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Long Day, Interesting People… - 11.06.2005

It feels like everyday is a long one in Iraq, perhaps because we are each waiting for the act of war that is our last. The situation in Western Iraq is getting much worse again, even in Ramadi. Ramadi, though considered Western Iraq, is a bit West of Baghdad. Like Fallujah, it is more in the center of the country than anything else.

Today I spoke with a man whose friend visited him today from Ramadi. His friend was neighbors with one of the families killed in a recent attack by the Coalition forces. When they attacked the area, a civilian neighborhood, they killed a reported 30 civilians in two homes.

Furthermore, Saadoun Al’Dulaimi the Defense minister, announced Thursday that the Iraqi forces are planning to launch a new attack on the West of Iraq. The minister added that the Iraqi forces will “demolish the homes of people sheltering terrorists and kill all owners of the houses inside them including women and children.” This is the same minister who recently invited all officers from the old Iraqi army under Saddam, rank major and below, to re-enlist. Omar and I have been speaking with several of our contacts for some insight into a segment of Iraqi opinion on this recent development. An article about this will hopefully be posted by Tuesday morning, if not tomorrow.

I interviewed Isham Rashid this afternoon, an Iraqi journalist who has worked with a number of independent journalists, such as Dahr Jamail. He spoke with us about the ongoing difficulties of being a journalist in Iraq, particularly those issues facing Iraqi journalists. He himself has been detained on a number of occasions, and you can expect more about his story (in video format) posted tomorrow.

Adnan Al Dulaimi

This evening we traveled to Western Baghdad, where we interviewed Adnan Dulaimi, the Secretary General of the General Arab Conference of Iraq, and a very important and outspokenn member of the Sunni opposition in Iraq. He spoke with us about the future of Iraq, the Constitution, and many other important issues facing Iraqis today. It may be sometime until we can translate his interview, because of his prolific use of complex terms and references to obscure political organizations.

To round out our evening Omar and I traveled to Ghazaliyah district in Baghdad, near the Abu Ghraib neighborhood. There have been continued reports of journalists having difficulties in traveling around this part of Baghdad to produce journalistic work. Despite these claims, we traveled through this neighborhood, which the locals sometimes call “Fallujah 2″, with relatively few events of note and passing many checkpoints due to the late hour of the day. I was never asked for identification and was only once asked if I was a journalist. Our vehicle loosely examined twice at checkpoints, but most of the Iraqi Police and National Guard troops we met were courteous. One officer even made the effort to joke with Omar and let us pass after examining only Omar’s ID. Omar is a registered pilot in Iraq, and he says this is almost like being a lieutenant. Although this may seem strange, the treatment he has received upon showing the license seems to bear the claim out.

While we were in Ghazaliyah we interviewed an Iraqi Professor, Huda Naimi who spoke about her work with the Women’s Will and about the situation for women in Iraq - specifically those under detention by the interim Government and Coalition forces.

Look forward to more interesting video and interviews in the days to come!




Despite War, Life in Baghdad Continues - 11.05.2005

I have received a many questions and communications from readers regarding the situation in Baghdad and how Iraqis are able to go about their everyday lives, despite the ongoing conflict here. I was sitting in my flat this afternoon, logging an interview with Sami Rasouli of Muslim Peacemaker Team (connected to Christian Peacemaker Team) when a fierce gunbattle began nearby.

I went out on my terrace, looking for examples daily life here. Behind our building there is a combination car-park and mechanics garage. Behind the flat, off towards the Tigris River and the Green Zone gunfire could be heard. But just behind us, on the ground level, Iraqi mechanics were hard at work, going about their regular workday.

Even farther from the source of the gunfire, on just the other side of our flat, traffic was moving normally on the street. The police stationed at the intersection nearby weren’t particularly excited. The general traffic to the barbershops and markets nearby appeared to be bustling as usual.

One of the elements about life in Baghdad that I’ve found difficult to describe to those not living here is the apparent routine acceptance Iraqis appear to have cultivated about war. Today’s experience has not been an isolated one. For example, just after the major attack on the Palestine Hotel, mere blocks from here and likely far closer than the current gunbattle, Iraqis were back on the streets and it was business as usual just a few short hours later.

This cultivated routine shouldn’t just be attributed to the latest war. Iraqis have been in a relative state of war since the early 80s, except for brief lulls between the Iran-Iraq war and the quieter periods during the Sanctions. Perhaps the best thing Americans and other Westerners can be doing is to educate themselves about the history of war in Iraq. Rather than amazing oneself with the “resilience of Iraqis against all odds,” try to understand what life in war might be like, and perhaps these questions will disappear.




New Transcripts Posted on Blip -

Ok folks, we are going to try something new. From now on transcripts will no longer be posted to the front page of the site. Their extensive length makes the reading quite difficult for new visitors searching the archives and front page. From now on the transcripts will be posted to aliveinbaghdad.blip.tv

For the time being the transcripts will be posted to aliveinbaghdad.blip.tv, until we can get the Video page functioning again, of course all the videos are available at blip.tv as well.

Here are the three latest transcripts:

Hussein Raed Rudha, a taxi driver in Baghdad: http://blip.tv/journal/59

Jamal Abdullah Al Hurami, a professor at the Agriculture College in Baghdad: http://blip.tv/journal/60

Private Security Defense Officer, wished to remain anonymous: http://blip.tv/journal/61

I hope to post at least short segments of each of these interviews soon. The interview with the PSD was conducted by Merky and shot by his brother Lurky, who have both been supporting me as translators/fixers during my time in Baghdad. Each interview was translated by Lurky.




It Seems Like You’re Just Waiting for Your Time… - 11.04.2005

“It seems like you’re just waiting for your time here,” Omar said these words to me just a few moments ago.

We learned tonight that a good friend of his died today, from a gunshot wound to the neck. He was killed by stray gunfire in the Mansour district. This is all the news we have at this point.

