Alive in Baghdad: Day 1 - 10.22.2005

I am on the plane. Holy crap. They are passing out candy. Its really strange. Most of the people on the plane have an aura of bored stoicism about them. I feel as though i could be the only passenger who has never done this before.

I’ve met one American on the plane, a cheerful woman with a kind of Molly Ringwald meets Molly Ivins attitude. Although she works for the “National Democratic Institute” in DC, she doesn’t appear particularly enamored with her organization’s chance for “success” in Iraq. You have to give her points for trying. I asked her briefly about the referendum and she told me, “We’re assisting the election monitors but, you know, it was never going to be a fair election, there has to be a lot of work for this.” We talked some more about the constitution as well as the election in January. Although they were both illegal under international law, she seems to think that, since they are happening, they should be “as fair as possible” which I agree with. Eventually we were ushered onto a bus and once on the plane we were separated.

Across the aisle from me there is a decently dressed gentleman who may be British, but I suspect he is probably also American. I take back what I said earlier, the man who is not quite British is definitely gawping about like a frisky kitten in a yarn shop.

I want to ask him, “First time to Baghdad?” in that cool, yet staid, attitude that everyone else on the plane has perfected. Then I’d provide him some cheer when I jokingly let him in on the secret that this is my first time as well. Which makes me realize this analogy is much better: he definitely appears like an awkward teen in a brothel, seeing naked woman and going beyond simple contemplation for the first time. I want to say these things, but I don’t-he looks British so chances are he’s a bore.

My pen’s shaking all over the page as we head off the runway, I hope this thing holds together better than “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” or a Yugo with wings. I’ve already heard some stories from Fayez and Ra’fat.

What’s this? It appears the bore is reading an Arabic newspaper and not just the advertisements, but the actual Arabic language test. Oh, no, wait. Observing his hasty pace through the journal, it becomes clear he’s just looking at the pretty pictures.

Well. We are in the air. After all the horror stories i’ve read, and even heard firsthand in Amman, it is an underwhelming hour and a quarter later when I am jolted awake.

The fasten seatbelts sign has been illuminated and, looking out the window, I can see what is certainly Baghdad laid out below. The Tigris River meanders its easy way through the city. In the cusp of the river I locate what is clearly the “Green Zone.” A moment later I have my camera and am shooting what is sure to be equally underwhelming footage.

The plane lands and everyone is to their feet in an instant. Their stoicism suddenly replaced with an anxious pleasure that the plane landed safely without a single near-miss from an RPG or shoulder-fired missile. At this point I notice the only overwhelming thing on this trip so far: the need to vacate my fluids. It seems unlikely that the jostling mob will let me through to the back, so i settle on getting my things and trying to de-plane swiftly. I curse my luck a moment later to find that we will be de-planing via the rear, but by this time i am too weighed down and crowded in to make for the toilet.

Once into the airport I meet my first kalashnikov-toting guard, a south-asian looking man who watches my bags while I hurry to the restroom. Waiting in the queue a moment later to have my visa stamped, I catch my first glimpse of security forces. The guys, in their mid-20s to early 30s could be US soldiers coming back from leave, except that I can’t imagine they would travel on civilian airlines.

After waiting some time I make it through the visa queue and locate my bags. At this point the Customs officials pick one of my bags to open and when they see my lighting equipment and I explain I am a journalist, they ask about my paperwork for the camera. I tell them I have never heard about such “paperwork” and after a few moments they just let me pass. I guess this is what counts for security in the new Iraq. I meet Abu Abeer, the driver and we are quickly on our way, out of the airport and on into Baghdad…

First day in Baghdad - 10.21.2005

Brian sent me a message from his satellite phone this afternoon (9:30 PM Baghdad time). He said he was going to sleep. Brian reported two power outages so far, one from 2:30-4:30, and the other from 6:30-8:30. He got into Baghdad safely, although he reported an M-16 pointed at the car during his ride from the airport into the city. I have been unable to send text messages to his phone all afternoon, so perhaps that feature isn’t working for some reason. There will be another update tomorrow.

The power outages seem indicative of the failure of the American occupation forces to secure a better future for the people of Iraq. A Washington Post article published in May examined the problems plaguing the power grid.

Photo Update #3… Insurgent and Resistance Actions - 10.20.2005

More new photos! These images are mostly from the Resistance, although some may have come via US soldiers themselves. Obviously the images of the Resistance with weaponry, preparing and engaging in assaults were taken by the Resistance Fighters themselves.

Please keep in mind that all the previous photos are archived in the Flickr Gallery. You can reach them by clicking one of the images on the right side of the page or by following this link:

AliveinBaghdad Flickr Gallery

Final Visa Update - Baghdad by Friday… - 10.19.2005

Today I received my visa and purchased an open ticket on Iraqi Airways. After speaking this evening with my contacts in Baghdad, I plan to fly to Iraq on Friday morning.

It is almost 3 am here, so I won’t write much, and certainly not anything particularly witty or exciting. I hope to write more tomorrow morning, both about today and the visa process, as well as some posts of two more interviews. The interviews were only written, and I have been too busy and absent-minded to write them up until now.

I will be travelling to Baghdad as of Friday morning, and should be in Baghdad proper by Friday afternoon. It is unclear at this point what the internet access will be like, since I will not be staying at one of the ultra-fancy Green Zone hotels, but we will see.

Stay tuned, and expect videos and other updates to be posted very soon.

Visa Update #5, or It’s Always Good to Know Somebody - 10.17.2005

In my case, I didn’t know anyone with direct influence, but Fayez, the esteemed proprietor of Al Saraya Hotel in downtown Amman always has an answer to your problems. You will find Fayez mentioned in multiple Lonely Planet guides as a good person to know, who’s always quick with a joke.

In my case, I let Fayez know this past weekend about my visa frustrations. I told him that everyday I call the embassy they say “Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow,” always tomorrow! So Fayez said, “You know, I know Walid Alrawi, he is a good man, and he will just tell you if you aren’t going to get a visa.”

“But you know what you will do?” At this point, I look at Fayez dumb-founded, of course I don’t know. “I will tell you what you will do. On Monday, you will call Mr. Walid Alrawi. Then you will say to him, very nicely mind you, but firm, I need this visa. I have been waiting very patiently for almost two weeks, and I have to do my job. But you have to be very firm with him about this, courteous, but firm, and he will do the right thing.”

Ra’fat, who has been helping me with “fixing” and translation, informed me that Alrawi’s family name is from Al’Qaim and so I can at least count on him being honest and fair, and probably not exceptionally supportive of the Occupation.

So today I spoke to Walid Alrawi and he informed me that no, my visa application had not yet been responded to. I replied in exactly the manner as Fayez informed me, including a veiled threat to come down to the Embassy to speak with him directly. He was hesitant, but after a minute or two he breathed heavily and said “Ok, come on Wednesday, and I will write it for you directly.” I am simultaneously exulted and incredibly frustrated-why did it take so long to come to this?

Thinking quickly I reply to him, “Wal3?” Which in Arabic means “you swear?”(pronounced something like, Well-awh)

And he replied, “Wal3!” or, “I swear.” Now it is important to recognize that, in Arabic culture, when you say “Wal3,” you have made an unbreakable promise. Whether you are trying to pay the bill and are saying “Wal3,” before the other person can protest, or swearing your promise to someone, it makes no difference.

