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Alive in Baghdad Enters Third Stage, Please Help Us Sustain! - 08.01.2006

As those of you who have been with us from the beginning are well aware, Alive in Baghdad was started in the summer of 2004, with the intention of providing a space for the voices and images of Iraqis.

On my first trip to the Middle East, I travelled to Jordan and Baghdad, to prove that it was feasible and possible for a videoblogger to travel to a warzone, without the kind of security and funding backing people like Kevin Sites, of the “Kevin Sites: In the Hotzone” Yahoo! blog.

During this trip myself and the Alive in Baghdad team, based in the United States, proved that we could interview Iraqis all over the city of Baghdad, all from a base outside the Green Zone.

You can see one of our first noteworthy videos here:

A Day in Baghdad

I just returned from my second trip, and the second phase of Alive in Baghdad, on July 4th. In our second phase we transported five cameras, microphones, tape, and other necessities to correspondents in the Middle East. By providing this equipment we have established two permanent correspondents, and have one more now in his trial phase.

Together we have begun producing videos about life in Iraq, such as episode 3, which we consider one of our favorites:

An Afternoon at the Gas Station

Now that I am back in the United States for a brief period, we have begun editing video coming directly out of Baghdad, shot entirely by our correspondents there.

You can see some examples of these here:

Windows on Baghdad, Crisis of Curfews

This is our latest piece from correspondent Omar Abdullah.

Baghdad Hospital Children’s Ward

This video was produced with content contributed by correspondent Isam Rasheed

An Iraqi Artist Describes Life in Baghdad and Her Work

This is one of Omar’s first video shoots.

As we move forward into our third stage, we aim to become a sustainable source of regular video from Iraq, and will begin uploading a weekly major episode, while providing additional vignettes where possible.

In September I will be returning to the Middle East, and most likely re-entering Baghdad, in order to expand our operations, bring new equipment to our correspondents, and continuing their training.

In order to make this possible, we are launching a major funding drive, as the cost of keeping correspondents in Baghdad is not cheap! Please consider helping us continue our work. We are currently accepting donations via paypal through the Urbana Champaign Independent Media Center, which you can make via the Donate link.

If you are interested to help out or get involved in other ways, we still need help coding, as well as equipment for our correspondents and to expand the project. Please email me at aliveinbaghdad at gmail.com or respond via the contact form in our Contact section above with any questions, comments, suggestions, or offers of support.

Please syndicate our mainpage to have ongoing updates, or if you are interested primarily in our video, you may syndicate our video alone as well.




Poems for A Kidnapped Correspondent - 07.30.2006

The “Newsmericks” blog has two limericks posted in regards to our recently released correspondent. I wanted to post them here so everyone can appreciate their words of support as I do.

Limerick One:

In Baghdad, videography can earn
You a kidnapping, (that’s what we learn)
A blogger abducted
(By Guards unobstructed)
Let’s all speak out for his safe return!

Limerick Two:
(a comment from padmaja iyengar)

This is what happens in a rogue state,
Which cannot freedom in any form tolerate.
This is the height of intolerance,
of perversion and of violence.
Let’s pray for the safe return of the blogmate.

Again thanks to everyone for your support, Omar will be interviewing Marwan about the incident sometime today, and we will blog more about it as soon as possible. We also hope to have photos and video from the interview soon, with Marwan’s consent.




From Lebanon Under Assault - 07.29.2006

[Editor’s note: Shadi Al-Kasim has worked with Alive in Baghdad in the past, and may begin filing stories regarding the Middle East from elsewhere in Baghdad. His first dispatch of this new format is from Lebanon, and was initially filed on July 26th]

I left Amman at 7pm on Tuesday 18/7/2006 heading for Beirut. The car moved to Damascus. Upon arrival to Damascus, I headed for the bus station and took the first bus traveling to Hems where I departed to the Syrian Lebanese borders (Al Arida). I reached there at 5:30am on Wednesday 19/7/2006. the borders were very quiet from Syria to Lebanon. In fact only me and three others were leaving to Lebanon, where as the escapees from the hell of strikes were hundreds of different nationalities. We crossed the border into Lebanon heading for Beirut during which I witnessed the trail of ruins by the Israeli raids which covered the whole area. A few minutes prior to arrival to Tripoli, I saw a large Lebanese military base which incurred massive raids by Israel and was leveled to the ground. I reached Beirut at 11am. Soon after arrival, Al Ashrafiah was subject to Israeli strikes. I proceed to the hotel in Al Hamra area, where occupation reached 100% and the guests were all refugees from the south of Lebanon, escaping the hell of strikes and damage.

In the evening, Beirut witnessed a violent strike. On Thursday 20/7/2006, I made some interviews with several refugees. First I met Mrs. Betol Fawaz, aged 32 and married with two children; one was a girl 9 years old and a six-year-old boy. I asked here where did you come from?

She said: from Al Juwayah, from the south.

She added: the situation is very complicated over there; lots of misery; people are dying; they are killing the children in cold blood; I don’t know what to say??? What is happening to us a is great injustice. My mother-in-law is paralyzed, but we cannot move here to Beirut. She will die. The Jews are striking everything. There is no electricity, no water, and no life at all. Finally, mother-in-law decided to stay and die over there.

