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Respite


December 11-13, 2004

11 Dec. “My list is now 32,” says Salam as he arrives at the hotel, “Now 32 of my friends have been killed.”

He still has tears in his eyes, even though he’s being stoic. Another of his friends has been shot and killed.

“You know I feel like shit every time I add someone to my list. Sometimes it feels like it is every day,” he says.

Welcome to Iraq. Where the news gets better with each passing day.

Heavy fighting is continuing in Fallujah. While the military claims to be in control of the situation, they are bombing areas of the city again with warplanes.

Sources in and around the city continue to state that the mujahideen are in control of large sections of the city as they’ve somehow managed to get more weapons in the city.

As far as Baghdad-fierce fighting in Adhamiya once again and Iraqi National Guard roam the streets with their black facemasks.

The gas crisis grinds on, and now the cell service barely works as of late.

It feels as though nothing is working right here. No gas, not much electricity, don’t drink the water, prices of everything going up. People dying everyday.

“This is the freedom,” as Iraqis say, and the perfect title to the new book by my colleague Christian Parenti, “The Freedom,” which I highly recommend.

This is my birthday…which was celebrated by sharing a large meal with a Sheikh and some of my Iraqi friends.

Capped off with the aforementioned news from Salam, more bombs going off, and the usual gunfire in the streets. Hence, my dark mood.

The next day, the 12th, was grey and raining off and on in Baghdad. Salam and I said our prayers for safety and braved the airport road.

Sitting in a long line of vehicles we were quiet. Holding our breath.

Imagine sitting in a long line of cars knowing that any one of them could be a car bomb, waiting with you to inch closer to the checkpoint.

I only saw one US soldier there-the horrible duties of searching cars and manning the checkpoint is being handled almost entirely by “Global” security contractors, most of them Nepalese. The rest are ING. Imagine that as your job.

My bag was never searched, and the car wasn’t searched thoroughly in the least.

“Watch your ass and get the hell out of here habibi,” I told Salam as we shook hands.

Goodbyes in Iraq are always sincere…because the possibility of never seeing one another alive again is very real. Our eyes tell it all to one another.

In the airport the electricity cuts. I just laugh, and finally I board the plane and we do the usual spiral take-off.

Above the clouds we fly west towards the setting sun, and I being to really relax for the first time in 6 weeks. Relaxation accompanied with the usual sadness and guilt which stems from being able to leave, when most Iraqis are now trapped inside their own country.

13 Dec. 7 Marines have been killed in Al-Anbar province-read Fallujah. Does the military think it helps them to not announce that there has been ongoing heavy fighting in Fallujah for the last few days? How does this help the families of the soldiers there? What is this like for the loved ones back home who are living in an information blackout? When they know that the only hard news they will truly get from the military is when they are informed that their loved one is dead?

Families of the soldiers watch the news for the horrible car bombs, hoping against hope someone they know wasn’t there. Imagine living like that each day.

Heavy fighting continues, as do the car bombs, as a relatively ‘quiet’ few days were followed by more blood. Thus has been the pattern throughout the occupation. Except the periods of ‘calm’ are shorter, and the bloodshed more widespread than ever.

Expect this to continue until the ‘elections’ as well as afterwards. It’s called escalation.

I’m in Jordan for a break, and will return to Iraq in January well before the end of that month.

I want to thank everyone for the amazing support and readership. Without your help, this work would not be possible. I’ll be out of email contact for about a week, then back to work posting stories and blogs I’d written in Iraq, but didn’t have time to post.

_______________________________________________ More writing, photos and commentary at http://dahrjamailiraq.com

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