Wheels up! Well, tomorrow evening, anyway

Ready to go, and if you need more reasons to want an independent journalism, read on, McDuff.

Tickets are purchased, gear is tested (mostly), packing is commencing and everything is coming together. I’ve not posted much these past few days because of the overwhelming number of loose ends to tie up. Plus, at the moment, I don’t really know any more than what’s on CNN et al. What’s the point of regurgitating? Starting this week however, the real purpose of Back to Iraq comes into view, as this becomes a much more heavily reported site instead of one based on analysis and commentary. (That will still be there, but in much smaller portions.)
I’ve been doing a fair number of interviews, too, as various media members want to know my story. Often they ask me why I’m doing this, what do I expect or hope to get out of this, am I crazy, etc. Well, I’m probably crazy, yes, but what I’m hoping to get out of this is some respect for the Web (and blogs) as a serious medium for independents. To all the journalism professors who say blogs aren’t “real” journalism, I say, “I don’t see you getting out of your tenured chair and putting your butt in the middle of Kurdistan to report on what’s happening.” To those who say, “You’ve got no editor,” I reply, “My readers are my editors.” To those who complain, “You’re biased, you offer nothing but op-eds,” I reply, “I am biased, but at least you know where I’m coming from. And just wait until next week when my butt is in Kurdistan.”
There have been a couple of stories of journalism being pulled away from its mission by corporate masters. While these are no means the rule, they are troubling.

  • Kevin Sites was shut down. While I wasn’t always impressed with his work, he did take some good photographs. CNN’s decision to shut him down is puzzling, considering he was saying nothing that would annoy his employers.
  • The BBC’s War Diaries, while interesting, seem a bit like an afterthought. And no doubt they are. The BBC reporters work hard.
  • And finally, Paul Krugman has reported in his column that Clear Channel, operator of approximately 1,225 radio stations, 39 television stations and which has equity interest in more than 240 radio stations, has been organizing pro-war rallies around the country.

As Krugman says,

the company’s top management has a history with George W. Bush. The vice chairman of Clear Channel is Tom Hicks, whose name may be familiar to readers of this column. When Mr. Bush was governor of Texas, Mr. Hicks was chairman of the University of Texas Investment Management Company, called Utimco, and Clear Channel’s chairman, Lowry Mays, was on its board. Under Mr. Hicks, Utimco placed much of the university’s endowment under the management of companies with strong Republican Party or Bush family ties. In 1998 Mr. Hicks purchased the Texas Rangers in a deal that made Mr. Bush a multimillionaire.

It should also be noted that Clear Channel is a major donor to the Republican party. Since 1997, the chairman and CEO, Lowry Mays, according to FEC records, has personally given $11,250, almost all to Republican candidates. (The exception is Rep. Charles Gonzales of the 20th District.)
Krugman’s point is partially that Clear Channel is doing a favor for George W. Bush, but his main point is that major corporations — including media companies — are merging with the government “into one big ‘us.'” The danger of this should be obvious.
Anyway, there’s so much going on now. It’s impossible to know the whole story of this war. But that’s OK, I’ve come to realize. It’s more important to tell a few stories of the war rather than the story of the war. That will have to be written later. And when the narrative is told, the media will have major role — mainstream, freelance and independent alike. And perhaps someone will look back and say, “The blogosphere stepped up to the plate. With commentary and analysis, its members provided a tonic for much of the mainstream media’s excesses. Others provided a meta-analysis, providing their readers with as much of a bird’s eye view of the coverage as possible. And for the first time, they sent one of their own to war.”

Salam’s alive

Thanks to Allison who pointed out that Salam Pax of Where is Raed?, the Blogger of Baghdad, has posted and seems to be doing well. I have contacted him and requested and interview for B2I. That’s assuming I can make it down to Baghdad, that is.

Thanks to Allison who pointed out that Salam Pax of Where is Raed?, the Blogger of Baghdad, has posted and seems to be doing well. I have contacted him and requested an interview for B2I. That’s assuming I can make it down to Baghdad, that is.

POWs and another letter from Erbil

Pows, Geneva Conventions and another email from Arbil

The big story today is the capture of U.S. soldiers by Iraqi troops around an Nasiriya. Al Jazeera and Iraqi TV showed footage of the soldiers — as well as bodies said to be soldiers. Two of the troops iD’ed their unit at the 507th Maintenance. A woman was among those captured.
In a separate incident, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld acknowledged that some soldiers were missing, but said the number was “fewer than 10.” (Stratfor reports that the number is actually 12, and that the soldiers took a wrong turn and are now lost.)
Regarding the American captives, on Meet the Press today, Rumsfeld said the Iraqis had an obligation, under the Geneva Conventions, to respect the rights of any POWs. “”It’s illegal to do things to POWs that are humiliating to those prisoners,” he said.
Under Article 3 of the Conventions, each warring party “shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

  1. Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
  2. Taking of hostages;
  3. Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
  4. The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

“The United States of course avoids showing prisoners of war,” Rumsfeld said. “We have thousands of Iraqi prisoners that are in POW camps … but we avoid showing photographs of them.”
Hm. While I agree that Iraq should follow the letter and spirit of the Conventions, the U.S. has been less than thorough in keeping true to these protocols itself, weakening its case. The prisoners at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay have been held in a legal limbo for months now. Some have been shipped to other countries that employ horrific interrogation methods. Human Rights Watch has urged the Bush Administration to determine the detainees’ status and then launch criminal prosecution “where credible evidence exists.” Indefinite detention is not legal under the Conventions, despite President Bush’s claim to be upholding the “principles” of the Third Convention. As the report from HRW said:

This shortsighted transgression sets a dangerous precedent that could come back to haunt U.S. and allied service-members who are captured by enemy forces in this or future wars. Washington’s refusal to treat the detainees as POWs is perplexing because it would in no way inhibit legitimate U.S. efforts to interrogate or prosecute people who have participated in terrorist acts.

