Baghdad's Best Blogger

The blogger formerly known as Salam Pax has written a new post describing the current environment of chaos and fear in Iraq:

I have newly found out that I should avoid getting out of Baghdad through a certain road to the south because the Iraqi Army battalion situated there really hates my family name. People driving through that route towards the city of Hilla have been arrested just because they have that name.

The reasons people are killed for are absurd to the point of being funny. On the top of my list is wearing shorts. Teenagers in my neighbourhood have been killed for that unforgettable crime and probably it is the reason why two sportsmen who play for the Iraqi Tennis team and their trainer have been murdered.

I have been going around trying to film for this video blog for five days now and it has been a constant struggle. People do not want to talk. They politely ask me to take away my camera they do not want to get in trouble.

Salam Pax, for those who haven't already heard of him, was one of Iraq's first bloggers, if not the first, and he's still one of the best. He began posting anonymously even before Saddam Hussein fell, writing about his friends, disappearances of people under Saddam, and conditions in Baghdad as the city braced for war. After the war, his identity was revealed as Salam al-Janabi, a 29-year-old architect who sometimes worked as a translator for U.S. journalist Peter Maass. His attitude toward the invasion can best be described as complex. His blog displayed a quote from Samuel P. Huntington as its epigram: “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.” During the invasion of Iraq, his blog fell silent for awhile, but returned after the fall of Saddam. “War sucks big time,” he wrote in his first comments upon his return. “Don’t let yourself ever be talked into having one waged in the name of your freedom. Somehow when the bombs start dropping or you hear the sound of machine guns at the end of your street you don’t think about your ‘imminent liberation’ anymore.”

Al-Janabi was ecstatic, however, when the dictatorship fell. “The truth is, if it weren’t for intervention this would never have happened,” he wrote. “When we were watching the Saddam statue being pulled down, one of my aunts was saying that she never thought she would see this day during her lifetime.” In response to a query from a U.S. soldier, he wrote, “Saddam is gone, thanks to you. Was it worth it? Be assured it was. We all know that it got to a point where we would have never been rid of Saddam without foreign intervention; I just wish it would have been a bit better planned.”

Does he still feel that way? He doesn't say, exactly, but his recent posts have not exactly been optimistic:

In the 80s Kanan Makia wrote a book about Iraq under Saddam called The Republic of Fear. Today Saddam is in prison and we Iraqis are constantly being told that we have been liberated but when I look around I still see a Republic of Fear.

Life seems to have lost its value and we are shutting up and shutting down because of fear. This is about how when everyone came to destroy what was wicked they killed what was good as well.

Salam Pax’s prewar weblog was called, “Where is Raed?” More recently, he has been blogging at “Shut Up You Fat Whiner!,” which he has just renamed "The Daily Absurdity Report." In 2004, he also wrote an interesting series for the Guardian (UK), describing his visit to the United States. Here's a sample passage, describing his conversation with a group of young Democrats:

And that is another thing that seemed to be incomprehensible to one of my new Washington friends: when we were talking about the popularity of the clerical militia chief Moqtada al-Sadr I was asked how anyone could be fooled by someone who so obviously used religion to boost his own popularity and went for the lowest common denominator for popular appeal? I was saved by another guest who asked if we were talking about Bush or Sadr here.

Or here's his description of having dinner with an American soldier who served in Iraq:

You have no idea how strange it feels that we share so much in common. When I told him I would never actually approach an American soldier on the street in Baghdad, he told me that if we were in Baghdad he would probably be talking to me with his gun pointing at me because he would be scared shitless. Yet there we sat, drinking beers together.

We exchange stories about how badly both of us are dealing with sounds of things popping. He tells me he will never again go to a July 4 celebration because of the fireworks, and I tell him how I got laughed at when I ducked and ran after a car backfired near me in London.

And here's his conversation with "Laurie Mylroie: The neocons' favorite conspiracy theorist":

When she shows up, I do not know what to make of her. She is restless, and chain-smokes. When we order our coffees, she starts stacking up the little cream cups in a tower and then rearranges them back on the saucer they came in. This is definitely not "fierce". It is actually a bit disappointing.

We talk about her theory linking Iraq to the 9/11 attacks, and she goes on a long-winded explanation. Interested? Look at this. For me, it was too complicated to follow, and worthy of two X-files episodes. I phased out while watching her rip the little sweetener packet to smaller and smaller pieces.