The hope of change in Iraq
I had mixed feelings as the unmarked, white-painted, Royal Jordania airline flight from Amman approached Baghdad international airport. After a tight turn and in order to lose height quickly, a nosedive, it touched down on the runway. What could I expect this time, six months after my last embed with U.S. troops in the Iraqi capital?
The conflict in Iraq is a familiar everyday story in our mass media world. Here a suicide bombing with dozens of dead , there a car bomb that kills and maims dozens. The pictures of life in a war zone have become familiar and similar scenes are shown again and again. For viewers a world away from the conflict these images are nevertheless unreal, far from their everyday experiences – but this is daily life in Iraq, for every Iraqi.
During my last stay in Baghdad in March I was confronted with the reality of the inconceivable, cruelty of this war. Corpses, bound and tortured lying in the roads; the dismembered bodies of Iraqi soldiers; children, women and men trying to live their everyday lives constantly afraid of becoming victims of the next bomb attack.
US servicemen often ask me what I expected to find in Iraq? My answer is always, “I don’t expect anything. I just witness what I see”. And I can see everything I want to see.
After three weeks in the city I can see that a little progress has been made.
The embedded journalist program is the only way a western journalist can operate with a degree of safety. Even so you have to take care every step you walk for fear of triggering a roadside device or being ambushed.
You live with the military 24/7, sleep in the same tents and eat the same food. They talk freely, openly and often controversially about their circumstances. They are a friendly bunch, usually happy to meet a German photographer as many have been stationed in Germany and have good memories of their time there.
For a foreign journalist there is no other way to work in an environment that is all to often lethal for even seasoned locals. Of course my report is just a window on events there but hopefully adds to a balanced picture overall.
Even from an armoured Humvees, wearing heavy body armour and a kevelar helmet, the small “baby steps” are apparent. The “concerned citizen” program, where local groups cooperate with US troops and provide limited security in their neighbourhoods has seen life return to the streets – small shops are open again and butchers are back in business.
I spent some time with a Blackhawk helicopter MEDEVAC unit, called the “Witchdoctors”. These are the medics who rush to the scene of roadside explosions and the number of emergency calls has diminished markedly in the past few months.
Today, patrolling through Baghdad’s Haifa Street – one of the most embattled hotspots between insurgents and U.S. soldiers - apart from the Iraqi army checkpoints, some sort of stable existence seemed to be returning and people were out and about doing their daily shopping, there even new street lights.
Of course this is still miles away from peace, but the small changes, the “baby steps”, I have witnessed give me some hope for the future in Baghdad and if not for this generation, then the next, their children.