What are they doing?? They are killing the innocent. It is unfair. Condoleezza Rice said that Hezbollah is a terrorist group. Let her come here and see how many innocent people were killed.

Betol couldn’t continue here words. She grasped here children and started to cry.

I made another interview with another refugee who left the south. He was Mohammad Al Dib, aged 19. He comes from Qana from the Lebanese south. Qana is a well-know town which was site for an Israeli massacre in 1990s.

He said: we were sitting at home when a violent strike started suddenly leaving a massive damage in my hometown. Lots of people died. Bodies were everywhere. Bombs couldn’t differentiate between a child and an elderly. It was a terrifying and ugly scene. I wish to address the Arab: you say you are Arab? You see your brothers massacred and killed while you are only watching. Is this Arabism and brotherhood?

Israelis say they are targeting the Party and its capabilities. They are lying. They are killing families and children. They are destroying the infrastructure totally. No one is stopping them.

They watch American violence and cowboy films and then they simulate that on us. My neighbor lost her legs by the strikes. What sort of life she will lead after losing here entire legs??? We will not lean to Israel and will die defending our homeland.

Plenty of displaced families and innocent children who do not understand why they are being killed??? You can see sadness and horror filling those innocent eyes.

At 9:15pm same day, the Southern Suburb was subject to extremely fierce strikes that the hotel walls, where I reside, were shaken and the windows shattered.

At 4:15pm on Thursday 21/7/2006 I headed, with the taxi driver to the Southern Suburb of Beirut. The streets were empty as if it was a city of ghosts. Trails of ruins and strikes were everywhere. You can see nothing but inspection points controlled by Hezbollah.

No one can have access to the Southern Suburb without permit by them. Otherwise he/she will be immediately arrested, as was the case with two British journalists along with their Lebanese interpreters. It was 5pm, Wednesday 20/7/2006 when they tried to enter and shoot without permission by Hezbollah forces. They were charged with espionage and now nobody knows anything about their destiny.

Hezbollah fighters asked me and the taxi driver to stay in the car until the officer in charge come. After 15 minutes, they came back and asked us to leave right away and come back at 11am. They told us that they receive journalists at 11am only. We left on the sport escaping the arrest.

We left for the area of the event Beirut which is next to the Southern Suburb, where the Israeli fighters raided a truck station and destroyed the whole trucks. Three drivers were killed. The scene of devastation was terrible. We got off the car and shot some pictures then headed for Ba’abda region, where the Israeli fighters stroke the main bridge at 1am the same day. It is well-know that the presidential palace is located in that area. The destruction scene was horrible. The bridge was struck with two 20-ton bombs, resulting in a giant damage and divided it into two. Lots of Christian Lebanese residents were watching the damaged bridge with astonishment.

I asked on of them: what’s your name?

He answered: Murad Antonius. I’m 40 years old and I live in Ba’abda. I’m very sad and angry at what’s going on. But I cannot blame Israel. We started, or Hezbollah to be correct. This is crazy. You cannot attack who’s several times stronger than you. We used to have many detainees in Israel, but now 3 millions of us are detainees. This is not fair.

I met many Lebanese Christians, Sunnis and Druze. All of them are indignant with Hezbollah and Israel. One of them told me: Lebanon is a state within a state. It is unbelievable.

The infrastructure was destroyed and Lebanon is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster. Medical and food supplies are running out. Lebanon nowadays is nothing but destruction, damage, strikes, and smell of death.

On the way back to Amman, near Zahla. Two civilian buses coming from the other side were struck, only 500 meters away from us, killing the entire passengers on the spot. The scene was terrible and repulsive.

Not those, until now, third of the total number of victims of the Israeli strikes are children.

[Editor’s note: Please consider making a donation earmarked for “Alive in Baghdad, correspondent Shadi Al-Kasim.” Because Shadi’s work is not currently focused on Iraq, we do not have the funds to pay him at this time. We are grateful to him for working with us and providing this important and timely work without pay. If you appreciate his work as I do, please make a small contribution to help his work, and that of Alive in Baghdad continue. Lastly, photos from Lebanon will be posted soon.]




Correspondent Released Today ! - 07.26.2006

It is with great happiness that I can tell you our correspondent was released this afternoon in Baghdad, after approximately 72 hours in detention.

We still cannot provide his name or any more specific information, as we have not been able to reach him for permission and the specific details about his detention.

His brother contacted our correspondent, Omar Abdullah, to tell him the good news.

As soon as we have more information, we will update the site immediately.

I would like to thank all of you who made an effort to send the word out about our correspondent and for all the support we’ve been provided in the last 24 hours.

Alive in Baghdad will continue producing media from Iraq, despite these recent events, and we hope to say the same about our recently released colleague, but only time will tell.




Kidnapped in Baghdad - 07.25.2006

It is with deep regret that I type some of the words I hoped would never come.

It is foolish to have thought we might somehow be safe from the violence and chaos of Baghdad’s streets. However, I somehow believed we had a kind of special defense or protection against the ordinary violence of Baghdad in 2006.

