Iraq log: 1 December 2004

December 7th, 2004 - by admin

BBC Online – 2004-12-07 09:32:57

Calling Home
Posted by Lieutenant Bryan Suits South of Baghdad, 1 December

Reading Yasmin’s log from Tuesday, I realise that we apparently worked in some of the same areas south of Baghdad and further out. It’s very remote and undeveloped and many times we have been the first Americans to contact some villages.

Personally, I can’t wait to get out of Baghdad every morning. My base, at the west entrance to the Green Zone, is adjacent to an area which is frequently car-bombed. The victims tend to be innocent Iraqis who’ve been branded as “traitors” by the Baathist holdovers and foreign terrorists. For some reason, I’m always on the cellphone with my wife when these explode.

“What was what?” I usually say, when she asks. After all, she wants to hear my voice before she goes to sleep and doesn’t need to know that 8-12 people were just obliterated.

On patrol in rural Iraq. Around a bend in the road, an overturned car lays next to a water pipe and four stunned men lurch about in a field. We stop and our medic begins assessing the injuries. It’s an 80 km/h (50 mph) rollover and no one’s hurt. Iraqis are pretty resilient.

I know the local physician’s assistant and I give directions to his house. “I know him, he’s a thief,” says the driver. I know him from past patrols and he recognises me. He knows I have a cell phone.

“Can I call my brother?” he asks — “Not if he’s in Buenos Aires,” I say. — “Up the road,” he gestures, laughing.

I power up my phone and hand it to him. He looks at the screen and gestures that I missed a call. I look at the number. I missed my wife’s goodnight call.

Security Gains – and Setbacks
Posted by Dhia Abdulwahab Baghdad, 1 December

People are talking about an increased level of intimidation and threats in our area. We have also seen an increase in the number of armed men in our area together with a rise in the level of car thefts.

I also continue to hear the sound of gunshots near the Adoura refinery and elsewhere in Baghdad. You used to hear a lot of this noise coming from al-Amiriya district, but that seems to have decreased since US forces launched an attack there at the same time as they entered Falluja.

In fact, the whole of Baghdad feels quieter – even though you have this lingering fear of the unknown. I think the recent operations by the national guard in the Latifiya area to the south of the city has something to do with this.

I of course continue to worry about security. In particular, I worry about the kids when they are at school. Nevertheless, I think it is vital that they attend school, despite the security situation. They do not face unique risks; they face the same risks as other Iraqis.

Telephone services have been affected by the recent heavy rains and stormy weather we had a couple of days ago. I contacted the phone company to enquire about when to expect the service to be resumed, and got the same the level of treatment I used to encounter when I rang the company when Saddam was in power! I long for the day when you can have a reliable phone service so I can get us connected to the internet, something which I was deprived of for years [private internet access was illegal in Iraq before the war].

Posted by Sarab al-Delaymi Baghdad, 1 December

The usual mad start to our day; preparing breakfast for everyone, running after the kids to make sure the are dressed and ready for their schools. My eldest son is also back at school now, after the teachers decided to return to work.

The school now has civilian guards who are usually volunteers who give up their time to guard schools, etc. Even with the guards, I cannot help but worry about the kids and their safety. My mother’s health is giving me a cause for concern. She seems to have chest infection. I decided to spend a few days with her and with my father just in case my help is needed.

Earlier, and together with my nephew, we took her to see the doctor who has a clinic near al-Nasr Square in the centre of Baghdad. Thank God, we did not have to wait long and she was seen quickly (Maybe this because of the bad security situation — this clinic used to be busy during the previous regime, with a wait of more than three days for an appointment).

Pharmacies now have the medicine that you need, both locally produced as well as imported. So the pattern is: spend the night with my mother, run to my place in the morning, which is not that far, do my chores and then rush back to my mother’s place.

Anger in the South
Posted by Shehab Ahmed Basra, 1 December

I have two jobs. One is teaching English at school and the other is as a journalist for a newspaper in Basra. Two days ago I went to interview four Arab fighters – one Libyan, two Saudis and one Tunisian – who had fled from Falluja but had been captured trying to drive into Basra. They were spotted very quickly as being non-Iraqis at a police checkpoint.

