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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 November, 2003, 10:33 GMT
Baghdad Blogger
Screengrab of Dear Raed weblog, BBC
So far, the Americans have lost over one hundred and fifty soldiers in Iraq since the war was declared more-or-less over. The western focus is understandable, but many, many more Iraqis have died in the conflict, of course.

What they feel and felt during the war was communicated in its most idiosyncratic and unvarnished form by a man known as Salam Pax. He posted his accounts of everyday life in Iraq on the internet, in what was called the Baghdad Blog.

Now a columnist for the Guardian, he's still a mystery voice, but in his first television report - Newsnight finally unmasked the Baghdad Blogger.

SALAM PAX:
There has been one good thing coming out of the war in Iraq. Things have changed, things are different now. The question we should all be asking: is this going to be good different or bad different? It is pretty strange, you know, it's like, it is your city but living here is a risk on its own, you never know when anything is going to happen. You always have to be, you know, careful. It is like, it's like, you're taking a risk just by being in Baghdad. I live in the west part of the city. It really is suburban hell with the added nuisance of having sheep on your street. My dad hates them. They really enjoy the patch of lawn he has grown in front of the house. And this is our house. I designed it and my parents hate it. Years of smart sanctions make this guy a central figure in your life, the rations man. One of the important things the UN achieved before rushing out of the country was to bring back the rations programme. The difference now is that before the state used to buy the products, now we live on charity. And, once again, as Ramadan approaches, there is a rumour that the rations will be increased, but that's what it always is, a rumour. For some strange reason, the only thing my mum wants to buy before Ramadan starts is an electrical oven, not food. But I don't mind going shopping with her, she's good at bargaining and she will always get you a good deal. You know you should be very careful when you buy kitchen appliances in Baghdad these days. They can get you into a lot of trouble. My mum wanted to have a new kitchen installed and got a surprise US raid thrown into the deal. Superior US intelligence mistook the workers who came to install the kitchen for a terrorist cell. My mum got the combo deal: one kitchen and one special precision raid courtesy of Bush's boys, I told you she always gets a good bargain!

MRS PAX:
(Salam Pax's mother, in translation)

It was around 12 o' clock we were watching Pop Idol. We've followed the series for the last few months. We had the music on very high. Tanks are always crossing the street, they do everyday. But on that day the noise was very loud.

PAX:
By that time these neighbourhood raids were so frequent everyone knew what to do, so my parents put their hands on their heads, stood up and waited for the soldiers to make their entrance.

MRS PAX: (translation)
They came in quickly, three of them. They had their guns pointing at us. And their guns are so frightening from this close up. From far away you don't notice it but when they are close to you .... They way they look, their visors, the things on their heads, it's something scary.

PAX:
My father was asking them what they were looking for so he can help, but since you are an Iraqi addressing an American it's no use. They don't even acknowledge you as a human being.

MRS PAX: (translation)
It took them an hour and they didn't find anything. They looked for IDs and other things, for documents. They looked for money, dollars, they didn't find much. Just something like 26 dollars. But they didn't leave a single thing unopened.

PAX:
So they came, scared my mum, pissed off my father, found nothing and left. So would Mrs Pax kindly show us what sort of terrorist equipment was being installed in her kitchen?

MRS PAX: (translation)
Yes, they've installed for me this and that and the sink and they installed another sink over there, these sort of things. That's what they've installed.

PAX:
The intelligence the Americans had managed to scare my mum with the raid, but was not able to stop the more serious attacks on the city. On the same day the Red Cross was bombed four Iraqi police stations were also attacked. One of them is in my neighbourhood. One day, five suicide bombers, four police stations and a lot of Iraqis killed. When I walked over to the police station to talk to some of the Iraqi policemen, I was surprised to find American soldiers guarding the building. They had left two weeks before the attack and now they're back. They shooed me away so I talked to an Iraqi whose shop was destroyed instead. I heard one Iraqi policeman died?

