Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2003

Over the next six days, Iraqi Bloggers Central will be posting a review of the last six years in Iraq and the Iraqi blogosphere, starting today with a look back at 2003 and ending with 2008-9 on Thursday, April 30. On May 1, we will post our farewell entry.


Year in Review: 2003

In Iraq, the year 2003 was raw, uncertain, and violent. For Americans, the roots of the Iraq invasion lay in the past, back to the unfinished business of 1991 and to the multiple attacks in America on September 11, 2001. Many Iraqis had been silently waiting for the invasion with the hope that they would finally be rid of the tyrant Saddam Hussein, a figure who had even invaded their dreams, with people often afraid of cursing him in their sleep and being found out by the Mukhabarat. Some Iraqis wished that they had been strong enough themselves to remove him, but none knew how that would have been possible. At the same time, a sizable portion of Iraqis felt that Saddam Hussein was a hero or that Iraqis themselves were so fractious that they needed a tyrant like Saddam to keep them in line.

But everyone, no matter what their views on Saddam were, knew what was coming. On March 17, 2003, US President George Bush gave Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, forty-eight hours to vacate Iraq. On March 19, 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Contrary to many news reports, there was heavy and difficult fighting for the Coalition forces as they worked their way to Baghdad, but by the first days of April they were nearing the capital, and on April 9, 2003, the US Marines entered Firdus Square and helped Iraqi citizens pull down the iconic statue of Saddam. The events of that afternoon in the dusty square were broadcast live around the world.

From all reports, Iraqis were stunned by the events in April, not really knowing how to respond to Saddam's sudden departure. Some cried for joy, others cried tears of sorrow or grief, and some felt relieved and humiliated at the same time. For most Iraqis, who who had lived under a tyrant for so long, the basic question had to be, "Now what?" For many, the answer was a visceral urge to get something back for everything that had been taken away from them. According to many of the reports filed at that time, looting was often the first response. For many, it must have been a way for them to strike back at the police-state tyranny that they had lived under for so long. In many cases, the objects that were looted would never actually be used. For some, their actions made no logical sense, but the motives were elemental, far below concerns about utility.

Over the summer and into the fall, the members of the "deck of cards" -- the most-wanted senior officials of the the Baathist regime -- were rounded up or killed. On July 22, Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed in Mosul, and at the end of the year, on December 13, Saddam Hussein himself was captured in a spiderhole not far from his hometown of Tikrit. At the same time, intimations of what kind of violence lay ahead started making headlines. On August 19, the Baghdad headquarters of the UN was car-bombed, killing more than a dozen people, including the director, Sergio de Mello. It was the first large-scale suicide car-bombing, the calling card of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Ten days later, on August 29, 2003, two car bombs exploded outside the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, killing 83 people, one of them Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim.

In Anbar province, there were Saddam loyalists who wanted to carry his vision forward. Many of them felt that they hadn't been defeated because they hadn't in fact fought the Americans yet. They started to ambush American patrols and mortar American bases, slipping back into the populace whenever in danger of counter-attack. Meanwhile, Arabs from other countries, the jihadists, had started to flow into Iraq. They, too, wanted to see the destruction of the new government that was being formed in Iraq and bring death to the American troops. Over the next few years, this alliance between the local Anbar insurgents and the foreign jihadists would cost the lives of thousands of Iraqi citizens -- men, women, children, police officers, and soldiers.

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New Iraqi Bloggers in 2003:

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad -- June, 2003.
Zainab (Real Women Online) -- June, 2003.
Nawar (Ishtar Talking) -- July, 2003.
Riverbend -- August, 2003.
Zeyad -- October, 2003.
Kurdo -- October, 2003.
Fayrouz -- October, 2003.
Ihath -- October, 2003
Omar, Mohammed, and Ali Fadhil -- November, 2003.
AYS -- November, 2003.
Hammorabi Sam -- November, 2003.
Alaa -- November, 2003.
Firas -- November, 2003.
Nabil -- November, 2003.
Jarrar Family -- December, 2003
Khalid Jarrar -- December, 2003.
Sarmad -- December, 2003.

Salam Pax (Salam al-Janabi), the Iraqi Ur-Blogger, began blogging in September, 2002, at "Where is Raed?" In 2003, a collection of his blog entries from before, during, and after the invasion of Iraq was published under the titles "The Baghdad Blog" (UK) and "Salam Pax: The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi" (US). In August, 2004, Salam started a new blog called "Shut Up You Fat Whiner." Over the next few years, Salam wrote articles for the Guardian and produced video pieces for BBC's "Newsnight." In 2007, he left Iraq. At the City University of London, Salam enrolled in a Master's program in International Journalism, receiving his degree in 2008. In January, 2009, he returned to Baghdad, where he has been blogging occasionally at his new blog, "Salam Pax: The Baghdad Blogger."