On Sunday morning, between 11am and 12pm, one of our newest correspondents disappeared from the al-Amal Neighborhood. He was there with his brother, gathering B-roll of the security in place around Baghdad’s gas stations, as well as the long refueling lines that continue to insult the residents of one of the world’s most oil-rich countries.

At the request of his family, we can only reveal certain information at this time. We hope their perspective will change soon, because we believe that, in this case, publicity is one of our most important tools to ensure our colleague’s safe return.

Before he began filming our correspondent confirmed permission with the Iraqi National Guard in the area who were maintaining security around the station. After they agreed to allow him to film, he took some footage of the National Guard’s security position and then moved on to shoot nearby the gas station.

While his brother waited in their car across the street, he approached the station and began gathering footage. This correspondent was hired primarily to gather footage around the city of Baghdad to provide our viewers insight into the day-to-day life on Baghdad’s streets.

Within ten to fifteen minutes of his approaching the gas station, gathering photos and video of the pumps, the long lines, etc. a civilian vehicle approached. Several men left this vehicle, they were not uniformed, but carried pistols, what appeared to be “police handcuffs” according to his brother, and other guns.

The correspondent was grabbed, blindfolded, and placed in the vehicle which then left the scene.

During this entire time, the Iraqi National Guard were nearby, within sight, and did nothing.

It is unclear who kidnapped him, but it is believed to be one of the militias that is connected to the current Iraqi government. The inaction of the Iraqi National Guard suggests it was either a militia or plain-clothed unit operating in the area.

It has now been over 48 hours since our colleague went missing. We are calling on press freedom outlets as well as other bloggers, vloggers, journalists, and governments to take a stance against this.

Alive in Baghdad has endeavored to be a non-partisan source of news about life in Iraq with Iraqis themselves producing content and telling stories about their lives.

If you have information or wish to offer support in the safe return of our colleague, please send an email to aliveinbaghdad at gmail.com.




Another interview with Brian - 07.24.2006

Brian was interviewed recently by WBAI radio about his experiences in Iraq and his work with the alive in baghdad project.
Thanks to fluxview for hosting this interview!

Available in: mp3 format




Interview with Brian - 07.09.2006


Click to Play


Brian was interviewed recently in New York by vlogger Randolfe Wicker. In this video Brian is asked about how he sees the Iraqi situation and the general sentiment from the people of Iraq as well as the differences between the roles of major media organi

Formats available: Quicktime (.mov), Flash Video (.flv)

This video was originally shared on blip.tv by Randolfe Wicker with a Public Domain license.




Blues Concert in Amman Reminiscent of Old Baghdad - 07.05.2006

I recently attended a Blues concert in Amman, with my Iraqi friends Uday, Muhanid, and Ali.

Afterwards I went out for a couple drinks with Uday. He seemed a bit despondent while we were out. When I asked him what was up, he explained that things like this concert weren’t so rare in Baghdad just 6 or 7 years ago, and before 10 or 15 years, were really common.

I hope by posting a small clip of a concert in Amman featuring a Spanish Blues band I can help to better describe the nuanced reality of life in the Middle East.

When we talk about the situation in Iraq, we need to be clear that not only have they lost stability and security and descended into sectarianism and in-fighting, they’ve also lost their access to a wide array of cultural heritage, from as near as the Tigris and Furat to as far away as Japanese Butu dancing and American metal bands.

Please visit http://aliveinbaghdad.org for more information about Iraq, and consider making a donation to support our work, we are totally funded by donations, so if you want our work to continue, be generous!

Formats available: MPEG1 Video (.mpg)




To Leave, Somehow - 07.04.2006

Brian Conley and Omar Abdullah

BAGHDAD, Jul 3 (IPS) - More than three years after the invasion, Iraqis seem increasingly to want to leave the country. Reports come pouring in about Iraqi refugees overwhelming Syria, Jordan and other nations in the region.

Last month the United Nations released a report that more than 150,000 Iraqis have been displaced since February.

Iraqis who do not have a passport head for the Mansur Passport Office in Baghdad. Most spend the night there to be in with a chance.

“I had to spend the night in here just to make sure I’ll be listed as one of the first 50 who arrived here,” Um Ali, a 40-year-old mother of four told IPS. “If they don’t list my name in the first 50, I will lose my chance to get a passport, and I’ll be forced to wait until I have a second chance.”

Um Ali explained the system; no one at the passport office would.

“Each neighbourhood in Baghdad has one day in the month for it. For example, Mansur has the tenth and al-Khadra is on the ninth and it goes on like this for six months, and if someone loses his turn, he will be forced to wait another six months.”

[Editor’s note: Please click “read more” under the title line, to view the full post]

But no one believes this system works perfectly well. Several people in the queue suggested that the government hands out about 100 passports a day, the rest sold on a sort of black market.

Sataar Jubouri and his wife Najla were lucky enough to make the first 50. They had slept the night in their car, just round the corner from the office.

“We slept near the trash and it smelt so bad, and there was flies all over the place,” Najla said. But that was better than violence, she said.

The violence seems the biggest reason driving Iraqis out of the country.