IRAQI SHOP OWNER: (in translation)
No two. Fifteen people melted like wax in front of us. 30-40 injured, from my workers 4 were injured. People started feeling, we started feeling that there is no safety. The reason for the attack is the Americans. They will attack everyone who co- operates with the Americans. So now we have started to hate the Americans. We thought they would be better than Saddam, but no, what a pity.

PAX:
OK, my guess is that he's actually very bitter. He is very very bitter. He has been looking for some sort of compensation, which he's not getting and he's extremely bitter. One thing I can tell you for sure about the American Army, it has good taste when it comes to architecture. They somehow managed to either bomb or occupy the most interesting buildings we have in the city. Let me show you. Ministry of Planning, designed by Geo Ponti, two huge buildings bombed by the coalition. The ex-Saddam sports hall, designed by Le Courvoisier, now sleeping quarters for US troops, and they get to use the swimming pool as well. Marti's monument (UNCHECKED) designed by an Iraqi sculptor, now renamed 'the blue onion' by the troops who use it as their headquarters. So I guess we're lucky that we're lucky that one of the buildings designed by Groupiez (UNCHECKED) is a mosque. It was neither bombed nor occupied, and is always worth a visit. It is such a unique mosque which never got the attention it deserves. Me and my best friend Rahad (UNCHECKED) who is also an architect can now just drop by. We were never allowed to before. The reason we have all this amazing architecture is because in the '50s, we had a city council with vision who invited all the big architects to build in Baghdad. Now that we have the coalition planning Iraqi reconstruction we wonder what we will get. A magazine recently described the team coming here to do reconstruction here:
"they're not the A team, they're not even the B team, but the D team." And Rahad of course doesn't exactly agree.

RAHAD:
(Salam Pax's friend)

You have the experience of years of work of reconstruction. People can do all of the stuff on their own. You will even start solving the economic problems.

PAX:
Look, no, sure, the Americans will want their money back somehow. And this is one way to get paid, right?

RAHAD:
No! This is the thing, that we must stop and, I mean, and shout against it, you know? Even if they will make it at the end of the road. I mean you must at least shout against it and let everyone know what's happening. Now, what do you think?

PAX:
We need the money. The problem is, as Rahad is saying, it's going to go ..., the drain is unbelievable. You do not know where the money is going. But, hopefully, some of it will be, the benefit of it will be, you know, will be seen by Iraqis. Some of it will be used to rebuild infrastructure.

RAHAD:
I know, but I mean, someone must understand that it is food, it's feed, and shout, and say that the Iraqis have the capability of rebuilding the country by themselves. I mean the Iraqis are just, you know, excluded, they are excluded, totally, and they have the food capability.

PAX:
They are, they are. Yeah, yeah, more contracts to Iraqis, really, more contracts to Iraqis.

RAHAD:
They have the experience after the '91 war.

PAX:
Absolutely! I agree with that.

PAX:
One thing that has not changed is the ban on selling alcohol during the month of Ramadan. So as every year, the day before Ramadan is your last chance to get your booze. Stocking up for Ramadan. The shop I would usually go buy alcohol from in my neighbourhood got RPGed by a Muslim fundy a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't the only one. Shop owners are more worried about this Ramadan than they have ever been. Saddam or no Saddam, a man has to get his booze and an alternative shop was quickly found. It was on TV. It was on TV. That it is forbidden to sell alcohol during Ramadan. He really has good stuff, he really does. So it is good. Otherwise I would have to go buy it from somewhere else but the other guy is kind of scared, he is not open anymore, he doesn't have a big stash of everything, so this is better. This is alcohol heaven. Some people might say that Ramadan this year in Iraq is full of instability and chaos as an aftermath to the war. I say this Ramadan is a very special one. My mum had everyone over for a big meal. We spent a month together in this house during the war. And this is the first time after the war we came together like that. Each one of us can tell you a story about how our lives are different now. And we are all hoping for things to get better.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.



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