We shall see. Wednesday is two days away. I have reserved a ticket, but its not paid for. If all goes well, I should be in Baghdad by Thursday.

Many New Iraqi Blogs! - 10.14.2005

Please check out the Iraqi Blogs section, thanks to Khalid’s help from the “Tell Me a Secret” blog, I have updated an already extensive list of Iraqi blogs.

If you haven’t discovered this section of the site, it is perhaps the most helpful and insightful part of the Alive in Baghdad project. We have set up some code to syndicate as many blogs from Iraq and Iraqis as possible.

The blogs are available so that on any given day, if you have tuned into CNN or FoxNews or BBC or Al Jazeera and seen something happen in Iraq, you can come here and find out what Iraqis are saying in their own words about the situation on the ground. So, if you haven’t clicked the “Iraqi Blogs” link above, now’s a good time to start!

Latest Interview Transcript, from October 10 -

This is the transcript of an interview with Steven and David, two Christian Iraqis currently living in Amman. SHADI is one of the translator/journalists here in Amman helping me make contacts and communicate with Iraqis.

SHADI: What is your name, where are you from?

Steven Jameel, Baghdad. Studying at AlíRafidain College, he got to his third year and didnít finish because he left Iraq with his family.

David Sami Daoud, Baghdad. Born in 1982, he was working in Baghdad, not in school.

AIB: When did you come from Baghdad?

Steven: In January 2005, He and his family.

David: In June 2004.

AIB: Why did you leave Baghdad?

S: To immigrate, but the main reason, the security, and after that they thought about emigrating elsewhere. If the situation was good, we donít want to emigrate. If the situation was good, security, working, society is good, then we wouldnít think to leave their country. In that country where I was born, where I live, I canít leave it.

D: Same reasons.

AIB: Can you tell us about the current situation?

S: We hear from the news and our friends and family who are in Baghdad about the situation. Some days its good, on other days it is bad, but its going to get worse and worse and worse. The situation in Baghdad depends on the people who want to rebuild the country, or destroy the country. God willing, we wish that the situation will be ok.

D: Same thing. From the news and friends and family, from Iraq.

SHADI: You have contacts with your friends and family today from Jordan by internet or by phone, about the situation.

AIB: What is an Average Day in Baghdad like?

S: To be honest with you, in Iraq the situation is there are bombs here and bombs there. And you hear about there is a bombing near where our parents live and the first thing we are thinking about is the security of our family. We call them, or by internet because you want to know the details about that. About their house, that there are no problems, about our family, whether anyone was wounded or killed. This is causing us to worry about them all day.

SHADI: What is the average percent of bombings daily?

S: Seventy percent of the day there is something happening. Not only Baghdad but that happens in all Iraq.

SHADI: And David, what have they told you when you have called them?

D: All my family is in Amman now, and out of Iraq, but I hear about my friends on the internet or if they call me or I call them, and from the news. But only in the news.

SHADI: Do you think you can return to Iraq?

D: No.

S: That depends on the situation, but right now, no. We hope, wish to return back.

SHADI: [break]

S: Yes we hope. And if the situation returns, like the past.

SHADI: Which past like before the invasion or after the invasion?

S: Before 1990s time.

SHADI: How is it different from the way it was 2.5 years ago, 12.5 years ago? What is the difference about the life in Iraq, before the invasion and after the invasion, or between this war and the first gulf war?

S: Before the life was stable, and the security is good, but about the work and the life, not good because there is no salary, but now, two things, the security and the work/life its not stable. And the people in Iraq, their mind is deteriorated. They are thinking all the time, how I will live and when I will die. They go to work in a bad situation and say god will bless us and keep us. And that means there are many differences between the first war and this war.

SHADI: So there was security before the war?

S/D: Yes.

SHADI: What is the important thing to you, the financial situation or the security situation.

S: The first point, the important point, is the security.

D: You know before, and in the middle of the Sanctions by the US on Iraq, everything is cheap, we can buy anything.

SHADI: The prices before and after the war?

S: The same thing. And not that big of a difference.

AIB: Can you describe your last day in Baghdad?

S: The last day, it was a hard day. And you know, we learned from the experience that the moment of separation, itís a hard. And the moment of the separation thatís becoming a habit and fact because all day, every day we say goodbye to this family and some friends or some parent. Everyday we say goodbye to some person. By repeating this moment it is proven. When you get in the car you look to the house that you were born in that you grew up in, its too hard of a moment. And what I can talk about this moment, I canít describe it. The last time, we wished to return back and you know, when we get in the car, in our neighborhood, there is two houses being rebuilt because of American rockets. We hope at this moment that the reason of the rebuilding is not for the rocket but is for maintenance. I wish the rebuilding for when you have money and you want to maintain yourself, not for the rocket we rebuild the house.

D: Really. The moment of separation is too hard, you have a friend, you say goodbye to them. You wish to turn back, to see your friends.

SHADI: What you wish at this moment?

D: I wish to return back in a good situation. This is what I wish, any Iraqi wishes that. No one want to leave his country.

AIB: What is it that you remember most about the occupation?

S: The invasion is too hard, but we were not in Baghdad, we were in the north of Iraq. And we wanted to see on the television, on the news and we asked anyone who came from Baghdad about the situation, what happened in the last days. We saw the American tanks in the middle of Baghdad. And we saw on the television, some pictures from Baghdad, like Al Shaab Stadium and Al Faardous Square, that square with Saddamís statue in it. And we saw the American soldiers walking in the street and they didnít believe they are in Baghdad. Itís too hard for us, when you see a strange person in your house and in our country, they donít know anything about our language or our life. We saw that and itís very hard, even now.

D: We were in the north of Iraq also, Itís too hard when we see soldiers walking the street and its too hard when we see a tank walking in the street. You know, the first time, when they captured Baghdad, some people were happy, but it was a hard and difficult time for us. But at this moment we didnít expect what would happen in the future, like bombing and explosions. We didnít expect that. Because the American army were talking like it was their own country. We expect the situation will be better than before, but we shocked.

AIB: What did they expect to happen before the Americans came, and when you hear what Bush said on the television? What were your thoughts after that?

S: To be honest, I am not a political man. Weíve gotten used to war because of the war in the past like between Iraq and Iran, the war of 1990, and what happened with Clinton, in 1998, even now, in this war of Junior Bush we know this war will happen, an army will fight another army and this army wants to occupy and another army wants to win and war its like a habit for us. But we didnít expect it would be so hard. We hear about the political things but we donít care-we hear about some news, and forget it.

SHADI: What do you expect the result will be?

S: Depending on the people and the news-

D: What happened, we expected. Before this war the shops closed and they took all their funds from the shop, because we hear some looting will happen.

SHADI: Why do you expect that will happen?

D: We heard about that, and we expect Baghdad will fall. And we expected that looting would happen, and it happened.

SHADI: How you can know what will happen? Like rumors?

D: You know, I think the government, he know what will happen, he expected that, so the people gossiped about it and everyone made his shop empty.

S: And the preparation of Iraqis, before the war, you can see the soldiers everywhere, near your house, in the streets, and everywhere, not like the war in 1990. The policeman donít care about the security at this time because of the difficult preparations for the war.

SHADI: Whats your opinion about who is going to loot and steal from the ministries and companies people from outside Iraq, or Iraqis?

S: All of them did that. The hungry Iraqis and the people who were hurt from the ex-government.

