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After the Capture
Dispatch III, with a prologue leading up to the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Prologue: Several weeks ago, myself and Prothap visited a school that was supposed to be repaired by Bechtel, which they had not done any work on to speak of. The headmistress fixed me a cup of tea, and after I had finished drinking it, she read the tea leaves in the bottom of the cup. This is what she said they told: You will receive a Big Fish. In Iraq this means a fortune, a benefit, or a gift. But the gift will be shared. You will split it with someone else, someone whose name begins with an A. But you will receive the lion’s share of the benefit. I thanked her and told her I would keep an eye out for any such developments.
After the Capture
If the Americans thought things were going to calm down after nabbing the big SH, they were wrong, at least for the time being. In fact, people say it may actually help the resistance, since now people can fight the occupation without fearing Saddam’s return.
The streets are filled with Iraqi police and US troops…the gasoline lines are longer than ever, which is really making people miserable. Yesterday I heard four bombs, and two of them were big mothers…the ground rumbled under my feet. Of course, no mention in the media, so I still don’t know where they went off in the city.
Speaking of yesterday…in the morning, a bunch of us decided to try and get to Tikrit, to cover the anti-American demonstrations. (Did the US news show the footage of the demo in Ramadi, with the crowd being fired on by Americans, tracer bullets whizzing through the air?)But because of the gas crunch, we were having trouble finding anyone to take us. Plus, the highways may have been
blocked by the Occupation. One group split to try and procure a car, while the rest of us, myself and four others, two Frenchmen and a Hungarian plus an Iraqi driver and translator, crammed into another vehicle to go to Al Adamiyah, a section of Baghdad that is very anti-Occupation. The night before there had been demos there, and some journo friends had tried to get in to cover them, but were blocked by Humvees. We heard that several people were shot. So we headed out to see what the next day would bring.
A word about the politics of anti-Occupation Iraqis: sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between pro-Saddam and anti-American sentiments. Sometimes it’s the same thing, sometimes not, and sometimes the two blur together. Of course, lots of people are anti-Saddam AND anti-Occupation, but in Al Adamiyah, I haven’t figured it out yet.
We arrived at the Abu Hanifa mosque in time for the funeral of one of the men killed the night before, and were given permission to enter the grounds and to film. The coffin was draped in an Iraqi flag, and people were praying over it. Another crowd was gathered in the small cemetary nearby, where men were digging the grave. We set about taking pictures and interviewing people.
Around half an hour later, as we were waiting for the funeral to take place, a masked Fedayeen appeared, wanting to talk to us and our cameras. He stood behind the flag-draped coffin, his head wrapped in a khaffiyah, an ammunition belt around his waist and a Kalashnikov in hand. He shouted that he would never stop fighting the Americans, not until the last one was dead or back in the
USA. The crowd all began chanting with him. It was a pretty compelling scene.
And then another Fedayeen showed up, displaying the arm-patch of an American MP (Military Police), that he claimed he had killed. He showed it off, also stating his lifelong resistance to any foreign occupation, and then he threw the patch to the ground and the crowd all stomped on it.
During all of this, our Iraqi friend was constantly being followed by irate people who were arguing with him. They were angry about the media coverage of the situation in Iraq, and specifically of Al Adamiyah. And like others I have met, they blame the Iraqi translators, they think they are lying to the foreign press. He was getting increasingly nervous.
About this time the funeral began, and the coffin was carried to the grave. There was much crying and shouting and singing, and the crowd was getting angry. After a point, they told us to stop filming. People again confronted our driver/translator, and us. They said they wanted to see the footage on television. Would it be on the news? I tried to explain that we were independents, that the big stations had money and satellites, and we did not, but we would try our best to get the images on satellite news. Do you swear? An
old man asked me angrily. I swear, I said. En sh’allah. If God wills it. They were still pissed off, and our Iraqi friend said we had to leave. He feared for himself more than us. So we left.
On the way home, a massive bomb went off
somewhere in the city. When we got back to the hotel, we were just trying to determine where it had happened, to go and film it, when a Scottish freelancer came in and told us that a demonstration
had started at the very mosque we had left! So we decided to go back.
But by now it was almost four in the afternoon. There would be only one hour of sunlight left, and the whole neighborhood could very well be already sealed off. Out driver was still shaken by the first trip, and plus he was out of gas, so he refused to go with us. I also forgot to mention that all of Al Adamiyah has been completely without power for several days, like a kind of punishment.
So we went without a translator or driver, and we hired a taxi. Are we foolish, going where our own guides don’t want to go? I don’t know. I just follow the stories and my nose, as it were. So off we went.
When we arrived back at the mosque, the demo had ended. Nothing was happening and the sun was setting. We decided to eat some dinner and wait and see.
We drank tea and ate chicken as the evening prayers were called. The streets were dark, only the occasional generator-powered neon tube or the flickers of a kebab roaster’s flames lighting the dirt roads. I walked around, and found a beautiful bakery, with people waiting outside for bread. They were very nice, as are most Iraqis about being photographed, and let me film the whole process
of rolling dough, laying out the trays, and baking the bread in a roaring oven on long wooden trays.
Just as I was leaving the bakery the others ran
up with one of our contacts from the neighborhood, who told us the Americans were raiding a house nearby. We headed off to see, winding down pitch-black alleys with overhanging wooden
We rounded a corner to see the street blocked by Humvees. American soldiers peered nervously into the gloom over their rifles. We approached slowly, our arms outstretched. ”Journalists!”, we shouted. “These are cameras in our hands!”
Blinding lights flooded the area from the Hummers. A soldier yelled back: “TURN AROUND, GO AWAY, AND DO NOT COME BACK!!” What an asshole.
We stayed on the sidewalks, and I got some decent, but very grainy shots of young, fresh-faced Americans in helmets and armor coming in and out of the house. Our contact said that our presence was good, even if we couldn’t get close, because it helps protect people if there are media around.
Soon the Hummers, all seven of them, finished their search and roared away, and we went to interview the residents. They were pretty shaken, as they said this was the third raid in two weeks. The Americans were looking for their sons, who haven’t been home in some time. They are suspected resistance fighters.
After that our contact gave us a tour of the area, pointing out all the anti-US and pro-Saddam graffiti. There was even a large stencil, about five feet wide, that said, in English: “American soldier, go home before you are put in a black bag and dumped in a river!” That stencil was repeated numerous times on various walls.
By now I had no idea where we were, but I should add that at no time that evening did I feel in any danger, at least not from Iraqis. I was more worried about the Americans opening fire on us.
Our contact led us to a main street after proudly showing us his neighborhood and introducing us to his friends. We hailed a taxi, after several tries (hardly any of them had enough gas to get us back to our hotel), and headed home. The driver advised us not to stay out so late, as we were in danger of arrest by the Americans.
We got home safely and met with the rest of our friends, who had indeed tried to get to Tikrit, but were turned back by soldiers. They had, however, worked the necessary channels and had received permission to return in two days time. I think I will keep returning to Al Adamiyah instead.
The end of the story is that myself and the Hungarian journalist took our footage to Associated Press and Reuters, respectively, and they both bought it from us. They paid me $200 USD and him $100 USD. So perhaps that was my “Big Fish” that I had to share. After all, my Hungarian friend’s name is Attila.
And I kept my promise to the old man at the mosque. Perhaps now the world will see, if even for only five minutes, the anger of the people of Al Adamiyah.