“My two brothers were killed in the violence after the shrine bombing (in Samarra on Feb. 22) and two of my best friends were killed right in front of my eyes, so I think this is enough reason for me leave the country,” said Um Ali.

Sataar and Najla want to leave because Sataar’s sister was kidnapped by one of Iraq’s many criminal gangs.

“They asked for a huge sum of money that we couldn’t afford,” he said. “We couldn’t find the money in time, so that group raped her, then they killed her. I don’t want the same thing to happen to my wife. I can’t even imagine such a thing might happen to my wife.”

Najla sounded shaken by the killing of her sister-in-law. “It was a big shock for all of us. It was something we just couldn’t take. It was a big crime and I hope god will punish them for what they did.”

Not everyone was lucky enough to be among the first 50. One man got into a scuffle with a police officer because families were being given priority over individuals.

“He doesn’t want to place my name on the list, and if I don’t get my name on that list I’ll be forced to wait for the next five months,” said the man, Mazen.

“I don’t think this is fair. He says family first so that means I will have to wait until all the families in Iraq sign their names on this list before I get my passport. Just because I don’t have a family doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have the right to have a passport.”

Sataar and his wife are a little more hopeful, though they do not know what they will do with themselves once they leave Iraq. “If I die from hunger outside Iraq, I’ll feel a lot better than being afraid day and night of being killed by some unknown person,” Sataar said.




Excessive Curfew One of Baghdad’s Many Insults - 07.03.2006

Curfew in Baghdad normally starts at 8 pm most days. This means no cars are allowed on the streets after 8pm, and you shouldn’t be wandering outside your house without extremely urgent business.

These days Iraqis tend to be at home by 5 or 6pm.

Before the war, even during the sanctions, Mansur was a hip, lively, exciting area. Think of it as the East Village or Mission District of Baghdad.

Now the curfew begins at 11am on Fridays, and doesn’t end until 6am Saturday. This means Iraqis are prevented from travelling the city for almost 24 hours one day a week.

When you include this with the other 60 hours Baghdad residents are under curfew, this means you are under curfew about half of your life in Baghdad.

The rest of the week curfew starts at 8pm and runs until 6am.

See some photos of curfew’s affect in Mansur here!




Passports Are Few and Far Between -

Iraqis are fleeing their country in record numbers. One of the biggest hindrances to leaving, however, is the passport department.

Only fifty passports are given each day, and each area of Baghdad is apportioned a specific day for their neighborhood.

Because there are so many neighborhoods, you must wait six months for your day to come around again. This difficult process leads Iraqis to spend the night in the street, just to be the first in line for their passport.

Here are some photos from our Iraqi correspondent Omar Abdullah, depicting the scene outside the Passport Department.

View the Photos Here!

[Editor’s note: Brian will be travelling Monday and Tuesday. If possible he will upload a new video early Tuesday morning.]




The Curfew in Baghdad - 06.28.2006

One of the most unusual things happening in Baghdad is the curfew which it starts from 8pm and ends at 5am. On Friday it starts from 11am and ends at 4pm to protect the people who go to mosques for prayers. I asked some people about the curfew and there answers were different. Ahmad, 21 years old, said “Now we don’t have night in Baghdad and you know that the night is most beautiful part of the day.”

I asked a woman, her name is Thekraa, about her opinion of the curfew and she said, “I think Iraq will be in a good condition if the government removed the curfew because I don’t see any differences between the old security plan and the new one. The curfew locks us in our home at night time and I think 8pm is a little too much. If the government will make it start at 12am it would be good for us as people live in Baghdad.”

I asked an Iraqi police officer, who refused to say his name, about the new security plan and about the curfew and he said “I think the curfew is good for the people’s safety but it prevents them from shopping at night time and I hope Iraq becomes clear from terrorists and clear from bombs so everybody can come and go safely. I’ll be very happy if this thing comes soon ”

Well for me I want everybody in Iraq to become happy, because the people here are really sad from what is happing in their country.




Saddam’s Execution Likely, Fair Trial Less So - 06.27.2006

Brian Conley and Omar Abdullah*

BAGHDAD, Jun 26 (IPS) - The trial of Iraq’s former president Saddam Hussein has been wracked with controversy and spectacle. Now entering its final phase, the question for all Iraqis and the world is whether he will be executed for the deaths of 148 Shiites, killed in Dujail in 1982, as requested by prosecutors.

Perhaps the better question is how Saddam’s execution will help Iraq move forward.

In the past, “The rule of the gun was more powerful than the rule of law in Iraq,” wrote David Crane in ‘The Jurist,’ a web-based legal news service, earlier this year.

“Saddam’s trial could reverse this and begin a process whereby the Iraqi people will begin to respect the rule of law. Get it wrong and the fledgling democracy that is the new Iraq is in trouble,” he added.

In fact, many Iraqis see too many similarities between Saddam’s trial and that of other former Iraqi government officials: the allies of Prime Minister Nuri al-Said and Crown Prince Abdul-Ilah.

In 1958, after Abdul Karim Qasem’s forces overthrew the monarchy, he established a court to try ministers and members of the army who collaborated with Britain and the king. This court, known as the al-Mahdawi Court, essentially conducted show trials, say lawyers and historians.

