It’s time to get moving

It’s time to go back. Back to Iraq.

First of all, notice the name of this blog in the upper left. Time for a few changes around here. Secondly, I received this email the other day from one of my contributors:

Mr. Allbritton:
As a contributor to your trip to Iraq earlier this year, I wish you would return to Iraq and provide an outlet for the collective voice of the Iraqi people.
I have always been against the invasion of Iraq. I continue to oppose our administration’s policies. I feel that we are imposing our will rather than respecting the wishes of our fellow human beings.
Would you consider returning to Iraq with the purpose of finding out just what the Iraqis want from us at this point?
With both sides of the political fence failing to find answers, it just seems to make the most sense to turn straight to the source for answers.
If you cannot or choose not to return, can you please create a post that summarizes popular opinions of the various Iraqi factions towards the state of the country and the continued U.S. presence? Or can you create a post that points to the best WWW outlets for this kind of information?
Thank you.
Andrew Brenner
Whiting, Indiana USA

Andrew graciously allowed me to republish his note and use it as a starting to point to talk about some things.
Since the end of April, I’ve been back in New York, worked up a book proposal — which is currently circulating; my agent reports that editors are making interested-sounded noises — taught a class at “NYU”: on Digital Journalism and stewed and steamed while two countries that I love, the United States and Iraq, march further down the road to a major league cock-up.
I’m not doing anyone any good here in New York. The action is over there, and while there are more reporters doing the journalism of every day life, something — I’m not sure what it is, exactly — is missing from the coverage.
So it’s time to get a move on and go back. But not as a reporter who goes there for a month and comes home. This time I would stay, perhaps permanently. My goal is to work up a return to the region, basing myself in Baghdad and freelance for major organizations and continue running In short, I would be your man in Baghdad, bringing my voice and experience that I gained during the war back to you.
This is not some gung-ho charge into the lion’s den in search of The Truth. I’ve stopped believing there’s any such beast; there are only stories to tell. But as during the early part of the war, in which donors directed coverage by emailing me suggested assignments, I would do that again. This time, however, it would be on a long-term basis with an eye toward longish pieces that were both appealing to you and marketable as freelance pieces (a guy’s got to earn a living, even there.)
No embedding, no hiding behind the skirts of the U.S. military. The Iraqi people would be front and center, and the big media corps can cover what they do. B2I would cover what _we_ want. I’d likely start with an emphasis on the Kurdish/Arabic/Turkoman powderkeg known as Kirkuk, but only because it’s a good starting point. I’m most familiar with the issue there. However, the Arabs got short shrift on this blog during the first part of the war. I’d like to remedy that.
My goal is to have enough money, $10,000 or so, in time to be on the ground and running by March 26, 2004 early- to mid-May. Why that date? Because that’s exactly a year since I landed in Istanbul and started work as the Web’s first fully reader-funded journalist-blogger I have teaching commitments at NYU that end May 3. This time, the money would go for setting myself up and having a small padding to make it through the time before freelance cash begins to come my way.
I’m working out plans now for what to do with my apartment, where to move to in the meantime to save money, since that’s impossible on New York professor/freelance wages. I’ll probably be out on my brother’s couch in California for a few months before heading over.
And so we come to the crux of this note. You all were so generous last time, and I hate to ask, but I ask you all to feel invested again and donate to this endeavor. Same deal as before. Donors get on a special listserv that gets dispatches before the Web site does. They will get extra dispatches and photos. They also get a pipeline to me to act as assignment editors.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, you all should know that this endeavor can’t be the not-for-profit jaunt the last trip was. Then, I specifically rejected freelance assignments from magazines so I could concentrate on pure blogging. I can’t do that this time, as the money raised from this fund-raising call, as well as my own savings, will go for the initial costs of establishing a presence in Baghdad. After that, I’ll have to support myself with stringing and freelancing. But I promise you that B2I will remain a non-commercial blog with you, the readers, and the Iraqi people front and center. No one will edit this blog but me, and I won’t let other freelancing interfere with it.
So what do you say? Shall we suit up again for New New Journalism? I hope so.

No happily ever after for married soldiers

Love does not conquer all, it seems.

In an update to “this story”:, the two soldiers who wed Iraqi brides while on patrol are having a bit of a tough time of it.

Sgt. Sean Blackwell, 27, is being punished for divulging the time and location of the patrol to his bride and the Iraqi judge who married them, his attorney said. The Florida National Guardsman avoided a possible court-martial for dereliction of duty and disobeying orders.
Blackwell received a written reprimand in advance of the discharge, attorney Richard Alvoid said.
“The more they punish him, the more negative publicity the military likely will receive,” he said. “He is guilty of falling in love.”

Blackwell hasn’t seen his wife since their wedding Aug. 17. (They’ve since been allowed phone contact.) As his mother says, “He’s a little ticked off at the government right now,” she said. “I’d hate for him to get a dishonorable discharge because he fell in love.”
His buddy, Cpl. Brett Dagen, who also married an Iraqi woman in a double ceremony with Blackwell when they took a break from their foot patrol — and thus invited disciplinary action — and his wife are getting divorced under pressure from the woman’s family. And Blackwell’s wife, Ehdaa, has apparently received threats (she is still in Iraq) and may flee to Western Europe where the couple can reunite.
I suppose there was no way to avoid the disciplinary action, but I do hope that Blackwell and his wife can see each other again soon. At least this doesn’t seem to be ending up like _Romeo and Juliet_ did. In fact, no matter what happens, there seems to be an all-American ending in store: Blackwell’s lawyer, Alvoid, said he’s working on a book deal for Blackwell and his wife, and that a movie will soon follow.