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TV Baghdad Diary Troubling, Firsthand Look at War

TV Baghdad Diary's Troubling, Firsthand Look at War

By Michael Winship
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Like Alice in Wonderland's wacky Queen of Hearts, who believed six impossible things before breakfast, the current inhabitant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue believes the preposterous on a regular basis and then talks about it.

He said the following last week in an interview with German television: "I've committed our troops into harm's way twice, and it's not a pleasant experience because I understand the consequences firsthand."

Firsthand? Well, true, he has issued orders, reviewed troops, met officers and wounded soldiers and commiserated with the families of the American dead (although he still has yet to attend the funeral of a single one).

But "firsthand" is quite a stretch, especially for a chief executive whose lack of a credible military record has always been a source of embarrassment, and whose trips to "the front" have been brief and safely removed far from the cannon's roar. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

This weekend, if the president wants to witness a revealing, truly firsthand look at the Iraq war without placing himself in harm's way, I have a television program for him. I'd recommend it even if I weren't one of its producers.

"Baghdad Diary" premieres on The History Channel this Saturday night, November 17, at 10 PM, EST (check local listings). The documentary tells the parallel stories of two cameramen - one Iraqi, one American - each of whom chronicled events before, during and after the war with a discerning eye for devastating detail.

Craig White is a cameraman with NBC News who, with correspondent David Bloom, was embedded with the 3-15 Battalion of the United States Army's Third Infantry Division as they pounded across the desert from Kuwait to Baghdad.

"Modern warfare as I saw it in Iraq is not what people see on television," White recalls. "It's not someone being shot, a big red spot, they fall backwards and die. People come apart. People explode."

Fadil Kadom is an English-speaking Iraqi cab driver who, in the weeks leading up to the 2003 war, was hired as a translator for a Norwegian television news crew. He was given a small camcorder and began videotaping his friends and family as they prepared for the invasion, leaving their Baghdad homes for the safety of the capital's outskirts.

As the American air campaign of shock and awe begins, Kadom tells his camera, "My feelings were that Iraq was undergoing destruction. Every single bomb dropped was destroying a piece of Iraqi civilization."

On the move with the Third Infantry, White confronts sandstorms, firefights and the sudden death of Bloom, who collapses from a massive pulmonary embolism. Both White and Kadom witness the fall of Baghdad, but words spoken by Kadom are an ominous precursor of the chaos to come: "The Americans who entered Baghdad are better than Saddam Hussein. But I believe and swear, if Americans soldiers try to enter my house, I will kill them or they will kill me."

In the weeks, months and years that follow, the two men document the shift of mood from optimism to despair, the steady disintegration of Iraqi society that follows the lightning victory. White says, "Most wars have, in the past at least, had battle lines. You knew who the good guys were, you knew who the bad guys are. Here ... the ordinary citizen may blow themselves up, may pat you on the back. You can't tell."

As the insurgency, sectarian violence and terrorist attacks grow, Kadom's neighborhood in Baghdad remains largely unscathed. But then, in November 2005, the nearby al-Hamra Hotel is bombed by insurgents, killing eight Iraqis and wounding many more. Kadom's taxicab is destroyed, his home badly damaged.

These days, less attention is being paid. Iraq is, as the Chicago Tribune's Timothy McNulty wrote last Friday, "receding more and more into an abstraction, sets of numbers and talking points."

Some say it's because the war is going better, even though 2007 is now officially the deadliest year of fighting. Others believe the American public is burned out, exhausted by too much bad news from over there. Better to be distracted by some other folly. Iran, perhaps.

Fadil Kadom's in hiding, his family's survival in jeopardy because of the ongoing sectarian fighting and his past association with Westerners. It's no longer safe to use his camera.

He says in the days of Saddam, "People here were living in darkness. Our eyes became accustomed to it." Then, with the fall of Baghdad, "Light came and we opened our eyes.

"We got used to the sun. But after a short time, we returned to the darkness."


Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes this weekly column for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York. This article has been previously published in the Messenger Post.

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