D: But he who did that, meant it.

S: They planning to do that.

AIB: What is the real reason for the war? WMDs?

S: No.

D: No.

S: But you know, we are not political.

SHADI: You are an Iraqi citizen, you hear on the TV about what Bush said about the WMDs, did you believe what Bush said? That Saddam Hussein had WMDs?

S: No we didnít agree with that, we didnít believe that.

SHADI: What did you think at this time was the real reason of the war.

S: The political is like an ocean.

SHADI: Everyone has his opinion, his view about things that he hears from the news.

S: Because of the resources in Iraq and to loot and steal the Iraqi resources. Iraq have many resources and when they put their hand on the resources, they will become a great country. Iraq has good resources. Any resource you can think about, it is in Iraq. And America will have a good benefit.

AIB: Is there anything else I should have asked you?

S: We wish the situation will be good everywhere, in any country, and anyone who is born in any country he can stay there in a good situation.

AIB: What do you think about the freedom in Iraq?

D: We didnít try it.

S: You canít apply the freedom from outside by any person or country. And god created humans free. Why someone came to apply on me the freedom, god created me free. The meaning of the freedom you can do anything without hurting anyone, but now, what’s happened, many people thinking about not a good meaning of the freedom. Because the freedom now is applied on the people, and before Saddam, there is no freedom. You canít do anything you want to do.

SHADI: Until now you think there is Freedom?

D: At this time, in Iraq, there is no freedom. Okay, well there is freedom, but it’s not good freedom-

S: You canít understand it.

SHADI: You mean, the meaning of the real freedom?

S: No.

D: No.

S: Part of the freedom, and not everyone have a good understanding of the freedom. And its not the freedom when some people understand the freedom when he go to loot.

SHADI: You mean, the people didnít understand the freedom and they took the bad meaning of the freedom?

S: Because those people didnít live it or try it.

AIB: What do they know about corruption in the parties?

S: well yes sure you can say that, and you know there is no government that is clean from the corruption. We saw on the news some of the policeman helping the terrorists, and doing some terrorist things. But the policeman should protect the people.

SHADI: Let us talk about the money of the country. And the contracts, and the projects.

D: We hear about that.

S: We hear and we saw in the news someone stole from the country, like some Minister stole. We donít see anything but we hear about it.

SHADI: Did you hear from your friends about when the policeman raid the houses maybe they stole something from the house. Or they detained someone and they killed him after that.

S: No, we donít hear about that.

SHADI: Have you known anyone arrested or detained at Abu Ghraib? Or someone who has been tortured by the policeman.

S: Well we hear about that in the neighborhood, they detained a person doing some bad things. We heard about it. They detained him.

SHADI: Who? From who, the police or Iraqi military, or the American military?

S: Both. They detained the people.

AIB: Ask them what their opinion of the resistance.

SHADI: You see the pictures from Abu Ghraib and whats your opinion, as Iraqis?

S: It seems they stole his rights and who give them the ability to steal the rights of the people?

SHADI: Whatís your feeling when you saw these pictures?

D: It was too hard. But itís the press, and maybe they pay for those journalists to take a photo for propaganda.

SHADI: What’s your opinions about the resistance? Is there a real resistance and also terrorists? Terrorists, who kill people, donít care about Iraq, etc.

S: To resist is legal right when someone occupies my house, it is my right to resist him, to get back my house. Its my right, to resist the American military is legal rights. But some people call themselves the resistance but they are not, they attack people.

SHADI: You agree with the resistance only to attack the Americans and the British to occupy Iraq?

S: Yes. But not now, you should be change the people and change their mind for 2 or 3 years after you change the government, and if nothing will happen, you can resist the occupation.

SHADI: But you mean the resistance is your legal right?

S: Yes

D: Yes, yes, but not now!

SHADI: What do you expect will happen in Iraq after the constitution, and after 2 years, will a civil war happen?

S: No. We donít expect any civil war will happen, because you know at the birth of Iraq we are living together many years ago, Christians, Sunnis, Shiía, Kurdish and Arabs without any problems. But, we wish from the government putting the rules to the peopleís benefit, also the president and the minister, working for the benefit of the people, that we wish. And it is my wishing, if God wills it will be done.

SHADI: And you David what you think?

D: God willing, we wish.

SHADI: And do you think about the judgement of Saddam Hussein? And would you agree with it if they execute him?

D/S: We arenít lawyers and we arenít judges.

SHADI: I want your opinion, I know you arenít judge but I want your opinion

S: To be honest any person, president or citizen, doing bad things, I think he should be judged.

D: I donít know what I would say. But someone said he should be punished.

S: He did some bad things and I think he should be punished.

AIB: Do you want to send a message to the American people, or the Western people?

S: Thereís not a specific message but let people in other countries live like them.

SHADI: David?

D: Thereís no message.

Look for this interview to be posted soon in video format, along with several other interviews.

Brian & Raífat

Visa Update #4… CPT Member turned back at Baghdad International - 10.13.2005

Today I called the Iraqi Embassy early. I was told by Walid Al Rawi, the man in charge of granting visas to foreign nationals that the authorization had still not arrived. He informed me that the entirety of the government offices will be closed from tomorrow morning until Monday morning.

This means I will not be able to get to Baghdad before the Constitutional referendum on Saturday. It also means I will probably not get to Baghdad until Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, but we will see.

The situation in Iraq is, of course, getting worse by the day, but it iss also getting more and more difficult for Journalists, NGO members, and others to get into Iraq. Just today, Greg, a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams was sent back from the airport in Baghdad.

He had all the paperwork he was responsible to bring, and has been to Iraq 4 times previously. When he arrived he was informed that as of (less than) two weeks ago, he needs to have a letter from the Ministry of Interior authorizing his entrance to Iraq.

This information was not appropriately disseminated to CPT, despite the fact that they have been working in Iraq for well over two years now, as a well known and established NGO in Baghdad.

Greg told me, “I don’t think they want anyone in Baghdad or Iraq who might be offering an alternative picture. They are making it more and more difficult for independent journalists and aid workers to get into the country.” Greg’s failure to make it into Baghdad, despite having been there three times previously and having clear legitimate purpose for being in the country is making me very worried about my own chances.

However we are making good contacts here in Amman, and perhaps will be having some video sent back from Baghdad early next week. Also look to the site in the coming days leading up to the Referendum. We hope to have breaking news as Iraqis are experiencing it on the ground, particularly on the day of the Referendum.


If you have anything you are particularly interested to know about the situation here in Amman or Iraq feel free to email me your questions! aliveinbaghdad at gmail dot com.

Photo Update #2… - 10.12.2005

These new photos were also taken by US Military. The photos of dead and wounded soldiers are allegedly from conflicts in Western Iraq. The photos of the tortured/abused Iraqis were taken by US Military and are of Iraqi Police and their detainees, alleged insurgents. You can access the full photo gallery here.

Unfortunately, I don’t have more information at this time about the photos, but check back and if there is more to tell, you can expect to see it here.

Photo Update #1 - 10.11.2005

It looks like I’ll begin receiving regular photo updates from my contacts here. Look for these updates and be sure to check the Flickr gallery regularly. The photos just posted today are from US Soldiers, but they come through a non-military contact.

I’m told these photos are from last year in Iraq, it is believed they are mostly in the western part of Iraq, but that probably isn’t surprising to anyone.