His friend, Assam, was a shopkeeper, 26 and apolitical according to Omar. He never made trouble with anyone and simply took care of his shop and his aging mother. This is Omar’s second friend to be killed in the last month.

Earlier this evening we heard a screeching car and a loud crash, and jumped up from our nightly indulgence of old copies of Red Dwarf played back on my powerbook. Omar and I went to the gate and he ventured outside, to determine what had happened.

A few minutes later, I had the camera gear ready and he returned. “Just a car accident, the wheel popped off and slammed into the car. And the two guys in the car were drunk.”

No one was killed and we were relaxing watching a second episode when the phone call came. All we know is that he was killed by stray gunfire. This is a familiar story though, as exemplified in the fact that Omar already knew another friend killed this month. We plan on writing a full update tomorrow about his friend and the conditions surrounding his death.

The senseless death in Baghdad everyday adds just another layer to the complex relationship and attitude Iraqis have towards the resistance against the Occupation. Westerners and anyone who’s analysis consists of “the Resistance is legitimate and we should support anyone fighting the Occupation,” would do well to consider this simple story as yet another reason that many Iraqis, though they support the Resistance, still find the violence tiring and hope for a peaceful resolution to the conflict soon.

(Editor ’s Addendum: If anyone wishes to write to send their condolences to Omar or Assam’s mother can email me at aliveinbaghdad at gmail.com and I will pass on the message. If I am permitted to post any other contact info, you can be assured it will be included in tomorrow’s update.)




Eid and All Seems Well -

[Editor’s Note: Due to the increased instability of electricity during Eid, this post was written yesterday on the actual first day of Eid, but is only being posted now. In fact we are in the dark as I post this right now.]

There is something so different about Baghdad today. I first noticed it when I opened the door to the terrace. There were birds nearby, singing. Birds, singing songs in Baghdad! This was the first time I heard such a nostalgic sound.

This quickly disappeared from my mind as I engrossed myself in work. There was still gunfire every so often, but the noise from the street was different. There were no shouts accompanying the gunfire, and no screeching tires or horns. These are the sounds I’ve become accustomed to in my time here.

After Omar awoke, and we had both showered, we left the flat. Upon stepping outside our gate it was immediately clear that something was different. It wasn’t just the brilliant blue skies or the incredibly pleasant nature of the weather. In fact, it was palpable in the air we breathed.

There was a distinct absence of traffic, and everyone on the street had a carefree air. There was a brilliant azure sheen to the sky and the fluffy clouds always found on the most pleasant days of spring back home. I mentioned the atmosphere to Omar and asked him whether he expected the serenity to last. “Well you know man, even the Resistance wants people to be happy today, because its Eid.”

But it didn’t last. Once we had crossed the river the traffic jams began again. As we got nearer to the GZ the presence of Iraqi Police and INGs reasserted itself. Crowds of people, somewhat nervous, and though happy, still rushing about from place to place.

The presence of security forces along the road leading to the Green Zone was heavy, perhaps no more than usual, but after the blissful nonchalance of Karrada even this everyday nuisance felt more troublesome than usual.

By the time we reached Omar’s home, where we had been invited for the first meal of Eid, our relatively cheerful demeanor had all but vanished. We had a nice meal with the Mughasib family and after a short visit we headed back to the flat.

We were expecting to meet Amer, our contact at the Baladiyat refugee camp, only to have him cancel on us once more. We will continue to attempt an interview with Amer, but it seems unlikely after so many cancellations.

Omar and I spent the night in Baladiyat a few days ago, we took some photos and will post a short report about the situation in Baladiyat soon.




Ok, So Just What IS a Fixer? - 11.03.2005

[Editor’s note: Many readers keep asking me to explain just what a fixer is, so here is a short piece about the role of fixers in Iraq. Also, Eid, the Muslim holiday to mark the end of Ramadan, has brought an unusual peace and relative calm to Baghdad, more about that late tonight or tomorrow morning.]

Best friend, confidante, problem-solver, right-hand, no, not your fiancée or sibling. This is your fixer. A good fixer knows everyone. A good fixer has street smarts and the ability to judge the risk of a given situation in an instant.

The war in Iraq has made the role of the fixer essential for solid reporting. Many fixers in Iraq work as freelance journalists themselves, so they have an intimate understanding of the particular needs and difficulties of this profession. There has also been a good deal of crossover from professional translators/interpreters.

The skills required of a translator and a fixer are quite different, and this can cause some unique difficulties. After “major operations” ended in Iraq in May of 2003, the special circumstances of occupation and reconstruction began. There was a high demand for translators due to a lack of Arabic speakers employed by the United States Government and corporations involved in the reconstruction contracts. Unemployed Iraqis took jobs as interpreters in the first months of Summer in 2003 because they were easy and plentiful. Iraq’s educated and professional class is quite large, and due to twelve years of sanctions and the recent war, they have been hard-pressed to find employment. As time progressed, and it became apparent that the war would continue for some time, a semi-permanent contingent of war correspondents set up camp in the Green Zone.

At the same time, groups battling the United States’ Coalition began to employ tactics such as kidnapping and targeted killings. They targeted Iraqis seen as collaborating with the United States, not only focusing on government or military officials, but also on those assisting the Occupation’s day to day functions as well. Interpreters made up a large portion of this group. Most interpreters lived outside the secure Green Zone and would travel home each night to their family in various neighborhoods around Baghdad.

The danger increased at the same time that alternative opportunities for interpreters rose, the solution was easy to see for many Iraqis doing this work. As the needs of journalists and major media companies increased, the role of the “fixer” was pushed to the forefront of war correspondence regarding Iraq and the ever-changing “War on Terrorism.”

Fixers have become an indispensable asset to the contingent of war correspondents who’ve taken up residence all over Baghdad. As the danger of kidnapping has increased, journalists have retreated into their secure compounds, relying on fixers to arrange brief interviews around the city, while they are escorted in armored car convoys. More often than not, fixers have even become proxies for the reporters themselves, doing much of the legwork on stories around Baghdad which are later collated and written by the western journalists, safe within their hotel rooms.