The only one who would speak to me was the youngest one, the Libyan, who was only 18-years-old, just a boy, really. I asked him why he had come to Iraq. He said he had come for jihad and this made me very angry. I said to him: “What sort of jihad is it when you kill innocent people?”

He said: “Yes, it is jihad, according to Osama Bin Laden”. And he said he was sad that he could not continue the job – of killing Shia Muslims in Basra. It has been praying on my mind ever since, seeing a child like that who’s been brainwashed.

The four of them will be sent to Baghdad and they’ll probably be executed. That’s what Allawi [the interim Iraqi prime minister] says will happen to foreign fighters, and I think these ones deserve that fate.

But people are also angry about an event in Zubeir a few days ago, when the Iraqi national guard, the multinational forces (MNF) and police conducted searches in people’s house, saying they were looking for more escaped fighters from Falluja. People hadn’t expected anything like that as they had nothing to do with the fighting in Falluja. There aren’t really as good relations with the MNF as before, because they haven’t achieved anything, in the minds of the Iraqi people.

Posted by Lieutenant Bryan Suits Jisr Diyala, 1 December

One hour from my base in Baghdad and we’re on the banks of the Tigris outside one of Saddam’s palaces. It’s been thoroughly looted and now stands as an empty concrete shell. Squatters are growing corn in his front yard and the date harvest continues apace. Ubiquitous wild dogs echo their yips across the river.

To the east is the mile-wide, 150-metre (500 foot) high bank of earth that surrounds the Tuawaitha Nuclear Complex. The same one the Israelis bombed in 1981 (thank God). The bank, or berm, surrounds a research complex that looks like a small quiet college campus. It’s a jarring contrast to the local area.

A long-term environmental disaster is virtually guaranteed due to Saddam’s lack of nuclear safeguards. To start with: location. A nuclear bomb research facility only 800 metres from the Tigris river and Jisr Diyala, a town of 30,000.

The facility was thoroughly looted last year and people are using irradiated buckets and tanks for drinking water. Commensurately, there is a soaring miscarriage/birth defect rate. Luckily, the Abin Kateeb/Abin Zuhr Clinics are not far away – Iraq’s premier infectious disease centre, but they were looted so extensively, one collapsed. Who’s really to blame, the advancing US marines, opportunistic locals or Saddam?

Today our medic heard tuberculosis in the lungs of a five-year-old girl. The TB ward at the clinic is back in operation. I know because we brought the new equipment several months go.

We give her father some written directions and impress upon him that time is critical. He thanks us and we continue.

Uncomfortable Conversations
Posted by Yasmin Abdulaziz Baghdad, 1 December

I had a chance to chat with a man who described himself as one of the mujahideen. He was from Yousifia area and I came across him during one my routine visits to a health centre.

He told me that he was a former Baathist and that he decided to leave the party following the fall of Baghdad. I was puzzled by his views, especially for a man of his age. He seemed to regard the death of thousands as justified in the name of his “cause”.

On the forthcoming elections, his advice was that boycotting them would be a good idea because any government that would emerge would be a “client” regime. He was convinced that no matter how many elections are held, only those that America wants will be able to assume power.

I found his views strange and I could not wait to end the conversation. After finishing my work at the centre, we were back in the middle of Baghdad’s heavy traffic made worse this time by a car that was blown up. I wonder who was the victim or victims this time.

These are some of the comments we have received so far on this log.

• It is a crying shame that news coverage so far has not come close to giving us a clear picture of Iraq. Reading comments from Iraqis has given me a much better understanding of their views and aspirations. Getting the story directly from the people affected has had a massive impact on me — and made me question the news coverage and political propaganda so far. I hope all world leaders on both sides of the fence have bookmarked this page — they could all learn so much from it. Please BBC, increase the amount of people you talk to, we need to know much more about the everyday lives of Iraqis.
— Roger, Whitwick, England

• Dear Bryan, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your daily comments. My son is also in the Baghdad area serving with the 1st Cavalry Division. I am praying for you.
— Brenda Henson, Brookville, OH