“It was just a kind of comedy or theatre for these people. They judged the leaders of the regime, but at least it was a national, Iraqi court,” a member of the Iraqi Lawyers Association told IPS. This attorney, who refused to give his name out of fear for his family, met with IPS in Amman, Jordan.

Like the trials by the al-Mahdawi Court, Saddam’s trial, too, seems to reflect theatre more than jurisprudence, Muhammad Tareq, director of the Monitoring Human Rights in Iraq network, told IPS.

“These two courts were both established by the enemies of the previous regime. They are not independent. What is the difference? Mahdawi pushed for execution, the same with (this) new trial,” Tareq said. “We must establish an independent committee to bring all the evidence out and move toward a real democracy.”

The new Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (SICT) was established to try Saddam Hussein, and civil society groups have said it has some disturbing similarities to the al-Mahdawi Court, and it is difficult to perceive fairness due to these similarities.

“Two of the crimes listed in Article 16 appear to have their origins in the military tribunal after the 1958 revolution. This tribunal, known as the Mahdawi Court, conducted overtly political trials, more concerned with discrediting the monarchy than with establishing the guilt or innocence of the accused. It is troubling that these offences have been included in the substantive jurisdiction of the SICT,” says Human Rights Watch in an October 2005 briefing paper.

Saleh Mutlaq, head of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, the second largest Sunni party in Iraq’s parliament, also questioned the veracity of the court, suggesting that Saddam should have been tried in an international tribunal.

“We do not think this government is fair or this judge and this court are fair. The best thing is to take Saddam outside Iraq and question him in a respectable court, then he will get what he should get. Questioning Saddam in this way is an insult for the Iraqis and it is an insult to the law in Iraq,” he told IPS in Amman.

In addition, Mutlaq and others said the Iraqi governing council should have appointed non-Iraqi judges with experience in these types of tribunals, as allowed by Iraqi statutes.

It is difficult to understand why even this small concession was not made to provide the trial greater legitimacy in the international community, observers said. Were the trial to employ Iraqi prosecutors and investigators, as well as internationally recognised justices, its impartiality would be much harder to assail, Mutlaq said.

Throughout the trial, Iraqis and other Arabs throughout the Middle East have been glued to their televisions, radios, and even computers for the latest updates. Early on, Saddam and his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim made repeated outbursts, some of which made it to the international press.

Much of the excitement and spectacle in the trial has been reported only to the Arab world. When four defence witnesses testified that at least some of the 148 in question were still alive, for instance, judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman had them arrested.

Other, more sobering, news has made the world press. To date, three defence lawyers have been assassinated. The remaining jurists live in Amman and fly to Iraq only for the trial. The Iraqi government will not even provide the first name of the prosecuting attorney who presented its side of the closing arguments.

Non-governmental organisations and anti-death penalty activists have come out to oppose the capital punishment for Saddam, but have focused mainly on the egregious issues surrounding his trial.

An influential Vatican official, Cardinal Paul Poupard, has asked those sentencing Saddam Hussein to abstain from the death penalty. “No one can consider himself the proprietor of another’s life and death, except the Creator,” he told a Catholic web site.

Marco Cappato, a member of the European Parliament for Italy’s Rosa nel Pugno party, called on the Iraqi government not to kill Saddam.

“The crimes Saddam Hussein is charged with are extremely serious. The answer, though, lies not in capital punishment,” he said in a released statement.

“Those who, like Saddam Hussein and like Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor, denied their own people the right to exist, still have a right to a fair trial, preferably one conducted under international jurisdiction: a trial that ‘brings to justice’ whilst fully respecting the rights of the accused and without resorting to the death penalty,” he said.

Saleh Mutlaq disagreed, saying that if Saddam is guilty of the charges, then he should be put to death. However, Mutlaq added he would only support such a sentence from a legitimate court.

On July 10, the defence will present its closing arguments, but the world now is preparing itself for the eventual outcome of Saddam’s trial.

If Saddam is condemned to die, the Kurds hope his sentence will be postponed until they can prosecute him for crimes committed in their region. If events up until now are any measure, Arabs can be expected to continue to tune into the trial in large numbers.

Iraqis such as Abu Salih, whose brother was killed by the Saddam government in 1992, are looking forward to the day when the former president is executed. “I want him to die just like he killed my brother, and I think this is justice because if a man kills anyone that man deserves to die.”

Perhaps many in the world hope for a third way, where justice will be served without adding Saddam to Iraq’s body count.




Two Phone Calls from the Baladiyat Refugee Camp -

[Editor’s note: Sunday night there was an attack by gunment in Baladiyat Refugee Camp, a camp for Palestinian Refugees in Iraq, that is situated in East Baghdad, on the border with Sadr City. Our correspondent Omar reached two residents by phone, here are their accounts of the events.]

Mr. Mohamed Jamal

51 year old Palestinian man married to an Iraqi woman

Omar: Sir, can you tell us a little bit about the Baladiyat Camp in Iraq and how did you get here?

Mr. Mohamed: The baladyat is a camp for Palestinians refugee in Iraq who came from Palestine in the year 1948 and those people were forced to leave there country by the Israel forces, then UN inhabit these buildings the make us live in it.

