The Hamra’s Been Hit

My hotel compound in Baghdad has been hit by two car bombs in an almost identical attack as the one that hit the Palestine Hotel complex on Oct. 24.

BEIRUT — I’ve heard from friends that my hotel compound in Baghdad has been hit by two car bombs in an almost identical attack as the one that hit the “Palestine Hotel complex on Oct. 24”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/10/three_car_bombs.php. The first car bomb “vaporized” the blast walls on the back corner, but left so large a crater that the second bomb couldn’t get through. The damage was thus moderated.
That’s of little solace to the families of the six Iraqis who died. One of them may have been a guard for the compound, and the rest seem to be Iraqis who lived in an apartment building on the outside of the wall. Casualty reports are still a little fuzzy, however. One of my friends told me that the foot of one of the bombers landed at the front steps of the hotel.
This will send shockwaves through the journo-tribe in Baghdad. I would not be surprised to see several organizations deciding that Baghdad is no longer safe enough to work and pull out. Or they may move to the Green Zone, joining _Newsweek_ and the _Wall Street Journal_.
This is exactly “what I feared would happen”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/10/a_thousand_deat.php, following the Palestine attacks.
*UPDATE 10:41 AM NOV 19:* Here are links to some of the stories from my friends:
* “Blast Also Shattered Illusions”:http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/iraq/complete/la-fg-hamra19nov19,1,177409.story?coll=la-iraq-complete _The Los Angeles Times_
* “Reporter Cried, Feared She’d Die”:http://www.kentucky.com/mld/kentucky/news/world/13209166.htm From my friend Leila, who speaks of the fear that Iraqis feel every day has come to our compound now.
* “Woken By Yet Another Blast”:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/11/19/wirq119.xml&sSheet=/news/2005/11/19/ixnewstop.html
* “Nothing Can Prepare You”:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,7374-1878427,00.html From friend Catherine Philip, who also mentions the cost borne by innocent Iraqis.
There is already some movement among the reporters to raise money for the families who were affected.

Abusive comments khaalas

I’ve always been a fan of free speech, but recent comments have driven me to a sad decision.

BEIRUT — I’ve always been a fan of free speech. I rarely moderate comments, except for spam, and I’ve banned very few people. Only once was I raised to rage when a commenter made my mother cry by calling for my death at the hands of Marines because I was allegedly too friendly to the insurgents. He also, weirdly, thought I was a Sunni Arab who was born in Iraq and had immigrated to the U.S. for the purposes of … well, I’m not sure. He was mad. I banned him, mainly on the basis that my embrace of personal expression stops when you make my mom cry.
So I have a lot of patience for rollicking debate. But that’s not what has happened here. Recent comments have been vile, vengeful and more than a little disturbing — and all of them have come from people who allegedly want peace and are antiwar. Che_Guerilla has called for me to be beheaded on the Internet; da_ali_truth_show says: “I’ll fight you. Please come back to the States I’ll fucking smash that smug ‘objective’ bullshit through your stupid face. Bring friends you pussy. Your Time Warner corporate Blackwater mercenaries won’t be protecting you from me, dickhead.” (We’ve never employed Blackwater mercenaries, for the record. Our security staff is made up of Iraqis who have proven themselves truly loyal and good friends in the face of terrible risk to themselves.)
Anyway, what I’m getting at is that *you will no longer be allowed to comment unless you’ve registered with TypeKey.* I tried this once before and it really cut down on the people leaving comments. I didn’t like it. But I feel the barrage of threats of death and violence against me and my family is too much. No one should have to put up with that. I’ve had friends die and be kidnapped; I’ve been shot at by all sides in this conflict. I frankly don’t need juvenile ranting cluttering my site and intruding on my thoughts. You folks who do this are finished. (Which is what _khaalas_ means: “enough, finished, ended, done.”) It should also cut down on comment spam which is still a scourge that is difficult to combat.
So, to my regular readers and commenters, such as Trish and Niall, who have left thoughtful notes through the years, I’m sorry for this step and grateful to you all. I hope you stick around. You guys are always welcome. For the che_guerillas of the world, go to hell. You care for nothing more than scoring cheap points off dead bodies of Iraqis and Americans. You’re just as bad as the _National Review_ crowd who say “2,000 deaths is nothing when you look at how many died in World War II.” You deserve nothing but contempt and you undermine the very antiwar cause you claim to support.

Shots to the left of me, shots to the right…

I’m just catching hell from all sides today. Fresh off the the howls for my disembowlment, the PAO for the Marines in Fallujah now says my story wasn’t balanced.

