Friday, January 09, 2009

Collected Salam Pax blogs and new blog on my wordpress blog: Salam Pax

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

New [Baghdad Blogger] report for Newsnight went out a week ago.
You can watch it HERE - needs Real Player - it is slightly squished because they have the 16:9 transmitted version on that site instead of the 3:4 version.
The second film has been shelved until August.

Friday, June 02, 2006

I am working on two new 'Video Blogs' for Newsnight and as usual it takes a bit of time until I find out what it is I am looking for in Baghdad these days. I started going around the city with a camera 6 days ago. and it took me all these 6 days to know where I was going with this.

I thought this was going to be about violent death and how it has become part of our lives but I guess it is turning out to be about more.

In the 80s Kanan Makia wrote a book about Iraq under Saddam called The Republic of Fear. Today Saddam is in prison and we Iraqis are constantly being told that we have been liberated but when I look around I still see a Republic of Fear.

Life seems to have lost its value and we are shutting up and shutting down because of fear. This is about how when everyone came to destroy what was wicked they killed what was good as well.

(OK so the last paragraph is lifted off a Pet Shop Boys song but you know I believe that the wisdom of centuries can be found weekly on Top Of The Pops. I am shallow).

I started off wanting to ask do life and death take on a different meaning when we live with them everyday? Or does fear of death stay the same, even when it is a constant presence?

But I quickly realized that fear of death isn’t what has been turning my stomach into a tight knot whenever I go near one of the so-called hot zones in Baghdad. It is the life we live that fills me with fear.

I have newly found out that I should avoid getting out of Baghdad through a certain road to the south because the Iraqi Army battalion situated there really hates my family name. People driving through that route towards the city of Hilla have been arrested just because they have that name.

The reasons people are killed for are absurd to the point of being funny. On the top of my list is wearing shorts. Teenagers in my neighbourhood have been killed for that unforgettable crime and probably it is the reason why two sportsmen who play for the Iraqi Tennis team and their trainer have been murdered.

I have been going around trying to film for this video blog for five days now and it has been a constant struggle. People do not want to talk. They politely ask me to take away my camera they do not want to get in trouble.

You know that thing about barbers being big chatterboxes? Well that is everywhere except Baghdad apparently. I spent a whole morning going from one barber to the next asking them to tell me why they are so afraid and they just won’t on camera. I finally found one who only agreed to do it after I showed him that we could do it without showing his face or the name of his shop or where it is.

Physicians are also difficult, and so are bakers. I did find a baker who was willing to talk on camera but when I was walking out it was one of the workers in the bakery who followed me and told me “you do realize we have families who depend on us staying alive”. I know, and I know why everybody is so reluctant to talk. Because we don’t know what is the next thing that will get us killed. The deal with bakers seem to be somewhere between selling to Iraqi Army or Police and being the wrong religion in the wrong neighbourhood but no one knows for sure why they are being targeted.

A friend of mine, after seeing how desperate and frustrated I was getting trying to get someone to talk on camera, said that I should go to the Kadhimiya district. People will talk there he said. Right. I haven’t been there for ages and I had no reason to believe that it will be different there, but I was getting desperate. I decided to go there the day after a bomb exploded by a bus in that neighbourhood and killed 13 people.

In case you didn’t know Kadhimiya is a Shia district, I have a Sunni family name. The knot in my stomach was getting tighter the closer we got to the check point through which we get into the market area near the Kadhimiya Shrine. What if they ask me for my Iraqi ID? They had an explosion here yesterday and I have a Sunni family name? No this is not paranoia. I have the wrong name and I need to get myself a new forged ID with a Shia name. Anyway, I was lucky they were happy with my NUJ card (the first time I was really happy I had it on me, I usually fear that if people see it they think I’m a foreign journalist).

Once inside I had the biggest eye opener. I saw the future of Iraq, or at least Baghdad. Inside the barricade and past the checkpoint was a piece of the old Baghdad. Shops full of people, all relaxed and smiling. Everybody wants to talk and tell me how their lives are and I even got invited to have tea and accepted the invitation without thinking that this man saw my camera and he is just delaying me until the kidnappers arrive.

You know what was different? Kadhimiya is set up these days like a fortress. Entrances are tightly controlled, no unknown cars get in and they basically had their own secret police there; when I lingered too long with my camera in front of the shrine I was quickly called inside and a security guard demanded IDs and wanted to look through the film, I thanked heavens again for the NUJ card.

So people I give you the future of Baghdad. Districts will become tightly controlled fortresses that are ethnically/religiously homogeneous. Outsiders are only let in after being inspected and checked. I really want to go back to Kadhimiya but only after I get my fake Shia ID.

