Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet

by Miguel de Icaza

Robert Fisk has gone back to Baghdad and reports in a series of articles on life outside the green zone. Fisk refuses to be an "hotel journalist" a problem that starts as he reported on his first day back in Baghdad as:

Once you let Iraqis buy your food on the streets, tell you what people are saying, come back to you with their observations, you have entered the pointless hothouse of hotel journalism, the reporter with the mobile phone trapped in his room who might as well be broadcasting or writing from Co Mayo.

His Pity the Nation book has many colorful stories of hotel journalism as practiced by many in the days of the Lebanon civil war: from the bar at the Commodore Hotel when things got risky to reporting on the crisis from the nearby Island of Cyprus.

There is a new twist to "hotel journalism" as things go from bad to worse in Iraq. The Lebanon years of Hotel-journalism are gone, replaced now with Prison-journalism:

I head off to the Palestine Hotel where one of the largest Western news agencies has its headquarters. I take the lift to an upper floor only to be met by a guard and a vast steel wall which blocks off the hotel corridor. He searches me, sends in my card and after a few minutes an Iraqi guard stares at me through a grille and opens an iron door.

I enter to find another vast steel wall in front of me. Once he has clanged the outer door shut, the inner door is opened and I am in the grotty old hotel corridor.

The reporters are sitting in a fuggy room with a small window from which they can see the Tigris river. One of the American staff admits he has not been outside "for months". An Arab reporter does their street reporting; an American travels around Iraq - but only as an "embed" with US troops. No American journalists from this bureau travel the streets of Baghdad. This is not hotel journalism, as I once described it. This is prison journalism.

He has been reporting back from the streets of Baghdad since August 12. Where accidents and death are treated in a way similar to Terry Gillian's Brazil's futuristic state: fill form completely.

Billmon predicts that the new Iraqi constitution has enough sectarian and non-secular elements that will lead to a Lebanon-like civil war. The signs are there already:

In all - and this was only an initial count - 43 civilians were killed and more than 80 wounded in the deadliest bombing in Baghdad this month.
For once, it seemed, there were no suicide bombers involved, just old-fashioned car bombs, packed with explosives to kill the largest number of innocents in the least possible time.

Most troublesome is the new culture of revenge and the new culture of kidnapping which are emerging in one of the bloodiest months of the occupation:

"I consider this a quiet day," one of the mortuary officials said to me as we stood close to the dead. So in just 36 hours - from dawn on Sunday to midday on Monday, 62 Baghdad civilians had been killed. No Western official, no Iraqi government minister, no civil servant, no press release from the authorities, no newspaper, mentioned this terrible statistic. The dead of Iraq - as they have from the beginning of our illegal invasion - were simply written out of the script. Officially they do not exist.

Thus there has been no disclosure of the fact that in July 2003 - three months after the invasion - 700 corpses were brought to the mortuary in Baghdad. In July of 2004, this rose to around 800. The mortuary records the violent death toll for June of this year as 879 - 764 of them male, 115 female. Of the men, 480 had been killed by firearms, along with 25 of the women. By comparison, equivalent figures for July 1997, 1998 and 1999 were all below 200.

Fisk quotes an Iraqi on what seems obvious to anyone but the Chenney administration:
As for the constitution, I asked an old Iraqi friend what he thought yesterday. "Sure, it'ss important," he said. "But my family lives in fear of kidnapping, I'm too afraid to tell my father I work for journalists, and we only have one hour in six of electricity and we can't even keep our food from going bad in the fridge. Federalism? You can't eat federalism and you can't use it to fuel your car and it doesn't make my fridge work."

And then someone told me the other day, and am not kidding you "at least they have democracy now". Fisk listens to a military commander weight on the bus station bombing:

And that night, I flip on the television again and find the local US military commander in the Sadr City district of Baghdad - close to the bus station - remarking blithely that while local people had been very angry, they supported the local "security" forces (ie the Americans) and were giving them more help than ever and that we were - wait for it - "on the path to democracy".

You cant make stuff up like this.

I started blogging today about Utah's events. But they now seem minor issues.

Posted on 22 Aug 2005