Others would follow Salam's lead after the fall of Baghdad, starting in the summer of 2003. The first was one of Salam's friends, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, writing at "G. in Baghdad." He stopped blogging after a few months in the summer of 2003 to concentrate on reporting and has since become a very good journalist, writing mostly for the Guardian. Like Salam Pax, he spends time both in London and in Baghdad. He is currently reporting from Baghdad.

On June 27, 2003, Salam Pax directed his readers to an entry from a woman named Zainab, the first female Iraqi to step into the blogosphere:
ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Iraqi WOMAN blogger Zainab.
Zainab has posted her first entry on [realwomenonline.com], she is not one of my friends and I have only met her two weeks ago, she found the idea of writing online interesting. I am eager to know what she will write as everyone else. go read her now.
Within hours, thousands of Salam Pax's readers followed his advice. At Real Women Online, Zainab wrote an entry that called for attacks on American forces. "I know that one day there will be a great revolution against the Americans," she wrote, "and now we have the first seeds of that revolution. [M]any Iraqi soldiers have demonstrated on [J]une 18th in front of ORHA(the republican palace) claiming their rights of either having salaries or retired." Because Real Women Online had a comments page, that allowed the first real debate to take place among commenters within the Iraqi blogosphere. Shanti, one of the founders of Real Women Online, wrote the following day:
Phew! It has not been easy so far, hosting the Iraqi lady at Real Women Online. It has also been fun and informative and exasperating :) I agree I was caught a little off-guard, since I was not expecting Zaineb to post for atleast another week or so. I realized something was up when I went to RWO as usual in the morning and saw there were 14 other people online with me. Of course, that was just the beginning. By the end of yesterday, we had 4000 unique visitors, 14000 page views, 6700 views on Zaineb’s post, over 240 comments (after I deleted more than 20, mind you - Ashwini deleted some too) and 30 users registered in one day.
Over the next few days, many more people would stop by, with the number of comments rising to close to a thousand, a harbinger of the high comment counts that would occur when, later in the year, other Iraqi bloggers began to enable comments pages. As far as I know, that was Zainab's only entry.

In July, Nawar (Ishtar Talking), a woman living in Basra, began blogging in Arabic; Salam Pax added English translations to her entries. Although she only wrote five entries -- three in July and two in August -- she spoke freely for the first time about her past and present as a woman in Basra, from a memory of a university professor who had urged her to be a "glorious woman" for the Ba'ath Party to thoughts while watching the looting at the Basra Sheraton.

Riverbend ("Baghdad Burning") began blogging at the end of the summer, on August 17, offering readers a critical and often embittered view of the new Iraq. She would go on to publish two books of collected blog entries, "Baghdad Burning" in 2005, and "Baghdad Burning II" in 2006. In 2007, Riverbend and her family left for Syria; she wrote her last blog entry on October 22, 2007.

In the fall a new group of bloggers started posting. Both Kurdo ("Kurdo's World") and Zeyad Kasim ("Healing Iraq") had enabled comments pages, which drew a lot of commenters to their blogs. Kurdo stopped blogging in December, 2005. Zeyad Kasim was one of several dentists among the Iraqi bloggers. He graduated from the Dentistry College at Baghdad University and had been working in Iraq for four years when he decided to come to New York to enter the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. After graduation, Zeyad worked for IraqSlogger. He is currently studying to certify himself as a dentist in the United States. Fayrouz, a Chaldean-Catholic from Basra, had graduated from Basra University in computer science and worked in Baghdad for several years before emigrating to Australia and then the United States. From Texas, she started blogging on the events happening in Iraq, and later she could often be found adding her thoughts to the debates on the comments pages.

In November the Fadhil brothers (Omar, Mohammed, and Ali) started "Iraq the Model." The blog entries at "Iraq the Model" were always thoughtful, well-reasoned, and engaging. Where Riverbend was pessimistic, the Fadhils were optimistic. Ali Fadhil eventually left the family blog and started his own blog, "Free Iraqi," while Omar and Mohammed continued posting at "Iraq the Model." Today Omar is living in New York, finishing his Master's Degree at Columbia University.

That same month Hammorabi Sam and Alaa started blogging. Hammorabi Sam, whom I knicknamed "Yosemite Sam" because of his ornery, shoot-first temper, initially thanked and championed the Coalition forces for overthrowing Saddam Hussein, but he later became a virulent hater of the American forces in Iraq. Alaa, loved by many of us for his wisdom and ability to take the long view, blogged irregularly for several years, eventually moving with his family to Canada.