Omar: So what happened after the war?

Mr. Mohamed: Most of the Iraqi people think that Saddam used to give us money and power all the time, but in real there was no money and no power that what make most of the Iraqi people hate us so much.

Omar: Were there any abuses or attacks which happened after the war?

Mr. Mohamed: Yes, there were so many attacks that happened after the war, and most of these attack were by the Badr Brigade or the Iraqi National Guard, they used to come as convoys and detain young men from the camp and tortured them to death or put them in secret prisons, so the detainee’s family cannot find them, and we don’t know if they were really the Iraqi National Guard or a gang and we really want from the Iraq government to do something about it because we can’t live like this anymore we can’t send our children to schools and we can’t go to the markets because we are afraid from being kidnapped or killed by those people.

Omar: So can you tell me what happened last night?

Mr. Mohamed: As I remember I saw 3 cars with armed people in it, they were trying to kidnap a young man by force then he started to run so they simply shot him, after that, most of the young people in the baladyat camp came out when they heard the sound of the gun shots. After that they started to shoot on the crowd, two men were killed 3 were injured. The Iraq police came after a short while and they started looking for those 3 cars.

Amar

24 year old Palestinian (one of the eye witness)

Omar: Can you tell us what happened exactly?

Amar: Three cars came into the camp and they wanted to kidnap someone, but he ran from them and he called his friends to beat them. But they stated to shoot at them and the folks stated to throw rocks at them, and after that the police were here and they took control of the situation in here.

Omar: Who do you think did it?

Amar: Well I don’t know exactly, but I think that they are from one of those groups whom they hate Palestinians very much.

Omar: Thank you very much.




Kurds Stuck in No-Man’s Land - 06.20.2006

RUWEISHID REFUGEE CAMP, Jun 20 (IPS) - A small stretch of desert, sandwiched between the borders of Jordan and Iraq, is a “no-man’s land”, created by the Iraqi government’s decision to cede part of its western frontier to Jordan. It has become a place where refugees from the war in Iraq bide their time, desperate for resettlement.

For many, it all started when refugees from the Kurdish region inside Iran’s border fled their homes in 1979, after the Islamic revolution, and initially found a relative haven in Kellar in northern Iraq.

Not all were civilians fleeing government repression. Some sympathised with the separatist Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK, and some are believed to have been involved with the PKK in Iran. Fearing reprisals from Iranian agents for their actions or association, many were resettled to Al-Tash camp, outside Ramadi, Iraq, in 1982.

Azad Gvanmiri described some of the refugees for IPS: “We are a group of neighbours and supporters of Iranian organisations and parties against Iran. We have been refugees for 27 years, and one year and six months ago we left, because of our fear of being attacked by the Islamic regime of Iran.”

Sadr, an Iranian Kurd refugee who successfully made it to Jordan in 2003, recalled life in the Al-Tash camp: “There population of the camp was more than 10,000 people, and the camp was surrounded by barbed wire. The Iraqi government gave us ID cards on which was written, you don’t have the right to go outside Ramadi city. During all these years we had no facilities, formal schools, or health services. And unfortunately no organisation helped us.”

As the war progressed, many of them fled Iraq and were given refuge inside Jordan, at the Ruweishid refugee camp, where they await resettlement in Europe and other countries.

Those who remained have not been so lucky. After the United States’ second assault on Fallujah in 2004, life became very hard in that area of Al-Anbar province in western Iraq.

In January 2005 around 200 of the Iranian Kurds in the Al-Tash camp left Iraq, hoping to find refuge with their friends and relatives in Jordan.

The Jordanian government refused entrance however, feeling it had already reached its top capacity for admitting refugees from Iraq. Palestinians have also been denied entrance in recent months, and have opted for Syria instead.

The Kurds were able to leave Iraq, but found themselves stranded in this border region, known locally as no-man’s land.

Khabat Muhammadi is only 20 years old, but his colleagues have described him as a leader and spokesman for the residents of the camp. “On Jan. 11 we left the camp to meet the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency). They didn’t receive us, and we had no food, there was bad weather and many problems,” he told IPS in an interview.

Nearly a year and a half later, they are still waiting for a chance to find a peaceful existence away from the war and turmoil of Iraq and their homeland.

Each day the camp’s children — who make up about half the population — go to the Amman-Baghdad highway to beg for water and food from the constant stream of truck drivers traveling between the two countries.

The camp has tried to send adults for this task, but found the truck drivers only seemed to show sympathy towards the children.

“When I wake up, I go beside the Iraqi trucks with a jerry can for water and reach out my hands for water but they won’t give me even a little for drinking,” Gvanmiri said.

The children don’t always wait to ask, and simply take water or fuel from the trucks. “Many times the children took water without asking, and sometimes the truck drivers have beaten or punished them,” said Muhammadi.

The children in the No-Man’s Land camp are a ubiquitous presence. Fifty-one percent of the camp’s members are under 18, and more are on the way. There have been seven births in the camp. One of these children was still-born, due to the mother suffering bleeding during the birth.

