Iraq: The amazing faces of normalcy

September 26, 2007 by barbara

(Wherein Barbara compares and contrasts the breathless blathering of a BushCo rep pimping the party line on Iraq with the observations of one who lives Iraq all day, every day.)

I lament here from time to time that I have no representative in Congress. It's absolutely true. The man occupying my district’s congressional seat (MN-CD2) is John Kline (R-MN). Make that R-MN, because The Colonel (as he likes to be called) has marched and voted in lockstep with Bush throughout his singularly undistinguished congressional tenure.

Kline recently graced the Iraqis with his fifth visit to their war-shattered nation. Those poor folks must be so tired of the steady parade of U.S. photo-oppers wandering in and out and requiring maximum security for their “how I spent my summer vacation” moment. Crikey, the Iraqis see more of Kline than his constituents do. Read more!

This Kline stuff is all over the place, but here’s the Strib’s link to it. And here’s a summary of Kline’s razzle-dazzle, culled from the article.

  • Kline said the security situation in Iraq is “…just truly amazing. Just amazing.” (I suppose that depends on what you mean by “amazing.”)
  • Kline said there were laughing children and smiling adults.
  • Kline said there’s “just a sense of normalcy – people getting on with their lives.” (I suppose that bullets and bombs and bodies piling up around you eventually become your “normal.”)
  • Kline said that the surge showed American commitment and that in Ramadi, “it helped tip it in our direction.”
  • Kline’s traveling companion, Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) said, “We weren’t allowed to go five feet. At any checkpoint, once you pass it, of course people are living their lives. But it doesn’t mean that two blocks over somebody isn’t going to get blown up.” (Sir, you a contradicting The Colonel!)

Once upon a time, the Strib was owned by McClatchy. It’s been a grim, semi-journalistic publication ever since McClatchy sold it. Case in point, read what a McClatchy blogger had to say about Baghdad, which was not prepped for a photo-op hour.

Every morning in the bureau the staff and I sit together and discuss the plans for the day. Together we read the morning papers then decide on our plan.

Sounds simple enough. It's not.

It goes a little something like this.

"I need to talk to this family for my story," I mention. Easy. Go to the family, talk to them, come back and write a story.

No it's to (sic) dangerous, I'm usually told. Every time I leave the bureau as a foreign reporter we map out the route. What neighborhood can we drive through, where can I get out of the car and interview people in my Lebanese accent or whispered English in my translator's ear? There aren't that many places left for me.

Everyone knows when a stranger enters the neighborhood. With my dark complexion from my Lebanese roots, I blend better, but now Iraqis don't blend in the parts of the capital they don't belong. Most stick to their neighborhoods and work places, never dallying or wandering through the capital.

A few days ago we decided to drive through Al Nisoor square, near the shopping district of Mansour in Baghdad. Seemed harmless enough, our security advisor raised his eyebrows but gave in to my pleas. I put a scarf over my hair and we headed out in two cars, one to block anyone who might chase us home. I sat with my translator and driver and looked at the place where Blackwater, the private security company that protects U.S. diplomats, is accused of killing 11 civilians. Among those civilians was a family of three: a baby, a mother and a father. The woman was a doctor I found out, a rare commodity in a place where most professionals have fled.

We drove through the square, which actually is a traffic circle. I saw where the convoy would have been driving up the road before turning to go against traffic. The circle was in front of them and we drove around the traffic circle where the cars would've been stopped to let them pass. The same spot where that white car came under fire, burst into flames and a baby died before he lived.

The white car they were in is pushed to the side of the road, a burned shadow of itself. Eight people died instantly, the Ministry of Interior spokesman said, three more died in the hospital.

"Can I get down to talk to a few people," I asked.

"No not now," my Iraqi colleague, Mohammed, said. "Something weird is going on."

So I settled for driving through the circle once more to get the description I needed for a future story. Suddently (sic) commandos were motioning to each other and running through the roads. I was absorbed in multi-tasking a phone call from my boss and looking out the window at the now infamous intersection.

"Go faster," I heard Mohammed tell the driver. "Let's go."

He spotted the men moving quickly and he rushed us away. Twelve minutes later the commandos found a car bomb. It never detonated.

But you never know when you go out what awaits. Maybe you pass through that same spot where one day earlier everything was fine, but today it's the spot for the almost daily car bombs, mortars or roadside bombs in the capital.

It's a risk you weigh. Sometimes you take it and pray everything will be ok, other days you worry and stay home.

But the burden is always there. What happens if I send a reporter somewhere for a story and they never come back? What happens if I go somewhere and never come back?

Tomorrow we make those decisions again. I hope they are the right ones.

Well. That was instructive, wasn’t it?

Colonel Kline, it occurs to me it would be useful for you to spend a few months living the life of an “average” Iraqi civilian. Without your personal security force. Sans rose petals strewn in the path of your highly-polished, liberating shoes. No cameras, anywhere. I’m guessing that would be an “amazing” experience for you. Just amazing.

(H/T LeftyMN for direction to these articles)

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