Some combat footage from Mosul, as shot by a soldier and given to me. Looks bad up there.
Thanks to a civilian source in Mosul, I have some footage of an attack on or near the American consulate up there, and the soldiers’ response. If you don’t find it impressive in its ferocity, you’ll at least agree that it’s loud. I’m sorry I can’t stream these files. My server doesn’t support it. But you can download the files by clicking on the images above.
The back story on this battle is thus: A civilian in Mosul sent me this footage of an August battle between American forces and insurgents in Mosul. The people in shorts and t-shirts are not contractors; they’re soldiers who got caught up in the battle when it flared up suddenly. They popped on some body army and got into the fight.
From my source:
It’s deadly around here — we are right against the city, not out in the boonies. I wasn’t here ten days before a firefight broke out about 50 meters from the office I work in. [This is the video sent to me — CA] I’ve lost count of the car bombs, and the mortars are commonplace. Had two guys in a Stryker brigade killed last Tuesday — car bomb outside the gate. Avoid this place — do not come up here; without military security you will get killed.
These videos were shot by a soldier and given to the civilian. I suspect it was a little digital camera that had MP4 recording capability, but I don’t really know. Anyway, this shows you a little of what combat — and life — is like in Mosul.
We’ve been hearing that Mosul is in danger of turning into a Fallujah of the north. When I get back to Iraq in mid-November — yes, you read that correctly — I’ll be up north and have an embed opportunity. Then we’ll get to see more of what’s going on.
AMMAN — Well, as you can see from the dateline, I’m out of Baghdad. I evacuated after we learned of further threats against journalists. And just this afternoon, upon landing at Queen Alia International Airport, I learned that Margaret Hassan, the top CARE official in Iraq, has been kidnapped. She was taken while driving to work.
Her abduction fits a pattern. She did not employ armed guards and, like my friend John, was a “soft target.” It’s tragic, because she has done more for the Iraqi people than these insurgents ever will. She’s been in the country working for children’s issues and other health-related causes for more than 25 years. My heart goes out to her family.
Even so, I’m not happy to be out. It’s cutting and running, and it feels like crap. I want to cover the story, as best I can, and I really don’t like leaving my friends and colleagues behind. My fixer and translator have no work now, although I’m trying to find them another journalist to work with while I’m gone. I plan to return after Ramadan or whenever we hear that it’s safe(r) again.
To answer some questions: The journalists are clumped together because we only endanger ourselves that way. Kodia asked me why we didn’t disperse and stay with families.
- It’s more difficult to secure their houses (blast walls, guards, etc.);
- We can’t trust the neighbors not to rat us out;
- I don’t trust any Iraqi I don’t know well;
- And most important, we endanger them by staying with them — they would be branded as collaborators.
So our options are limited in terms of where we can stay. Anyway, I’m going to be exploring my options for the next few weeks — and watching the American campaign closely. Talk about a nail biter. I won’t be coming back and “stumping” for anyone; that’s not what I do. I report what I see. What you guys do with that information is up to you.
Cheers for now,
He turned out of the front gate, took the first right — as most of us do — and a car stopped in front of him and a tailing car pulled in behind him. Four men with pistols jumped out and three of them managed to force their way into the car, putting guns to the heads of John, his driver and his translator…. We’re not sure what all happened during his captivity, but he was able to persuade his captors that he was an Australian and a friend to the resistance and not to the Americans.
My friend, John Martinkus, was the one kidnapped Saturday and held for 24 hours. He was very lucky to be freed. I had to be circumspect yesterday because of security concerns, but John is now out of the country and the embargo has been lifted. Here’s the story as he related it to us:
Saturday around 2 p.m or so, John was picked up about 500m from our hotel compound. He turned out of the front gate, took the first right — as most of us do — and a car stopped in front of him and a tailing car pulled in behind him. Four men with pistols jumped out and three of them managed to force their way into the car, putting guns to the heads of John, his driver and his translator. They then took him to western Baghdad, held him overnight and interrogated him.
We’re not sure what all happened during his captivity, but he was able to persuade his captors that he was an Australian and a friend to the resistance and not to the Americans. It appears, by the kidnappers’ statements and questions, that they were nationalists and not jihadis, lucky for John. Also, he was lucky for not being American, because the kidnappers said if he had been, they’d have killed him quickly. They had tracked him for three days, they said, and proved it by asking him why he had gone to the Green Zone and to the Palestine on two separate days. This was how they were able to pick him up so easily.
At one point, one man disappeared, saying he would check out John’s story. He came back after about 15 minutes, John said, convinced John was who he said he was. We suspect they Googled John, because they referenced previous stories he had covered.