For the few journalists who still travel outside these secure compounds on a regular basis, their fixer functions as closely to them as their right hand. The fixer is the person who communicates with the outside world. The fixer makes arrangements for meetings and measures the situation outside before the meeting is to take place. The best knowledge about whether to go to the interview or stay locked safely inside for another day will come from the fixer.

The fixer has become much more than just an interpreter; he is a journalist’s lifeline to the outside world. In the murky city of Baghdad, where nothing is as it appears, the fixer provides a light of clarity. If you come to Baghdad, your fixer will be your best friend and confidante. At the very least you should treat him as such, your life will depend on it.




Brian Interviewed on WBAI’s Wake Up Call -

Brian was interviewed by Deepa Fernandes of Wake Up Call (Pacifica Station WBAI 99.5, NYC) yesterday. Brian talks about the Alive in Baghdad Project, everyday life in Baghdad, what he’s personally witnessed and encountered in the city and the situation in general.

Check it out: Page on Radio Indymedia | MP3 file | Torrent file




Palestine Hotel, One Week Later… - 10.31.2005

Blast Walls
With nervous steps I left the flat this morning. My fixer and I were headed to the Palestine Hotel, where a massive bomb attack involving three suicide bombers destroyed property all around Firdos Square, shattering windows for blocks around the area. Unfortunately we both had to go to complete an errand there so we decided to make the trip as swift as possible.

Firdos Square is the site of the infamous propaganda event where the US toppled Saddam’s statue. It is easy to determine where the hotel compound is, from the massive concrete blast walls surrounding the area. However, it is nearly impossible to determine the entrance, and it still escapes me how anyone who hasn’t been there before is expected to find it.

Luckily Omar has been there many times working for others. The entrance is about ten feet wide and covered with a dark canvas roof, but open to the air. There were several Iraqi young men with kalashnikovs milling about at the entrance. They agreed to look at our two forms of ID after much insistence-we realized later it appeared they were prepared to let us just walk right in. After the ID check we were both frisked and proceeded down the street to the next checkpoint.

At the second checkpoint we had our IDs again checked-I’m not sure what cause we would have to fake them or change our identity once we were already mostly in the compound-and were searched once more. Just beyond the second checkpoint were two American soldiers relaxing in the shade, with some kind of military vehicle nearby-perhaps a Bradley?

Beyond the final checkpoint there is still a maze of razor-wire, concrete blast walls, and winding walkways to navigate before you reach the Palestine Hotel. At the entrance to the Palestine Hotel we were greeted by massive piles of broken glass and trash all over the terrace in front of the building. One week later, yet the area was still covered in debris and the various post-attack detritus that litters much of Baghdad.

It was simultaneously disorienting and comforting to see that even in the relative security of the Palestine compound, there still wasn’t anymore speed at reconstruction than elsewhere in Baghdad. Many of the front windowpanes were still empty or bearing the jagged edges of partial panes. Despite the devastation, many journalists passed us without a second look to the rubble strewn about. It was quite a shock to see the havoc played out in front of the hotel, one week later, and just a short way from the hotel, towards the blast walls and the Square, an American tank and several troops were stationed.

Many of the journalists covering the on-going situation in Iraq stay in the Palestine Hotel. When the same hotel is one of the few locations outside of the Green Zone protected by a rotating Army unit, its easy to see how these same journalists are being increasing equated with the Occupation forces in the minds of Iraqis.

On our way out of the hotel I said hello to one of the American Army troops out front. He had a strange look on his face at first, as though he couldn’t fathom why I was trying to speak to him. I guess he must have assumed I was a local, because after I spoke and said I was from Boston he brightened up. His unit had just moved to the Palestine Hotel, only a few days prior. He missed the bombings but appeared to think it was just as possible there could be another soon. I didn’t get his unit for certain, but I think it may have been the 315th. If anyone out there knows Chad from Columbus Ohio whose stationed in Baghdad, he’s doing fine and should have regular internet access at the DynCorp building.

[Due to the security situation there, we were only able to obtain one photo from the Palestine Hotel, from our taxi as we left. It shows the new blast walls in place outside the compound.]




A Week in a War Zone? Or… “Inahaa Harb.” - 10.30.2005

Traveling always brings to light new experiences and new understanding. Having been in Baghdad for just over one week, it doesn’t appear to be a war zone. Before I came to Iraq I would tell people that the war never ended, that it is still going on in Iraq. But sitting at a computer in a flat, listening to music and typing an article, it’s hard to feel like it’s a war zone.

Despite the current moment’s respite however, I know I’ll hear the helicopters overhead again soon, I know the power will be cut within a few hours, I know when we take a taxi later today to our next interview we’ll see the dozens of cars in line waiting for just a few liters of gas. Maybe, if we’re really, really lucky, we’ll even get to see American tanks or Humvees on the street.

Inahaa Harb. This is the war. After a week in Baghdad I’ve learned there is a different face to war. “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Thin Red Line” are two American films about World War II, which lead me to believe that the face of war is the sound of machinegun-fire and explosions, dead bodies in the streets and death around every moment. Perhaps Hathee Fallujah, Hathee Ramadi, Hathee Qaim. In Baghdad the war has a different face.

In Baghdad the war centers around the failed reconstruction projects, the lack of security, and gunfire punctuating eerily quiet late-nights, watching the television, for some news or entertainment, not knowing when the power will be cut again.

Lives on pause, children selling black-market gas on the side of the highway, rather than attending primary school; women, tending their babies and living off the kindness of other Iraqis, rather than teaching these children in their primary schools; men, driving aimlessly all day, hoping to make a few thousand Iraqi Dinars pretending to be taxis, taking the few Iraqis with places to go around the city. Each of these individuals knows that this could be his or her last day.