Having trouble getting into a Shia district doesn’t mean that I am OK in Sunni areas. Sunni areas are even tougher. To start with they have their own set of fashion rules. There is a whole What Not To Wear spin-off for the west of Baghdad and the prize isn’t just a special wardrobe but you get to stay alive.

Let me give you a quick run down. Let’s look at men’s fashions first. Things that can get you killed include:

A goatee beard
Jeans that are a bit tight or are too fashionably “distressed”
Colourful shirts
Hair Gel!!!
A necklace
A Shia name (anything that has anything to do with Imam Hussein or a member of his family)

Before I started shooting for this video blog I was talking to one of my uncles about this whole death and value of life thing. He told me that today our lives are as valuable as an empty bullet casing left on the road after a shooting. Absolutely worthless.
I found a couple of empty rounds on the street the other day, I keep them in my backpack with my camera as a reminder.

It is tough. Everything is taking double the usual effort and the constant rejection is undermining my confidence.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

And the weirdness continues.

Ahmad’s father is attacked while in a taxi in the Shula district. Mind you, nothing personal, he is just a lowly employee in a government job he means nothing on the scale of the big fish. Just some freak who probably was bored and decided to shoot a random car. Luckily he and the taxi driver are only wounded and rushed to the hospital near by.

Ahmad gets a phone call and leaves work to go check on his injured father. Shula is a Shia district and although it has seen its share of violence it was never as mad as neighbouring Ameriyah, so he wasn’t that worried about going there.

When he gets there he finds out that his father will survive and other than the injury he doesn’t have much to worry about. He walks out of the hospital and before he gets to his car he is bundled up and kidnapped.

A couple of hours later his body is found, decapitated. His head in a plastic bag near the body and no explanation.

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The latest news from Ameriyah is that the Jihadis there have distributed leaflets advising women against wearing that devilish invention called Trousers. A friend of my mother who usually goes to work in the local bank in trousers has taken a couple of days off to go look for skirts.

The driver of the mini-bus who drives my cousin to university from Ameriyah has told all the girls that if they don’t wear a headscarf they are not getting on the bus “they won’t kill you, they will kill me”.
My cousin now has her first collection of scarves matching her purses.

Islamists:2 Freedom & Democracy: Nil

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It should not be a surprise to you if you have been following the news of Iraqi ministries that the Ministry of Health is controlled by the supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr and it is not yet clear whether in the new government this will be the same.

And since every good Muslim knows that when a man and a woman are alone the devil will be their third the minister, in an effort to minimize the possibility of such devilish threesomes, has segregated the elevators. When you walk into the ministry today you will see the elevators marked like toilets, one for men and one for women.

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One of my parents’ friends house was robbed last week. It’s a big house but they are both retired and they don’t really have much, which really pissed off the 6 armed men who barged into the house late that night.

While the house was being ransacked they found the couple’s passports. Chief-thief threw it at them and asked a VERY wise question: “When you two have passports can you tell me what you are still doing here?”

I ask myself the same question almost everyday. And clearly answering “this is home” really isn’t cutting it anymore.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Boys and girls do yourselves a favour and go read Iraqi Screen.
You will thank me.

She is funny, she is wise and she could kick your ass if you looked her up the wrong way.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

This is a bit related to the earlier post. It seems the ministry of Higher Education (Universities) has joined the ministry of Education (Schools and High Schools) in admitting that they cannot really take responsibility for their charges. The ministry of Higher Education has announced today that it is giving Universities the right to choose the date for their final exams which is sort of telling them you can have them as early as you want.

Elementary and High Schools have all but closed down. Principals have telling parents that kids don’t have to come to school until the final exams on the 20th.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The District of Ameryiah (west of Baghdad) has entered some sort of parallel universe. It has been living this one for a while but from what I had heard yesterday it has officially left the galaxy we know and entered a galaxy ruled by an alien race called Sunni Fundamentalists .
There have been killings of barbers who shave beards for a while there. Shops were bombed because they sell un-Islamic clothing and Shia shop owners slaughtered on the streets.

The latest news coming from this far and distant galaxy is that a school deep in that dark and cold world have told Shia kids not to come to school anymore. The purity of Sunni land shouldn’t be tainted by those dirty Shia coming to their schools.

Parents who got the not-so-subtle hint and decided to move out of the district were also in the same not so subtle way informed that they were not allowed actually take anything with them. No trucks with a load that looked like a house move was allowed to get out of the district and the drivers were killed. The houses of those dirty Shia were legitimate loot for the Sunni Jihadists who are working hard to insure the purity of the district.