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 textures 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 Kurds.
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 message reads. 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 side. "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 you."