A week in Baghdad has provided a great deal of insight. A week in Baghdad has also provided insight into my vast supply of ignorance about war, the Iraqi People, and the Resistance. Every Iraqi I have met is against the American Occupation, and supports the Iraqi Resistance. However, many of these people consider themselves members of the Resistance, but not by arms, rather by peaceful means, aid to their fellow Iraqis, producing news and media to provide some semblance of “truth” in a different perspective on the events unfolding in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.

I believe right now the movie version of the play “Rent” is out in theatres in the states, or was recently, or will be soon. There is a famous song in the preview, which I saw before leaving for Iraq, that asks how one measures a year, totaling up the length of a year in minutes, seconds, hours. In Baghdad, even a week can be measured in many ways.

Perhaps a day or a week is measured by power cuts, on average that would be 4 power cuts a day, 28 power cuts a week. The day could be measured by the amount of city-power available each day, between twelve and sixteen hours, on a very good day, perhaps eighteen. Or you can measure the week in the number of candles you burn in order to get around your home-a minimum of seven if you’re living alone, many more if you are a large family or afraid of the dark.

In 1990, Baghdad was the capital of the fifth richest country in the world. Iraq had a phenomenally literacy rate that put the United States to shame, and the idea that children would die from a lack of access to clean water was unheard of. Twelve years of sanctions devastated a proud country with a long heritage. The memory of life between the war with Iran and the war with Kuwait is a bitter one. Even after the war with Kuwait, the electricity grid resumed within a matter of months over much of Iraq.

After a week of living in Baghdad, going out amongst the Iraqis almost daily, it would be trite to say I feel a kinship with them. Unlike the multitude of other western journalists in Iraq, the power cuts are a daily experience for me. The gunfire and police are right outside my door constantly, and not in a friendly, “Don’t worry Mr. American, we’re protecting you from the Bad Guys” sort of way. I’m not asking for sympathy, because this was something I chose to do. But after a week of living in Baghdad, I want it to be clear that this is not the life most western journalists are living here.

In some ways, living in the Iraqi neighborhoods might hinder my journalistic integrity, putting me too close to my subject. However, my viewpoint on Iraq has already changed greatly since being here. Nearly every Iraqi has taken pains to assure me that there is a Resistance, a legitimate Resistance, and there is also Terrorism. Many of them take similar pains to make clear that what they see as the Terrorism of the Americans is far greater than that of the foreign fighters, but both exist.

My time in Baghdad has shown the great diversity and tolerance of the Iraqi people, and how far this virtue has fallen. There is no real traditional conflict between Iraqi Sunna and Shi’a. What conflict there might be is reminiscent of debates between American Protestants and Catholics, despite the Media painting it as something more similar to Belfast and Dublin in the last few decades. Every Iraqi has friends who are Sunna or Shi’a or Kurd or Christian. If there were more Yezidis-a small religious sect in the north of the country, they would probably have friends who were Yezidis! Khulood, who I interviewed on Friday, is a Sunna, married to a Shi’a. Fatima, who I interviewed earlier in the week, is a Shi’a married to a Palestinian Sunna! Rana has Kurdish and Arab blood. Nearly all of the Iraqis I have met on the street, however, identify as Iraqi first.

A week in Baghdad will show you the war. It is perhaps unlike any war in history. Its reasons are still shrouded in mystery, conspiracy, and conflicting interests. Its eventual conclusion is anyone’s guess. The only thing certain is that the longer you spend in Baghdad, the more questions you will have; the more riddles unanswered; the more incomprehensible hospitality you will experience. As with many things in life, I have felt the more I learn in Baghdad, the less I know.




Interview with an Iraqi Woman and Internal Refugee - 10.29.2005

This is an interview conducted Friday with Khulood, a woman who had been displaced from her home. She, her husband and young child are currently living in Baghdad at the Women’s Will Building. She provided a great deal of insight into the situation facing internally displaced people in Iraq as well as her thoughts about the conditions in Baghdad and the situation with the Resistance.
Khulood with child
Omar: Why did you leave your house?

K: We left our home because of the threat and killing and people used to call our area the Death Triangle, Mahmudiya, Thuluayah, and Yusifiyah.

Omar: Did the government provide food supplies, material aid or at least security?

K: No, there wasn’t any kind of support from the government, even the police checkpoints, they were not distributed correctly and it is an open area. Anyone can come and kill and no one will look after him.

Omar: Was the Resistance helping that area, by providing material aid or security?

K: Yes, we were having such things, but after the American forces and the Multinational Forces entered the area, everything was mixed. We can’t identify who are the terrorists and who’s the Resistance.

Omar: How is the life in Baghdad now?

K: Well the situation in Baghdad is chaos. All the people are afraid from the blasts. Even if a person gets back to his home, he will still be scared because he’ll feel that the next blast will be in front of his house.

Omar: How is the life in Baghdad for you as an individual?

K: Life has become so difficult, the prices are too high and there are no jobs. We are facing so many difficulties. From the financial side life became so difficult for us, because there is no work, no jobs, even if we found jobs, we can’t get there safely, because most of the roads are dangerous and we can’t go peacefully to workplaces and come back safe.

Omar: How do you describe the life in Baghdad before the Occupation?

K: I consider it Heaven on Earth.

Omar: How did you expect the War would be?

K: Well I expected that this war would be for Iraq’s good.

Omar: Did you think that this would be like the first Gulf War, without Occupation?

K: No, no, no. I didn’t expect that one day I would wake up from my bed and see the Americans filling the streets.

Omar: How was the Iraq situation after the first Gulf War?

K: Well the situation was much better, at least we used to have security, the prices were kind of low, and everything was available. Education was available, but now we can’t let our children or our brothers to go to the school or the college, because of the blasts and the dangers hidden in the street, or the kidnapping. Or anything else similar.

Omar: So do you think that the education fell down because of the blasts, because of the security, because of the financial condition for each individual?