In other news, Iraqi resistance is stiffening, as the battle for Basra rages on. Col. Khaled al-Hashemi, Iraqi commander of the 51st Mechanized Division near that city, said March 23 that his division, reported earlier to have surrendered, would continue to fight against U.S. and British forces. “I am with my men in Basra; we continue to defend the people and riches” of the town, Al-Hashemi said. [Stratfor]
Also: “Combat in An Nasiriyah in southeastern Iraq has extended to the cities of Samava, Bataha and Sot al-Sheikh and Hour in the southern province of An Najaf. According to reports released by military sources inside Iraq listening to allied radio, U.S. and British forces have called for reinforcements, more armament, artillery and helicopter gun-ships.”
U.S. Special Forces are flying into Iraqi Kurdistan to be deployed around the town of Halabja, according to senior PUK officials. (Likely a backup for actions against Ansar al-Islam. KDP peshmergas have allegedly fought off a small Iraqi attack near Tepe Garus, about 15 kilometers from Arbil. [ibid.]
Also, I heard from Djoy, the Kurdish man in Arbil, who wrote to me last week:

Hello Christopher,
Thanks for writing and thanks for your safety wishes. I got back to Erbil city this morning because it was no longer bearable or logical to stay in that village especially after we noticed the very slow pace of the war! anyhow we are still taking precautions.
I hope you will make it to Iraq soon but please take care of yourself as its a real dangerous situation here and completely unpredictable! maybe I will see you in Iraq and hope I can be of help.
You too keep safe,

More supplies to buy today (Gotta restock the first aid kit.) Then tomorrow and Tuesday I’ll be tying up loose ends. Still looking at a Wednesday departure. I’m only waiting on PayPal funds to clear and the laptop to arrive.

Sorry for the update delays

Sorry for the lack of updates today. I was out purchasing supplies (MREs, camp meals, etc.) and other materials. Also, I got the sat-phone today and I have to say the Motorola 9505 is pretty freakin’ cool. Found a cheap ticket to Istanbul and I’m now only waiting to tie up a couple of loose ends: fund transfers and the laptop, which comes Monday.
Tomorrow I’ll have more updates.

Kevin Sites has been shut down

Kevin Sites has been shut down.

Distressing. According to Kevin Sites, a CNN cameraman who was blogging from Iraq, he’s been shut down by CNN. I don’t know why — perhaps he was taking too much time from his real job — but it’s a shame. And it shows why it’s important to get independent, reader-funded journalists out there. As I said in my trip update last night, I’m looking to ship out Wednesday and hope to be in-country by next weekend. Any extra, last-minute donations are most welcome.

Ansar strikes back

Car bomb in Halabja as Ansar strikes back for cruise missile attacks.

Ivan Watson, an NPR reporter in Halabja, the town best known for the 1988 chemical attacks near the Iranian border, reports that last night the Islamist group Ansar al-Islam came under attack from American cruise missiles and bombing. This morning, Ansar apparently struck back with a suicide car bomb in Halabja that killed three peshmergas and injured nine others. (Background on Ansar here and here.)
Watson described the car bomb in Halabja as a “deadly retaliatory attack.” Ansar has been accused of having ties to al Qa’ida, and the Bush administration has said its presence in Iraq proves ties between Baghdad and Osama bin Ladin. While intriguing, the ties have never been proved conclusively.
Ansar has been waging a war against PUK leadership, and has assassinated several leading PUK figures in the past few months. While I was interviewing PUK Interior Minister Faraidoon Abdul Qisadir last summer in Suleimaniya, he showed me a note — in Kurdish or Arabic, I’m not sure — that he said proved the group was getting funding from Baghdad. He wouldn’t let me make a copy of the note so I could get it independently translated, however, so there’s no way I could have verified its content.
During the meeting, an aide brought him another note that he said indicated a car bomb, likely headed for my hotel, had exploded on a hill outside Suleimaniya. Again, I was unable to verify this, but I did see a smoke plume rising from a hill outside the city after the interview. I had been in Halabja just the day before and Qisadir speculated that Ansar agents had seen me.

Trip update

The gear is acquired! Sat-phone will be coming tomorrow and new laptop should be coming Monday or Tuesday. GPS receiver is in hand, and my old trusty digital camera is waiting to ship out.
I’ll be getting a ticket to Istanbul next week, perhaps as soon as Wednesday. From there, I’ll meet up with a friend in Ankara and we’ll head to the Syrian border. After that, Iraqi Kurdistan. I hope to be in country by next weekend.
I was hoping for $10,000 at a minimum, but the big dose of funding I was hoping for from a major university has not come through, and I don’t think I can wait anymore. So I’m going to cut the trip a little short (probably two weeks in Iraq as opposed to a month) and go with what I’ve got.
Donations are still most welcome, of course! Every little bit helps, and I really, really appreciate everyone’s support. If people want to keep donating, I can still access the funds while in Turkey. After that, however, I’ll be using the cash reserves.
By the time I get there, Iraqi Kurdistan could be Turkish-occupied, a humanitarian disaster or a cheering land of happy Kurds. We’ll see. It’s a hideously complicated place, and it will be a good litmus test for America’s intentions.