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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Baghdad blogger: 'Elections our only hope'
By Anita Rice
BBC Newsnight

Salam Pax
The "Baghdad blogger" asks if the invasion was worth it

The "Baghdad blogger", whose weblog gave the world a rare insight into the lives of ordinary Iraqis in the run-up to the US-led invasion, says fair elections are the only way to end the violence in Iraq.

Salam Pax told the BBC's Newsnight programme: "Maybe, just maybe, once we have elections and we have a group of people who truly represent us all, this could be our ticket out of the mess we're in now."

He also warned the coalition against a hasty withdrawal from the region before a credible government took control in Iraq, fearing flawed elections would mean any new leadership being seen as "another American puppet."

If you're going to have elections, have them properly. Anything else looks like an exit strategy
Salam Pax
"It's very worrying, when you hear someone like Donald Rumsfeld saying that maybe we can't have elections all over the country, possibly excluding the Sunni triangle and other troublesome areas in Baghdad.

"Sorry, that's not the way to do it, it will not be credible again, it will have the same problems the governing council and interim government had, it will look like another American puppet.

Exit strategy?

"If you're going to have elections, have them properly. Anything else looks like an exit strategy and that is just unacceptable."

His comments come as the count in Afghanistan's landmark election was delayed following allegations the vote was flawed.

What's really worrying is when the sight of a tank rolling by your car is just normal, but that's just not what normal should look like
Salam Pax
As well as undermining any new government, the 30-year-old also told Newsnight he feared the sudden withdrawal of troops and "ill-prepared" elections would see the country become a theocracy, and drew parallels to the leadership in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

He said that for Iraqis to come out of Saddam Hussein's oppressive regime to then "go into something just as oppressive" would mean they had "lost everything."

"That's what I worry about, if they withdraw now in the mess we're in they might just leave us to the mullahs, and I don't think that's a very happy ending."

Looting and lawlessness

The "Baghdad blogger", as Salam Pax became known, also said the coalition had made a mistake by not making it clearer to the Iraqi people that they genuinely intended to help and then leave the country.

"They (coalition forces) should never have allowed the looting and the lawlessness to happen, this is where we lost trust."

He said the failure to implement a visible reconstruction programme and to tackle the security situation were the most serious errors made during the occupation and had fuelled Iraqi anger at foreign troops, helping to reinforce the belief that life was better under Saddam.

"Basically, we're not safe in our own city. This is where I live, this is where I want to go out with friends and family and we can't do that anymore because it's not safe. It's full of explosions and bombs and tanks on the street.

"What's really worrying is when the sight of a tank rolling by your car is just normal. It doesn't freak you out anymore, or frighten you. It's just another tank.

"That's scary, but that's our daily life. But that's just not what normal should look like."

Accidental film-maker

Salam Pax - his real name has never been revealed - spent months writing an often bleakly humorous weblog detailing the fears and hardships of Iraqi citizens as they prepared for the conflict.

He also courted considerable danger in writing the blog, something that did not escape his readers at the time, some of whom doubted his authenticity given the risk posed by Saddam Hussein's regime.

He has now filmed seven video diaries for Newsnight, which he describes as a logical extension of his blogs: "I was already writing about everyday life in Baghdad, why not show it?"

You think you know your people but no, you don't. Now they are talking about things that were canned in for 30 years, it's very exciting
Salam Pax
The films have been well received and have just been screened at the Vancouver International film festival. He says his transformation from student to film-maker was unimaginable under Saddam's regime.

"When I'm introduced as a writer and film-maker the first thing I do is apologise," he says. "One year ago I was writing this weblog, now I'm at a film festival. It's like a parallel universe."

He is still writing a weblog but is keen to get other Iraqis online. "There aren't many Iraqis from within Iraq telling the world what the country is like," he said.

"What you get is foreign journalists talking about how Iraqis feel, not the Iraqis themselves."

He says there are now at least 30 other Iraqi bloggers, which he describes as "the first step forward."

In the meantime, he intends to continue with both his web log, called Shut Up You Fat Whiner!, and making more films for Newsnight.

"The films became a journey of discovery for me, what does my country look like now? Most of the things surprised me as much as they would have the viewers.

"You think you know your people but no, you don't. Now they are talking about things that were canned in for 30 years, it's very exciting.

"As long as people are willing to look at what's going on in Iraq I think it's very important to have Iraqi voices telling the world what's going on."

Salam Pax has made seven short films for Newsnight.

Newsnight is broadcast every weekday on BBC Two at 2230 in the UK.

'Newsnight showed me my county'
11 Oct 04 |  Newsnight

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