Escape from Iraq

A story I wrote appeared Monday in the Newark Star-Ledger, a great smaller paper that cares about foreign news. The story dealt with the plight of the Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

Lives suspended by war
AMMAN, Jordan — Rana crosses her legs on the threadbare carpet in her living room in this poor Palestinian section of town and watches as her three children light a candle. The kids are having a pretend birthday party without a cake or presents, but their faces are painted a magnificent shade of gold by the candlelight.

Across town, Hasa and his family sit in their richly-appointed apartment, with all the modern conveniences and bedrooms for everyone. The kitchen is especially bright and clean.

Rana and Hasa live in separate worlds, but have much in common.

Both families are Iraqi refugees facing an uncertain future in a foreign country. Both want to return to their shattered country. And both agreed to be interviewed and photographed for this story only if their real names would not be used because they fear deportation from Jordan and retribution in Iraq.
Driven from their homes by violence and threats of death, Rana and Hasa also provide rare portraits of the refugee life facing many Iraqis. The two families are among the 750,000 Iraqi refugees estimated to be living in Jordan, a country about the size of Pennsylvania and choking on the staggering burden of its new population. (The Iraqis account for about 15 percent of the people living in Jordan.)

Rana’s family is struggling to fit in and faces discrimination from other Iraqis, Jordanians and Palestinians. Jordanians, Rana says, complain to her that “you’re not wearing a hijab, you’re wearing tight jeans, you’re leaving the house.” Palestinians, meanwhile, say, “You killed Saddam.”
Hasa’s family, while well off, faces difficult circumstances as well. From their plush perch overlooking the local mosque, they made a comfortable life here after arriving in 2003.

Things have changed, though.

Hasa now complains government regulations make it impossible for him to run his businesses here or in Iraq, and his life savings is being bled dry.
At the same time, he rages at the U.S. government.

“We are in such a state that we who welcomed America now hate it, and hate the people as much as we hate the politics,” he says. “This isn’t the freedom we expected. This isn’t what we wanted.”

Two families in a country where they don’t want to be.

Two families in a country that really doesn’t want them.

“Please read the whole thing”:http://www.nj.com/starledger/stories/index.ssf?/base/news-11/1180932323248120.xml&coll=1. It should be noted that two days after the story appeared, the UNHCR raised the number of Iraqis who are displaced or refugees to 4.4 million — almost twice the numbers that were available to me at the time of my reporting. That’s 16 percent of the entire Iraqi population, making it the largest human catastrophe to hit the Middle East in recorded history. It dwarfs the Palestinian displacements in 1948 and 1967. If something isn’t done about this, it will further destabilize an already volatile region.

By the way, can someone recommend a good server host? Yahoo! is terrible and I keep getting 500 Server Errors preventing me from getting into the blog, rebuilding it, etc.

Calling Middle East bloggers

BEIRUT — Taking a break from all the news, I’d like to throw something out there and see what gets picked up.
Would you like to be part of the B2I team? (Which, at the moment, is me.) Would you like to blog on Iraq, Syria, Egypt and the rest of the Middle East? Would you like to make some cash while you’re doing it? (Assuming people donate, of course.)
I’m looking for one or two people who can help me out here with covering Iraq, Syria and Egypt, although I’ll entertain other locales or if you move around. Someone to blog from Washington or New York about how news in the Middle East is playing would be great, too.
The ideal candidates should be energetic, hungry and have some journalism training. Fluency in English is a must, as well as the ability to look at things as objectively as possible. I want to continue to give observations and news as it’s seen, not as how most people want it to be seen. No left- or right-wing true believers need apply.
If you’re a freelance journalist in the region and want to have a wider outlet than some of the trade journals might offer, please consider signing up. I’m working out out a donations-sharing system, by which you would reap rewards for your work. It’s not much, but it can help.
Best of all, you get to be part of a blog that single-handedly started the the idea of reader-funded conflict reporting. B2I is still a strong brand and people in the journalism world know it. It’s still read at newspapers and magazines in New York, Washington and elsewhere. Here’s your chance to get some exposure, if you need it.
If you’re interested, please email me with a CV, a cover letter and three writing samples.
Thanks very much,
The Management