K: Yes because of the Occupation, the Occupation made a lot of effects on the education and the financial state of all the people.

Omar: What is your message for the American People?

K: I would send a call, a rescue call. To the American people and especially to the mothers to not let their sons to come to Iraq. Because we are completely destroyed, and we are wounded. We want to feel rest, and we are requesting to all the American forces to pull out from Iraq, and also all the occupying forces, in order to live in peace, to get security. To let our children have a better future.

Omar: Is there anything else you would like to say?

K: We want to have a rest because we are so tired and so sick.

Omar: Can you be more specific about how the life was in Mahmudiyah before the war?

K: Life was so natural in Latifiyah, we used to have a lot of relationships with the people around us, because you know the tribes they are the people who rule that area. There was no fear, no terrorism, but we started to be afraid after the events take place. We started to be afraid of everything and we lost our trust in the things that we used to trust. We even started to be afraid from the usual people, that they would send a report about us, that we are terrorists, so they can detain us. So our life there became so bloody, at least there were ten people killed daily. Even when they were killed there was no one who came to carry the dead bodies. My own opinion is that the terrorism came along with the Occupation. In the past we didn’t have anything like racism or a civil war. We didn’t think about all those things at that time. The occupation is the one who brought the terrorism and also it is the one who brought the prejudice. So why are they talking about the terrorism, when they are the terrorists themselves?

Omar: According to what you’re saying there was no race war between people before the occupation, so can you describe how the Sunna and Shi’a lived before the war?

K: Well this is a very funny thing. I can describe it for you right now; I will give you a small example. I am Sunni and my husband is Shiite. We built a family and I didn’t think one day that I’m Sunni and he is Shiite. And also we used to have a Christian neighbor, we were very good friends. We didn’t have any problems with any other people who had a different religion or a different race. Everyone was living happily together with the different types of people; we were just living like one family, with nothing dividing us. And the only one who benefited from this change was the Occupation.

Omar: So the problems between Sunni and Shiite happened after the Occupation?

K: Yes.

Omar: Do you think that the new Iraqi Constitution will make any difference in life?

K: Well for me, I’ll give you my personal opinion that, I don’t believe in the Constitution and I didn’t vote for the Constitution either. I don’t believe in any constitution written under the Occupation, because this is illegal and you can add to that, there are some Governorates that didn’t agree on the constitution. And also they gave ten days to find the results for the vote and I think this is not enough, because it doesn’t make any difference if they gave 2 days or 100 days, the results is clear, they will agree on the Constitution. And that’s why it won’t make any change in the Iraqi’s life.

Omar: So do you think there are people who didn’t vote because they didn’t read the Constitution? Like there are some Governorate who didn’t agree on the Constitution or because they didn’t think this Constitution is Iraqi 100%?

K: Yes. I agree with you. Because there are some people who didn’t read the Constitution, and at the same time, we believe that the Constitution was not written by Iraqi hands and I think that they needed more time to set up conferences and make long conversations about the Constitution, because a Constitution is not an easy thing. And even they started distributing the Constitution only a very short time before the voting process. And they started giving an explanation about the Constitution and giving books about the constitution only a very short time before the voting process.

Omar: So they didn’t give the Iraqi people enough time to read the constitution and to understand the constitution?

K: Yes. Yes. Even the one who put the Constitution, he might be an Iraqi, have Iraqi citizenship, but he didn’t live in Iraq. And he didn’t go through the bad conditions that Iraq has gone through because the Iraqis suffered a lot and he just go on the television then he talks about what he’s going to do and what he’s willing to do, and he doesn’t know anything about the Iraqi people. So the one who is supposed to create the Constitution, he’s supposed to someone who lived in Iraq, and gone through all the Iraqi’s suffering, not someone who came from outside Iraq.

Omar: Did you feel any kind of change after they agreed on the constitution?

K: You mean like anything serving the community? Absolutely not. And for example you have me, I’m a woman with my husband, and I have a very young child and we are still living here, nothing has changed, and the war is still happening in my area. And we are suffering a lot right now, and I’m wondering why the constitution didn’t serve me with anything.

Omar: So it didn’t change anything in your life, like material or security or anything?

K: Absolutely not. It didn’t change anything. It did not terminate the unemployment. And for example, I graduated from the teachers’ institution and I don’t have a job. I’ve been sitting for a year without a job and I’m still like this right now. So, where is my right as an individual in this Constitution? So you know that the Iraq community is having a lot of problems in their family because the father of any family needs to have a job to feed his kids and help them live. And even there are a lot of children who left the school, to find work, to live. So that’s why the suffering continues.

Omar: How is your experience with Women’s Will?

K: Well, after god, they are the ones who saved me. When my family and I left, we didn’t know where we were going or where we were headed to, and my child was only nine days old. And I had a caesarean section. And after I went to Baghdad as a refugee and my husband was jobless, and if we wanted to rent a house we needed a lot of money, and we don’t have that money. So we found the Women’s Will Body with the manager Hanna Ibrahim and Fatima Abood and Wejdan Kareem. They took us in and considered us a family and they provided us accommodation and were like a shelter for us. The Women’s Will Body has been like a second family to me; they helped us a lot through the things we have suffered in.

Omar: So you have heard about Zarqawi and what he has done, do you believe in his existence and what do you think about him?

K: Well from my own opinion I think that there is no Zarqawi or he is an invisible character. And even if he was real, its here to take revenge on the United States, but where? On Iraq’s land.

Omar: So do you think all the beheading operations and all the bombing operations are pointed toward the US Military or is there a part of it toward the Iraqi people?

K: No I think its pointed at the US military, because since I was born, I haven’t heard about such stories or anything like beheading or killing this much. Also I didn’t expect that one day the Iraq condition would be so bad as today, what we are living in. So I think all those operations are pointed at the US Military.

Omar: Do you think that the Zarqawi groups and Zarqawi himself were invented by someone to create instability in Iraq?

