Where Children Laugh at
Baghdad: How much worse does it need to get here before the occupiers consider changing their policy? 100 dead every day? In light of what happened here yesterday, it appears as though we're heading in that direction. For those of you who think June 30 will signify a decrease in the number and magnitude of attacks against the occupation forces after the "transfer of sovereignty"-- think again.
After having coffee and listening to the Coalition Provisional Authority's "Green Zone" receive its morning mortars, I was out the door to get some things done, as my time here is drawing to a close. After over 11 weeks back in Iraq, I've never been as exhausted as I am now.
Baghdad seems ever closer to lockdown today. I took a cab over to the Palestine Hotel – a small "Green Zone" where so many corporate journalists and mercenaries live behind suicide walls, razor wire, and soft checkpoints. It closely resembles another mini-"green zone" over at the Al-Hamra and Al-Dulaymi hotels, where journalists and mercenaries are hunkered down behind concrete suicide barriers and checkpoints.
En route to the Palestine to run an errand, there were Iraqi Police and Iraq Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) on nearly every street corner. My cabbie pointed to them and laughed while shaking his head. "La, la Amerikia," he says (No, no America). The absurdity of it all increases daily -- so many of the Iraq Civil Defense Corps wear facemasks. Not that I blame them, for if their identities were known by the mujahideen, they and/or their families would be dead. Not a good time to have any affiliation with the occupiers -- consider yesterday's attacks.
There certainly weren't any inside Baquba yesterday, where I was faced with another great irony. During all of my five months in Iraq from my two trips here, the only two times I've been shot at have both been by U.S. troops. Yesterday was yet another example of this, when our car was shot at five times by troops in a Bradley that sat in a nearby palm field as we passed.
Warning shots, for sure, or I wouldn't be typing this right now. But the adrenaline flows about the same when bullets are whizzing near the car. This occurred while we watched two Apaches engaged in strafing part of the city, bobbing above the date palms in dive bomb-like flight patterns, then swooping back out of sight as they trailed smoke behind their blazing guns.
The city was a ghost town. Inside it reminded me of Fallujah when I was there in April. The main roads sealed by the military, and the constant buzzing of unmanned military drones telling the residents that more air strikes were simply a matter of time. Just like Fallujah.
All the shops were closed; bits of plastic bags and garbage were blown about on the streets by a dry, hot wind. Torn Iraqi flags fluttered in the winds, dogs running here and there.
We had lunch in Baquba with a sheikh I have become friends with. Just before lunch, several loud bombs exploded nearby. My friend Christian Parenti and I looked at each other with wide eyes while the sheikh, his brother, Abu Talat, and an older man with us who is a Haji began to laugh. "This is normal, even my children laugh at the bombs now," said the sheikh.
In the next room the children were laughing excitedly.
The sheikh remained calm throughout the blasts. He smiled and told me: "God will take us when it is time. People are killed in their homes by warplanes, yes. But people in the middle of fighting remain unharmed. It is up to God. We are a people of faith."
While these people were in no way connected to the resistance, their anger toward the occupiers seemed to fuel their acceptance of the mujahideen in their city.
"The mujahideen are fighting for their country against the Americans," said the Haji. "This resistance is acceptable to us."
His opinion is representative of those held by more and more Iraqis I talk with nowadays.
When we were exiting the embattled city, we drove slowly past a bullet-riddled car on the median of the main road. It appeared as though the car was trying to turn around. The drivers' body lay in the middle of the road, feet the only parts uncovered by a black mourning flag draped over his corpse.
Fifty meters (165 ft.) further down the road there were patches of pavement mangled by tank tracks. Near these sat a large pile of empty machine gun shells, glistening gold in the hot sun.
The scene had all the classic signs of an Iraqi seeing a checkpoint and attempting to turn around quickly … which appears to have led to yet another killing of a civilian.
A bit shaken by this, we continued on and saw several Humvees and soldiers blocking our exit further down the road. We pulled the car over, and while Abu Talat waited, Christian and I walked the quarter mile toward the soldiers.
"We are unarmed journalists," we took turns yelling while holding our press credentials in the air. "Please do not shoot! We just want to leave the city!"
The walk felt like it took 4 hours … halfway there I noted three soldiers who knelt down and kept us in the sights of their guns. I looked behind us to see a string of cars in a wedding party approaching. The timing could not have been worse.
I walked toward the side of the road, but Christian wisely suggested we stay in the middle and keep walking. Our pace quickened, our shouts grew louder and thankfully the wedding party turned around.
Needless to say, the soldiers are a little touchy about cars that approach them these days, as Iraq has averaged more than a suicide car bomb per day this month.
The soldiers understood our situation when we approached them and asked to be allowed to leave. Christian went back to get Abu Talat and bring the car up.
I spoke with a Sergeant, and said, "After seeing that bullet riddled car and the corpse back there, we thought it'd be better to approach you guys on foot." He told me that the car had rammed a tank, so they had to shoot it. "Crazy motherf**ker, that guy was," he added.
Since I recalled that, aside from being completely riddled with bullets, the car was intact – particularly the front end of it -- I kept my mouth shut.
Two photographers were there with the soldiers. They were very scared, and one of them asked me, "Did you see any bad guys in there?"
I said, "I did not see any mujahideen inside the city."
I wondered why they, like so many other journalists here, won't venture out amongst Iraqis to report on how the occupation is affecting them. Of course it's dangerous, but then, why else are we here?
Dahr Jamail is Baghdad correspondent for The NewStandard, where this article first appeared. He is an Alaskan devoted to covering the untold stories from occupied Iraq. You can help Dahr continue his crucial work in Iraq by making donations. For more information or to donate to Dahr, visit The NewStandard.