Thursday, November 18, 2004


The downward spiral in Iraq

"Stars glittered over the Baghdad hotel where I blew out the candles on a cake decorated by my four closest Iraqi friends. We stayed up until the dawn call to prayer rang from a nearby mosque, telling stories and debating the future of a country I'd grown to cherish. - Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder journalist.
Kudos to the Beacon Journal and the rest of the K-R chain for printing this. Yes, whatever the reporters are experience is only a fraction of what some Iraqis are going through, but this story shows how far things have coming from the "thrilling" stories that the press corps was churning out during the early months of the war.
It's hard to say when it changed. By last autumn, insurgents had improved their bomb-making skills and organized themselves into sophisticated cells. Reporters waded into an alphabet soup of military terminology: VBIED, vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. RPG, rocket-propelled grenade. PSD, personal security detail [ . . .]

The pace and scope of attacks grew exponentially. Targets came to include foreign journalists and the Iraqis working with them. Two of the Iraqi friends at my birthday party were shot to death at point-blank range as they drove home one spring night. Two weeks later, American soldiers opened fire on the third friend, an Iraqi television reporter who was speeding to the scene of a mortar attack. His last gasps were broadcast on live TV. I couldn't work for weeks. The fourth friend fled Iraq after receiving death threats.

So far, we've been lucky at Knight Ridder in escaping death or serious injury. Our American and Iraqi correspondents have been shot at countless times, attacked by knife-wielding rebels and bruised by stones lobbed from angry mobs. They've been trampled by riotous demonstrators, arrested by a renegade police force, taken hostage by militiamen and burned by red-hot shrapnel.

After one bombing, a young boy shoved a severed hand in my face. Another time, I used a tissue to pick shreds of human flesh off my shoes after covering a car bombing. Gagging, I gave up and pushed the sneakers deep into the trash.

As the close calls grew, the Iraq we knew shrank. The northern mountains and southern marshes are off-limits now because the roads out of Baghdad are lined with bombs and gunmen. Even a jaunt to the grocery store is a meticulously planned affair. Do you have a radio? A flak vest? A second car to watch for kidnappers?

I just turned 27. With the war still raging and the heartbreaking absence of my four Iraqi friends, there seemed little to celebrate.


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