The UNHCR has made repeated contacts with the camp in an attempt to solve the impasse over the refugees, but they have failed to devise a solution which the refugees themselves consider acceptable.

Just this week a representative from the UNHCR and the Kurdistan regional government visited the No-Man’s Land camp to again broach the offer of resettlement in northern Iraq. The refugees refused.

Many remember family members who were hunted down in Kurdistan by agents of Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime. “I was three months old when the Khomeini regime killed my father in Suleimaniyah. Iran killed him in 1986,” said a man giving his name as Barzan.

The UNHCR did not return IPS’s e-mails seeking information about the refugees in the No-Man’s Land camp. According to the Iranian Kurds, the UNHCR is treating this as a problem of economic refugees, but they stress that they are political refugees.

“We named our camp the Orphans of the International Community Camp,” said Gvanmiri. “We want our rights, we cannot live in Iraq after 27 years with no legal rights or identity, because we are the victims. Our problem is not starvation, our problem is a political problem. We are human and we should live as all the humans in the world.”

The refugees are running out of options. They have issued a threat to begin a hunger strike if the Jordanian government continues to refuse them safe haven, and if the UNHCR fails to intervene on their behalf.

Barzan explained that their lives are becoming very desperate. “The situation is very hard and we need water. Yesterday a five-year-old girl was burned by a campfire. Our situation is very bad, our babies are begging for food and water.”

Khabat Muhammadi says he will not accept silence from the UNHCR and Jordanian government. “On May 2 we held a peaceful demonstration, but they didn’t answer us. We told them if you do not support our human rights within the next days, we will begin a hunger strike in front of the UNHCR. We cannot live in this situation — it’s like a prison now. We cannot live another 27 years in No-Man’s Land.”

Azad Gvanmiri notes a personal irony in his condition as a refugee: “My name in English means ‘free’, but unfortunately I am not free. I am between two countries, but they refuse us; they will not allow us into Jordan. The UNHCR told us it is not their problem, it is up to Jordan, but the Jordanian government told us it is UNHCR’s problem.”

Barzan hopes members of the international community will come to see their situation and tell others, “Second by second we are suffering. We have a very good story, and you should come to see it, with your own eyes.




Some Arab News from Iraq over the Weekend -

[Editor’s note, please click “read more” just above, to see the entire entry]

Here is a summary of some security occurrences in Baghdad, from Arab news sources, Al-Khaleej Times, Al-Rafidain, and a few other agencies:

The violence show in Baghdad is still ongoing and the security plan and the curfew(Operation Forward Together) on some neighborhood ended its fourth day, also five explosions happened and some attacks north and south of Baghdad and that resulted for 34 people killed and at least 73 wounded and one American soldier killed and two soldiers considered as lost, and the American troops arrested 130 gunmen and killed three of them after an raid as they said.

And the most violence attacks happened on the corporate checkpoint for Iraqi police and the Iraqi army at the Al – Olwiyah neighborhood which in Baghdad and that result 11 from the soldiers and security men, and 15 wounded from a suicide bomber by car

Another explosion happened from IED at Haraj market in Baghdad and that resulted for 5 people killed and 25 wounded, and there are 4 people killed and 7 wounded from an explosion of a bomb inside a bus at Al Ameen neighborhood east south of Baghdad

And there is one civilian killed and 5 wounded from a car bomb targeting a police patrol near the national theater at Al Karadah neighborhood.

Three mortars exploded in Al Sarabadi market at Al Kademiya neiborhood in Baghdad (north) and that resulted 2 Iraqis killed and other 14 wounded ..yesterday Saturday

In Al Mahmoodiya (30km south of Baghdad ), a security source said there are 7 killed and 6 injured from an explosion of car bomb which was on the side of the road near Al Sader office , and killed a city councilman in Diwaniyah, the police said” unknown gunmen shot Rasim Musa the councilman and his two sons killed with him in Al Daghara (east of Diwaniyah) yesterday “

There was an IED explosion targeting an iraqi army patrol placed on the side of a road in the Jurf AL Sakhr neighborhood northwest Hillah, that resulted in the death of 1 soldier and 1 officer was injured as well as damaging one military vehicle.

And the Iraqi defense ministry said there is three”terrorist” killed as they mentioned and thery detained other 130, three of them, were wonted, in the last 24 hours according to security operations in many places in iraq

There was one American soldier killed and two soldiers considered as lost after attak happened in last Friday.. and from a American military source, “after an attack against the soldiers at the checkpoint near Al Yousfiya north of Baghdad and the army sent an rapid response team to search about them”

The leader of 8 groups of resistance in Iraq “ Majlis Shoura Al Mujahideen “ said in Iraq by a voice message “the fighting against the coalition troops which are leaded by the American will be more tough and violence”

The American army arrested 10 Iraqis at sun rise on Saturday and injured one woman during a raid operation north of Falluja after they landed(apparently a minor air assault), and A policeman called Ali Hammad said “the force of American army dropped obove three houses in Abi Sadeera Village (5 km north Falluja) at 2 am and that resulted one woman injured and detained of 10 persons and burned one car and destroyed, burned the furniture of some houses by sound grenades under this operation which is still to 5 am

and by car bomb explosion at 7:15 pm today against a patrol of special forces of interior ministry in Al Jihad Neighborhood and that resulted of killing 5 soldiers and injured others




Brian Conley on WBAI Monday June 19th - 06.19.2006

I was on WBAI today, speaking about an interview Alive in Baghdad did with an acquaintance of Abu Musab Az-Zarqawi, as well as the unfolding situation in Ramadi, Iraq.