K: Well the United States of America, they are the ones behind all of that, because they are the only one who benefits from the unstable situation in Iraq.

Omar: Who do you think benefits from the Occupation?

K: Iraq is a rich country. Anyone who occupies this country will be rich. He will have a lot of benefits from occupying this country, financially because there is a lot of oil in this country. And speaking about oil, we used to have a lot of problems with the gas and the oil. When we came here my child was nine days old and we didn’t have anything to keep her warm, so we used to hold her with a lot of blankets to keep her warm. So we were holding her and we were crying, because we couldn’t provide her oil to keep her warm. There are a lot of things that aren’t available like gas and oil.

Omar: So, speaking about oil and gas, do you think there is an invisible hand stealing those resources?

K: Yes, because we are an oil country, why is the gas not available? They want to make the situation unstable, to use it as a benefit for them. Even if we take the long gas line we will be shocked by a car bomb attacking us, or maybe killed by an exchange of gunfire. Or the driver will stay for one day without work.

Omar: Why do you think all the problems about providing gas and oil are happening? As far as we know Iraq is one of the countries that has a lot of oil in their lands.

K: Iraq is a very, very rich country, but it doesn’t get any of its rights and the Occupation forces, they are the one who decided what happened in here, and what happened tomorrow. The Iraq population started thinking that tomorrow will be worse, it will be chaos.

Omar: What will make the Occupation forces leave Iraq?

K: If Iraqis support each other and the Iraqi people become one group, and keep away anyone trying to mess with this country. And to think about our children and about their future, and to unify and if we are spread we will be weak, and that for sure will make the Occupation forces get out of Iraq. And make the Arab countries try to help Iraq instead of taking a negative stance towards Iraq.

Omar: A negative stance like what?

K: Like sending terrorists to Iraq. The Occupation helps those people to get into Iraq easily because when they occupied Iraq they opened those borders to help people get into Iraq.

Omar: What about the Civil War? Who is responsible and who benefits?

K: The Occupation forces. We didn’t have any of those things ever. It didn’t exist before in Saddam’s time it came with the Occupation. So that’s why they’re saying when one of the Sunni is killed they say one of the Shiites killed him. In my opinion, the Occupying forces are responsible for all these things; the invisible hands belong to the Occupation forces.

Omar: What do you think would make the Resistance stop using guns and come to the negotiation table?

K: Well very simple. Getting the Occupation forces out. When the Occupation will end, the peace will take place. We don’t need a Resistance after that, we will stay in peace.

Omar: So when the Occupation will go and there is a bad government, do you think there will be another Resistance?

K: Well my own opinion is that I don’t think this government will serve us. But if they leave and there are democratic elections as they say, we will vote for a government that will really serve Iraq. If that government will serve the population, there won’t be Resistance anymore.

Omar: That’s in the case if the election is from the population?

K: Yes if it is real.




Video Update - 10.28.2005

Hi all, friendly video editor here. We have been busy at work trying to improve the presentation of video through the website. All said, I think you will be happy about the results. We now have a new host for our videos, which has many features that have been lacking. Videos are still being archived through google, but the new service is far superior.

Check out the video page for more information, or go directly to http://aliveinbaghdad.blip.tv to see the videos right now! You will need a Quicktime compatible video player to view these movies. For Mac and PC users we recommend Quicktime for the best performance, but there are also a number of open source alternatives which work equally well on a number of platforms. Two players we recommend are Video Lan Client (VLC) and Media Player (MPlayer).




Candlelight Hacking… - 10.27.2005

After many internet woes, I have obtained internet access from home. It is a 52000 bps dial-up connection and has been iffy, but hey, we’re online from the house now!

Because of the ongoing power outages in Iraq my fixer, “Lurky” and I found ourselves in the dark as the computer modem’s siren song sang out to us in the dark. Now that we have the computer connection, I’ll hopefully be posting updates and articles more regularly.

Last night at about 4am I posted the first video upload from Baghdad, AIB is well on its way to running active video updates from Iraq, but tonight the 52000 bps is just not doing enough. Today has been a long and frustrating day, but we have scheduled many interviews for Saturday and are working on travelling to Kerbala, perhaps sometime next week.

Please look here for the first two videos.

Tomorrow I will be interviewing someone from Baladiyat camp and will provide a full report about the situation there and more info about the experience of Palestinian refugees in Iraq under the Interim Government.

I also made contacts with another Iraqi journalist here in Baghdad who will be helping shoot interviews with his contacts, in order to expand our ability to do work here, despite the tense security situation. Also expect an article soon about exactly what a “fixer” is, and perhaps some more history about Iraq and Baghdad in general.

As always, stay in touch and if you’re curious about something, just ask! Also, if you post a question, please leave your email, or just send it directly to me, as it will ease the response!




Baladiyat Camp Under Siege, Again. -

Our morning interview was cancelled when we received a call from the Baladiyat camp. Baladiyat is a refugee camp for Palestinians living in Iraq. Palestinians are an overlooked group that has somewhere between 10 and 20,000 people still living in Iraq, many of them in Baghdad, most of the rest in Mosul and elsewhere in the North.

The source in the camp, who currently remains anonymous, reported, “Today at approximately 7:50 AM three SUVs of Iraqi Police showed up to raid the camp. They surrounded the camp and began firing their guns in the air, seemingly without provocation.”

He also explained that this type of situation is a regular occurrence in the lives of Palestinians living in Iraq. Palestinian refugees in Iraq have no nationally guaranteed rights, are not considered citizens, and were not allowed to vote in the recent Constitutional Referendum.

Expect to hear more soon about the conditions of Baladiyat camp, as our interview has been rescheduled for tomorrow. Also, I will try to provide a concise history of the Palestinian situation in Iraq.

_____

In other news, we are getting video up slowly but surely, elsewhere than Goggle Video, on blip.tv, expect to see a further article tonight about internet woes and internet triumphs last night in Baghdad.




