[From Anita Roddick: Scott Fleming, my good friend and
attorney for the Angola Three, is in Baghdad with a crew of journalists.
He has been sending dispatches from Baghdad that make it sound like hell
on earth. I'll be publishing his emails to me here as they come in.]
By Scott Fleming
Aug. 14, 2003
Sunday, 3 August I'm in Baghdad and it's Sunday night. Today was perhaps
the most bizarre, terrifying (although my traveling companions and I were
never in any immediate danger), and mind-blowing day of my life. We left
lovely Amman at 4 a.m. and were in Baghdad by about 3 p.m. The landscape,
physical, climatological, and cultural, changed so much that the night bore
no resemblance to the morning. I can't possibly catalog it all, but I can
give some impressions.
the border and headed into Iraq at about 10 a.m. A GMC Suburban, the choice
of foreign travelers, at $500 cash for the trip. perhaps 100km into the
western desert, and burned out cars appear by the roadside. A scorched Ferrari
said to have belonged to Uday Hussein, missiled to oblivion as one of his
lieutenants tried to escape. Saddam's majestic 6-lane highway from Jordan
to Baghdad, probably better than any U.S. desert interstate, marked by scores
of burn marks. A highway overpass with a gaping hole caused by a bomb, which
we are told was aimed at a passenger bus. A few hundred yards later, the
bus itself, utterly destroyed, the only visual comparison to one suicide-bombed
in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
A highway rest stop sells water and chocolate bars. Truck drivers stand
in 110-degree heat working on their huge, super-heavy-duty overland trucks,
which are late 60s models but look like they were (and may have been) just
built brand new at some Iranian factory that hasn't been retooled in 35
years. Among the buildings at the rest stop is a pile of rubble, next to
it the twisted frames of a tractor-trailer and a Chevy van. We're told the
first death of the war took place here, a Jordanian truck driver who was
talking on his satellite phone at the wrong rest stop at the wrong time.
One of our driver's friends said he had his Suburban shot up by the U.S.,
and they paid him and his passenger $8,000 to keep quiet about it.
There is heavy truck traffic on the Baghdad-Amman highway. The trucks headed
to Baghdad are loaded with supplies, food, and a good number of used cars.
The trucks headed to Amman are almost universally empty, as if Iraq has
nothing worth exporting except the oil that barely flows.
Miles and miles of downed high-voltage power lines. Cable tower after cable
tower broken in exactly the same place. Too precise for airplanes or copters.
Special forces or somebody must have systematically placed explosives on
all of them. Is this why the lights are out in Baghdad? I don't know.
We cross the Euphrates into Ramadi and Fallujah, where everyone says the
highway is beset by Bedouin bandits. Our local drivers definitely fear this
stretch, although the bandits don't have a reputation for violence; they
just pull guns and demand money. The white GMCs speed up and drive in a
convoy for safety. Along this stretch (and at earlier points when they got
nervous) they form into a tight defensive driving formation, a squadron
of heavy-duty SUVs doing 150 kmh all together. The driver next to us flashes
his .45-caliber pistol and a smile to make us (and himself) feel safer.
And then it's the outskirts of Baghdad. Increasingly frequent U.S. Army
convoys of Humvees, fuel trucks, heavy trucks with .50-caliber machine guns,
and even some street sweepers, which will seem in retrospect futile when
we see the condition of the city. Our driver asks me not to photograph the
soldiers, because they are "crazy" and he doesn't want me to get
us all shot.
The guardrails in the middle of the divided highway have frequently been
flattened by U.S. tanks, done to create places for them to make U-turns
without exiting the superhighway. Sometimes the guardrails have been pulled
out across a full lane of traffic, very dangerous when everyone is traveling
at high speed to avoid the bandits.
We pass a huge, terrifying Saddam prison, buildings all sand-colored and
surrounded by a tall wall topped with numerous machine gun nests.
As we enter the city itself, it is total chaos. Nothing could have prepared
us for this. No traffic lights working anywhere. Traffic going both ways
on all one-way streets. Horse carts, motorcycles, SUVs, tanks, Humvees,
and pedestrians. Hundreds and hundreds of men lined up in the sun, using
newspaper hats and umbrellas, to apply for jobs in the new Iraqi army, whatever
Baghdad is barely smaller than New York, with few tall buildings, meaning
lots of sprawl. It's huge. And everywhere there are piles of rubble and
bricks. Buildings that have been bombed, shelled, or burned by looters.
