Friday, June 04, 2010

Welcome Back to Baghdad

There’s a saying here in Iraq that goes something like this, “Money is your country.” What it means is: If you have money, you can feel at home everywhere you go. As soon as we touched down in Baghdad, it was clear that airport employees spend a good deal of time trying to make money their country. And we were an easy target. Too many cameras. Not enough paperwork.

It was 119 degrees in Baghdad today. And there is no amount of dryness that keeps that from feeling anything but suffocating. Between the heat, two days of travel, and our extended stay, we thought we’d ease ourselves in. I had definitely led Kevin (D.P.) to believe that today would be a “get yourself acclimated” kind of day. But ten minutes into his afternoon snooze, I pulled the plug on acclimation. Sheikh Moustafa al-Kamal Shabib, a leader in the Sons of Iraq (or Sunni Awakening), was ready to share his experiences.

(My favorite photo of the day is Moustafa using his cell phone as a mirror to adjust his keffiyeh before the interview.)

I have to admit, interviewing Moustafa was a slight detour from the focus of our film (cases of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis drawn from The List Project), but I was excited to hear what he had to say. His story—and others like it—speak to the complexity of America’s involvement and moral obligation here, and I like the discomfort their experiences reveal.

On the way to his home in Arab Jabour, a suburb of South Baghdad, we passed several deserted farms—one belonged to a Palestinian rewarded by Saddam Hussein for killing Jews.

Two years ago we never would have made it out of this neighborhood alive. It was infested with global jihadists. Now, in part because of men like Moustafa, we can travel here. As a partner with American troops in the fight against Al-Qaeda, Moustafa helped turn the tide of war to favor the U.S. He and about 80,000 other Sons of Iraq were paid by the Pentagon and lauded by President Bush as the future of the country. Now America is preparing to pull out of Iraq, and men like Moustafa are being picked off one-by-one by Al-Qaeda. This year alone his son was poisoned, and he has survived two car bombings—one was captured on camera by U.S. soldiers and he showed it to us on his cell phone.

We left Moustafa at sunset and returned to our flat which is in the most protected part of the city. It’s the only area you can walk around freely without risk of kidnapping or death. There’s even a little bodega next door where sodas and snacks can be put on a tab that’s paid up at the end of each week. Every major news organization still working in Iraq is here (since the Hamra Hotel was bombed in January), and we’re sharing a house with some other foreign journalists who know how to host a dinner party: sheesha, G&T and four different kinds of pizza. Now that’s what I call a welcome back to Baghdad.

1 comment:

Card Counting said...

Rather useful phrase