IED on the Highway in Baghdad - 10.26.2005

At approximately 4:50 this afternoon there was an explosion on the highway. Recalling the events Omar, my fixer and friend, reported, “ I was nearby the technical college, there was a huge blast, a lot of smoke, and speeding police cars. More shooting like Monday. It was exactly behind the technical college, on the highway side.”

One of the witnesses claimed a timebomb had blown up a Humvee which burned up. All the Americans in the Humvee escaped, and there were no civilian casualties.

The moment before we left there was one tank blocking the highway, and Apaches flying overhead. Because of the security presence, it was impossible to take photos or approach any closer.




All The Iraqi People Say Hi… -

[Editor’s note: This is a piece I started work on in Amman and finally had the time to finish and post today, enjoy!]

I was in a communication center in Amman when I realized I was surrounded by Iraqis. Jebel Hussein is an area of Amman that is frequented by Iraqis, particularly those of the Christian religion, but also Iraqis from many different faiths and ethnic backgrounds. A communication center is a place you can go to make phonecalls to areas outside of the country, at a cheaper rate.

Sabih Nawaf was listening closely to my conversation with Ra’fat, my fixer in Amman. I noticed he was listening a little too closely, so while Ra’fat was using the phone, I said to him, “Min Wayn?” which means, “From where?” in Arabic.

“Iraq, inta min wayn?” was his reply.

“Amreekee, eela Bush, ana asif.- “American, for Bush, I’m sorry.”

From this point we engaged in a broken conversation, his English not being perfect, but much better than my Arabic. He told me he went to University in Tulsa Oklahoma and showed me his Oklahoma State driver’s license.

“You see? I like the American people, but not their gov’t. If I was president, the main thing I would do is to fight the gov’t.”

At this point the man next to him, who looked exactly the part of any sportscaster on ESPN in the States, chimed in his agreement. I didn’t catch his name, but he told me he was, in fact, a famous sportscaster for football-not the American kind. He is also from Iraq, from the north, and a Christian. Sabih is a Muslim, Ra’fat later informing me his family name seemed Shi’i, but as he was from Ramadi, perhaps this wasn’t his original family name.

I didn’t even have to ask to get his feelings on the occupation in Iraq. “If someone came to your house and killed your wife and your daughter, what would you do? I think this would make you like crazy-man, crazy-person.”

At this point, he grew more animated, passionate to be letting his feelings out to a real, live, non-Military American. “What does your Government say about Iran? And before, in the Iran-Iraq war, what did they say?” I couldn’t argue with his logic. He was getting right to the heart of some of the most direct criticism of the Bush administration’s policies. The Bush administration’s willingness to make about-face policy changes to suit their ends leaves Iraqis and other Arabs distrustful and cynical about the United State’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

Sabih told me, “I think the Constitution, is an American Constitution, just like the Iraqi Interim Government is an American Government.”

I asked him what his impression of Sistani and why he thought the Interim Government was an “American Government.”

“You know Sistani? Don’t mention Sistani to me-I think when I see him, now he looks like Bush. What we want is to elect our own Iraqi Government to write an Iraqi Constitution.”

I heard this viewpoint a few times in Amman, Khalid Jarrar mentioned the common phrase used in Iraq, “This Government came here on the American Tanks.” Later, when I reached Iraq, this viewpoint was continuously emphasized. While American Helicopters and Humvees passed by the Women’s Will Office, an Iraqi women’s rights organization, Hanna Ibrahim said, “Hadhal Doostor, Hadhal Doostor.-This is the Constitution, this is the Constitution.” The football commentator, also echoed this sentiment regarding the Constitution and America’s policy in Iraq.

“I was educated at Tulsa University in Oklahoma. The American people are my friends, I always like them. But now I tell my children that America is the worst country in the world. And you know, when I think about Baghdad, I am just wanting to cry.” At this point I feel its important to mention that Sabih is a big guy, with a thick Iraqi mustache, and neat pants and shirt. Except for his skin color, he looks like any American sitcom Dad, the Wonder Years and Family Matters come to mind.

“I hope there will be peace in Iraq. I am going back tomorrow. You should know now, the journalists, most of them seem as the same as the soldiers, no, not soldiers, killers. They are supporting the American Occupation. I have relatives in Ramadi and I talk to them everyday. In Ramadi, maybe the Resistance kills one person and the Occupation, the Americans, they just kill so many people. I don’t just hear these things, I saw them myself, with my own eyes, people killed in the streets.”

By this point in the converstaion Ra’fat had finished his phone call and Sabih Nawaf got up to enter the phone booth, . We left the communication center as he wished me luck in Baghdad. He also reminded me that, to the American people, “All the Iraqi people say hi…”




Karrada Attack Update… - 10.25.2005

Attack on Hotel Palestine Here is the brief update. There is confusion over the number of casualties. The number reported by the US Military is nearly the same number we received from an Iraqi Police (IP) officer who was involved in firing on the second vehicle, which exploded near the Mosque in Firdos Square. He claimed there were approximately 4 killed and 16 wounded at that time.

The assertion that the attack was intended to take over the Palestine Hotel was not substantiated by any of the IPs or PSDs (private security) who we spoke with that were on the scene. He believed this attack to be similar to previous attacks, where the first bomb is intended to bring IPs and other security forces, and subsequent bombings are used to inflict mass casualties on the response teams.

Despite the loud gunfire long after the attack, no gunmen other than the IPs were reported to be in the streets. One BBC colleague reported to me that, “The Iraqi Police tend to be quite trigger-happy.” Also, my fixer overheard an IP shouting “Be careful they are shooting everyone.” We now believe “they” almost certainly means other IPs, although we don’t have a first-hand report of IPs firing on each other.

There is still some confusion over the carbombings. We received an eyewitness report from a PSD that the first car was a Black Jeep Cherokee, it now appears this may have been the second vehicle, as the AP reports the first car was a white vehicle.