After some hours, his captors relaxed and said that he would be released in the morning. But before he was released, a sheikh from a village near Fallujah arrived. He again interrogated John, but this time it was much more aggressive questioning, John said. Finally, the sheikh said that while they were convinced he was a man of good heart and a journalist, he would not be freed Sunday as promised because Australia was a member of the Coalition and thus, a “warring nation” as Zarqawi has said. Instead, the sheikh would consult with his supervisors in Fallujah on what to do.
Now, this was serious. There’s no doubt the sheikh would return to fetch John and turn him over to al-Tahwid w’al-Jihad. So, in a fit of humanity, after the sheikh left, the nationalist captors took John and released him. We’re unsure of the ramifications of this act at this point and if there will be any retaliation within the Sunni resistance or against us. It’s possible.
As frightening as John’s experience was for him, it shows that journalists’ plans for “security through obscurity” has been blown out the window. John’s captors said they received a phone call that he was on the move and that the time for taking him was now. This fits in with our intelligence that there are kidnap teams up and down Jadirya Street looking for us. His captors said they had penetrated the staff at the Hamra Hotel, where many of us live. They have people in the compound watching us. They know who we are and they’re looking for “soft targets” — reporters moving around with little security or few precautions.
John was lucky — very lucky. He was picked up by nationalists who, we hear, are getting out of the kidnapping and beheading business. He wasn’t an American. He had a pedigree of lefty, anti-war reporter. And he fell in with a (more or less) kind-hearted bunch who were just doing their job as national resistance fighters. (He said they expressed concern that he wasn’t married and that his living arrangements in the Hamra weren’t safe. Bizarrely, they offered to let him stay with them the next time he came to Iraq — I’m sure.)
John’s story is indicative of the situation facing reporters — and other Westerners — in Iraq. They told him they were really looking for security contractor or CIA staffer. I haven’t left the compound since I returned from Beirut; I haven’t had a specific reason to. And now, without a specific reason, I won’t be going out. This is why you won’t be seeing any “Iraqi on the street” stories here. They’re too hostile; the population has turned against Westerners and the press. While they may not be actively assisting the resistance, I fear they would stand by idly if I were dragged into a car and taken away. The police won’t be much help either. Once, when John was being transported from one house to another, his kidnappers let him take off his blindfold. A cop car was cruising by just as he did so, making no move to stop a car carrying a blindfolded Westerner.
My options are limited but they seem to be go north to Kurdistan for a while. I’m warming to this idea as it’s been an under-covered region, as usual, and it would allow me to keep working. I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do, but I have to be careful with what I say. I can’t assume any potential kidnappers don’t know about this blog.
Today was a bad one. Another friend was kidnapped last night, and this morning a mortar shell hit our compound. Thankfully, my friend was released after a day — but he was very lucky.
Today was a bad one. Another friend was kidnapped last night, and this morning a mortar shell hit our compound. Thankfully, my friend was released after a day — but he was very lucky. (More details to come tomorrow after he leaves the country.) The mortar caused no real damage, hamdillah, but hit a house near one of the hotels in the compound. The explosion, in size and intensity, sounded exactly like the car bomb that hit the Karma hotel back in May.
Staying here is becoming increasingly untenable. There’s talk of TIME moving me up north for a couple of months, which would be a welcome change, to be honest. I’ve not been able to get out of the compound, and after the kidnapping, I’m disinclined to even make the attempt. The bottom line is I can’t work like this and I’m getting more and more frustrated, as I’ve mentioned. Hopefully, by moving to the north for a little while, my work will improve and so will my state of mind.
More as the situation develops, but things are changing here in Baghdad — for the worse.
UPDATE 2321 +0300 And now a large car bomb with many casualties — in first reports — has just gone off down the street from our compound.
Ramadan starts today, and we got off to a violent start with the sound of a large explosion nearby. I was in my room and couldn’t tell where it came from, but it sounded like another car bomb, based on the boomy oopmh of the blast…. After yesterday’s dual attacks in the Green Zone, the center of power in Iraq is locked down, meaning no one gets in or out without a special pass.
Ramadan starts today, and we got off to a violent start with the sound of a large explosion nearby. I was in my room and couldn’t tell where it came from, but it sounded like another car bomb, based on the boomy oopmh of the blast. So far, nothing on the Arabic stations about it.
After yesterday’s dual attacks in the Green Zone, the center of power in Iraq is locked down, meaning no one gets in or out without a special pass. But to get that pass, one has to go into the Zone to get it, so it’s a bit of a catch-22. Bother.
And since it’s Friday and the start of Ramadan and the Green Zone is locked down and it’s too dangerous to go out and just roam around looking for stories, there’s not a lot I can do today other than make a few phone calls.
This is the reality of journalism in Iraq — at least if you’re Western. And since we’ve been under a semi-lockdown of our own since I got back because of Paul Taggart’s abduction, I haven’t even had a chance to get my legs back under me and find new stories to work on. The ones I have started reporting require access to the government or the embassy, which are closed and … oh, you know the rest.