I hope to have more recent photos posted soon, so please continue to check back. Also, in the future we will try and not post the most graphic of the photos to the main site, but these updates will be available if you check the Flickr gallery regularly. To reach the Flickr gallery, click the photos on the right or click here.

Lastly, keep in mind that Flickr only allows 20MB of upload per month unless you have a pro account. We would greatly appreciate a donation of a pro Flickr account to support our work, or even a small contribution towards a one year account, which costs 25 dollars. This may not seem like much, but it is a budget item we hadn’t anticipated.

edit: If you would like to donate a Flickr pro account to the Alive in Baghdad project, please click here. You must be a Flickr user to access the page (standard accounts are free).

Also, stay tuned for videos. I interviewed 3 Iraqis last night, and I still have the 3 previous interviews to post, all of which should be uploaded soon.

Two Years, Six Months Late and a Dinar Short - 10.10.2005

It has been two years and six months since the fall of Baghdad. Still Iraqis often have only two hours of electricity a day. After the first Gulf War between the United States and Iraq, Saddam had the devastated power grid up and running within weeks, or perhaps months in some areas.

For anyone who wonders why the Resistance and the Insurgency are on the rise, the reason(s) should be clear. Many Iraqis have lived through and remember both wars, and they are certainly asking themselves why their basic needs have still not been met. The conclusion they reach, unfortunately for the Americans, appears to continuously be: the United States does not care about Iraq.

The Bush administration apparently cares only about the oil and their strategic global interests in the region. Many Iraqis and other Arabs have told me that the Americans must be idiots not to see that the entire situation is directly related to protection and regional supremacy for Israel. Last night I took a taxi with a Palestinian to Al Saraya, and he told me how much he loved Clinton and Carter and how much he hates Bush. Not the American people, just Bush.

It’s fairly well understood at this point that Clinton did much less than he could to ensure the passage of the Oslo Accords. However, Clinton’s mere intention to work for peace and resolution to the Arab-Israeli situation helped to ease tensions between the Middle East and the Uniteed States. More and more I find that reversing the destruction and instability that war has brought to Iraq is merely a small step in regaining the Middle East’s good graces. President Bush’s cavalier attitude towards the Middle East Peace Process is another entirely overlooked element in repairing United States Foreign Policy here.

If one examines the history of the United States’ conflict and interaction with Saddam Hussein, the importance of Israel-Palestine becomes very clear. Saddam repeatedly linked positive work toward the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict to any withdrawal from Kuwait or other cooperation in the subsequent Sanctions period.

Such contradictions in US foreign policy fuels the insurgency, along with the corruption which wears the mask of “reconstruction.” By privatizing the reconstruction process, almost entirely, we not only encourage war profiteering and corruption, but we virtually ensure it. When I was younger my mother ran a daycare center and one day she asked the groundskeeper, “James, why do you just cut the weeds down, rather than pulling them out at the root?” He looked at the weeds along the fence, then at my mother, and jokingly said “Job insurance, Mrs. Debbie.”

I think the analogy is clear. Halliburton, KBR, Bechtel, and others have little to gain from completely renovating and restructuring Iraq, and a lot to gain from doing a little at a time. With cost-plus contracts and such a lack of oversight, who is surprised by the corruption!

Furthermore, the single-minded refrain of “Stability, then Democracy” leaves much to be desired. This plan has led the United States to a government restructuring process in Iraq that appears to say “Any Iraqi but Saddam” is legitimate to hold authority. Ahmad Chalabi and Iyad Allawi are currently powerful men in Iraq, who are also known to be corrupt. Iraqis will tell you the problems run even deeper. “Every party has its own interests and viewpoints and perception of how to run the country. It would be a miracle if all those parties come together to unite and join forces,” one source has told me. This view has been echoed by everyone I have spoken with, with others taking an even harsher stance. Shadi al Kasim, a reporter formerly with the Baghdad Bulletin and British Channel 4 told me, “Ahmad Chalabi, his party, they have been looting in Baghdad, and no one is doing anything about it. I met a lot of people they said, oh come on, he’s such a big thief, thieves will bring thieves. So they start to think Americans are thieves and they will come to loot our country. But if the Americans start to do something about it, to stop the corruption, then I think things will get better.”

(Editor’s Note: Though this article and interview were written on the October 9th, the 2 year and 6 month anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, due to technical problems with the site, they could not be uploaded until now.)

Visa Update… #3 - 10.08.2005

Since arriving in Amman, I have been told by a number of different people,that I should be able to take a plane directly to Baghdad, and obtain a visa upon arrival. Today I walked to Iraqi Airways (IA), which is only a short way from Al’Munzor, to check out this possibility.

If such an arrangement were possible, it would be a much faster process than waiting for the visa to clear at the embassy! Unfortunately, it is a very expensive trip to take if I am not able to enter Baghdad. The ticket to Baghdad on Iraqi Airways is $772.00 American dollars roundtrip, and it is $423.00 for a one way ticket. Royal Jordanian is even more expensive.

It was interesting to arrive at IA just before closing. There were not many people in that part of Amman, where many of the travel agencies are located. However, outside the IA office, there was a large number of people milling about. The office was still open even though it was 2:30 or 3:00 pm-I later learned that they normally close at 2pm during Ramadan, I guess I was lucky!

Not so lucky about the news from the man at Iraqi Airways. It turns out that they no longer even let you on the airplane without a visa! So I guess I will be waiting in Amman for awhile. I have been talking with my contact in Baghdad, and hopefully we will arrange for a friend to transport a camera and tapes from me to him. This friend will also be able to transport tapes between Baghdad an Amman. If this works, perhaps I will be receiving video from Baghdad as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday.

On the non-video side, I will also be sending lists of questions to my contact so that he can conduct interviews with Iraqis in Baghdad, which I can compile into published articles. This is similar to the process that journalists in Baghdad follow, while staying holed up in fancy hotels in the Green Zone.

It is my hope that after the referendum, next week or next weekend at the least, I will be able to travel to Baghdad to report myself. But until then, this is at least a workable option. If you have any questions you would like answered from Baghdad, feel free to email me at: aliveinbaghdad at gmail dot com. I will see if I can find answers to your questions, that is why I am here!

Perhaps I will know more about the visa tomorrow or Monday, once I can contact the embassy again. I’ll keep you updated…

Speaking Arabic to the Japanese and Spanish with an Argentine… - 10.06.2005

Today I spent most of the day taking Arabic lessons and then visiting the main University in Amman. After which I had my first trip to a supermaket in the Middle East, it was interesting, and much like any other small supermarket I had been to in the past.

Guess what the word for supermarket in Arabic is? That’s right, Supermarket!

So although the trip was enlightening from a sociological perspective, and strengthening my Arabic will be helpful, most of the day wasn’t particularly productive. However, I wasn’t too worried since I had an interview with a British Iraqi planned for the evening.

After a short nap I had dinner, used the internet, and by 7:30 my interview subject still had not shown. I was beginning to get discouraged when Raafat appeared! Raafat is my contact in Amman, someone I have been unable to reach since arriving here five days ago. Before arriving in Jordan, Dahr Jamail had highly recommended contacting Raafat.

You can imagine my excitement and pleasure when he arrived unexpectedly. We spoke for a little while and he apologized for arriving so late, he had been in Aqaba for five days, staying near the desert with little phone service and no internet. I told him it was no problem, and we quickly decided, rather than waiting for the interviewee, to leave him a note and head to the Al Saraya Hotel.

