My report, 8 weeks after the elections, still here working with journalists to promote freedom of the press in this rapidly changing country.
In the few weeks immediately after the elections, there was an uptick in violence, as we thought there would be. Suicide bombings: some of them taking out large numbers of people near a police academy (a frequent bombing target), one which also killed two local TV journalists, another targeting a meeting of tribal sheikhs. Still, the overall situation is perceived to be better.
Some of you may have read the recent NY Times article about the first group of tourists to visit Iraq. I was pea green with envy reading the article, as I can’t get out and see anything which isn’t ‘mission essential.’ Apparently going to a museum or walking through a market or visiting Babylon is not considered mission essential.
More checkpoints are being turned over to complete Iraqi control as the US military withdraws to their bases. The International Zone is opening up to more local traffic, which is making people living in the IZ more nervous, and US and UK Embassy staff now have to travel in a buddy system, ie; can no longer move around the IZ alone. (I’m always driven by someone, so nothing has really changed for me.)
Meanwhile my journalist friends are going out to eat in restaurants in Baghdad, going to the market, and pursuing stories. So although all agree the overall security is better, for some, things are becoming more restrictive instead of less so.
For me, the biggest annoyance is the inconsistency at the checkpoints. As I travel in and out of the IZ all the time, sometimes we go through the fast lane (which is great), sometimes we get stopped, or only my car can go through and the other cars can’t… all very annoying, and you never know what will happen where or when. As an Iraqi associate said to me: “Americans have rules, Iraqis have friends”… meaning you know what to expect with one, while the other can be bought.
Now, after 8 weeks in country, working mostly 7 days a week, I was very ready for a break. I lit out for an R&R trip to Egypt, very ready to get away from Baghdad for a while… but that’s another story.
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