Huge buildings blackened and broken in every direction. The fairgrounds
demolished, and the telephone exchange. Everywhere. Thousands of people
going every way on the streets. And smoke. Some buildings are still burning.
Trash is burning all over. Every hotel and lots of people have diesel generators,
since the U.S. can't seem to get the electricity on. And lots of cars with
We get reports that many more us soldiers are dying than the Pentagon admits.
Perhaps 5 a day. One of my traveling companions sees four guys drive past
our hotel brandishing a gun. Shortly after, the soldiers show up in their
Bradley Fighting Vehicle and do a sweep of the neighborhood. Darryl Gates
couldn't have dreamed of this kind of aggressive policing. Everyone says
to make sure not to dress anything like a GI, and never to talk to soldiers
on the street. I don't know whether I'd less want to be an Iraqi civilian
or an American Soldier.
Our sort-of air-conditioned hotel suite is $35 a night. Our balcony looks
down on a parking lot filled with identical UN vehicles. The streets are
full of desperately poor people. They have that look in their eyes. There
is nothing for them to do in their own society. A lot of these people probably
have university degrees.
We dine at the al-Hamra across the street, the finest hotel in the city
since the U.S. shelled the Palestine. A steak is US$5. The generator, and
the lights, cut out once during dinner, but nobody seems to notice. Four
Australian special forces-looking guys escort some kind of Aussie officials
to a table near us, leaving their rifles on the floor of the dining room
as they drink Diet Pepsis and wait for their wards to eat. A civilian-looking
white guy stands in the lobby with a folding-stock Kalashnikov casually
hanging over his shoulder.
And, finally, the sun. I think I can deal with the 115 (or more) degree
heat, but the sun is piercing through the dry air. I'm OK, but 20 minutes
of it makes me somewhat sunburned. I've never felt anything like it. It
adds so much tension to the air.
George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and Condoleezza Rice
and Tony Blair and Dick Cheney are insane. I don't know what they think
they are doing here, but if it involves order and sanity they have failed
miserably and indefinitely. It's obvious enough from the newspaper accounts,
but you have to see it for yourself. They have caused a catastrophe here.
The events of the past year have moved so quickly we tend to forget about
the effect of 12 years of economic sanctions. "The price is worth it?"
I don't know what they're going to do, and the masters of war themselves
must be terrified.
We're OK for now. We'll probably be here about nine days. Have lots of good
contacts for information and guidance. There is a 24-hour Internet cafe
across the street. $3 an hour and very slow, but it works. No phones except
satellite phones, which everyone in the Middle East calls by the brand name
"Thuraya." All the self-important international journalists have
them. We don't.
That's it for now. I've been up for 37 hours straight, and I'm going to
Dispatch From Baghdad, Part II
[Here is the second of my friend Scott Fleming's dispatches from Baghdad:}
Thursday, 7 August
spent the better part of this afternoon in the middle of a firefight. We
left our hotel at around 1 pm, headed for the Jordanian embassy, which was
hit by a car bomb early this morning. As we drove out, we saw a tall column
of thick black smoke rising straight up into the windless sky just a mile
or two away. We told our driver to turn around and we sped to the scene.
We were the first journalists there.
We found the smoke coming from the flattened skeleton of a U.S. Humvee,
burning pathetically in the street. There were two other vehicles in the
convoy, another Humvee and a 2-1/2-ton truck. The soldiers in those vehicles
were taking cover behind their rides and waiting for reinforcements. We
hustled up just behind them and took cover on the sidewalk. An al-Jazeera
cameraman and a couple of others came in behind us.
The assault took place on al-Karada street, which has a lot of shops selling
electronic equipment such as refrigerators and air conditioners. We later
learned that U.S. troops, to their misfortune, are fond of stopping their
patrols there and going shopping for porn DVDs sold by street vendors.
As we laid on the sidewalk, all the ammo in the burning Humvee exploded.
It sounded like a very intense 30-second gunfight. When it stopped, we ran
across the street and took refuge in an air-conditioner shop. The proprietors
offered us water and some cement columns to stand behind.
the while the U.S. soldiers, perhaps 6 of them, were standing by their vehicles.
A good sniper could have hit any of them, and their vehicles would have
been easy targets for anyone with an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade), which
are abundant in this city. For awhile, however, there was no shooting.