It quickly turned into a very productive evening, and great fun as well! At Al Saraya I met Fayez, the well educated and highly opinionated, but humorous, manager of Al Saraya. He had a lot of interesting things to share about the situation in the Middle East, as well as intriguing opinions about where things are going in Iraq. I’ll try to put together an article about the various opinions I have heard from the Arabs here about the situation, perhaps tomorrow morning before I meet Raafat again.

As the night wore on I met a volunteer Japanese nurse who spoke almost no English, and found myself communicating with her in Arabic, and if this weren’t enough, later an Argentine journalist showed up who will be leaving for Baghdad in the morning. This journalist spoke little English and no Arabic, so I ended up communicating with her in my broken Spanish, while relating what we were saying, mostly in English, to Raafat and Fayez!

It was an experience I never expected to have in Amman! After many cups of coffee and tea, and far too many cigarettes (I never smoke in the States, for those of you who aren’t aware, but it is fast becoming a habit in the Middle East! I have a joke with the concierge here at Al Munzor that he is trying to kill me with his cigarettes because I am an American!) Raafat and I rose to leave. We were enticed to remain for just one more cup of coffee and after a bit of haranguing, we decided to stay.

This was quite lucky, for shortly after we made our decision, another Arab journalist appeared who has been receiving much in the way of media, videos and photos from the Resistance and others in Iraq. I am not sure yet what to think of him, but he swore he had many videos, that he will show us tomorrow. I am excited, but also a little cynical, since the photos he did show me I had already been shown by Raafat earlier in the evening.

Tomorrow Raafat and I will try to meet some Iraqis here and, inshah allah, we will get an interview or two on tape. Then in the evening, after Iftar (the breaking of the fast during Ramadan) we will meet the Arab journalist, and I will post another update. If the journalist gives me any new photos, those will be posted as well. I suspect there will be at least some more photos from Raafat tomorrow, so check back during the day!

Pictures From Haj Ali, of Detentions and Torture -

These are the pictures Haj Ali has provided me with so far. A word of warning, they are disturbing to the extreme, and there is no censorship of them once you click the link. Please prepare yourself for much worse than the Abu Ghraib photos you have already seen:
Photos of Detentions/Killings

Transcript of Interview with Iraqi visiting Amman - 10.05.2005

This is the transcript of my Interview with Moafuk Mohammed today at the Marriot Hotel in Amman. His family has an apartment here that they use sometimes. He is visiting Amman while in transit to London for business. Hopefully there will be a video posted soon of some of the interview. For now, here is the rough transcript.

AIB: What would you like to tell the Americans?

MM: The main source of outrage among the Arabs against America is Americaís ill treatment of the Arab-Israeli cause. If America is willing to establish peace, it has to be fair, it has to insist on a Palestinian State, a viable State, so that Palestinians and Arabs can find common language with America and Americans.

AIB: What is the reason for the American invasion?

MM: The Reasons behind the war against Iraq, there are two reasons. One is America’s growing imports of oil, because Iraq has the 2nd largest oil reservoir. There are no other alternatives, but the Middle East, and Iraq is in the core of that. The other reason is protection for Israel. Protection for Israel. These are the 2 reasons that prompted the American administration to wage the war. But it coincided with the aim of the Iraqi parties who will work against Saddam, the opponents of Saddam. Iraqis were willing to get rid of the Dictatorship of Saddam, so the Iraqis from one side and the Americans on the other, joined forces to topple, oust, Saddam from office.

AIB: What was Iraq like, before the most recent war?

MM: Iraq waged war against Iran, for 8 years, during the 8 years the whole country was demolished, the infrastructure, the industry, so on so forth, 8 years later, the way was ended, but soon after, we invaded Kuwait, and that was the finale, the final. When the alliance of course, drove the Iraqis from Kuwait, and then the whole country infrastructure was devastated, after that, we had the embargo and the sanctions, the UN Sanctions have adverse impact on Iraqis, on the people, not on the government, not on Saddam, the people suffered, of hunger, of disease, of illiteracy, 8 years of sanctions managed to demolish the entire country.

AIB: What is your opinion of Saddam Hussein?

MM: Saddam Hussein is a tyrant, a dictator, who ruined the country. Saddam Hussein, I donít have enough words to tell you what Saddam was. I have every reason to suggest that the majority of Iraqis were against him. And this is why it was easy for the Americans to and the allied forces, it was easy for them to invade Iraq and of course to occupy the entire nation, the whole country, Baghdad could not resist for more than five hours, and the American tanks reached the presidential palace.

AIB: Could it be good when the Americans came, or was it always going to go very bad?

MM: The Americans have committed fatal mistakes, to start with, the dismantling of the Iraqi army, and the, and the other security forces. Which left the entire country open for looters, criminals; the borders were wide open for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. So believe you me, the Americans have committed fatal mistakes.

AIB: What is the situation in Iraq?

MM: Total chaos. The government is not there. Very weak. Unsafe. Security is not there, and you can tell from the number of car bombs everyday, and the death toll everyday, everyday we have car bombs we have explosives, and the death toll is now around 100 person every day, civilian, children, women, elderly people, indiscriminate war, against the people. Of course and we have looting and you have criminals, kidnapping, you name it.

AIB: What can force the Americans to leave?

MM: I donít think there is anything that will force the Americans to withdraw, to pullback. There are, there is a view that it would be even worse if the Americans pull back, before installing a strong government to protect the country. That would be another mistake and a wrong signal for the terrorists. Unless we have a constitution and a strong government, intelligence forces, security, and an army who can defend the country, that will be another fatal mistake. Believe you me.

AIB: Do you think its possible that the constitution can be good?

MM: I have my reservations on the constitution, but, we donít have, but we have no alternative but to say yes, otherwise, the interim period will be, prolonged for another two years. What we need now is stability, is to establish security, to establish peace. If we say no, and the constitution was refused by the people, then we will have another couple of years of anarchy, of chaos, which I think we are fed up with, we, we need to see security, peace, so that we can go to our work, to our schools, to our hospitals, to lead our normal life. We are sick; we are fed up with this chaos.

AIB: Do you think civil war is inevitable?

MM: No. I think Iraqis, Sunni and Shiía are very much aware of the danger of civil war; we have lived together for hundreds and hundreds of years. In peace and harmony, of course there are those who are working, who are banking on a civil war, but I am sure that will not happen.

AIB: How can we ensure this?

MM: Nowadays we have conferences and meetings between the two sides, the Sunni and Shiía to work out a national declaration which concerns unity and harmony amongst the two sects.

AIB: Do you think it could be said that there is a legitimate resistance as well as an insurgency?

MM: Resistance is legitimate. But, definitely, terrorism is not. However, there are those who believe that we can work out with Americans on a schedule, to pull back, so we need not resort to guns, to force the Americans, if we can work out a sort of timetable to get the Americans to pull back, why resort to war?

AIB: Do you think this is possible?

MM: Yes, I think this is possible. Because, at the end of the day, the Americans have to pull back, have to go home.

AIB: Can you describe how it is possible to live in Baghdad?

MM: It is very dangerous every day. It is very dangerous; it is very risky to go around. I donít go around. It is very risky. Indeed it is. But not only of the insurgency, but of ordinary criminals, I may get kidnapped. Here, now, in Amman, everywhere in the world there are Iraqis who deserted their country, of fear of kidnapping, of killing. It is very risky.