• Thank you for sharing your thoughts and observations. I’m half a world away but care very much about the safety of both Iraqis and of our soldiers. I watch TV every night, hoping for good news, and when I learned that Iraqi policemen and Iraqi soldiers were being targeted by the terrorists I was enraged and horrified. They deserve to live and succeed because they must be very brave. Please keep writing: we will keep reading and caring. And Lt Suits: Your letter was fascinating.
— Joanie Livermore, Portland, Oregon USA

• I have found it incredibly hard to become informed when I turn on the sanitised local news. Your accounts are the kind of news that I find to be the most pertinent. Thank you for giving me a window into what it is like to be an Iraqi, a soldier, or a contractor. I believe that this kind of dialogue is the only way to end conflicts like this and gain a mutual respect and understanding. Hopefully some of the policy makers are reading these. I hold more hope for all of us if it is the case. Good luck in all of your endeavours.
— Luke Hanlin, Pendleton, Indiana, US

• I am very interested to read these logs and think they are an excellent idea. From the Western media we constantly get the idea that Iraq is in total chaos and that all the Iraqis are against the coalition and fanatical supporters of Saddam or of Islamic terrorism. By publishing these accounts of ordinary Iraqis, we can get a much better idea of their attitudes and the difficulties they are facing, but also of the benefits, such as the availability of medical supplies.
— Laurence, Oxford, UK

Posted by BBC Host 1 December
Regarding comments below from Nicola, Ghaith and Amir, we’ve done our best to invite a variety of contributors to take part in this log — given the obvious difficulties of access with the security situation in Iraq. We’ve also been publishing almost everything they’ve sent us and there’s been no attempt to exclude any particular viewpoints.

That said, our intention was for people in Iraq to talk about their everyday lives — something we felt was missing from much of the coverage of Iraq — without making political speeches and going on about who’s to blame for the situation.

That doesn’t mean of course that you, the readers, cannot make those points in your comments.

Thanks BBC for opening up this blog, but although the idea is great it sort of gets suspiscious as I read the blogs of the Iraqis as it is surprisingly pro-occupation. I find it very hard to swallow one blogger telling us the pharmacies are full when the recent news tell us of a public health disaster in Iraq. We need bloggers with a real grasp of the situation and more balanced realists.
— Amir , Pretoria, South Africa

This is first real reporting that I have seen from Iraq. I have followed this issue very closely from the outset. Thank you BBC for finally giving us a real picture of what is happening in Iraq, this sure could have helped before the US elections. Pray for our brave soldiers trying to bring peace to Iraq.
— James, USA

To Lt Bryan Suits: I lived in Iran before the revolution and knew many soldiers on both sides. I noticed in Iran that the happiest US soldiers were the ones who made efforts in understanding the culture of the people. I was saddened to read the most popular restaurant for the soldiers was Burger King. The foods of the Arab world are as rich as the customs and language. Our government says build a bridge to the hearts and minds of the people, would that mean at least going half way? Teach them at least how to say Salaam? These are little things that separate us as humans. Let’s find solutions to untangle ourselves, communication is one, but let it be based on truths.
— Vanessa Ruddy, Olympia, Washington

• I cannot believe that until now no one has managed to get rid of the Baath party – the person Sarab got into an argument with. It is all confusing, really confusing. After all of what they did to the Iraqi people with all of its different factions, it turns out that those people still try to intimidate us and continue to maintain their twisted thoughts.
— Sameer, Adelaide, Australia

• I am from Northern Ireland and arrived in the US just before 9/11. I have firsthand experience of what it’s like to have bombs go off daily where you live. I know what it’s like to have troops from another country drive around in armoured vehicles and walk your streets with weapons. Too many people in the US (and in some comments on this blog) still appear to feel comfortable sitting in their armchairs in their undamaged homes, without fear to life or limb for themselves or their family .. telling Iraqis the pain being experienced in Iraq is worth it when they have absolutely no idea what it’s like.
— Curtis Cunningham, Los Angeles, USA

• I believe that you can promote democracy but you cannot force it and I think most Iraqis would feel the same. I understood most people to be against the illegal war that was waged through one man’s exceptional greed. But after reading the comments you wouldn’t think so. I presume the BBC has decided to publish comments from people with a government-friendly attitude, who blame the insurgents for the ongoing trouble, rather than the US / UK government. I don’t understand why you can’t show all comments – why the BBC is so afraid to publish another view point? What are you afraid of?
— Nicola, Coventry, UK