After a while, the reinforcements showed up. Bradley Fighting
Vehicles from the 1st Armored Division and infantry from, I believe, the
101st Airborne. The U.S. decided that the perpetrators of the attack were
holed up in a 3-story building housing, apparently, a number of electronics
shops and offices. We were about 150 meters back from the building, and
the formerly barren street was quickly filled with soldiers ahead and behind
us. A local guy told us 150 people worked in the building.
After about 10
or 15 minutes, reinforcements arrived, and the street was soon filled with
tanks, Humvees, and foot soldiers. This Bradley Fighting Vehicle was one
of the first to arrive, its commander menacingly aiming his rifle as it
advanced on the scene.
The Bradleys unleashed their 25mm cannons on the building. Simultaneously,
there was a lot of M16 and possibly .50-caliber fire targeted on the building.
The Bradleys were firing, we confirmed later, high explosive rounds, not
the depleted uranium they are notorious for. These guns, cannons essentially,
are really fucking loud. If they're aimed at you, the sound alone must be
terrifying. As they hit the building, flashes of light and clouds of dust
rose out of the walls. I thought the building was going to go down, but
it didn't. After a number of these volleys, the stone building caught fire
and increasingly large flames shot up the sides.
these assaults took place, foot soldiers advanced on the building. I could
not see what they were doing, but I assume they used the cannons as cover
fire to enter and sweep the building. There was some, but not a lot, of
return fire, and we could hear what were probably Kalashnikov bullets whizzing
down the street in front of us. I tried to stand behind good cover while
still taking as many pictures as possible. Our cameraman, Garrett, and our
translator/guide, a 25-year-old kid who was once drafted into Saddam's Fedayeen
against his will, took great risk to advance upon the scene and film.
A good while after these assaults, and well after the building
caught fire, several groups of civilians, looking absolutely terrified,
ran from the building with their hands up. I would estimate there were at
least 30 of them, and I have no idea how many didn't make it out.
At a certain point, the Americans seemed to decide that the situation was
over and it all just petered out. I don't know about casualties. We saw
one American soldier evacuated, and we heard his leg had been shot. The
U.S. delayed his evacuation so that they could line up Bradleys in front
of the photojournalists to prevent pictures from being taken of him. I hear
the Americans don't even want to talk about the situation, and won't admit
to any casualties. [Anita: Actually, the U.S. media is reporting one dead,
one injured U.S. soldier.]
A young Iraqi guy who worked in the building was standing next to me on
the sidewalk, and he broke down crying. I put my arm around him while he
composed himself, and then he went off to try to fight the fire.
The driver of one of the Bradleys asked me to grab him a soft drink out
of an abandoned sidewalk stand. It didn't seem like a good time to argue
that stealing sodas was bad for winning hearts and minds, so I took out
a drink, vainly looked for someone to pay, and gave it to the soldier. I
asked him whether the Americans had been firing depleted uranium, but he
didn't know what that was (even though it is the primary weapon of the vehicle
he was driving). He told me to ask the gunner, who said they had been firing
high explosive rounds, which comported with my observations, and the situation
(DU would probably not be used to blow up a building).
As we left the scene, an old shopowner told us that he knew this was going
happen at some point. The Americans it seemed, were always stopping here
to buy porn DVDs, which they take back to their bases to watch on laptops.
Even though Muslims don't like this, poverty is so bad that there is always
someone willing to make the sale. These discs are sold in the open in front
of women and children, and it makes the locals very angry. Whatever the
propriety of porn, or Muslim conceptions of women and sex, I can't believe
the Americans would be stupid enough to do this. Or maybe I can believe
[Above, the building fired upon:] A couple hours later,
and the fire in the building has been put out (by Iraqis, not Americans).
In this photo, numerous holes are visible in the walls, the result of
cannon fire, as are hundreds of pock-marks from the rifle fire. The bottom
floor of the building was occupied by electronics shops, which were now
totally blackened. The owner of one of them said he lost $40,000 from
his inventory of televisions, freezers, and generators. His charred goods
were piled in the yard next door.
close-up of a hole, about 8 inches across, in a solid brick wall, probably
caused by a 25mm cannon. The front rooms of the building were utterly scorched
and broken. It doesn't appear that this destruction resulted in the capture
or death of the person(s) who blew up the Humvee.
We left, and returned to the scene a couple hours later. The Americans were
gone (probably a good idea for their own self-preservation), and they had
taken the Humvee skeleton with them. A big crowd was milling about, uniformly
happy about the U.S. casualties and angry about the attack on their neighborhood.