Go here to hear the interview and audio segment:

WBAI: Wake Up Call Monday June 19th

Stay tuned for more on Ramadi and colleagues of Abu Musab!




Ramadi Assault Begins - 06.18.2006

At 11:30PM Local time here in Amman, the local version of CNN ran a headline:

Insurgent Crackdown Begins

A CNN Embedded journalist reported on the beginning of the Ramadi assault. Unfortunately there were many errors in CNN’s report.

CNN implied that phonelines and electricity were only just cut, despite copious evidence, and on-the-ground reports from Ramadi’s residents that these services were cut well over a month ago.

According to CNN, US forces entered a suburb just south of Ramadi, and found that at least half the residents had vacated their homes. He implied that US Military forces expected intelligence that these residents had fled was false.

We have not been able to reach Qasem, since hearing that his brother was killed, nor have we been able to contact anyone else in the city.

We are still endeavoring to make contact with Ramadi, and if we can locate news coverage outside of embedded reports, you can expect to see them here immediately.

There are currently some conflicting reports, although most reports have suggested that there are no plans for a “full-scale assault,” it’s unclear what exactly this means.

Until then, here is one report from IRIN, as well as several embedded reports from the press:

IRIN
US pressures insurgents in Iraq’s Ramadi
US bid to curb Ramadi militants
US, Iraqis plant new outposts in Ramadi




Another Nice Day in Baghdad -

[Note: “Lurky” is working as a correspondent for Alive in Baghdad, inside Baghdad. We expect he will begin posting regular entries about life on the ground.]

As usual I was doing my work like every day, spending a lot of time trying to make some interviews with people about Iraq and what’s going on in Iraq. Today I was trying to set up an appointment with a woman who owns a book shop in Tahrir square in the middle of Baghdad. In the morning I was trying to get there on time but its Baghdad you can’t get anywhere in Baghdad on time because of the traffic and the large number of checkpoints which prevent anyone from getting to an appointment on time, anyhow I got there late after 30 minutes. Then I started little chat with the women in her shop, about books and how many people buying these books. At 12pm I left her shop to go home, I was riding in a cab, it was too hot and the cab didn’t have air-conditioning. I started to think about the questions I’d ask that lady on the next day, then I remembered that my girlfriend asked me to bring her a love story from that shop. I totally forgot about it, after that I was looking in my notebook, trying to organize some meetings. Well, we got out of the traffic jam that we were stuck in, suddenly I heard such large noise from people yelling, “A TIME BOMB!” Then a big blast takes place I couldn’t see anything because of the dust, people started to run everywhere and in every direction, the cab driver start to screaming “GET OUT OF THE WAY!” then I felt that there was something liquid on my face. I wiped my hand on my face and looked at my hand one more time. And it was bloody, the glasses scratched my face but not too bad. My hand was scratched too, then I wiped the blood with a little piece of cloth. At that time I noticed that the bomb this time was too close, and when I get home I just washed my face with some water. I had lunch with my family just like nothing happened, and that was another nice day in Iraq.




With Iraq, You’re Always Waiting - 06.17.2006

So today I decided to take a little break, I’ve been here almost a month and a half, I think I deserve a vacation!

I went to Amman’s Citadel, a ruin dating from around the 8th century A.D.

I’ll be uploading photos tomorrow with some background on Qala’a.

Unfortunately, Iraq doesn’t wait for you to go on vacation. We were supposed to receive the tapes today, finally!

Our driver left Baghdad this morning, transporting 10 or 12 MiniDvs shot by Omar in Baghdad over the last few weeks.

As of 3am local time here in Amman, we still haven’t heard from him. Could be something happened to him, or it could be he was just tired and wanted to see his wife and will call us tomorrow, we don’t know.

At this point we’re still waiting.

The security situation is greatly increased these days on the border between Jordan and Iraq, we’ve even heard about a giant X-Ray machine, supposedly used to examine cars for weapons and other equipment that might be smuggled between the two countries.

With Zarqawi’s death a storm of controversy has arisen. We’ve begun seeing checkpoints on roads late at night with the police checking cars, after the detention of 4 Ministers of Parliament.

A recent article by Aaron Klein, a noted conservative columnist and correspondent for World Net Daily, security information has suggested that Egypt, Israel, and Jordan are being considered for terrorist attacks in the near future.

Accounts such as these continue to weaken the already difficult border relations between Jordan and Iraq. The rest of the press appears to have not picked up this particular story yet however, so its contents is certainly still questionable.

All we can do is wait and see.

I was only able to speak briefly with Omar tonight and heard upsetting news, apparently he was hit by an IED attack and was injured. I am still unaware of his degree of injury, but I assume if it was serious I would know more.

When we have an update tomorrow it will be quickly forthcoming. Once again, waiting is all we have.




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