Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Does Anyone Remember KINO VERITE?

Back in 2003, when I was a frequent commenter but not yet a blogger, I was trying out different ways to respond to events on the ground in Iraq and the discussions swirling around the Iraqi blogosphere. This morning, as I was digging through some old files, I came across a file into which I had dumped a series I called "Another installment of KINO VERITE." For this series of comments I would select a particular person and moment in time, research it a bit on the internet, and then write it up into what I thought of as a kind of newsreel form. Here are four moments and the people connected to them that I had selected:

(1) March 23, 2003 (Iraqi police and civilians in Baghdad)
(2) April 9, 2003 (Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov)
(3) April 9, 2003 (journalist Peter Arnett)
(4) April 10, 2003 (Iraqi Ambassador to the UN, Mohammed al-Douri).

“Jack, could you hit that light switch? Thanks. Okay, roll film.”

*

It’s a Sunday afternoon in Baghdad on March 23, 2003, and along the banks of the Tigris River near al-Tahrir Bridge hundreds of Iraqi police are searching for what they think are two downed American pilots.

Witnesses said that earlier they had seen parachutes fall near the west bank of the river.

A large crowd has gathered and in a frenzy the police are setting the bushes on fire and shooting at eddies in the brown, muddy waters of the Tigris. Police armed with AK-47s are also now patrolling in boats.

At the U.S. Central Command in Qatar, Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid denies that any coalition planes had been shot down.

"No planes have been shot down. No pilots have parachuted," he says. "You can see by their actions -- shooting into the water -- that their search-and-rescue techniques leave a lot to be desired," he adds.

Civilians have now joined the search, some of them pouring gasoline on the reeds. One man tosses a match but is too close and the cuff of his pants catches on fire. He hops up the bank, his face red and grimacing. In the distance we can hear occasional explosions and above hang dark clouds from the burning oil trenches that circle the city.

That day I had watched the search for the downed pilots for a few hours live on TV and then read the articles were written over the next couple days.

*

It’s a Wednesday afternoon on April 9, 2003, and Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, is standing in a lobby of the United Nations in New York.

He is standing by himself, cigarette in hand, and he notices that everyone in the lobby has turned to look at the television monitor. Everyone has stopped talking.

Ivanov looks up at the screen and watches the Iraqis with the help of the American soldiers pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein, painfully reminding him of the many statues of Lenin that have been pulled down in Russia since December 25, 1991.

How quickly things change, he thinks, recalling something Mikhail Gorbachev once told him. After Gorbachev had given his speech that December day ending the Soviet Union, he left his office and, as he was walking down the corridor, he happened to look out the window and was shocked to see the soldiers already pulling down the Soviet flag and hoisting the Russian flag. It could not have been more than a minute after my speech, Gorbachev had told Ivanov.

On April 9, 2003, I was watching one of the cable news channels following the stunning events in Baghdad and they had one of their cameras in an area at the United Nations where diplomats could watch an overhead television screen. I spotted Ivanov in the crowd and watched him looking at the screen -- arms folded, hand to chin, eyes expressionless, if I recall correctly -- as the Iraqis and Americans worked to pull down Saddam's statue. It was one of those great moments in history and to see it happening through the eyes of the Russian Foreign Minister was especially fine. They had been invested, to some degree, in an American defeat. The observation from Gorbachev is recounted in David Remnick's Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire.

*

It’s a Wednesday afternoon on April 9, 2003, in the Al-Sadr neighborhood of Baghdad and a middle-aged journalist from New Zealand named Peter Arnett climbs out of a taxi with two Iraqi friends.

They are across the street from the Al-Ardalea Mosque, which had been closed down the previous five years. Arnett and the two Iraqis stand and watch as a crowd begins to gather.

At first there were around twenty, but soon the numbers swell to easily over a hundred. They start chanting, “Allahu Akbar!” and “Down with Saddam Hussein!” One of the members of the crowd raises an Islamic flag and starts marching around with it.

Then the crowd notices the New Zealander across the street and they suddenly surge across the street in his direction.

“Hey... this is it,” he thinks. Curtains.

But to Arnett’s surprise they lift both himself and his two Iraqi friends into the air and start marching them around the mosque, chanting, “Freedom. Freedom. Thank you Bush. Thank you Bush.”

That night Arnett sat and typed out the end to his last newspaper article. “I will never forget the sheer joy of the crowd at the mosque,” he wrote for his readers at the Daily Mirror. “They were free for the first time in 35 years. They wonder when the Americans will arrive. I think they’ll be there any minute – if not today, tomorrow.”

I had followed Peter Arnett's story closely throughout the war. I e-mailed MSNBC and complained about his interview of Saddam Hussein and his comments to him. According to my wife, the announcers at MSNBC responded directly to my e-mail and told me that they took my comments seriously. He would be fired not too much later.

*

It’s a Thursday evening on April 10, 2003, in New York City and Mohammed al-Douri, Iraqi ambassador to the UN, is standing next to the open door of the black limousine that will shortly take him to JFK Airport and out of the United States.

Reporters are gathered around him and his face is bathed in the bright lights from the video cameras.

He turns to the reporters and says, “The game is over and I hope peace will prevail. I hope the Iraqi people will have a happy life.”

One reporter calls out, asking him what he means by “the game is over.”

“The war,” al-Douri responds. “Saddam Hussein is gone. Saddam Hussein is gone. What is important for me is the people of Iraq, and the future of the people of Iraq. The past is already the past.”

Over the build-up to and exection of the war in Iraq, one could not escape al-Douri's rather unpleasant visage at the United Nations. I watched live on TV as he made his last remarks to the press before climbing into the limo that took him to JFK.

*



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