AIB: How do you think that Iraq can convince these people to come back?

MM: Unless security is re-established, then it would be very difficult to convince anyone of those who left the country, for this particular reason, to go back. Why would they come back? Without these security being restored?

AIB: Could you describe for people in the United States, elsewhere in the world, the Occupation, can you describe it? What it means?

MM: Well, these are different points of view. Let me tell you one thing. It is almost unanimous that Americans did a very bad job. They did not do their homework before coming to Iraq. They thought that they will be welcomed by Iraqis with flowers. Of course this did not happen. Nobody on earth would accept what you call it, an Occupation. People have the right to resist Occupation. On top of that, there are some American soldiers or servicemen, who are so bad, in treating the people so there is a sort of discontent, with American behavior.

AIB: Other Iraqis have told me that the various parties, because they run their own security forces, that they work for their own interests. Do you think it is possible for them to come together?

MM: No. No. Very difficult, every party has its own interests and viewpoints and perception of how to run the country. No. It would be a miracle if all those parties come together and to unite and join forces. No. Very difficult.

AIB: So how can we ever expect there to be a strong government in Iraq?

MM: Yes. Election, and polls, you know, we expect to have another election early next year. And from now, of course, parties are making alliances and this sort of thing among them. WE have to resort to, what you call it, the ballot box. What else?

AIB: In a country that is now majority Shiía do you think it is possible? After so many years of oppression, how is it possible to reconcile?

MM: We have to reconcile. Iraq is not a country to be run by one sect or one ethnic group, by Arabs alone, or Kurds, Sunni or Shiía alone. We have to come to some sort of reconciliation; we have to learn how to live together, after all that. And I believe the majority of Iraqis are very much aware of that, we have to live in peace. There are of course some differences, but the only way to continue is to reconcile.

AIB: What can be done? How can this reconciliation happen?

MM: The first step is to amend the constitution. This is the first step, not to enforce a constitution which is resented by the Arabs by Arab World and the Sunnis. And I can see no reason why we should not do that. That constitution which was drafted and accepted by the National Assembly, we need to amend that, we need to make some changes, to appease, to please the rest of them, the people. If we manage to do that, if we can accomplish that, then this is the first step.

AIB: Do you think this has to happen in the next two weeks?

MM: Very unlikely. Very Unlikely.

AIB: Can you describe a little more about an average day in Iraq?

MM: An average day. I leave for work at 7:30 from where I live; I get to my office at 8. We have power cuts every now and then, and when it is summer, then you are left with just unbearable heat, you have power cuts you have your computers cut off, your life is very difficult. And on your way back, you may face an American convoy and insurgents or a car bomb may target this convoy, and you get, and you lose your life, for no reason. This is a daily experience. When you leave your house, youíre not certain that youíre coming back to your family because you may get trapped, any time. On your way back and forth, this is our life.

AIB: Have you known any people whoíve been hurt or killed?

MM: Yes. Yes. In fact a cousin of mine, who was a doctor, a heart specialist, was killed by an American. For no reason. He was ordered to stop, at the checkpoint, couldnít recognize the sign, and he was immediately shot dead. A young man, in his early forties, very clever, we lost him for no reason. And of course there are tens if not hundreds of such stupid accidents. Oh my goodness. There are so many people killed who are killed by Americans, for no reason.

AIB: Has there been any move at all by the Americans to try to do anything?

MM: I donít think so. I donít think so. They have excuses for every bad accident of the sort. They simply say it was self-defense, when the poor guy was unarmed.

AIB: What do you think that means that the Americans, the international community stands by and does nothing, when they say anything we have to do for protection it is ok?

MM: This is a sort of resentment among Iraqis. -break-
Of course this is a sort of resentment among Iraqis. They have to find a way not to kill innocent people. They have to find, but we know of course, American servicemen are very nervous and they fear terrorists, fear insurgents, and many times they lose control. They are out of control. At the end of the day we have innocent people get killed for no reason. And when ever we say that, we tell the Americans to do something about that, what we receive is only apologies, for that was not intended, that sort of thing. But how will we convince their families, what have they done to get killed?

AIB: Do you see parallels with Israel with this situation?

MM: Absolutely. Indeed, and you very you always come across this sort of-what do you call it? When people describe what is happening in Iraq with what is happening in Palestine at the hands of the Israelis? Analogy!

AIB: Do you expect that there will be more wars like this in the Middle East?

MM: Well, if we, if we follow the neo-conservative thinking, then we expect the next target will be Syria, and Iran, perhaps. If the neo-conservative sort of thinking is to be followed, by the American administration. Now of course Syria is under heavy attack of pressure with an end to alienate Syria. There are reasons to suggest that terrorists have their training camps in Syria, and there are former Baathists who are based in Syria and finance the terrorists and insurgents. There may well be some exaggeration of that. But there are some truth to that, definitely, and this is why it may well, may well end in-I donít know whether it is in the interests of Americans to have a strong government in Syria or a weak one.

AIB: What can the International Community or even American citizens do, to help ensure that this wonít happen?

MM: I cannot answer this question. But certainly Americans are very much aware of the risk in involving in another war, in Syria or Iran, and believe you me; Iran would not be an easy target. You know, due to the country is vast country with population of I donít know, 80 million, inhabitants or persons, it wonít be easy. Believe you me. And you have experienced that under Carter, when Carter attempted to free the American embassyís hostages. It was a catastrophe. Do you know about that?

AIB: Is there anything you would like to tell Americans or other people about Iraq, about what your hope for Iraq is?

MM: Iraqis are very keen to regain their country, to restore peace, to restore security. So that we can rebuild our country that was ruined by thirty-five years under Saddam and then under the American Occupation. And we are endowed to do that, Iraq is endowed with all resources, work force, and educated people we are entitled to have a better life.

Stuck here in the Jebels with you… - 10.04.2005

After the visa office I returned to the Hotel Al’Munzor to collect my thoughts and prepare for the rest of the day. I was hoping to meet up with an Iraqi I met and had lunch with on Sunday, who is staying here at the hotel, but he was out all day.

At three o’clock I left to go to the Marriott Hotel, in order to meet with Marfaq, Mohammed Alwan’s brother-in-law. It is my hope to interview him first, and if it goes well, I will be able to interview the whole family, or at least many of them.

Because I have been having a lot of trouble with the taxis in Amman overcharging, I decided I would walk on Jamil’s suggestion that it would only be a 15 minute walk from the hotel.

Unfortunately, in Amman we have these things known as “jebels” which are kind of like a combination between hills and cliffs. Because of the jebels, Amman is a lot like parts of San Francisco, but without the cool ocean breeze or the hippies.

So because of the Jebels its really difficult for a foreigner like me to navigate the city, as the roads are based around circles and overpasses, so unless you know which stairs to take up or down, you may have to take a very roundabout path, just to get to some place that is 10 or 15 minutes away.

I unfortunately become lost very quicly, because the road signs are helpful mainly to cars, not people. This is most likely because there are fairly regular and fairly cheap “Madhaba Buses” around the city, as well as plenty of service taxis and regular taxis.