I don't understand Arabic, but I heard a lot of people, especially kids,
enthusiastically saying, "Saddam."
of young people were dancing on the ashen hole in the ground where the Humvee
had been, and many young kids wanted me to take their picture holding pieces
of U.S. debris. The word on the street was that someone had planted a remote-controlled
bomb in the dirt in the median strip of the road, in a place the Americans
routinely stopped. One man said the Humvee's gunner, standing out of the
vehicle,s roof, had been cut in half, and the driver, standing nearby, had
been vaporized. We also heard, variously, that two to four Iraqi civilians
had been killed. I've never been to a place as rife with improbable rumors
as Baghdad, so I have no idea whether any of this was true. I doubt however,
that anyone would have detonated a bomb underneath an unoccupied Humvee
An Iraqi playground. A missile-shaped slide surrounded by rubble is
all that is left of whatever else might have been here. I must say, I think
we have militaristic children's slides like this in the U.S. too
This man, Ibrahim, along with his wife and 9 children, squat in an abandoned
Ministry of Defense building along with approximately 60 other destitute
families. Ibrahim lost his left foot when he stepped on a mine during the
Iran-Iraq war. The Americans are telling the families that they will evict
them soon, but they have nowhere to go. Ibrahim's most valuable possession
appeared to be a small lamb, and he offered to slaughter it and share it
Two young men who live in Ibrahim's compound. The one on the right has incredibly
angry-looking, bloodshot eyes, and his toy gun looks quite shiny and real.
He approached me through a crowd of excited children, staring and pointing
the gun at me, and for a few seconds I thought I was going to get shot.
I told Ibrahim that some American soldier is going to kill this boy if he
sees the gun, and Ibrahim promised to take it away and break it. I hope
he did. The American soldiers told us that they frequently take guns like
this away from children.
Up to now, the Iraqis I have met on the street have been uniformly
friendly and inviting. Here, it was different. People were angry, and we
didn't belong here. Many people smiled and greeted us with "salaam"
(peace), but others had angry looks on their faces and I wanted to get out
of there. After one of my traveling companions finished talking to the people
who lived next door to the building the US attacked (they said they hid
in the basement and were angry that their house had been damaged), we took
off. I will say that my guess is that if there had been large civilian casualties
today, people would have been much angrier than they were, so perhaps it
wasn't as bad as one might fear.
The past couple
days had been pretty quiet in Baghdad, and the US, I think, was about to
start talking about trends towards order. Today, with the Jordanian embassy
bombing (there are rumors circulating that the Jordanians sent ambulances
and surgeons to pick up their consul, who lost a leg or two, but I don't
know if they're true) and the firefight, things aren't looking so good.
We started the day by attending a demonstration by the unemployed workers,
union, a front for the Workers' Communist Party (Trotskyists), but some
of the only people doing secular organizing in the city. The group, about
150 strong, sat down in the street and blocked the entrance to the Republican
Palace, the U.S. headquarters. The U.S. just ignored them until it petered
out. Paul Bremer was supposed to give a press briefing today but it was,
Tomorrow we're "embedding" with the Florida National Guard. After
today, we're not too interested in riding around in Humvees, so we'll probably
just hang out behind the wire and see what the troops have to say. We'll
try to be careful.
couple of days later, I returned to examine the scene and interview locals.
As I stood on the roof of the bullet-ridden building taking pictures, this
American Bradley Fighting Vehicle drove into view. As soon as he saw me,
the commander aimed his rifle at me (my shadow is visible just above and
to the right of the tank), and kept me in his sights until they had passed
out of view. A few weeks later, Mazen
Dana, a Palestinian cameraman with Reuters, was killed by a U.S. tank
that "mistook" his camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
Or so they say.
One of the few government buildings in Baghdad the U.S.
didn't bomb and then defended from looters... the Ministry of Oil, of course.
The Minstry is a majestic, post-Stalinist-looking structure, now in pristine
condition and surrounded by American barricades and machine gun nests. Everything
around it, as this picture shows, has been burned to the ground and destroyed
beyond recognition, whether from bombs, looting, or both. It's clear that
beyond the few "strategic assets" the U.S. chose to protect, there
was not plan (or desire) to safeguard anything else. Iraqis are so desperate
to return to normal life that I heard many say, "Bush can have our
oil if he will just take it and leave us in peace."
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