Here is a short video of what it was like in an area near Firdos Square for a few hours after the bombing.
Here i




Car Bombs Rattle the Karrada Neighborhood - 10.24.2005

This morning Brian called in an update of three enormous blasts within minutes of each other that literally shook the Karrada neighborhood.

Around 5:15 Iraq time, a truck packed with explosives was detonated outside the Sheraton hotel where many foreign journalists and correspondents are staying. Minutes later two more explosions rang out and automatic weapons fired at the hotel and towards the large amount of police who had responded to the scene. Iraqi police warned journalists to “stay inside” and returned fire but it was unclear who was firing on them. The explosions, Brian would later find out from one of the policemen, were not from mortar but missiles fired directly at the hotel.

Between the blasts, the Guardian reported that between 11 and 20 people were killed in today’s blasts with many more injured. Although the attack was brief and the assailants apparently disappeared, the AP is reporting a possible plan of the attackers was to “take security control over the two hotels, and to take the foreign and Arab journalists as hostages to use them as a bargain.”

About ten minutes later a car exploded at a nearby checkpoint. The car failed to stop at a checkpoint area and soldiers opened fire in response. It’s still unclear whether it was a suicide bomber or if the soldier’s gunfire caused the car to explode.

Despite today’s turbulence, Brian is fine. Hopefully what I have here is mostly accurate; we were only able to speak a few minutes via sat phone before completely losing reception. Given that Baghdad still only has power intermittently, he will be following up with more detailed information of his firsthand account on what he’s seen as well as uploading pictures from the attack.

In other news, Brian has also done a fantastic interview with Hanna Ibrahim, director of the association “Women’s Will” which supports refugees and advocates for women’s rights in Iraq. We’ll be putting that video online very soon as well, as soon as we can get it from him. Please stay tuned.




Suicide Attack in Tahrir Square - 10.23.2005

At 11:30 today there was a suicide car bombing in Tahrir Square in the Bab Al-Sharjiy neighborhood. The car bomber was targeting Iraqi Police operating a checkpoint in the area. He was driving a Volkswagen Golf and pulled up beside another car waiting in traffic. It was at this point that he detonated his explosives.

Tahrir Square was targeted because of its location. Many MNF-I (Multi National Force - Iraq) and Iraqi convoys travel through Tahrir Square on their way to the Green Zone. Tahrir Square is located just above the Jumhuriyah bridge which is a main entrance into the Green Zone.

A man on the scene claimed that Tahrir Square, despite the heavy traffic of MNF-I forces has been generally quiet. However, the far side of the square from the Green Zone, which leads into Sadr City, has seen some clashes and other trouble.

At least three Iraqi Police were killed in the attack, and five civilians wounded. The explosion rattled buildings in the square, blowing out windows all around the area. Four civilian vehicles were destroyed, as well as one Iraqi Police SUV. The wounded civilians were badly injured and are not expected to survive.

The burned-out sedan pictured above belonged to one civilian who was badly injured. His friend provided much of the information about what happened during the attack, but declined to give his name. He was still distraught after the incident and made it clear that he thought the press could do nothing to help the situation.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, in the Al’Adel an Iraqi Police SUV came under attack shortly before 12:45. Due to the heavy presence of Iraqi Police attempting to secure the area, it was impossible to determine anything more about the attack. What was observed was one Iraqi Police SUV, which had crashed into a highway barricade and was riddled with bullets. There were also blood stains on the sand near the vehicle, as well as the barricade.

Please see the full gallery of photos from the Tahrir Square attack here.




No Internet After Dark - 10.22.2005

Hello readers, another friendly editor here to report on behalf of Brian. Brian called to report three power outages today. He has set up a number of interviews, including one with the International Peace Angels, a group that provides medical services. He also has pictures of refugees outside Rawa and Quam, so look for those to come in the near future. Internet access is not available after dark, so communications are restricted to short, costly satellite phone calls.

On another note, the google video service has started processing exerpts from our interviews that have been uploaded and made available under the Creative Commons License. Unfortunately they are re-encoding already compressed video, so the result is rather disappointing. We are working on ways to provide better access to video, so keep checking the video page to see what has become available.




Internet Woes and Other Troubles in Warzones -

I have been at an Internet Cafe for maybe 1.5-2 hours today. I have had to switch computers once, and had the machine completely crash on me no less than 3 times.

The machines all run XP and look to be fairly decent, for windows boxes, but the connection is, at times, interminably slow. I am having to remember not to try and load more than 1 or perhaps 2 windows at a time, which is different from my usual 20-window browsing technique.

Beyond the simple internet connection speed and unreliable nature of the machines, there is a much larger and more prevalent problem in Baghdad - the extreme lack of power, and the continuing blackouts and power cuts. Today we have only had maybe 2 hours of non-generator power, I believe from about 10 until about noon. It is almost 2pm here now, and we are still running the generators.

Iraqis will all tell you about the problems with the electricity, and I have already heard it mentioned to me many times. I will be working on a more formal story about the electricity situation soon. Consider doing some reading about this if you have time on your hands. After the previous Gulf War, Saddam Hussein had the electricity back on in much of Baghdad and Iraq within a few weeks, and in nearly all of Iraq in around 3 months.

It certainly leaves oneself asking hard questions about the Multi National Force - Iraq. Are they truly interested in rehabilitating the Iraqi infrastructure when they aren’t even able to ensure that the electricity remains on? For many Iraqis, this is perhaps the first issue they mention when you ask about the problems in Iraq. Another frequent complaint is about the extremely long gas queues in Baghdad. Despite Iraq having one of the largest supplies of oil in the world, Iraqi citizens are currently receiving much of their oil and gas needs imported from Kuwait!

Please keep an eye to the site, but be patient as things can take a great deal of time here I have found. Particularly in Iraq where there is not only a more laid back culture, but also due to all the various difficulties with working here, the uploads and reports will take so much longer.




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