I began to ask for directions and had a few short but interesting conversations with men on the street about Amman. However it soon became clear that few people knew exactly where the Marriott Hotel was located, perhaps because the ease of the bus system may make it unnecessary to know where things outside of your general circle or Jebel are located.

Eventually I received directions from a man, who seemed to know where the Marriott was, and he pointed it out on the skyline. A huge, beautiful round building that I had seen many times while riding around Amman in the taxis.

So I waited for a long time for a bus or service taxi, and met some people at the stop. We spoke for a while and had a hard time flagging down a taxi. Eventually a Madhaba bus showed up, and my new Egyptian friend suggested we just take it. It was almost entirely full however.

Perhaps you have never seen a Madhaba Bus or a “Chicken Bus” in Central and South America. These are like buses that we have in the States, but they are just packed full of people, so there is hardly any room to even breathe. It is quite an experience however, and in Amman, more comfortable than the buses in Guatemala, and a good way to make fast friends!

You have probably guessed where this is going. By the time I was able to get the bus to stop, we had passed the hotel by more than a block, and when I reached the hotel I found it was not the Hotel Marriott, but the Royal Hotel! So in the end I had to take a Hotel Taxi to the Marriott, which was quite expensive, 3JD for only a short distance, and then when I reached the Marriott I was about 45 minutes late and Marfaq had already left!

So I took a taxi back to the hotel, had a nap, then checked some email and by then it was time for Iftar, which made me very happy as I was quite hungry, having eaten almost no food all day. It is of course Ramadan in Jordan now, as in all the Muslim world, so it is impossible to go to a restaurant during the day, and in order to have food you must make a plan to go to a grocery and then back to your hotel or home in order to make a meal.

Perhaps needless to say, with all of my adventures around town today, with the visa and trying to find Marfaq, I had no time for food, so we had a very good dinner at Iftar, and some watermelon afterwards. I was able to log and capture Haj Ali’s interview this evening, and hopefully, inshah allah, Jamil will do some more translating of it tonight because he is on the night shift all evening, and by tomorrow morning Jordanian time, we will be able to upload the video.

Until then.

Visa Update… #2 -

There are many people trying to go to Iraq. I must admit after yesterday, when there was hardly anyone at the Embassy, I expected the same today. I was very surprised this morning. When I arrived I was told to go to the rear of the Embassy, where the Visa Entrance is.

Behind the Embassy there was a chaotic queue of people waiting to get into the visa office. There were many people of all types waiting to get visas, businessmen, young women, old women, men who fit the American stereotype of Muslims with long beards and traditional clothing.

I was unsure at first what to do, some people had many forms with them, others had nothing but their passports. I was worried that I was in the wrong line or that I would wait a long time and have to get back in line with the proper forms, but I didn’t know what else to do, so I waited.

After 30 minutes or so I made it into the office in the rear of the Embassy, the same place I had gone the day before. There were even more people in the are of the back office, and eventually I found my way to Walid Alrawi, who is the man to see for a visa if you are from an outside country.

I spoke to him, filled out the various forms, left two photos etc. He told me that it may take a week or possibly more to approve the visa, because they have to cable Baghdad with the application for approval.

So now I have a decision to make. I have been told that if I take a plane to Baghdad I should be able to get a visa the same day at Baghdad International Airport, but if this isn’t true and they refuse me, then I will have spent about $700 to fly to Baghdad and back, without ever being allowed entry to the country.

I think I will do this if I don’t hear anything about the visa in 5-7 days, but again, it is very expensive and since the trip has been all by donation, it might not be the smartest thing to do or the best use of the money for the trip, and certainly, if for some reason I was given a visa after I returned to Amman, it would be very hard to return again.

As soon as there is more about the visa it will be posted.

Visa Update… - 10.03.2005

I travelled to the Iraqi Embassy today, and met with the man at the front desk. He looked over the papers and sent me on to the back of the Embassy, to look for Walid Alrawi, who is the person to approve visas.

When I went to the back I found what appeared to be some kind of party, and it was unclear at first whether they just did not want to be bothered with me, or whether they really couldn’t help me.

The man I spoke with, who was wearing a nice suit (perhaps an Armani?) told me to go back to the front to speak to a different man.

This man, whose name I didn’t catch, told me to come back on Tuesday, between 9 and 11 in the morning. Everyone there led me to believe that because I am a journalist, if everything checks out, I might receive a visa by the afternoon of the same day!

So tomorrow I will head to the Embassy again, and post an update as soon as I have one.

In other news, I don’t think I will be doing another interview tonight, although there is a chance of a follow-up with Haj Ali. If not, then I should have a segment of the previous interview edited together, and perhaps it will be posted by tomorrow. If the connection is fast enough here.

Also, I reached Mohammad Alwan’s family and will hopefully interview them tomorrow, along with another friend of Haj Ali, and a British Iraqi I met at the Al Monzer. In all, it could be a very productive day!

The Continuing Legacy of Abu Ghraib - 10.02.2005

Haj Ali is an Iraqi who was released from Abu Ghraib after five months when it was decided that he was ďwrongfully arrested.Ē In the States many people seem to think that after the Abu Ghraib investigations, everything changed in Iraq, and this ended the mistreatment of prisoners that has often involved abuse, at best, and torture, at worst. In fact these practices still go on, particularly in so-called ďprivate prisonsĒ and ďparty prisons.Ē I spoke with Haj Ali last night and he explained some of this to me.

Haj Ali, who was prisoner number 151716, was taken to Abu Ghraib on the fifteenth of October 2003. He was kept there for five months until he was put on a truck, taken to the desert and dropped off on the highway. The soldiers told him he was free because he had been ďwrongfully arrested.Ē He stood up to leave the truck and he says he ďwas kicked in the ass by one of the soldiers and because he is fat he fell off the truck and hit the ground very hard.Ē When he removed the hood he found himself on the highway with many other released prisoners. They were abandoned by the military and left to make their own way back to their homes.

Haj Ali has since spoken at many conferences about Human Rights and detentions, mainly in the Middle East because he has much difficulty obtaining a visa to leave the country. Just this week he was to go to Italy to speak at a conference there, but the Italian Embassy has stonewalled his attempts to obtain a visa. They claim that he is a terrorist. It is unclear if this is because he was in Abu Ghraib, or because he is an Iraqi, or perhaps because he is an outspoken Iraqi. Haj Ali claims he is the Iraqi pictured in the now infamous photo of a detainee in a black hood with electrodes attached to his hands. I have not yet been able to confirm this, however while I have been here an Australian journalist, Olivia Rousset from SBS Dateline in Australia has been following Haj Ali. SBS apparently feels Haj Aliís story is credible enough to finance a short documentary piece on him and the Abu Ghraib story. Haj Ali has also helped found an organization, ostensibly with all of the surviving Iraqis from the infamous Abu Ghraib photos. His organization, Association of Victims of American Occupation Prisons, is hoping to create a change for Iraq, in the way the prisons are run, in the manner that Iraqis are treated, and, he hopes, a change for Iraq overall.

Haj Ali assured me that his organization is important because these actions continue, many of them now caused by Iraqi guards, who were trained by the United States and who attempt to imitate the Americansí actions. He wanted to emphasize that the best thing that can happen is for the United States to leave Iraq, for many reasons, not the least of which being the soldiersí abuse of Iraqis and their impact on average Iraqis because they have encouraged the practice of abuse and torture by their actions.

