Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Life and Death in the Red Zone

Over the weekend PBS aired a half-hour segment of its show NOW hosted by Maria Hinojosa about Steven Vincent, his wife, Lisa Ramaci, and Steven's translator and guide in Iraq, Nour Al Khal.

Called "Casualties of War," the program recounts Steven Vincent's decision after 9/11 to begin reporting first-hand in Iraq and his subsequent lengthy visits and in-depth reporting accomplished with Nour's help. In 2005, when Steven decided to return to Iraq for a third time, Lisa Ramaci questioned her husband about whether it was necessary, and safe, to return for more reporting. He partly persuaded Lisa by the fact that he was returning to Basra in the south, which was not dangerous then.

As it turned out, Steven and Nour discovered that within the police force in Basra there were "death cars," manned by Shia radicals under the influence of Moqtada Al-Sadr, that were moving around the city and imposing their own brand of control on the populace of Basra. Two days before his murder, Steven had written a piece for the NYTimes ("Switched Off in Basra," July 31, 2005) exposing these independent operators who used official police vehicles and wore police uniforms. It was a group of men in one of these "death cars," in fact, that kidnapped Steven and Nour one afternoon in Basra.

"Casualties of War," besides telling us about the Steven's reporting in Iraq, provides us with Maria Hinojosa's one-on-one interviews with Nour Al Khal and Lisa Ramaci. You will be impressed by the courage and resilience of both Nour Al Khal and Lisa Ramaci.

The good news is that it now looks like Nour Al Khal will receive a visa to travel to the US.

Right now PBS is only offering the audio version of the program (but certainly worth listening to). Let's hope that later they also offer the complete video segment.

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