BEIRUT — Wow, I’m just catching hell from all sides today. Fresh off the the howls for my disembowlment, the PAO for the Marines in Fallujah now says my story wasn’t balanced:

Christopher,
Thanks for the link. I ran across it the other day by accident and had other things to do so I did not read the entire story.
I find that reporters who come here have two choices, well three actually. They can choose the glass is half-empty story, the glass is half-full story or they can write a little of both. Yours is very much a half-empty story as you chose to focus on the negative aspects of the situation.
You could have mentioned the fact that Fallujah accounted for 90 percent of the voting in Al Anbar province. You could have mentioned that this took place because the local sheiks and imans saw the need to participate in the political process, which they did not do last January.
You could have mentioned that the voters went to the polls and the security situation was deemed safe enough by the city residents that 100,000 of them did so and voted, despite the insurgents’ threats. There were several small incidents of violence, but not enough to deter anyone from voting.
All of those things may have balance out the bad news you chose to deliver. We don’t expect every story to be a “happy-happy” piece but we do appreciate some balance.
v/r
Capt. Walton

So let me get this right: The anti-war left is mad at me because I don’t document stuff I didn’t see, and I’m supposed to take an Italian documentary’s word that “chemical weapons” were used… (By the way, white phosphorus is as much a chemical weapon as, say, gunpowder is a chemical weapon. That’s not to say it’s not horrible, but can you folks stop trying to score rhetorical points over which wounds are more gruesome?) The Marines — well, _a_ Marine — is mad at me because I didn’t toe the party line and talk up all the cool new democracy busting out.
I think that’s about the highest praise a reporter can get. As an old mentor told me, “If they’re all shooting at you, you must be doing something right.” In short, I’m going to sleep well knowing that I didn’t follow anyone’s agenda but my own — which is to tell the best story I can. It’s too bad in some ways, though. I guess I won’t be invited to any organic juice parties in Berkeley or the new school repainting in Ramadi.
Finally, you’ll notice the dateline. I’m now in Beirut and will start working on other, non-Iraq projects through the end of the year. I may or may not update this blog, but if I don’t, don’t worry — or get your hopes up. I’m alive and kicking and I’ll be back online later.

Fallujah: One Year Later

FALLUJAH — Last week, I was in Fallujah working on a story about how the city is one year later. Well, here it is.
A note on this embed: Someone asked me if I had to “clear” this story with the U.S. military. No, I did not. They had absolutely no input on this story. i didn’t show the copy to anyone but my editors and they didn’t show it to anyone else.
As for media events to show me how great Fallujah was going, I can’t speak for what CNN saw a while back, but I was shown several things that were obviously pre-packaged media showcases, and I refused to write about them — with one exception. One such event was the delivery of supplies to the hospital. This was the _first_ supply drop to the hospital since the invasion of November 2004 and it consisted of blankets and kerosine heaters. Nice enough, I suppose, but good equipment and medicine would have been better. It was also a clumsily staged event with the Marines taking their own camera people and showcasing themselves. The Marine major who was providing security took me aside and apologized because, as he said, “I thought this was going to be something real.” His embarrassment was evident.
I wrote about that in my file, but because of space restrictions, it didn’t make it in. That’s life in the magazine business.
Now, as for me being a shameful excuse for a human being — and I’m talking to you, “Susan” — get over yourself. My story was hardly cheerleading and I’m sick and tired of people who think any coverage of the military is somehow being complicit with war crimes. The Marines I met committed no crimes, wanted to get home and realized they were doing an often pointless task, a feeling I tried to convey in my story. If my reporting doesn’t fit your preconceived notions of what’s happening, tough. I’m right and you’re not. Referencing Dahr Jamal, who came over here with an agenda to “document atrocities,” is _not_ journalism — it’s activism. And if that’s what you want, go to another damn blog.

In Huseybah for Steel Curtain

HUSEYBAH — Hello all. Currently in Huseybah covering Operation Steel Curtain. Will write more later.
*UPDATE 11/9/05 2:45:20 AM:* And “here it is”:http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1127376,00.html on TIME.com. The most interesting aspect to me was about the tribal politics the U.S. is exploiting.
A note on civilians. I didn’t see one civilian hurt or mistreated while I was with the Marines of the 2/1. For one, there aren’t many there. Huseybah, normally about 30,000 people, is almost abandoned. I made it halfway through the city, and found maybe 10 houses with families in them. Best estimate is that about 5,000 civilians remain.
Secondly, I never saw a Marine shoot first. They never fired a round unless fired upon, which is in keeping with their rules of engagement. Now, when they were fire upon, even if it was just some guy taking potshots, the entire company would open up. If they brought the tanks in, it was all over.
Some will say, “yeah, well, that unit was probably behaving themselves because they had press with them.” Well, I moved freely between Fox and Golf company, and all the various platoons over the three days I was up there. They were often completely surprised to see me and it was sort of a “spot press check” on the squads. Secondly, the New York Times and CNN is embedded with the 3/6 in the north of the city. No one is reporting significant effronteries to civilians. And if they _are_ behaving themselves because of the press, doesn’t that make the case for _more_ embedding not less, as the press is fulfilling its watchdog role and keeping people honest — and, presumably by extension, civilians alive?
Anyway, I’m back in Baghdad now.