While he was in Abu Ghraib, he suffered many things, not only the pictures with the electrodes and the hood. They gave him many nicknames, strip him naked and then, with a thick marker, they wrote on him. For awhile they called him ďColin Powell,Ē after the previous Secretary of State, and the soldiers wrote this name on his forehead, across his chest and back, all over his body. They gave him other nicknames as well, such as Gilligan and Big Chicken. They also forced him to dress in a bikini type bathing suit or underwear, and they threatened to show this to all his family, his children, his wife, his cousins and other family. For those who are not aware about Muslim custom, it is important to make clear why this is so offensive, even more so than simple humiliation.

In Islam, it is forbidden to publicly display your body, from your midriff near the belly button to your knees. So for Haj Ali, who is a very religious man, this is an incredible insult and defamation, it is a violation of his religion for him to do this. One way to understand how dedicated and religious Haj Ali is will be to understand the reason he is referred to by the term ďHaj.Ē This is because he has made the Haj, the religious pilgrimage to Mecca. So now, as a term of respect, though his given name is Ali Shalal Abbas, most people simply call him Haj Ali.

Today these prisons and humiliations still continue in Iraq, whether we discuss the public use of confessions and humiliations of alleged insurgents on television, or less public actions, it is continuing. There are prisons run by militias and parties all over Iraq. This is because the only groups that have been able to keep order continuously in Iraq are the militias, which are dedicated to the goals of their specific parties, which are often no more than the political arms of tribal factions in Iraq. Groups such as the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army are only some of the militias that are better known in the media.

To prove that these torturous practices and abuses are still continuing, Haj Ali provided me with two dozen photos of injured or deceased Iraqis, with many clear signs of abuse. These photos are all of detainees from Iraq, and clearly demonstrate abuse. I can only post the photos here for your perusal to make your own decision about their truth. A photographer who works for the Association produced these. In my own investigations, they appear to me to be valid, but in todayís world of Adobe Photoshop and digital imaging, I admit it can be difficult. Many of these photos are quite gruesome, so please be advised. You can find them here.

Being aware that these practices are still occurring is very important, because the media in the United States, particularly, has appeared to describe Abu Ghraib as an isolated phenomenon. But because these abuses are still happening, and are quite widespread, it is important to be aware of this. The abuses are still occurring, often carried out by members of the Wolf Brigade, the Badr Brigade, and others. The use of private detention facilities has shown up recently in Basra as well. In Basra, militia members posing as police detained two British soldiers, and the conflict between competing militias and parties has risen again.

Beyond this, he informed me that ďmany of the people who are now in the interim government are known criminals, and just because they were imprisoned by Saddam, that does not mean they are not criminals.Ē For example, it is important to remember that Ahmad Chalabi was a criminal, who left Iraq for London to evade prison. ďThe United States, they brought many criminals to Iraq to run the government, and these people, they donít really care about Iraq, each one wants the best for his own party, his own group, not for Iraq.Ē These parties are the same as the militias and parties discussed above. Haj Ali also told me that Iran is very much involved in influencing the Shiía parties in the Iraqi government, using money and influence to push an Iranian agenda in Iraq.

Haj Ali believes that the way the United States can be made to leave Iraq is if the American people make it so, much like in Vietnam, if the people of the United States say no, he believes the government will have to leave. This is because ďthe United States, the people, are always there, governments change, but the people are still there, so perhaps the United States will not leave today, but the government will change, George Bush will leave office eventually, and if the American people want it, then the United States will leave Iraq. He told me that he knows ďthe American people they can be very generous, that they have helped many countries in the past but right now, in Iraq, this is not the situation, and they must leave because the Americans are not helping.

for another story about Haj Ali, look here.

Picking Fights in the Middle East -

The flight to Jordan was fairly uneventful. Just long with plenty of bad television. When I arrived in Amman this afternoon at 4:30 PM local time, it was a generally chaotic scene. Iím certain that most airports in foreign countries will appear unfamiliar to the traveler. Coming from the airports of the United States where bodies rush past each other with little more than a glance, arriving at the airport in Jordan I was overwhelmed by the helpful offers of Jordanian locals, having to explain several times that I knew where my bags were and that I could take care of them myself.

After this I found a taxi, which appeared to be no more than a guy with a car and time on his hands. He approached me multiple times; while I was looking for a calling card, making the call, and after finishing, to offer a ride. I accepted, and was a little surprised to find that his car was not with the taxis, but in fact in the airport parking lot. No matter, he only asked 3.5 JD (Jordanian Dinar) over what I have been told was the going rate.

Although most of the Jordanians on the road appeared to follow general traffic laws and rules of the road, the driver of my taxi seemed to have a penchant for driving in the middle of the road, so he could quickly maneuver from lane to lane when necessary. This was slightly disconcerting to me, but nevertheless we arrived with a minimal of horn blowing from irate drivers on the road and little event of note.

He is from Jordan but has a brother who lives in Brooklyn that he spoke tp on the phone with while I was in the cab. He was excited by my small amount of broken Arabic, I suspect it will get much better in the coming days. The first real event of note was when I arrived at the Al Monzer Hotel.

On the ride to the hotel, the driver told me several times that I did not want to stay at the Al Monzer and that it was dirty, etc. So I was not surprised when I arrived at the condition of the hotel when we arrived. Keep in mind that Kathy Kelly from VITW (Voices in the Wilderness) assured me that the taxi driver would attempt to convince me to stay at a separate hotel. After I had moved into my room, I went downstairs to look in on what had appeared to be a bar, to find a drink, and perhaps some of the journalists I had been assured were staying at the Al Monzer.

Imagine my surprise when I found that what from the outside appeareared to be a ďbar,Ē was in fact the Al Monzer itself! I had been tricked by the hotel that shares the building with Al Monzer, in order to rent a room for only 8JD! Keep in mind the exchange is .7JD per 1 US Dollar. I met Jameel at the desk of the A-M and he assured me that when his Boss returned, heíd have a word with the proprietor of the other hotel, and weíd settle this quickly. At this point Jameel regaled me with stories of all the people he knew, who I also happen to have made acquaintance with over the past several months, preparing for this trip. People like Joseph Carr, Dahr Jamail, Sheila and Matt from CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) among others.

At this point Jameel introduced me to Haj Ali, an Iraqi who spent several months in Abu Ghraib and is in Jordan currently, trying to set up an organization to advocate for the rights of Iraqi detainees. Hajali speaks almost entirely Arabic, and as I speak only very little Arabic, we had some trouble communicating at first. With Jameel as a translator, though, it went well. I explained to Hajali about the Alive in Baghdad project and my trip. He showed me many photos that he has of detainees who have been injured or killed. I will ask him about posting these photos, and hope to have them up late Sunday, Jordanian time.

Tomorrow Haj Ali will head to the Italian Embassy here in Amman because he continues to be refused a visa. He is attempting to travel to a conference in Italy this coming week and is meeting with them tomorrow because they are supposed to make a final decision regarding the visa. He has invited me to travel with him to the embassy to see what happens.

I hope that at least some photos from the trip will be available on the site soon after, and I plan to interview Haj Ali tomorrow about his organization, his time in Abu Ghraib, the Occupation, and the various photos he has passed on to me. I suspect I will have an article posted by late Sunday evening, again Jordanian time.

Iíve been in the country less than 12 hours and already I have stumbled onto what should be the first of many great stories. Keep an eye on the site for more soon!

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