AYS, a dentist like Zeyad Kasim and Omar Fadhil, also began blogging in November. After Saddam Hussein's execution two years later, AYS would write his last post for almost a couple years. In that last post, he worried that Iraq was becoming an "Islamic Republic" run by Shiites. AYS then left Iraq, lived for a while on an unnamed island in the Mediterranean and then for a time in the United Kingdom, before getting a visa to the United States, arriving here in October, 2008.

Finally, in December, four members of the Jarrar family -- Faiza, the mother, and her three sons, Raed, Khalid, and Majed -- began writing at "A Family in Baghdad." Like Riverbend, the Jarrars had not enabled a comments page. People who wanted to respond to their entries were not able to, which led to the creation of the original "Cry Me a Riverbend" blog. When "Cry Me a Riverbend" was shut down, "Iraqi Bloggers Central" was started to take its place.

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Part One. A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2003.
Part Two. A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2004.
Part Three. A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2005.
Part Four. A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2006.
Part Five. A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2007.
Part Six. A Look Back at Iraq and the Iraqi Blogosphere: 2008-09.

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Selected Articles, Blog Entries, and Documents from 2003:

CP = Check the comments page for that blog entry.

Salam Pax, "Pool Side at Hamra," Where is Raed? (website), May 23, 2003.

Peter Maass, "Salam Pax Is Real," Slate, June 2, 2003.

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, "[One two one two...test test]," G. in Baghdad (website), June 25, 2003.

Riverbend, "About Riverbend," Baghdad Burning (website), August 24, 2003.

Riverbend, "National Day," Baghdad Burning (website), August 26, 2003.

Riverbend, "Sheikhs and Tribes," Baghdad Burning (website), September 29, 2003.

Zeyad Kasim, "Muqtada Al-Sadr," Healing Iraq (website), October 18, 2003.

Zeyad Kasim, "A Little Something about the War," Healing Iraq (website), October 18, 2003.

AYS, "Your Rights Are Kept," Iraq at a Glance (website), November 10, 2003.

Mohammed Fadhil, "You Owe Us an Apology," Iraq the Model (website), November 17, 2003.

Omar Fadhil, "Let Me Be Your Eyes, Healing Iraq, November 21, 2003.

Riverbend, "The Latest," Baghdad Burning (website), December 16, 2003.

Ali Fadhil, "We Don't Need Another Hero," Healing Iraq (website), December 25, 2003. CP (Mister Ghost, Jeffrey, Lee C., and Michael Cosyns)

AYS, "Something about Basrah," Iraq at a Glance (website), December 28, 2003.

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Selected Photographs and Videos:

VIDEO: "Shock and Awe." March 21, 2003.
VIDEO: Saddam Hussein walking in Baghdad during war. The crowd is chanting, "Bil rooh, bil daam, nafdeek ya Saddam." With life, with blood, we sacrifice for Saddam.
VIDEO: Thunder Run. April 5, 2003. Task Force 1-64 Armor, U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division; 29 tanks and 14 Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles.
VIDEO: Mohammed Al-Sahaf (Baghdad Bob).
VIDEO: Announcement of the Capture of Saddam Hussein: We Got Him!
PHOTOGRAPH: Saddam Hussein, December 13, 2003.

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Books Covering 2003:

Salam Pax, Salam Pax: The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi (2003).

Ray L. Smith and Bing West, The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the First Marine Division (2003).

Jon Lee Anderson, The Fall of Baghdad (2004).

David Zucchino, Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad (2004).

Evan Wright, Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War (2004).

Steven Vincent, In the Red Zone: A Journey into the Soul of Iraq (2004).

Anthony Shadid, Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War (2005).

Michael Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq (2006).

Ray LeMoine, Jeff Newmann, and Donovan Webster, Babylon by Bus (2006).

Jo Wilding, Don't Shoot the Clowns: Taking a Circus to the Real Iraq (2006)


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Books Published in 2003:

Christopher Cerf and Micah L. Sifray, The Iraq War Reader: History, Documents, Opinions.
Ray L. Smith and Bing West, The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the First Marine Division.
Bill Katorsky and Timothy Carlson, Embedded: The Media at War.
Karl Zinsmeister, Boots on the Ground: A Month with the 82nd Airborne in the Battle for Iraq.
Salam Pax, Salam Pax: The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi.
Anne Garrels, Naked in Baghdad: The Iraq War as Seen by NPR's Correspondent.
Williamson Murray and Robert Scales, The Iraq War: A Military History.
Paul McGeough, In Baghdad: A Reporter's War.

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