• As an Iraqi, it pulls at the heart to read these first-hand accounts of daily life in Iraq. But one question I have is why are alternatives to the US involvement not being discussed? Too often, the question is phrased as “should the US troops pull out or not?” Well, what about the possibility of replacing US troops with UN peacekeepers, or even an all-Arab or all-Muslim army of peacekeepers. Granted, the UN is not too popular in Iraq after more than a decade of UN sanctions, but it would go a long way to restoring credibility to true multilateral global peacekeeping.
— Ghaith Mahmood, New York, USA

• I am largely pro-withdrawal of US troops, but reading the daily experiences of Iraqis is the one thing that would cause me to reconsider this very difficult question. The sheer incompetence of the Bush administration in its absence of a substantial post-Saddam exit strategy should never cloud the crucial question at hand – what is best right now for the future of Iraq and its citizens? Please continue to let us on the outside know your perspective, we are absolutely dependent on it in order to fashion a realistic picture of what is going on. Our leadership and media have failed us.
— Dan Lippel, New York City, USA

• I have read the blog entries and I agree with the comment that it would be good to have more comments from outside Baghdad – notably on the election prospects. Basically, we want to know whether elections can be held or not. One of the contributors here remarks on the potential physical danger of being close to a ballot box — is that a fair and representative observation, I wonder? If so, can elections conceivably be held throughout the country? The general impression from these entries is that the violence is sporadic, inchoate and infrequent, however terrible when it occurs. In which case, it is going to be possible to hold those elections in January in the greater part of the country, if not everywhere.
— Henry Scott Stokes, Tokyo, Japan

• Definitely the most compelling accounts of the occupation that I have read thus far. I hope that this unique dialogue can persist and blossom. Thanks BBC!!
— Mike Bray, Detroit, MI, USA

• I am suffocated with emotions from the adversities facing the people of Iraq, having experienced it for the first time in 20 years when I travelled back to Iraq few months ago. The Iraqi people will persevere and life will go on, elections will be held on time and a new government will be formed. The only thing that keeps them going now is that look into their children’s eyes hoping for a better tomorrow. I just hope those children will make tomorrow. Until then, I pray for family and the new generation of children to go to school, find someone to love, marry and have children and grow old in a Iraq that does not imprison them with terror, fear, and hopelessness.
— Lutfi Shakarchi, Michigan, USA

• It seems that life here in Iraq is getting worse. Since the fall of Baghdad, the only thing that was changed is that we get access to the internet, we have satellites, electronic devices and cars. But aside from it the security problem is at its lowest. Yes, we blame it to the insurgents and terrorist who in filtrated here during and after the war and so with the criminals released by the former president before the invasion. But how about the problem regarding electricity, gasoline, kerosene and diesel? Well can you imagine a rich producing country with no electricity. We get two hours power in the day and the same two hours at night. To the worst part we badly needed kerosene for our heater but where’s the kerosene, where’s the gasoline? You have to stand on long long queue to get avail of it. We passed the summer sleeping on the roof top because it was so hot and there’s no electricity, and now we are going to suffer the same this winter time. And the worst is the security that is at its lowest. Kidnappings are so rampant that most of them are never been reported.
— Suad Jawad, Baghdad

• I just want to thank the BBC for building this log. I often think about the situation in Iraq and I was wondering how people live there, if life just goes on in the middle of the war (like in my country). This log allow us to put a face on this war – what they are really feeling and how their lives keep going on. I look for information about Iraq in different media everyday and it is rare to see testimonies like this.
— Maria, Bogota, Colombia

• In his book Citizen Soldiers, the story of the US Army in Normandy and the Ardennes, Stephen Ambrose noted that the most important characteristic of the GI was that he “knew right from wrong”. Thus, even the grunts in the foxholes were convinced that their contribution to liberation was very much worthwhile. And so they fought on until the job was done. So, to Lt Bryan Suits: Good on you boy, you and your troops and the Brits and all the others are the pride of the Free World, and you do know right from wrong.
— John E Hopkinson, Elmsdale, NS, Canada