Coverage of the Conflict

BEIRUT — Well, the situation up north has settled into a standoff, despite a bout of gunfire on Monday. The various Palestinian factions are trying to negotiate an end to this crisis, and the Lebanese government has given them time to get the job done. But while several politicians, such as Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, have said the military option is off the table, we may very well see more violence before this is over. Lebanon simply can’t allow these guys to walk away, as I’ve mentioned before.
The group continues to refuse to hand over any of its fighters. “This is impossible,” said Fatah al-Islam spokesman Abu Salim Taha via telephone from inside Nahr el-Bared.
I’ll be heading back up, probably Tuesday, to monitor the situation. In the meantime, here are some of the stories I filed over the last week:
* Lebanon, Syria Point Fingers in Recent Violence (Washington Times)
* Lebanese army assault cheered, but raises fears (San Francisco Chronicle)
* Bodies piling up in assault on camp (San Francisco Chronicle)
Another one on the foreign fighters in Fatah al-Islam is due out tomorrow morning.
*UPDATE 5/30/07 2:13:53 AM:* And here it is! Sorry for the delay. Been busy here taking care of daily life that got put on hold while the North caught fire. Right now, things are more or less quiet, with the occasional exchange of fire. We’ll see how long it holds.

Scene from the North

Here’s the story I filed for the San Francisco Chronicle last night,giving you a sense of the scene up around the Nahr el-Bared camp. It’s grim:

Across the street, black smog billowed over the camp while half a dozen buildings blazed. Sniper fire crackled in the air as the army pounded the camp with 120mm mortar and tank shells. Fatah al-Islam militants responded with rocket propelled grenade launchers and machine-gun fire.
Dense orange groves surrounding the camp were scorched from explosions while the army seemed to methodically lob shells on a specific sector of the camp, setting a number of buildings on fire before moving on.
Conditions in the camp — a miserable warren of alleyways and cinderblock homes housing between 30,000 and 40,000 people — are grim. A source at the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in New York said it was impossible for camp medical workers to get to the dead and wounded. Water and electricty have been cut off and about 50 foreigners — many of the Westerners — are hunkered down as their embassies work to get a cease fire in place so they can be evacuated.

I’m heading up in a couple of hours. Word is a UN convoy is going to try to get into the camp.

Snapshot of journalsts’ dangers in Iraq

One of the “commenters”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2007/05/dmitry_chebotayev_russian_phot.php#comment-211984 in the “post about Dmitry”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2007/05/dmitry_chebotayev_russian_phot.php below wanted to know how many journalists who had died in Iraq were foreign and how many were Iraqi. Well, the Committee to Protect Journalists has just such a list.
Of the 101 journalists killed in Iraq, 79 were Iraqi. The others included 12 Europeans, three from other Arab countries, two from the United States and five from all other countries.
That the vast majority of journalists killed — as well as the “38 media workers”:http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/Iraq/iraq_media_killed.html, which includes translators and the like — are Iraqi is significant. Like the Iraqi civilians, the local journalists there are the ones who are most affected by the violence that permeates their country.
Fourteen journalists died in 2003, the year of the invasion and the trajectory has been mostly pointing up in the number of deaths each year: 24 in 2004, 23 in 2005, 32 in 2006 and now 8 in 2007.
For a capsule account of each journalist who was killed, here are the links:
* “for 2007”:http://www.cpj.org/killed/killed07.html#iraq
* “for 2006”:http://www.cpj.org/killed/killed06.html#iraq
* “for 2005”:http://www.cpj.org/killed/killed_archives/2005_list.html#iraq
* “for 2004”:http://www.cpj.org/killed/killed_archives/2004_list.html#iraq
* “for 2003”:http://www.cpj.org/killed/killed_archives/2003_list.html#iraq
(Note, the links include journalists killed in places other than Iraq as well.)