a proud country, its people bridling at what they see as the condescension inherent in the United States' modern-day equivalent of a civilizing mission. History, thousands of years of it, forms the refrain of any conversation: Mesopotamia gave birth to civilization, and at its medieval zenith, as Europe slumbered, Baghdad was a city of racetracks, law schools, museums, libraries, hospitals, zoos and insane asylums.
The country's past shamed its present, and in the wake of Hussein's 2003 fall, many Iraqis, however suspicious, were willing to give the Americans the benefit of the doubt. Now, many blame them for everything from sectarian strife to Baghdad's disrepair. The only kind of American most Iraqis have met is a young, gun-toting soldier, and a look of scornful incomprehension often greets a question about the Americans' cultural legacy.
"What are they leaving behind?" asked Mohammed Chayan, 45, a painter sitting with friends at the Madarat Cafe and Gallery. "There's never really been interaction with society. ... When they came to visit, it wasn't artists who showed up. It was soldiers coming down from their tanks."
"They were isolated," admitted Mohammed Rasim Kasim, a filmmaker and photographer. But "I have to disagree with my colleague."
Kasim, a bearish, cheerful man, said that before 2003 he had traveled only to neighboring Jordan. Since then, he has visited the United States, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Germany and Austria. One image lingers: recognizing a car in Berlin as a U.S. military vehicle not because it was in an armored convoy snarling traffic, but because of the tiny inscription on its license plate: "U.S. Army."
"It was written so small," he said, still amazed.
"I'm not defending their presence, but that's not all it was. We have to be honest," Kasim said. "We paid a very high price, but it was the price of freedom."
"We haven't seen a bright side," Chayan disagreed. "Well, there's no bright side to colonization ... but the Americans could have left something positive behind. What makes me sad, wherever I go, whenever I go, I just see remains of destruction."
A friend of Chayan's stopped by briefly. The two men traded words of endearment in a staccato burst of familiar Arabic, then Chayan bade him goodbye: "With peace." His friend's response was distinctly Iraqi, a word borrowed decades ago from English and now used as a greeting, as a farewell, as thanks or as welcome.
"Hello, hello," he said.
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The British entered Baghdad in 1917 to end Ottoman rule, with the same pledge the Americans would make. "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators," proclaimed Maj. Gen. Sir Stanley Maude. Like the Americans, the British faced a revolt, in 1920, led by a segment of the population that had grown resentful at the heavy-handedness of a foreign army.
British rule lasted until 1932; its waning influence ended with the 1958 fall of the Hashemite monarchy. By then, everything from post offices and nightclubs to the railway stations and double-decker red buses that ran in the capital until the last days of Saddam's rule bore a British stamp. So did the military, the judiciary, the health system and the ministries.
"The British created the system. We inherited it from them," said Adnan Pachachi, 85, a former diplomat who entered Iraq's foreign service in the last years of the monarchy. "Iraqis then added to it."
Words borrowed from the British still litter Iraqi Arabic: glass, bottle, bicycle, rail, battery, ice cream, counter, blanket, jerrycan, gear, dashboard (dishbool), table (tabla) and lousy (malyous). Some argue that the word for tea glass, istikaan, comes from the phrase "ice tea can." (Others insist the word is derived from Persian.)
And, of course, "hello."
Iraqis nicknamed their British occupiers Abu Naji. There remains no equivalent for the Americans, but a slew of words describe those who imitate them. The older term for someone becoming more American than Americans was mitamrik, or Americanized. More conservative types here call such people khanazeer or quruud, "pigs" or "monkeys." One student at the Academy of Fine Arts coined another name: "Am-raqis."
The students agreed there has been an infitah, or opening - the word often used for the plethora of influences that followed the occupation, imported through the Internet and satellite television, each banned to varying degrees under Saddam. But many echoed the question heard at the Madarat Gallery: What has freedom brought?
Sculptor Shahid Shaker, 21, said: "Yes, the occupation brought freedom. But it destroyed culture, too. We're being educated in a culture of violence.
"Sometimes," she added, "there is too much freedom."
Imported pornography is sold openly in Baghdad's Bab al-Sharji market. Popping pills is something of a fad. On campus, dating has grown more permissive. The reality TV show "American Idol" has its fans. Citing songs by 50 Cent and Metallica conveys a certain hipness. So do tattoos; Shaker says 40 percent of students have one, a remarkable figure given that they were once a mark of prison time.
Mark Apram, Baghdad's most popular tattoo artist, charges $50 for his work. A wall in his cramped apartment bears the words "Havee Matel Mark" over his painting of a devil with pitchfork. ("Did I spell it right?" he asked.)
"Anything American, I love it," said Apram, 29, who is inspired by the Internet and by designs he saw on U.S. soldiers' arms. As he sees it, his success is a legacy of the presence of tens of thousands of American troops in his country.
"They're the origin of all of it," he said. "They're teaching us how to act."
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The military aesthetic may prove to be this occupation's most lasting cultural artifact. "Hummer" has entered Iraqi dialect as the word for the Humvee armored jeeps. "Buffalo" is the word for MRAPs, the hulking Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Other words and phrases have been picked up from soldiers at checkpoints or conducting house raids or foot patrols: "Relax," "Please," "Sorry," "No problem," "Oh, my God," "Give me five." Almost any youth can hurl a string of American expletives whose Arabic equivalent would earn them a slap.
The war has inspired new Arabic words as well. Arabic rendered literally from English at checkpoints - "Prepared to capture criminals" or "Prepared to help" - reads like the Arabic subtitles of an American movie.
Iraqi soldiers are now sometimes indistinguishable from their American counterparts, with desert camouflage and sunglasses. The black leather boots of Saddam's era have given way to a khaki suede variety. Holsters have gone from the hip to the thigh. No one was seen with a flak jacket before the invasion. Nor did anyone roll up their sleeves or tuck their pants into their boots.
Even the posture is American: rifle carried high, finger on the trigger.
"They look like peacocks," declared Abu Ali Rubai, 60, uniform vendor. "They wear this and that," he said, pointing at a holster nicknamed Rambo, combat boots called Swat, and plastic handcuffs. "They're like a child playing with toys."
He ruffled through bags of the gold-colored insignia of the old army's medical corps, tanks, special forces and artillery. He pointed out the colors of the berets that no one buys anymore - blue for air force, beige for infantry, red for military police. The new badges are mostly in English and Arabic. "Iraq Army" was printed in English. So was SWAT.
Rubai cast a longing eye at his favorite uniform, worn by Abdel-Karim Qassem, the officer who overthrew the monarchy in 1958, in a portrait hanging behind his desk. It was a woolen, British-style uniform with a hat known as the sidara, or faisaliyya. Four blue versions of the hat still hung from nails in the wall, gathering dust.
"The old ones were more distinguished," Rubai said.